Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Tonight the chef made Imos pizza! I found a recipe on the internet. Other than the fact that there was too much sauce, it tasted great. The other family with whom we shared the chef is leaving on Friday, so starting this week, for a little while, we have him 5 days a week! It's such a strange feeling. When he finished cooking dinner, he asks what I want the next night. AH the life we lead.
Tomorrow he is making chicken breasts, a vegetable pasta, salad and a cake because we are having guests for dessert and drinks.
Today he also made banana bread. Yesterday he made a regular dinner and cinnamon rolls for today's breakfast. Life is good but that has no effect on the feeling that I cannot wait to get HOME in less than 2 weeks.

Another language story

I want to get some monogramming done and don't know where to go. So I posted a message in a yahoo group we have for the expat community. It's a great forum to post information about living here or ask questions about all the endless issues here.

Here's my question:
> Does anyone know a place to get monogramming done?>

I got several responses, sent to my email address, from people who also want to find a place to get things monogrammed, wanting me to let them know if I learn anything.

BUT, the best response is this one, obviously from a non native English speaker...

>Hi, you can get it done at Beijing United Hospital. I got my done that last year.. >

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Beijing Glasses Market

3 weeks ago, Tom and I went to the glasses market. It's a building with a few hundred stalls of eye glasses vendors. You can get your eyes examined, if necessary, and get glasses made there in less than an hour. So, he and I each had two pairs made. We had been there before and had no problems. (This is foreshadowing...)

I chose a pair of regular glasses from one stall and a great pair of sunglasses from another stall across the way. They took my original pair of glasses to copy the prescription, which is how we did it the last time. This time, though, right from when I put the new glasses on, I could tell they weren't quite right. The sunglasses definitely weren't right but Tom picked them up for me a week later, so I couldn't do anything about it right away.

After trying to decide if the other pair was ok or not, I made the decision to see an eye doctor. Today I went to the international SOS clinic for an eye exam. The doctor, an Australian, checked my prescription and it is correct. He then checked the glasses. The problem was in the placement of the lenses. He and I bonded over the fact that this was like so many other things here... close but not quite right.

I had time to spare before I had to be at Huck's school, SO, I decided to brave the glasses market on my own. It was a big decision b/c they don't speak English... AT ALL. In fact, at the sunglasses stall, they speak a different dialect, so I knew I was taking a risk.

The first obstacle was in actually finding the correct stall. There are 4 floors, 5 rows of stalls in each, and about 7 or 8 stalls per side of each aisle. Luckily, I found it on my second choice of aisles. The women at both stalls remembered me. This place does not see much western business, so I stand out there. At the first place, I explained that the glasses were not right. I showed them my good glasses and the ones I bought from them and said they are not the same. OF COURSE, the woman said "they are the same". So, I had to repeat that they are not the same. I told her I could not see well. I told her I went to the doctor today and he checked my eyes and the glasses and the glasses are not the same. SO, she sent me with her lackey to the 4th floor where they make the lenses. There, I had to go through the same ordeal and explanation. I showed him my prescription, explained the distance between the centers of each lens and finally the guy saw they were not the same. They were about a millimeter off but it made a big difference.

I asked how long it would take and was told about a half hour. I told them I had to leave in 40 minutes to pick up my son. Then I went back downstairs to the second stall to deal with the sunglasses. I, again, explained the issue with the placement of the lenses and pupil distance. There was a "meeting of the minds" in which the 3 workers had an in depth conversation in their own dialect. Then they came back to me with an explanation. After much back and forth, with me trying to discern what they were trying to tell me, I figured out that they were telling me that my eyes/face is too small for the glasses and they cannot fix the problem. They said Chinese glasses and American glasses are not the same???? Then she showed me smaller glasses. I didn't like them as much as the others but thought I may as well get them because I need them and it's a lot less expensive to do it there and I'd already paid for them. I knew it would be a challenge to get my money back. I chose a pair and asked if they could make them. She took them away, with my glasses, for about 10 minutes, returned and told me they cannot do it. Then she went into a long explanation, most of which was lost on me. Finally I called Xing Ayi and asked her to talk with the woman and try to then explain the issue to me. In the end, she was saying that she should just give me my money back. I said that is fine and showed her the receipt. I had paid 220 rmb. She said she would give me 200 rmb. Unbelievable, and yet, not at all surprising, here. I said, that I gave her 220 on May 5th, so she must give me 220 now. This went on for about 2 minutes and ended with me leaving with my 220.

