Saturday, January 31, 2009

Today's outing


Today we took the boys to a wet market. We wanted to buy some more of the delicious little oranges we have been enjoying. I don't know if they are considered Mandarin Oranges or what but they are so sweet, juicy and are seedless and easy to peel so even the boys have no trouble with them.

Locals give them as gifts at this time of year, I imagine as a symbol of a new year filled with sweetness.

It was fun to chat with the vendors and locals who were quite curious about the ruckus we caused as we walked, really not loudly, around the market. Of course we had to say again and again that the children were all boys. Tom explained the Locks of Love phenomenon to them.

The fruit pictured here cost less than $10 USD.

We also visited one of the indoor vendors to purchase Chinese New Year decorations to take home with us when we move this summer. The vendor is pictured here with Jack and Jed. Notice the cigarette, which he lit while the boys stood next to him.

The man holding Zeke in the photo was talking to me for a few minutes and insisted on holding Zeke. I tried to avoid it, as his hands were quite dirty but he really wanted to hold him and Zeke's hands were inside his jacket, so I relented. He did scold me for not having heavier shoes on Zeke. He was wearing soft leather shoes. It is near 50 today, though, so very cold.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chinese New Year/ Spring Festival

The Festivities began on Thursday with a morning of activities at Huck's school. There were art projects and cooking activities in each room. Huck painted a fan, made a noodle art project of a Chinese Character, painted the Great Wall on a Challah cover and did several water colors. He also made jiaozi (dumplings)... Kosher of course.

At Jack and Jed's school, on Friday, there was a parade. I had a meeting with teachers, so Tom went to watch the boys. In my meeting, with 3 faculty members about some fairly serious issues, about 5 minutes into the meeting, loud drums and Chinese marching music began to play for a solid 30 minutes for the parade. We could not turn it off so we just talked through the ruckus.

Friday was Xing Ayi and Xiao Shang's last day of work for 9 days. I am sure they think the house will nearly fall down without them watching over things but we are managing well. Of course I prefer not having to do the laundry and dishes and cleaning but it is nice to have our house to ourselves.

There is hardly any traffic on the roads. The markets have shut from anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks. Even our little Jenny Lou's grocery market was closed on New Year's Day. It seems as though more shops have closed this year. I assume it is because business is very slow so they figure shutting down for a few days can't hurt.

My friend took her kids to her ayi's house for New Year's dinner. Her daughter was sick and the ayi's mother reported that Western kids get sick more than Chinese kids because we feed them cold foods. The cold foods cause the stomach to shrink, so there isn't enough room for the food in the tummy and it comes back up... Interesting theory.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chinese New Year- 2009 The Year of the Ox

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Spring Festival Approaches

Thursday night we attended the People's Liberation Army Spring Festival Party to welcome the year of the Ox. January 26 is the Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year. Seating at the event is done by diplomatic rank and for the past 2 years we were seated in the last row of tables. This year, we were delighted to find we had moved up two rows and we were still seated with our close friends, the South Africans, with whom we traveled this fall.

Dinner was buffet and full of the usual delicacies. I limited myself to the vegetable dishes. Being a vegetarian has proven to be a very wise choice for someone moving to China. I must have known when I was 12 that I had better get prepared. I was happy to avoid the chicken feet.

At our table, in addition to the South Africans, were Vietnamese and Cambodians and a few PLA officers. One officer I met at the dinner spoke perfect English and we had a very interesting conversation. I asked him if he had ever been to America and he said, "no." He said he would very much like to visit, though because it is such a big country. I replied that China, is quite big but he said he meant that he meant America is vast in its diversity. He said that in China, if you talk to one person, you talk to every person because everyone has the same opinions and thoughts but that in America, everyone is different.

I seized upon the opportunity to affirm his thoughts and tell him how great America is, indeed. I told him that people in America come from every background and that anyone can do anything he or she wants to achieve there. America accepts everyone. I said that our youngest son was born in China but China will not give him a passport. In America, if you are born in America, you are an American, no matter what. He seemed to know most of what I told him but also seemed to enjoy talking about these things. It was clear to me that he had perfected his English, in part, by watching American television programs and movies, so I asked him what his favorite show to watch is. He said "Friends."

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Explaining some differences

In many of my posts, I humorously describe things that have happened to us that show major cultural differences between us and our host country. I want to be clear that in doing so, I do not mean to seem critical of our hosts, rather just point out how two groups can be so completely different in their daily lives.

A clear illustration of this is how the general population in China treat the raising of their children. We all know about the one child policy. This has created a phenomenon of spoiled only children but while parents spoil their children like many families in American do, they continue to raise them in a very different way.

