Monday, November 30, 2009

Okay, so what have we been up to again?

Ant Logistics, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)
It just occurred to me that our faithful reader(s?) (hi, Mom!) might be missing a sense of chronology here at Slow Boat Central. To tell you the truth, as the days are rapidly blending into each other here, I think I’ve been missing one too. But here, for the record is...


Oct 31: Had a Halloween Party with around 35 people at our house. Of those 35, ten were under four feet tall, fifteen came in costume, twenty could speak English with varying degrees of fluency, and only five people (i.e., our family) had more than a faint inkling of what Halloween was. Our apartment was decked out with two jack-o-lanterns, countless paper bat cutouts, and a fake spiderweb or two. We had a vampire, a construction worker, several hyperactive fairies, and a bloodthirsty zombie (yers truly) that gleefully hacked up a (watermelon) brain and served it to the guests. Much fun was had by all - even by those who were slightly bewildered by a bunch of sugared-up kids tearing up and down five flights of stairs asking for candy at a few prearranged apartments.

The Next Sunday: A quick tour of the art scene in Chengdu, in preparation for Jens Reulecke, a visiting German performance artist sponsored by our organization.

The Thursday Evening After That: Went in to the Bookworm (Chengdu’s English language bookstore/cafe) to see Jens perform and present his work. It was one of those performances that clicked somehow, and made me see everything surrounding me as Art (note the capital “A”) for the rest of the evening. Beer and conversation afterwards until late, finally making it to bed around 1:30.

Friday: A whole day touring galleries, visiting studios, and talking art with Jens and Snow, a Chinese art student who had spent three years on exchange in Cape Giradeau, MO, of all places, and acted as our interpreter for the day. The day was fun, long (8am to 7pm), and inspiring.

Thanksgiving: (A bit earlier than usual) Jane and the kids came down and met me at Sichuan Normal University in Chengdu, the site of our summer language program. MPC, our organization, sponsored a weekend long Thanksgiving retreat. Besides retreating, we conversed, met, ate out, and generally caught up with the group.

Other things I’ve done: (can you tell that I started writing this post three weeks ago and now am writing down stuff at random to justify posting this?)

Lectured to an auditorium full of about 150 English majors about the American media. Started an a cappella music class. Played some ping pong and realized that I’ve got a lot of practicing to do.

Realized that next semester we’ll be getting more classes, and resolved to spend more of our time in the mornings learning Chinese. Can now understand the name of our local bus stop. Went to several post offices to pick up and send off various packages.

Broke out the Christmas decorations. Made an Advent Calendar with Xander and Zekey. Tried my best to distract the kids and put them to bed while 15 students are in our apartment during Jane’s Thursday night baking classes. Enjoyed fresh-baked apple pie and baguettes with Gouda. (thanks, Jane! thanks, students!)

Realized the incompleteness of memory. Tried (and failed) to think of witty closures to blog posts.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Heraldry and Geekery

Starfleet, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)
The summer after fifth grade, we took a six week family vacation to the United Kingdom. It was there, in the gift shop of Westminster Abbey, I believe, that I cemented my lifelong interest in heraldry, funky logos, and all things systematically symbolic.

My ability to remember graphic symbols has helped me along here - as you can imagine, I get obsessed with Chinese characters from time to time. I've learned about four hundred of them! Only about 4,000 more till I can read the paper... That’s the subject for another post, however.

What I wanted to write about is a much easier system of symbology - Chinese automobile logos! I’m not particularly interested in cars per se, but I have to admit that I get a geeky thrill in finding a logo that I haven’t seen before on my walks around town. The names are great, too. Geely! Freeca! Click on the above photo to get to a Flickr set of some other logos I’ve uploaded.

My uber-nerd favorite has got to be the logo above. Give yourself five geek points if you immediately thought of Star Trek, and an additional twenty if you thought “hey, blue - that’s Science or Medicine!”

