Thursday, December 8, 2011

This Week~

Tomorrow morning at this time I will be on a plane headed home! I have been waiting for this day since the moment we found out we were moving here. Nevermind the fact that the total travel time for me exceeds 30 hours! Hubby and kids will follow in a week, but in the meantime I can't wait to be with my mom and dad. I also look forward to seeing friends, EAT all the comforts from home (click here for my list), and shop for staples to bring back. 
Oh yeah, Christmas and New Years are in there too!

But before I go, 
here are a couple of cool things that happened this week. 

Do you remember this post? If you don't want to click on the link, it was a post about "Being Mormon in China". Well, apparently there is not a lot of info out there on this particular subject because 2 different people, from two different countries have emailed me about it. The first was a Chinese guy who joined the church while studying in Malaysia. He wanted to know if he could serve a mission when he comes back to China. The other was from a member of the church in Saskatchewan, Canada who had two Chinese citizens get baptized in his branch while studying in college there. He wanted to know where to tell them to go when they returned back to China. As a blogger it is rewarding to know that your thoughts and information touch people in positive ways.
We have made the "big time"! 
Well, not really, but this is a copy of this month's Beijingkids Magazine. There is an article in it about our recent vacation to Japan and South Korea. But honestly, they didn't contact me because I am a terrific writer. They didn't contact me because I have the most beautiful kids in the world (although I do!). Actually, there was a call out for articles on a yahoo!group that I am on. I emailed them and told them where we went and they asked me to write about it and submit pictures. Fun and one more thing to check off the bucket list before magazines are replaced completely by blogs a thing of the past.

Next post will be from the States!
Zai Jian!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Learning Chinese

Have you ever done something that you never, ever desired to do?

I took four years of French in high school (as did many of you). I remember a time where my dreams would have phrases en Francais. Then when I traveled to France twice I could not understand or speak anything! That was when I decided that I would be monolingual forever.

When I first found out we were moving to China I actually said, "I am going to live there for two years and not even try to learn the language." I mean Mandarin Chinese? Isn't that like the most difficult language on the planet? Isn't that the language that you say , "at least it's not Chinese" to in reference to ALL other languages?

We have been here four months now. I realized quickly that the above approach kept me feeling very isolated. It stressed me out that I was going to need to learn a language that just sounded like mumbling (sometimes very angry mumbling). Around this time transportation caused me severe panic so I knew someone would have to come to me.

 I found Lily! She comes to my house on Monday and Thursday and we laugh A LOT! She is incredibly patient and speaks very good English. I now understand why every expat says that their Chinese teacher is the best AND why they count their Chinese teacher as one of their closest friends here.

Tones? What are tones? We began with 10 lessons (20 hours!) just on the four tones of Mandarin. It has been very interesting dissecting a language and have been very grateful that we learn English while we are toddling around. 

Mandarin consists of two forms: characters and Pinyin. In the 50's the Chinese actually took the language and created words with the alphabet to make it more accessible to the world. They were smart because Mandarin is predicted to be "the language of the future world". I am not learning the characters, only the Pinyin. 

Doing homework again
At this point I have no desire to become fluent in Mandarin. I only wish to communicate as I live here. The rest of my family is learning both characters and Pinyin. It is great to have something in common, as we are all beginners learning differently. Hubby is fluent in Japanese so he has a leg up though. I hope my children will become fluent. It is a total myth that just living in a foreign country magically makes you fluent! I have heard people who have lived here for two years and can "just get by". I chose to set my goals pretty low.

I have learned that while I would have NEVER chosen to study Mandarin, I am enjoying it. In the four short months that I have been here I can actually decipher words among the "mumbling" and I hear the patterns of the language. I can't wait to be able to go back to San Francisco and talk to the Chinese street vendors!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wintertime~


That is the front of our apartment building in the background
It's Winter!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Is Coming....

...to Beijing!

We were pleasantly surprised to see Christmas decorations appearing in a country that doesn't even celebrate Christmas. I kind of take it as a hospitable gesture to all of the foreigners that live here in Beijing. Most of the decorations we have seen have been in front of hotels. Here is a little tour of just a few things we have seen in our neighborhood quickly after Thanksgiving.
A full size nativity scene, now this was a shock!

Just another example of how there can never be too many lights at Christmas!

This one changes colors and those pillars next to it look like fireworks. This is in front of the LG Twin Towers (the lipstick shaped buidings you can see from our living room window)

The St. Regis hotel is very traditional and classy.

A cake at Dairy Queen. The chocolate sign says, "Merry S'mas"
 And below you will see the extent of our Christmas decorations...a little sad compared to what I am used to doing. We did not bring any decorations and I have not bought much since...
...we are going to America!!!
(just a little excited!)

A Chinese Thanksgiving ~ 2011

You may ask how "expats" celebrate Thanksgiving in a place where Thanksgiving is a regular, old business day. Here is how we celebrated Thanksgiving here in Beijing. Hubby worked and did a career presentation at one of the international schools. E had a volleyball game at another international school and took the 6:00 bus home, arriving downtown at 7:10. D took the 3:40 bus, arriving downtown at 4:40.

