Thursday, August 28, 2008

Close but not exactly...

Traffic has been limited since mid July in order to reduce traffic and pollution. On odd days, cars with odd numbered plates can drive and even days, cars with even numbered plates. We are lucky to have diplomatic plates. We can drive whenever we want. Cars officially tied to the Olympics can drive any day and they also have a special lane on all the main roads that are restricted to only Olympic cars. Leave it to the Chinese to try to figure out a way around the restriction and get it not quite right...

Things here are different in many ways

Last night we had dinner with some French friends of ours. They are departing Beijing on Sunday so we took them and their two young boys to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. It is a Brazilian place that is really great.

The boys are 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 years old and the 1 1/2 year old was looking to play so the waitresses were making eyes at him and trying to entertain him a little. After a few minutes, one of them held something out for him, shook it to make a rattling sound and handed it to him. On closer inspection, we saw it was a box of wooden matches! Nice toy! Our friend quickly took it away from her son.

The weather here is quite warm. It has been in the upper 80s and upper 90s with very high humidity. Luckily, we have air conditioning in our house. We have one control upstairs and one downstairs. Plus, we have two traveling controllers. I am one, the other is Xing Ayi. I keep the temperature at about 74 or so degrees downstairs and a bit cooler upstairs, where we sleep. Since Zeke sleeps during the day, I am constantly moving the temperature setting up and down so it is cooler when he sleeps. It seems, though, that I keep it too cool. At least, that's the message I am getting from the fact that every time I leave the house and come back, our ayi has either turned the temperature up to 80, turned off the thermostat or both! EVERY TIME! I realize it's a lifestyle issue. They don't have air conditioning, so it must feel too cold for her and she must think I'm a terrible mother, freezing my children. I try to be respectful of her feelings but when it gets too hot, I do turn it down. Otherwise, I wait until she leaves for the day and then I turn it down. It's more amusing than annoying, luckily, so I just keep my mouth shut.

I just put Zeke to bed and when I went into his room the thermometer I keep in there read 79.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Medical Care

Medical care in China is slightly different from that in the US. Yesterday, Jack had to have a medical test that is not available at the international hospital where I delivered Zeke. The process for such a test is as follows:

We had to go to the international hospital at 8:00 in the morning. We were met by a nurse who put an IV in Jack's arm and drew blood for a test required by the other hospital. We then had to wait for the results. Jack played his Nintendo DS to keep occupied. You can see he goes to great lengths to be able to play it. Even with one arm that wouldn't bend, he kept playing. We waited 30 minutes for the result of the test, then took a taxi, with the nurse, to the local hospital. After about an hour drive, we arrived at the crowded facility. The nurse led the way.

People waited outside for family members and friends. People arrived with food for patients. Patients lined the hallways, waiting their turn.

We had to stop at the cashier where the nurse paid cash for the services in advance. Nothing is done at these hospitals without payment up front. Next we followed the nurse to the radiology department, waited a few minutes, then followed the nurse into the MRI room. We were given ear plugs to protect us from the loud noise from the machine. Jack's IV was hooked up to the contrast medication and he was moved into the machine. It was a GE machine, just like back in the US but older. The radiologist sat at the computer, wearing scrubs and flip flops! They told us the test would take 15 minutes but it took 45. The doctor said on first examination, the pictures look fine and he expects there are no problems. We will get the full report on Wednesday.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Box we live in

A store front... Have you seen this image on CNN? No where to hang your laundry? No problem, put in the window of your shop.

An outside haircut!

The flower market I like best. OK, so the sky is Blue-ish on this day.

A local woman I know describes Beijing as like a cat litter box. It seems great on the surface, but lurking below is a load of S*@t. These are her words, not mine, but I think the times we are living in now make the metaphor fit very well.

For the Olympics, the city has been dressed to impress the waiguoren (foreigners). Exterior construction has been completed, leaving the insides of buildings a tangled mess. Buildings that couldn't be completed on the outside have massive banners of beautiful athletes covering them. Structures that were deemed too old and run-down for visitors to see were hidden behind a high wall or even covered with a fake, Hollywood-like exterior! There are countless extreme examples but you have to dig beneath the clean surface to see the real China.

Take the opening ceremonies, for instance...