(And no, so far I haven’t spotted a red-colored Star Fleet car. Which only makes sense, if you think about what happens to those red shirt security guys when they beam down to strange planets...)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Forget about Brother John

Chinese for Children, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)

...or Bruder Jakob, Fray Felipe, or any of those other European Brothers who are sleeping in while morning bells are ringing. You may not know this, but when one-fifth of the world hears the tune “Frere Jacques”, they think of two mutilated tigers running around in circles. Now that our boys are in Chinese kindergarten, we have no choice but to think the same.

Liang zhi lao hu, liang zhi lao hu
pao de kuai, pao de kuai.
yi zhi mei you yan jing,
yi zhi mei you wei ba
zhen qi guai, zhen qi guai

Two tigers, two tigers
Run so fast, run so fast
One has no ears
One has no tail
Really strange! Really strange!


For an (appropriately cheesy) sing-along version, you can check out our friends at Chinese Pod at the link below, though they do get Frere Jacques a bit confused with Alouette in their intro.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Nine Nations of China

(posted by Dave)
All right - if you didn’t know already, I’m way into maps. This one from the Atlantic Magazine’s web site made my cartography geek day. Check it out!

Mounting Evidence

(posted by Dave)

In my many months in China, I have, through exhaustive research, come to an astounding conclusion: China has more people than the United States! The latest evidence came to me while standing in line at the ATM just now. (For those of you who aren’t in the same time zone as I am and reading this post the moment that I wrote it, it’s about 10:30 on Friday night).

My first thought was, “Wow, this is a pretty short line - there are only about six people ahead of me.” (note: it’s very common to see up to 30 people in line at the ATM by the university gate near our apartment...)

My second thought: “Wait - before this June, was I ever in a line of six people waiting for an ATM?” Followed by: “Was I ever in a line at an ATM?” Which led to... “Hey, it’s 10:30 at night! On a Friday! Wow, there ARE a lot of people in China!!”

Brilliant logic, eh? One of you can get in touch with the MacArthur Foundation any time now - I’ll be able to accept my Genius Grant when I get back to the States....

Ah, television!

National Day Parade, Beijing, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)

Ivy, our eight-year-old precocious neighbor who speaks better English than some of our students, came by to play with our kids and get a bit of help with her English homework. Here, in their marvelous entirety, are the lyrics to the song she wanted help with:

“We're together arm in arm.  Over mountains and seas our songs spread.
We're together.  We're heart to heart.  Television reflects the
colourful world.  
Television agarland of friendship You bring us hope
and splendid futrure.  
Television a link of friendship you bring love
to the people all over the world, all over the world, all over the

We sent her back to the kids’ room, where she and Xander had a marvelous time reading “Go Dog, Go” in English and Chinese instead...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

All the tea in China...

IMG_4882, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave) mostly green, and doesn’t involve tea bags at all. As may have mentioned, I’ve been drinking lots of lots of it to keep warm. (Did I mention that it’s cold here, by any chance?) (Yes, most of my posts will be cold-themed for the near future...) Here, then, is the Dave method of enjoying a perfect cup of tea.

1) Drop 2-3 generous pinches of dried green tea leaves at the bottom of your cup. This cup will usually have a lid, though you may also get a tall clear glass at some of the tea houses around town.

2) Wait five minutes or so and gulp down the first cup. Hint: if there are still tea leaves floating at the top, wait a bit longer. Is it super bitter? Does it make you shudder involuntarily as it goes down? Good, you added enough tea and waited long enough for it to steep.

3) Add more hot water and repeat the process every hour or so, or whenever you start to feel chilly. When the tea starts to taste like green colored hot water instead of tea, it’s probably a good time to switch to plain hot water. (Unless you like tossing and turning for three hours after going to bed until you realize that yes, green tea does indeed contain caffeine.)

4) Speaking of caffeine, enjoy the resulting buzz for the rest of the afternoon. Note the differences between a coffee buzz and a green tea buzz, and think that it probably expresses profound differences between the West and the East. Resolve to write a blog post about this, but never get around to it.