We were actually going to have Mac N' Cheese for dinner as it was Thursday and Thursday is a cooking night. We had already made plans to feast on Saturday with friends. But after seeing all the Facebook posts of my American friends preparing their traditional foods (remember we are a day ahead) I decided to pick up the phone and make reservations at "Grandma's Kitchen" for a traditional Thanksgiving set menu. Besides, E was going to miss our Saturday feast due to a far away volleyball tournament.

We met E at the bus stop and walked to the restaurant. We frequent this particular restaurant often, as it is good Western food and it is close by. It usually costs our family between 150-250 RMB  ($21-$37 USD). This special Thanksgiving feast cost us 840 RMB ($126 USD)!! That has been our most expensive meal here in Beijing to date, I guess you do those kinds of things for a bit of tradition....

.....So, do you wanna know what we got for our money?
Soup choice: broccoli and cheese or pumpkin. I chose pumpkin

Appetizer choice: turkey roll-ups (above) or bacon wrapped shrimp (below)

Salad choice: Waldorf (in last picture) or Spinach, bacon and pear (above)

Dinner plate consisted of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing and veggies and cranberry sauce.
 We were very impressed with the taste of the traditional foods. We were missing rolls though!
Thanksgiving feast at "Grandma's Kitchen" in Beijing, China
 So grateful that we are an eternal family!
Dessert choice: pumpkin pie (above), apple pie (above) or sweet potato pie
 It was a nice night. Although it was odd for the kids to have homework and to have to go to school the very next day.

On Saturday we were invited to our friends' house, along with many other families from church.  I was in charge of sweet potatoes! How lucky we are to have a man on the corner of our street who roasts large sweet potatoes in a barrel. I bought 10 large ones for 50 RMB ($7.50 USD). After mashing them up I added cream cheese, butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. They were the best sweet potatoes I've ever made!
Moi doing my best Chinese bartering.
 Not really, I was just counting how many I wanted. I have to use my fingers to count in Chinese still
 With about thirty five people there we had a ton of food!
 It was fabulous!
Those homemade rolls were amazing!

One of the many desserts: mini cheesecakes with kiwi, strawberry and mint.
Yes, you can find those ingredients  in China!
 But the best part of the day was not about the food. It was about different people, from different places, coming together and making memories. 

A great surprise was that the bus transporting E from the train station back to her school was passing through the city and she was able to get off and join us! I was very, very happy to see her!
E and her gal pals

D and a few of the boys
 We are so very grateful that we have only been here four months and we have friends who already feel like family! A few families have kids the exact same age as E and D...and the fact that they get along makes it all the better!
The entire Thanksgiving gang! (minus me who was acting as photographer)
We ended the night by writing down one thing we are thankful for and having to guess who wrote what. Then we played a couple of rounds of "Werewolf" (not Twilight related) which is a game like "Mafia".
Our first Chinese Thanksgiving had a few weepy homesick moments, 
but it was a blast and a total success!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A picture worth a thousand words

Photo Credit: Kelsey Fox


What a wonderful world of technology we have!
On the day after Thanksgiving we were able to video Skype with my parents, nieces and brother. It is almost just like being there.

I love this picture because it is in my parent's kitchen. My family has always been "sitters around the kitchen table" meaning the meal is long and we linger after the food is over.

I love this picture because my dad looks so happy! You just don't get that kind of emotion over the phone.

I love this picture because it includes a niece from Michigan (snapping the shot), a niece from Long Beach, a brother from San Diego and parents from the Bay Area all talking to me in Beijing! At one point my brother had a friend from Long Island, NY on speaker and I was talking to him too.

I love this picture because they had just made homemade gnocchi with milanese (which is on my list of "must eats" when I go home in two weeks). I wish Skype had a taste feature. I will never take for granted my mom's ability to cook.

I love this picture because my parents are my two most favorite people in the world! I can't wait to spend a few days with just them, in my childhood home.

I love this picture because it allowed me to see a situation I was in from a different perspective, kind of surreal.

I just hope my niece was able to train my dad on Skype so we can have more opportunities like these. 
(hint hint Dad)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for many things! 
I could make a list here, but you know what they are. They are, most likely, the same things you are thankful for. 
But I cannot help but make special note of how thankful I am to be American! Many, many items on the "standard thankful list" are possible because of the fact that I am American. We cannot hide from the daily news about destruction and turmoil around the earth (and America is certainly not exempt) nevertheless, Americans have hope for a better tomorrow. 
Happy Thanksgiving fellow Americans!
 (And a Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian friends too)

...and America rocks because we have a holiday centered solely around food! Posting from a country that does not have aforementioned holiday. Eat up friends and loved ones!

Friday, November 18, 2011

To Market We Go ~ Liangma Flower Market

This was a fun day! The four of us met up and went to the Liangma Flower Market. It is close to the Laitai Flower Market but smaller,  the vendors are nicer and it is not as intimidating.

Terry, Me and Rebecca
 The entire first floor is flower stalls. The smell was amazing. I vowed to go back every week for a fresh bouquet!



