Friday, August 29, 2008

mountains, massages, and meat

BUSY DAY today! But with a relaxing on!

First Tim and I went for a walk this morning through the neighborhood. We try to do this nearly every day at 6, before the kids get up. No, we don't leave them alone - we have help here of course. It's a nice way to keep in touch and get exercise (those hills!)

Then I met Paty and other friends to get as much of the mountain in as I could before 9 - we made it all the way to the first peak. A few times I tried to stop and go back down but my Czech friend Jana was very encouraging and inspirational. Made it! In a heaving, sweating mess of muscle, but made it nonetheless...someday that WILL get easier, I just know it.

Cruised home and showered quickly before joining a test panel for my friend's husband's company. That's right, we were thawing meat and peeling vegetables at a table in Starbucks! We got a lot of strange looks and questions but we really had a good, productive test of the products. The funny thing is, I probably would have felt very self-conscious peeling vegetables and watching meat thaw in a Starbucks in the U.S. You can get away with so much more in China than you can in the U.S. Like showing up at Starbucks, where you will most certainly know at least 3 people, after strenous mountain exercise, all sweaty and icky, no makeup, and not think twice about it. Your clothes don't necessarily have to match - they can even clash. I love China.

After test panel, I met Tim at his office for lunch and a relaxing stroll around the police station. We had to go there and be interviewed for our residence visas, a complicated procedure. Luckily we had an agent who totally knows the ropes navigating for us and we were done in under an hour! It didn't hurt that she knew the officer behind one of the was relatively painless, really.

THEN we headed home and I had to deliver newsletters for my local women's club. I don't normally deliver them but my fantastic neighbor Marcie asked me to - I can't so no to Marcie. It was a hot, sweaty walk around my neighborhood AGAIN. So much walking.

Then we discovered the most wonderful restaurant in the area - REALLY! I'd heard it was good but it was truly fantastic. The pizza is fab, Alex had minestrone and a caeasar salad and he actually ATE them - no small miracle. Awesome breadsticks - you have no idea just how big a deal that one is - with little bowls of olive oil and balsamic...ahhhh. SO good. We ran into 2/3 of our kids' teachers there. It was very nice.

Kids showered and relaxing on our bed with tv, and Tim and I headed over to the local spa for a bedtime massage. SO relaxing, I must say. We took a cab home - TOO MUCH WALKING TODAY ALREADY! I'm ready to pour myself into bed now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ups and Downs

There is a mountain behind our house that many people like to walk up for exercise. I have friends who do it several times a week but I had never done it. Until yesterday.

The mountain trail starts out as a nice smooth uphill road. Then you see the stairs. They look like those Dali stairs that just keep going but never really actually get anywhere.

We were climbing stairs for an hour and a half straight. We took a few breaks so we could replenish our liquids - I felt like Spongebob Squarepants when he's been out of the water for too long. But we just kept climbing up, up, up. It was truly grueling and I don't know how people do it as easily as the friends I was with. I have friends who RUN it. Ayah.

The really tiring part was that I had gotten up early to walk my hilly neighborhood with Tim at 6. So I'd already HAD my workout when my dear friend Paty called me to join them.

My Czech friend casually mentioned that yes, the first time is so hard and that it's no better the second time. She said maybe the 10th time it starts to get easier. Paty said "you're doing great! You can do it!" to which I replied with a few choice words I can't repeat here.

Jana also said I'd be sore, to which I replied "not me! I'm in shape!" HA HA HA HA Boy are my calves aching today! Like they haven't ached in years, except maybe when I've had the flu. No, I'm not in shape. But I'm going to GET in shape. Maybe keep climbing that mountain...

On a side note, as you know I live in an expat community where people come and go all the time. Saying goodbye to people is normal so sometimes you tend to hold them at arm's length. My friend Paty - the first person I met here - and the person I have most definetly NOT held at arm's length - is moving in a few weeks. She's not even sure where she's going or the day they're leaving yet, which is also normal for an expat. But she's leaving and I am so sad to be looking at life without her company. She is a wonderful friend and a fabulous person. Say a little prayer for Paty as she faces an unknown future.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Food and friends

Last night was my friend Sheri's birthday. She is from Scotland and her husband is from Germany. They had a little gathering at a nearby favorite restaurant which we were happy to attend and bring a cake to.

Around the table, we had 2 Scots, 3 Germans, 2 Brazilians, 2 Americans, 2 Israelis, 1 Czech, 1 Dane and 1 Brit. It was really quite amazing to realize just how many different countries my friends are from. We had great food and fantastic conversation.

The restaurant we ate at is a western restaurant - they serve really excellent salads - owned by an Australian. He does a great job of providing "normal" food there.

We were talking to Sheri's husband about the things you don't even realize you crave from home. He was saying that when they have clients in town they go to a nice hotel brunch quite often. While the clients go for all the exotic seafood that is quite common here, he always makes a dash for the good ham, the great bread and all the very normal (but not normal here!) comfort food.

Today I have another few cakes to do and I must practice my guitar. Had my first lesson yesterday and I have an awful lot to learn if I'm ever going to be able to actually play anything. But I learned a lot in one hour and I found a really excellent teacher.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Rock you like a Hurricane

This is our first experience with a real, big typhoon in Asia. We knew it was coming - lots of news flashes and SMS warnings in Chinese on the mobile phone. The past two nights the sunset was eery bright red.