Martial arts students who were performers in the opening ceremonies lived in and couldn't leave army barracks while preparing for 8-8-08... that is if they were lucky. Many were wounded, rendered unconscious from heatstroke and were forced to wear adult diapers so the show could go on!

The ceremony's director insists that the wretched conditions were necessary to the success of the theatrical display of the opening ceremonies. Nearly 15,000 cast and crew came together to pull off a display so well coordinated and grandiose that, "Only North Korea could have done it better," he said. A telling statement.

The performers worked for an average of 16 hours per day for three months under strict supervision, not able to leave the military camp. It was recently revealed that a woman in her twenties was injured during a rehearsal and may be permanently paralyzed.

Think about other examples that have made headlines: the digital enhancement of the already spectacular opening ceremonies, the lip syncing in order to put on a more beautiful face of China, the gymnasts' faked passports.

Beijing Olympic organizers have revealed that the nearly 900 performers, in the spectacular part of the show with the movable boxes, spent up to 6 hours crouched in the 40 pound boxes.

Yet, despite the deplorable conditions, the 2008 performers appeared beyond happy at the opening ceremony, and according to one performer, they were. "All the tears, the sweat, and sometimes even blood that we shed, I now think it was quite worth it," said Ren Yang, 17, of the Tagou school. "When we performed that night, all that I could feel in my heart was joy. Pure joy."

I cannot imagine such a thing occurring in America or any other western nation, for that matter. The conditions would not be approved by OSHA and lawsuits would be plentiful. Would the result be as magnificent? Which way is better?

I took these pictures on my way from my house to a local market, far from the Olympic green and international media. You can see it's not as clean, not as modern and the true character of the true China hides back here. Real people, with real smiles are on the streets and in the markets. You can see a man getting his hair cut at a road side barber! Inside the market, I bought fresh flowers, had some framing done and bought a lovely statue of a woman and a baby. No hard bargaining necessary. If you stop to chat with a local resident, no matter who it is, he or she can quote the up to the minute medal count for China (and America). They are proud and happy to have the Olympics here but most of them are living their lives, as normal, making their living, 1 kuai at a time, going home to their hutongs or small apartments, far from the international eye. This is not the China you see on NBC.


Today Tom, Jed and I went to see Taekwondo. The matches started at 9:00 but due to the rain we didn't arrive in the stadium until 10:00, in time to see the USA take on Thailand. Xiao Shang, our driver, dropped us off at the spectator's entrance. We did not realize we'd be walking about a mile to the stadium once we entered the venue area. It was not at all well marked, so we had to wander and make our way on our own, in a torrential downpour. We arrived, soaked, and found our seats were occupied by a group of Chinese. We had four tickets but neither Jack nor Huck wanted to attend, so we took the three seats on the end of the row and a Chinese guy remained in one of our seats. We kept our mouths shut and let him stay in our seat. We watched again and again as many people arrived late to find Chinese people in their seats.

The first 4 matches were women, followed by the men. Tom, being a typical male, made chauvinistic remarks about the women fighting and was eager to see the difference in the men's competition. I was so pleased to see that one could not differentiate between the two. The men competed exactly like the women. In the helmets, from where we sat, (not too far away) we could not even see a difference. Even the yells sounded similar. I definitely felt vindicated.

The American woman beat the Thai woman 2-0. Next, Malaysia and Turkey fought it out, Turkey made easy work of the Malaysian. Finally, we watched Israel v. Croatia where Croatia beat Israel in the last few seconds of the 3 round match.

Niger failed to show up, giving a quick win to opponent Brazil.

The men's competition followed. We watched Peru best Australia. We were confused by the fact that a group of enthusiastic Americans were cheering loudly for the Peruvian until I looked it up on the internet and discovered that Peruvian, Peter Lopez was actually born in Irvine, CA!

We were ready to leave after 2 hours. Jed was a trouper as we trudged through puddles to exit the venue. We called Xiao Shang and asked him to meet us at the East gate, rather than the West gate where he had dropped us. This change gave us only a half mile walk but the route was totally unmarked, so we had to frequently ask passers-by if we were going in the right direction. It is funny to see people pause, stunned, momentarily, hearing someone who looks like Tom or me asking if we are going the right way, speaking in their language. One older man even offered to share his umbrella with me. I was already soaked, so I said Mei shi, it's not a problem, and we continued on our way. Jed said they should have marked the way a bit better, maybe with a yellow brick road or something. I'd have to agree!

