Sunday, December 30, 2007


I am a pufferfish. I've been eating everything I've missed this last 10 months, with no regard to consequences. And now I'm blowing up like a big ol' poofed-up pufferfish. Time to go back to China, where the food's not so good or so huge, and where I walk all the time.

OK, so I'm getting used to the idea and I'm missing our family routine, back to school, back to our house across the pond. I am certainly NOT looking forward to the big-ass plane ride with the kids, although they were fantastic on the way here. But I'm okay with getting back to being near Hong Kong, back to our friends, back to our life there. I will dearly miss my church, my mom and her husband, my favorite restaurants, my friends here. Of course I'll also miss my other family, though I'm used to not seeing them on a regular basis anyhow. What a lovely holiday we all had together!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

For unto us...

a savior is born!

A most blessed Christmas to you and your family! May you have a day of peace and love. Those of you who are especially lonely due to loss of a loved/cherished/irreplaceable one, may it be some small comfort to know you are in my prayers and thoughts, and I send you love and wish you God's peace.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Time Keeps On Slippin, Slippin, Slippin...

It seems like our time here in the U.S. is just flying by! Already over a week we've been here - although a few of those days were spent in a jetlag haze. Only two weeks from today we'll be heading back to China. Want to know a secret? Spending time in the U.S. is making me want to stay in the U.S.! I'm not really looking foward to going back to China. Just something as simple as using my mom's fancy-pants appliances (really, they're nice but very normal appliances...) that are so much nicer than the very old, very basic ones I have in my house over there. Yeah, I know, I'm lucky to have the appliances I have compared to most Chinese.

I do understand that regular, daily life here wouldn't be an endless stream of playdates, dinners out and parties. At least not all the time. It's the holiday season and we have many people to catch up with in a short amount of time. I think that makes life in the U.S. seem so much more fun right now. Thanks to Meredith & family, Heidy & family, Nicholas & family, Cooper & family, Jonathan & family, Dick & Jo, my brother & family, my dad & family, Dr. Angie & family, and of course, my mom and Wayne...such fun we're having here! Sure wish Barb & family were still here, too!

I hope that by January 4 I am more eager to get back home to my life in China! If only there was a Mellow Mushroom there...*sigh* I complain too much???

Sunday, December 16, 2007

You like me! You really like me!

Well, I've been hearing from so many people that you are still reading my blog and keeping up with us - thank you from the bottom of my heart. That means so much to me!!

Today I went to my church and I felt as though I'd come home. The music is now fantastic, with a band that includes drums (rock on). The smiles and hugs that were shared were priceless. I also realized why it is I miss my church so very much in China, and why Sundays are so especially lonely. It's because in my church here in the U.S., I feel loved. People know me and care about me, and I about them. We've shared sad times and good times and monitor each other's pregnancies and watch each other's kids grow up. It's a family and it's why I get so homesick. It's so lovely to be back; I don't think I could have been happier this morning. Except, of course, for missing the Sextons and a few other families that weren't there.

I am getting used to driving again, which is fun. I was nervous the first time out! In China, nobody follows the rules; people just go where they want, when they want. It's chaos, which is really kind of a bad idea when you're moving around in a big metal box at 45 mph. Here, the roads are SO BIG and people let you take your turn. Pedestrians in parking lots wave and smile when you stop for them.

I ate at my favorite pizza restaurant in the whole world yesterday for lunch. Yes, they have pizza in China - Papa John's is very popular and delivers. Pizza Hut is also popular but the one by our house doesn't deliver! Almost everybody in China delivers, right down to Starbucks! But, I digress. We went to this fabulous little pizza kitchen. They have a Clash poster that shows a guitarist smashing his guitar at a concert, in black and white. It's one of my favorite posters of all time, and it's right back by the bathroom. I just love it. I had a pizza with artichokes, roasted red pepper, sausage, and kalamata olives - many things that you won't find on a pizza in China. Pizza in China usually has squid or shrimp on it and pineapple. They also have the "normal" pies - pepperoni is popular, but honestly, nothing ever tastes quite the same there. I don't know what kind of cheese they use, but it's just different. The meat tastes different, too, and I really don't want to know why. I do know one thing: it's good to be home.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sweet Home Tennessee

Well, I am back in the US of A and it feels pretty good! The first thing that struck me when I walked in to the Newark airport is how DIVERSE this country is! In China, everybody basically has the same color hair and similar skin. There are many differences within that, of course, but here everybody looks so different. It's beautiful to see! And, everybody seems so nice here, right down to the cashier at Kroger's! It's wonderful to be wished a "Merry Christmas" and have people really mean it. In China, while Christmas is capitalized on as a way to make money and have fun, the true meaning gets missed or never even thought of in the first place. I don't say this about Hong Kong, where Christianity is just fine and they "do it up real nice." A few days ago, in China, it sure didn't feel like Christmas was coming. Here, I can feel it, smell it in the air and see it in smiles.

Walking through Target, I also was struck by how rich we are as a nation. All the space, all the beautiful packaging, all the parking spaces. Next time you get annoyed by having to go to Target, trying not being able to go for 10 months.

We are all jet-lagged and I am especially looking forward to sleeping tonight. I will post more as the weeks fly by.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving but in China it's just another Thursday. School, work, all of that. And it's also really hot so it certainly doesn't FEEL like Thanksgiving! We are going to celebrate with our very dear Hong Kong friends and our neighbors from the U.S. on Saturday. I think it will be our Hong Kong friends' first Thanksgiving - and in a way it carries on the tradition nicely - I don't know how we would have survived this move across the ocean to the New Old World without them!

We have a turkey on order, and we're going to have cranberries, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, pumpkin cheesecake, pecan pie, right down to the little sweet pickles and olives my Grandma used to serve on big feast days (well, not the SAME pickles and ones)! I am really looking forward to this!

I've been test messaging "Happy Thanksgiving!" all my friends here from the U.S. and it's been such a treat to see a U.S. person and be able to say "Happy Thanksgiving!" to someone it means something to. The things we learn to be thankful for...someone who can identify with our culture is a treat here!

I know that I am certainly thankful for things I never thought much about, and I remain thankful for some things I could not do without - the love and support of my family and my friends, near and far. Thank YOU for your love, support and encouragement. I hope you enjoy your turkey with your loved ones today.

"O God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer,
And remembering,
help me to destroy my complacency;
bestir my compassion,
and be concerned enough to help;
By word and deed,
those who cry out for what we take for granted.
(Samuel F. Pugh)

Monday, November 19, 2007


OK, Beth, I am going to respond to this tag. I've never been tagged by anyone else before and last time I dropped the ball. HERE, at the request of Beth's fantastic website(s) is my meme (Me! Me! Me! Me!)

8 Things I am Passionate About
My family (duh)
My faith
Education and growth of mind and personality
Reading - mainly Jane Austen, JK Rowling, Janet Evanovich and Stuff that Makes me Think
MUSIC - boy, that one makes me happy! Especially if it's got a good beat and is easy to dance to...and makes me think.
Baking and cooking - because I love EATING
Decorating cakes - I am the Cake Lady of China
Open-mindedness - Way important for learning about other cultures and getting one's ego out of the way.

8 Things I Want to Do Before I Die
See my kids grow up into happy, successful, resourceful adults
See France, Italy, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, and the rest of the U.S. Maybe part of Canada, too.
Open a cake shop in China : )
Make a scrapbook for each of our trips (starting with China)
Really, truly make a difference in somebody's life - ambiguous, I know...and I don't mean my own family, I guess I mean the Greater Good
Be a better person
Write a book or two
Learn to be a really great cook

8 Things I Say Often
Oh, my goodness!
Alexander! (or any other one of my kids' names)
Are we late again? How did it get to be so late?
I'm hungry!
Let's go to Hong Kong this weekend!
I love you more! (to my kids)
Ni hue shuo ying wen ma? (Do you speak English?)

8 Books I've Read Lately
Pride & Prejudice (3rd time)
The final Harry Potter (WOW)
Sense & Sensibility
The Glass Castle (current)
The Bible (well, not the whole thing...)
New Concept Mandarin's Chinese Survival Manual
Riding the Iron Rooster

8 Songs I Could Listen to Over and Over
Way difficult to narrow this down!!!
The duet sung by two Italian women, written by Mozart, in Shawshank Redemption (And I don't even know what it is!!!! Somebody Help Me!
Here I am to Worship
This is the Radio Clash
Man! I Feel Like a Woman
Smooth (Rob Thomas & Santana)
Spirit of the Radio (Rush)
The Harlem Boys' Choir singing O Holy Night
Mack the Knife sung by Ella Fitzgerald

8 Things That Attract Me To My Best Friend (Tim)
He can fix anything
He is funny and keeps me laughing
He's handsome!
He loves our kids as much as I do
He is a hard worker and driven to do well for everybody, not just himself
He is an excellent mediator/negotiator/diplomat/
He makes a point to really get to know people at every level of any organization, not just the guys on top or the decision-makers
He is a great teacher, even though he's not officially a teacher
He likes to dance even though he's a white guy

8 Things I've Learned This Year
How to say "please don't touch my children" in Mandarin
That there are excellent people everywhere
That you need to make friends quickly and love them bravely in an expat neighborhood, because we all really need each other but we're all only here for a little while
That my true friends remain as such no matter where we all live
That I really do need to pray every day
That I maybe don't need nearly as much STUFF as I used to think I might
How really, really lucky I am to have been born where I was, when I was and who I was
That the U.S. has incredible health care and nothing should be taken for granted

8 people to tag
...uh, the only other bloggers I know are Michelle and Beth, and you've both been tagged! But anybody who wants to post their answers in a comment, way cool!
Barb, Heidy, Angie (still there?), Jane F., Cheryl...anybody else there?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Happy Birthday, Baby!