5) Hope your kidneys are in good shape!

6) Repeat steps one to five daily until mid-March. When it gets warm out, switch to cold water after your tea - unless you happen to be Chinese, in which case, keep drinking hot water year round. (It’s better for your stomach, don’t cha know...)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Traffic, heat, and permeability

IMG_5871, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(photo: The kiddos and Jiang Ayi looking sharp with their matching branded "XiYangYang" sweaters. This was before the recent cold snap, so the sweaters are now underneath a couple of layers, but still coming in handy...)

(blog post by Dave)
Astute readers of my last post may be asking themselves, “Okay, so if it’s so cold, why not just turn on the heat?” Ah, excellent question. To answer it, maybe I should tell you a bit about traffic in China.

Now, in the United States, when it comes to driving, (with the possible exception of speed limits on the interstate) the law is the law. People may push the envelope a bit - speed up through a yellow light here, cut into an exit lane in rush hour there - but generally, lights are lights, and lane markings are lane markings that everyone agrees to follow.

In China, not so much. From what I’ve been able to see, traffic lights, lane markings, and so on are viewed more as polite suggestions than unbreakable barriers. People do stop at red lights - well, most of the time. Unless you’re on a motorcycle. Or there’s nobody there. Or you think you can swerve around the pedestrian crossing the road.

As for lane markings, well, if nobody else is around, you mostly stay on your side of the road. However, if there are two lanes of traffic stopped at a red light and you need to make a right turn, well, why not floor it down the left (oncoming traffic) lane, swerve past a few oncoming trucks, and then make a sharp right in front of those two lanes of cars right before the light changes green? (Yes, I was in a taxi where the driver did exactly that.)

In addition to traffic, there are many other areas of society that can be a bit more permeable than in the States. Pricing in the markets, or personal space, to name just two examples off the top of my head. Or, to go back to the topic of heat, buildings. We Americans tend to have this idea that there is a clear distinction between inside and outside. Inside, you are warm (or cool, if it’s summer), and outside is where all of the weather is.

In China, again, not so much. Buildings are more of a suggestion of indoors than an actual barrier against any kind of temperature change. Windows? Walls? Good for keeping the roof up, maybe, but not for keeping heat in. Cold? Put on another sweater! Drink some tea! And open that window - it’ll get too damp in here, otherwise...

Fortunately, there are a few remedies. Layers and layers is the first one - we’ve all got our long johns on and they probably ain’t coming off until March. (Sorry if that’s TMI, folks.) Also lots of tea and hot water, and these really great electric heating pads that go right on top of your mattress and make you feel like you’re sleeping on a George Foreman grill (without the ridges). Oh, and three portable electric radiators and our window A/C unit, which also doubles as a space heater of sorts, but we haven’t turned those on yet. We’re waiting until it gets REALLY cold for that...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Let the hibernation begin!

IMG_5906, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)

Okay, starting Sunday evening, it just turned cold cold cold. If the weather gizmo on our laptop can be believed, it’s now around 37℉, and is only supposed to get up to the low forties all week. Now, I can hear all of you anywhere north of the Mason Dixon line start to chuckle, but before you get too smug about how “warm” the low forties is, I’d like you to do the following: 1. Turn the thermostat down to, oh, zero. That’s right, not 68, not 65, but all the way off. 2. Open a couple of windows. Wide. Anybody warm and toasty now? Right. Didn’t think so. More in a bit after I get another cup of tea...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What planet is this, exactly?

IMG_4919, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)

I've been recruited to give a lecture this coming Thursday on The American Media - or some aspect thereof. I've been online looking for images for the powerpoint presentation, and more than just a little bit weird looking through stills of American commercials from my childhood (anyone remember "stuck on Bandaids, 'cuz Bandaids stuck on me?) and charts of corporate media ownership while here in this country. (Who's being brainwashed again?) Think I've got to turn off the internet while I can still escape...