I then went upstairs to find my glasses. After a few minutes, the glasses were finished and seem to be correct. The guy had a long explanation for me, which I think was that the issue was only a difference of about a millimeter and that I didn't need to pay, or maybe I was supposed to pay a little (about which I'd have argued). I said thank you and see you next time and dashed out the door to get Huck.

Monday, May 28, 2007


I went to the giant fabric market several weeks ago. While I was looking for fabric for summer weight pants, I came across a great fabric for the kids' pjs. The fabric has chopsticks and Chinese characters on it. Tom has asked for pjs matching the boys' pjs, so when I went to the tailor I asked her to make 3 pairs of long sleep pants and if there was enough fabric left over, please make a pair of sleep shorts for Tom. She already has the measurements for these items b/c I've had her make them in the past.
When I went to pick them up, though, she told me something quickly and apologized. I made out that she was talking about the pjs and something about 3 but because she was speaking quickly, I didn't get it all. Then she left. When she returned, she had a big pile of pjs. She had made each boy a pair of pj pants AND a pair of pj shorts, plus a pair of pj shorts for Tom. A bit more than I asked for, but I'd already paid for the fabric, so it's fine and all 4 guys LOVE the pjs. The boys all put them on two nights ago and surprised Tom by giving him his for an early Father's Day present since we won't be together for the actual day. The boys' shorts can actually be worn as regular shorts.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lost in Translation

My Chinese has developed to a pretty decent level. I can communicate with the people I encounter in my daily life. I can't talk politics, but I can survive, get where I need to go and shop fairly well. However, sometimes I find myself with "a failure to communicate."

A few weeks ago I took some fabric to the tailor to have pjs made for the boys. I told her I wanted pj pants for each of the boys and if there was enough left over, I'd like pj shorts for Tom. She had all the measurements. I went to pick them up this week (first time they weren't ready, but that's another issue). She started to explain something to me and then left the room. When she returned, she had a pile of pjs. She had made pj pants for each of the boys and pj shorts for each of the boys AND pj shorts for Tom. So, we have a plethora of pjs in our house now!

I also had the tailor make tuxedos for the boys for my sister's wedding. I took a photograph of a nice tux and took the ayi with me to help me explain what we want. The ayi and I both explained clearly (she more than I, of course) what we wanted, I even pointed out the silk/satin fabric and showed her on the picture where it should go. BUT the tuxes came out as black suits. There's no embellishment on them, so I had to take them back to her to fix. I was very gentle in my explanation of why I'd brought them back and was polite. The ayi, though, was pretty firm and rough, basically saying "We told you, why didn't you do it right?" I felt bad.

Finally, my ayi called our clubhouse to ask them to come out to do a repair. They asked her for her name. She goes by Xing, which means star and is pronounced "shing". She had to repeat her name at least 15 times and finally explain it with a definition of the character. UNBELIEVABLE. If two native speakers cannot communicate, how can we be expected to communicate???

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The boys

Here are the boys last month.
We'll be homeward bound in 20 days! I asked the boys what food they are most looking forward to having back in America and Jack and Jed said..."baby carrots."

Huck with Xing Ayi and Shu Shu

Here is Huck with Xing Ayi and Shu Shu (means uncle). They are married and he is our driver. They gave Huck this train for his birthday. It was very sweet.

Entry Table

Recently I purchased a lamp for the entry table. I bought it at a porcelain factory. This is the table across from our front door. I can't remember if I posted this before, or not. The book in the front is a book we have each guest sign when we have events in our home. It will be a nice memory keepsake when we leave.


