Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Finally Busy!

Today's Alarming Statistic:
14,000 -
Number of Active Facebook users left in China. Down from 1 million before the site was blocked in July, 2009

Well it's been about two weeks since I last wrote and I'm sorry! I actually got sort of busy with school events and then experienced some internet difficulties... excuses excuses, I know.

The school opened up to parents and guests for the annual Terry Fox Run.

This is good news because we were told not to come originally because they didn't want random germs entering campus (puh-leeze! this mentality is starting to make me crazy.) Luckily they lightened up a little and the kids all ran. It was a warm day for the runners but quite lovely for the spectators.

As you can see, Ivy has continued her "signature move" of wearing only mis-matched socks. Ms. Dumont should be proud! The 3rd girl to the left of Ivy is Gracie, daughter of the US Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman. She and Ivy have become very good friends and I'm still scheming for a playdate at the embassy. Emawa is the girl to the right of Gracie, another great friend of Ivy's.

The kids were supposed to get pledges, but since we didn't know a single soul to ask, Eric and I provided their donations. This is BCIS's biggest contribution to charity and a big deal to them (and to cancer prevention.)

Greta and Ivy each ran 12 laps and were tuckered out by the end. I met several parents at this event and have since spent time with a few of them. The Australians, New Zealanders and Dutch seem to be the most friendly, though everyone is nice.

Last week Greta went to her first birthday party on a Friday night. Simple as that sounds, it is quite a challenge here in Beijing when we don't live close to the school and don't have a car or driver! Tempting as it is to throw your kid into a taxi on their own we're just not there yet. So here's how it went down...

I went to school that day to watch Greta in the "Dash and Splash" event - a running race, then swim race for the swim team only. It ended at 4:30. (Greta did great. Check it out!)

Then Ivy, Greta and I jumped in a taxi and showed the driver the address (which was in Chinese, of course - a Chinese family) so no problem there. Except that he dropped us off and we had no idea which giant tower was hers. So we started walking, asking guards along the way and they all kept pointing the same direction so we figured we were good. Many long city blocks later, with backpacks, swim gear and a giant lasagna pan from my contribution to International Day (more on that soon) we finally found the right complex and then began the hunt for which building and apartment. It all turned out fine and Greta was delivered and the host was kind enough to let us leave all our stuff in the apartment.

Ivy and I got a taxi back to some apartments across the street from school where we had been invited to hang out during the party. Ivy was in heaven playing Wii the whole time with a boy in her grade. Prue, the mom, and I chatted and had a glass of wine and I benefitted also be learning lots of good inside tips - she has been here a couple of years and is really in the know.

The school celebrated International Day last week. What would you make to contribute "American" food?! I settled on mac and cheese, of course.

The American table was pathetic... all cookies, chips, mac and cheese, brownies, cupcakes. The Koreans and Chinese were amazing... works of art. Also the Japanese. The Dutch went all out too. Sigh. No wonder we are all fat and sick in the USA.

Well, my mac and cheese was EXTREMELY popular with the kids of all nationalities and the American teachers - it was gone in a flash and I swear the pan weighed 50 lbs. Glad to do my part to clog some arteries!

On the social front I was also invited to a coffee morning of a mom who sells "Essentially Asian" products - not sure what that is, but I assume it's like a tupperware party with cooler stuff. It was today, but I am not feeling great so I skipped it because I have to be well tomorrow for a swim meet - I volunteered to take timings.

Also I am invited to a Melbourne Cup Party - big horse race in Australia which I believe has become a national holiday. That's November 3rd. If I'm not self conscious I'll bring my camera and take pictures of my new friends for you.

On the sports front, Ivy had her end of season soccer tournament at Dulwich College of Beijing last Saturday. I swear she is one of the best players on the team - and that's not just mom talking. She improved SO much during the season. She is a natural, and very coachable. She is fearless, plays her position, and never gets tired. We were so proud of her! Here are some pictures.

The coach is Pamela McManus, from New Jersey. She is married to a teacher who teaches at a different International School. She has donated all her time to practices and weekends to games.
No extra stipend or anything.

The dedication of the teachers is pretty impressive at this school. The head of school makes an appearance at most weekend events and when I thanked him he said he comes because he truthfully likes to watch. How refreshing!

Another big event for Ivy was her first track meet. It was especially important since she isn't even on the track team! They must have been low on athletes because they recruited her to join them for this meet out of the clear blue sky. Of course, Ivy was happy to oblige! It was a cross country meet at Harrow International School. Many of these schools are way out in the boonies - an area we call Shunyi, near the airport. There are compounds for families to live where they never would even have to know they were in China (except for the air).

We're talking serious Desperate Housewives material out here. This is the housing - if you want a big house American style you can come live out here.

