Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Naval Attache' Club Dinner

Last night we attended a Naval Attache' club dinner. It was hosted by the Pakistani Naval Attache' and his wife at a Pakistani restaurant. It was well attended. It's a small group and there were probably about 40 people there. We talked with Pakistani, French, German, Italian, Chilean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Canadian and Chinese people. Everyone was very nice. The majority of the group speaks English at some level. Some do not. Some people speak Chinese so that is the second language of choice. Though we are not supposed to, the three American spouses sat together. We left the event with a gift from the Pakistanis. It is two pillow covers from their country. They are very pretty. We arrived with gifts as well. We brought the attache' a book from the Navy and his wife chocolates and flowers in a watering can decorated with a farm scene. We are supposed to give gifts that represent America. We have several things coming in our shipment but have none with us so I had to shop at our little plaza. I found the watering can on a shelf of the framing store. It does not say "made in China" so it worked well.

Jack's 8th Birthday

I can't believe my first born is 8 years old. We celebrated in Virginia with his friends before we moved and again in St. Louis with friends and family. For his actual birthday we started the day with presents and ended it at McDonalds and then back home for cake.

McDonalds is about a half hour away from our house so we had to take a taxi to get there. Tom went to the clubhouse to ask where it is and then we called a taxi. Tom sat up front and talked with the driver, telling him the general area we'd been told we could find McDonalds. After a while, he phoned a colleague and found out exactly where it was so we arrived without much difficulty. As is the case with many taxi drivers here, our driver gave us his card so we can call him in the future. He said he could take us to the Great Wall or any other place we'd like to go.

Since it was easier to get to the restaraunt than we'd anticipated, we arrived a bit early for dinner. So, we decided to take a little walk around the area. It seems we were in a home improvement area. There were shops along the street and then when we turned down an alley, it was paint stores for as far as we could see. I'd been told that stores carrying single items are all gathered together and this proved true. If we ever need paint, we know where to go. As this particular area doesn't see many tourists, we were definitely a rare sight. Store keepers called their family and friends to the doors of the shops to see us as we walked by. They called out asking if all three children were ours and wanted to know if they were boys or girls. They were astounded to learn we had three sons. It's the blonde hair that gets them, really.

I was surprised to see we were the only Westerners in McDonalds as well. People stared and touched Huck on the cheek. I've been told that there is a very high incidence of TB here, so I will try to stop that in the future. I carry hand sanitizer here all the time. All the expats do the same.

The food cost very little and the boys ate everything in front of them. They had happy meals but the layout was a bit different as you can see in the picture. There was a small play area so the boys enjoyed that. I felt a little like they were on display at a zoo as the other parents all watched our kids rather than their own. After the boys all played, they had ice cream cones and then we went home for birthday cake.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The fish

While we were in our temporary house we asked Xing Ayi where we could get an aquarium and fish because we wanted to get them for the boys. She said she knew where and that she'd get them for us. We thanked her but said we wanted to wait until closer to Jack's birthday. So, yesterday she showed up with a bowl and three fish! There is a red one, an orange one and a black one. The boys were SO excited. She cleaned the bowl, filled it with tap water and poured in the fish. Jed said "Mom, if the fish die, and I know it's sad to talk about that, but if they do, we can flush them." Jack said he wants to bury them in the the back yard, with a grave. I am glad they are thinking ahead, because if we are not supposed to drink the water, I don't know how long the fish will live in it. On theother hand, maybe the bacteria in the water is good for the fish???

Saturday, July 22, 2006

play time

Here are Jack and Huck enjoying some of the perks of the community in which we live.

Reverse Dinner

With Tom away for half of the month we've been here, sometimes I have to get creative with ways to keep the boys occupied while not making my life too crazy. So, this afternoon after Huck woke up from his nap, we headed to the pool. I announced we were going to have reverse dinner at the restaurant at the pool. The boys always ask for ice cream/popsicles at the pool. Usually, if I say yes, it's at the end of our time at the pool and then the boys end up messy as we are on our way home. Now I have wised up significantly. We start our pool time with ice cream if I am going to allow it. This accomplishes two things: 1) I avoid the begging associated with the treat. 2) They get messy and then dunk in the pool to clean off the mess.

