Monday, August 31, 2009

The short version

(posted by Dave - Monday, 8/31)

Ah, the events in China continue to pile up much quicker than we can write about them! I imagine at some point, things will settle into a routine and we'll wonder what we can write about... maybe in a couple of years? Anyway, here's a quick headline news version of what we've been up to.

Friday: We ate two meals! Not just any two meals, but 1) our first home-cooked meal by Jiang Ayi, our Chinese housekeeper, and 2) our first Sichuan hotpot, featuring all sorts of meats and veggies dunked into boiling oil loaded with chilis and other spicy good things. By "meats", think any imaginable part of any animal. (we liked the duck tongues)

Saturday - another three hour bus odyssey into Chengdu. (Okay, the three hours are round trip, but it sounds better than "one-and-a-half hour bus odyssey") Highlights include origami paper, a readable map of China, an English language bookstore with overpriced panini, and a vertigo-inducing 7 story computer mall where we got a printer and (drumroll please) our first pirated 75 cent DVDs!

Sunday - while Jane actually Went Out Into the World and Got Stuff Done (including getting Xander set up with a piano teacher and asking around for secondhand piano connections). I sat around on the curb in front of our apartment and watched Zekey and Ysa go back and forth on scooters all afternoon. It actually turned into quite the block party, with all sorts of kids and parents in our building and the building across the street coming out to talk and play. (and yes, Jane and Xander also came and joined us.) It was almost a block party! We were just missing the beers, the grills, and the ability to converse, but it was great fun anyway.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


So many photos, so few captions...

(posted by Dave)

Okay, brace yourself, everyone - we’ve got a Flickr account and we know how to use it... What that means in plain English is that we’re finally getting around to uploading lots of our photos online, so we’ve got lots of pics to talk about. This one, for example, is the last photo you’ll see for a while of me with a full beard. Chinese barbers know a lot about cutting hair, but very little, it seems, about the art and science of beard trimming. Combine that with my extremely limited Chinese and some very lame pantomime, and you get a (mostly) beardless Dave. It’s okay, Jane seems to like me with the Miami Vice look - at least until it gets too scratchy...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ito Yokado!

(original posting date: August 10)

Just a little video taste that Jane took of a Chinese (okay, Japanese) big box grocery store that we went to on our first weekend in Chengdu. You can see our North American expedition winding our way through the aisles past salespeople in surgical masks and tanks of live fish. Do I look dazed yet?

Oh, and the video may or may not show up, by the way - I'm playing around with what works and what doesn't with this remote posting tool that I'm using. Do let us know if you can't see it, and I'll try posting the web address for the original film clip on Flickr...
I am taking full advantage of this time to write. Wow - time to have!? Well, Dave is out with our new Chinese friend Joy (actually Dave’s college friend’s friend) and with Ysa. And the boys have just been invited upstairs for dinner at the upstairs neighbors’ home! Their daughter Lang Lang, who is 5 years old, was down here playing. We met Lang Lang yesterday when her mother, who speaks great English and is an English teacher at this university, stopped by to introduce herself and Lang Lang. Today the man who must be Lang Lang’s father knocked, presented us with a package of dried beef, and wordlessly but with a smile nudged Lang Lang through our doorway. Our boys had a nice, mellow time playing K’Nex (building block system) with her. She’s a sweet girl; I just need to learn some Chinese to be able to communicate with her! And now the boys are up there enjoying home-made Chinese food; I’ll have to check out what they had.

We have been HOME now since Saturday (gotta get used to saying that)! Our “waiban” (foreign affairs office assistant) had graciously brought us here from where we’d been studying for 3 weeks. It was about 1 hour away by car (yet still in Chengdu – big, big city). He and his wife took us out for lunch at a convenient place about one block away. We discovered steamed egg, a big plate full of quivering, pale-yellow, smooth, pudding-like goodness.

Right away on Saturday, Luo Bo took Dave over to the Foreign Affairs office. (Well, actually, the very very first thing we did after lunch was go out and purchase toilet paper.) He arranged for our nanny/house-help/local goddess to come over and we figured out the terms of her employment with us. He called for water delivery to be set up for us and they arrived within the hour – we’ve got our own personal office water cooler now!. He arranged for another staff person, Sarah, to come by and answer some of our questions. Dave returned with lots of ______ for us to eat, and then as the kids were being put to bed, I escaped to meet up with Sarah. She and I visited many supermarkets, as they translate them here, and I returned with a bathmat, dish soap, 4 pillows, and 1 bottle and 2 cans of Snow beer.

We spent Sunday, Monday and today mostly cleaning the apartment. Yes, having read “Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui” to deal with our clutter in the last 2 years has turned me into somebody who doesn’t want to have clutter! When I saw the big, beautiful closet spaces all filled to capacity with unorganized stuff, I knew I couldn’t have that. Prior residents sure didn’t want to tackle this project, but now future residents can have lots of space and things organized.

Along with the indispensable help of the “Aiyi,” we have: cleaned every book and bookshelf (6 of them), cleaned windows, walls, doorways, cleaned 2 tall upright dressers, swept and mopped floors, scrubbed the inside of 5 tall storage closets. We have sorted through 24 blankets to determine which to take to wherever has a big enough washing machine. We have washed innumerable washcloths, hand-towels and 8 big towels. We have washed every bedsheet, and sorted out what to keep or not. We have washed every item in the kitchen – 17 glasses, 13 mugs, 19 plates, 8 bowls, many cooking supplies, silverware. We discovered baking soda that expired in 2001, as well as baking powder that expired in 2007, along with other (thankfully, bug-free) ancient cooking supplies. The cinnamon is still a keeper! ☺ We still have to go through a deep drawer of herbs, and another one of I-don’t-know-what… Sorting through 4 shelves of old shoes and the back upright closet full of bike tires, bicycle baskets, 12 duffel bags and other outdoorsy-looking things still awaits us.