To get here we took a taxi and had our first really bad rip-off experience. It was our own fault, but he totally knew what he was doing. When he stopped for us (family of 4 westerners out at 8:00am with sports gear in tow), we got in and showed him where we were going. While looking at the directions, he raised pinkie, ring, and middle fingers which means 3. We assumed he was asking if he should take the 3rd ring road. We kind of shrugged and off we went. We got lost several times and had to do u turns on this super narrow "country lane" out in the middle of nowhere, but finally approached the school when Ivy noticed that the meter was not running! If you ever come to visit us here, make sure the meter is being used in a taxi. So you guessed it - he charged us 300 kuai for the trip which, without getting lost (his fault) should have been around 75 max. Arghh. It spoiled the next couple hours for me but now we have our story and now we know.

On to more happy thoughts - here are some pics from the cross country meet - notice again, Ivy's lack of sock coordination:

It was a brisk morning, so Greta got a chance to bundle up - her favorite thing...

Yesterday we had our first private, in-home Chinese lesson. Our teacher's name is Mary and I think we're going to really like her. I got her name from the private tutor of a friend I met and she says my pronunciation is very good, so I think we'll keep her. Every Wednesday, an hour for me and 30 minutes for each of the girls. Eric wants to get his own teacher for lunch hour at work. Mary taught me to say "tai gui le" (too expensive) so I can keep bargaining.

All for now, missing you...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Food, Chaoyang Park, Misc

Today's Alarming statistic:
565 million...
The number of people expected to be traveling on China's roads, trains, ships, and planes during the National Day Golden Week
China Daily

Oh my gosh. I had just put the finishing touches on a LOOONNNNGGG blog entry and it disappeared. How will I ever recreate it?

Well, my internet connection has been flaky lately so I will have to hope for the best.

I know I was telling about being lonely now that the girls have gone back to the books. Eric is in Shanghai again too. Luckily I don't mind being alone. Some days I go nine hours without a word to anyone other than "ni hao" or "xie xie". I do mutter to myself quite a bit though and also swear a lot while I'm riding my bike. "...don't hit me don't hit me don't hit me"

Some days I love being here though. Like yesterday when I put the girls on the school bus at 7:10am and the entire street was full of people at our little street market. I bought leeks and potatoes for our soup for dinner and spent 88 cents. That made enough soup for 2 dinners. Wow. And look how nice those leeks look!

We bought this jar not having any idea what was inside. We just liked the container and it was 17 kuai ($2.50)

So I looked up the word on the top and found out it is fermented bean curd. Soybean soaked in wine and spices forever, also known as Chinese Cheese, also known as Stinky Tofu. Well it tastes very much like blue cheese and a little bit goes a LONG WAY. But we all can tolerate it! There are lots of ways to use it so it will be fun to experiment with. And as you can see, it is "Famouse" so we had to have it!

It's dusty in our apartment. This is the only place I have not craved a southern exposure. It would show every particle of dust in thick layers on every horizontal surface. And you could dust continually here and never catch up. It's the stuff in the air and it seeps in. Now with the weather cooling off we may be able to keep windows closed and things might improve.

We biked to Chaoyang Park, a huge park in Beijing on Sunday. It is full of open spaces, lakes, amusement parks, museums, etc. etc. The girls were so excited to go on the rides, even though they were really old and faded - really from the 1950's. We were scared for them to ride on them! Check these out...

Of course Greta and Ivy loved the entire thing. They both want to have their birthday parties there.

They went on these inflatable hamster wheels in a pool.

We seriously need to bring some of these home for the boathouse. Who's in?

A word on this pool. We believe they actually use it for swimming in the summer. The water was disgusting though, so they must (we hope) drain it and fill with clean come the warm weather. In a part of the pool they had little boats with outboard motors (think oil in the pool). Whoa.

Lots of old men fly kites in the parks (or anywhere open really) and it's amazing the skill they have in getting these huge kites in the sky with little to no wind.

We saw this model shoot - she was freezing in those tiny shorts!

There is this large white, colonial looking structure which must be THE place for wedding photos for Chinese in Beijing. We saw some seriously cheesy poses...

We had lunch in the park - something we normally would never do because of course it is going to be expensive right? WRONG! We had a chicken skewer, a huge bowl of noodles, a squid skewer and a pork skewer for 24 kuai or $3.53. It filled all four of us.

Then Eric sprung for the desert skewer. They are tart apples like crab apples dipped in a liquid sugar glaze that hardens. The result sounds disgusting but is truly delicious.

This is a toilet disguised as a ladybug. They are all throughout the park and every one is super smelly.

The picture behind the girls is hand painted and looks about 1000 times better in the photo than in real life.

I forgot to post these great pictures of Drew (my nephew) getting his sidewalk hair cut during one of our bike rides.