Today, we headed to the pool around 3:45. The boys got some ice cream and then played until about 5:15. I then ordered hot dogs, french fries and Sprites. The hot dogs here come with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. The boys had a great dinner. They were thrilled because it was a special night out, it was fun because it was a backwards dinner and I was thrilled because I had no clean up at home! Everyone was happy and significantly worn out for a good night's sleep.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The good part

Tonight, for the second day in a row, Xing Ayi cooked dinner for the boys. It's so nice. She just asked me if I'd like her to make xyz and I said, of course, that's great. Tonight she made a fried chicken (chinese style) and garlic and ginger green beans and I made the rice. The boys say it smells so good and have been begging to eat already. We are waiting for the rice.

Since I have no where I need to go tomorrow, I gave her the day off and she asked if I was sure and if I can take care of all three kids. I laughed and told her I am fine and that in America I do not have an Ayi to help me! She laughed.

This part is GREAT!

---Later, when I thanked her again for making dinner, she said "no problem, since I no come two days now, I think you be very tired, so I cook the dinner."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Around our Neighborhood

Here are some pictures of the shops about a half mile to the right of our neighborhood. In this direction there are some restaraunts, two grocery stores, a toy store, "salon" and more. You can see what I mean about being able find certain items once and then not the next time you visit the store. You see the shops on both sides of the street and the view on the way back to our neighborhood. The yellow umbrella marks the corner of the neighborhood. These are around the perimeter and within, on many corners. A guard is stationed at each one.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Huck and Xing Ayi

Here is Huck playing with Ayi today. They adore each other. It's great. She takes him outside all the time. Today she told me that people ask if he's a girl. Here, parents dress boys and girls in similar clothing and many girls have short hair. Huck's hair is getting a little long and it's curling a little. She said not to cut it, it's beautful hair. :-)

Of course people ask the same about Jed, but I'm definitely not cutting his hair. He's getting big. I picked him up today because he was having a rough day and he's heavy! He's growing up. The boys start school on August 15. I am not sure when Huck starts.

By the way, I bought the basketball in the picture yesterday at a little sporting goods store about a mile from our house. It cost $7.50. Huck LOVES it. I think I have to get another one because he won't let anyone else play with it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Parties Note to self... Wear comfortable shoes to receptions!

We've been here 3 weeks and we've been to two social events together and we've each been to one alone.

One highlight was the U.S. Embassy party for our Independence Day. It was at the China World Hotel and featured a speech by our Ambassador Clark T. Randt, Jr., the longest serving U.S. Ambassador to China ever. His speech was much more forward than I'd have expected. It was about piracy of material here.

The majority of attendees were Chinese, with a smattering of the international Attache community and our Defense Attache office. The perimeter of the room was filled with tables from American food companies, like Pizza Hut, McDonald's Starbucks etc. So the food was fun and the conversation was good. Between that party and others we've met diplomats from: England, Scotland, Australia, Germany, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Chile, Korea, Japan, Romania, Canada, Pakistan, India, Turkey and more. Everyone is very nice and, lucky for us, the language of choice is English. Not everyone can speak it but many can, so we are VERY lucky.

I learned an early lesson. The attire for the party was dressy. I chose a nice dress and decided that since it was only an hour and a half reception, I'd wear my higher heals because they are great shoes. However, being part of the hosting office, we had to be there an hour early and at receptions, you stand around the whole time. By the end of the evening, I could barely hobble out of the building to the waiting car. (For official events we get a car and driver.) In the future, no matter how tempting the shoes, I will wear sensible shoes to receptions and reserve the higher heals for sit down dinners.

Tom attended a lunch hosted by a Japanese Attache at a restaraunt. I attended a lunch hosted by the wife of the Australian Attache at the Australian Embassy. Together, we also attended a dinner in someone's home. In the next two weeks, we have at least 3 more parties to attend, including "Ba / Yi" which means "8 /1" for August 1, the annivesary of the founding of the People's Libaration Army.

Happy Children

Here are Jack and Jed, as happy as ever. They have a great life here. They get up in the morning, have breakfast and play downstairs and in their playroom. They watch dvds ($1.25 each here) or tv, then when Ayi gets here, they go play outside or in the playroom at the clubhouse. They come home for lunch and some quiet time, then outside again with Ayi or me then home for dinner, bath, reading and bedtime.