Baking class #1

IMG_3785, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(photo: Chinese mantou and my friend and Chinese teacher, Wang Tong)

Baking Class #1: Chocolate Chip Cookies (posted by Jane)
November 5, 2009

This is not a country where people show up late to events. People show up early, consistently. At 6:05, I got 2 phone calls and the door buzzing, with the 12 students already here for a 6:30 start-time! I had to say over the door loudspeaker, “You’re early! It’s not 6:30 yet!” I continued to help the kids finish their dinner, clear dinner up, put papers away, etc. When my friend Zhou Jing arrived at 6:23 (also early, but acceptable, as she was my friend here to help me with the whole situation [Dave’s in Chengdu for the night]), I let her in, and she said there was the whole group waiting downstairs, outside. I then let them in.

Xander had made name-tags, basically little strips of paper, with a line and the word “Name.” Each person wrote their English name and used a safety pin to fasten it onto their clothes.

Next, Xander showed them how to wash hands. Ever since we saw the poster in the bathroom of Chicago grocery store Caputo’s, he’s been quite thorough. Why don’t Chinese people seem to use a towel to dry their hands? I pointed to the 3 or 4 clean, folded towels there, and urged them to use them, but they just wouldn’t.

Explaining the rules: Xander sat by my side as we all sat on couches or chairs in a circle in the living room. The first, main rule was for them not to take pictures of my children, explaining that then it wouldn’t be a baking class anymore and that in our house, our children are not miracle wonders of the West. I forgot to mention for them not to play the piano, so that came up twice later when students began to fiddle around on it. I pointed to where we have the 2 bathrooms, one a squat toilet (which I called the Chinese-style bathroom), and the Western-style bathroom in the back bedroom. One student later told me she wouldn’t characterize the 2 bathrooms into “Western” and “Chinese,” for most Chinese people have the “Western-style” bathroom in their house! I haven’t been here long enough to know if this is true, and I’m sure there’s a big difference between the country and city, but touché.

The students (who now numbered 14, as 2 came late) went around the circle and gave their English names to each other. I asked a few of them why they signed up for this class. Answers ranged from “I’m already good at cooking, so I wanted to learn more” to “I no very little about cooking, so I wanted to learn,” to “I’ve seen you around campus and wanted to have a chance to talk with the Western teacher.”

The students seemed to express that they like whole wheat over white flour; however, the whole wheat bread here is quite Wonder-Bready. Wait ‘til they have a home-made whole wheat loaf of bread! They have a taste for sweet things, which is a growing trend among Chinese people. They all, except one, like walnuts, and, according to Chinese thinking they’re good for the brain and even visually resemble a human brain. Why don’t we Westerners believe walnuts are especially good for the brain? Here, children especially are fed walnuts for their developing brains. You’d better believe I’ve got a stash of walnuts around most times.

The students learned about measuring cups and measuring spoons. I believe that quite a few students’ eyesight is bad and they’re not wearing any or proper corrective eyewear (actually, this is something I’ve thought in passing, but want to bring up with them sometime), so they had a hard time seeing the ¼ or ½ etched into the metal measuring spoons and cups.

Another by the by is that I corrected their pronunciation of the word “supermarket.” Chinese tend to pronounce it with a “sh” at the beginning. Argh! The students tonight explained that it’s because the British say it that way. I’ve got to check up on that. Well, I asked them to say it with just the “s” sound.

Now, on to the main business at hand, that of chocolate chips. I held up the bag of Hershey’s chocolate chips (mailed here by dear Mom), showed that there was a recipe on the back, and passed around the photocopy of the recipe. I showed them a bag of chocolate chips from Sabrina’s, the foreign foods import store in Chengdu. Regular ol’ bag of chips, actually, milk chocolate, and not that great. RMB26. THEN, I pulled out the humongous, bright-yellow, 1.5-pound bag of Nestle chocolate chips that my mom had also mailed, and got the expected “Waaaaaaaahhhhh” response. “Everything in the U.S. is big,” I always say.

I read the list of ingredients, then had Xander run into the kitchen to get the unknown ones like baking soda and vanilla extract. We talked about what they are.

