Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Leisure Time

This week is Spring Break for the kids. I know, I know, you're asking "do these kids EVER go to school??" The answer is, well, sometimes. There are many Chinese holidays, and the International School celebrates them as well as the American ones. They do have a long school year, beginning in mid-August and going until mid-June.

Yesterday was play-day for the kids. They played all day with their friend from down the street. I took them swimming for a while, and the pool was completely empty. Our little friend (from Canada) said it's because it's winter. Winter! Ha! Ha ha ha ha HAH! It was hot and muggy and a swim was just what they needed. I like this kind of winter!

We went to the park again this afternoon. It's so easy to just walk on down and play and let the kids let off steam. I believe I only walked DOWN the stairs once today, and we took a golf cart back up. Yikes! I'm going to get out of shape this week without school forcing me to StairMaster. My sister in law asked me who needs a StairMaster when you can be Master of the Stairs! She's not kidding! I do miss my tae kwon do class, though, and could use a little punching and yelling and kicking. I found one class here but it would be myself and a bunch of elementary school kids kicking my tookus around the mats. No, thanks. I guess I'll have to take up tai chi, but it doesn't seem nearly as fun.

At noon we met Tim at his office and went out to eat with his coworkers. I was nervous about the kids eating because we went to a Chinese restaurant (well, duh!) but they really did great, trying stuff and liking some of it very much. It was delicious! One of the best Chinese meals we've had here. We had stewed chicken with ginger; spicy beef with bean sprouts; bok choy; fried rice; eggs with ham, peppers and onion; noodles with broth and vegetables; tofu with sausage; scallops on the shell with garlic; deep-fried ribs; herb soup; and orange slices. We also had a really nice time with Tim's coworkers.

Afterwards, I met with his office manager to work on putting together a Conversational English and American Culture class for any employees who wish to take it. They are very interested in getting English practice and learning about American culture. This seems like a really big job with American culture being as varied as it is. I'm really looking forward to working with them and finding little tidbits to add to the class.

It's been really nice, having this extra family time together to make our transition easier. We're hoping to fill the kids' hearts with many sweet memories to go along with their "I can't BELIEVE you did this to us!" memories of beginning our life here. So, tomorrow we head to Hong Kong Disneyland for more together-time. The ferry, the subway, the Buzz Lightyear - what a wonderful way to spend Wednesday together!

I do have a quick favor for you, readers. Please, right now, say a quick prayer for Katie's pain to ease and for comfort for her and her family. Thanks!

Zai jian!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Not exciting, but normal!

We had a pretty good weekend - a NORMAL weekend. Although we really, really miss watching Monk and Psyche on Friday nights, we made it through the evening without our shows.

Saturday morning we had a relatively lazy morning; we then went ice skating at a shopping mall. It's a really nice mall with a big atrium area where you can ice skate. Our friends' daughter takes lessons there so we met them, then had some lunch at the Spaghetti House (the lasagne tasted a tad funky, but the pizza is wonderful). Then the boys and I went skating while Tim took Ella with him to get a haircut. We had a blast, and it was so normal, so peaceful to just skate around and not have to worry about communicating with anyone or not being able to get my point across. It felt great.

Then we went home and spent the afternoon playing with the next-door neighbors, who invited us over for pizza that evening. We had a nice, relaxing evening having pizza and conversation with other Americans. Got some nice tips for living here and getting stuff, like the milk delivery everyone gets twice a week. Sweet deal! You can only buy milk in the little skinny cartons, and we go through several of these a week. Apparently there's a guy who will deliver as much milk as you need, as many times a week as you ask him to.

This morning Tim went golfing, which I'm sure felt great for him. For me, it was nice and normal because the ayis all have Sundays off, so it was just the kids and I. We found the church, and I was able to sing some of my favorite praise songs then I got the boys off to Sunday school. Church was mainly Asians and other foreigners - it was interesting to realize how Christianity touches such a vast number of people. I guess I never much thought about it before, but it could have been a Sunday morning anywhere in the world, and it felt so familiar and good to worship with other people.

After church we had lunch at home then headed to the playground for the afternoon. Up and down the stairs a lot, again. We had some downtime when Tim got home, then tonight we were invited out to meet our Peruvian and Irish and Brazilian and Canadian and American friends and eat outside while the kids played in the big plaza/courtyard area. It was a lot of fun. The kids are tired, and I felt like I could talk to anybody I needed to, all weekend. Refreshing!

Tomorrow I start my Mandarin lessons - can't wait!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

If Only I'd Have Known

Our things should be arriving via the ocean in a few weeks. I definetly WON'T be needing the treadmill, and I wish I would have known that ahead of time.