Having Ayi to help is great, but I am making a concerted effort to ensure that the boys still have responsibilities. They make their beds, clear the table, help with the trash and pick up their toys when it's time. Of course, Ayi picks up after them all day, so I try to catch a time when there is a bit of a mess so they remember they are responsible for their toys. So far, so good...

playground and pool

Here are the boys at the playground at the end of our block and at the pool at our clubhouse, 7 minute walk from our house.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


One of the great things about living in China is the shopping...
I've experienced many varieties of the shopping here, none like the other.
As I said in a previous post, the western grocery stores are a great thing to have but one cannot depend on them to have the comforts from home we seek.
The first weekend we were here we went to a large electronics store to purchase a cell phone. First of all, parking is a big headache, but can be done. Spots are few and far between and one must pay the lot attendant. The fee is usually about 1 kuai, which equals about 12 cents.
We chose a simple cell phone from a sales clerk at a counter. Each counter is a separate vender. Once we selected the phone, we took a sales slip and went to the cashier to pay, then took the receipt back to the clerk for the phone. She set it up for me then took me across the room to select a phone number. There were about 10 to choose from, I cannot remember how much the number cost, but a number with no 4s costs more. My number has one 4. The reason for this phenomenon is that the word for 4 is "si" and the word for death is also "si" but with a different tone, so many Chinese prefer to avoid this number.
So, then I had to go pay for the phone number, go back to the clerk and finalize the process.

Another weekend, we went to the Lufthansa Center. It is an upscale shopping center basically like a department store except each area is a separate vendor, so one must pay for items from each area separately. Even within each department, there are separate vendors. We bought Jack a spy gear toy, Jed some Legos and Huck a bus and had to pay for each item separately, then go back to retrieve each item. Across from the Lufthansa Center is a flower market. Here one can buy any type of flower arrangement one desires. If you provide a picture, they'll copy it and deliver it to your home at no extra charge. Also in flower market are items such as gift wrap, candles, dishes, turtles, fish and many other things. I bought a rose shaped candle for less than $2 and a sheet of giftwrap for 12 cents. My favorite find is pictured above. I found these cowboy themed plates in an area with lots of different types of dishes. Since we love the West so much and I love to ride and the plates feature 3 cowboys (like our 3 boys) I could not pass on the bargain. I bought 10 place settings, plus a serving bowl, for less than $34.

The past weekend, a friend and I ventured out to Ikea. It's the second largest Ikea in the world. No, I don't know where the largest is. Perhaps it is in Sweden. Anyway, our house has no linen closets and no medicine cabinets so I thought I might be able to find something to store our medicines in at Ikea. I was right, I bought a tall, thin cabinet that stands free. It cost $87. I had it delivered and assembled for less than $15. I also bought wooden hangers: 6 for $1.25 and many other small items.

My friend and I ventured to Ikea in a taxi as neither of us has a car. Getting a taxi is easy, we just phone the customer service desk at the clubhouse of our community and they send a taxi. They are a little like a concierge desk. Getting home from Ikea, or any other place downtown, can be a bit more complicated. I have learned the directions from the freeway, though, and feel pretty confident in my ability to get home. HOWEVER, if a taxi driver refuses to listen to me when I tell him which exit to use, I am completely out of luck. This is what happened on Saturday.

We got into the taxi and told him where we live. We confirmed he knew the general area and told him to take the toll road. Drivers often ask you if you want them to do that b/c if they do, you have to pay the toll. Not a big deal at $1.25. I told him to take exit 6 (liu in Chinese) he repeated "liu" and did the hand signal to indicate "6". We hit the road.

When we got to exit 4, the other exit for our area, he motioned to it, but we reiterated "liu" and he continued on the road. When we neared exit 6, he didn't slow down, so I indicated for him to take the exit. He pointed ahead and kept driving while I tried to tell him to get off the road. SO, we exited the road at exit 7 "qi". Then he wanted to know which way to go. We just put up our hands to show we had no idea so he drove forward. I soon saw he had no idea where he was, so I told him, in my best effort at Chinese, that I could call our clubhouse and they might be able to help him. He nodded, so I dialed and asked for their help. Two phone calls later, we got to the correct main road and we showed him how to get us home.

Had I been alone, I probably would have been a little panicky, but since I had a friend and I figured there was safety in numbers, I kept a level head and only broke a sweat b/c it was so hot in the cab and the fumes were burning my eyes and making me light headed.

Yesterday I went with two other women to an electronics store. I bought an iron, 2 reading lamps to hook to the bunk beds, a 24 inch flat screen multi-system tv and a multi-system dvd player and a set of two chordless phones. Each item had to be paid for separately and the tv had to be delivered because it came from a separate area. Total cost $467. I hope it all works!

