Saturday, April 26, 2008

Andrew's Disneyland Birthday

Andrew's 6th birthday will be Tuesday. To celebrate, we went to Hong Kong Disneyland today to spend the day with our dear Hong Kong friends. We also invited some new friends we met when we were in Cebu, Philippines to join us. We all have a wonderful, tiring day, ending with a big buffet dinner featuring Mickey, Minnie and friends.

Ella is ready to party.

Andrew and Unnamed Friend, dancing to the parade music.

The Mouse himself was gracious enough to pose with us before helping Andrew cut his Mickey-shaped cake.

Just the family at the Happiest Place on Earth.
The Small World attraction opens this Monday...SUCH a bummer we missed it! We'll just have to come back...
In the meantime, stay tuned for more of Andrew's Birthday Extravaganza 2008!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

So much more than shampoo

One thing my friends, (as well as Chinese folks in general) like to do is get the occasional hair wash. You go to a hair place - they have hair places and they have nail places and spas, and ne'er the two (three) shall meet - and into the "hair wash room" (I don't know what they call it it Chinese!). The hair wash room is a room off the regular beauty salon full of vinyl-coated cots attached to sinks. You lie down on a vinyl cot with your head on a base over the sink. They usually start with a little head massage first. Then, they work in some nice-smelling shampoo while giving you a scalp and head massage. This lasts for maybe 8 minutes, then they rinse you and shampoo again, with the scalp massage. After they rinse you a second time, they work in some conditioning oils, depending on your hair's needs (although most are really clueless as to the needs of Western hair - another blog post entirely!). After massaging in the oils, they let them soak into your hair. During this time you receive a really nice neck massage, then they work down your back. (There is usually a towel and a sheet of plastic inside the back of your shirt to protect it.) This part lasts another 10 - 15 minutes. Then they rinse you again. Sometimes they'll clean out your ears during this time (I know - wierd, huh? They really dig in with the cotton swabs to a scary depth. I don't do that anymore). Sometimes they'll offer you a face wash as well. Since I normally wear makeup ("normally" meaning Always, except for bed) I have never gotten one, but some friends have gotten little mini-facials while at hair washes. My friends have really enjoyed this as it adds to the whole relaxing-clean thing. They rinse you again and wrap your hair in a towel, really tight. Then you lie down on the cot part without the sink. They massage your shoulders, arms and hands. Some places massage your legs but that always hurts me so I have them stop (Westerners are notorious wimps). Then they turn you over, face down, and really work your back. The whole massaging, cleansing process lasts from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the place and on the person working on you. It's incredibly relaxing. Then they take you to the "beauty salon" part to blow-dry and style your hair. Again, they're pretty clueless about Western hair so my very straight hair usually gets "straightened" some more to the point that I could probably use it as a weapon. But it looks nice, clean and shiny. I have some friends who don't even bother to do their hair anymore, they just go to the hair wash place and have somebody else do it a few times a week.

This whole thing generally costs 25 rmb, though if you get a snappy new haircut like Tim did yesterday, it costs about 40 rmb. Please take note that with the exchange rate of 7:1 US$, that's about three bucks for a hair wash, maybe just a little more. It's a pretty sweet deal. Unless your hair gets stuck in the hair dryer like mine did yesterday - it's still a sweet deal but that was a bummer.
Another bummer is that the hair wash guys and gals make (so I've heard) about 3 rmb per hour. The above exchange rate can put that into perspective for you. We wimpy Westerners always try to make up for this with a generous tip of 5 - 10 rmb, which is really a lot of money to the hair wash folks. Everybody ends up happy and beautiful!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday Foggy Sunday

This morning (Sunday) was reeeeeally foggy - I couldn't see anything when I looked outside the window. This did not bode well for our planned trip to Hong Kong, as I've been a bit anxious to go to our church there. I was thinking the ferry ride, if it happened, might be a bit nerve-wracking.

