Tuesday, February 27, 2007

the workers took over

The workers think that we "lao wais" (foreigners) can't do anything right so they took over for us. The funny thing is, they broke Jack's project. He wasn't upset, he handled it very well. I told Jack it's like so many other things made in China... broken. :-)

Cub Scouts

One of the Dads in Jack's cub scout den is the manager of a nice hotel here and last night he hosted the boys for a woodworking night. It was great. We went down to the boiler room where the boys had the help of the workers and then they provided a nice buffet for dinner.


Jack went outside to play with his snakes. I went to check on him and found him having a "discussion" about snakes with our driver, who speaks NO English. Didn't matter to either of them. Sweet.

Luxury, Chinese style

Today I had a facial. It was my first. It was a 90 minute treatment. My friend and I used gift certificates that we received at a women's event. It was very nice, but of course there was a Beijing twist to it. The certificate said it was for a facial, so imagine our surprise when the women handed us robes and told us to remove our clothing. It turned outhat there was a massage as part of the facial, so no cause for alarm... It was a very nice facial. I am not sure I notice a difference in my skin, but it was a good experience.

Chinese New Year, follow-up

Well, we survived the Chinese New Year holiday. I thought the 9 days would be rough, with Huck asking for his beloved Ayi several times a day when one of us told him "no." That was not the case, though. I think he was so happy to have his whole family around him all the time, that he didn't have time to miss her. We had a great week (other than the laundry and cleaning bathrooms.) :-)

One thing that is still going on, though, since the holiday lasts 15 days, is that business is slow. The grocery store shelves are not full. This morning I went to the grocery store and they only had two carrots!

A side note about carrots... One of the things we miss most about America, other than family and friends, of course, is BABY CARROTS. Jack, Jed and Huck used to eat pounds of these each week, but here, they don't have them, and though I keep peeled carrot sticks available all the time, they just aren't the same.

Monday, February 19, 2007

What Chinese New Year Means to Us

We celebrated Chinese New Year just like everyone else. We welcomed the year of the pig (boar) with a meal of jaozi (otherwise known as pot stickers), which are good luck, exchanged hong bao (red envelopes with money or candy,) also for good luck, decorated the house and watched fire works.

The other side of the celebration is that business basically comes to a standstill. Shops are closed. Everyone takes at lease 3 days off and goes to see their families. School, for us, is closed for a week, the Chinese schools are closed for a month. The ayis and drivers and chefs all have time off and get a month's pay as a bonus. We gave ours 9 days off. I enjoy the peace and quiet and family time. I like when the boys are home from school and we can play games and do art projects and watch movies and we don't have to rush around. I'd rather not be doing laundry and cleaning toilets, but hey, it's only a few days.

I belong to an online message group of expats in Beijing. It's a place where you can post a message, ask a question or offer advice relating to life here. On the first day of the holiday time, a woman posted a message, saying as embarrassed as she was to post the message, she was desperate for a fill-in ayi while her usual ayi is away! I had to laugh. It's easy to get spoiled here, but I think it's important to remember all the help is a real privilege and to try not to get too used to it because it won't last forever. It's easy to get used to all the help, though.

Huck and Xing Ayi are very attached to one another. I feel I must preface this anecdote with a statement of the fact that Huck cries when I leave him at school or at home, sometimes even if I leave the room. This story is about him and his ayi, though. When it's time for her to go home in the evening, he always says "Ayi, stay." She finds it very hard to leave when he does this, so her departure always takes a while. Usually, by about 5:30, I get her to go home. On Friday, her last day before her holiday, I tried to get her to go home at about 4:00, so she could start early. Huck, of course, protested. Finally, at 6:00, we left to go to our friends' house for dinner and then she left. Huck was crying and, according to Tom, she appeared to be near tears as well.

I was worried we'd start each day with Huck crying for Ayi and have to endure him crying for her whenever we told him no. But, that hasn't been the case. I know it would be more fun for him if she were here since she plays with him whenever he asks, but he's doing fine. (and so are the rest of us but we will be glad when next Monday rolls around!)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

My orchid

I bought an Orchid for 40 kuai on Thursday. I thought it might be fun to have a journal of it on the blog to see if I can keep it alive. I don't have a good track record with plants but I couldn't resist buying it, it is so beautiful and I thought it would be nice to have in our bedroom. SO, I will try to care for it. I have a humidifier running in the room almost all of the time. There are four buds, I am eager to see if they bloom.

