Wednesday, August 29, 2012

LDS Seminary in China

As you know, I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I wasn't always Mormon though. But my older sister was Mormon from the time I could remember. When I was little, I can remember her being picked up by her friend's loud green Volkswagen Bug, even before the sun arose. That was when I learned about seminary.

The only thing I knew about seminary, as a kid, was that is was very early in the morning. I didn't ever participate in seminary because I became a member of the church after high school finished. Seminary is an early morning class that high school students attend before their regular school classes. Each year they study a different book of the standard works; The Old Testament, The New Testament, The Book of Mormon and The Doctrine and Covenants. Typically the freshman meet with each other, as do the rest of the classes. In most cases, seminary classes are held at a church building. Dedicated teachers make the scriptures come alive in the wee hours of the morning.

In China, like everything, seminary is a little different. I know this because my daughter just became a freshman in high school and has now started seminary. The youth in our branch attend a variety of different high schools in Beijing. There are also youth throughout China who are so far from other LDS youth that it is not feasible to gather together in the morning. Thanks to modern day technology each of these fifteen students call in to a virtual seminary classroom. From 6:00 -6:50 am they pray, read, learn and discuss the teachings and life of our Savior, Jesus Christ. This year they are studying the New Testament with two dedicated teachers who plan meaningful lessons and sacrifice their time and sleep. The suburban branch, where most of the students go to the same high school, meet together each morning in someone's home for seminary. It speaks volumes to me that this program is thriving under challenging circumstances. 
My daughter's seminary spot. 
No matter where you are in the world, seminary is a sacrifice. With the strenuous schedules of these teenagers, sleep is a hot commodity. I am in awe of these youth who make the choice to push aside their physical wants in order to gain eternal knowledge. The benefits far outweigh the sacrifice. They start their day equipped with an armor of God, ready to withstand the temptations of the world. The scriptural knowledge gained will last far into the eternities. I am grateful for the example of my daughter and her opportunity to participate in such a testimony building experience.

To learn more about seminary, visit here
or ask me any questions you have.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Friends In China ~ Episode 1~ Tiare

Introducing Tiare and family!
Tiare's family.
Tiare is originally from Idaho, while her husband grew up in Virginia. They met at BYU Idaho while he studied history/Chinese education. In order for his Chinese teaching career to take off they decided to move to China to get some real experience. He worked in Ma'Anshan Anhai at a teachers college. They lived right off campus there from February 2011 to December 2011. While the adjustment was hard, mainly because there were no other foreign people, it was still rewarding and enriching and Tiare misses it. The college students really took the family under their wings. Tiare learned to cook with the students and the children played and played and played some more with them. Tiare is so grateful for these students as it took her ten months to find butter. She did not have an oven or a can opener. She truly learned to thrive off of whatever she had. She looks back fondly of her time in Ma'Anshan Anhai. It was there that she became pregnant with her third child. They decided to move back home to America to have the baby.

Back in America they missed China; the people, the food, the culture. Since their oldest would be turning five they knew education had to be part of the package so Tiare's husband applied to some international schools. In a wonderful turn of events he was hired on at Beanstalk International Language School. In mid-April they packed up their five year old, three year old and two month old to move back to China!

The oldest joins dad at Beanstalk in a program that is 70% English and 30 % Chinese instruction. They appreciate being at an international school, with other foreigners. Because foreigners are often stared at, touched and used as a distraction here, it can be uncomfortable; especially for little ones.  
Tiare's kids crowded with spectators.
Tiare spends most of her day being a mom and homemaker, a lot like in America. Although China presents some challenges that makes the job a little more difficult. While she is able to walk to the market for her fruits and vegetables, she mostly bikes and takes the bus everywhere else she needs to go. She loves the bus, people are accommodating to her and the children. She even got into a non-verbal debate, while pregnant, with an elderly woman about which one should take the seat. Eventually a younger woman gave up her seat so that both Tiare and the eighty year old woman could  both have a seat. 

Tiare mostly cooks chinese cuisine because it is cheaper and the ingredients are more readily available than foreign foods. They do not eat out very often because the boys still haven't gotten the hang of chop sticks. It is just easier for her to cook at home. Although, the oddest thing she has seen in China is the meat that hangs outside. Other odd things she makes sure she asks someone about and she soon finds out that it really isn't odd after all. She doesn't speak Chinese fluently but has a good ear for understanding what is said. Many times charades help her to communicate.  Her husband speaks Chinese well.

