Transitions

It is pretty widely known among the expat world that repatriation is often harder than expatriation.  You sort of brace yourself for it…but never the less, you are never truly prepared for it.

It has been a difficult couple of months.  We have had to prepare our house to receive our shipment of items from China.  When our things were packed up in China, we knew it was going to be bad when the grand total came up to 191 boxes of goods we were shipping home.  191 boxes – that is an entire household worth of items.  When we already had a house full of things the notion that we were bringing another household worth of more things into our house, gave rise to panic and urgency to figure out our house.  Therefore, the first few weeks we were here consisted of us preparing our house for our shipment.

We had to go through each kid’s room and clear out clothes that were too small, toys that were out grown and even sorting and putting away boxes from our previous move.  All of this is a stressful, tiring process.

When our shipment did get here – it was extremely overwhelming.  Due to insurance claims, most of the boxes were emptied by moving people upon arrival.  Every flat surface of my living room, kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms had items strewn all about.  We worked on setting up the kids’ rooms and kitchen first…but it was still a day or two before I found my kitchen again and a few more before we had put the kids’ rooms in order.

Moving is a stressful process, but I don’t think anyone ever really grasps or knows how hard an international move truly is until they have been through one.  On top of having to sort and resort and make decisions on what stays and what goes, we are all going through the many emotions of leaving our expat life and culture behind as we adjust to our new lives.

For the first four weeks, every time we left the house, my Peanut would think we would be leaving to go back to China.  Screaming every time we showed up back at home.  As he does not have enough words to express his emotions, he started squawking every time he was upset or angry – which was and still is quite often.

Bear still doesn’t sleep all night, still wakes up with night terrors, and still wishes he was at his school in China.   Thankful, little by little, day by day he is starting to adjust, but some days are still very rough on him.

Bell has had a rough go of starting at a new school and trying to make new friends.  This has been a very heart breaking challenge for her and us as making friends here is not the same or as easy as it was in China.  At the international school she went to in China, almost all of the children were going through the exact same things and experiences that she was.  Friends were made very quickly and very easily as they all shared so many common experiences.  They all knew what it felt like to be homesick for family in far away countries, they all were accepting and helpful of each other because you had to do that to survive in a foreign land, and they knew what it was like experience each others cultures and celebrate the differences.  Here, some classmates have been friends for a very long time, some classmates have never moved, and some classmates do not share the same worldly views as Bell was used to.  So when Bell decided that she did not want or like to go to school it was heart breaking and even more heart breaking when she came home in tears because she had only made three friends at school.  Bell was doing her very best to keep it together all day at school, but would break down as soon as she crossed the threshold of our home.  Bell is slowly starting to make new friends and feel like she fits in, but it has been a huge frustrating process for her.

I am happy to report we are all doing better, but life has truly been a challenge in so many more ways than I could have imagined since we have moved back.  We still get homesick, we still cry when we video chat Ayi, we still break down when all we want to do is go home to China but are realizing it won’t happen.  We are mourning our culture we shared with so many others in the same boat as we were.  We are trying to find ourselves in this new culture that is familiar and yet unfamiliar all at the same time.

We will make it…we are a strong family unit.  We just wish it was easier…we take life little by little, day by day, and a new normal is nicely starting to appear.  Praise God.

Hi Y’all

We have officially moved back Stateside…and all I can say is….wow this is what working internet feels like.  What!?!?!?! I can actually type and see what I’m typing…there isn’t a lag….oh no sudden blank page?….THIS IS AMAZING!  You have no idea just how frustrating not having proper working internet is until you experience it.  BE THANKFUL!!!! But on the plus side….I’ve been trained not to have to check facebook a thousand times a day.

So you may be wondering how are things?  Right now, all I can say is that they are going…. there are days we are so very homesick for China and there are days where all we want to do is eat cheeseburgers and hot dogs.

I’ve been a busy bee trying to prepare for my shipment….do you remember one of the first posts…well…it turned out being only 111 boxes of items we shipped to China…and if you really recollect a huge portion of that was diapers.  Well, we ended up shipping 191 boxes back…which is pretty much the equivalent to an entire household (and I think only one of the boxes coming back is diapers).  But when you already have an entire household in the US and another one is set to arrive at your house (most likely this week), you sort of go into a panic.

According to our shipping people…our shipment is in Chicago…which means that most likely it will be here sometime this week.