My little girl turned 3 years old yesterday. She's gone from this:

To this:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Beijing Photos

Can you find Tim in this picture??

At the Great Wall of China!


We just flew back from Beijing tonight, and boy are my arms tired...actually, my legs hurt because the Great Wall of China is really big! We climbed and climbed and climbed - they made the stairs very steep because the Mongols were so much taller than the Chinese. It was so awesome and humbling to stand up there on that structure that was started some 700 years B.C. Truly a wonderful experience, and beautiful to see it snake across the landscape of China like a dragon.

Beijing is a great city and we had a fabulous time. Before the Great Wall, we visited the Ming Tomb from the Ming Dynasty, built a mere 600 years ago. The Chinese are leaving those tombs alone and guarding them for future generations since they are so young compared to other Chinese historical artifacts. Very cool. After we saw the tomb, we headed to a jade market where we learned a lot about how jade develops (over millions of years), is processed (carved with diamonds) and how to tell if it's genuine. It was all very interesting, and the market we went to is not open to tour buses, so it was very quiet and calm compared to many other markets in China. After that we headed to the Great Wall and then a Chinese lunch, which was delicious. More shopping at the Friendship Store, where all sorts of Chinese arts and crafts are sold. We watched the labor- and time-intensive process of creating cloisonne art - it is painted and fired about 7 times then glazed a bunch more. It was interesting - the kids loved watching people curl the metal around the pottery to create the designs.

The following day we walked to Tianammen Square, which again was humbling but for a different reason, and to the Forbidden City. That place is huge! And very beautiful, but unfortunately is currently under major renovations due to the upcoming 08 Olympics. Tianammen Square is a big concrete square filled with hawkers, tourists, people staring at us and snapping our picture, and many, many police officers and vehicles. It has a big statue in the middle that I'm sure has some great significance, though I couldn't read it in Chinese. There are also some beautiful statues at the rear, comprising many different Chinese people working together and rising to a great nation. They are very well-done and inspiring.

Across from Tianammen Square is the Forbidden City, built by the 3rd emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Again, it's "only" 600 years old. The grounds are beautiful and well-preserved, and we used the gps-sensitive taped guides to tell us what was what and what it was for. That was quite interesting because no matter where we were, we were hearing an appropriate explation and description. The boys thought that was all pretty cool.

The following day we went to Beijing's famous pearl market which is quite similar to Lowhu on the lower floors (only even more aggressive - ick!) and has a big pearl market on the upper floors. I tried on a winter jacket on the first floor that had a 1200 rmb asking price to start. I bargained her down to 700 rmb, then decided I wanted to look around more before buying it. By the time we left that shop, they were offering the jacket for 300 rmb (about US$40!) and begging us to buy it! Crazy...I didn't buy it but what a deal! We had fun on the pearl floor - there were some beautiful necklaces and other jewelry up there!

Adjacent to the pearl market is the Beijing Toy Market. The kids had fun there! We walked around the whole thing with people yelling at us to buy their stuff, then the kids each picked out a toy. Tim did some sweet bargaining there, and I picked up some cool "learn Chinese" posters for the kids' rooms. They had fun there, and we then took a cab to the Hard Rock Cafe. We all do love the Hard Rock Cafe, because no matter where we go, it's got great food, awesome music and a little down-home comfort for us. During the cab ride - during all our cab rides, actually - I was able to converse with the driver in Mandarin. Yippee!!

That night we went to an acrobat show, where most of the performers were kids or very young adults. It was amazing! And the kids really loved it - especially when the bike-riding girls put about 15 people onto one bike! One boy, about 12, rode a unicycle upside-down on a tightrope, which amazed us all.

Yesterday evening we went to a world-famous Peking Duck (or as it's now called, Beijing Duck) restaurant. It's 5 stories of one restaurant and they recommend drinking blueberry juice with the duck to complement it. It was really good!! They bring out the whole duck (and I do mean the WHOLE duck) cooked and crispy. They slice it up and serve it with little pancakes (sort of like tender tortillas), plum sauce, and green onions. You roll it all up together and eat it like a little burrito. It is really good! Especially with the blueberry juice. We had a great meal there, then had some gelato at a nearby mall.

The weather was fairly cold and today it was drizzly. No snow yet but we plan to return next year for our "snow fix." On the flight home we had terrible food, cranky flight attendants and a slightly clumsy pilot (on takeoff and landing) so we were really glad to get home and chow down on the pizza Tim ordered on the way home!

It's really nice to be home but I also look forward to our next visit to China's capital in the North!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Shout-outs, snot-outs and outings

Heidy, MichelleW and Beth, thank you for always commenting on my blogs and all your encouragement and inspiration. You will never know how much it always means to me (well, you probably do, Beth) to hear from you and receive acknowledgement that you haven't forgotten me! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Today was my last day of 3 modules (almost 8 months) of Chinese class. I've met some wonderful people and learned some helpful language skills. I've also been going nuts trying to keep up with everything, plus two mornings a week of classes. I'm glad it's over. My Chinese friend Luo is going to speak to me only in Mandarin from now on, she said, and that will be my new lessons! Yikes...

My daughter has a bad, snotty cold. My oldest son and I are trying to fight it. I get Kosmo Fighter juice every day I can get there a Kosmo near you? It's a U.S. chain that sells awesome juices, teas and sammiches (yippeeee!! really tough to find a gooooood sammich in China.) She is supposed to be sleeping right now but is singing "Where is Thumbkin" to herself. The other night she sang "Happy Birthday" about a million times to everyone in the family while she was going to sleep!

We are going to Beijing this Saturday for five days; it's very cold there so we will be taking warm clothes! I am really looking forward to seeing the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. And today I learned how to say "Please don't touch my children" in Mandarin...people have told us we won't be able to get anywhere because of people crowding us and touching their hair and skin...not too many foreigners in Northern China!

My oldest son received a Bible from our church last week. Tonight he started reading it. We had a big laugh over how long people lived way back in the day...he thought it was pretty crazy. We had a nice, cozy time reading it and my other son had me reading stories from his Toddler's Bible. It was a really great reading time tonight!

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Big Ordeal

I have been a little intimidated to try and mail anything from China, and I've successfully avoided the whole time we've lived here. So far. I know where the post office is, but I didn't know how much money it would cost or what kinds of hassles they would put me through, or whether anything I mailed would get to the U.S. on time for the intended occasion. So, I've sent e-cards and ordered stuff online to send for peoples' birthdays. I even had my mom send a sympathy card to some dear friends who suffered a really bad tragedy.

Ella's baptism sponsor, one of her godmothers, will be confirmed next week. This is a big deal in the Lutheran church, and a very big deal for this very, very special girl. I knew I had to brave the China Post Office for Katie.

I put it off for a while (had a snack, surfed the 'net...) and finally walked to the post office, card in hand. I walked up to the counter and handed it to the woman working. She said "Mei Gua," which means "America" and then she said "6 yuan." OK, if you are unfamiliar with exchange rates, that's less than a U.S. dollar. I said "SIX YUAN?" "Yes." I handed her my six yuan and left. No problem. No hassle. No language barrier. Yippee! Thanks, China Post!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Here are some pictures from our first Halloween in China. My oldest son's drama club did "Thriller" for the school assembly - he is the skeleton dancing in front of the stage. They did a great job!
Then there was a Halloween Parade around the basketball courts outside.

My daughter was supposed to be Tinkerbell, but she didn't think that was quite the right look for her. She went with the Power Ranger Girl thing, and right on, sister, didn't she look tough!
Don't worry, not ALL these kids are ours, though they are really lovely kids!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Bedlam and the Boondocks

When we first moved here last year, I scoured the furniture stores looking for a toddler bed. I found plenty of beds that were low to the ground, but none had rails around them. We decided to have one made, but I was advised by my friend who was helping me to have it made into twin size, so she could grow into the bed. We had nice, removable rails made for it, too. Unfortunately, the rails were way too short once we made the bed longer - not nearly long enough to keep her in the bed if she flops around too much. Which she does. So, after a few late-night falls and fears, I have been surrounding my dd with pillows and putting polarfleece blankets on the floor to cushion her.

Last Tuesday, I was at the Ikea store in Guanzhou, which is about 1 1/2 - 2 hours away, depending on traffic. Lo and behold, there was a beautiful little white toddler bed with a nice removable rail - it was perfect! I didn't buy it because we already had the other bed. However, after getting up every night this week (and the week before, and so on...) to adjust my dd and make sure the pillows are still there to try to keep her in, we decided to just buy the Ikea bed.