The students then divided into 3 groups of 5 each and headed into my kitchen. There I had 3 stations, each with 2 bowls (one for dry ingredients, the other for wet), a stirring spoon, and some random measuring cups and spoons.

A couple of notes about their actual cookie-making process: First, they stirred in what I realized is a Chinese way. In China, they use chopsticks to whisk things quickly. They were attempting to use chopsticks to mix heavy dough. I had to emphasize using the big wooden or plastic stirring spoons. To the whole group, I explained gluten, and why we don’t want to mix cookie batter (like muffins) too much. (It activates the glutens in the flour and makes everything heavy.)

Second, they didn’t follow the directions like I expected they would, but I learned my expectations were unrealistic. One student dumped the brown sugar into the dry-ingredients bowl (flour, baking soda, salt). While this may seem to make sense, as brown sugar isn’t a wet ingredient, what trumps this line of thought is the explicit line in the recipe saying to mix the sugar with other ingredients (butter, other sugar, vanilla, then egg). It was fun explaining sentence order and how, actually, recipes do assume that you know that something like “Add eggs” means to add it to the stuff in the previous sentence.

Third, we 3 different types of doughs created, since I had butter enough only for one batch. The second batch used oil and the amount of flour that the recipe called for. The third batch used oil and more flour than the recipe called for. I predicted the cookies with oil and less flour would spread out too much.

The cookies made with butter spread out the most! During baking, the butter melts, the dough spreads out, and voila! You have what we Americans know as those round, flat, soft things called cookies. The cookies made with oil and more dough were most perfectly puffy and rounded when they came out of the oven. The oil must bind chemically with the flour mix in such a way that it doesn’t melt, or spread out flat. The students ooohed and aaahed over these! Indeed, they looked like mantou or baozi, which are flour-based puffy little breads sold everywhere. Makes sense that Chinese students would think the most familiar shape would look the cutest. Also makes sense that the Chinese students go for CUTE. This is the land of cute!

In-between batches coming out of the oven, we chatted. The time was well-spent, with students munching from the snacks I had available: broad nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flower tea and milk (actually, I only had one container of milk, so a student ran out to get more).

Tuition for each student was RMB70 for the 4-week class, and was based upon my calculations of the cost of ingredients. Sometime in the evening, the leader gave me a big wad of money. I was surprised to receive this directly, and said I wasn’t sure if I should take it. The leader replied that the teacher liaison had said I should. I pointed to the big wad of money and loudly announced, jokingly, “The money’s right here. Nobody steal the money!”

We took a group photo, upon my suggestion, and, upon their suggestion, I gave enough money to one of the students to develop 15 copies, one for each student.

Somebody asked me about how I manage my time, what with all the books in the house and my children and my teaching. I saved answering it ‘til later on in the evening. Towards the end of the evening, when they were all helping wash and dry dishes, I answered that their help is part of how I managed my time, by asking people to chip in help. I also said I have a schedule, dividing my time into what I need to do: learn Chinese, grade students’ work, plan lessons, teach my children, etc. Hmm, I need to teach time management to them and my other oral English students sometime.

I explained the lending library towards the end. Four students each borrowed a book. Demystifying Tibet was requested a few times, and although the inside flap showed it mostly to be a travel guide, it refers to Tibet as definitely its own country, etc. So I had to say that it was too political and I could get kicked out of the country if I lent it to them, sorry.

The students left late, between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Each got to take home 3 cookies. I need to have them each bring an appropriate take-home container next time. I’m looking forward to next time!

Need to purchase:
Safety pins
4 or 5 containers milk for drinking during class
whole wheat
ice cream (for when we make apple pie)
masking tape for them to be able to label and use a mug or glass in my house (vs. paper cups that end up in a landfill)

Want to serve:
Milk, tea, salty dried snacks (nuts, etc.)