Last night we were told Ella's preschool would be closed today. We assumed the elementary school would be closed, as well, but we found out at 9 (yes, everybody was still home in pajamas) that school was OPEN. So, my kids were an hour late for school. Oops. An hour later I got a call from school saying they were closing at 1.

Throughout the morning the wind really picked up, even though the rain held off until this afternoon. It was a really strong wind with pelting rain all afternoon and evening! The boys were playing at the neighbors' all afternoon and barely noticed. But we couldn't believe the wind! In Hong Kong there are reports of store signs and huge bamboo scaffolding being torn off buildings. Trees uprooted and all that. I am curious to know if there's been any damage here on the mainland.

It was nice to have an excuse to just stay in all day and be lazy!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back in the China Groove

It was the first day of school on Thursday. All three kids were so excited to get back to school and see their friends. In our community, people sort of trickle back in after their summer holiday - some wait until several weeks into the school year before returning. So it's been several days of seeing friends come in and join the fun. It's been really nice. Almost everybody is back now.

Friday was our 10th wedding anniversary. 10 years seems like such a long time, number-wise - but it hasn't seemed nearly that long. It's flown by and I couldn't be any more blessed with a husband. Tim took me out to Morton's of Chicago, a wonderful steakhouse in Hong Kong. Before that we went to the lounge at the Intercontinental Hotel, which overlooks Hong Kong harbor. It's breathtaking and so nice to just sit and sip a drink. I had a lovely mango juice. It was really a nice evening. He had a private car whisk us across the border, both ways. Very sleek. Nice job, Honey!

Yesterday we went to Hong Kong, back to our church. It felt so good to get back there - I really felt at home there and the sermon was preached, I believe, specifically to me. I love it when that happens! Then we went to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch where our waitress said "Welcome back! So nice to see you again! Would you like a Perrier, ma'am?" How cool that was - it was like "Cheers!" where everybody knows your name.

Then we went to a music store and picked out my anniversary gift. I figured now that I'm forty and been married for ten years and have three kids, it's about time I realize my lifelong dream of being a rock star. No, actually, I decided that instead of a rock for a gift, I wanted TO rock. Tim bought me a nice Fender Stratocaster, an amp and some books to learn. Started picking away last night. I'm going to have fun with this gift. And, yes, I am getting him something very special, too, but I can't tell him what it is until his 40th birthday in September. I'll let you know AFTER I let him know! Are you just ready to burst with anticipation? I am!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sweet Home China

We had an interesting trip back from the States. Alex, Ella and I left my mom's at 5 a.m. Monday (Tim was so kind as to drive us there, get us checked in using his Eliiiiiiiiiite status and see us to the security check). Hung around the airport and had a sleepy flight to Newark. When I got onto the plane, there was a guy who was assigned the same seats as us. He had obviously booked the front-row-more-legroom seats on purpose. I just wanted to make sure I was by both my kids. Luckily the flight wasn't full and he was able to find another seat but when I offered him my front-row-more-legroom seats he was just like "I'm fine." I felt really bad because I don't need the extra legroom. At all. I wish I did because then I might reach my lifelong dream of being 5'8" but I don't. Needless to say, neither does Ella! He kept insisting he was fine but I could tell he wasn't especially happy to squeeze into a row-3-not-so-roomy seat.

When we got to Newark, we found out our flight out was delayed. Normally we would have a 6 hour layover but our plane kept getting delayed due to maintenance. Well, by the time we left Newark we had spent TEN hours at the lovely Newark airport, killing time, running after Runaway Ella, and eating junk. Yippee. No, really, can I tell you how fun it was? Nope, it wasn't. At all.

Well, we finally got onto the plane and had pretty nice seats - only 6 rows away from Business Class so we could smell their good food and hear their crystal-clear serene silence. Ah, well. Someday maybe I'll be ELIIIIIIIITE enough to get into Business Class. For now, I'll sit in the plane ghetto with my fantastic flying children (well, they can't really actually fly...but they do well on airplanes).

Because of the delay, we arrived in Hong Kong at 11 p.m., too late to take a ferry across to China. I couldn't find the driver who was supposed to be picking us up and my phone battery was dangerously low. I also was unable to call Tim to ask him about it. I can call the U.S. from China but from Hong Kong you need to dial some magic code that I have yet to learn or make work on my particular phone. I would have been stuck in Hong Kong with my kids, too late to cross the border near our house (it closes at 10:30) and just wanting a shower and my bed.

Luckily for us my lovely, talented and incredibly generous neighbor Lucy was on my flight and she checked with me just as she was going to her car with her incredibly generous husband David. David was able to perform the magic rites that puts a call through to the U.S. and called Tim TWICE from Hong Kong so I could find out that the driver was indeed not even AT the airport. So I stopped looking for him.

Lucy and David kindly took us to their waiting car and drove us home, just as a typhoon was moving into the area. They had to walk through the border (the one NOT close to our house) due to some new regulation that only lets 4 people across in a car at once. Then they had to wait on the other side in the rain for us while the customs people looked into our car, at our faces, our paperwork and our passports. It was an ordeal. FINALLY we were on our way again.

I was so happy to get home, to have fantastical neighbors like Lucy and David, and to have arrived in Hong Kong BEFORE the typhoon hit. My housekeeper was waiting with open arms for us and we got cleaned up and settled in for the night. Slept and showered - I'm a new woman. The typhoon is giving us an excuse to have Lazy Day, too.

I'm ready to face my jetlag.