We drove to Guanzhou, and it only took about 1 1/2 hours - we made great time! We found the bed and tried to purchase it, but were told that we wouldn't be able to pick it up until tomorrow (not gonna happen!). My husband convinced them to let us pick it up at the warehouse, which was on the way home anyway.

Then we found out that the highway back is closed and we had to take all detours to get home. Some were sort of marked, some weren't marked at all. We spent a good portion of our afternoon in typical Chinese city-area. China is full of tiny storefronts, one after the other, down every single street it seems. They have apartments over them, usually 5 or more stories tall. The little shops sell flowers, or tires, or clothing, or possibly they house a tailor or hairdresser. Nothing ever looks new here or clean (except the hairdressers!). There is almost always a table and plastic chairs set up, with people eating or playing mah jong or else just sitting around talking, and food wrappers all around the table. It's the same in every section of every Chinese city I've been in. Occasionally you will see a large, green area with low houses and people wearing those big triangle hats and pajamas to do their work, hauling water, riding an old bike, or working in the field. If you see a body of water, it's usually crowded with boats hauling stuff from one place to another or fishing. Every square inch of land and space seems to be utilized here.

Another thing very typical of China are the many, many huge factory campuses. Most of the employees are migrant workers, so you see so many large, rectangle dorms for the workers. You can tell they're not just normal apartments because all the clothes hanging out to dry on the balconies (nobody has a clothes dryer here) are exactly the same - uniforms. It's basically a little town and also a giant family. Meals are served in a big hall and they all work, live and relax together. They say China is the world's factory, and I believe it!! Right down to the giant smokestacks and chimneys spewing who-knows-what into the air, blocking the sun so it looks more like the moon, and shoveling money into the booming Chinese economy.

Another thing you see quite a bit, and I've mentioned this about the kids here, is that people will take a whiz anywhere! We frequently see cars stopped along the highway, and all the men from the car are standing with their back to the road relieving themselves. It's really a little disconcerting, but you get used to it after a while.

To get back to our afternoon, we did manage to get sort of lost for a few hours in all the mazes of shops, restaurants and factories. In all, it took us six - SIX!!!! - hours to get home. We didn't get home until 9 p.m., when it was too late to get the bed put together anyhow! We ordered a pizza, fed the kids, and put them to bed, very late! As it was, I was stressed enough with the awful, chaotic and incredibly frightful traffic. Glad to be home, and I'm glad my girl will finally have her toddler bed. Tomorrow.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

True Confessions!

I admit it. We have never spent a day at a beach before. Never wanted to - sunburn, sand, worrying about kids and the undertow, too many people, lounging around in a swimsuit(!), Jaws, and no shade to speak of. Now, I am a changed woman.

Today we took a bus to a Hong Kong pier, then got on a junk boat (basically just a rented, bare-bones yacht) for a 1-hour trip to a beach in Hong Kong. The boat had a nice indoor area with tables and benches; an upper deck with chairs and gorgeous views; an outdoor seating area at the front of the boat ("I'm the king of the world!"); and a bathroom and changing area. It was a nice, relaxing boat ride. We went with 6 famililes from our area, most with little kids.

Then we took a dinghy to a dock at a beach and spent the day in the swimming area and under some shade trees. The beach was nice and small, and not crowded at all. It was a beautiful, sunny day, not too hot, just right. And the water was nice and cool, with big waves to ride in on but not too deep for kids to stand up in.

We brought picnic foods to share - somebody made some delicious baklava - sandwiches, cookies, and a lot of water. Everybody sort of watched out for everybody else's kids, and they all played together. They shared their sand toys and had fun burying each other's feet in the wet sand. It was really fun! I had no idea the beach could be such a great time, just hanging out in the water, playing in the wet sand, and cooling off in the surf.

As we headed back to the junk from the swimming area, we noticed signs around the swimming area for passing boats. The signs said "Warning! Shark nets!"...meaning they net off the swimming area to keep the sharks out. I'm really glad I saw that AFTER we spent the entire afternoon in the water, because I would have worried whether those nets were still intact and hole-free!

We got back on our junk, had more picnic food, including some lovely homemade baklava, and headed back to Hong Kong harbor. The ride back was a little rocky at times, but it was fun as long as we were sitting down.

We had almost decided not to go on this trip because of the whole beach avoidance we had before, but we really wanted to spend time with our friends - many of the people who went along are friends of ours but we never really get to see each other. Today was a beautiful, fantastic opportunity for fun in the sun!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

At the Lamma Island Fishing Farm

Here are the boys and Nana feeding the fish. They had little plastic foodservice gloves to keep their hands clean - smart!

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale...

At about 5 a.m. today the wind was blowing so fiercely I thought we were having a typhoon (yeah, that's Eastern Hemisphere for "hurricane"). But by the time we were up and ready, it wasn't so bad and it was just gray and windy-ish. It is also a national holiday here, all week! It's Golden Week, or the anniversary of the communist rule in China. It's a really big deal, with flags and fireworks and all that national hoopla like the U.S.'s Independence Day.

Since it was my mom and her husband's second to last day here in China, we decided to take a day trip today to Hong Kong. We had some business to take care of at the U.S. Embassy, so Tim and I took an early ferry with the kids, and my mom and her dh followed.
Our ferry was totally packed since everybody and their brother has off most of the week. We took care of our Embassy stuff and were picked up by our dear Hong Kong friends. We had a nice dim sum lunch. Did you know that "dim sum" is Cantonese for "small bites" and it's usually a breakfast or lunch thing? It's mainly dumplings and steamed buns and stuff like that, but it also usually includes chicken feet! They eat them like we eat wings in the U.S. Never had them, never plan to, and our Hong Kong friend always keeps them far from our table!

We then took a very blustery, bumpy, rocky ferry ride to Lamma Island. The whole way there, Tim and I kept singing the theme song to Gilligan's know, "a 3-hour tour...a 3-hour tour...the weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed..." We were getting tossed! I almost cookies.

Once there, we walked around a bit. It could have been any seaside town, smelling of fish and salt and with open-air seafood restaurants, one after the other. There are live fish, squid, mussels, lobster, crab, and shrimp in tanks all around. And, of course, a few shops full of junk and beaded jewelry, hats and umbrellas and stuff.

Then, as the wind picked up and the rain got heavier, we took a smaller boat (a really small fishing boat...) to a fishing farm. They have all these floating docks around the island where they basically have big cages in the water where they keep fish, feed them and breed them. It was very interesting, and looked like it probably did about a hundred years ago. We watched how they feed them and how the water boils up with fish when you throw a little fishie snack in. Did you know that squid change color when they eat? Their tentacles (which are much, much smaller than I had thought) come out and they suck in the fishie snack and turn from greyish-brown to white with brown spots! The kids were able to feed some fish and do some "hookless" fishing. They just tie a fish around a piece of thick line, tie it to a bamboo pole, and you stick it into a feeding frenzy. With the fish just tied on, it is quite rare to catch anything but the boys had a ton of fun with that. Actually, I think Tim had even more fun than the boys did!

When we were pretty sure a typhoon was happening (though it wasn't) we got back onto the teeny little boat, my fingers clenching the seat and my eyes screwed shut, and headed back to the island.

We sat down for a fantasic seafood dinner, complete with ice-cold beer, soy shrimp and bean curd dessert. Bean curd dessert is warm silky tofu, water and sugar - sounds really yummy, right? Actually, it's really, honestly awesome! I love it! I have a harder time with the shrimp, which always arrives at the table completely intact - meaning you have to rip off the head and peel the tail. Ick. Sometimes it arrives alive and they cook it (kill it) right in front of you. We had a great time, though at one point the restauranteer had to batten down the hatches because we were starting to get rained on inside the restaurant.

One more ferry ride (this time I just tried to sleep; I was tired of being tossed around by the waves and wondering if the next big wave would smash the boat up) and we were back on beautiful Hong Kong Island.

We stopped at a grocery store and picked up a bunch of things we can't get in China, and headed home. It was a lovely adventure!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Time Warp, the Metric System and UPS

Before moving to China, I had no inkling of just how different things would be here. What would seem a simple request from a realtor has turned into Mission: Impossible. The e-mail stated that all I had to do to close on our house was print out an attachment on legal-sized paper, sign it and have it notarized, and UPS it back to Knoxville within 3 days. In order to do this, of course, I had to UPS it back by Tuesday...except that it was already Tuesday when I got the e-mail because we are 12 hours ahead.

There is no legal-sized paper in China; it is an American size. There is A4 paper, which is a bit larger than our letter size paper, A3 is twice the size, and A5 is half as large, from what I can understand. Because we don't use the metric system, we are pretty much the only ones in the world who use letter-size 8 1/2 x 11 paper. It definetly had to be legal-size paper, and I was definetly not going to be able to locate any. That was my first obstacle. My second obstacle was getting to a notary: either to Guanzhou, which is 1 1/2 - 3 hours away, depending on traffic, or to the Hong Kong U.S. Consulate, which requires an appointment booking. Either way, it is an all-day trip. Either way, it was not going to happen on Tuesday!