Tiare has learned to love reading while here in China. She also has exercised more, eaten healthy, learned to barter and has learned more patience. The thing she misses the most about America is going to the temple and, of course, her family. When asked how China has changed her as a person, her reply was, " I am a totally different person from coming to China. It truly has changed me for the better, I think. China is hard but a refining fire wasn't suppose to be cool."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

the boy philosopher: a swimming tale

I have a boy in my life. He is ten. He is a complex soul, different from other boys, yet fits in brilliantly. 

Just before this school year began he told me, "Mom, I don't think I am going to do any after school activities this year." I knew exactly how he came to this conclusion. You see, he rides the school bus. A school bus that takes over an hour for him to get home. This, combined with his schedule anxiety, I knew he was making a calculated decision.

On day two of his new school year he told me, "Mom, I am going to try out for the swim team." The swim team is the only competitive sport at his level in the school. This is the kid who runs in the opposite direction from competition. Not to mention he has never, ever swam competitively. In my mind I thought this is not the time to start. But out loud, in my supportive mom voice, I said, "Great!"

Being a parent is tricky. We know our kids need to fail sometimes, yet it churns our insides compelling us to soften their fall. I secretly hoped he would change his mind. Despite his confident persona he struggles with self-esteem, probably like 99% of the other kids. Oh, I really wished he would change his mind.

I looked up online the requirements for making the team. He had to swim 200 meters in all four strokes, know how to effectively do an underwater turn flip and dive in properly. All the while making a competitive time. After seeing these requirements he was sure to change his mind. Not so! Without access to a pool to practice he went on youtube to view the strokes. I smiled at his perseverance.

As the date grew closer we all grew butterflies in our stomachs. He assured us that he knew there was a slim chance he would make the team but he was still going to try. When we discussed his nerves it always came back to being worried about taking the second bus after the try outs. His older sister agreed to stay after school and meet him for the second bus. After all, what high school girl would pass up an extra hour to hang out with friends?

He has three sets of swim trunks; two western style and one chinese style. The western trunks resemble California cool surfer shorts while the chinese are tight, like a speedo, though longer. He had to wear the chinese style. After all, have you ever seen a competitive swimmer wear Billabong? Of course, the right trunks were nowhere to be found. A ha! This would be the snag that would cause him to throw in the towel. Again, not so. He stayed up until the trunks were found. What was the driving force behind this determination?

The day came and I prayed numerous times throughout the day. I prayed for a modern miracle that everyone would be worse than him. Selfish, I know. I prayed for him to posses divine talent that we did not know he had. I prayed mostly for his delicate self-image to not shatter when he didn't make it. 

At 4:30 I texted his sister, How did he do? Her reply, good. Good? What does that mean, good? She followed up with, he came in last in the first race and second to last in the second race. My heart took a swan dive and I knew my prayer for strength was the one we needed. I texted, you stayed to watch? She said, yes, all my friends went to Jenny's to get food but I stayed to watch him. I even went over and gave him a pep talk between races. How did I ever doubt her love for her brother? 

I texted him, how did it go? His reply, I am tired. 

Later that night,as we watched the iPhone video his sister took,  he said, "Before I tried out, the lesson I thought Heavenly Father was teaching me was; you don't always get what you want. Now I think the lesson he is trying to teach me is; trying out is just as important as making it." At that time I realized my prayers were answered. Not the prayers for miraculous swimming skills, but all the other ones. For kids who love each other and who are strong and confident and of good character. 

He went to the second day of try outs on his own. We have not heard if he made the team, although we know the answer. But it really doesn't matter. He gained more from those two days in the pool than a whole swimming season. So did I.

As I type this he is practicing his juggling.
A ten year old philosopher.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Introducing "Friends In China" Series!

Next week, TimeOutForMe will be introducing a new series called 
Friends In China.

A few of the architectural icons of Beijing.
If you like hearing about my experiences, you will LOVE hearing from these fantastic people!  You will learn about their day to day life, adventures and surprises. 
Every single person living here experiences life differently.

If you have a specific question you would like either me, or one of the friends to answer, please leave a comment and we will be sure to add it in upcoming posts. 

Stay tuned for some great entertainment!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Travel Bug

I really don't have a travel bug. People don't believe me, but I naturally do not. Traveling has been something I've been coerced into, by hubby, of course. 

I call myself a "shallow traveler", focusing on the architecture, foods and everyday life of the destination.  I am not much of a sight seer. It all stems back to a perfectionist trait. Why see some of it when you can't see it all? There is always something we are missing. This is not something many people can understand. 

I am also not much for bragging rights. Sitting around at a dinner party and saying, "when we were in ______ ...". 
Oddly enough, that is usually what happens. 