A second ceremony with different cups and the ladies.

I am standing all the way to the right with two other American woman behind me. In attendence, there were Americans, Germans, Ukranians, Russians, Japanese, South Africans, Bulgarians, Greeks and more.

The tea setup

This is the tea set up. The tall cup on the right is the fragrance cup. You first pour the tea into it, then you place the other cup on top, as seen below, then you turn the whole thing over, remove the fragrance cup, inhale the scent, then drink the three sips from the other cup.

Tea Ceremony

On Thursday I attended a tea ceremony demonstration and lesson. It was for the diplomatic spouses, as you can see from the sign in the first picture. One of our own, Keiko from Japan, did the demonstration. Though she is Japanese, she is very well educated in Chinese tea culture.
It's a very long process, the hot water is first used to heat the pot, then it's used to heat the cups then it is used to brew a first brew, which is discarded, then the second brewing is drunk, in three sips from the little cups. We saw three different ceremonies and viewed how some tea is preserved. Here, Keiko is pouring the water to heat the cups.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Another article... The expat internet group I am in contributed to this article...

Tired of Laughter, Beijing Gets RidOf Bad Translations
Many Expats Regret LossOf Wacky English in Signs;
'Slippery Are Very Crafty'
By MEI FONGFebruary 5, 2007; Page A1

BEIJING -- For years, foreigners in China have delighted in the loopy English translations that appear on the nation's signs. They range from the offensive ("Deformed Man," outside toilets for the handicapped) to the sublime (on park lawns, "Show Mercy to the Slender Grass").

Last week, Beijing city officials unveiled a plan to stop the laughter. With hordes of foreign visitors expected in town for the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing wants to cleanse its signs of translation nonsense. For the next eight months, 10 teams of linguistic monitors will patrol the city's parks, museums, subway stations and other public places searching for gaffes to fix.
Already, fans of the genre are mourning the end of an era, and some Web sites dedicated to it have seen traffic spike. The bewildering signs were "one of the great things we want to show people visiting us," says financial-services consultant Josh Kurtzig, a Washington native who lives in Beijing. Correcting them is "really taking away one of the joys of China."
Stuck in Beijing traffic recently, Mr. Kurtzig noticed workers replacing one of the classics: "Dongda Hospital for Anus and Intestine Disease Beijing." The new sign: "Hospital of Proctology." He grabbed his BlackBerry and emailed the news to friends around the globe. Their reactions, he says, were swift, and mostly unfavorable. "Nooooooooooo," read an email from one friend.
Not many locals share this sense of loss. "We cannot leave [these signs] up just for the amusement of foreigners," says Olive Wang, marketing manager for a major sportswear company.
Many in China regard the Olympics as the nation's coming-out party -- a milestone in its ascent as a global power. Anticipation of the Games is fueling a surge of national pride, and has sparked campaigns to make people smile more and embrace better etiquette.
The sign initiative is the latest part of a campaign to improve English translations in public, including on restaurant menus. The group behind the effort, called the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program, is headed by Chen Lin, an elderly language professor who acts as its language police chief.
"We want everything to be correct. Grammar, words, culture, everything," says Prof. Chen, whose formal English enunciation would befit a Shakespearean actor. "Beijing will have thousands of visitors coming," he says as he flips through pictures of poorly translated signs on his dictionary-covered desk. "We don't want anyone laughing at us."
The sign police will conduct spot checks "to see if the signs are right," says Beijing Vice Mayor Ji Lin.
China hardly has a monopoly on poor translation. In the U.S., the popularity of Chinese-language tattoos during the past decade has left lots of hipster skin marked with nonsensical character combinations.
In anticipation of the Games, Prof. Chen set up his group in 2002 with backing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The group's efforts, he says, will pick up over the next 1½ years and will likely involve thousands of city employees and volunteers.
Already, the city has replaced 6,300 road signs that carried bewildering admonitions such as: "To take notice of safe: The slippery are very crafty." (Translation: Be careful, slippery.) Replacing signs will cost the city a substantial amount of money, although it isn't clear how much. Some of the faulty ones, Prof. Chen notes, are decades old and are carved in marble.
The son of a government official and a teacher, Prof. Chen got hooked on English in high school by reading simplified versions of Shakespeare. His interest made him a target during the decadelong Cultural Revolution that began in 1966, when associations with the West were a liability. He was sent off to do hard labor in the countryside.
In 1978, as China began embracing a policy of economic reform and openness, Prof. Chen hosted the country's first television program teaching English. He became a minor celebrity. "Everywhere I went, even in winter, I had to wear sunglasses," he recalls.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the popularity of the English language grew faster than the nation's proficiency in it. English words were used on billboards and on clothing to denote exoticism and sophistication -- but the words often made no sense. Prof. Chen says that municipal departments sometimes would leave it to employees with only rudimentary English skills and a dictionary to handle translations of public signs. At some of Beijing's most famous historic attractions, tourists were left puzzling over incomprehensible signs.
Prof. Chen's Beijing Speaks committee set up a Web site to solicit volunteer translators, part of a parallel effort to provide standardized translations for Chinese menus. In a little over two months, it drew more than 7,000 responses. "People really want to get involved," he says.
These days, Prof. Chen regularly cruises the city looking for faulty signs, often in the company of David Tool, a retired U.S. Army colonel and longtime resident of China. Sometimes, a Beijing television crew accompanies them, documenting the results. (Two programs on the topic have already aired.)
Some of the many Westerners living in Beijing view the disappearance of China's lost-in-translation signs as part of a broader modernization drive that is causing Beijing to lose some of its character. Other foreigners lament the loss of a source of amusement.
Tourists and expatriates have been posting photographs of what has come to be known as "Chinglish" on Internet sites such as chinglish.de. Beijing's sign-improvement efforts appear to be boosting contributions and visitors to the sites.
In recent months, for example, the number of daily visitors to the Chinglish page of software engineer Everett Griffith's Web site, pocopico.com -- it includes a photo of a restroom sign that reads "Genitl Emen" -- has jumped by 25% to 500, he says.
Some foreigners question whether Beijing authorities should devote such effort to changing signs, given other pre-Olympic concerns such as traffic and pollution woes.
Says longtime resident Jeremy Goldkorn, a South African: "Frankly, I prefer clean toilets to correct English."
Write to Mei Fong at mei.fong@wsj.com