To UPS something to the US and expect it to arrive in a few days is, at best, naive. Nobody can guarantee overnight service to or from here; 3-day service is a gamble, as well.

Needless to say, the closing was postponed for a week; the documents were hand-delivered to Tim, who happened to be in Knoxville this week, and we will be making an appointment to get them notarized in Hong Kong. The return to the US will be taken care of by Tim's office here in China, by someone who understands how to communicate that time is of the essence.

A simple request certainly isn't so simple when it's made from someone in the U.S. to someone living in China!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Home is where the heart is

We accepted an offer on our house back in the U.S. this past week. So, I guess that means we REALLY have moved to China. I'm a bit sad to not be a part of that neighborhood anymore, especially with such great neighbors as Heidy and family and the Lins! But, this will save us a lot of hassle with trying to maintain a home and yard from the other side of the world. Perhaps we'll get back into that neighborhood when we return from the Orient, whenever that may be.

My mom and her husband Wayne are visiting us for the past few weeks. We are having such a great time!! They lived about 15 minutes away back home so it's been a big adjustment not to have them close anymore. But having them here is like another little piece of "home" for us.

We went to Macau this past weekend and stayed at a really, really, really nice hotel, which was such a relief after the sub-par Asian hotels we've thus far experienced (except Japan, of course!) We did a nice historical tour and some fun shopping there, and ate some great food. We also went with our dear friends from Hong Kong, who have become family to us here.

On Tuesday we plan to take a tour of Shenzhen with a native - there aren't many native Shenzheners, as 20 years ago it was just a little fishing village. The government made it a Special Economic Zone, and opened it up to foreign businesses. Most people who live here moved in after that happened. It is now a booming city of 12 million people, and very modern. We will be visiting some outlying villages that remain more traditional Chinese and far less modern. I am looking forward to getting a more in-depth look at the history and culture that surrounds me here.

It's been a while since I've made it to church and today I missed it again. It takes a lot of effort to get there. We have to get to the ferry station at least 30 minutes before the ferry leaves to purchase tickets, get through customs, and get everyone onto the ferry. Then the ferry ride is one hour and costs about $50 to get everybody there. Once we get to Hong Kong, we go through customs once again, sometimes with LONG lines, and then we walk to the church. Church is about a 15-20 minute walk, depending on dawdling toddlers and traffic. It's a big process to get there, about 2.5 hours total, and once there we really enjoy it. Hopefully we'll make it next weekend because even with my mom here I am missing church fiercely when we don't go. I miss my home church very much, though I've now found out a dear friend (a whole family of dear friends!) from my home church has moved out of state. Knoxville will sorely miss the Sextons!

This is rambling a bunch - so much has happened since my last post and it all seems a bit muddy in my head. I'm starting to re-adjust to living here and accept the things that have been driving me nuts. I don't hate it here anymore, and my longing to move to Hong Kong is starting to subside as I realize I'm going to have adjustments and issues and culture shock no matter where we go, even in the southern U.S.! I am missing my friends but as Christmas approaches I know I'll see them in just a few months. Well, the ones in Knoxville, at least! Don't know when I'll see my dear Wisconsin friends, and some of you I've never even met in person! Regardless, I am doing better as I get used to things a bit more here, and I'm learning more Chinese so I can communicate a bit better. A very little bit, but more than I could before. I am certainly appreciating what we have here and how blessed I am with my kids and my dear husband. How lucky I am, no matter where I go, to have them all by my side.

Monday, September 03, 2007


I haven't written much lately because I've been a tad negative about my current living situation and the country I am in. I'm homesick and I'm lonely and I'm missing what our lives used to be, even if I was at times frustrated then. At least I understood the culture, to an extent (considering it was the south and I grew up in the north - trust me, there are some cultural differences). and was able to speak the same language (again, north vs. south - there are differences). I could rely on stores to stand behind their products or at least accept returns. I could rely on my own abilitly to navigate through life without having to rely on someone else to drive me around or speak for me.

On the other hand, Tim is certainly home more often, and with domestic help, when he does travel, things are MUCH easier. Which makes me lazier, too...good or bad? We're meeting people from all over the world, whom we would never have met back home. I don't have to watch the whole political circus and the spin doctors' version of the truth as the '08 election "draws near". But I do know the news I get may not contain much truth here, either.

While I am not proud of some major historical events which made my country what it is, I am horrifed as I learn more about this country's history and the things that happened here not too long ago. Horrified.

While I wish the boys still had their old friends from home, I'm watching them learn to navigate socially in a whole new way. And I'm appreciating that we're getting closer as a family.

While I wish I could easily get to a church that is spiritually renewing and open to anyone, I am certainly learning to appreciate the glorious freedom we have back home.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Last Friday, we went to Lowhu, which is in another part of Shenzhen. Near the train station there is a 5- story mall filled with, basically, junk: cheap jewelry, tchotchkies (did I spell that right??), knockoff designer clothing, knockoff handbags and counterfeit ones, and counterfeit watches. It is filled with hawkers who will grab onto you as you walk by or approach you asking if you want to see DVDs or designer handbags in a backroom somewhere. It's kinda creepy. It's also a great place to get a good bargain. I did some serious bargaining and got a painted bottle (it's a thick-glass little bottle with hand painting inside, which we watched the artist creating) for fairly cheap, though I didn't really like bargaining for "real" art. I got a pair of shoes for about US$30 and a nice white blouse for about the same price. No "designer" stuff, I don't like that whole scene. But I also bargained for Jo, my stepmom, and got her sweet deals on a pashmina, a silk shawl and a cool red handbag (not designer). We had a good time, but it was tiring, 5 floors of people desperately trying to get us into their stores. ICK. My dad was able to add to his collection of the little painted bottles for a decent price, too. He is in the process of collecting the entire Chinese zodiac in little painted bottles.

This weekend we went to Macau, which used to be a Portuguese colony but is now part of China. Like Hong Kong, it is under the "one country, two systems" rule so they enjoy a great amount of freedom compared to most Chinese. It is a beautiful city and what I imagine Europe to look like (never having been there...). The food is fantastic, with a heavy western flavor to it, the people there are so polite, and the city is much cleaner...all moreso than even Hong Kong. I think it's mainly because they rely so much on tourism for their booming economy, but also I was told it's because they enjoy more freedom to travel than Hong Kongese, as citizens are also Portuguese passport holders. Gambling was legalized there in 2003 so casinos abound, but there are many, many things for families with children to do, too: beaches, resorts with nice pools, shopping, and many historical sites to see. There are ancient Buddhist temples and modern Catholic churches. There is a huge fortress that was built in the 1500's; it's where the picture below was taken. There is a cathedral that has burned down three times, but the facade remains at the top of a huge flight of stone steps. It's very beautiful. There are all these cool little, skinny streets with nice shops in them and antiques and more Chinese souvenirs. They make these awesome butter cookies with big chunks of almonds in them and hand them out on the street - they're SO GOOD. You can get a great sandwich there, something that you can't get in China and is quite difficult to get in Hong Kong. I love Macau! It is just an hour's ferry ride from Shenzhen, and a lovely place to visit.

Today, (as though we haven't done ENOUGH stuff lately) we went to Bujie, which is the art district of Shenzhen. There you can purchase oil painting copies of just about any famous painting you've ever seen, and then some. You can purchase a painting and incorporate your childrens' faces into the picture. You can custom-order just about any painting, including your own portrait, and there is also some beautiful original art there. My dad went hoping to find some more of those little painted bottles he has started collecting, but we could not find any of those there. It was strictly painting - mostly oils but also other mediums. We purchased a beautiful original watercolor from an artist who has won various awards for his work. My dad and Jo were a bit disappointed not to find the bottles, and we were surprised about that, too. But, it was a nice afternoon and we saw more of Shenzhen, which is part of why we're here.

Here is the icky culture shock part: I saw about four kids total going potty in the streets and on the sidewalks in Bujie today. One girl looked to be about 8, just dropped her drawers and went in the sewer cover. The rest were babies, but their mums just held them out over the sidewalk and let it fly. It's very disconcerting and really, really icky to witness. And stinky.

Tonight, for some strange reason, I'm BEAT. Maybe it's all the touristy stuff I've been doing, plus keeping our regular "we live here" routine with the kids. I hope all is well in your world - I have been thinking about many of you, my friends, lately, and I miss you all quite a bit.

Here's the whole gang in Macau

Apparently, Ella is not quite as concerned we might fall over the side of the wall...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pang Yu Zoo

Today we went to Pang Yu, which is in Guanzhou, a larger city north of Shenzhen (20 million people). Pang Yu is an animal park and safari. We originally wanted to go to the resort there but after our experience at the "very nice" resort in Singapore, I wasn't ready for the gamble involved. So, we went for a day trip.

