Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Naming

My parents read a prayer from the Grandparents and Jack and Jed read a blessing from the older brothers.

Zeke's naming

A tradition in our family is to have a baby naming ceremony with our family and friends in St. Louis. Although it took us 6 months to get here, with 50+ people gathered to celebrate, we held the naming at my parents' house last Sunday. We were all sad that Tom couldn't be with us. He is working hard back in Beijing, but it was so nice to have many loved ones around us and Tom was in there in our hearts. Everyone asked of him and hopefully he will be able to make a visit next month.

Zeke was given his Hebrew name and I explained the meanings of all of his names: English, Hebrew and Chinese. You can see the cake had all three!

We gave him the name Judah Ezekiel "Zeke". Judah is the name of the hero of the Hanukkah story, a strong soldier. We thought this was fitting because he was born at the time of Hanukkah and also his father is a strong soldier. Also, Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and Leah, as he is our fourth son. Ezekiel means the strength of G-d. Zeke's Hebrew name is Zev. Zev means wolf in Hebrew. We gave him this name to honor my Uncle Willard, of Blessed Memory. His Chinese name is Hai De Shuai. Hai De is our family name and Shuai means handsome but it also is a name used to describe Zhu De, a famous Chinese leader during the cultural revolution. Judah sounds like Zhu De, so our Chinese friends and colleagues always think we named him the Chinese version. Xing Ayi came up with the Chinese name and we love it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


My cousin Loren is in town with her 5 kids. She came in to see us and have the kids all spend time together. It's so nice to be able to have the boys see kids who are family and get to know their cousins. We all had dinner together last night and went to the zoo today. Actually, last night at my Mom's house felt a bit like we were already at the zoo, with 9 kids and 6 adults around one table! It was fun, though, and the children all got along really well. The kids are aged: 11, 11, 10, 7 1/2, 7 1/2, 7, 4, 3, 6 months and the older kids did a great job helping out with the younger ones.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Jetlag is a B****, I mean it's a pain in the a**

OK, I don't know how to describe it, but it's not fun. The first few nights and days were all a mess of naps and periods of sleeplessness but yesterday I thought we'd crossed over the line to a normal schedule. The boys went to bed at about 7:30 to read, lights out at 8:00. Zeke was settled in bed by 7:30 as well.

By 8:30, Zeke was awake again. At 9:00 Jack came upstairs, looked around and said, "oh, I thought it was morning," then went back downstairs saying he can't sleep. At 10:00, Huck came upstairs asking for breakfast and no amount of explaining could convince him he needed to go back to sleep. Jack and Huck got benedryl. Jack went back to sleep, but Huck kept saying he wanted breakfast so at 11:00 I gave him a bowl of cereal, which he quickly gobbled up, then a second, which he also ate. He came to bed with me at about 11:45. Zeke slept in bed with me as well.

Huck and Zeke were both sleeping at 8:00, but I woke them, Jack woke up at 8:30, Jed was the only one who slept through the night from about 8:00 to 6:00. He is recovering from strep throat and an ear infection.

Did I mention I am exhausted???
Maybe tonight will be better?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Journey and the Destination

We have safely arrived in St. Louis. I spent the better part of a week packing 8 suitcases and 5 backpacks for the trip. The backpacks were full of activities for the boys for the plane: books, art supplies, ipods, dvd players, Nintendo DSes, and more, plus bags of snacks. The boys were all dressed in kelly green so I could spot them and they could spot each other. On Sunday at 1:30pm we left our house in Beijing and on Sunday at 10:45 we arrived at my Mom and Dad's house in St. Louis. A 16+ hour journey. The only bump in the road was a gate change, in Chicago, that sent us speed walking through O'Hare from the end of one terminal to the end of another.

Throughout our trip people were helpful. We got lots of smiles and, for the first time in an air trip, no negative vibes at the site of a mom and 4 kids ready to board a plane. Hats off to the staff on United 850. They were all very nice and ready to help. A woman (airline employee) at O'Hare asked if she could help me as we were walking towards our first gate. I thanked her but tried to decline. I didn't want her to have to walk out of her way, but she insisted. She said, "you've got a stroller loaded with backpacks, 3 kids carrying their food, a baby hanging from your neck, and you are carrying a tray of drinks, let me help." I accepted, thanked her and said, "I guess I'm an America's Funniest Videos clip waiting to happen, huh?" She laughed.