To do:
Wash permanent cups
Print out science of baking articles from Internet. Make several copies.
Ask bakery nearby if we can use their oven at around 7:30 p.m.
Do trial run of French baguette, as I’m interested in doing that next.
Change class to Friday, as I want to – and want them to – hear Dave’s lecture

Next class options:
French baguettes
Apple pie

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I am so freaking bad-*ss!

IMG_4072, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Jane - originally written 10/31)

I hopped onto the 320 bus today with the rest of humanity and Zekey after a late morning of last-minute shopping for Halloween-party items. Today must have been the release of the geriatric ward or something, because the bus was disproportionately full of elderly people. And this bus was somethin’ crowded (well, they all are). We were packed in, but still towards the front of the bus, standing, of course. One old man gets a seat after a younger person sitting in the front offers up his seat.

At the next stop, MORE people get on, sort-of shifting my wave of people in from right by the front door of the bus towards the area a little further into the bus. One new passenger looks especially old and is standing, hanging onto the bus pole for dear life. The seats along the window are just singles; gotta have as much room as possible on these buses for as many passengers as possible, so there are as few seats as possible, to create more standing pack-’em-in room. The people in the seats along the window can just barely scan the crowd in front and next to them to see anybody, much less to see if anybody needs their seat.

Instinctively, I turn so I’m facing the back of the bus, and I scan the seats on the right side of the bus. All older people. I croon my head to see over people (I’m in China, I’m not the shortest person anymore!) sitting on the left side of the bus. A-ha. I spot her. A woman about my age, seated! According to my quick trigonometric assessment of her line of sight, she *should* be able to see the old man about 10 feet in front of her. According to my immediate moral assessment, she should not be enjoying a seat on this bus. He should.

Now, anyone who has ever traveled with me can attest to a couple of my keen abilities: 1) to disarm people with my open-ness and, well, just approaching and communicating with people, anyone, anywhere, and 2) to sniff out injustice and feel a need to rectify it. So, here, on this 320 bus today, we have the perfect storm. Man in need. Woman who needs “communicating” with.

Oh, yeah. I’m in China. These folks don’t speak English. For real, dude.

Undaunted and by some power unleashed in me, I glide smoothly over to the woman, and I say to her a PERFECT sentence in Chinese: “He needs to sit.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, bring on the applause! I put knowledge together, from various past sources, many words, and I created a sentence unique to me in this language. And I used it on someone in the right way. I didn’t speak too loudly, so as not to embarrass her. I spoke firmly but not roughly or angrily. Perfectly uttered, linguistically and humanistically.

Holding my breath, I await execution of the next 2 vital steps: Will she understand? What will she say?

The next 3 or 4 seconds were some of the longest in my life. She did this typical Chinese thing that I’m still trying to figure out: She seemed to get mad. She grumbled. She almost kind-of whined. She gesticulated and bobbed her head!

For the life of me, I have no idea what the linguistic utterances were. But there is no doubt that the inter-personal message was, “Mind your own business, you crazy person! I need this seat just as much as the next person. What’s up with this world when a person can’t just enjoy their seat on their bus ride? Dude!!”

And THEN, what makes this so interesting (and this is a common pattern I’ve observed, be it at the market haggling for food prices, or in stores haggling for gloves or kids’ t-shirts, or in a restaurant trying to get the attention of the owner), is that after this almost-mandatory period of vehement protestation, she relaxed her arched back muscles, her arm landed from its somewhat extended protestation pose, and she softly waved said arm with a kind-of almost half-smile - or something - and mumbled something more gently.

Clearly, dear reader, she was saying, “All right, then, let the old man have my seat.” That’s it, just one moment of acquiescence, just one split-second acknowledgement of my request. But I knew I had it:


Wasting no time, I reach over, tap the old man, he skids his way across as the bus jerks especially wildly, and ta da! The old man sits.

All I can think is, “I am so bad-*ss. Dude, I am soooo cool! Wow, I rock! Oh my gosh.” And so on and so on. I’m not trying to display my glee outwardly lest this woman, now standing right next to and just a little bit in back of me, sock me one or something (I’m still not sure how to read this culture), but my inner fairies and gypsies and elves are dancing huge dances of joy.