Well, it cleared up a bit as the 9:00 launch neared so we headed to the ferry station and to Hong Kong. As we got closer to HK, the fog cleared some more, although I was pretty nervous. Normally there are many, many cargo ships, ferries and fishing boats out - really a LOT of boat traffic between Mainland China and Hong Kong. Well, this morning we were looking at the traffic and suddenly we spotted an aircraft carrier loaded with planes and helicopters in the water! It was an amazing sight!! Andrew was beside himself - he has been obsessed with aircraft carriers lately and we've NEVER seen one of those! Once we did see the Queen Mary II docked - it's huge - but the aircraft carrier was certainly the cat's pajamas today. It was really, really cool.
When we arrived in Hong Kong, we made our usual pit stop at Starbuck's for a snack and placed our bets on how many men would approach Tim to sell him stuff on the way to church. Each Sunday, at least 3 - sometimes up to 6 - men try to sell Tim tailor services for custom suits, watches, and handbags in little hole in the wall stores nearby. I guess we have "TOURIST" written all over us, although you'd think they'd recognize us by now! (3 men approached him today - not too bad.)
Sadly, when we arrived at church we found out they'd changed the service time for this week because it's their annual meeting. They were already 50 minutes into the service when we got, so sad. Especially since we missed it the past few weeks. AND, we had bought the round-trip tickets for the 6:00 pm ferry so we had some time to waste.
Well, Tim ended up talking to one of the suit guys on the way back and they are now in the process of custom-making him two nice, new suits. They had a storefront where they measured him, had thousands of fabrics to choose from, and designed the suits and dress shirts for him in about a half hour's time.
We ate at Dan Ryan, where I had a steak salad. Let me tell you that steak and meat in general is different here -different texture, different cuts, different's just not the same. But Dan Ryan serves AMERICAN steaks - woo-hoo! It was an amazing steak salad. Just like being home. And in the restroom, they play all these old tv jingles - today I heard "My Three Sons" and "Mission: Impossible". Last time we went there it was The Jeffersons' "Movin' On Up". nice to hear (and EAT) stuff that makes me feel normal! (side note: whenever I say "Let's go to Dan Ryan", I feel like I'm heading to a big, huge highway...another side note: if you're not from the Midwest, the Dan Ryan Expressway is a major route through Chicago)
Then we took the Star Ferry across the harbor to the main Hong Kong Island side called Central. We stocked up on some healthy foods we can't get here (only packaged foods allowed across the border, though - no produce, meats or cheeses) and spent some more time wandering around Hong Kong.
Hopped onto the 6:00 ferry, had a rocky, jerky ride home - we did see the aircraft carrier again. But the boys were so tired and so sick from the rocky boat ride that it wasn't quite as exciting. I just did some research and found out it's the USS Ronald Reagan (gonna keep quiet here...), the latest in nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, carries 80 aircraft, and can go for TWENTY YEARS without refueling...and there are suggestions that it's on it way to establish a presence in Iran...again, I'm going to keep QUIET right now because this is not a political blog because I have dear friends on both side of "center".... *sigh*
I dearly missed church but it sure turned out to be an interesting Sunday!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Saturday Shenanigans

Chinese children have hours of homework every night. They are taught to memorize, memorize, memorize, follow the rules, be respectful to teachers, and memorize some more. That is how they are taught everything -math formulas, literature, and science - even music. It is a very different educational strategy than in the U.S., where students are taught problem-solving and creative thinking. It makes for good engineers and math and science people. It does not make for good free-thinkers, which really isn't conducive to the political structure here anyway.
Today my friend Kelly and I went to a tailor shop to get a dress made. It is fairly cheap to get clothing custom made here, though I've never done it. Kelly needs to get a dress made for an upcoming wedding. When she found a design she liked, she tried to ask to see fabric samples and get an estimate of what it would cost to make that dress. Between us, our Chinese was good enough to ask the questions. Unfortunately, the tailor's assistant was unable to think outside of the box, so to speak. Since they don't sell the particular fabric pictured, she couldn't help us. After one and a half hours of trying to find out if certain dresses were available in different colors, and what it would cost to make them, we left the store having found out nothing. She could not get it into her head that we could change the fabric color or fabric of a dress, even though it is a custom tailor. Very rigid thinking! Very frustrating for us Westerners - especially my free-thinking friend Kelly!

Then we went to another part of town, right outside the "expat neighborhood". China is full of these little storefronts on the ground floor with apartments that go several stories up above the storefronts. Skinny little streets full of bicycles transporting all sort of items and people - it's not unusual to see a family of 4 on one bike, or a guy with a stack of mattresses 10 feet high on the back of a bike. The skinny streets are lined with all these little shops, one after the other, all basically in the same building with the occasional narrow alleyway. They sell so many things in these little shops, though you sometimes wonder if it's new stuff, where it came from and how long it's been sitting there. And how clean it is. I've always sort of avoided going there because I'm not confident enough of my Chinese and I never know which shops sell what. I found some great little shops today with Kelly - she took me to this Malaysian shop that sells all these funky clothes and jewelry and knicknacks. We found some very groovy clothes and we were also able to bargain down a bit. I ended up with a beautiful, hand-beaded shirt, a skirt and a beaded tank top for under $60 - not dirt-cheap but certainly a bargain considering the quality of the stuff. We had a blast and we were able to really practice our Chinese at the shops. My new resolution is to get out of this neighborhood more often and USE my Chinese so it improves - it's so easy not to use it where we live, which is too bad because it never really gets better that way. Kelly's resolution is to run the Great Wall of China 1/2-Marathon next month. (Which resolution sounds easier?) I'm even going to get really brave and visit the wet market, which I've been avoiding due to fear of seeing Fido or Snowball there. I've found out they have live chickens but no domestic pets there - whew! They sell fresh, cheap vegetables and fruits and meats there. I will avoid the meats (uh, animals), regardless, because, brave or not, I am NOT going to kill, behead and pluck a chicken. I'd rather run the Great Wall 1/2 Marathon.