Wednesday, August 31, 2011

IKEA in Beijing- Dress the Nest

I knew, even before we came, that Ikea would be an important place to me here in Beijing. This has proven to be correct.
When we moved here we knew we would have problems with storage. Our management was so gracious and supplied us with this enormous wardrobe (above) and the food storage seen below. The wardrobe was delivered in pieces in true Ikea fashion and it took a day and a half for our maintenance men to put it together. It was so tall (someone did not measure) that the only place in our apartment it would fit was in D's room. His bedroom has higher ceilings. They had to take the wall mounted t.v. off the wall and reroute the cable line. Then, after all this was done, I opened it up and there was nothing! There were no bars, shelves or drawers. When I asked management about it they said they ran out of money, we have to buy them ourselves. Basically we have a GIANT piece of furniture that we can't even use.

I really tried to make it until our shipment got here! Our shipment will not be to us until October and I was going crazy with all the sterile environment. I have learned that just like men have an innate urge to provide for their family, women have an innate urge to "dress the nest". I thought I would be okay with the apartment dishes and such, but I quickly found that to truly feel at home I needed to pick some things out for myself!
I headed to Ikea! At first the taxi drive did not want to take me, but that is another story.

It was so great to wander through Ikea all by myself, with nowhere to be in the near future. I could have filled three carts with everything I need and wanted to buy. This is already my second trip here and something tells me there will be plenty more. Can you imagine starting from complete scratch after sixteen years of marriage? It is fun, but I wish we could afford more than Ikea.
These are the things I purchased. Mind you I carried it ALL by myself, which was not an easy task. I was very thankful for my trolley on wheels and that nothing was broken on the journey.
Our dining room centerpiece.
New matching glasses. The ones our apartment gave us are all mismatched and used.
Our coffee table is HUGE! This is just something I liked, but will probably not stay there once our shipment comes. Actually, as we buy things that are more our taste we can have management take out pieces of furniture. This coffee table would be the first to go.
This was the other piece that our apartment manager purchased for us. It holds our food. If you know me, you know I love glass canisters. I love to display everyday items such as sugar and flour. Nothing feels more homey to me than baking ingredients.

Decorating is a passion of mine. I love to have beautiful things around me. Living in Asia, it is a challenge, as it is not my taste. But I am learning ways to incorporate my own style.
Stay tuned as I continue to dress our nest!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Golden Five Star Market & Metro Outing

This is how today began...wet!
This picture is at the bus stop at 7:00am. The streets were completely flooded and our feet were soaked! D doesn't look very happy for a Friday!
I had planned on meeting some ladies and heading to a market, I was contemplating it with the weather. But I decided, "what the heck" and opened my umbrella and made the 15 minute walk to our closest subway. I took the subway for about 30 min and got off on line 13 Dazhongsi. Our meeting place was exit A. Most subway stops have two to four exits that put you out onto different sides of an intersection. If you take the wrong exit, it could mean a headache to get where you want to go. It is common, when learning subway directions, to hear exits also.
At many subway stops there are food vendors, especially at breakfast time. This vendor was making fried pancake-type things with eggs wrapped in them. They looked quite popular.
Here is what the outside of a typical "mall" looks like. Some do have American stores like North Face, Zara, H&M and Gap but they are extremely expensive. Today we are not shopping at the mall, we are hitting the Golden Five Star Market! After a friend and her driver (sigh) picked me up we were on our way. From exit A you could walk by taking the stairs down and going under the subway tracks. Turn right down the dirt road that runs parallel to the tracks, the market will be on your left side.
This is what a typical market looks like. Many markets have specialties like jewelry, clothes, art, etc. This particular market specializes in stationery, home goods, framing, some clothes, etc. Each stall has it's own number and may sell unique things or things you could find at many stalls. I found one stall that just had gift wrapping, gift bags and ribbon. There were not too many like that.
This is where to come for kitchen supplies. I will probably come back after our shipment arrives to fill in the missing pieces. I really could have bought dishes. Our apartment only has four plates, four bowls, etc. Our glasses are all mismatched. I know I did not ship any of my dishes or glasses. For now we will make do.
Some stalls sell sewing items. Other stalls will let you pick out fabric and they will make your throw pillows for 20 yuan a pillow. That is about $3.00 each.
After a quick bite to eat at McDonald's (does yours have this new drink that has mango, sprite and ice cream? They are SOOOOO good!) we headed to a place called Metro. It is similar to Costco (ahhhhh) and the driver we were with has a membership. No Costco hot dogs here though! He so graciously took us and let us go in with his membership. I heard this was the place to get my much-needed crock pot!
And it was! I found a huge crock pot for 289 yuan, which is $45.00.
Yay, now I can cook!
It is very, very similar to our Costco in the states. Bulk items of everything and specialty items like electronics and luggage. A few things you just don't see at Costco are live fish and live frogs you can purchase (not intended to be pets).
I would LOVE to have a membership here but could you imagine shopping and then getting a taxi? Today Bill, the driver, was sweet enough to take me all the way back to my apartment. Quite a luxury indeed!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Taking our Dog to Beijing, China- Part II