Well, Loves….I will continue the blog…cause knowing us there is always more adventures in store….but right now it’s off to bed as I have more items on my to do list than I have time.   I also have a quite a few amazing recipes I would absolutely love to share as well.

P.S.  Please feel free to ask any questions you so desire…I have a long line of partial posts that I will probably try to turn into blogs….now that it is much easier to actually blog.

Hard Adjustments

It has been a difficult journey for our family ever since returning from vacation in the States over Chinese New Year.  Our trip home was great and time truly flew by.  Yet as great as our trip was, there are times that we question if we should have even gone home at all.

The night before we were supposed to fly out Bear made himself physically sick with anxiety about returning home.  Then upon actually returning to China his behavior and demeanor changed completely.  It was as if he was losing his spirit.  He refused to eat and barely ate anything for an entire two weeks.  He would scream and break down at anything or for seemingly nothing.  He spent a lot of time hiding under his bed.  He has always been highly sensitive to change and any change positive or negative stresses him out.  There were several points where as a parent, I knew if things didn’t change quickly then we were going to be looking at hospitalization and in more trouble than we already were in regards to Bear’s health.  It is heart wrenching watching your child spiral down a downward path and feeling like there is nothing you can do to help him.

After a lot of research and reading online we discovered that the trip back caused Bear to experience a downward spiral into a major depression.  Once we put words to what is going on with Bear we could work to figure out how to best help Bear out.

We first tried to contact SOS International – a health organization tailored to expats.  In our little neck of the woods, our community is only able to support a small clinic serviced by doctors on a rotating basis.  So if you need anything serious done or major help, you have to go to the SOS in Beijing.  I tried to make an appointment with a psychologist there but they responded that the doctor was completely booked with patients and we could try and get on a waiting list.  Next we tried to get Bear seen at the clinic here and have the doctor here push through a recommendation.  Even though the doctor agreed to push Bear though to a specialist, it never panned out.  You would think when a mother of a three year old has asked for help multiple times – someone would listen or help.

Next I contacted the United Family Health Care in Tianjin.  They had a psychologist who was finally willing to meet with us only after I explained our situation.

While we were waiting on professional help, we worked really hard on trying to have good moments and good experiences for Bear.  Maybe it was special pool time with dad or getting to run an errand with me.  We took time to celebrate little wins and little victories of happiness in his upside-down world.  Little by little, day by day, Bear started to come out of his depression.

The day that Bear and I met the doctor, Bear was actually doing pretty well and on an up swing.  The doctor asked us if we played with Bear – which of course we do, but instead of helping facilitate play to take a step back and listen to his play.  Other than that the doctor said he showed no signs of anxiety while we were there – which didn’t help much, but he gave me his cell phone number so that I could text him when something was up with Bear.

The next day at home I sat next to Bear and just listened.  I was completely taken back by what I heard.  Everything he played with, be it cars, his castle, his pirate ship, rearranging blankets in our bedroom in a house, or rearranging the couch cushions for play, shared the central theme of house.  I knew he played house with the blankets and couch, but it didn’t resonate with me until I sat down and counted how many times we had played house in an afternoon.  A sense of home is obviously extremely important to Bear yet somewhere and somehow we have failed in keeping his world safe and secure to him.  And as I reread the previous sentence all I can think of is ‘well duh we moved to China!’

I don’t think living here is home to Bear.  This whole ordeal has been heartbreaking, but to realize that Bear doesn’t truly feel like this is home is eye opening.  So then comes the question – how do we make this place home for Bear?  How are our actions and words reflecting in his attitude to living here?  (which is an immensely important question as living here is challenging for all of us!)

We are still working on the answers.  One thing in which every professional (pediatrician, SOS clinic doctor, and psychiatrist) we talked to recommended was putting Bear in kindergarten/preschool.  Unfortunately this has proven more challenging than ever.  We keep having set backs out of our control and it has been frustrating trying to get Bear into school.  This school we picked is the perfect fit for him which is why we have not enrolled him in another school.  Fingers crossed and prayers that things get worked out soon!  Bear is actually looking forward to school and cannot wait to go.

The reason why I wanted to share this with you is that it was completely eye opening having a child with depression.  We did not understand what Bear was going through was depression until we were desperate, trying to find help for him.  Depression is diagnosed in 2% of toddlers and is unfortunately on the rise.  Unfortunately there is not a lot of research out there yet.  I have a couple of books on the way that explore the topics of expatriate living and the struggles that children face in an expatriate situation as well as a couple of books on childhood depression, and a book for siblings that help explain what depression is and why it looks like we are treating their brother differently.