This beautiful arrangement cost 100 RMB ($15 USD)

I bought some roses and filler. It cost 30 RMB ($4.50 USD)
The boutique-like stalls offered more unique items and things that appealed to me. Below is a stall where you can design your own Bone China pattern. How cool would it be to have an entire set of china from China! It takes about 2-3 weeks and they offer every piece you can imagine. The cost for a dinner plate is 160 RMB ($24 USD) and 110 RMB ($15.50 USD) for salad plates. This is something I will do!
Some ideas of custom china

A great selection of ribbons. Always a favorite of mine.
 This market also had a wonderful selection of Christmas trees and decorations! I was in awe and missing all of my trees and decor back home. 

A place to buy "American Girl" dolls and clothes

Another favorite of mine! Apothecary jars!
 Time for lunch! Dumplings of course!


This was a good China day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A New Perspective

I am hesitant as I write this. Part of me wants to tell this story because if I were at home in California, surfing the internet, I would want to read a blog post about a woman volunteering at an orphanage in China. But there are guidelines about us volunteering there and one of them is, "Do not publish any articles on your observation of, or work at the orphanage". Since I am a rule follower, by nature, you see why I am torn. I will keep my comments less specific and try to convey my feelings. I hope the message comes across.

When I came to China it was a goal of mine to volunteer at an orphanage. I don't know why, as I am not particularly  someone who searches for opportunities like this. Of course, I try to serve my fellow men but, in the past, that has been people similar to me and those that I know. There has been a piece of me who has felt that the way I spend my spare time, here in China, is a test. I have been compelled to use my spare time in the best ways possible. I am not always successful at this. (see previous post about entertainment)

I began asking around at church if anyone knew how to go about volunteering at an orphanage. A woman told me about a volunteer organization that is "allowed" to go and volunteer at a  government run orphanage about thirty minutes away from the city. I contacted the coordinator, that was over a month ago. I was scared, but knew it was something I needed to do. I still did not know why.

Coordinating my first visit was not easy. Since the coordinators are volunteers I was passed back and forth to different people, many times not getting information I needed. Each Wednesday I cleared my schedule, only to find out that I didn't know where to go or what time. I was beginning to get frustrated and thought, more than a few times, that it was just not going to work out. I was being tempted to ditch the plan because it was too hard. 

I began to get solid details about where and when to meet this past Wednesday morning. I even had the meeting place in my taxi book (here the taxi drivers do not speak or read English, so having the Chinese characters helps insure your arrival). I made it to the meeting place in perfect time, only to soon find out I was at the wrong lobby and where I needed to be was a 15 minute walk away. I am so grateful I exchanged cell phone numbers with one of the other people I was going with. I still was ready to give in. I even said to the person on the phone, "It seems like it won't work out for today. I don't want to hold you up. Let's try again for next week." Now that I look back, how silly I was to want to give in just because it wasn't going perfectly. I was still scared about the unknown.

But I quickly found my ride and the other two women made me feel very comfortable on the ride out there. It was enjoyable to get to know two women, both from different countries, who just want to give. There are good people everywhere, whether "religious" or not. 

This is where I will not give any details about what I saw or did there, talk to me face to face. But some realizations I made are as follows:
  • It does not take much time at all to touch someone's life. I was only there for two and a half hours and I made a difference in numerous lives. 
  • We do not have to "move mountains". I cannot change the course of life for these children, or even one child there. But I did change those few hours for them.
  • Likewise, I could not look at the big picture. These children, all with medium to severe disabilities, will most likely not be adopted. I had to focus on the joy I was bringing them at that moment. Otherwise I might've turned and run out the door because I couldn't "rescue" them all.
  • Basic necessities are; food, warmth and love. Everything else is extra. Period. We can rationalize how we need this or deserve that, but when the day is done we are incredibly blessed to have all of those other extras.
  • In my thirty-nine many years I have not had one single moment without those basic necessities. Why am I so privileged? Why are others not so privileged? It is easy to slip into feeling guilty. I worked hard to push that away.
  • Similarly, I felt a Spirit and strength from each one of those children, even the tiniest of babies. I felt that God knows each one of them and comforts them. They were happy and smiling, even giggling at me. Their Spirits are special for the circumstances they are in.
  • It only takes a smile to communicate. I do not speak their language. Many of them cannot communicate. However, they can smile and laugh and hug. I will continue to think of their eyes that brightened when I talked to them. I can't wait to see that again next week.
  • I have seen movies and read books about situations like this. That does little to enlighten our lives. Feeling it, smelling it, breathing it, touching it was what changed me as a person. It took me outside of my life, as I have always known it. I was forced  to realize that there are situations, both near and far, that are not what we experience every day. This is what forever changed me. The changes may not be visible on the outside, but my heart is broadened and more empathetic to all who have less privileges than I do.
  • Physical touch is a need.There were moments when my arms were full and both hands were being held. That made them content. I could see the craving of this in them.
  • I have wondered what in the world I needed to experience here in China. I had literally only thought or spoken about China about five times in my entire life before coming here. Perhaps the growth I had yesterday, and will continue to have when I go, is the reason I came here.
  • There are many people who give a lot more time and resources to causes like this. I have always admired them, but never thought I had it in me to dedicate my life to others. After yesterday I can imagine how humanitarian giants are rewarded by their generous efforts.
  • I know that when Christ comes to earth again. Places like where I was yesterday is where He will be. I felt His presence there.