An Article I Found

China launches bid to teach good manners

Thousands of Chinese declared war on queue-jumping and other social ills yesterday as they fanned out across Beijing on a mission to eradicate bad manners ahead of the 2008 Olympics.
Under the slogan "New Beijing, Great Olympics", the Games are being touted as the coming-out party for an emerging super-power that is beginning to flex its muscles on the world stage.

Mascots at the Beijing promotion for civilized behavior
But the commonplace sights of spitting, queue-jumping and littering are deemed detrimental to the city's image.
So yesterday, armed with banners and loudspeakers, red-sashed volunteers barked orders at those deemed to be letting the side down.
Meng Xinglan, 68, was one of thousands yesterday who raised her right hand in a clenched-fist salute pledging allegiance to the campaign.
"I pledge to queue up voluntarily and to be a civilised citizen... to win glory for the homeland and bring honour for the Olympics," she recited.
Yang Weisen, 55, a former mechanic who was maintaining order at a bus stop, said: "Most of Beijing's people are pretty polite, but a few are not. We can always improve."
The slogan across his red sash read: "Don't queue-jump, wait in line."
The organisers of the Games have earned widespread praise for their overall competence. However, concern has been building that crude behaviour including pushing and shoving at bus stops and spitting in the street could take the gloss off that image.
Last year, the city government launched a "smile" campaign, and it has set up etiquette courses to teach shopkeepers and other service industry workers such as taxi drivers how to be more polite and welcoming to foreigners.

Monday, February 12, 2007


The middle school and high school kids put on the parade for the elementary school kids. They did a great job.

Chinese New Year

The kids dressed up to watch the school Chinese New Year parade, then they took part in it. They also made these dragon hats.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The award

Here are the pictures of Jack and Tom with the award. Also, I couldn't resist posting the picture of Huck. He did this to himself. Do not blame me! As I said, the banquet had a Hawaiian theme.

cub scouts in china

As in America, Cub Scouts in China have the father son cake baking contest. Here, though, the rules must be clear... Not only are Moms not allowed to help, neither are ayis, chefs, drivers, etc. The theme, this year, was Hawaii. Jack decided he wanted to make a gecko and found a picture online. So, Tom, Jack and Jed baked 3 sheet cakes and a few cup cakes.
With Tom leading the way, they cut the cakes, pieced them together and decorated the masterpiece. We CAREFULLY transported it to the school on Saturday evening and after an evening full of suspense... Jack won FIRST PRIZE! He was elated, as you can see in the pictures above.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Jack is very observent

Today we went down to the Embassy to get an immunization. Jed whined the whole way and said he had a tummy ache. So, when we arrived and got out of the car I told Jed he would start to feel better because he was now out in the fresh air.