The boys were amazing. All four behaved beautifully and were complimented at all stages of the trip. It was great. All four slept for various periods of the 13 hour flight and Jed even slept on the 1 hour flight from Chicago. I have to admit, though, that I lost my shine when they announced the late gate change and we were forced to dump the dinners I'd just bought for the boys and scurry through the airport, shlepping heavy backpacks. The boys were champs, though, hardly even muttering a complaint. I am very proud of them.

I am very thankful that we were able to avoid the lines for immigration by using the diplomatic passport lines in Beijing and the military line in Chicago. They save so much time and effort.T he longest line we had to stand in was customs in Chicago. Upon arrival there, we have to claim our bags at baggage claim, load them onto carts and clear customs before they are put back on a carousel to be boarded for the next flight. The customs officer was the one person who was unpleasant during our trip. A friend of mine tried to help me push the 3 carts and stroller through the last part of the line and the customs officer yelled at her for going back to the line. I understand it was against regulations but she did not have to be rude.

We've now had 2 nights in America. The first night, the boys were up at 2:45, which meant I was up at 2:45. Oh well. Zeke slept most of that night, so it could have been worse. Yesterday, the boys all crashed at various points in the day. They slept so hard that nothing could wake them. Jed fell asleep at about 4:30, after a full day at camp, and slept a full 12 hours. Huck napped during the day for several hours, so he was up at about 3:30. Jack napped for about an hour and a half yesterday, went to bed at about 9:30, and is still sleeping now, at 7:50. Zeke didn't fare quite so well. He napped well yesterday, of course, since his body clock said it was night time. He was up a lot last night, though. So we'll see what today holds in store.

All the boys are happy to be here. Jack and Jed reported their top favorite things about America:
clean air,
lots of green grass,
lots of trees to climb,
and family.

It's hard to describe the difference in being outside here vs. China. Everything here feels so clean and fresh and cool, even if it's ninety degrees, seeing the lush, green grass gives the world a clean cool feel. It's great to be here.

Jed saw me buttering his bagel, looked at the tub of butter and asked, "is that the butter? Everything is different in America." Then he said, with enthusiasm, "oh, yeah, we can drink water from the sink here!"

They all find humor in the fact that Zeke is 6 months old and this is his first time in America.

We'll be here until just before the Olympics and then we head back to Beijing.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The "true" Chinese experience

Friends of ours who live downtown claim they live there so that they can experience the true China. I'll give them that they get to experience the true city life, lao bai xing on the streets, tai chi, noodle shops, etc. But look at the picture here and tell me that we are not living in the real China. We live in rural China, it's just that our compound is built in the middle of it.

Today I rode my bike about a half mile to get a manicure and pedicure because I am actually getting dressed up and going on a date with my husband tonight. On my way there, I passed 4 donkeys like these and a herd of sheep walking down the road with what can only be described as a shepherd. He had a staff and everything! There are farmers by the road, with little stands of fruits and vegetables and vendors selling statues and other pieces of art. Notice the newly paved and painted road, though. Many changes are taking place in preparation for the Olympics.

The transaction of the mani pedi took place entirely in mandarin Chinese. I carried on a conversation about my trip back to America and my family back home. The two girls were very happy to chat and were quite pleased with their work. When they finished, I thanked them and they said they'd see me in August.

We may not live in the hustle and bustle of downtown Beijing, but we certainly are experiencing the real China.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

This is what I've been telling you about...

This gives you a clear picture of our daily life...

By Peter Eisler, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - National security agencies are warning businesses and federal officials that laptops and e-mail devices taken to the Beijing Olympics are likely to be penetrated by Chinese agents aiming to steal secrets or plant bugs to infiltrate U.S. computer networks. Chinese government and industry use electronic espionage to "easily access official and personal computers," says one recent report by the Overseas Security Advisory Council, a federally chartered panel comprising security experts from corporations and the State, Commerce and Treasury departments.