Who rocks? Jane rocks! Who’s the gal to call? Jane’s the gal to call! Need a seat for your favorite old person? Facing a crowded bus and need to get the job done? I’m there! Fair and square, this was a great experience for me.

So, now, it was my stop. I go to get Zekey, who smiled broadly and innocently at me, putting on his best “I’m so cute face,” saying, “Look! This guy just gave me 5 cents (jiao).” Argh! Zekey! You can’t ask people for money! Don’t ask me how I knew he’d done this, that’s for a later post.

Out saving the world, forgot about the home front. But that’s okay. I’m so totally cool. I am so freaking bad-*ss.

I wave goodbye, in my mind’s eye, to both of them inside that bus, the old man sitting, and the woman who gave up her seat for him.

I did that!

Peace out.

“Anyone know where we can buy some spare stroller wheels?”

IMG_5627, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)

Just try saying that in a language that you’ve only been speaking for three months. The right rear inside wheel of our stroller, long abused by bumpy loose sidewalk tiles and huge gaping holes in the pavement, finally gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago and rolled off to parts unknown, leaving the poor wobbly outside wheel to try to support Ysa’s weight all by itself. (Yes, I am the King of Run-On Sentences...)

Last Tuesday afternoon, we realized that we’d been procrastinating the stroller repairs too long, so we packed up the family and hopped on the mighty 704 bus to the nearby town of Pixian. How do you fix something broken in China? Start with a rickshaw driver, and gesticulate wildly to the broken part in question, along with the phrases “This broken. Fix where?” They will point you down the road a ways and to the right, at which point you find the nearest handy-looking shopkeeper and repeat.

After several blocks, we found a store that sold kids’ clothing, bikes and trikes, and yes, a stroller or two. Not being very optimistic, we repeated our problem to the owner of the shop, who hauled out a cardboard box filled with, yes, about five or ten broken stroller wheels and axles. After a lot of rummaging, pantomime, and a few judicious whacks with a hammer, we were able to jury rig two replacement wheels - all while Ysa was still asleep in the stroller! Victory!

Of course, all this standing around in one place attracted an audience. Jane was soon answering the usual questions (Yes, three kids. Yes, they’re all ours, etc. etc.) as our kids provided involuntary entertainment to the passers by. A first - a few vendors were passing with their rickshaws, and sensing a business opportunity, stopped to set up shop and sell snacks to the gathering crowd. Maybe we should have asked them for a cut of their business...?

The guy that ran the shop was super helpful and super friendly, and one thing led to another, and so we decided to buy a kid’s bike from him as well. Got a good deal on it too! (or least I think we paid close to the regular Chinese price.) By the time we made it back to the post office to pick up three very heavy and very welcome care packages from Colorado (thanks again, Liz!), we had quite the convoy going. We really need to think about hiring ourselves out for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs while we’re here...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chengdu again

Electronics Market, Chengdu, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)

Halloween has just finished, and Thanksgiving is already next week! Well, an early Thanksgiving, anyway. Most of the MPC teachers are meeting in Chengdu for a weekend get together, so we'll probably be off the air for a bit. (I know, I know - we still haven't told you about our amazing Halloween party...)

In the meantime, I've been catching up, bit by bit, with NPR's Chengdu diary blog. I'm an utter NPR news junkie (surprise, surprise), and I remember hearing their coverage from China before the Olympics that sadly turned into very immediate coverage of the 2008 earthquake. Little did I know then that I'd be leaving near Chengdu myself, and seeing some of the sites that they've written about in person. (They even did a feature on the organic farmer that we are now buying our veggies from...!)

Here's the link to the blog - happy browsing!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


IMG_5675, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)

Just a quick teaser post on Sunday morning here while it's still Halloween in the States, mostly to share this excellent article here


and to say that we had a fun and very scary Halloween, and hope you are doing the same. Details to follow...