Jack looked at me and said, "no Mom, there's no fresh air here, we are in Beijing, remember!"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

More MNDFAO party

Ministry of National Defense Foreign Affairs Office New Year Party

On Friday we attended the MNDFAO Chinese New Year party. Seating is by seniority in the attache corps, so we were seated in the back of the room. This painting, of Chinese Marines was behind us. While we were banished to the back of the room, we were fortunate to actually sit with friends AND friendly PLA (People's Liberation Army) soldiers, so the evening was fun. Here I am, holding a very traditional Chinese treat. It can be purchased on the street, everywhere. It's fruit, glazed with sugar, I think. This one was strawberry, but they often make them with crab apples and sometimes even vegetable!

Dinner was buffet and they had fresh noodles. Pictured below is are two men making the noodles the traditional way. Tom said they were good but I was afraid to try them as the soup looked like it had meat in it.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


While waiting for Tom to get something from his office in our embassy, I observed some work going on at the embassy across the street. Workers were putting a new roof on the building. It is a beautiful roof. The tiles are a nice red color. They are about 1 square foot each and appear to weigh at least 5 pounds a piece. The interesting thing was how the workers were doing the work. They had scaffolding set up. There were 16 men as part of the process. One on the ground, one on each of 3 levels of the scaffolding, and 12 on the roof, standing in a line. The man on the bottom would pick up a tile, hand it up to the next man, who passed it the next, etc. It was a 16 man assembly line, essentially. No use of machinery, whatsoever. The group looked like a bunch of guys standing around who just happened to be moving tiles. It was something to see.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Yes, it's a toilet.

They had this toilet in a dark storage area. The woman told us they are very difficult to make and labor intensive and then they break very quickly, like this one. I couldn't resist taking a picture, though.

The Display area and the manager packing up my purchase of a tea set

Before and After

Ladies Painting the pieces

Pressing on the pattern, before and after...

Dry product and the work room

Pouring the clay and pulling the product out of the mould

Clay powder and mixer

Visit to a Porcelain Factory

Porcelain was invented in China, hence the name "China." Today I visited a factory (about 30 minutes north of where I live) where they make the pieces, from powdered soil clay, to the finished product. It's a very labor intensive process. The first mix the powder with water in the large black barrel you see pictured. Then the pour it into the molds. They pour it into a mold, let it set for 30 minutes to an hour, then pour the liquid off, leaving a coating in the mold that forms the jar, vase, plate, whatever. It dries and then they remove it from the mold. Next, the object is fired in an electric kiln (my camera ran out of batteries at this point in the visit.) After the pieces are baked in the kiln for 10 hours, they are taken to the workshop. In the workshop, a designer paints a design on a sample piece, using a thick coat of paint. Then, another worker takes a cloth and flattens it over the sample, transferring the design to the cloth. Then, she takes the cloth and transfers the pattern to other pieces, again and again, until there is no more paint on the cloth. Next, a woman will paint the details and color on the pieces. Finally, they are fired in the kiln again. We were told that an 80% success rate (factors in breakage an mistakes) is considered a success.
I purchased a tea set that I really like. At first, the price seemed high for local factory prices. Then, we were taken on the tour of the place and shown all the work involved. Somehow, after seeing it all, 10 kuai ($1.27) per cup seems like not so much. My tea set, pot, sugar/tea leaf bowl, 6 cups (Chinese style) and dish cost 100 kuai ($12.70). Seems like it should have cost more! I am really happy to have had the opportunity to see a place like this and have a tea set to remember it.

The workers seemed happy. They have 10 days off for Chinese New Year and get every Sunday off from work. Many places do not give days off at all.

Here's cowboy Huck. He has to be the happiest kid on earth. Having a family who loves him, plus an Ayi who is at his beck and call and will play with him morning, noon and night, is like heaven on earth for a preschooler. It's so great to see him so happy. Another perk to living in China.

Nothing surprises me

On my way to the embassy on Wednesday, just before the entrance to the expressway, on a 20 degree day, I saw a man peeing at the side of the road. Then, another car pulled over the opposite side of the road, a man jumped out, ran across the street, and joined his fellow man in relieving himself.