Finally, on the way home, we stopped by workers' stadium at the USA House. We bought Jack a hat and we bought some paralympic pins. I found a beautiful Ralph Lauren women's shirt. It says Beijing in characters down one side and has the pony on the other and it comes in a few bright colors but when I saw the price was $150 US, I passed. I got a USA team jacket that is great. It has a dragon on the back making it clearly a Beijing Olympics souvenir. Someday the boys will be big enough to wear it, which will be fun for them. It's hard not to get carried away. The mood here is electric.

Tomorrow we will go see Modern Pentathlon. We have tickets for 8:30 and 5:00. I told Tom to take a friend to the morning competition as I've seen enough fencing and don't care to see shooting. In the afternoon, we'll watch the running and horse riding competitions together and be home to light the candles and have family dinner. Xing Ayi will come after lunch and stay to babysit. Chef Bai is cooking dinner: chicken breasts, home made macaroni and cheese, carrots and cucumbers and Challah and I will bake dessert with the boys in the morning.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Victims of 1972 Munich massacre honored in Beijing

(from Haaretz, by Uzi Dann)

BEIJING - A memorial ceremony was held Monday in Beijing to honor the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The ceremony was organized by the Israeli embassy in the city and the Israel Olympic Committee at the Hilton hotel.

Hundreds attended the event, including representatives of Israel's athletic delegations, and Science, Culture and Sport Minister Raleb Majadele.

A significant number of foreign delegates, military attaches and Olympic officials were in attendance as well. Among the guests of honor was Juan Antonio Samaranch, International Olympic Committee president from 1980 to 2001, and Alex Giladi, Israel's delegate to the IOC.

On September 4, 1972, 10 Israeli athletes and a coach were taken hostage by Black September, a terrorist group with ties to Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization.

Just after midnight on September 6, after West German police botched the rescue attempt, the group killed all of the hostages and a German police officer.

Memorial ceremonies for the Munich massacre have been held at every Olympics since the 2000 Games in Sydney. They have always been organized by Israeli authorities.

For the past 36 years, the IOC has denied any culpability in the athletes' deaths. Yesterday Samaranch gave a heartfelt speech about keeping the slain sportsmen's memories alive, describing the massacre as the "blackest moment in the history of the Olympic movement."

While in office, neither Samaranch nor his successor, Jacques Rogge, made even the slightest effort to commemorate the victims. Those most hurt by the committee's inaction were the families of the slain athletes.

Since Munich, widows Anki Spitzer and Ilana Romano have tried to persuade IOC officials to erect a monument to the slain athletes in the city's Olympic Village.

Yesterday, Romano pleaded with Giladi, who was present at the 1972 Games as a broadcaster, that the "next ceremony be held under the Olympics' five-ring banner."

Spitzer spoke in English about the families' desire not for vengeance, but for peace of mind, and of the difficulties the widows have faced in raising 14 children between them as orphans.

She also leveled damning accusations at Rogge and his predecessors.

"The sons, husbands and fathers who were murdered weren't tourists or bystanders, but part of the Olympic family. But the Olympic family doesn't recognize them," she said, receiving a standing ovation from the audience.

Despite the emotional pleas, the ceremony will likely remain an Israeli-organized event at the London Games in 2012, and indeed for the foreseeable future.

The Olympics prides itself on being an apolitical event.

Holding a ceremony in honor of the athletes of a small, conflict-prone Middle Eastern state - no matter how justified - is likely low among its priorities.

Our brush with Gold

Also attending the memorial event was this year's Olympic Gold Medalist, Garrett Weber-Gale ( He was very nice. We held his medal (it is heavy) and he even offered to let us wear it. He graciously thanked Tom for his service at the end of our conversation.

Ceremony to Remember the Israeli Athletes murdered at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich

Last night we had the honor of being able to attend an event to memorialize the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were murdered by terrorists at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich. The event was attended by the current Israeli Olympic team (pictured above, middle), Israeli Olympic officials, the chairman of the Chinese Olympic committee (pictured top, center), the Israeli Ambassador, the IOC Honorary President for Life, Juan Antonio Samaranch (pictured directly above), and family members of the slain Olympic team members.