I understand if you think this post is very cliche, sometimes cliches are true. Also, I sincerely hope that it did not come across as boasting or painting myself as some sort of "angel". That is not my intention. My goal was to share the changes that occurred in me throughout this experience. I urge you to go out of your comfort zone, even though it is scary, and give a little of your time to someone who has less than you. You do not need to be in China to do that.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Entertainment

Before I moved to China I had questions about how I would access my favorite things for entertainment. I remember thinking, "How will we watch Survivor?" Survivor has been the one and only show that all four members of my family enjoy equally. We would weekly gather to watch it together...I cannot emphasize enough how much we all enjoyed it equally as that NEVER happens with any other show or movie.

Here is a breakdown on how we access things to entertain us.
TV Shows~ There are a few ways to watch TV shows here. 
First, there is live t.v. We get 5 English speaking stations (AXN-Asia, CNN World, MSNBC world, HBO Asia, Discovery). I cannot emphasize enough that the stations that are common to the US are not the same stations. For example, HBO and CNN are not showing the same shows that the US is. CNN mostly reports world news, but Anderson 360 and Piers Morgan is on in the morning. HBO shows older movies and none of the big HBO series shows. AXN-Asia does show a couple of reality shows (Top Chef and The Amazing Race) but the digital transmission is so messed up you can't see the images. They also have some different shows that are cooky called "Cash Can Asia" and "Kitchen Musical" (which is supposed to be like Glee but in the kitchen of a restaurant).  The  big bummer about live t.v. is that there is no DVR here. How did we ever watch our shows when they actually aired?
A second way to watch t.v. shows is by buying DVD seasons. DVDs are a way of life here because they are so cheap. It is really great to buy an entire season of a show, but they are always a season or two behind. This works well when you are beginning to watch an older show. For example,  we got hooked on Hawaii 5-0. Unfortunately, when you watch all the DVDs and get caught up to the States, it is hard to wait an entire year before the next season comes out on DVD. We are currently waiting patiently for "Modern Family" & "The Middle", so no spoilers please!
When our patience just runs out and we cannot wait for the season to come out on DVD we turn to downloading t.v. episodes onto our Apple TV from iTunes. We have done this with Hawaii 5-0 because a) last season left on such a cliffhanger we could not possibly wait and b) I needed my McGarrett Hawaii fix and c) I wanted to discuss the ongoing story line with fellow watchers from the States instead of after the fact. On iTunes an episode for a show costs $1.99 ($2.99 for HD) or you can buy a season subscription. I have had to really hold back or else I would be racking up an enormous itunes bill.
The funny thing about t.v. shows are the ones I thought I couldn't live without (Survivor and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) are ones we haven't even watched.

Internet~ Our VPN (virtual private network) allows me to Facebook and blog, but it doesn't help with the speed of the internet. Therefore, YouTube is something that we rarely use. Likewise, watching free episodes of t.v. shows is impossible.  I tried watching a 44 minute episode of Hawaii 5-0 one time on CBS. com and it took me three hours and pausing after each line (I couldn't pause it to download in it's entirety). I also uploaded a three minute video to YouTube and it took me two and a half hours. Anything where I am downloading or uploading (even pics to FB) I dread. But I am thankful to be able to access websites that I never thought I would be able to.

Movies~ Going to the movie theater is not something we have done yet. China only allows 20 foreign movie titles a year into their box offices. They are quite expensive and there hasn't been anything released that we just had to see.
As I said earlier, DVDs are really inexpensive here so that is the way we go. We pay 8 RMB ($1.20 USD) per DVD. There are moral questions about purchasing the DVDs, but we quickly learned that if you buy a DVD at Wal-Mart (do not even think this is the same as Wal-Mart in the states) they are the same "type" of DVDs as the market, you just pay 40 RMB for them. It is impossible to find legitimate movies here. The funny thing about the DVDs are they all have Chinese subtitles at the bottom. While watching "The Help" this weekend we noticed the subtitles were for a completely different movie, "Crazy, Stupid Love". We have also heard from friends that while they were watching "Kung Fu Panda 2" in Chinese, with English subtitles, there were racial slurs and profane words...wow! Needless to say, we now own many DVDs of current and recent movies, the quality is always questionable.

Reading Material~ I really miss magazines. I never really appreciated them until I could not get them. But the other day I saw a copy of "Better Homes & Gardens" and squealed with joy, only soon to find out it was all in Chinese. I think I may research if I can get a subscription to a favorite magazine sent to me here...daring!
I brought eight books with me, thinking that would last me until my visit home in December. I was so wrong. I read those books in about three weeks (have I mentioned I have time on my hands?). Foreign bookstores are few a far between here in Beijing. I do have one about a 30 minute walk from my apartment. The prices run about $15-$20 USD for a paperback.  Some ways I have been able to get my hands on more books is having E check them out from her school library for me, buying from a foreign bookstore while on vacation in Japan, and downloading them onto my iPhone from iTunes. I always knew a Kindle, Nook or iPad was a great thing but I am the type that likes the actual book. Here, digital books are totally the way to go, for access but also because I can pull out my "book" on the subway, in a waiting room or in a taxi to read. With these digital books I have been reading an average of a book a week. I hope to begin a book swap with friends. Any good recommendations? Currently I am reading the biography of Steve Jobs...I owe a lot to this man since I couldn't function in China without my iPhone and Apple TV.