The other reason why traveling is not a favorite past time of mine is all of the stress. I am a planner...with as many details as possible. I don't like the unknown. I wish I could be more laid back and a free spirit, but alas I am not. No matter how much preplanning and prepping I do, the control is still given up. That is why I prefer to travel to places I have already been, many times. I have a sort of "home away from home" mentality about traveling.  I say, "I would be happy just going to Lake Tahoe and Kaua'i (and Disneyland a time or two) for the rest of my life." I also feel that taking all of that money and putting into our home, making our home feel like a relaxing getaway, is a great idea! Can anyone say beach house?

It really makes me seem spoiled and ungrateful, doesn't it? You see, when you are an expat in Beijing, you travel. I am not talking about coming and going from your homeland. I mean every chance you get, every holiday, you go somewhere and see something. We have friends who are students here in China and they still scrape together every last bit to see and explore. It is just part of the expat experience. We have friends who have been to Cambodia, Africa, Paris and Bali recently. 

For me, I sit back and relish in the fact that for these two years we are able to visit a side of the world that we would normally not be able to. And, I hope, these posts do not feel like bragging to you! I know that many will not have these opportunities, and sharing them with you is one of the things that brings me pleasure! 

So mark your calendars because we have some trips planned! 
First,  at the end of September/ beginning of October (National Week here in China ) we will be heading to Phuket, Thailand! Stressors? Heck yes! Hubby will be meeting us there since he will be in Africa for business prior. Also, he and the kids decided to get scuba certified there. Yay for them, boo for me since I will be four days on my own.

Next, for Christmas and New Years we will be heading to Kauai meeting up with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. On the way back, we are stopping in Seoul, Korea for three days.

Newly added is our plans for Chinese New Year. Remember this?  We decided to take others' advice and to stick around only our first year to "experience" CNY and leave the second. Oh, don't worry! Hubby and D are already planning getting in their firework fun on week two after we come back from (drum roll please)....Sydney, Australia! Yep, we are headed down under. Wish we had more time but we will spend a week in Sydney and a day in Singapore on the way there.

We are still working on plans for spring break. My vote is something in China...time is ticking and we need to see the pandas!

All complaining joking aside, I am really grateful to hubby who pushes me out of my comfort zone and arranges such amazing memories for our family! He works very hard and we cherish our travel time with him!

If you are wondering how we do it...we are not filthy rich. Having American Airlines frequent flyer miles and Marriott hotel points sure does help! Oh, and we've been known to make the "executive lounge" snacks into full meals.

Year One in Beijing

Our actual one year anniversary of living in China was on August 3rd, just days before we were to return from our summer trip to the USA. Since I've been back I've been distracted and actually forgot to celebrate!

This is certainly a reason to celebrate, even if I am at home alone and it is Tuesday afternoon. There were times I did not think I would make it a whole year. I think there were times that hubby, my parents, and even my own children didn't think I was going to make it a year! Face it, moving is hard. Living in a city is hard. Living in a city, in CHINA, is hard! 

But I've learned many great things this past year, which I've tried to let you in on many of them. One new realization is just because something is hard, it doesn't have to be horrible. You may ask what the hardest part has been? Hands down, being so far from loved ones! Yet, being "on our own" here has been a bonding experience for us all. Second, the hardest thing has been the fact that it is just so darn different to life as I knew it. I might as well be on a different planet. I mean it! When it looks different, smells different, sounds get the idea.  Learning a new normal is something that just takes time.

So what about the next year? Well, since it is not new anymore I can sit back and enjoy all the things that will be over before we know it. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Moving To Beijing? First Steps When You Arrive

Many of my lovely readers are now arriving in Beijing. Welcome! Now that you are here, I thought I would let you in on a few (any more would add to the overwhelming state you may be in) things you must try to do immediately to help with your first few weeks here. These are things that I acquired from great helpers or found on my own...probably the hard way. Note: all expats lives in Beijing are different, so some of these may not apply to your situation. For example, if you have a driver (jealous!) you can disregard a few right off the bat.

As always, comment or email me with any questions you have!
Good luck!

Beijing Taxi Guide: If you are like me, my main source of transportation is walking, taxis, subways...and occasionally the bus. Taxi drivers in Beijing do not read PinYin. Some do not even read maps. The cards you get at restaurants or hotels are too tiny for them to this book is worth it's weight in gold. It is around 50 RMB and you can pick it up at JennyLou's. It has almost everywhere you will ever want to go your first month here. Expect to visit Ikea more than once to help set up your new house.

iphone Maps App: I realize that many of you may not use an iPhone. Or if you do, it is tricky to get it to work in China (a whole other post). Getting your iPhone up and running is something that is very, very worth it! 