Two widows of the athletes spoke passionately about their loss and about the importance of remembering the tragedy and fighting terrorism.

The Israelis have a memorial for the team at every Olympic games and will continue to do so in order to keep the memory of the terror alive. The widows are incensed by the fact that the tragedy is not publicly remembered by the IOC and its members. They are furious with the IOC for tolerating members who support terrorism today. They made many good points. These nations go against everything the Olympics stand for in today's world.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

This is an album of all pictures from the events we've attended so far...

Friday, August 15, 2008


Today we went to the Birdsnest stadium to see Athletics (track and Field). Our whole family went and we had a lot of fun. The sky was blue, for the second day in a row, and it wasn't too hot. Many events were happening at once and it was very exciting to see. We saw pole vaulting, long jump, discus, 100 m run, long distance race walking, and steeplechase run. The stadium was pretty full, everyone was happy to be there and the kids enjoyed themselves despite being asked to have their picture taken many times. They complied with smiles on their faces, reciting what we told them to say, "we'd be happy to..."

Again, the security process was smooth, but once again, it was different from all the other times. The one thing that has been consistent at the venues is that they are inconsistent. In the past, we had to take off metal watches and place them with cell phones in a bin to go through security. This time it was no problem. I left the large quantity of throwable food at home, so we didn't have any delays entering the olympic green.

At the birdsnest, the popcorn was even pre-popped, so the boys enjoyed a snack-- a bribe for being good ambassadors.

Today we had a blue sky for the first time since we came back to Beijing. I pointed out the blue sky to Jack and Jed when we were on our way downtown for a doctor appointment and Jed responded by asking, "why is it blue today?" It is such a rare event, the kids don't expect it.

At the beach volleyball game, as I mentioned in a previous post, it was VERY hot and humid and everyone was uncomfortable and the boys were complaining. Tom asked the boys if they enjoyed the Olympic games, to which Jed replied, "yes, I want to go to more games, but only the inside ones."

The food is interesting at the Olympic venues. You are not allowed to bring outside food into the venues, but food selections are very limited. You can buy bottles of Coke, orange juice or water and snacks include a few types of Popsicles, ice cream cones and microwave popcorn (yes, you read right... MICROWAVE popcorn.) One of the terms and conditions of the tickets is that you are not allowed to bring food in and they even specify that you are not permitted to bring in "large amounts of throwable food." We confirmed this policy when the security people tried to make me throw away a medium size ziploc bag of peanut M&Ms I brought with us for the kids. After a bit of back and forth "discussion" Tom showed his diplomatic credentials and we walked in with our bag. Tomorrow I will leave the food at home, I guess. At least they can't take Zeke's food away!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More Photos
Here's a link to see more photos from our day.


On our way out of the Olympic venue yesterday we were stopped by a request by some girls to take a picture with Jack and Jed. Jack was willing, Jed was less so but complied, reluctantly. One picture turned into at least 10. Tom snapped this picture and then put the camera away before the groups basically formed a line to get pictures. Jed's face got more and more glum as the photos went on but we explained to him that it's a small thing to do and it goes a long way to convey a positive image to our host country nationals. We told him to be prepared for much more of this on Saturday when our whole family ventures out to track and field and they are even more of a spectacle as a group of 4 blond boys.


Today was our first day at Olympic events. In the morning, we saw the USA Beach Volleyball women beat Cuba and the Chinese men beat Estonia. It was a lot of fun. Jack and Jed cheered loudly for the US women and were then confused about whom to cheer for between China and Estonia!

It was VERY hot and humid and the boys started to ask if we could leave before we expected it. Jack lasted about 30 minutes, Jed lasted the full hour of the US-Cuba match. All of the Chinese workers and volunteers were very friendly and helpful. They smile, welcome us in English (we respond in Mandarin) and offer any information we ask of them. One time, though, we asked how to get to our drop off point when we were driving by the venue and the worker gave us very good directions, to which our driver responded by asking if we can get in that way and the worker responded with, "oh, I don't know." Oh well. We managed to find our way.