Most things are reasonabley well priced here, obviously, but the costs of settling in to a new home still add up. It's something we seem to forget each time we move. This is our 7th family move since Jack was born almost 8 years ago.

Family room, sunroom and back yard

Master bedroom, dining room, living room, kitchen

More house pictures

Nothing is ever simple

Important note... It seems I will not be able to access my own blog or website, so if you want to contact me/ respond to a posting, it's fine to post it on the blog, but I have opted to moderate comments so I can view them by email as well. You'll just receive a pop up that says it's being moderated and once I read the message, it will be posted.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Getting Settled

Everyone slept reasonably well the first night but woke up before dawn for several days after that. This makes for long days! Tom and I had a party to go to on our second night, so right away, we left the boys with their Ayi. She was great right from the start. She's very easy going and quick to jump in without being asked. She worked for a family we know for the past 5 years. They have 4 children and highly recommended her to us. We jumped at the chance and are so happy we did.

She walks in the door and Huck will yell "Ayi home... Hi Ayi!" It's such a relief to be able to get out and run errands to get us settled and to be able to attend the Attache events without worrying too much. She even told me to call her if I need anything on Sunday, her day off, while Tom is away. What a safety net she is.

We are lucky to have a grocery store that caters to Americans within about a mile of our house. They have products from America and I can walk there, buy a bunch of stuff and then have it delivered, free of charge and no tipping. The hitch is that I was so happy to see some items the boys love, like Kraft Mac and Cheese and PopTarts. Well, then I went back for more and they weren't there. I've quickly learned that just about everything disappears and reappears randomly. So, while it's a great comfort that the store is there, I can't depend on finding what I need. Weird.

Speaking of shopping...
I went to a Costco type place. It was massive, like a warhouse in the States, but of course it was almost entirely Chinese products. I bought mosquito net tents for the boys' beds. Now that we are in our permanent house, the big boys can't use theirs b/c they are in bunk beds, but Huck is using his and I am thankful for it. When we arrived at our temporary house, there was not a crib there for him. I had one delivered by the embassy after4 nights, but by then it was too late. He's now in a regular bed for good. The tent keeps him contained for now, thankfully. I plan to get tradional mosquito netting for Jack and Jed, but don't see a way to do anything for Tom and me as the ceiling in our room is vaulted and VERY high.

I've posted pictures of the house so you can see what it looks like.

About us

Hi, I thought it would be fun to keep an online account of our Life and Times in China. We arrived in Beijing on June 22nd, 2006 and will be here for 3 years. Tom is working at the US Embassy and we are living in the suburbs about an hour away.

Please feel free to comment, ask questions, whatever you want, just promise to keep in touch. For some reason, I can't access the blog from here, so please respond via email. This is the other side of the world and feels every bit as such. We are finding our way but it will never be home because you all are not here. Of course, we welcome any and all visitors and have plenty of room for you here.

So, visit us here if you can, visit us on the blog whenever you want an update, and email often.

Erin, Tom and the boys

The journey

We departed St. Louis on June 20th, spent a relatively uneventful night in a hotel in DC and then departed for Beijing, via Chicago, on the 22nd. We had a delay on the ground in DC and then a few hour delay in Chicago and then were on our way.

The boys did very well on the 13 1/2 hour flight. Tom, Jack and Jed sat in front of Huck and me. Jack and Jed red, played, drew and watched dvds. Jack slept about 5 hours, Jed slept about 2 hours. Tom took care of them and listened to his ipod and read. Huck was pretty good. He colored, listened to books, played with toys and watched dvds. He slept off and on, restlessly, on me, for a couple of hours and only cried for about the last half hour.

We all watched out the window as the plane descended. For me, it was overwhelming to be hit with the reality of our arrival for a 3 year stay in the People's Republic of China. There was a visible haze of pollution, making everything seem a bit foreboding.

Our arrival was smooth. We were met at the gate by one of Tom's coworkers. He led us quickly through customs and immigration, we retrieved our bags and met an embassy driver. While we waited for the bags to be loaded, several teenage girls giggled and gushed over Huck. The boys got many stares throughout the airport.

The drive from the airport to our temporary house took about
20 minutes. We live in a gated neighborhood of villas. Ours is pictured above. We were met at the house by Tom's coworker's family and our Ayi. Ayi means auntie and it's what we call our nanny, household helper, safety net. More on her later. They provided us with dinner and had staples in the cabinets and fridge. We were able to eat, unpack a little and go to sleep.