Here are some other things I wish I would have known ahead of time:

You can't buy deodorant in China.
You can't buy good ice cream in China.
You can't buy English-language books in China. Right now even a trashy novel would be refreshing.
You can't buy toddler beds in China.
You can't return stuff to stores in China.
Starbucks doesn't carry their strawberries & cream frappuccino in China. Or any of the good pastries.
You really do need sunscreen in southern China in March. And shorts and tank tops and sandals.
"Skinny" jeans should not be thrown away in moments of despair.
Clothes are made for people thinner and taller than we (my family) are - even kids' clothes.
You really do need to learn to speak or at least understand Mandarin in China - English isn't going to cut it in everyday life.

Stuff I'm glad I found out:
You CAN buy good cosmetics in Hong Kong, and my favorite hair products are available in China.
The world is much smaller than you may think it is.
There are good, kind and friendly people everywhere.
My mom is still the best mom in the world, even half a world away.
I have some really, really good friends.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Wal-mart: We're Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto

Well, going to Wal-Mart is really a trip here in China. It's so different. When you go in, there are these little tiny shopping carts and you ride up a sort of slanted moving sidewalk - not an escalator because there are no stairs (because of the carts). These conveyor belts are magnetized so the carts stick, and they take you upstairs to the non-food floor. I tried to buy a little TV for our ayi's room but since nobody speaks English, I had a tough time finding what I needed. I also checked out a stroller for my friend, but all the strollers were chained to a high shelf so you could SEE them, but not check them out physically without asking for help. Tough to ask for help when you don't speak Mandarin. No stroller and no TV later, I headed to the little boys' clothing where I tried to find some pants for Andrew. All the sizes here are in centimeters, not the good old 2-4-5/6, etc. Most of the boys' pants had this weird Harry Potter logo sewn all over them and weird embroidery designs. No just plain old khakis or jeans, except one normal jeans style. So I finally figured out what size he should wear and, lo and behold, there are completely out of his size in the normal jeans. I found one pair of the right size but they were SEWN onto the display rack, so again, I had to get help. The woman acted like she was going to get help or ask if she could remove the sewn-on display, but she never came back. No TV, no stroller, no pants.

Down to the food section on the sticky, stinky escalator-mabob. Many stares and pointing along the way : )

Any meat products or produce needs to be weighed at a different station and you get a sticker for what you bought on the bag. If you don't get them weighed at the right station, you can't check out. Period. Since I assume they were telling me I had to go to a different weigh station for my bananas when I got my rice balls weighed, I spent a lot of time wandering around the meat and produce sections.

By the way, they don't refrigerate the eggs in China. Creeps me out. They also have the chicken eggs, which are usually dirty, right by the duck eggs, quail eggs, and various other fowl eggs. Sittin' on a shelf, waiting for bird flu or salmonella or whatever.

Well, I finally got a cartful of goodies and headed to checkout. I always attract an audience, especially when I'm trying to ask for help. The woman didn't want to accept my card, but she finally went over to a different register and came back with a receipt for me to sign. When I signed it, she looked at it for a LOOOOOOONG time before handing my card and receipt back.

Finally got out of there, without the chicken nuggets or frozen pizza. No such luck finding those things in China. I can get them, as well as Haagen Dasz and Ben N Jerry's in Hong Kong, but since it takes a long time to get to and from Hong Kong, all I can do is dream about frozen pizza and chicken nuggets and yummy ice cream.

I know, I know, I'm lucky as can be that I can afford to buy food to feed my family, and some import items that make us feel normal. Don't get me wrong, I know I'm lucky as can be.

I used to hate going to Wal-Mart. I was a Target Girl. But now, I am starting to really miss Wal-Martin' in the U.S.A.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I hope you can read this!

My whole blog turned Chinese when I signed on tonight! Yikes, I guess they know my computer's here now. Well, just so you know, starting Monday morning I did feel much better, and I really do appreciate the encouraging e-mails and blog comments from my friends. I miss you all very much. I guess Sundays will be hard for a while, and I also guess I really need to stick around on Sundays and go to the church that's right in my neighborhood. I think just plugging myself in will be helpful for me, emotionally, spiritually, and physically (because I have to walk down the hill...) : )

This past week went mostly well. I get a LOT of exercise going up and down the hill several times a day to pick up boys for lunch at different times, and drop them off at school, then pick them up again. After I drop them off in the afternoons, I usually head over to the market for the day's groceries. I then head back up the steep, long hill to my house. I could, of course, take a golf cart up the hill once in my neighborhood, but each time the security guard looks at me, it's almost like a dare. I know he's expecting me to ask for a golf cart, so....I DON'T. I trudge on up with my two sacks of groceries and I tell myself I will soon have the most lovely thighs I've ever had. WHEW.