For part I of this post, click here.
As you can see, Jupiter is back home and safe with us! He is healthy, happy and the same little doggy that we left a full month ago.

All along we were told it was a 30 day quarantine. We mapped it out on a calendar and decided that Sunday was his day to be released. Hubby decided to call on Friday to see if we could pick him up on Saturday instead. They informed him that Sunday was NOT his release day. It was not a 30 day count quarantine, it was a full month quarantine -from date to date. So that changed his release day to Tuesday. It was heart wrenching to be so close. We kept ourselves busy all weekend and found a pet store (by chance) and purchased the last few things for him. We got an indoor potty and some puppy pads. A week before I had headed out to a vet and purchased a dog carrier and a dog dish. I also had made a check up appointment and grooming appointment. Both of those had to be canceled with the change of dates.

On Monday hubby had to call again to allow them to prepare the paperwork. At that time they advised him to call back (ugh!) Tuesday morning at 10am to give an exact pick up time. Of course, hubby had an important meeting at that exact time. With all the red tape it is easy to forget he is actually here to work! We had a back up plan for me to call just in case 9:45 was too early.

Finally the day came and we were all as excited like it was Christmas morning! The kids headed off to school and I tried to stay busy. I heard from hubby after his meeting that he was headed to the airport to get Jupiter. He took a train but got there in a reasonable amount of time. He had to go to the airport just to get a piece of paper! Then he had to hop in a taxi and head to some-out-of-the-way place where Jupiter had been for the last month. When he got there they were all on their lunch!! Will this never end? While waiting he walked around and noticed there were rooms for people to be quarantined...can you even imagine?

Finally hubby and Jupiter were reunited! He said that Jupiter jumped right up onto him and he knew that all was well. They jumped in a taxi and headed home. I have not felt such pure joy in such a long time as when I got to give him a love. It was like seeing a baby...ok, I know! Weird!

We gave him a bath. So far, he is not using the indoor potty we bought for him. We are taking him down stairs to go potty and it is okay. Then at 4:30 I walked him out to the bus stop to meet up with D. E would not be getting home until later as she had softball practice. I think D had forgotten that Jupiter would be there to greet him as he got off the bus. I will never forget the look on his face as he saw him. It was the first time, since we've been in Beijing, that I saw utter happiness on D's face.

We have all had a sense of relief since he's been home with us. We all sleep a little sounder. We don't know how he was treated or what went through his mind, we never will know, but we do know that he is the same loving guy!

There will be a part III to this series. We still need to register him with the police and get him a check up at the vet. Getting to the vet will be interesting as we hear that only some taxis will allow dogs.~sidenote~ One more reason to be discriminated against by the taxi drivers! They sometimes don't stop because we are not Chinese. They sometimes don't stop because I have children. They sometimes will kick us out if they don't like where we are going.
For now, we are happy to be all together as a family again!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chinese Grocery Shopping

127.00 Yuan = around $20.00
Don't worry! I will not be documenting all of my grocery trips.
Many of you have asked what I buy. This was just a daily "run to the store" and only includes a few things. Pictured above are two umbrellas (they are used as much for the sun as the rain here), cherry tomatoes, hand soap, ice cream cones (after school treat), jelly drops, dried peas, Propel-like drink, four bottles of strawberry yogurt drink. These people are fanatic over their yogurt!

Now I will tell you what I DO NOT buy yet...meat. We have bought frozen meat, but fresh meat sits out in the open on ice and you grab it and wrap it yourself. It scares me a bit.

I am having a really hard time remembering how to cook and feed my family. I know it sounds crazy, but this culture is so far removed from what my normal is, sometimes it is hard to do common tasks like cooking. Plus we do not have our shipment yet. I have many, many essential kitchen items there (like cookbooks).