Podcasts~ Speaking of Apple products...I have come late to the game of podcasts, but am now so grateful for them. First of all, they are FREE! If they are audio podcasts I download them straight to my iphone. I have listened to spiritual podcasts, mandarin language podcasts and comedy podcasts. I am always searching for something interesting to listen to for free! If they are video podcasts we download them to our Apple TV. Each night we all gather around and watch Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News. Funny that US news was not something that I was particularly interested in while in the States, but now I grasp onto it for the connection. I also like podcasts because they don't take as long to download as TV shows.

Games~  I knew that games would be important to us here, so I brought along our favorite board games and Wii. There is nothing like bonding over a round of "Egyptian Rat Slap" or "Dominoes". We try to play together at least three times a week. Puzzles are popular here and readily available to buy, but American board games are something we will always need to bring from the States. 

Of course, entertainment is always important to us as humans and I am so grateful that I have access to some of the American entertainment we had at home. I hope that by the time we head back home we will have acquired some forms of Chinese entertainment.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fall In Beijing ~ baby steps

RiTan Park
I am not the most optimistic person, usually dwelling on things I have not done. But I came here in Summer and now it is Fall and I've noticed some things have changed for the positive. Here are some of them...
  • I no longer have panic attacks every time I have to go out of the apartment. You think I am exaggerating?
  • I can now recognize one in every ten words in Mandarin, instead of one in thirty words. I actually responded to a "wrong number call" on my cell phone by saying, "Wo shuo Yinyu" = "I speak English". 
  • I can count to 10 now pretty quickly. I still struggle matching the Mandarin name to the number though.
  • I buy raw meat now at the grocery store.
  • I don't completely get ripped off at the markets anymore.
  • I can tell a taxi driver where to go to, instead of pointing to a card, to about 4 or 5 places.
  • I actually told someone else where to get something, instead of someone always telling me.
  • I successfully can use video Skype on a regular basis.
  • I consistently cook at least three times a week.
  • I only have about two meltdowns a month, instead of once a week...baby steps.
  • I can tell people where I live in Mandarin. 
  • Instead of thinking about home every second of every day, I only think about it a few times a day now.
We have to celebrate our small accomplishments! I can only imagine what the next three months will bring. 

    Saturday, November 5, 2011

    A Funny Tale ~ Shelving and Potty Talk

    I have a funny story to share. This story, for the most part, has
    nothing to do with living in China.  It all began with the monster
    closet that our apartment manager bought for us but ran out of money
    before buying the guts. The funny story isn't even about this closet being too tall for every single spot in our apartment. The funny story isn't even about us going to
    Ikea THREE to times to buy the insides, only to find we bought the
    wrong ones, parts out of stock, etc.

    Here's where the fun begins. Last Saturday (trip 3 to Ikea) was to
    complete the closet. We were told the shelves would take two hours to
    bring to the store.Who knew that some items were stored off-site? 
     Of course they told us this at the END of our much
    more than two hour shopping trip. We were exhausted and over loaded so
    we agreed I would come back during the week to pick up the shelves.

    Today I looked forward to another alone trip to the giant blue and
    yellow box store  (trip 4). I checked online to make sure the shelves
    were in stock. They were, it was going to be a breeze.

    I decided to use the restroom before my spree. There was a line  for
    one stall, another stall was empty. I assumed the line was for the
    western toilet. After a few 
    minutes it was my turn and I soon found it was a "squatter". If you have never seen a squatter it is basically a hole in the ground. Now squatting is not a task I have perfected yet. The last time resulted
    in a mess...shhhhhh....don't tell anyone. I decided to try again. I
    thought it through back to 8th grade geometry and the perfect angle.
    The perfect pressure is also key I quickly learned. But successful I
    was, although embarrassed at the particular pose I was in to
    accomplish success. Upon completion I balanced to stand and smacked my
    head on the toilet paper holder, right at the jagged part that is
    supposed to cut the paper but never does. I guess I should be thankful
    for the toilet paper holder, as often times there isn't one.  Ouch! It
    hurt! But I couldn't check to see if it was bleeding for fear I'd lose
    my balance. Finally I leave the stall, wash my hands and notice the
    other stall (the empty one!) was the western toilet. All in all, that
    portion of the trip was a success.

    I filled my cart making sure I only stuck to my
    list. Of course, the self serve section (where the shelve should be)
    is the last section before paying. So after shopping for an hour and a
    half I look for Pax . After not finding it myself I go to
    the help desk. Without really communicating he prints me out a paper
    and indicates that I pay and pick up the shelves. That I do. It's at
    Customer Service that I'm told it will be TWO HOURS before I can get
    my shelves!!! Apparently I am learning that some items, like above
    item, is not stored in the gigantic warehouse known as Ikea. Some
    items are stored elsewhere, two hours away!!! I was not leaving this
    place without my shelves! So I bought a hot dog and ice cream cone
    (for a total of 4 kuai = .60 cents USD) and sat. Nevermind my frozen
    cinnamon rolls from the Ikea market melting in my bag!
    Moral of the story- look for squatters and prepare to wait!