Our driver (uh, yeah, did I mention we have a driver? "Home, James." Actually, it's "Qing, hue jia, Mr. Lei" but it's still fun to say....sorry, I digress) is from that area and so knew sort of where the animal park is. It's sort of hidden amongst a bunch of shops and apartments, much like anything else in China. The drive should have been about 1-1/2 hours, but traffic in China is worth another blog post entirely. I am not exaggerating when I say that nobody follows the rules, the biggest guy gets to go wherever he wants to, even if the exit is four lanes over, and the entire driving experience here is one great big game of "Chicken". Traffic is unreliable to say the least, and our trip to the park took 3 hours instead of 1 1/2. We were all incredibly hungry and nature was calling loudly when we finally got into the park so we took care of all that first.

Then we walked around this huge animal park. It's really pretty nice - not as nice as the Singapore Zoo, but really, really nice, and amazingly clean considering it's in China and all. There were signs all over the place saying "Let's keep our park clean...please throw rubbish in the trash" and people were actually doing that. Normally people throw their rubbish wherever it happens to fall. You should see a streetside on a Saturday night at about 2 a.m. (I haven't but I've heard...) after everone's done eating. It's all chicken bones and leftover food and wrappers and all just strewn about. Labor is very affordable here so someone will come and sweep it all away to start all over again the next day. Aw, man, here I am, digressing again. Sorry. Back to Pang Yu. Very nice and very big. At the giraffe part you could buy a branch and the giraffe would actually bend down and you can feed it. Andrew got such a kick out of this! At various animal stations you could buy food and feed it to whichever animals were specified. It's a neat idea because kids love it and it raises revenue for the zoo.

There were so many tigers and giraffes, and there are also animal shows throughout the day. We just missed getting into the elephant show and there is a tiger show, as well. Not sure how I would have felt about animals "performing" - I'm not much of a circus fan, either. So, I wasn't especially disappointed about missing that. We saw so many different kinds of animals and cool birds - it's all set up by continent. The coolest thing? WE SAW GIANT PANDAS! I've been waiting for an opportunity to see some - boy are they amazing-looking! One was sitting there, eating bamboo and ignoring us. Most were sleeping. They're so cute! And we saw koala bears and kangaroos (never seen one before!), wallabys and exotic birds, rhinos, orangutangs, baby tigers (awwww...), red pandas, monkeys and baby monkeys, seals and sea turtles. Actually, the seals and sea turtles were in what looked to be a big green-water-filled fishbowl, no land or anything, just a big tank. I felt sorry for them because their space wasn't very big and it wasn't at all exciting or stimulating for them. I also felt bad for the polar bears because they looked way too hot and just had vegetation to hang around in, no frozen area or ice or anything polar bears seem to enjoy.

After we walked through the zoo in incredibly hot, sunny weather and were ready to drop, we found out we could also drive our air-conditioned van through the "safari on wheels." We thought we had to ride the little trolleys which are open-air and probably very hot, listening to a narration in Chinese.

So we went back to the car and drove through that part - there were so many of each animal! We saw a bunch of exotic deer and elk, impalas, black bears, brown bears, a whole herd of giraffes, a bunch of zebras, these African deer-type things with huge, straight horns on top. We stopped for my dad to get a picture of these and he rolled down his window to photograph this one who was right next to the car. It made me a little nervous, because of his big horns and all, and I said "dad, roll up your window." Just then the open-air trolley rolled by so we figured it was safe to open a window. Then we saw that the big-horn deer thingies were in the process of breaking through their fence and getting out of their secured area and into the great, wide open by the vehicles and more docile animals. Yikes. I was worried the tigers would do the same thing and eat the zebras in front of some kids! Didn't happen, as far as I know, but it sure kept me on my toes!

The really, really cool thing about the driving safari was that there were so many of each kind of species, and they really had a lot of space to roam. An ostrich, which I am pretty sure escaped its area as well, walked right up to the car to glare at us. They are so cool looking! So are the emus, which we saw in the Australian section. But, as I was saying about how nice the driving safari is, many of the animals had babies with them, too! So cute, the baby zebras, baby hippo, baby giraffes and baby wildebeests! The baby monkeys were cute, too, in the walking part. One baby monkey's mama was trying to teach it to climb but it kept jumping onto her for a ride instead...another one was trying to learn to climb but a slightly older one kept pushing it off the tree, poor thing.

We drove home this evening - it only took 1 1/2 hours! - and were very happy to get home. On the way home, I got a text message all in Chinese, and Mr. Lei explained that it's a warning there is a typhoon on the way, but he said it's gone already. We thought "gee, thanks for that" but as we drove home, the lightning started and when we got into our neighborhood the wind started blowing fiercely. We had all just gotten into the house and Mr. Lei back into the car when it started to POUR. Very windy, very rain, very lightning-y, very thunder...very typhoon-y. Hmmm.....

Everyone is tucked in for the night, the storm seems to have subsided, and I'm ready for some rest! Thanks for checking out Pang Yu with me!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ketchup (catch-up)

So, what's happened since July 22, my last post??

We went to Singapore, which I was really excited about because it's supposed to be incredibly clean and English-speaking, which are two things China is not. Sadly, however, our hotel (which was supposed to be really super-duper nice) was sorta run-down, dirty and ant-ridden. And our first-floor glass door to the pool area DIDN'T LOCK! Yikes...we had to booby trap that area every night in order for me to be able to sleep. That was disapointing, to say the least. But Singapore is a pretty cool place, from what I can tell. There are many rules but they do make sense. It's extremely diverse, religiously and culturally. If one particular ethnic group inhabits a certain area, anybody selling property in that area has to sell to someone who is NOT of the predominate group. That way you don't get little pockets of ethnicities and people are forced to get to know people outside of their own group. It seems to me to be a good way of preserving peace and understanding and goodwill between different peoples.

We went to the awesome zoo in Singapore, and returned for a Night Safari at the same zoo. I didn't know that like 90% of tropical animals are nocturnal, including elephants and tigers and bears (oh, my!). It was really cool - you ride around in a tram and it's quiet and dark and the animals are right there in front of you, moving around and doing animal-y type stuff. I could have reached out and touched several of them but of course we didn't do that. It was so cool! We also had a lot of fun at the resort pool and just hanging out together doing touristy stuff. It was nice.

I took a one-morning Italian cooking class with my friend Libby and sampled some of the best food I've ever eaten. Then I made one of the dishes and before serving it to the family Tim called it "Mario and Luigi Meatballs." Alex has a serious thing for the Marios Bros games and those are the two main guys in it. He now LOVES those meatballs thanks to my Genius Husband. Did I mention that Alex is my pickiest eater, perhaps the pickiest on the planet, or at least in China? Hee hee hee...

I went to Hong Kong a BUNCH of times with Ella for some doctor visits. I'm hoping she's on a good treatment program now and can stop having such a hard time with her tummy.

I applied for and almost got a preschool teaching job here but then decided I didn't want to work full-time, I'd rather stay a full-time mom, yippee!

I got my nails done, which you can do for about U.S.$10 here! Actually, I do that quite often at that price. Nothing new there.

I got a foot massage and thought my toenails were going to boil off of my feet when I stuck them into the scalding hot water they like to use. YIKES!

I read the seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter series and WHAT A GOOD BOOK! I don't know that I've ever been quite so satisfied with a book or series of books ending, and so on the edge of my seat while reading it. J.K. Rowling deserves every penny she gets from those books! Props to you, girl!

The boys had their last Chinese classes today until after school starts, which is this coming Thursday. I can't believe my little teeny preemie Andrew is a giant kindergartener already, and my peanut Alex is in 3rd grade. Ella will also start preschool and have big, full days. I hope she can handle it. I hope I can handle it!

My dad and his wife are here for a visit - our first company! They arrived a day late due to a flight cancellation. The kids are off their rockers excited about this visit and have been playing with them nonstop. They're sleeping off their jetlag as we speak, so they can be ready for more kid-level energy. They brought me Belgian chocolate from my very favorite chocolate place in the whole world (no, I've never been to Belgium...) in Appleton, Wisconsin...WILMAR'S. If you're ever within 200 miles of Appleton, GO TO WILMAR'S and get some chocolate. It's a little slice of heaven on earth. Dark chocolate caramels, two pounds, YES YES YES!

Sorry. I'm back. I'm really excited about the upcoming school year and seeing how the kids adjust to their new classes. I'm also looking forward to starting up my Chinese class again and learning more of the language.

I hope all is well and peaceful in your lives, lovely readers. School is about to start - I think many of you have little (or big) kids. I hope this is the best school year yet (keep faith, Barb!) and I also hope you decide to drop me a quick e-mail to let me know that there are still people reading this! Thanks for keeping up with us!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tower of Refuge and Strength

Today we went to church in Hong Kong. It was the first time I'd been inside a real church - a sanctuary - since before we moved to China. It was as though I'd come home, and I spent much of the service peeking through tears of joy. I feel truly happy, in a way I haven't felt in a long time. The building, the service order, the songs - everything was so familiar. The church we went to has a summer-long vacation bible school on Sundays, and the boys had a great time. Alex asked if we could come back every Sunday from now on. The message wasn't too long (they usually last - I'm not kidding - about 45 mins here in the China church) but was challenging and powerful and funny. Ella behaved, and we sang one of my favorite songs at the end. We were well-received by some very friendly people, and I was yet again struck by the diversity of the faces in the congregation. It was lovely.