The hardest thing to deal with has been the boxes of books and ESL-teaching materials. We have reviewed and thought about every item; for example, pondering if a future student could use something we might not want. We are keeping some items of various styles here for future residents. Many books and teaching supplies will soon go back to the MPC resource library at Sichuan Normal University, where we just spent the last 3 weeks. Several other boxes of teaching supplies we are keeping with the intent of going through them after classes have begun and we have a better idea of what our curriculum will be. As it stands, we have 4 bookcases totally full of books and teaching supplies. We have a few boxes yet in storage on purpose. And we have one bookcase totally full of children’s books; about 1/3 were from prior residents – yay! And we have 2 desks with generous quantities of games, about half ours and half that come with the place.

I am mindful as I clean and sort how lucky we are to have this time, the resources of some very helpful people here, patience (tested, fickle, but sometimes accessible), and a home. The other MCC volunteers across the world are never far from my mind lately. I think about new friends I made who are in Africa and Latin America who have to have “flee bags” ready, should violent emergency situation erupt. I have been taking cold showers (not too hard to do in summer, but still) in honor of my counter-parts in areas of the world where basic sanitation and clean water are difficult to obtain, even with their outsider-privilege. We’re working hard, trying to keep perspective, and settling in.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

And now, a few things that I know how to say in Chinese...

(originally written during week two of our language training)

Can I please introduce myself? I am the professor at the Language Institute. Am I Canadian? No, I am not from Canada. I am from the United States. What subject do I teach? I do not teach Chinese Literature. I teach English. I teach in the Foreign Language Department. Ah, we are both studying in the Foreign Language Department! I have a business card. My brother has a business card. I have 200 business cards! Do I like to swim? Do I like to play ping pong? Yes, maybe a little. No, I cannot go to the Beijing Opera today. I am afraid I am very busy. Please, you may sit down now - I must go. Goodbye. Goodbye.
These are some photos of Zekey on the bus back in our first couple of days in Beijing - I think they do a pretty good job of showing how utterly exhausted we all were in the first couple of weeks here....



Old news and new news

Hi, everyone. We're still trying to figure out this here newfangled computer thing in China, so bear with us as I try to post some old things we've written in the last couple of weeks. I'm posting remotely for the moment, so I'm not able to see (or edit) the blog myself - apologies for any typos, omissions, etc.

Before we left, we told everybody we know that they can always be in touch with us via Facebook. Guess which application has been consistently blocked since we've been here? Yep, the good ol' book of faces... Sooo, a big favor - if you can read this blog, could you email the link to anyone who knows us? Emails to us are always (natch) greatly appreciated. I (Dave) have been a bit lax about getting back to folks who have written me, but promise to write back soon!

One more tip that I may or may not have written about: If you'd like to see our photos online, we have them posted at Flickr. Here's how to see them:

1) Go to

2) Sign up for a free Flickr account

3) Go back to our photo page and click "add zawelski as a contact".

4) We'll add you as a contact, and mark you as family/friends so that you can see pictures of us!

Okay, on to trying to add some blog posts with pictures. We're settling in fine here, cleaning out the place, making friends, etc. More news to follow soon.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Testing again. Do let us know if you can see this. Ahh, China...
Just in case you were wondering, we aren’t in any danger of starving to death. Food is a major element of the culture here, and we’re happy to participate in any way possible. Restaurants are plentiful and relatively cheap. We’ve even realized our goal of having a favorite noodle shop already.

Before coming, everybody was telling us how incredibly hot and spicy the food in Chengdu was. I may be about to jinx myself, but here’s a big secret: It’s not that spicy! Or let me rephrase that - if you’re used to spicy food (think Pueblo green chili, Indian food, etc.), it’s not that spicy. A few dishes that induce forehead sweat and hiccups, to be sure, but nothing so hot as to be inedible as of yet...

...Unless, of course, you happen to be one of the three fifth of our family members who is aged six or under. Then, Sichuan cuisine presents more of a challenge. We have had several meals where, between the three of them, our kids have eaten a grand total of two small bowls of white rice, three raw cucumber slices, two scoops of corn fried in egg, and one greasy piece of pork soaked in a glass of water.

Fortunately, there are several solutions. Sichuan places do offer some non-spicy dishes, so at lunch, our group has had a steady stream of tofu soup, the aforementioned corn fried in egg batter, greasy potato strips, and so on. There are also many Muslim restaurants, including our favorite noodle shop, that specialize in lamb and (non-spicy) noodle dishes. Other restaurants sell jiaozi (potsticker-type dumplings), which everyone likes but Zekey. When all else fails, we raid the grocery stalls for a wholesome old-fashioned meal of yogurt, peanuts, bananas, and bubble tea smoothies.

There is so much more to write about (for example, the first time we ordered in Chinese by ourselves!), so watch this space for much more on the wide wide universe of food in China...
Just a quick note to say that we have now officially moved to our new home at Xihua University in Pixian! For those of you that haven’t been keeping track, this means that we are finally in a permanent place. We’ve been nomads since the end of April, when we moved out of our apartment in Oak Park. In the greater scheme of things, four months is not a lot of time to spend without a fixed address, but right now, it feels very very good (and a bit overwhelming) for all of us to be able to unpack.