Equipment left unsupervised for just minutes in a hotel or even during a security screening can be hacked, mined and bugged, adds Larry Wortzel, who chairs the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a federal panel that monitors China-related security issues for Congress. China's government also controls Internet service providers and wireless networks, he says, so computers and PDAs can be monitored and planted with bugs remotely, too.

"There is a high likelihood virtually 100% that if an individual is of security, political, or business interest to Chinese security services or high technology industries, their electronics can and will be tampered with or penetrated," Wortzel says.

China's embassy did not respond to requests for comment but usually dismisses espionage charges.

"The so-called accusation of the Chinese military espionage against the U.S. is groundless and fabrication with ulterior motives," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a press conference last month.

Yet China's pursuit of American government and business secrets has been noted repeatedly in federal threat assessments.

Last year, the office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that China's espionage services are "among the most aggressive in collecting against sensitive and protected U.S. targets."

Thousands of Americans are expected to attend the Olympics, including President Bush and a large entourage of federal officials. Even so, the government isn't doing enough to publicize the potential espionage risks, says Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., a former FBI agent who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, which has been briefed on Chinese espionage threats.

The reticence stems partly from the administration's reluctance to anger China, a key U.S. trading partner, Rogers says. "I appreciate their position," he adds, but by "underreporting" the threat, national security officials let potential targets get "lulled into this notion that they don't have to worry about it."

The Chinese "will take full advantage of any opportunity to not only take a peek at what's on electronic devices but also to implant them" with bugs that could provide access to U.S. computer networks, Rogers says.

Rogers and others briefed on the threat suggest that Olympic visitors purge sensitive information on laptops and e-mail devices, or leave their regular equipment at home and carry "clean" surrogates.

Travelers returning from the games also should have their equipment checked for bugs or viruses before reconnecting to U.S. computer networks, says Ray Mey, who ran Olympics security at the FBI before joining GardaWorld as a corporate security consultant.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko declined to discuss briefings given to federal officials and businesses. Any time executives are in a country capable of "exploiting electronic media," he says, the FBI strives "to notify them of these risks and appropriate precautions."

Jed's observation and shopping

We were on the way to school when Jed looked at the sky and said, "I think it's going to rain today." Then he paused for a moment and said, "or maybe it's the pollution." Which it was. Many days look overcast but it's really the air quality, not the weather.

It will be nice to get back to clean air for the summer. The boys and I head back on Sunday. (Yes, I am flying with them by myself.) I made one last trip to the market yesterday and stocked up on gifts and a few more clothing items for the boys. The prices are going up in preparation for the influx of visitors for the Olympics. It takes longer to get down to the real price and it gets tedious. I enjoy the game of the bargaining when I first start out shopping but by the end I always wish they'd just give me the real price without the struggle. For a coat my friend's mom bought, the price started at 980 rmb ($142 USD) and after much haggling, we walked away with the coat for 200 rmb ($29 USD). It's come to the point where the women will talk quietly to bargain with people they know live here so that the tourists don't hear the real prices.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Our Celebration

The weather has been in the 90s so we've been enjoying the pool in our compound. Today, we celebrated Dragon Boat Festival (explanation below) by giving Xing Ayi and Xiao Shang the day off and having some family time at the pool. Zeke dipped his feet for the first time and the older boys ganged up to seek revenge on Dad!

You can see houses on our compound in the background of the photo. The clubhouse is just past the playground, out of sight. While the pool was not crowded when I shot the photos, later, every chair was taken and the pool was full of people trying to escape the heat.

Jed sampled and enjoyed Zong zi at school last week. The school is great about linking the kids with the culture of their host country. Xing Ayi asked if we like Zong zi and said she would make some for us, so we'll see what tomorrow brings us.

Dragon Boat Festival

Mandarin Training Center Dragon Boat Team on Bitan LakeToday, the boys had off of school due to the public holiday celebrating Dragon Boat Festival.

