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!