What we know so far:

Our apartment seems big right now, especially after a long series of guest houses, spare bedrooms, hotels, tents, etc. There’s a big living room when you come in, then a stair up to a dining area. Three bedrooms and a bath (well, a western toilet, sink, and a shower - no tub) to the back, and a laundry area, bathroom with a squat toilet, and a kitchen up front. Don’t worry - we’ll give you a guided tour once we get settled in.

The apartment looks like it has seen a steady stream of foreign teachers, and has all sorts of closets, desks, bookshelves, and dressers full of accumulated treasures left behind by former residents. Examples include: an artificial Christmas tree, a closet full of bicycle tires and camping gear, some moldy size 12 hiking boots, etc. We spent a good part of yesterday cleaning out dusty closets and washing linens while the kids played with toys that they hadn’t seen in four months because we’d had them packed away for China in that time.

Our foreign affairs office has been great! Luo Buo and Sarah, the two department assistants, were in and out of the apartment all day answering questions and helping us get things arranged for the upcoming school year. It looks like I’ll be teaching a full load of classes, and Jane will be teaching six to eight hours per week. Other good news is that we think we’ll be able to arrange our schedules so that one of us will be home with the kids at all times.

Speaking of childcare, we also met Jiang Ayi, the woman who had helped the previous family with cooking, cleaning, and childcare. We talked terms, and she’s agreed to start work on Monday! She’s agreed to do the cleaning and laundry for us, as well as some childcare for Ysa and one home cooked meal each day. (Yes, we feel spoiled...)

One thing still up in the air is the internet. We have access in our apartment, but need to wait until the start of the school year to set up an account in our name. We may be able to sign in under Luo Buo’s account if we navigate our way past finding a fixed IP address and a login page in Chinese - I guess if you’re reading this, we’ve solved that problem somewhat.
(quick update - Ack! Still can't see our blog, but I'm trying a new service to post remotely - if you see this, could you email us and let us know if it worked?)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Oh, in case you didn't notice, the blog is a bit discontinuous as of late... We don't have internet access in the room that we're staying in, so we're relying on the internet cafe across the street for email. Facebook and Blogger are both blocked, though, so to get onto them, we've got to walk another 20 minutes to the director's house, where we can get onto their wireless with our laptop and use a proxy site. Exciting, huh?

Anyway, we should be more continuous in a couple of weeks when we get to our home in Pixian around August 23. More adventurous souls can email us for our cell phone numbers. (yep, we both have cell phones now!)

More things we don’t do with our kids in the States


This will come as a shock to most of you, but yes, we have been letting our kids zone out in front of the television during our language training here at Sichuan Normal University. But really, what’s not to love? Chinese TV is a great language teacher, it provides a great window into our host country, and, most importantly, it also has hours on end of talking pigs and monkeys zapping their enemies with kung fu moves...

Did I mention that our training is on a university campus? I knew this before we came, but I didn’t make the connection that university campus = not very many things for kids 6 and under to do. The kids are working valiantly to keep themselves entertained, but we will be glad to get to our permanent home and get settled in more.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

China Day Three

Tonight's sleep was interrupted only once, by Xander making a weird
raspy breathing noise. He wasn't in his bed, nor anywhere else in the
room, and as I was about to panic, he peeked out from behind the drawn
curtains, sitting on the wide windowsill. It was thunderstorming out,
and he had been enjoying his view. Last night too he had enjoyed it,
and when he proclaimed he's see it every night at 1:00, since that was
the best time to see it, I didn't believe him, but yup, that's what
time it was. We enjoyed the rain, the thunder and Ritz crackers
together for about an hour - where does the time go? - and then back
to bed. Otherwise, uneventful sleep. Dave, apparently, had it worse
with multiple wake-ups by either Ysa (mostly) or Zekey.

Breakfast today differed only in the choice of juice being white
grapefruit instead of carrot, and the flavored kongee instead being
hot rice with milk - yummers! Instead of celery, they offered
oval-diced zucchini stir-fried lightly, still crisp. We sat at the
round booth right by the main two buffet spreads - easy access!

There is so much to soak in just on a ride through town. Today I was
impressed by the young woman riding a bike with a big oil drum
attached to the back of it, that was filled with sweet potatoes, and
two baskets of sweet potatoes on either side of the oil drum. Women
are often dressed in rather fancy dresses. While I don't quite get
the fashion of wearing such short skirts, or even white elbow-length
gloves while biking, I appreciate the efforts very much. Oh, we still
get the happy stares through our vehicle windows. I am just glad for
the opportunity to stare back at the cute babies and interesting
fashionably dressed people, in turn. I'm trying to teach the kids to
be polite and answer respectfully.

There are so many different types of bicycles. I have a burgeoning
theory about how the type of bike you ride defines what type of person
you are. Sometime I'll put it to words in a separate entry. On our
ride, we also saw tall red canna lillies - my fave - and tall blooming
rose bushes lining the highway. Willows are everywhere! "Willow!" we
shout out, as this happens to be our family's favorite tree, and it's
tradition to shout it out whenever we see it. Well, we had to stop
that upon seeing them lining the roads. Apparently, China has
undergone a massive tree-planting effort; to my mind, with success.
We even saw pine trees, evidence that there is a winter season in
Beijing. Kathi expertly handled the pedestrians and bicyclists who
seem to be approaching right into the path of our vehicle, but somehow
don't. "It's all about merging," she calmly explained.

We went to a park that was quite unlike any park I've ever been to.
Mass patriotic, enthusiastic singing by the 40+ crowd accompanied by
asian-toned brass band and proclamations between songs. Winding down
stone-walled corridors, lined with heavily-jasmine-smelling pine
bushes. Then to encounter a group waltzing lesson, again the 40+
crowd. A roller-skating rink with the glassiest surface I've ever
seen. I think that this park is one example of how healthy this
society can be, with activities of all types and for all ages.
Communal spaces. Escape from tiny apartments, to be sure. But fun,
enjoyable activities, indeed. Great outlets singing and dancing and
swimming are!