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    A Day in the Life of Me!

    I continue to constantly ask myself, "What is my purpose here and now?" It is mostly because there are so many things that I used to do, in my everyday life,  that I don't do anymore. I used to feel fulfilled by stocking up on food storage (i.e. filling my minivan with Costco items), taking my kids to their enrichment activities, volunteer in their classes, clean my house, and substitute teach when the day was right. I don't do any of these things here so I have to redefine what I do to feel productive and to feel that I am contributing. It is a continuous process, often times pushing away guilt and the nagging thought of, "am I needed?"  As part of this process I decided to jot down what I did today, a pretty normal routine day. This is for you to see what my "new" life in Beijing is like and for me to visually see how it is I spend my time.

    6:20- Wake up, throw on exercise clothes, brush teeth, take Jupiter downstairs to go potty, fill water bottles, make snacks, toast bagels.


    6:57- "The Ducks Quack" on my iphone to alert us all that we have three minutes to get out the door. Family prayer.


    7:00- All four of us ride the elevator down and walk the block to the bus stop. A huge blessing of living here is Dad says goodbye to the kids each morning as they head off to school.


    7:08- Wave goodbye to the kids and walk with hubby to the corner. Kiss goodbye and head to RiTan Park for my morning run (or walk since I've had a chest cold). Every other day I go to our building gym to exercise. On the way home from the park I switch from music to a podcast, usually spiritual, right now this (couldn't live without the itunes store!)


    8:20- Return to apartment and resist going online to chat with friends in US. Turn on Anderson Cooper 360 (I've become VERY interested in American news since I don't live there anymore, it helps me feel connected). I put away dried dishes from the night before. Fold clothes and put in a new load of laundry. Do breakfast dishes BY HAND. 


    9:00- On Mondays I often call my parents or skype with friends, but today while Piers Morgan was on (can you tell we only get CNN?) I showered (I try to shower before going on the internet, otherwise I may not shower at all), checked my email, roamed around on FB and thought it was really interesting that Kris Jenner had no idea Kim Kardashian's marriage was over on Piers...we watch it a day behind you.


    10:00- Say "Ni Hao" to the housekeeping staff that came to clean the apartment. Then, head out for my "outing for the day". Today I went to the Chinese grocery store and bought stuff for dinner tonight, along with bread and more snacks for the kids. Some days I meet hubby for lunch (my favorite outing), meet friends, go to markets, take Jupiter to vet, etc. It takes a lot of motivation to head out when you don't have to because it is so difficult to get anywhere AND the air quality has been horrid!


    12:00- Return home, put away groceries, eat lunch (leftovers from hubby and my lunch date yesterday), read scriptures. I have started to read scriptures at lunchtime. I am awake and more in tune with the Spirit. 


    12:30- Study Mandarin. I usually squeeze this in right before my lesson...total procrastinator. Once I start I enjoy it, but I dread it beforehand. 


    1:10- Take Jupiter to the dog park on the corner of our street. It is more like he takes me. There is something about this place that makes him p00p every time we go, no matter what time of day or night. We consider this a complete blessing because he does not have accidents in the apartment. When out, I spend a lot of my time second guessing what I am doing and what the locals think about what I am doing (probably because foreigners get stared at a lot!). Even at the dog park I wonder if I am practicing the right etiquette, but today I threw that right out the window when a MAN went pee on a tree right in front of me without even trying to conceal himself. I am not going to worry about my dog peeing in the right spot anymore.


    1:30- Lily, my mandarin teacher, arrives. Today I learn valuable sentences like. "Please say again = Qing zai shuo yi bian" and "I hear you but I don't understand = Wo ting bu dong". We laugh a lot and while it is fun to learn, I almost never speak to anyone and I equally cannot understand what others are saying. I consider my learning mandarin a hobby:)


    3:45- Say "zai jian" to Lily and go on the computer to write in my journal. Shhhh, don't tell anyone but I pretend that I am writing the next best seller. Also, don't tell hubby but some days this is my nap time, not today though. I figure if all the Chinese men can nap in their cars on the side of the road, I can catch a few z's in the comfort of my own home.  Today both kids have loooooong days at school so I have extra time to myself. 


    4:30- Go on the apple tv and download your last night's NBC Nightly News (I told you I was obsessed with the news). LOVE our apple tv here, so grateful for Steve Jobs! Do mandarin homework.


    5:30- I begin to prepare dinner. Tonight I made a "made-up" recipe that is basically a Mexican lasagna with tortillas. I have set my standards pretty low for cooking. When we first moved here it really overwhelmed me because finding ingredients is a struggle, we didn't have our kitchen tools, etc. So I set out to cook only Tue, Thur and Sun nights. That way I am successful and I don't feel guilty on the nights I don't cook. Time after time, it is proven that eating out here is just so much more cost effective than cooking. While I cook dinner I wait for D to come home and anticipate hearing about his field trip that he went on today (Olympic park to study the systems) and to hear about his after school session of "Great Wall Runners".