Do you remember this post? Well, that handy dandy item is in our shipment too. I realized right in the middle of making spaghetti that we had no way to open cans. I ran down to Bonjour and bought the only can opener they had (pictured below). It does not work at all! Emma was so desperate for a home cooked meal that she took the challenge of opening our can of beans with a knife! Eventually it worked!

Speaking of Emma, one of her enrichment classes this semester is called "Scratch Cooking". It is set up a little bit like "Next Food Network Star". They each have had to find recipes for 5 appetizers, 5 savory dishes, 5 sweet dishes. The key is, all ingredients have to be from scratch- no pre-packaged anything. Also, equipment is very, very limited. Each week they are divided into groups. There is a team leader who decides which recipes from the group they are going to prepare. The team has to provide the ingredients (great! I can't even shop for my own family, let alone her class!) Then each team prepares all three recipes in front of the class, enough for everyone to taste. It sounds challenging for us, but great for her! Opportunities like this are the reason her Facebook post yesterday was
"how can i stress it enough? IM LOVIN SCHOOL! :D ((besides all the homework))"

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

If you are anything like me I am always tempted to read a book when I hear they are making a movie. I had planned on reading books by Lisa See when I learned I was moving to China. Before I left I was not yet ready to embrace the culture I was so hesitant to be immersed in. So I waited.

Now that I am here, in Beijing, I felt comfortable to pick it up. I am so glad I did and I am also glad I waited. Now as I walk the streets I think about the ancestors of those around me. Besides the rich Chinese history, that now has personal meaning to me, this story is a beautiful story about friendship, trust, endurance, honor and loyalty. I cannot believe that it is only 258 pages long. The novel is epic in some ways, a lot of ground is covered.

The writing, for me, is what makes this book so good. It is easy to understand, yet intellectual at the same time. There were points where I felt a little bit uncomfortable, but not offended or disgusted in any way. The parts where I did feel awkward were necessary for the story, I felt. If you want a quick read that transports you to a completely different time and place, I recommend this book.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

International Grocery Shopping

Not quite sure why some photos are uploading teeny tiny....
For the past three weeks I have been doing my grocery shopping at Bonjour (there is not one French thing about it, don't be fooled like I was:) Bonjour is a Chinese grocery store. It is a 15 minute walk over second ring road, you cross a bridge. It is a little cumbersome when carrying cans and eggs.

Today I found a Jenny Lou's/Wang's (they are in the middle of changing their name). It is an international grocery store that has some things that the Chinese grocery stores just don't have. You do have to pay for those luxuries of course. It is also a 15 minute walk in the other direction. Above is what I purchased. The total was 367.00 yuan, which is about $57.00

I am not even close to becoming a grocery shopping expert yet, it definitely requires skill and know-how. I still buy my fruits and vegetables at the store because I am too bad at mandarin still to bargain at a "wet market". One day at a time.
I do miss hopping in my mini-van and driving off to Costco though.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ri Tan Park - Beijing

One of my favorite things about the location of our apartment is that it is a block away from this beautiful place. I was annoyed, at first, to hear that dogs are not allowed nor are kids with skateboards. However, this is by far my favorite place to be here, so far, so I fully respect the reasons why those things are not allowed.
This is what wikipedia says about it.
"The Temple of the Sun (Chinese: 日壇; pinyin: Rìtán) is located in Chaoyang District, Beijing, China. It is within Ritan Park (日壇公园), in the Jianguomen area.
On the opposite side of Beijing, to the west, is the Temple of the Moon, located in Fuchengmen. During the 2008 Summer Olympics, it was selected as one of the three protest zones

The temple's altar was built in 1530 during the late Ming Dynasty for use in ritual sacrifice to the sun by the Emperor of China. The area surrounding the Ritan temple is now a public park, and the site features extensive gardens and a small lake."

I come here almost every morning to run. Each time I feel so lucky that I have such a beautiful place within arms reach.
One of the perspectives that has changed about me so far is my view of the lotus flower. I never really thought too much about it, but really only felt it was a kind of cliche Chinese custom or symbol. Now that I have seen this lotus pond in bloom I feel quite different. The blooms are just breath taking.
In Buddhism the lotus flower represents the Buddha. In mainstream Chinese the lotus flower has come to represent a high level of moral cultivation of a person, for the lotus arises from dirty mud but remains unsoiled by it. The lotus flower stands for purity and beauty.