Our goal was to go swimming at the water park that was within this
park. The pool cost 25 yuen per person and was MCC-subsidized.
Sitting under the ample shade of a row of willow trees, at a table
with 5 chairs around it, with cabana-style vendors in a row behind the
row of tables and trees, I got first shift at the table watching our
stuff, and ended up never leaving! That was fine by me, as I sat back
and observed people, smelled the delicious smell of fried squid behind
me (we later bought some at James and Jessica's market to satiate the
craving this produced in me), and journaled a bit. I purchased 2
floaties for the kids for 45 yuen.

I had my first squat toilet experience at the water park! It was
white porcelain (I'm guessing), with ridges in rectangle shapes on
either side of an oval depression in the ground, with a hole towards
the front of it. You squat with your feet on the rectangles and go.
I couldn't find a pull chain or anything to flush, but it was just #1.
It was still clean, so the warnings by Jessica about how disgusting
it was didn't come to pass, thankfully.

Lunch: Peking duck, a generous answer to my request for this renowned
Beijing dish. It was delicious. We met the whole Suderman family
there and ate family-stye. The boys at this point said their goodbyes
to the Suderman children, and Rod drove us via the area built up with
Olympics 2008 buildings (about an hour seeing all of them and running
out to pee; the Marco Polo hotel had toilet paper folded to a point
hanging off the edge of the roll!), then to Tien 'an-men Square. I'm
running out of time here, but basically, all three children woke up
from their car-nap (Ysa 2 hours, Zekey 1, Xander 30 minutes) cranky as
can be. The delicious ice cream they enjoyed didn't take the edge
off, as intended. Instead, we had the built-in defense mechanism
against the wayward Chinese tourists who should dare stray into Ysa's
path. You know how no child looks cute when they cry? How about when
their face turns red, they open their mouth huge and just scream
"Noooooo!!!" at you? Chinese, American, whatever nationality, you
run. That's what these folks did. Ah, Tien-an-man Square to
ourselves! Now, if only our children had appreciated this experience.

The line was too long to queue up to see Mao's pickled body, as Rod
knew it would be. He's seen three of the four world's pickled
leaders! Mao, and the dudes from North Korean and Vietnam (IGNORANCE!
Can't recall their names, just recognize them - ack.). No Lenin
viewing - shucks.

We left the square shortly after my purchasing a pack of postcards for
7 yuen. Got driven to the Freys, where Jessica and I headed out to
market and purchased squid, fruit, veggies and pancakes for dinner.
Yum!! We met the children and Dave in the playground. Another
example of how healthy Chinese society is: the park had exercise
equipment for the grown-ups who would be watching over their children.
A simple bar with Nordic-type plates for your feet, and off you go,
able to work all parts of legs, buttocks, arms, and abs. Very cool.

Ate delicious dinner, enjoyed great company (really running out of
time to write here), got the kids back and to bed, and there ya go!



China Day Two

China Day 2

Overall, we are certainly getting eased in slowly. The day started
out with a spectacular breakfast. In our book, a fancy hotel
breakfast means that there's a waffle iron included in the breakfast
buffet for do-it-yourself waffles with syrup, and eggs from a mix.
Now this spread was in 3 sections of the restaurant, each section
laden with a delicious fusion of Asian and American delicacies. For
starters was the appeal of the 4 kim chis next to covered chafing
dishes of your choice of steamed stuffed buns, plain buns, plain
"kongee" (watery rice soup) or kongee (sp?) with a couple red beans
and picked red sweet plums. Table 2 offered steamed a variety of hot
choices: bok choi bundles, crispy cooked amazingly-bias-cut celery and
carrot sticks, hard-boiled brown eggs still warm, roasted white
potatoes. The only less-than-amazing items were the 2 different types
of sausage links, unfortunately resembling canned Vienna sausages more
than quality meat cuts. Upon my return for more from this table, the
white potatoes had been replaced with steamed and stir-fried sweet
potato rectangles, and the boiled eggs with over-easy eggs. The rear
section had a table devoted to cold cuts: watermelon triangles, a
full-blown salad bar, a pear-like fruit compote, and your choice of
carrot or plum juice. There was a nice selection of hot beverages as
well: black tea, green tea, and the best, milk tea.

We ate inside, supplemented for a brief moment with Zekey, Ysa and I
out on the patio at an Asian-style-umbrella'ed table. We waddled out
of the breakfast space on that Floor 5 fortified to begin our day.

Our MCC country rep Kathi met us at 9:00 a.m. for socializing at her
apartment. The kids enjoyed themselves immensely with their family's
collection of small wheeled vehicles. Zekey, of course, was the
driver for 2 taxis, a school bus and several airplanes that Air China
used to give out for children on domestic flights. All the children
did a good job passing and sharing these sweet relics from when the
Sudermans' children, now teenagers and beyond, were our children's
ages. Dave and I passed the time comfortably, chatting about China,
ourselves, and learning about the Sudermans.

On the morning agenda was a stop at the market the Sudermans generally
shop at. Rod walked with us about 5 blocks through the many apartment
complexes to get there, passing much construction carried out by
migrant workers brought in from the countryside. Huge new, tall
apartment buildings have somehow managed to fit into this neighborhood
already full of tall, relatively new apartment buildings.