    5:40- D comes home. We talk about his day, look over his homework that he did on the hour+ long bus ride and he decides to watch some t.v. while I finish dinner. I make the salad.


    6:15- D and I eat together, we enjoy our time alone together on Tue and Thur nights because E is at volleyball still and hubby has his mandarin lesson on these nights. We decide to play dominoes, that is our new nighttime activity.


    7:15- E comes home. I listen to her tell me about her day. She is excited as she gets to go to TianJin for a volleyball tournament next month. She eats, plays a round of dominoes with us, then goes straight to homework. Tuesday and Thursday nights are so busy for her, but she chooses to continue playing sports and sacrifices free time. Hubby comes home and eats dinner. We all look at D's field trip pictures on the t.v.


    7:45- I wash the dinner dishes, fold clothes and make sure nobody has any PE clothes that need to be done by tomorrow


    8:30- Family Scriptures and prayer. 


    8:50- Say goodnight to D, he falls into bed very tired. Jupiter joins him on his bed. E goes into her room and continues homework. Hubby and I settle in and watch NBC Nightly News.
    Tomorrow will be very similar, but I will go to Ikea to finally finish off the guts of a closet (hopefully) and we will go out to dinner  since it will be Friday.
    When you are feeling like you don't do much, I urge you to write down everything you do in your day. I realized that, despite having free time on my hands, I do a lot for my family and myself. Maybe this foreign feeling is balance. Who knows?

    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    An outing of FIRSTS

    Last week I went to lunch with some friends. In our church we do something called Visiting Teaching, we thought it would be fun to meet for lunch. It was one of the most spiritual conversations I've had in a long time. I took the subway down to their neighborhood and we went to a restaurant called "Lily's American Diner". 

    Instead of sending a server to the table, there is a tablet-like device where you order from.

     Diet Dr. Pepper! It is hard to find here and despite it "being imported" it still tasted like flavored seltzer water. Not good for a $3 USD can of soda! I stick with water now since none of the soda products taste good.
    A yummy bean and cheese burrito!
     My two friends have these cool electric bikes that run on battery. You can either pedal or cruise along, taking one or two kids on it with you also. You see them all over the city, but riding on the back of one was great! A little scary but totally worth it!
     These girls are my heroes!!
     
    That day was a good "China" day!

    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    Multi~Generations

    It is not uncommon, here in China, to see a child walking along (in split pants of course)  holding the hand of a Grandmother. All day long I see Grandmothers taking care of little ones, as multi-generation is still very strong here.

    When we were on our cruise, E and I happen to meet a Chinese woman who worked on the ship. Her name was Ling Ling. She was kind and excited to speak English to us. She also was pretty bored since she worked at the Ben N' Jerry's Ice Cream counter and it was about $5.00 a scoop. Needless to say there was not too much business there. But E and I found the chairs comfortable while we watched this show on DVD on our laptop. Ling Ling told us her story and it helped me to understand some cultural differences between the US and China.

    After talking about how long she had worked on the ship (2 months) and how long she will work before a vacation (6 months) she mentioned that she has a three year old daughter. I felt comfortable enough to ask her if it saddened her to be away from her child. She replied, "Yes, but I do not know how to be a mother. She is with my parents and they know how to take care of her better than I can." Being the nosy journalistic person I am, I asked her if her husband was there with her daughter. Tears quickly filled her eyes and she said, "My husband died six months ago in a car accident. That is why I have to work." My heart broke for her. She shared such a tender thing with us. I told her that I thought she was a very good mother, sacrificing everything to provide for her daughter. 

    Ling Ling's story touched my heart because of the circumstances. Likewise, we have a woman in our church that works as an ayi (nanny/cook/housekeeper) full-time here in Beijing. She lives with the family she works for while her husband and son are still in the Philippines. She told me that the money she makes here is so much more than she would ever make there and she sends all of it back to her family. Her husband's parents take care of her son while her husband is at work. Her eyes beamed as she told us her husband and son had just been here to visit her, but saying goodbye was extremely difficult.

    Last week I went to a friend's house so her ayi could teach us to cook some authentic Chinese recipes (that post in the future). This woman worked harder than I have ever worked in one day. And she does that every single day! She had a smile on her face and truly looked like she enjoyed her work. She gets to my friend's house at 9am after she drops off her child at school, a luxury most ayis do not have. Then she cleans, does laundry, grocery shops and cooks lunch for my friend. After lunch she cleans some more and cooks an elaborate dinner (no opening cans, everything is fresh). She leaves at 5pm and never, ever eats with the family. I wondered how in the world she could go home and cook for her family. She doesn't...her family lives with her parents and her mother cooks for the family. I was happy that she got to be taken care of a little bit.

    These situations are as common as sticky rice here. These women make sacrifices to provide for their family. These women have support from their mother or mothers-in-law. The results are children that are being raised by up to six adults! 
    1 child to six adults, now that is a ratio!