Then we went to Disneyland and had a nice lunch, went on a few rides, and got ice cream.

Took the train home, and had a quiet evening at home together before we start the week again.

I feel as though a something inside me has changed, been filled up with goodness and energy and love. Just the physical presence of being in a sanctuary and feeling the freedom to worship was truly missed the last six months.

It was a beautiful day.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Here's the whole gang at Disneyland Tokyo...Ella is sleeping and I'm not sure why the sky was so important for the picture-taker to get that in rather than the baby...

Well, what would YOU name this blog?

Well, I've honestly been intending to blog lately...

We went to Japan and I didn't have time to blog. Japan is really wonderful - very clean and modern and high-tech and very, very non-English-speaking! We had a great time and were kept very, very busy by our tour least we think so...everything was in Cantonese! Cantonese is even more difficult to learn than Mandarin. Yikes.

Then when we got back Ella had caught a croupe-y icky illness from another little girl on our trip and was up all night for almost a week.

Then this week I got the croupe-y icky illness and I've been exhausted all week.

Alex as of this week is enrolled in an intensive Mandrarin class and is loving it. Andrew started a Chinese preschool summer program this week and is hating it. Ella tried it for one day and hated it so much she didn't eat or anything all day, just cried, and nobody called me. I was really upset about that!!! So, she didn't go back. Andrew likes it, really, he has fun as long as we're not looking. I know, I have spies who have checked it out and said yes, he's definetly having fun.

I'm still slogging along in my Mandarin class but it's really difficult and I'm kinda lazy. As of this week, I'm also taking yoga and pilates. Never taken either of them, but I decided to try them both here in China. Love them, but boy are they hard!!! I had no idea the strength and flexibility it all took! I always thought yoga was a bit wimpy but I now officially apologize to all yogis everywhere. It totally rocks, and it's much easier on me than being taught tae kwon do by a 20-something-year-old who has no idea what it's like to be closer to an almost 40-something! I have a long way to go before pilates gets easier but I plan to work hard on it and get physical, physical, I wanna get physical... (does everybody have Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" in their head right now???? I do...)

The best thing is, after my yoga class yesterday I felt really really good and barely sick at all. Of course, by dinner time I felt rotten, but it really perked me up for a few hours. Today my perk-o-lator was a foot massage. I'm sure you remember my previous description of "foot" massages here in China. Whole-body-completely-pummel-you-till-you're-pudding-like massage is more like it! Yeah, baby. I felt pretty darn good for a few hours after that one, too. Tomorrow I think I'll just feel rotten all day and hopefully I'll start to actually get better by tomorrow night. That's tomorrow morning for all you Westerners (are you a Westerner now, Beth??).

I simply must touch on a subject that many might prefer not to. Yes, I'm talking about Japanese toilets. They are a modern marvel. Not only are there heated seats (to relax you, man!) and the built-in bidet/sprayer thing. No, no, they are so much more than that. They also have a little button if you want to release a pleasant-smelling scent to cover up any not-so-pleasant ones. And a little button if you want to make a "flushing sound" to cover up any not-so-pleasant sounds. They're clean. They're simply lovely, really. And the Japanese use charcoal filters in their walls all over the place that absorb bad smells. We stayed in "smoking" hotel rooms the whole time, and I swear they didn't smell at all like smoke. I have a very sensitive sniffer (some might even say over-sensitive to which I say pooh-pooh, I can't help it) and didn't smell anything remotely smoky or even musty in the hotels. Those Japanese have got it going ON. Good times. I had a great time in Japan just using the potty. Too bad nobody spoke English, or maybe it's a good thing, because I would have been praising everybody I met for their toilet wonders.

You know the best part about our trip? It was really nice to get back home, to China. Our home felt like home, warm and inviting and comfy. Yippee!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Virtual Birthday Party

Yesterday we had a birthday party for my mom. We had cake and tea and sang "Happy Birthday, dear Nana". We took pictures and e-mailed them to her on the other side of the world. The kids loved it, and so did she. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Here are the kids getting ready to go for a swim...

Fun! Flattering! Frustrating! Sorta Icky!

Hi, everyone! Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I guess I've been lazy, or maybe just too busy. Probably both. I now have a fairly thriving cake business considering I've done no advertising and nothing, really, to have all these people call me for cakes! I've had two or three orders each weekend, usually due at the same time. The thing about cake in China is that they really just don't get it. Cake here, even from the "French" bakery, is flat and very bland and just not much fun. It's usually got whipped icing and glazed fruit on top - there aren't too many "decorated" cakes around. So, I made a cake for a my friend's daughter (as a gift), who then hired me to do a cake for a baby shower. After the shower I got more calls from people I don't even know. It's been really fun and quite flattering, and also pretty frustrating. Frustrating because the ingredients, the ones I can find here at least, are at least double or triple what they cost in the U.S. Most I can't even find (like cake flour...). I didn't receive the pans I carefully packed so I've been making do with sheet cakes and the one racecar cake pan my mom sent. But, really, it's forced me to be more creative, which has been fun. I like a challenge as long as I can do it : )

So, I've been busy brainstorming and preparing and decorating. The best part? Somebody else cleans up afterward! Am I awful or what?

Tim is in the U.S. this week with MY mom. Eating at MY (OK, OUR) favorite restaurants and seeing our lovely former neighbors (Hiya, Heidy!). He's also working his hinder off trying to make it a short trip so he can get back home to China. What a guy. Skype is a wonderful thing, because he can see us and we can see him so it's not quite so lonely. We all can't wait until he comes back.

Today I went shopping at an outlet where they sell all the designer samples for stores. Most items only come in one size, but they have all sorts of fancy-pants labels for dirt cheap. The only problem is you can't try anything on. China is a strange place. No place to try stuff on, you can bargain if you don't like the price, and you're never really SURE if it's the brand the tag says or if it's really the size it says it is. Also, they go absolutely gaga over children here. My friend's baby had her picture taken about 20 times (I'm not exaggerating) and lots and lots of attention. I think it was partly her beautiful blue eyes.

We went to Disneyland this past weekend, which was pretty fun. We went on just a few rides, and tried to go on another ride but it was closed. Do you want to know why it was closed down? Then I'll have to give you another reason why China is a strange place. In many parts of China, little kids don't wear diapers. They wear these open-backed pants (think of Cher in the 90's) and they just do their business wherever and whenever the urge hits them. My mom witnessed it in a restaurant and on streets here - I've only seen it a few times on the sidewalk, the mom just holds the kid out and lets it fly. So, back to Disney, right? Yeah, you guessed it. Little kid, excretion of the smelly kind, and people who walked on it and really spread it around. Icky. Stinky. Not going on THAT ride for a long, long time. We went to the hotel after that and had a ball in the hotel pool, going down the slide and playing in the water. Watched a movie and had a nice time together. The next day Tim left in a cab for the airport, and I took all three kids on a bus, on three different subways, through customs twice and onto the ferry to China. It was a tad nerve-wracking thinking about it ahead of time but it all went quite smoothly and the boys were really excellent, well-behaved and helpful.

I promise to post more pictures and keep up with this thing better in the future. My English class will be over this Friday, freeing up my time more cakes. Next week we're going to Japan so you'll hear all about Japan in the near future. All I know right now is it's supposed to be super-duper expensive. I'll let you know! In the meantime, be thankful for Huggies, be grateful for cake (eat a lot of it) and be making plans to come visit us!! (Yes, I'm talking to YOU, Alyssa, Aleah and Ariel's parents!)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

My birthday

My birthday was last Monday. Ella had a doctor's appointment so we had to go to Hong Kong that afternoon. Then, Tim and the boys were to meet us and we were going to go to Hard Rock Cafe for my birthday dinner. Our dear friends from Hong Kong had other plans, however. I was met at the ferry station, taken shopping and to the doctor appointment, and then we all met for dinner. We decided to stay on Hong Kong island rather than trying to get to Kowloon during rush hour, so my friend made reservations at a really, really nice restaurant.

We had a lovely supper in a restaurant that overlooked a huge park. If you can figure out the date of my birthday and subtract 18 years, you will hopefully be able to recall the terrible events of that day here in Asia. As we watched throughout the evening, thousands of people filled up the soccer pitches with candles as a moving and sobering reminder of the events that transpired the day I turned 21. It was a little tough explaining to the boys exactly what the people were holding vigil for and what happened that day, especially since news reports are still fuzzy. But it was also cool in a way to be a part of remembering and to hear the music and speeches and to see how many people still take it personally and keep the memory alive. Our friend explained that when the event happened, millions, literally, millions of Hong Kongese filled the streets - there was no traffic, just people marching. The whole city shut down, which is like New York City shutting down!

It's been really stormy here in southern China the past few days again. Last night there were terrible storms. Today when we went to Sea World for lunch, we saw that all the restaurants on the lower level were filled completely with dirty, muddy, nasty water up to the door transoms. We could see the tops of the table umbrellas underwater. It is so sad, because I am quite sure insurance doesn't work quite the same here for the people who own those restaurants and shops. I think if those business ever do open up again, it will be a while, if ever, before I'm comfortable eating at any of them. Cleanup will be long and tedious and done by all the sole proprietors whose source of income is right now under a bunch of sewer water. We were just at a birthday party last evening at one of these restaurants.