At the market, we had another "first": a 1-year-old Chinese boy peeing
from slit pants right onto what appeared to be carpet or fabric
stuffed between the edge of a big tent and the asphalt surface of the
sidewalk. Then, you enter through a kind of door that is what usually
separates the part of the grocery store you shop in from where they
store the food. The door with thick rubber strips hanging down all
across the doorway. No sign, not even in Chinese. But you enter, and
all of a sudden, you're in the Chinese equivalent (x1,000) of
Chicago's MegaMall at Milwaukee and Fullerton, if anyone knows of that
place. Stalls line either side of the narrow-ish corridor. Colorful
items spill out, those "Made in China" items, all in front of your
eyes. You've just absorbed this foreground, when you lift your head
to see that this hallway stretches out as far as you can see!

Rod and we had actual errands to run, about a third of the way down
this corridor: he dropped off his daughter's school backpack at the
tailor, and we purchased adaptors for our computer to be able to plug
it into the different type of outlet they have here (No converter was
necessary for our computer, even though China runs on 240 volts,
unlike in the U.S., which is 120, but our computer has a built-in
converter). Rod ably negotiated the quoted price of 16 yuen for 2
adaptors down to 12, which is about $1.75, which we gladly forked

Really, the part of the day that seemed most like "China" occurred at
high noon, at the market. Imagine Pikes Market in Seattle x1,000, in
terms of packing in as much meat and fish odor as you can. There is a
reason why, I tell you. It's because the meat and fish are kept out
on counters, unrefrigerated, the occasional fly settling down for a
munch, the warm, tropical air stagnating all around. We next beheld
these oval, curved, ringed brown items about two fingers thick, piled
on a tray. All of a sudden, one moved! It wiggled, really. Then
more wiggled. Turns out these were silkworm pupa, delicacies for your
eating pleasure. We walked away somewhat stunned, only to turn the
corner and see in English the word "DOG" just as the woman below the
sign placidly clipped the toenails off the raw dog forearm on top of
the pile or raw dog forearms on the counter. More disturbed than
stunned this time, we walked away, contemplating and discussing the
newly-, viscerally-learned reality of the country we're in.

The last huge tent area sold as many types of fruit as you can
imagine. Rod purchased plums, a vendor gifted us small apples, Xander
got an up-close whiff of a spiky stinky fruit, and I barely was able
to resist the impulse to open my mouth and chomp my way down the
aisles, bursting as they were with the bounty of all that China grows.
I have a new goal, to map out on a grid "my" market in Chengdu, and
systematically sample of this bounty, color coding it according to
rating. Maybe I can get through a whole market in a year's time! I
will mathematically calculate how much there is to try, then figure
how long it'll take me. Chinese markets are an inspiring place!

Next item on today's agenda was a bus ride with the Suderman parents
and two teenagers to one of the few successful Chinese chains,
_______. Zekey fell asleep on the bus in the most adorable 3-step
fashion. I carried him and held him throughout the meal, exhibiting
mommy skill #2,341: eating noodle soup with chopsticks while holding
large, dense sleeping boy on lap. We ate from huge, deep bowls of
noodle soup with 3 small beef strips and fragrant cilantro and
finely-slivered green onion.

We dropped off our children with James, the other MCC staff in
Beijing, and their 2 boys. Dave and I met with the Sudermans at the
MCC office for a chat about MCC partner agencies and projects - many,
many acronyms - and perusal of their library. We created a reading
list of 11 books which would all be quite fascinating reads. Dave was
so exhausted from 2 nights of only 3 and 4 hours of sleep,
respectively, that his lids actually were closing. We tanked upon
Coca-Cola, then headed back to relieve the Freys from child-care duty.

We enjoyed a meal from Subway, good ol' American style, at the Freys
home and met Jessica, James' wife. After 2 of our 3 kids screaming at
the dinner table (ah, how much more "normal" could we get?), all three
of our children fell asleep at the table at 6:30. Xander actually
managed to walk a few steps over to the couch and fall asleep there.
Well, we adults sure enjoyed laughing at stories of bodily fluids
contaminating what we consider public space, of travel mishaps over
the years, of the joys of language learning, and the politics of North
Korea dictatorship and U.S. consumerism. Delightful people!

We sure didn't feel like we were in China much today. Sure haven't
done any touristy things yet. But it's been such a humane way to
transition to this place. We've had much relationship-building; we've
been shown an understanding of how real and hard jet-lag is; and we've
appreciated a gradual accommodation to a new country.

China Day One!

So, so far I think that China is just like anywhere else! We walked
through the brand new wing of the airport, which looked like any other
airport I've been to. It was much more tropical in temperature,
though, as the government has recently decided that they should save
energy and not use air conditioning as much. Boy, was it tropical in

The taxi cab ride was like any other taxi cab ride! The ride wasn't
too fast, and overall traffic wasn't fast at all, like I'd somehow
imagined it to be. It had some character to it, as one of our
American MCC co-workers, James, sat in the front seat and chatted it
up in Chinese with the cab driver. They made a bunch of jokes about
how lost we kept getting, trying to look for our Holiday Inn Express,
and they discussed Chinese dialects, in relation to the fact that the
rest of us in the cab are going on to Sichuan province in a few days,
where it's considered to be heavy on the local dialect.

People here stare at us! Okay, this is one thing that is different
than the U.S. So far, I really like it! I'd read about this
phenomenon before I came over. I mean EVERYBODY says that Chinese
will stare at us. Dave, indeed, got what he called "my first detour"
at the airport, when somebody crossed from way over on the other side
of an area to come up to him and Ysa, smile, then proceed back to his
original route.

