Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Visitors, Birthdays, and Christmas Prep!

Today's Alarming Statistic:
Average number of new cars hitting the roads of Beijing every day during the first week of December 2010.
China Daily Newspaper

Well Christmas is almost here and Greta and Ivy are still shaking their packages and trying to peek into the wrapping. It's pretty cool I must admit! Here is our "Chinese Christmas" family photo. This is how they pose - no kidding - for wedding photos and other special days. I'm sure you've seen it around. My dear friend Carrie said she's seen nearly the exact photo pose at her local Vietnamese restaurant!

Some sad news to report... every year since Greta was born we've had photos with Santa. Even last year here in China we were able to find a Santa! But this year we missed out. So these are going to have to do...

They ARE quite Chinese looking though, don't you think? Perhaps even better than the standard Nordstrom one we did for years.

Don't you LOVE the one with the million light bulb "Xmas" sign?

And how about that zombie-eyed elf on the Rubix Cube? Gotta love China!

Actually, these were taken at a place so similar to University Village you wouldn't believe it. The only difference is there's only one Starbucks instead of what - five? It's even called "The Village" at Sanlitun.

Let's see... Eric's parents came for a visit in October and then spent nearly three weeks in Taiwan on a birding trip.

They were great sports while we were here - you'd never believe they are 82 and 78. They're in amazing shape and walked and walked. They spend several hours at Ivy's soccer game too.

Here they are on the Great Wall.


Eric and his mom on the exercise equipment.

This type of equipment is available everywhere in Beijing. It is the older people's main activity to go out and hit the "gym" and then sit around smoking and playing mahjong with their friends.

Right after they left, our dear friend Ben Wilson come for a business trip. We took him to our FAVORITE restaurant where you can eat more delicious noodles and spicy soup than you can fit in your stomach for 50 cents. Okay the ambiance may not be all that you dreamed of but...!
We commandeered ALL his free time and even got him out on a bike.

It was so fun to show him around Beijing. He saw some of the worst and some of the best air quality while he was here. Thank goodness it cleared up after a big rain so he could see a rare blue sky. It hasn't rained a drop since he left. Last rainfall was October 22nd. We have to slather lotion on now.

The first Saturday of December Ivy had a birthday party and these are the kids who came ice skating.

Ivy's the one in the giant white earmuffs. They are a great bunch of kids. Skated for a solid three hours with breaks in and out of the "Party Room" for junk food. I can't even describe the tackiness of the party room. But they did personalize it for her!

They put a fire extinguisher at the edge of the doorframe so the door couldn't close, but it kept getting jostled and every time the door closed we had to find someone with a key to open it...

(Well actually not until the 26th of December, technically).

Recently Ivy's math teacher said, and I quote, "It's Ivy's world and we're all just living in it." So true!

We're leaving for Christmas vacation in two days. We're heading back to a small village called Xizhou in Yunnan Province in the south west of China. It lays at the foot of the Himalayas and is really beautiful with springtime weather all year round. We spent last Christmas and new year's there at a place called The Linden Centre which is a fabulous courtyard hotel meticulously restored and with very friendly, accommodating American owners. They offer an educational, experiential vacation experience by taking you on adventures in the area. I wrote about it last January and have tons of photos if you want to look back.


Miss you, love you,

Monday, December 6, 2010

Where Have I Been?

This is my mom, Alice Elizabeth Prout. Her friends called her Betty.

Mom passed away on Thanksgiving night this year. Words cannot describe how much I loved her and how terribly much I miss her. It was really difficult being so far away from her, but she always supported what Eric and I were doing. She was never a demanding person, but instead gave me her unconditional love all my life. Thank you, Mom.

Well I realize I can't tell you every single detail of every single day since I put off writing for way too long. I'm sorry! Life is still interesting here in Beijing, but I no longer feel that I see something entirely new and foreign to me each day. Now I continue to be amazed by the fact that I never know, 100 percent for SURE what will happen when I head out to do a pretty basic task.

For example, I had originally set up a bank account in late August 2009 over near Eric's office which is way across town from where we live. In China they don't allow joint accounts, so it was in my name alone. Occasionally I have to wire money to our Chinese bank account to pay for our rent and food and daily life expenses. The first time I tried this, I wired the money and about 4 days later my Chinese cell phone rang. Someone spoke to me in Chinese for a long time and at that time I didn't even know how to say "I can't understand you".