I am always there between 7-8am, as I go straight from the kids bus stop. This park is booming! I run the outer perimeter path with about a hundred other walkers and runners. Many people come before their daily activities to exercise. Most do not wear, what we call, exercise clothes. I've seen people jogging or speed walking in everything! I even saw a girl jogging this morning in a mini skirt and heels, ouch! The funniest thing is when people smoke while exercising!
Walking and jogging is, by far, not the only activity in the park. Above you can see an area of the park that has some common metal work out equipment. This type of equipment is found in almost all parks. Scattered throughout the park are makeshift badminton courts set up. These players take it very seriously. There is also a rock climbing wall. There are many little nooks and crannies all over the park and in them you will see all types of exercise happening like martial arts, men doing pull ups from tree branches, women exercising their lungs by grunt chants, ball room dancing, and Chinese style line dancing (nothing western about it) etc.

And, of course, there are Tai Chi classes. Today I saw a very fit and muscular martial arts master training a few others. I had to chuckle since this burly man was wearing Joe Boxer pajama pants that had cutesy gingerbread men all over them. Almost every day I see something like that where I just have to smile.

In the center of the park, facing every direction, there are staircases. They all lead to a pagoda. From that spot you look over the treetops to the city skyline. When you are in the park you forget you are in a bustling capital city, up there you are quickly reminded. But it is a peaceful spot so I have begun to read my scriptures after my run. Having an iphone is great for situations like going from a running training app with music to reading scriptures, all the while taking pictures as you go.
I hope you enjoyed my version of Ri Tan park!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Welcome to China!

This is a pic of our apartment building. It is a great location!
Here I am!
We have been here a little over two weeks now and we are settling in little by little! We have a large to do list and are working our way down, item by item. One of the items was to find a VPN (virtual private network) so we can access what we desire on the internet . Yay!

I have been sending email updates that have worked out great. I have not decided if I will change to just a blog format or keep up with the emails. Blog writing and email writing are much different. I had really concluded that I would not be blogging so I am still in shock that I am even making this post.

The sun is out today for only the second time since I've been here. It has not been smog so much, but thick haze brought on by the high humidity. The humidity makes us all crabby...and sweaty.

Kids have settled into school at ISB (International School of Beijing). Despite their hour long bus ride each way, they are really liking their school. They even like the bus ride as they can socialize, play and do homework. Today our new American Ambassador's children joined their bus...very exciting. E is playing softball, which gets her home past 7:00 two nights a week. We are looking forward to D finding something he'd like to do.

There have been many challenges here, which will make an amusing post for the future, but for now I am just working out how to get to places. Each day is a new challenge and place to go. Deciding to take the subway or a taxi is one thing, then communicating with the driver is another. Last night E needed to go to a church function at 6pm to a home we had not been to. We began getting directions at our front desk at 5:10 and started hailing taxis at 5:15. Of course it began to rain. Getting a taxi during evening hours, especially in the rain, is nearly impossible. Right at 6:00 we lucked out. D and I rode with Emma and were going to have the taxi driver just take us back, he would not do it. So we got out and walked home. It was about a 40 minute walk which was refreshing in the rain. Anywhere we go seems to be an adventure like that. I am very envious of all the people I know who have private drivers!

Today I will go grocery shopping, which is not a easy as it sounds. Then I will go find the vet and buy some things in preparation for Jupiter getting out of quarantine this weekend!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My last post in America!

This is NOT the literary final post I wanted to make! I am in Chicago O'Hare Airport on a layover with a low battery and no sign of a free outlet anywhere!

I have to say I am pretty tired of goodbyes! And guess what they showed on our flight? The finale to THE OFFICE where Michael has the same exact feelings I have and says goodbye to the staff! Then I finally ended the UGLY BETTY series (a major thing that has gotten me through the last month) and she leaves NYC to go to London~ sorry if that is a spoiler for you, but come on the series is like four years old (I am always late to the party)!

Leaving my parents was one of the hardest things about this move. They are such giving people and I feel such a sense of gratitude to them. As a matter of fact, I have so much gratitude to everyone who has texted, stopped by, Facebooked me, called and emailed me. I feel so loved! Thank YOU!

Since it is very iffy about the status of my blog in China, I will say goodbye yet one more time! I look forward to my next post at Christmastime when I come back for a visit!