What makes this staring nice is that I know that it's because we have
3 children. Yes, it's also that we don't look Chinese; in fact, 4 of
us have light-colored hair, and 2 have blue eyes. But it's that the
government policy of having only one child makes the presence of a
family of 5 very, very different. Yes, I do feel that we are a big
family. I've felt that in the U.S. too. But here, I feel like people
actually feel proud on our behalf, that they are so happy to see that
a "big" family does exist.

My kids' first pat on the head occurred in the airport elevator, when
a woman first patted Xander's head, then Zekey's, then looked and me
and said in Chinese what must have been, "You have TWO CHILDREN -
WOW!" She held up her two fingers. I smiled and replied, "No,
THREE!" and held up my three fingers, pointing towards Dave on the
other side of the large elevator. A ripple sort-of shook through that
elevator, as everybody looked over at Dave and Ysa in her backpack on
Dave's back. Neat! Wow! So many children! It was an enjoyable

At the restaurant tonight, it's not like the entire clientele stopped
dining or conversing in order to stare. The recognition of us
parading by and the approving nodes, however, were unmistakable. What
I realized then is that I can choose to look at everybody, or I can
walk by, as I often do, absorbed in which child is teasing which, or
who almost slammed their finger in a door, or which is announcing
their need to pee. The public noticing us doesn't need to be taken in
by me.

When I choose to, though, it is just like a real feel-good for me.
It's neat being able to make others happy. Women in the 20s and 30s
don't run away crying, jealous and distraught. People don't look
askance that we're using up more than our fair share of the earth's
resources. So far, based on a few experiences, we make people's
moment! Like I said, it's almost like they're proud on our behalf.
Imagine, a nation of 1.4 billion potential babysitters and feel-good

The counterbalance to all this goodness was at dusk when we were
crossing the street to the restaurant. There are many sections to the
street, the bicycle section, maybe the pedestrian section, the
vehicular sections (why many, I don't yet know), and separating them
are medians with knee-high or so bushes. It's very tropical feeling
here, hot and humid. People's criss-crossing at certain areas of the
medians have left these brambly, intense bushes with little dirt paths
cut through them. Very un-urban-plannerish, but very functional so
you don't have to cross the street half a mile down. Well, Zekey was
supposed to be holding Dave's hand to cross, but he/they let go, and
Zekey got side-swiped by a moped. We didn't even know he'd been hit;
he was just crying at the shock of something vehicular and fast going
so close to him. Dave had actually pulled him back in just the last
second, and then Zekey was up in Dave's arms, crying. I took him
after a few moments, realizing that he was favoring his left arm.
Sure enough, the inside of his left forearm has a skinny red mark on
it about 2 inches long. I don't know if his whole shoulder had been
partially jerked back upon the impact, but it definitely left him
feeling scared. Some amazing Chinese food seemed to restore the happy
Zekey we know and love. We, of course, can be none too carry and make
none too much a big deal to our children from here on out about the
hierarchy of who is bigger and faster on Beijing's roadways. And it's
not little Zekey.

I know there are lots of differences, and I'll be discovering them.
One thing I apparently didn't even see was the squat-toilet section in
the airport bathrooms. And that was the only thing offered in the
restaurant. From my stall in the airport bathroom, I did hear my
first gutteral coughing in the sink. Very healthy, they believe.

But anyhoow, battery's running and we don't have an adaptor yet!
Enjoy! More to come! Oh yeah, FB *is* blocked, but we'll figure out how to get
on via a proxy site. And we'll get our posts up on our blog soon, as soon as we
figure out technical glitches there.

Love you all!


Sunday, August 2, 2009

I awoke after sleeping from 10:15 p.m. straight through to 5:45 a.m. That’s 7.5 hours! I’ve spent the last interminable almost 3 hours straightening up the place, finding the right spot for stuff, journaling, beginning reading Remembering Simplified Hanzi, showering, making the beds, reading to the kids, playing my-body-as-train-for-heavy-Zekey-and-Ysa, watching a bit of t.v., discovering that the viewfinder on the camera seems to be malfunctioning, etc. We grazed on Kashi granola bars, Ritz crackers, Kathi’s banana bread, apple and peach slices, and plum. Dave had been up from 2:30 – 5:30 a.m., so it was his turn to sleep. I’m getting sort-of anal about where things go, but I need order somewhere in my life. Also trying to keep in mind that each moment that ticks by is a moment my kids won’t be at this same age anymore.

Television in the name of language acquisition? Xander is playing a video game where he’s “transforming” some little moving boxes into something else (ah, Dave later informed me this is Tetrus, should’ve known that). In the background is the noise from whatever station is one behind the game. Now they’re watching a cartoon with heroic princes and villainous animals. Hmmm…

Today’s a “free” day, and we’re scheduled to meet Eric at 10:30. I have nothing really on the agenda. Keeping the kids happy, I guess. Wanting to get on the internet! Small errands: need to scrub inside of my SIGG, get Xander his own floss, purchase maps of China and Asia. Get converter for kids’ noise machine.

New goal: keep track of expenses. Find replacement camera battery.

Sunday PM update on the day: I did go to the Internet cafĂ© from 10:30 – 11:30. Eric stopped by for a sec there, and we tried phoning Greg Dale-Huang. Tina Huang had happened to be on the ‘net same time as I, so we chatted, and she give me Greg’s # - handy!

We met for lunch at a Muslim noodle restaurant in the indoor-outdoor mall we supped at last night. Tasty, non-spicy noodles, first flat, then skinny and short, then skinny and long. Xander loved them. Ysa slept on Dave’s lap, so I filled her sippy cup with noodles and meat. The meat was very tender, fresh-off-the-grill skewers of little lamb chunks, I believe. The waiter/proprietor had a nicely-patterned round hat atop his head. Didn’t look Asian, rather, Arabic, so it was interesting to think he’s speaking Chinese. Shelley’s guess is that he speaks with an Arabic accent.