Transitions and life changes may always be a struggle for Bear, but we as his parents are more prepared to help him through these changes.  Yes, we still question whether or not we should visit home this summer or how he is going to be when he actually gets to start school, but we will try to make each new change as positive as possible.  We are very aware that something can trigger another depression in Bear, but next time we will be more prepared to help him.

 

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everyone!  We have been busy busy busy!  Spring is finally starting to spring here in Teda, which means full blown allergies for this girl.  The cherry blossoms are out and the temperatures are becoming increasingly more consistent in warming up.  Today was a beautiful clear day.

We hosted Easter Mass this morning.  It was wonderful!  There were around 20 of us in attendance.  I find Mass to be very special here as it is always in someone’s home.  We have a Colombian couple that sing all of our hymns in Spanish, most of us take turns with the readings, and the children are often asked to participate in someway during the Mass.  Mass is very intimate with such a small group!  The large Catholic Cathedral in Tianjin is over an hour away, and we are fortunate enough to have Fr. Rindo come and visit us once a month and on special occasions for Mass in Teda.  Fr. Rindo often reminds us that this is how the early Christians worshiped before churches were built.  As it is Easter, we Catholics renew our baptismal vows to God.  Just as water is used in baptisms, holy water was sprinkled over us.  As we do not have all the tools an actual Church does, Fr. Rindo decided a pastry brush and a glass mixing bowl worked just fine.

After Mass we had a pot luck lunch.  As we are a very diverse community, the dishes brought to share were equally diverse.  It amazes me how a common religion can bring a group of people together, to create a bond between members that becomes so familiar.  Not always do we share a meal after Mass, but this time, and because it was Easter, it was very important to me that we did.  These wonderful people are my family in faith here.  By sharing food you get to know people just a little bit more as conversations arise.

After our meal, we held an Easter egg hunt for the kids.  We sent JD and Bryan down to hide the eggs then the rest of the group came down to watch the hunt!  I always enjoy watching the hunt – especially with the little ones.  The is the first time Bear actually understood what was going on and I think it is safe to say he had a fabulous time.  After the last egg was found, we headed back in for more great conversation and before too long Fr. Rindo had the kids arm wrestling.  I cannot tell you how much having this wonderful community has helped me personally with living here.

Tomorrow is actually Easter Sunday.  We will be having brunch with our neighbors as well as Warner and Baron (our New Chinese friends – the ones that took us to the Ukulele demonstration).  I made homemade cinnamon rolls.  It has been a pretty great holiday so far even being so far from family and friends!  Happy Easter everyone!  (I have to get to bed so the Easter Bunny can come!)

Happy Chinese New Year: Year of the Monkey!

I apologize for this post being late.  Between visitors, apartment problems, school break, and new baby I have not had a chance to publish this post about Chinese New Year.  Technically the Chinese are still celebrating even though work and school have started back up.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy:

Happy Chinese New Year!!!!  We celebrated the Chinese New Year at the Renaissance Hotel (our home away from home) thanks to another leak in our apartment.  We actually had a pretty dang good view of the fireworks from our executive apartment.  There were fireworks going off all night, starting early in the evening and waning during the early morning hours.   Fireworks are rather inexpensive here, so as you glanced out over the city skyline you could see many large firework displays at one.  Some were rather close to the hotel and would go off right outside the window.  I’m not sure I have ever seen so many fireworks in the air over such an extended period of time.  Unlike the Fourth of July in the States where towns put on large firework shows, businesses and individuals light their own fireworks.  Also unlike the States fireworks are lit off in the middle of streets.

This morning after breakfast, the hotel hosted traditional Chinese dancers to welcome in the New Year and bless the hotel (or bring good luck in the new year with lion dancers paying homage to one of the gods and warding off bad spirits and giving blessings to the hotel, staff and visitors).  It was fantastic to watch.  We had the opportunity to ask Fiona more about it.   The large gold boat looking object is actually a representation of what the Chinese currency used to be.  Depending on status and wealth the ‘boat’ could be gold or silver and it could also very in size (the larger the heaver and more valuable).  This would also denote class as rulers and upper nobility (per say) would have gold, business and trade smiths would most likely be able to obtain silver, and peasants would use coinage.  The character at the hotel represented good fortune and wealth to be spread throughout the hotel.