My cake business is picking up here on this side of the world. Today I decorated a graduation cake, which I've never done before. I'm not especially proud of the results but I do know it's going to be a tasty treat for the people who eat it. Cake here is severly lacking in texture and flavor - it's normally very flat and tasteless. I hope they appreciate the cake, at least, if not the design. The problem is that I can't make black or red icing, it just takes too much food coloring and they taste bad and the colors are still muddy-looking. I used to purchase them ready-made at the cake supply store, but can't get them here. So I am quite limited in the colors I could use (the school colors are, yes, black and red) as well as some of the equipment I used for similar cakes back home. A photo cake would have been nice, or some sugar decorations having to do with graduation. I ended up making it look like a diploma with her name on it, and then adding Chinese characters for "congratulations" "graduation" and the school name. I hope it's okay with them... Tomorrow I have a princess cake due for a little girl. I really wish I had my shaped cake pans, I could do so much more. Oh, well....

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hotter than a Pepper Sprout

It's really, really hot in southern China in May. The heat index has consistently been averaging 104 fahrenheit. I'm still not thinking metric or celsius, thank you very much...or in yuan as opposed to dollars. I'm sure I'll get to the point when I don't have to really think about how much something REALLY costs when given the price. For instance, when a friend invited me to a benefit event, she mentioned that the cost of the ticket was 350. I was of course thinking "WHAT?? $350???" when actually it was going to cost me U.S.$45 for dinner and a show. I need to work on that...

So, anyway, about the heat. When I walk down the stairs to pick up Andrew, holding Ella, I get to school completely covered in sweat. Today I was pretty sure I was sweating on the inside as well, and I understood how the wicked witch felt when she was melting. I have found it helps to use an umbrella to block the sun - you see more umbrellas on sunny days than on rainy days here. Here's the strange part about the summer heat - the air is actually much cleaner here in summer than in winter. I guess the winds blow in from the ocean in summer, forcing all the icky air and smog and stuff further inland so the skies are clear here. I suppose that since we're on the other side of the world, a few things are bound to be a bit different, eh?

The kids are doing well. Ella is going through a silly stage - she makes faces back and forth with me until we both crack up. She also tries to fart with her armpit because that's what her brothers do. She's a riot. She refuses to wear dresses, of course, and is now also refusing to wear any clothes I pick out. She has to pick them out. Yesterday she was wearing red penguin pajama bottoms with a white and pink sleeveless peasant top. Very nice.

Andrew is very active and is having many playdates with his friends. He's usually covered with dirt and sweat and is out of breath from running around, playing soccer or being silly. Lots of baths here...

Alex is loving school and making some great friends. Summer is going to be lonely here once school gets out - all his friends will be leaving for the summer. We'll have to make it fun.

I went to Hong Kong the other day to shop with my friend Marcie. We went to Toys R Us, which was really a treat. You can't really buy nice toys in China, and Wal-Mart has a tiny toy selection of really cheap toys or else a few really expensive imported toys (WAAY overpriced barbies, for example). Hong Kong, however, has Toys R Us. I had a ball there and picked up a toy for each kid. I also hit the ESPRIT outlet store which has clothes for everybody, not just teeny-boppers like in the U.S. There are all sorts of outlet stores hidden around Hong Kong where you can get great bargains. I took Marcie to the Hard Rock Cafe where she had FOUR refills of her root beer...guess what else you can't get in China!! She also kept me entertained with stories about growing up Mormon in Texas. She loved the food - had their awesome bbq pork sandwich, and some baked beans we were both fighting over. I had a big, greasy bacon cheeseburger with fries and a load of ketchup. It was a beautiful little slice of normal for us.

Riding the subway was a challenge with big shopping bags, a stroller, and an obstinate 2-year-old who didn't WANT to ride in the stroller. Another challenge was when it poured and we got completely soaked with our babies...not fun. I bought a big, giant Hard Rock Cafe umbrella, only to find I couldn't fit walking down the street with all the other people - the umbrella took up too much space! So, we got really, really wet. All in all we had a nice, normal day. You don't have any idea how precious normal is until you live in China or someplace else where nothing is really normal.

It's the rainy season here so we can expect torrential downpours many days. It's nice, though - it cools things off!

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Clearer, More Sparkly Hong Kong

OK, here are some much better pictures of Hong Kong, thanks to my mom's trip here last fall. They capture what I always talk about - the view from the Peak is first - you're looking down on huge skyscrapers. Next is a typical boat you see in the harbor. And last is the view of Hong Kong from the harbor, which is just so cool. Yay! Thanks, Mom!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

We had a really rainy weekend in Hong Kong yesterday and today. But I thought I'd show you a bit of it. The first picture is of Ella because she's so darn cute - no, my house isn't usually that messy!! The next few pictures are inside a Disneyland subway car - it's a special line of the MTR that's exclusive to Hong Kong Disneyalnd. it's so cool!The last picture is a bit gray but you can just make out the buildings jutting up from Hong Kong Island beyond all the boats; it's a pretty typical picture of what we see from the ferry. It's breathtaking when it's clear and sunny I'll take pictures next time I remember my camera and it's sunny (probably won't be for a while...)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I finished my first "Survivial Mandarin" class today. It was a fun class. The teacher was fresh and always very prepared, and she had many interesting and varied activities for us to learn with. Today she looked so proud and was taking pictures - I asked if we were her first class, and it turns out that we were!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

And a one, and a two...

Well, Tim came home on Mother's Day, which was a really great Mother's Day present for everybody. He's recuperating well and getting his bandage cleaned and changed daily by the doctor at the SOS clinic. It turns out it was a staph infection, so I'm really glad we caught it when we did, and that the antibiotics worked their magic.

Did you know Mother's Day is celebrate all over the world? It is sometimes on a different day, depending on the country, but I do know that China, Hong Kong and Peru all celebrate it the same day we do in the United States! My friend Patty had a big international potluck on Mother's Day - somehow the moms all did the cooking, however. But we all had a really nice time, and the highlight for me was definetly when Tim got dropped off at Patty's door when our dear friend Daniel brought him home from Hong Kong. We had a great time.

Speaking of Mothers, I am so sorry to inform you all that my mom and her husband won't be coming next week, as we've been eagerly anticipating. Wayne is holed up in a hospital with a nasty case of pneumonia and it looks like he'll have a long recovery before any sane doctor lets him visit China. Very, very sad - I've been having a hard time with this one. I've been very worried about his health, and I've also had to realize that their visit was making every adjustment easier. It was like I just wasn't having that tough a transition, really, because I knew my mom was coming in May. Now that she's not coming, it all is hitting me like a ton of bricks, the loneliness, the homesickness, and the missing my friends so very much. Builds character, I am sure. I'm just going to have to start dancing, I suppose.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Keep on Dancing

I was talking with my friend Paty today. Paty was the first person we met here, on our first walk around the neighborhood. She has given me many words of wisdom and she has made me laugh very hard many times, as well. I respect, admire and really like her.

Today we were talking about challenges in life and she told me a very cool story. Someone once said that depression and troubles are like standing in a hole, digging. If you stay there and keep digging, you're going to get deeper and deeper and soil is going to start falling in on you. But if you start dancing on that soil, you're eventually going to have something solid to stand on again, and eventually you'll end up back on top. Since you're dancing on that soil it's going to be even more solid that where you started.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My Left Foot

Well, Tim's left foot, actually...

I'm sitting in a hospital in Hong Kong waiting for Tim to get out of surgery. This past weekend he developed an infection in the top of his foot. His foot was double the size it usually is (if you know Tim, you know that's really, really big) and red and purple. It looked awful. So, Monday morning he went down to the International SOS Clinic, which is in our neighborhood. The clinic is staffed by English-speaking doctors and nurses and is managed by an American. They are kind, prompt, and so far have been very helpful to us.

The doctor took one look at his foot and sent him to Hong Kong, to Matilda Hospital. Matilda Hospital is located on the Peak of Hong Kong and overlooks the harbor. The private room Tim is staying in has a balcony with lounge chairs and excellent room service. It's really, really nice. The staff are knowledgeable, helpful, and conservative considering we live in China. Rather than sending him away with an oral antibiotic, they admitted him for intraveneous antibiotics to make sure the infection gets kicked out. Lucky for us they did that, because the first antibiotic stopped working on Tuesday night. His foot got worse after getting better. The wise doctor changed the antibiotic, and as of last evening his foot seems to be on the mend. Right now they are draining the infection surgically, and they had to put him under for that.