Dave exchanged money, and for $200 we obtained over 1,300 yuen. We promptly then spent 340 of them in the basement level of the ginormous supermarket Ito Yokado. We got milks, yogurts, juices, granola, oatmeal, crackers, treats, nuts, tea, dried fruit, even peanut butter and 2 Kellog’s honey-oats. Biggest splurge was the Swiss Muesli, for 60 yuen, or about $9!

Four flights of escalators later, we looked for tricycles, finding them too expensive (minimum 400 yuen each!). We cabbed it back, trying to keep the boys awake. Zekey had been trying to fall asleep ever since we were waiting for the money exchanging. (His brown bag of candy got him through the walk over to the bus, through the wait, through the ride, and even into the first part of the supermarket.)

We returned shortly after 5:00, and were to meet back at 6:00 at the “South Gate” (the entrance to the university) for dinner. We ended up at a fancy restaurant with the family-style concept (i.e. big spinning platter-disc in the middle of the table), cloth tablecloths (even though there was a hole in front of Zekey’s place and a hole in front of Shelley’s; hey, more power to them that they’re still using it!) Enough food came out plate by plate to feed an army. Xander was proud to have a dish ordered that he spotted a picture of in the menu (“4 pages from the back,” mind you): tofu soup. Zekeky was literally walking out the door of the restaurant with lids half-closed and very cranky, so Dave took him back, then I backpacked with Ysa and holding hands with Xander (he’s acquiesced to this as standard practice now) shortly thereafter.

Talked this night with Eric about obtaining more babysitting, so we can take 2 more hours of language instruction for a total of 3 in the morning daily (everyone gets 3), and 2 hours for the T and Th afternoon sessions, and the T Th evening sessions for something to work out.

Our Journey by the numbers, part II (Beijing)


Approximate number of videos and television programs available to us on the back of the seat screens on our Air Canada fight - 275

Number of times we opened our large and extremely heavy carryon full of toys that we had painstakingly packed to entertain the kids on the flight - 0

Times that Zekey watched the same 25 minute Max and Ruby video - 7

Time that we spent worrying about exactly what information to put on our health and customs forms - 2 hours

Questions we were asked by Chinese health and customs officials upon our arrival in Beijing - 0

Floors missing from the Beijing Holiday Inn - 4, 13, and 14

Hours of sleep Dave got in the first 48 hours after takeoff from Toronto - 3

Number of objects in our hotel room that we knew the Chinese name for - 0

Number of Chinese businessmen silently staring at Zekey in the hotel elevator - 7

Seconds of silence before Zekey looked up at them, said “Ni Hao” (hello) and cracked everyone up - 4

Number of stalls at the local market selling raw pork, chicken and dog meat, respectively - 26, 16, and 1

Number of refrigeration units - 0

Couples we saw waltzing in a city park at 10:30 on a Thursday morning - 60 +

Number of people we now know that have been to North Korea - 3

Number of the world’s four embalmed heads of state that Rod has seen personally - 3

Times the Beijing Olympic Stadium has been used since the 2008 Olympics - 0

Number of Ghanaian women in the hotel lobby the last night of our stay - 24

Our Journey by the numbers, part I (Toronto)

Total number of bags we took to China - 8 checked, 9 carryon

Approximate combined weight of our luggage - 480 lbs.

Approximate combined weight of our family - 400 lbs.

Taxis needed to get us to O’Hare with our baggage - 2

Luggage carts needed - 3

Approximate number of times the friendly Canadian customs agent said “eh?” while talking to us - 9

Location in the Toronto Airport where we were told we could find a place to store our eight huge suitcases overnight - Terminal 3, past counter M

The actual location of the baggage check - Terminal 3, past counter A

Times we walked back and forth across the entire airport terminal finding this out - 2

Ratio of Xander’s weight to the weight of the luggage in the cart he was pushing - 1:4

Time it took Dave to get to level B2, go through level 5 of the parking garage, walk through the entire Hertz parking lot, wait in a small concrete bunker for a guy in a Kia SUV to pick him up and take him to a tiny fly-by-night rental office, get a Toyota Yaris, and come back and pick up Jane and the kids - 72 minutes

Times we pulled to the side of the QEW expressway in Toronto to let Ysa pee - 2

Temperature (degrees F) of the water in the swimming pool at our B & B - 69

Number of years Jane’s grandparents have been married - 66

Amount of time before our flight that we arrived at the airport again the next day - 3 hours, 10 minutes

Stated weight limit for overseas checked baggage - 23.0 kg

Weight range of the eight suitcases we wanted to check - 22.2 - 25.5 kg

Weight limit of each carryon bag - 10 kg

Times we had heard of this - 0

Time spent repacking our bags to rectify this - 56 min.

Weight that the agent checking our bags would have accepted (discovered after repacking) - 23.9 kg

Minutes we spent waiting at the gate before boarding began - 10

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Saturday, August 1, 2009

We sat with people from Ghana at breakfast, first time with X sitting himself right at who turned out to be Macy’s table. It was me, X and Z with all women engineers. They speak “Chi,” and we sat with Macy and Met Millie and Esther. Macy said she wants to take Y back to Ghana with her! They’ve been in China for a month at a course in another town. Very lively group! I brought down my Michelle Obama magazine, and they oohed and aahed over it. Up on our floor, I wrote down our e-mail for Macy, and she seemed not to want to write down her name and # herself, so I wrote it down. At second breakfast, we happened to sit with the only Ghanian man, the president of the company they’re with. Very interesting, they use Chinese machines: compactors, trucks, etc. He’s touring China for another month to see the factories they manufacture the machinery. They keep upgrading the equipment, but the new is incompatible with the old: planned obsolescence. He gave us his business card, and we told him we’ll e-mail him The Story of Stuff link. I’d love a) to go to Ghana and b) to phone him there!