This past Friday we visited the Ancient Chinese Culture Street in Tianjin.  Walking down Culture Street right before New Year reminded me of the festive atmosphere surrounded by the anticipation leading up to Christmas.  Street vendors were out selling their wears.  You could purchase small animals made of bent palm branches, carved whistles, paintings, carvings, tea pots and tea sets, hats, scarves, toys, Chinese New Year decor, and much much more.

Ancient Culture Street Tianjin

It was rather chilly, but still enjoyable as we strolled along the street.  We came to a cross roads per say and there was a massive area set up with vendors selling New Years items including lots of signs and cut outs to hang in doorways and windows.  There was also a sugar artist creating different Chinese characters out of melted sugar.  The creations were amazing! This was a high light for the kids (both Chinese and my own).  According to Fiona this very traditional and the Chinese children look forward to having a sugar sculpture made for them each year.  We got a panda and Bear was lucky enough to have a small bird made just for him.

We also tried a traditional Chinese dish from a street vendor.  It was recommended we try this particular type of dish by one of JD’s colleagues.  I wish I knew what the proper name of it was.  It was served hot (which was nice as it was chilly) and it was almost like very sweetened finer porridge.  A few of the things I could pick out in it were dried fruits and sesame seeds.  I’m so glad we tried it – it is hard to describe but interesting all the same.

trying a traditional dish

A Case of the Blues….

I apologize in advance, but I’m in a bit of a rambling mood.  Yesterday was good.  I went to Beijing to pick up Newbie’s passport.  I had Fatburger for lunch – which is probably the closest thing to a great American fast food staple you can get here.  Note all the delicious juiciness: Fatburger I must say that I ate slowly, savoring every bite – which sort of backfired as I could not finish the excellent ‘fat’ fries.   Then I headed to the Pearl Market for some speed shopping where I picked up an amazing antique basket.  I have never seen a basket like this before and I just love it!  Then it was Sam’s club and then home. Just in case you were wondering our U.S. Sam’s card works here.  The store itself is similar – just more Chinese in flavor.

 Here is the basket!  I’m using it to store blankets in by the sofa.blanket basket

Yet as I am sitting here typing about a fun day, homesickness is starting to creep into my my being and a melancholy mood is setting in.  Looking out the window doesn’t help as it is becoming rather smoggy and increasingly grey.  I just finished my Chinese lesson for today and am no smarter or wiser in Chinese than when I started.  Thank you lack of sleep!  My ears lack the phonemic awareness that is needed differentiate between the ‘u’ and umlaut-ed ‘u’ (which is not truly an umlaut).  Not to mention the four different Chinese tones that set my head spinning.  Ah, Little Bear just awoke – I’ll take the snuggles!

Any bout of homesickness is hard, but I think when your kids have it and they cannot express that they have it, it is even harder.  Our kids have not had the easiest or smoothest move over here.  Yet they have done well enough given the circumstances.  I’m not sure when the last time it was that Bear slept all night.

I am starting to think a large portion of the kids’ homesickness is from the lack of our extended families.  Back home grandparents played such a large and important role in our kids lives that in moving so far away has left a gaping hole in our family’s sense of home and security.  This has been the longest my kids have been away from their grandparents.  We were used to seeing both sets of grandparents approximately once a month.  We use Skype on a regular basis to talk to them, but as human contact such as hugging, kissing, and snuggling is missing – it’s just not the same.

I also think it is fair to say that we miss non-city life.  My kids miss playing in the snow, grass, fresh air…all that fun stuff, but I also think we miss quiet, freedom from depending on assistance, and sights other than city lights.  Sometimes I even wonder if my kids feel like the miss the ability to blend in with their peers.

Julie and I often talk about how life can be so different here.  For instance, I feel like I am never truly satisfied food wise here.  I do not know what it is, but it feels like I have a craving for something that I just cannot put my finger on.  Well, I take that back, I would really enjoy a nice juicy steak right now, but that is not going to happen for another five months.  Maybe it is the lack of red meat in our diets that is causing the feeling of never being satisfied.  Don’t get me wrong, we will enjoy an amazing Chinese meal, but at the end  of it I always seem to be wanting something more.  If I new what that something was – I would not be going this crazy.  I will say that I have baked more in the past few months than I have probably have in the past year in the States.  I think I’m searching for that something and still coming up short.  Maybe it’s lack of dairy too?  Oh well – if I ever figure it out – I will let you know!