Officially on falling on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the Dragon Boat Festival is also known as Double Fifth Day. While many stories regarding its origin abound, the most popular and widely accepted version regards Qu Yuan, a minister during the Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC)

Legend of the Dragon Boat Festival's Origin

MTC Dragon Boat Team at Danshui River At the end of the Zhou Dynasty, the area we now know as China had fallen into a state of fragmentation and conflict. While the Zhou dynasty had ruled for several centuries, several other states, originally feudal domains, tried to carve out their own kingdoms. The state of Qin would eventually emerge the victor and unify all of China under one rule for the first time in history.

Qu Yuan served as minister to the Zhou Emperor. A wise and articulate man, he was loved by the common people. He did much to fight against the rampant corruption that plagued the court-- thereby earning the envy and fear of other officials. Therefore, when he urged the emperor to avoid conflict with the Qin Kingdom, the officials pressured the Emperor to have him removed from service. In exile, he traveled, taught and wrote for several years. Hearing that the Zhou had been defeated by the Qin, he fell into despair and threw himself into the Milou River. His last poem reads:

Many a heavy sigh I have in my despair,
Grieving that I was born in such an unlucky time.
I yoked a team of jade dragons to a phoenix chariot,
And waited for the wind to come,
to sour up on my journey
As he was so loved by the people, fishermen rushed out in long boats, beating drums to scare the fish away, and throwing zong zi into the water to feed braver fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan's body.

The Modern Dragon Boat Festival

Starting from that time to this day, people commemorate Qu Yuan through Dragon Boat Races, eating zong zi, and several other activities, on the anniversary of his death: the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

MTC Women's team salutes judges after winning a race at Tamsui River

Dragon Boat races are the most exciting part of the festival, drawing crowds of spectators. Dragon Boats are generally brightly painted and decorated canoes. Ranging anywhere from 40 to 100 feet in length, their heads are shaped like open-mouthed dragons, while the sterns end with a scaly tail. Depending on the length, up to 80 rowers can power the boat. A drummer and flag-catcher stand at the front of the boat. Before a dragon boat enters competition, it must be "brought to life" by painting the eyes in a sacred ceremony. Races can have any number of boats competing, with the winner being the first team to grab a flag at the end of the course. Annual races take place all over China, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and other overseas Chinese communities.

Zong Zi

The traditional food for the Dragon Boat Festival, Zong zi is a glutinous rice ball, with a filling, wrapped in corn leaves. The fillings can be egg, beans, dates, fruits, sweet potato, walnuts, mushrooms, meat, or a combination of them. They are generally steamed.

MTC Men's team salutes after race

Friday, June 06, 2008

Our Life

Our Life as a Military Family...

We've made very dear friends here and as with every place we've lived, due to the nature of military life, friends come and go. This week, as school draws to a close and summer approaches, moving crews are in and out of houses in the compound and crates are being loaded with years' worth of belongings.

This week, two of our dearest friends are departing Beijing and it's hard to see them go. Saying goodbye is hard enough for us as adults with experience, but it's just as hard, if not harder, for our children. Jed, especially, is hit hard by the transitions. He still mourns the loss of his two closest friends who left Beijing and moved to Manila last summer. This year, two more of his closest friends are leaving. The other day, he was having a particularly difficult time with the losses and he shouted, "how would you feel if your best friends were moving away from you?" I was able to show empathy by saying I know exactly how he feels because two of my best friends are leaving as well. He was surprised to hear that. I try to make him see that it's better to have had the friends and the time with them and then have them move on, than not to have shared our lives with them at all. He seemed to understand but it doesn't make it easier. I hope that these experiences enrich their lives and make them more well adjusted adults. I see success of this in Jack already. When I asked him if he wanted to go back to the camp he went to last year despite the fact that most of his friends would not be going back, he said "that's ok, I'll make new friends."

Our Life in the Diplomatic Corps...

Last night, we attended a dinner at the home of our friends, Vim, the Dutch Defense Attache and his wife, Joke. There were 14 of us at the dinner, including the Swedish Defense Attache and his wife, the British Attache and his wife and several Dutch Embassy employees. Vim made introductions and we mingled over cocktails for about an hour before dinner. Then he led us into the dining room, told us to sit boy-girl and we had the first course- fish. After the first course, he instructed the ladies to each move two empty seats around the table. Then the second course was served- beef. I am a vegetarian, so I eyed the beautifully laid out plate, planning my attack, trying to remember what we were taught to do at attache school when something was served that we did not want to eat. In the end, I ate the carrots and potato puffs and pushed the beef and it's garnishes around the plate a bit. After the second course, the men moved two empty seats in the opposite direction. I was lucky to be able to spend one course seated next to Tom but the rest of the meal was spent making small talk with strangers. It was pleasant enough, but not very relaxing.