We packed, left the hotel at 10:30, saying goodbye to Kathi, packing all the bags miraculously in the same way we did on our ride from the airport (Dave probably knew the exact same order of how to get all the bags in – ha ha), with Rod driving Dave, and me taxiing with James and the kids. At the airport, we didn’t have to pay any extra luggage fees. I guess we convinced them that we are on a connecting international flight (we’d purposely left the tags with BEI on the suitcases). We shared Kathi’s home-made banana bread before we parted ways.

At security, we had to convince personnel that the 16-oz Dr. Bronner’s Baby-Mild Hemp Castille soap that we accidentally left in our carry-on wasn’t a terrorist weapon. First, we had to talk with three levels of security personnel, me reading the label to them, indicating shampooing over my boys’ heads. Then I had to meet the bottle over to a different area, where a man lowered it into a chamber, a computer screen blipped much data, it seemed, about its contents. Then the man said, “Medicine?” I replied, “Medicine!” The final “test” was that he indicated for me to open it, and then he wafted it to his nearby nose, and I had to waft it also – and voila! – you have soap that’s safe to take onboard! Wafting, the ultimate test!

Airline with female flight attendants dressed in mock-traditional Chinese dresses. Entrees that were all spicy-only options, so the kids ate white rice. Delicious dried strawberries, sweet-n-tasty walnut milk, even definitely Western-style nut-topped muffins. Ysa was able to entertain the whole row in back of us, all men, single-handedly by just batting her eyelashes, basically. Those guys went from non-descript, to animated faces, returning monster growls and funny faces in one-second flat whenever she turned her head.

The boys did great at luggage pick-up, priding themselves on “picking up” the luggage as it went by. Xander had arranged all 3 carts just so, so that luggage could be directly toppled onto the carts next to the conveyor belt.

Finally, we met Eric Eberly, MCC staff (who had just accidentally left his cell phone in the tax). We also met Luo Bo, Xihua University’s International Office employee. After loading everything onto an enclosed pick-up truck, Luo drove our family in a vehicle (I always just sit in the front, holding Ysa on my lap) for the 45 minutes drive, and we chatted easily about his stay in Virginia in 2005 with Myrrl, the other international teachers on campus, the directions we were traveling in (north and west on the 4th ring road), and many other pleasant topics.

Then we were at…our campus! Our apartment! I took many pictures, eager to e-mail them to everybody, and to retain the images for the next 3 weeks when we’re not there, but on the other side of the city at Summer Language Program (SLP).

Xihua Dahue campus is beautiful, lush place. Ours is a very narrow street, almost alley-like that our residence sits on. It’s lined with tall apartment buildings, and across the small street are more apartment buildings. The truck driver, Loa Bo, Dave and Mr. Zhona worked up quite the sweat hauling our 8 suitcases up 6 flights of stairs. We met Owen, the Peace Corps volunteer who’s resided there the past year, who is generously moving to another place so we can take advantage of the spaciousness of our apartment. First, the floors are a beautiful, shiny wood. There are, indeed, 3 bedrooms. The kids’ room is already furnished with a sturdy, wood bunk bed and a third bed. There is a back porch-type (or storage, as it’s currently being used) area that connects the kids’ room with the third bedroom. There are, indeed, 2 bathrooms, even though the entry-way one is a squat toilet that Owen explained doesn’t work very well. Owen graciously pointed out to us all the deficiencies of the apartment, such as the squat toilet that doesn’t flush very well.

In my opinion, I would like to paint the walls. I mean, this is a hallmark of Dave -n- Jane, to have colored walls. In this case, I’m imagining keeping the light green of the dining area, but perhaps choosing gray, yes, a rich gray, to offset the luxurious brown tones of the floor and trim around the doorways. We’ll see. I can see us having a couch in the living room, as it currently has 3 chairs, functional, but still. Going

We met our MPC comrades for dinner: Shelly, Dave (just returned from U.S.A., but has been teaching for the past 1.5 years in ______ where Esther also is), and Eric. Dinner was hard. Ysa wanted to run around, yet slipped and of course placed her hands right on the ground a few times. These are all folks without kids. Shelly is super engaged with the kids, and well-meaning. She let slip mention of a KFC nearby and when I cut it off right away, Xander picked up on it, and then the boys, actually, all 3 kids let loose with the “KFC! KFC! chant. Betcha didn’t know there was such a chant, eh?

Anyways, we ate spicy Sichuanese food at this amazing, indoor-outdoor, two-story mall lined with restaurants and shops. Dave noticed the small, parked, diesel-truck-type vehicle which held in its open bed many oil barrels of, well, it seemed cooking or fueling oil. Later on, we saw it zooming out of the mall. You walk through these corridors that are lined with shops that have roofs extending over them horizontally, and at the top of the second floor there seems to be a bit of roof extending a bit more, but overall it’s an outdoor space, as there is no full roof overhead. Seems like you might get the best of both worlds: fresh air yet also protection from the sun.

The food: Another first! A true Sichuan meal.

We came home around 9:15 p.m. I was exhausted, yet really wanted to and did unpack the kids’ clothing in their room. Ysa fell asleep with Zekey. They all passed out almost immediately upon hitting their beds. I went to bed at 10:15.