I was talking to JD the other night about how I just feel the need to escape for a little while.  I don’t know where to but its almost as if we all need a little break.  Thankfully, JD’s parents will be here soon.  We may take them up into the mountains near here – which I really hope we do as it may be just the escape we all need to renew ourselves.

Sky, Grass, and Smog

So I know it has not been that long, but Bear gave me something to blog about today.  I love that little guy! His actions today gave me something to ponder…..

We have been fighting smoggy weather for a while.  If you read my last post, you will know how much I dislike it, but let me just say it again.  Smog sucks – I do not like to use fowl language, but if I simply said smog stinks I would be stating more of a fact than an opinion.  We miss blue sky. For those of you at home and have seen a blue sky in the past month please know that we are envious over here.  Take time to appreciate the joy of throwing your head back taking a deep breath of fresh air, enjoy the sent, and soaking up the warmth of the sun on your face! We have had friends show pictures of their house back in the States and they had their Chinese co-workers ask if the sky was photo-shopped!  All the crystal clear sky pictures you see in books of the major cities in China are photo-shopped.  

This morning was a rather clearish morning.  There was some haze, but no where near what we have now (see picture).  I decided to take the kids out.  We have been having some serious cabin fever around here.  As it looked decent enough to play outside for a little while, we left our Newbie with ayi and seized the opportunity to burn off some energy.

smoggy day

Both kids were excited to be outdoors.  When we got to the play area, they went wild!  As a mom looking at the play equipment, I cringed.  It was disgustingly dirty.  Okay – so no fingers in the mouths and we can stay outside and play.  Then when we get back in the kids are immediately taking off shoes (which is custom here) and pants and washing their hands until they are good and squeaky clean.  Normally it is custom to remove shoes when visiting any home in China.  We have certainly come accustomed to it as our shoes immediately come off when you step inside the door.  Smog is why.  Smog makes everything outside dirty, dusty, and nasty.  You do not want it dragged through your home.  It is also why ayi washes the floors every day.  It is the reason why we spent a small fortune on air purifiers.  There is no longer a five second rule at our house.  If food hits the floor – sorry – you are out of luck.

This is how dirty Bear's hand got just from playing on the play equipment!
This is how dirty Bear’s hand got just from playing on the play equipment!

Back to Bear! The kiddos played and played, ran and ran, and then Bear did something that I almost stopped him for.  He went to play in the grass. Our apartment complex generally frowns on not keeping to the paths -there are signs posted in Chinese and English everywhere to stay off the grass.  The security guard was even eyeing me pretty hard.  As I was opening my mouth to say something to him…a little voice inside said, no just watch.  Bear played by running around the grass, going from tree to tree – hugging each one as he went.  Then he sat down and ran his fingers along it, pulling at it, feeling/remembering what it is like to simply feel grass.  He was on the grass side of the play area more than he was actually on the playground.  Please note this grass is grass in winter – rough, dry with very few truly green patches.

Bear outside 2

Bear outside Vantone

Living in the U.S., we took clean air, blue sky, and nice grass for granted.  We miss the ability to go outside, take your shoes off – to feel soft, green grass between your toes, the smell of leaves in the fall, cut grass, birds chirping and singing.  Sights, sounds, and smells that you do not think much about until they are gone become sorely missed.

Q & A

Baby news? In baby news we are doing great.  Our beautiful son decided, quite on his own, to join our family on December 5.  He literally broke his own water with a very hefty kick and 12 hours later he was born into this world.  He is an amazing snuggle bug, loves to sleep, and at three weeks old still swims in his new born clothes.  (Knock on wood) he seems to be a very chill baby.  After he gets a bath his hair naturally stands up in a Mohawk .  He looks a lot like Sis did when she was born – many of the same facial structures and features.  He has beautiful blue eyes (I hope he keeps) and both of his siblings absolutely adore him!

When am I coming home for a visit? I will be home from the middle of June to end of July/early August.  JD will have to work, so for a large portion of the duration it will just be the kids and me.