Finally I ran down to the dry cleaner lady, Vivian, who speaks decent English and had offered her help should I ever need her. I got her to call them and learned that they said I needed to go there immediately! It sounded really urgent like life or death. Well this was around 3:30 in the afternoon and the girls were coming home from school soon. At that time they didn't even have their own keys to the apartment. I was in a panic. I told Vivian to tell them I couldn't come right then. They said I could come after they closed and that I should bang hard on the metal pull down door and they'd come and let me in!

You have to understand that getting across town in Beijing at 5:00 is just enough to make you want to commit suicide. It would have taken me over an hour to get there once I found a taxi and then another hour home at least. I decided not to panic and told Vivian to let them know I couldn't make it that day but would go the next day.

Proud of myself for taking a deep breath, I contacted a Chinese colleage of Eric's who had helped us negotiate with our landlord when we first arrived. She agreed to meet me the next day and go to the bank with me. I trekked over to the west side of Beijing, met Jessica and we went to the bank where I had opened my account right outside Eric's office. Once inside, we took a number and waited 25 minutes for out turn at the teller window. Jessica explained the phone call and I pulled out my bank book and passport. They then informed me that they can not deal in foreign currency transactions because they are a "new" branch and there's some rule that they must wait a year or some such thing to perform currency exchanges!

Can you imagine if I had run all the way across town, pounded on the metal roll down door after hours, and muddled through with my dictionary trying to understand what was going on just to be told they can't convert my US Dollars into Renminbi?

Luckily Jessica had more time and we walked 15 minutes to another more established branch of the bank. Again, got a number and again waited 30 minutes or so. Finally the transaction was performed and my bank account was flush. The rent was paid and we lived to see another day.

As soon as I was recovered from this and willing to see the interior of another bank branch (maybe 2 weeks later) I went to the branch of my bank in the neighborhood where we live and made friends with the manager there. She speaks a tiny bit of English and now I can speak a bit of Chinese so we're buddies and she gives me VIP treatment. I closed my account across town and re-opened it here.

Once that was accomplished, the wire transfers were working just fine UNTIL... a week ago. For some reason the last wire came through but was not converted from US Dollars into Renminbi... ughhhh. Back to the bank I went only to be told that I had reached my yearly limit for converting money. Yikes! We're going on vacation in December and have hardly any cash! But Eric has since opened his own bank account so we decided to just transfer the dollars into his account and then they can convert it in his account. OH, NO! That's far too simple. We had to make three trips in all to accomplish this one. Had to bring our original marriage certificate in along with tons of other documentation. Even with my buddy manager it took well over an hour at the bank.

This is they type of thing I'm talking about. The simplest things can end up taking all day and I really feel helpless so much of the time.

Last year the H1-N1 Virus forced Greta and Ivy's school to re-arrange some of their plans. Each year, usually at the beginning of the year, all the students have Experience China Week. This is designed to show the international students something about the host country they are living in. Because of the virus last year, Ivy and Greta's ECW was postponed until last April. Ivy went to Pingyao, an ancient city in Shangxi Province. It's about 4 hours from Beijing and they took a train to get there.

These are just a few of the HUNDREDS of pictures Ivy took!

This is Ivy and her best friend Lian. Lian is Chinese with Dutch parents. She speaks fluent Dutch, English, and getting there with Mandarin. She is a great friend to Ivy!

............................................................The kids watched a noodle
...........................................................making demonstration....

This is the courtyard hotel where they
stayed. It was rainy the entire week they were there and there is no heat in these places, so it was a bit chilly!

That didn't stop them from doing lots of walking and hiking.

Climb to a Temple

Ancient Pingyao rooftops

LOOK OUT, LIAN!!!!!!!!!!!

Greta's grade went to a gorge in a canyon to the northwest of Beijing. They camped in tents and did a lot of hiking.

This is where Greta's group stayed for part of their trip.

Lots and lots of hiking through the dry hills. At this point we had had no rain for over six months!

It really is SOOOOOOOO dry throughout the winter in this part of China. We haul out the humidifier around Thanksgiving and it runs until late May. Otherwise we get electric shocks all day long.

Pagodas on Greta's trip.

If you ever wonder just how difficult it is living in a foreign country where you can understand very little, this should give you a good idea!

This is a giant escalator in the shape of a dragon on a hill. They rode it up and hiked around up high.

The girl in the middle was Greta's best friend last year, Angela Lee. She moved away in the summer and Greta misses her terribly. It's great to make good friends but tough to say goodbye as people move on in the expat lifestyle. We tell the girls these are contacts they will keep forever and if they want to travel anywhere in the world they'll always have a place to stay. Plus, with the internet the world seems much smaller anyway.

Okay you are now brought up to May 2010. I'll post this now and try to do another one soon.

Love you and miss you all,
Park, Eric, Greta and Ivy