Okay, he had to re-do it with Eric's shaver after a couple of days, but the experience was definitely worth the $1.30 the haircut cost!

Look how handsome he is! Wish he was back here with us... is anyone about to come visit soon? We need some company!

Okay, so Eric has had an awakening in the art-on-the-wall area! He found about 40 photos of random Chinese people, all in black and white, all about the same size, all mounted on wood or thick card stock. They must be company photos from the 40's or 50's. So he has put them up all around the apartment so we have lots of Chinese "friends" now.

Here are four of them... oh yes, and also our growing up girls in their fall school attire. Yes, that is Ivy with pig tails! I had to wrestle her to the ground to make that happen. Mysteriously, all the hair bands we had have disappeared! Well that's it for now. I better post this before it disappears like the last one.
Missing you!

Today's Alarming Statistic:

565 Million

The number of people expected to have been traveling on China's roads, trains, ships and planes during the National Day "Golden Week".
China Daily

Yes, the "golden week off" is over... Greta and Ivy will have to get back to hitting the books and I will be lonely for a while. It's not uncommon for me to go nine hours without talking to a single soul (other than the occasional "ni hao"). It's a really lucky thing that I don't mind being alone. But it's been great having the girls home - except when they are fighting.

Friday the girls and I had lunch out at an American style restaurant called Grandma's Kitchen. It's a chain of four restaurants in Beijing that was started by an American grandma in 2003. Drew and I had lunch there during his visit and I just knew Ivy would die for their cheeseburger and fries (and chocolate milkshake of course!)

Greta and I got caesar salads.

It was a bit of a splurge when we can feed the whole family dinner for $3.00 when we cook at home, but it was sooooo yummy!

After lunch we walked north a short distance to visit Confucius Temple. There are many Confucius temples, but the Beijing one is the second largest one. The largest is in Qufu, Shandong Province, where he came from. This is a place where people come to worship Confucius. I read that sometime in history a mandate came down that there would be no statues or paintings of Confucius because they couldn't make them all uniform (and you know how they like everything uniform in China!) But I found quite a few likenesses at the temple.

These wooden sculptures were really beautiful. I loved the one showing Confucius teaching his disciples. The wood just glowed and he looked so wise! Outside are hundreds of stone tablets listing the names of his top students, known as Jinshi. There are 51,624 names of these scholars from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing, dynasties. Also there are names of all the people who took the Imperial Examinations in this temple site.

Confucius believed that all people deserved education and that common people should be able to be leaders in the government. His ideas are behind the Imperial Examination which was a 72 hour test that anyone from any province could sit for. If they scored high enough they could be important people in government no matter how lowly their background. This method of selecting leadership was used for 1300 years - from 605 BCE to 1905 when it was abolished.

This cypress tree is over 700 years old and is called Chujianbai, or "Touch Evil" Tree because it is said to have reached down one of it's branches and knocked the hat off a corrupt official who was visiting. I'm getting one of these to bring back to Seattle!

Boy oh boy is it dusty in our Apartment. All I can say is thank goodness we face north. I've always wanted eastern and southern exposures but with all the particulates in the air here (a large percentage of which land on our horizontal surfaces) at least I can't see them quite as much without direct sunlight pouring in.

There are moments I absolutely love being here. Yesterday morning I walked the girls out to the bus for their first day back at school. I've mentioned that there is a market of everything you can imagine right on our street, right? In the morning there are lots of fruit and vegetables laid out on the sidewalk. After the bus took off I walked 20 feet and got our leeks and potatoes for soup for our dinner. It's great to be able to do that!

Oh! I almost forgot to post these great pictures of my nephew getting his hair cut on the street. We were out bike riding and happened upon a street with half a dozen barbers standing around waiting for customers on the sidewalk. Drew hopped in a chair and got this cut for 11 yuan which is about $1.62! Okay he had to re-do it with Eric's shaver a few days later but it was a fun experience...

We biked to Chaoyang Park on Sunday. It's a huge park in Beijing with several swimming pools, amusement park, kite flying areas, paths to walk around, a few museums, and probably more that we didn't see. Lots of old men fly kites there and it's amazing the skill they have in getting these huge things into the air with little to no wind.

The amusement park is a bit sad and tired with seriously old rides from the 50s like this:

Of course, to Greta and Ivy it was a paradise! They both want to have their birthday parties there. The ladybug is a toilet and there are many of them throughout the park. All smelly.

There's a pool with these blow up hamster wheels that the girls were dying to do.

They got hot and sweaty rolling around in those for about 20 minutes and had a ball. We need to get some of those for the boathouse!

We saw a model shoot at the park too. She was freezing in those little shorts.

There was this big ornate white structure which must be the place all Chinese Beijingers go to get wedding photos taken. Lots of seriously cheesy poses were taking place!