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    The Great Wall of China ~ HuangYaGuan

    We were so excited to learn when we moved here that the congregation of our church always goes and stays the night at The Great Wall and holds church services at the wall. After much anticipation, the weekend had finally come. It was arranged that our group of about 250 would occupy the entire hotel, while some would camp on or near the wall. This is a tradition that has occurred for a long time here and we knew nothing like this would ever be possible in the United States due to church guidelines (not to mention there is no Great Wall in the US).

    I was so excited to go and see The Wall for the first time. Hubby and D had already been there with the Cub Scouts. Unfortunately, our shipment still had not arrived so we were missing crucial items that would have made this weekend trip much more enjoyable and warm. However, with lots of friends offering us warm clothes, sleeping bags and a tent we were able to make it through just fine. Next year we will be more than prepared.

    Members of the Beijing 1st branch loading buses.
     We met at the church at 9am on Saturday and filled three buses. We headed about two hours to the province of Tianjin to a section of the wall called the Huangyaguan Pass at the Bangalang Mountain. It was neat for me to see something of China outside of Beijing. 
    The view of the mountain from the hotel.
     Sadly it was one of those grey China days...so these pictures will really not do the scenery much justice at all. You will just have to come here and check it out for yourself!
    Hubby with a lion among the fall foliage.
     We quickly stowed our bags and gathered with a few families to go for a "hike". The families that we were with all had cub scouts and our den leader decided this would be a great opportunity to sign off a three mile hike. 
    To the left of the hotel is this section of the wall. The group we were with did this section last year.

    Our group setting out for our Cub Scout hike.



     Since the group we were with had already done the left section, they decided to do the "right section" this year. See below...I thought that we were heading up to that first tower at the top of the hill...piece of cake so off we went!
    The beginning of the trail is marked by red flags. The terrain is rocky steps and then a dirt path. Up at the top the wall resumes.
     This is the section of the wall that The Great Wall Marathon takes place! Can you imagine running 26.2 miles up this mountain? We were with a guy who did it and actually lived to tell us about it! I had contemplated doing the half marathon in May of 2013...but after seeing it I think not.
    Up we go. Here I was full of optimism and energy.

    At about one third of the way up the mountain, the grey courtyards below is our hotel.

    Still climbing. Still smiling.

    You can see we have now surpassed the tower on the top of the mountain that we saw from below. E is starting to frown by now.
     Once we hit the top of the mountain the wall turned to dirt path. As we started to go on the backside of the mountain the wall reappeared.
    It is so much more fun to have these experiences with friends! This is one of my pals.
     When we got to where I thought we were going I saw this....we were not even near the end!!!! UGH!
     I decided my time was done. I know that perseverance is not my strongest attribute. I don't have a need to acquire bragging rights and there is no reward at the end, so I decided to head on back down with one of the girls. Everyone else, including many children (of course, D) went on.
    Rest time!
     The hike back down took about 45 minutes and our knees were sore and our legs were shaky. But I guess we could take pride in the fact that we really did "Climb the Great Wall"! They really should pass out those shirts for free! Maybe I would've endured on if I knew that were the case! Instead our room was now ready and I was able to see our accommodations....oh wow!
    Our upgraded room was moldy with dirty wallpaper, filthy bed covers and disgusting carpet! I'd hate to see the basic rooms!
     Hubby was very glad that he was not responsible for arranging this room. We just had to grin and bear it!
    Our bathroom light fixture had a plethora of dead bugs!  YUM!
     This was the outside of our room, which was absolutely gorgeous!
     Besides being at the Great Wall, the best thing about this trip was being with tons of other friends! We barely even saw our children, they were with friends the entire time! Below is a mini Great Wall and labyrinth the kids hung out with all afternoon after the hike. The boys all bought weapons (crossbows and swords) from a vendor and played war until dinner time. They were in their glory while the teenagers hung out and flirted with each other!
     While the kids were occupied with friends, hubby and I decided to walk up the left side of the wall. I made it very clear that I was not climbing up anything for the rest of the day!

     The hotel provided dinner for us. It was a Chinese fare that included three meat dishes, five veggie dishes, a fruit salad and rice. 
    The youth having fun!

    Dancing next to the wall in the amphitheater.
     Without our backpacking equipment only D arranged to sleep outside in a borrowed tent.  A group hiked back up the wall about 30 minutes and camped in one of the towers. D camped out in the courtyard in his own one man tent. He is pretty hardcore as he set it up and took it down all on his own. I think he had the cleaner accommodations...maybe not warmer though.
    The great outdoors at The Great Wall.

    D was snug as a bug in his own tent.
     Breakfast was provided by the hotel at 7:30am. It was a Chinese breakfast with toast, fried bread, baozi (steamed buns), sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, and roasted peanuts. A woman at our table was smart and brought several batches of homemade cinnamon rolls...next year!
     The whole purpose of this trip was to hold our worship meeting here next to The Great Wall. Sadly, it started to rain just before 9:00am when church was about ready to start. No problem! Everyone gathered their blankets and jackets and we all lined the courtyard to sing hymns, partake of the sacrament,  listen to speakers and pray. 
    Church services along side The Great Wall.
    This was an incredible experience that I am grateful for! It was amazing to be united with so many people that share the same beliefs (and the same language!) at such an extraordinary place! If I have more experiences like this, China just may grow on me.