There are many things that will help you on your iPhone, especially the Maps app that is already there. If you click on "directions", your current location will be your start point, put in wherever you want to go. The really cool part is at the top. Click the bus icon and it will tell you exactly how to get there on the bus (bus numbers, how far to walk to transfer, etc). If you are walking, click the man walking icon and it will give you the most direct walking path with time estimations. I've even been in a taxi and used the car icon, just to make sure we were headed in the right direction. It is also handy to be able to tell your drive where to turn. Surprisingly, this app is very accurate in Beijing!

The iPhone is also really handy for google translate, but be careful on phrases. It is a literal translation and, most of the time, phrases will not make sense in mandarin. Stick to using this for words only and characters.

Find A Network: Moving anywhere, especially a big foreign city, is very isolating! It can be exceptionally difficult for the expat spouse. Let's face it, our kids go to school and our spouse goes to work and everything else! You may find yourself, for the first time in a long time, having to make friends from scratch! Check out this blog! Matt and Kara, although I've never met them, have helped me so much. They have free downloads and newcomers seminars. Kara even will do one-on-one consulting where she can show you around the city and help get you acclimated to your area. Amazing!

There is lots of support out there for you. Here are some links!
The Beijinger  is a magazine with a great online forum for expats. We always check here first for questions.
Beijing Cafe is a yahoo group for expats. If you like lots of emails, this is for you. I am a part of it and a lot doesn't apply to me because I live in the city. I think many members live in Shunyi. I have heard the wait to be "accepted" can be a long time.
Churches, despite what people may think, are alive and well here in Beijing. My church network has been one thing that has been crucial to my sanity! Here is another option. If you have a specific denomination you are looking for, google it. You just may find it. Churches do function under guidelines from the Chinese government. More questions, ask me.

Learning key phrases:  If you are like me, I was petrified to learn another language! But don't fret, I am not telling you to go out and find a chinese teacher...yet (if you need a good one, I have one). But learning just a few key phrases will drastically improve your life from day one.
1. Learn how to say your home in Chinese. Better yet, find a popular attraction right near your home, and learn how to say that. Ours is a tiny street that every single taxi driver knows because foreigners go there to buy furs. Yours may be a park or subway station or embassy. Trust me on this one. It is a relief when you at least know you can get home from anywhere in the city.
2. Learn how to say "left turn", "right turn", "go straight", and "please stop here". I would write them here but I don't know how to do PinYin on my Mac and you may not know what the little tone lines mean yet anyway. Once a taxi driver hears you speak the tiniest bit of mandarin, your chances of a successful ride go up!

Are you overwhelmed yet? If not, read on...
if so, stop here and come back later :)

Order food delivery from a few different places: You see, when you order from a place once they keep your address in their system. It is very helpful for you to know your building or compound name in Chinese. I love that almost every single restaurant delivers! It is perfect for those hectic nights or those nights that are TOO cold to go out (trust me, they are coming). It is so much cheaper for us to go out than to cook (if you have an ayi I am jealous again). We order in at least once a week and the only place that was a nightmare, and never did find us, was Papa John's pizza. It works out because there is so much better pizza here in Beijing! (Gung Ho is my fave)

Develop thick skin: Looking back, much of my stress of those first few months was because I felt insecure, frustrated and sometimes just plain stupid. Taxi drivers will scoff at you, maybe even kick you out of their taxi (it happened to us a handful of times). Market workers will grab and touch you. People will cut in front of you in lines. EVERYONE will stare at you. It will get better! Once you get used to it and learn that they really are not intending to be rude (okay, maybe sometimes the taxi drivers are) you will learn to love the people here. Try to look at all of the people who do admire you and help you daily and don't dwell on the one instance where someone didn't. 

Like always, I could go on and on...I won't...for now.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

It's Not Everyday...

...that your oldest goes off to high school for the first time...
... in China!


 That your youngest goes off 
to be big man on elementary campus!

All in the same week that hubby and I celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary!

Am I feeling a bit old mature? Am I feeling a bit reminiscent? Am I feeling a bit melancholy about the passage of time?
You betcha!

Good luck kiddos! 
We are behind you every step of the way!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I feel like most of my recent blog posts have been more of a scrapbook. Let's face it, nobody is interested in my scrapbook besides those in it. So I felt it was time to bring back a wordy, emotional and thought provoking entry. Here it goes...