We had a party on Friday night. We tend to do a western theme, and this time was no different. Here are the two arrangements I did at the flower market. The market is so great. I went upstairs and bought two square vases and then I went downstairs, chose my flowers and the guy and I arranged them. Flowers are so reasonable here, it's fun to decorate for dinner parties and also to just have fresh flowers around the house.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The beach

The following day we flew to Hoi An for three days in the sun. It was beautiful, as you can see from the pictures. We had a little bungalow type place to stay. We called it our beach house. We all slept in one room and we could walk out the back door right onto the beach. It was so nice.
At the square, courtyard, they had a memorial to someone who had died in the Tsunami.
You can see pictures of all of this at the link below.
We ventured into the old town one morning. It was lovely and clearly has not changed much in the past decades.
We also visited China Beach, where US soldiers had R & R during the war.


The next day we visited the Hanoi animal park/zoo. The Lonely Planet guide describes the zoo as no San Diego Zoo, but better than most in Southeast Asia. It wasn't too bad. They had birds and monkeys and tigers etc. in small cages. The highlight for the boys, though, was the amusement park rides. They had a great time. I am sure the rides wouldn't pass inspection in the states, but we kept it simple, stuck to the low to the ground ones and the kids enjoyed it.

One evening we went to the water puppet show which is well known there. It was really neat. People control the puppets from behind a curtain of sorts. The whole thing is done in water and we read that the puppeteers all suffer from skin diseases from being in the water so much.

We saw many children during our time in the city, but we only saw 1 stroller the whole time! Everyone carries their children. They have a 2 child policy there. We saw families of 5 sometimes, though. Often on motorcycles! 5 people all on one bike! You can see pictures of this a the link below. There are thousands of motorcycles in the streets and many fewer cars. Driving is treachorous. Sometimes we found ourselves in a taxi, driving against traffic with hundreds of motorcycles coming at us!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Link to our Vietnam Photos (and some of Huck's birthday)


We had a great time in Vietnam. We left last Tuesday, April 24th and flew from Beijing to Hanoi. The flight is less than 4 hours. While at the airport, we befriended two young Vietnamese girls who took a liking to the boys. It was great b/c they entertained Huck for the two hours we waited in the departure lounge. You can see pictures in the link.

We arrived late in the evening and went straight to our hotel in the old quarter. Our hotel was in Hanoi tower which was built on the site of the old prison, known to Americans as "Hanoi Hilton." --- More on that later.

On our first day we visited the mausoleum of Ho Chi Min. As in a visit to see Mao, one must stand in a long line and then walk quickly around the body and then back out the door. However, the experience was more friendly in Vietnam. The soldier guards smiled at the boys, one gave Huck a hug, and another showed us a special ramp and ledge for the boys to walk on for a better view. We found the Vietnamese people to be very friendly. They were smitten with the boys. Everywhere we went, the boys were stared at, pointed at, hugged and patted and pinched. At first, the boys smiled, posed for pictures and went happily on their way. However, after a few days, they grew tired of the attention. Jack and Jed just ignored it but Huck gave a screech whenever someone touched him. On the day we left to come home, a crowd gathered around the boys when we arrived at the airport. Jack felt ill after the car ride, so we sat him down on a chair outside. The crowd followed and stood watching from about 2 feet away. I gave him a barf bag and even that did not deter the crowd. One woman kindly offered her bottle of water, which I declined.

We had lunch at a lovely local place where we had an entire upper level to ourselves, with at least 5 servers attending to our every need. They were so friendly and overly helpful. They even cleaned the rice off of Huck between servings!

Later, we visted Hanoi Hilton, the prison where John McCain and many other American Heros were kept for many years. Though much of it was torn down to make room for offices, shopping and a hotel, the remaining area was very well preserved and the museum was well done. You can see pictures.

The city of Hanoi looks more European than we expected. This is due to the French colonization in its past.

We ended our day with a dinner in the room and rested for the next day. I'll post more later.

Back in Beijing

We arrived back in Beijing on Tuesday afternoon. Today I was driving and saw a taxi driver get out of his car and walk to the side of the road toward some trees. I thought, "wow, an enlightened taxi driver. He's going to pee, but he's actually walking behind the trees." Well, I thought too soon. He stood BETWEEN two trees, in clear sight. Oh well.