After two years of diplomatic life, these dinners have lost their luster. I enjoy seeing our friends in the corps very much but would rather spend time at home than in a formal set up schmoozing strangers. This was our second night out this week, we have two more next week, plus we had two dinners in our home this week. In May, we hosted 7 events in our home!

While I will miss Tom and certain things about our life here while the boys and I are back in the US this summer, it will be nice to be able to set our own schedule.

Now, if I can just put the 7000 mile plane trip behind us...

Huck's school has made international news!

israel day
On Thursday the children from the Elementary delivered a van full of supplies that had been donated to the Earthquake relief effort. Thank you very much to all those who sent items!
A special thank you to our elementary students who raised enough money from their Origami hearts to purchase 7 large tents.
Click here for pictures!
Ganeinu in International news!
News of the amazing work our students at Ganeinu have been doing for the relief effort of the Earthquake has hit the news worldwide! Click on these links to read all about it!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

What is wrong with this picture?

Notice anything wrong with this picture? I took some photos to a local market to be framed. It's ridiculously reasonable to frame things here if you go to a local place rather than an expat place. So I always go to a flower market about 20 minutes from here. They do a decent job. This time (and it's not the first time) one of the pictures came back to me nicely framed but it was hung vertically rather than horizontally. Oops. Our driver took it back today to get it fixed.


Mosquitoes are a big problem here. They get into the houses and there's nothing that stops them. We have netting over the exhaust vents, we have things that plug into the walls and emit a scent that is supposed to keep them away, but we all still get bitten. Some of the mosquitoes carry diseases like Japanese Encephalitis, so it's particularly important to avoid bites. So I asked Xing Ayi to buy mosquito nets for the boys' beds. She bought them at a market near her house for 45 kuai each ($6.50). They work nicely and Jed says that Zeke now sleeps like a prince. She bought pink lace ones, I'm not sure why, but the boys don't seem to mind.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

One of the perils of life here

Last night, Tom and I had an obligation for his job that took us downtown. I had Xing Ayi babysit the boys and Xiao Shang drive us. We finished earlier than we'd expected so Tom wanted to grab a quick bite to eat at an Italian sandwich place not too far out of our way. "It will be quick," he assured me when I suggested we get take out and just go home. So, we sat down and waited. After a wait of about 10 minutes, the waitress came to our table and we ordered sandwiches and sparkling water. Our drinks came but we waited and waited for the food. After 30 minutes or so, Tom said, "just so you know, we might be walking out without eating." I agreed to that, thinking he was just frustrated it was taking so long, but he then explained, "that waitress over there is coughing into her hand, spitting into a napkin and not washing her hands. If she brings our food, I'm not eating it, we are leaving." Of course I agreed, though I felt bad about leaving. Tom watched and after about 5 more minutes, the offending woman brought our food out. Tom stood up and explained that we would be leaving. He was not rude but he said it clearly that it was unacceptable for her to be doing that. We did not want her germs. They said they'd make us new ones, but knowing that 1) it would take a long time and 2) we could end up with the same sandwiches put on new plates, we said "no thank you," and left.

It was an unfortunate, though not surprising event. It's a great life here, but while China is definitely making changes, especially with the coming of the Olympics, no matter how much the government urges the people to not spit, not pee in public and be civil, it will take a long time to change the Lao Bai Xing (Old 100 Names).

If I haven't explained it before, Lao Bai Xing is the term used to describe the every day man because in China there are about 100 family names for the entire population. This is why every where you go, you meet Chinese people named: Wang and Chang. I just sat here for a moment, trying to think of another one but all the Chinese friends I came up with have these two names! Tom has worked on delegations and given the list of Chinese officers to the staff of the visiting US Admiral or General, only to be asked by the young Lieutenant or Captain if the 3 men named Wang are brothers.