Tonight we saw fencing. It was very exciting to see the medal matches. China won gold, so the mood was electric. We took many pictures and I will post some tomorrow after I wake up. It is now 11:20 and, knowing the baby will be up soon, I am off to bed.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Back in Beijing

We flew back to Beijing yesterday, arriving on the most auspicious of days, 8-8-08. While the journey wasn't as bad as it could have been, I feel as though Murphy was with us because his laws kept up with us as we went along...

We left my parents' house at 7:oo a.m. and headed for the airport. Each of our 10 suitcases was close to, if not over, the 50 pound limit. I took 2- 10 pound bags of pancake mix, 3 containers of hypoallergenic laundry detergent and many books back with us.

Thanks for your help and sweet understanding, Dad!

AND a million thanks to Mom and Dad for your patience, tolerance of clutter and a wonderful 7+ weeks. It was a great summer.

Also, thanks to Annie (Aunt Annie), the one Ayi has to live up to for Huck. We miss you all already.

We had a 2 hour delay from St. Louis to Chicago. The drama started with only a 30 minute delay in boarding but I knew we were in trouble when our acceleration down the runway came to an abrupt halt. The pilot informed us that the steering system had a mechanical failure so we needed to deplane. Luckily, though, a 2 hour delay still left us with about 5 minutes to dash to our flight to Beijing.

Jack, Jed, Huck and Zeke (and I guess me too) were a spectacle, all in kelly green shirts (not me), as we trudged to the back of the plane with all of our gear. Everyone else was already settled in their seats, waiting for us. They drew smiles from most of the passengers, many of whom turned out to be parents of olympic athletes. We sat surrounded by parents of divers and gymnasts, which was fun.

We took off slightly late but made up time and landed on time. We were seated in the last row of 3 seats and first row of 2 seats on the side of the plane. I thought the best arrangement would be to have Jack, Jed and Huck together and Zeke and me behind them but I didn't take into consideration that Jack and Jed would be tired and crabby and not happy to have to help Huck with his many needs, so after less than an hour we switched so that Huck, Zeke and I sat in front of Jack and Jed. With all of the carry ons already open and items everywhere, this was no easy task. It made for a disorganized journey but with Nintendo DSs and dvd players and Ipods and books and stickers and more, it would have been smooth enough had it not been for a touch of a tummy bug and 2 bouts of vomiting for Jack, poor guy.

Zeke didn't sleep much but I was able to keep him relatively happy for most of the journey. We enjoyed talking with the other passengers as we stood in the back for short periods.

We landed at 3 pm Beijing time. (2 a.m. St. Louis time). We were the last ones off the plane and the flight attendants were helpful, once again, but rushed us a bit because the airport was being shut down in 1 hour for security for the opening ceremonies. We shelpped through the airport to immigration. Thank goodness for the diplomatic lane which allows us to not have to wait in the LONG lines.

At baggage claim, we took 3 carts and planted the boys across from our carousel while I took our bags, one by one off and Jed wheeled them over to the carts. What a big help he was! That is one strong 7 year old.

I retrieved one bag and our stroller from the oversized bag area and then loaded up the carts. A worker helped me put the last bag on top and then asked if I needed help. I said yes and he said he'd do it if I paid him. I said I'd pay him when we got over to customs but he said he wanted it now, so, being desperate, I paid him 50 rmb and off we went. (that's about $7) We bypassed the long line, I flashed our diplomatic credentials and we were waved through the security set up due to heightened alert for the olympics. You now have to get your bags xrayed entering the country but we were able to skip that. Tom, Ayi and Xiao Shang were waiting and the boys were THRILLED to see them. (so was I.)

Last night, we all watched the opening ceremonies until about 9 and then went to bed. (Zeke went to bed around 7:45) Jack and Jed were up by midnight. Huck climbed into bed with us and slept until around 5:30. Zeke woke at about 1 and was up until 2:30 or so and then slept until almost 8 and then took a nap from about 10 until 4, when I woke him.)

It is now 4:30 pm and while Zeke took a long nap and I expect to be up with him in the middle of the night, none of the others slept at all during the day. Tom is making waffles for dinner and then they will go to bed. Jed proclaims, "I think I'm back on schedule!" We'll see about that.