Andrew is having a tough time adjusting to his new school. He and his old teacher really clicked, and there was a lot of love in that class. In this class, his teacher is fine but she doesn't know him yet, doesn't know how sweet and smart and funny he is. So, each day he's been crying about going back to school. I'm hoping that things will get easier for my baby.

We hired an ayi this past Monday. Ayi means "auntie" in Chinese - and it sounds nicer than "maid." She cleans the house and she also takes care of the kids if I need her to (but I usually don't). It's been very different having somebody live here, and having somebody clean up after us and do our laundry. Awkward and strange, but I think I can get used to it (can you say SPOILED??)

I think that helped a lot, too, having somebody around to help out, especially if Tim has a late night. I can really concentrate on having quality time with my kids instead of always having to clean something up or do laundry. I do the cooking still, because I know what my family likes to eat, and I like to cook.

This past weekend we took a ferry to Hong Kong and then a subway to Disneyland. The subway line that goes to Hong Kong is so cool - the windows are mouse-shaped and the seats are plush and curved; the handles you hold onto if you're standing are mouse ears and hang from red suspender straps. The floor has sparklies in it, and there are Disney statues throughout the train cars. We had such a fun day - we all rode the carousel together, and Buzz Lightyear, plus just had a ball together. We then met our dear friends for an evening in Hong Kong and shopping the following day. Had a great time, and got home very late. We do love Hong Kong, and we do love our friends who live there. I think, though, that we're going to STAY HOME next weekend and have some restful time together.

So, things are looking up. My mom and Wayne have plane tickets to come - yippee!! Thanks for checking up on us.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Today's not such a good day in resort land. I miss my mom so much it hurts to breathe sometimes, and I'm wondering just what I was thinking when I thought this would be a good idea. It's Sunday night here, and Sunday night has always been our night to have dinner with mom and Wayne and just be together before the week starts. It's Sunday morning there, and she's on her way to church. I miss my church, I miss my friends, I miss my kids' preschool, I miss my house. I miss my life. I hope I can be happy here.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

One of the pilots from our flight snapped this photo after we landed in Hong Kong. He was kind enough to e-mail it to us. Andrew was so excited to see the cockpit and chat with all his Pilot Friends.
The staff on this Continental Airlines flight were all so friendly and so great with the kids.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

School Time

Yesterday was the first day of school for the boys. Unfortunately, Tim's alarm clock kept losing time all night so when we thought it was 5:30 it was actually 7:00. Luckily we had just enough time to shower and get them down the hill to meet their teachers.

They were both very excited and Alex was very nervous. Both their teachers were very sweet and happy to see them. Alex was assigned a buddy to show him around, and his teacher said he just sort of slid right in. Andrew seems to have done the same, though I didn't get as much chance to talk with his teacher. It was a bit crazy at pick-up time.

If you live in the school neighborhood, you have to go home for lunch; preschool is off 11:30-1 and primary from 12-1. I really like this idea - I get a nice midday report from the boys, it's a lot less stressful than lunchtime at a school, and they get exercise coming home and going back (and so do I!!) Tim went down to pick up Andrew for lunch and headed back down for Alex. Alex, meanwhile, got out a bit early and cruised up the hill, asked a security guard for directions and showed up at our door. It was a bit unnerving to have him show up at home alone, but he did just fine. He's getting so very big! I told him where to wait from now on so he doesn't miss us when we pick him up.

Both boys seemed to really enjoy their day and were all set to go back for more. I think Alex is going to do great here - there is more homework and I think he will be challenged more, which he needs. I think Andrew will do just great having some other kids his level to play with, instead of older kids ordering him around.

My baby was upset because she saw the little kids playing outside - she wanted to be in school, too! Her class is unfortunately full. We had planned on getting her into a Chinese preschool, but are changing our thinking after talking to the Director of Admissions for the boys' school. Apparently the bilingual thing works best when the native language is mastered first. With her significant language delay, I think she is still working hard on getting the hang of English. I'm thinking she doesn't need the further confusion of an additional language to deal with. So, in fall she'll start at the same school the boys go to. That will make things easier anyhow.

My next task is to find a domestic helper. Domestic help is very cheap over here, and I haven't met anyone who doesn't have help around the home. That will be my goal next week, now that the boys and Tim will be into a nice, normal routine. I also want to find a tae kwon do class for English-speaking moms such as myself, and maybe guiar lessons for my rock star son.