I came here to visit him on Tuesday for a few hours, too. In order to get to Hong Kong, which we can see from our kitchen window, it takes about 1 1/2 hours and a bit of hassle. We usually take a ferry from Shenzhen - the ferry station is within walking distance from our house. We have to go through China customs on our way out, before we can get on the boat. The trip across the water takes about an hour, and on the way you see many, many boats and cargo ships and ferries. It's very exciting - everywhere you look are small and huge boats loaded up with containers. Hong Kong is the second largest port in the world, and with China being a manufacturing giant, there are unimaginable quanitites of stuff going to and from each day. Once in a while we'll see one of the mega-huge container ships that seem to stretch out a mile long. The ferry usually does a bit of rocking afer going past one of those! Many cranes to load and unload, and smaller ships that have just 15 or so containers on them are all around on the water, too.

Once in Hong Kong, you go through Hong Kong customs and down the ferry station escalators to the taxi stand. If your taxi driver doesn't speak English, as mine didn't today, you need to call someone who can tell them where you're going in Cantonese. I had to call Tim, who had to call a nurse, to talk to the taxi driver today.

This evening when I return to China, I'll go through customs in Hong Kong again, and again when I reach China.

While Shenzhen and Hong Kong are really very close to each other, they certainly seem to be a world apart. When Tim and I were talking this afternoon, he said that just an hour away seems like a whole lot more considering the differences and the process to get there. And the fact that your love is on the other side of that hour and half. The kids and I can't wait for him to come home.

Hopefully he'll be coming back to the room soon and I'll get a good report. Keep him in your prayers!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Tip to Toes

Due to a major language barrier and dim lighting, last week my hair got bleached blonde and stripped of any nice color or resemblance of health. I am very upset by this, and have been told by a professional there is nothing - at all - I can do. I feel like Courtney Love. Enough said. Next time, if I ever get hair again, I'm going to Hong Kong, where it's expensive but they understand the word "RED" does not mean "BLONDE." Yikes.

On a more positive note, I had my first Chinese foot massage today and I don't think I'll ever be the same. In China, a foot massage is so much more. You start with your feet soaking (up to your knees) in hot water that has milk and rose petals in it (or seaweed, or menthol, and I think there are other choices). While you soak you get a major back, neck, shoulder, arm and hand massage - they hit pressure points that release all sorts of pain and tension, they stretch you and pound on you until you feel like you could never be stressed again, even if your hair looks like it's been deep-fried at Dollywood and served on a stick.

Then, you sit back in a comfy chair and they work on your feet. They really, really work on your feet - pressure points to release any tension you may have held in your body since childhood. Every tiny bit of your feet is pulled, pushed and roughed up until it surrenders. It's amazing, truly. They work up your calves to your knees, kneading and smacking the tar out of any sore spots. It's the most relaxing thing because all that pounding makes the stress, tension and soreness just melt away. I truly recommend anyone who gets anywhere near China, come to Shenzhen for a foot massage!

Here are the kids on Easter Sunday.

Here are a few pictures of the kids and our neighborhood. The park below is sort of typical of China in that you'll notice there is a slide but no's been like that since we moved in. Sort of makes no sense, eh? Below it is a photo of the Park N Shop, where we walk to get most of our groceries.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

This week is the May Day Labor Day holiday in China (and other communist countries, apparently). It's a big deal - most schools are closed for the week, although since the holiday is officially Tuesday - Thursday, they go to school Saturday and Sunday so they get the whole week off. Tim's company is closed for the week, except for Monday. The kids' school is only closed Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday. We had originally planned to travel to Macau for the break, but we heard that all of China will be traveling and vacationing, so we'd best not go there. Then we thought we'd go to Beijing for the week, but, same thing, just tons and tons of crowds, even moreso than usual. So, we're staying home and hanging out here. It will actually be nice, I think.

Today was Andrew's birthday, he turned 5. Amazing, I remember quite vividly the events that led up to his early birth, as I'm sure anybody who knew me then remembers. Lucky us, how blessed are we to have that little boy around! He's so funny.

I made him a racecar cake, as I have done for his past 3 birthdays (thanks, Mom, for sending the pan!). I made it Friday and planned to decorate it for the party on Saturday. Saturday afternoon rolled around - I waiting as long as possible to decorate it because the humidity melts icing - and I realized the cake wasn't cooked all the way through, all gooey and such in the middle. So, stressing like only I can, I baked another cake, waited patiently for it to cool (well, kind of patiently) and decorated it about 1 hour before the party. Since it took 1 1/2 hours to decorate, I was still scrambling when everyone got here. Bummer. My cheesecake was also subpar, which was disappointing and embarrassing because I truly am the Queen of the Cheesecake. Ah, well, Andrew had a nice party and it was really nice to spend time with our friends. The pizza was good - they have Papa John's here which taste pretty much the same as it does back home. Except they also deliver salad and the Ranch dressing tastes like nothing but plastic with some pepper in it. It's strange, nasty and scary. But, I digress...

Today I went to the Protestant service with the boys and really enjoyed it. I met some more very nice people, saw some people I already knew, which was very nice, and felt "spoken to" during the message. In all, it was a refreshing, grounding experience and I felt blessed to be there.

This past Friday I went to the neighborhood pool with the boys (they didn't have school Friday because they really never have school, now, do they?). On the way down I had this feeling of deja vu, only it was us heading to our neighborhood pool in Knoxville. It was really lonely to realize that I would, indeed, not be running into my friends Carolyn, Mary, Heidy and Barb and their lovely kids at the pool, I would just be running into a bunch of people I don't know so well and their kids. It was a very lonely moment for me and I felt so homesick for my neighbors and friends. I miss you, pals!! And your lovely children! The really nice thing was, though, that I did run into some new friends I had met before through my wonderful neighbor. They hung out with me and made me feel quite welcome and included. It was very enjoyable. The sad thing is, they're both moving back to the States this summer. I am going to have to get used to the incredibly temporary situation everyone is in here and not guard my heart too closely. I'm going to have to be open to friends who may not live near me for very long but who very well may stay in my heart and in my life even after we return to our respective homes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lily's Wedding

We were invited to a Chinese wedding party this Sunday. When a Chinese couple gets married, the actual marriage takes place at a government office with just the bride and groom attending. It has to be on a good day according to the lunar calendar. The party, too, has to be on a good day according to that calendar (not the Gregorian calendar). One of Tim's coworkers who was there said she got married but they didn't have the party until over a year later because the year in between wasn't a good year to get married.

The party was in a city north of Shenzhen, and has a much smaller foreign population - we received many stares from people in other vehicles.

When you walk into the venue, the bride is there to greet you (she had on a beautiful white dress, gloves and veil) along with a few friends/relatives who carried silver trays. The trays were for little red envelopes, the traditional gift of choice for weddings (filled with cash, of course). Then we walked into the party room where tables were set with red cloths, bowls of peanuts and candy, and two packs of cigarettes on each table.

We found a table and sat down, and were served tea even though we were the first ones there. We relaxed and listened to various songs such as "auld lang syne", "Happy Birthday", and some traditional Chinese music. People began arriving and finding a seat. Finally the bridal procession entered - a wedding cake (very small) on a cart, followed by a wedding performer/MC guy, then the bride and groom, and then some friends with big Chinese crackers that shot out confetti and streamers with a bang. The groom then picked up the bride and paraded her around the room so each table could get a good look at her. They walked up to a platform where speeches were given - in this case, by each of their bosses. Since they are both from different towns, they had already had two parties in each of those towns with their relatives. After speeches and some jokes and nice words from the MC guy (who would normally, I believe, be a friend of the couple), they had a ring ceremony. I suppose I don't need to add that I had no idea what any of the speakers was saying, except for Lily's American boss. The woman next to me explained that it was mostly about how they met and about them as a couple.

Then they cut the heart-shaped cake in half but did not eat any. After that they had champagne in two cups that were tied together with a red ribbon, and poured some champagne into a cup on top of a tower of cups. The MC guy poured that cup into two cups underneath it and they each drank from one of those.

After that, the bride left to change into a beautiful reddish tulle dress - sort of a vermillion color, I guess. It was gorgeous and she looked like a princess. So much so that Ella was terrified of her because she is terrified of any Disney character including Alice in Wonderland and the Princesses. But, I digress.

Chinese meals are served family-style, with a big lazy susan in the middle of the table, and you just grabe what you want with the chopsticks for each dish and put it on your plate. We had a delicious meal of broth soup, fish balls with oysters, mushroom and braised lettuce leaves in gravy, stewed ginger chicken, shrimp (which the Chinese eat whole - head and shell and all, then they spit out the shells), grilled pork (usually sliced, with a lot of fat and skin around very tender meat), cashew chicken (which was REALLY good), fried rice, and whole grilled fish. The other people at the table looked at me funny when I peeled my shrimp and took off the head with my chopsticks - the woman next to me even showed me how to just pop the whole thing in....ummmmm, no thanks. I also didn't try the fish balls because I had a hard time with the smell, but everything else was really, really good. The kids even ate really well. While we ate, the bride and groom visited each table for a toast and a welcome.

Then they served a plate of sweets - little egg custard tarts, which Alex loved, and these sticky rice pastries filled with sweet black sesame seed paste. These were really, really really good! After that came the usual dessert of a huge tray of cut fresh fruit. It was really good - we had star fruit, apples, oranges, melon, watermelon, and grapes.

After that, it was done and we headed back to Shenzhen and a very light supper because we were still so full!