Our time back home was amazing! But I am sure you have experienced the same thing know, when you anticipate something for a long time. Then the time comes and goes. You look back on it as if it was a dream and you ask yourself, "why didn't I live more in the moment while I was doing it?" I have felt that way about past Hawaii vacations, and it was the same with my trip back home. But, really, I did live in every single moment! The moments wear I was throwing up in our hotel room because all four of us got the flu. Or the moment when I was running around my high school track reminiscing about the good ole' cheerleading days. I relished in every single moment that I was with the people that mean the most to me!

I have SO MANY personal relationships that I thrive from. Leaving for a year and returning really shows who cares about you. Now, before you start feeling guilty because you think you haven't done enough to nurture our relationship...stop! There are people I expected to hear from (and see when home) that I don't. Then there are the ones who I never expected to hear from, and our relationship has blossomed while I've been away. There are those who I rarely communicate with but when we see each other it is like time or distance never even passed. Then there are those who I  lean on for strength and security. You all know who you are. Every single type of relationship serves a purpose. If we crossed paths this summer, even if just a wave and a smile or a comment on FB, it meant something to me more than you will ever know.

There is one thing that is common between the kids and I about living abroad. This visit, unlike our Christmas visit, has less emotional attachment to our physical home. As a matter of fact we all commented that we really don't feel like anywhere is home. They say, "home is where your family is" and that is all fine and dandy. But they also say, "home is where you hang your hat". When you don't have a place to hang your hat it is an odd feeling. In some sense, our apartment in China feels like home. But the temporariness of it never hides completely. This time I did long for the organized ways of our tiny place. As for our "real home", the one that someone else is living in, I would love to go back there...but cons about that seem to be creeping into our minds. It is so big! It would take A LOT of work to move back in. Hubby CANNOT go back to the horrendous commute. Does he even have a job there anymore? Is the school there the right follow up to the amazing education here in China? All of that will play out on it's own in the next year.

China welcomed us back with open arms. This time around I had a much better attitude about our return. At Christmas I was in a grouchy and depressed state of mind, but now I see I had to go through that in order to make it to where I am now. The fact is, we do have lives here and I was looking forward to getting back to reality...mainly, the gym! (I know, crazy huh?) Nevertheless, bits of anxiety had returned as we ascended into the smog. I actually had to look up words on google translate that I had known for months. In the taxi, from the airport, the driver rolled the window up on my the point of blood! I couldn't understand if he was apologizing or blaming me. D and I went to the grocery store and a woman with twin boys was allowing them to relieve themselves a corner...on an electrical outlet! Yep, we are back in China!

Another cliché has manifested well with me. Time sure does fly! It is only five short months before we meet my amazing family in Hawaii for Christmas and New Years. And after that we will know where we are going next and be preparing for that new adventure. In the meantime, I will continue to make each day here in China the best I can. And when I have those "this is China" days...I know I have so many to help buoy me up! 

Onward and Upward!
and, as always, thanks for reading.

NO CAL ~ Around the world stop #5

This has been the destination I've been waiting for! 
Home Sweet Home!

Although it is odd because neither Beijing or Northern California actually feel like home. Nevertheless our family and friends are there so it is the closest thing to home that we have. 

Hubby was with us for the first two weeks, although we rarely saw him because he had to catch up on all his work. We stayed in a hotel for those weeks and it was good we did because we all got the stomach flu. Thank goodness it was short but we all got it after 24 hours, one after another. Not fun being quarantined!

After hubby left we moved into my parents house. For three weeks we played, played and played some more. Every day was full of fun and memories. I feel so lucky to have so many meaningful relationships in my life!

Here are some highlights...



BBQ with good friends!

Pond with friends!

Picnic with friends!
Great America with friends!
We also swam with friends, lunch with friends, jumped on trampolines with friends, fondued with friends, and chilled with friends.

A's VS Red Sox- A's won!
Giants VS Astros - Giants won in extra innings!
Ran to, around and from my old high school!

D and I went to San Francisco to the museum!
 E spent a week in the mountains for camp!
Lake Tahoe with parents and kids! Love this place!
We were able to spend a lot of time with family. We had lots of meals together and watched many Giants games. These are times we will treasure, especially the gin rummy tournaments.
Fenton's Ice Cream!

Helping Grandma and Grandpa!

Eating! My mom made shepherd's pie!

The two Daytons!
Sisterly love!
Great Grandpa of the year!
It is amazing that we have been in Beijing for a year now! We have one year to go! It was hard to leave this time, but easier because the quicker I get back to Beijing; the quicker Christmas will be here! 

Thanks to everyone who made this summer amazing for us!