The priority here is for children to grow to be successful and driven. Parents want their children to grow up and take care of them. They send them to school very young. Schools are very competative and demanding. Children as young as 6 and 7 years old are often awake past 10:00 at night working on school homework. Parents enroll their children in extra schooling, keeping them occupied every day of the week. School is 6 days per week and many children have extra activities every day plus Sundays. Tutoring sessions are a common way for parents to try to keep their children ahead of the class, but when every child is doing it, more and more extra work is needed to stand above the rest.

Starting in middle school, children have to take tests and go through interviews to get into the better middle schools. This is true of all children who want to continue school past age 12. Our Ayi and driver's son went through this last year. He did not get into the school they wanted him to attend and it caused them great dissapointment. Also starting in middle school, education ceases to be free. Everyone must pay for the schooling, which explains why many people stop going to school at this age.

Education is the priority here because they see it as the way up in life.

Yesterday, I told Xing Ayi that I want Zeke to hear mostly Chinese so that he speaks it first. I said there is plenty of time for him to learn English when we go back to America so I want her to speak to him as much as possible. She told me (not for the first time) that I should leave Zeke with her when we leave China. He could stay here until he is "maybe 10 years old and then he can speak Chinese very well, like a Chinese boy." She is quite serious. She has also expressed to me, on several occassions, that she would like her son to come stay with us in the US for an extended period so that he can learn to speak very good English.

It is not uncommon for families to send their children away to live with relatives so that the child may get a better education than in the home village. Many children see their parents only once per year, at the New Year, which is at the end of this month. While I would love for Zeke to speak perfect Mandarin, there is not even a small part of me that would consider leaving him here. Now, ask me if I'd like to take Xing Ayi with us... That would be a different answer entirely.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009



Christine (US)

Bex (England)

Marianne (Finland)

Karen (Aus)

The Tai Tais!

Before, During and After

Amanda (Australia)

Britta (Germany)

Karen (Australia) and me

Bex (England)

Photo Shoot

Christine (US)

The jelly

Britta (Germany)

One of my closest friends, Karen, is leaving China tomorrow to move back to Australia. Losing friends is one of the biggest downsides to the life we lead. She and her family are our family here. We spend Friday night dinners together, carpool to Sunday school, drop in on one another without calling... you get the point. SO, at her request, as a last hurrah, a group of ladies spent the day together yesterday. We did a classically Chinese thing and had a photo session at a local studio.

It is common for middle class Chinese to do these photo shoots for weddings and special occasions and just for show. The studios have traditional Chinese clothing, western wedding clothing and even colonial clothing. They do your hair and make up and then do a detailed photo session.

The hair and make up session was extensive. The girls used spray, gel and what can only be described as jelly (see photo) in our hair. You know it's bad when the girl tells you to wash your hair when you get home! It was slightly out of my comfort zone but we all decided to just embrace the experience. I let my "stylist" dress me how she wanted and do what she wanted with my hair and make up. I have posted many photos so you can see what our day was like.

We took a picnic snack of cakes and champagne and coffee and had a fabulous time. I am glad I will always have these pictures to remind me of our days in China. We are a group of tai tais. Tai tai means wife or madame. Workers call the ladies of the homes they work in "tai tai." So, we ladies call ourselves tai tais in jest.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Framing- Only in China

Important reminder to self... ALWAYS CARRY A CAMERA!

Sadly, I did not have a camera with me today when the following took place.

Last week, Tom and I took a few things to a local framing store. In all, we had four items to be framed and 3 frames that needed a quick fix. The place I had the three items framed initially only put a mechanism for hanging the pictures but the pictures are small and will likely be placed on a table, so they needed an addition to the backs.

One of the items to be framed was two posters of Chinese submarines, placed side by side in a single frame. (You may have guessed that this was Tom's item.) He explained to the woman at the shop how he wanted the posters placed, which one on the left and which one on the right. He had a post-it note to indicate the one on the left.

When I arrived at the shop today to pick up the finished items I immediately spotted Tom's posters. The finished products looks great... except... wait for it... the post it note remains in place under the glass.

She'll have it ready for me on Thursday with the 3 other items I took in today.

I've been here long enough that this did not even phase me. It is just a small hiccup in our adventure here, something to write about and laugh about. I just wish I'd had my camera.

The above picture is of the canvases we made of the boys' handprints. I saw something similar in the Red Envelope catalog and decided to do it myself. I went to a craft market and found a painter who would mix the colors I wanted and paint the canvases. Once the canvases were ready, we took the 4 boys to the market and had them do their handprints on the canvases. This endeavor had TWO hiccups. First, the paint was oil paint, not non-toxic, water based paint as in the catalog, so getting the paint off of the boys' hands was not easy. Second, I let the boys choose the colors they wanted to use for their own handprints and by the time we got to the last boy, the only color that remained unused was the color that matched the only unused canvas which explains whey there are 2 brown handprints. Oh well. I think they came out nice. Eventually we will hang them all together like in the catalog picture but for now, I just hung them around the boys' picture.