What’s it like giving birth in China compared to the U.S.?   Good question.  I’ve decided after giving birth in China – I would never recommend it to anyone.  JD and I have discussed many a time how we feel that the private hospital where I gave birth is decades behind the U.S. United Family Healthcare is the premiere private hospital in Tianjin (China’s fourth largest city).  To give you an idea, only the elite Chinese are able to afford to go there.  The cost of labor and delivery is very comparable to the U.S. (we have to pay upfront, each time we use their services and then submit a receipt to insurance for reimbursement).  The hospital prides itself on it’s ‘western’ practices.  I’m not sure though how many births like mine the hospital experiences.  Both Bear and Sis were delivered naturally – and I’ve never had an epidural.  So when I told this hospital I wanted a natural birth, more than one nurse and doctor tried to discourage it, asking time and time again whether or not I was sure and if I would sign the consent for an epidural for later on – if I needed one.  One of the options for pain medications during labor was laughing gas (which yes, I did end up using – though I’m not sure it made a difference).  This was a rather difficult labor as my body was not quite ready to give birth to him (my cervix had not even softened yet when my water broke).  So when the going got tough, the doctor and midwife immediately jumped to ‘lets have a C section.’  I on the other hand, just wanted to be left alone, to birth the way that was most natural to me.  Things got a little intense and I ended up calling my amazing midwife back in the States, waking her up and having her consult as things were not going as planned.  Finally one of the head doctors of the hospital (the doctor I had been seeing for all of my prenatal check ups) walked in and things immediately changed.  She told me that I did not look happy and that I could kick out anyone in the room that was not making me happy.  Which I did not do, however, it gave me back the power to labor in the positions I wanted, instead of in bed tied to a fetal monitor.  Things moved rather quickly from that point on and before I knew it I was holding a beautiful baby boy.

So let me back track and explain a little about births in China.  Almost all of the babies delivered in China are via C section (unless someone goes into labor early – and even then I’m sure there is a high probability of being a C section.  Due to the fact that there are so many people here, public hospitals do not have the time or the space to let women birth naturally.  Therefore to keep women having babies moving, C sections are scheduled and these women and babies are pushed through the system.  If you want to have any shot at a natural birth you have to go to a private hospital.  I’m also guessing that most Chinese women who give birth at a private hospital probably elect to have an epidural, just from the way I was treated when refusing to sign a consent form to have one.

Recovering at the hospital in Tianjin was also a lot different than recovering from birth in the U.S.  It was much nicer!  I had a nurse check on me and my baby only a few times a day instead of every two hours (maybe I scared them off during labor)!  For the majority of my time I was left alone to enjoy my baby and recover in peace.  I had to stay in the hospital three days after giving birth (so as I gave birth on Saturday, I was not allowed to go home until Tuesday).  I was ready to go home on Sunday – but didn’t buck the system.  So when Tuesday morning came, I think I freaked the nurses out when I requested that the discharge process get rolling.  The hospital was not ready for us to be discharged, so my hopeful let us be out of here by 10am turned into a grateful I made it out of there by 1pm.  I’ve been told by Fiona that most Chinese women want to stay in the hospital a month after they give birth (no thanks).  I’m guessing that as I was at the private hospital, most Chinese women actually stay a bit longer as the hospital makes more money the longer they stay.

Is the air pollution in Beijing as bad as they show on television? Yes, yes, and then some!  Smog is nasty, smelly, and disgusting.  The air becomes heavy and thick.  When it is super bad it becomes hard to breath when you are outside.  Unfortunately it is the time of year where we experience it way too much.  Just to give you an idea how bad it is, I’m staring out my window and cannot see the buildings a block away.  The air quality is so bad that we do not go outside unless we really need to and we try our best to keep our children inside.  We do have masks to wear when we do go out – especially if we have to walk somewhere (which we avoid doing during these times).  Last time when it rained and it was this smoggy, the rain was a dirty gray-black.  The roads looked as though they were covered in grease.  (When it was snowing beautiful big snowflakes when we were in Beijing, we would not let the kids catch them on their tongues because it is China and you don’t know what is in the snow).

Smog also shuts down roads.  Any major high way is shut down because I guess it is unsafe to drive on really smoggy days.  We ran into this problem on Monday as we tried to go to the U.S. embassy to apply for our Newbie’s passport.  We had to turn around and come back home as the smog was bad and the roads were closed.  There were even two nights this past week that the smog was so bad it was like a white out and you could not even see the buildings next to ours.  Needless to say our air purifiers run 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

What seemingly innocent action performed by you or the kids has earned the most stares (besides just being American)?  Not wearing enough clothes or what is considered warm enough clothes when it is cold out.  I’ve been chided on two different occasions by different Chinese women that I have not been dressed warm enough for the weather.  The first time we were waiting for our shipment and the second time I was hot and did not wear a scarf.  I got looks today as I walked through IKEA without a coat.  Chinese like it warm (think toasty 76 degrees).  We on the other hand still have our air conditioners on.

What Chinese custom caught you most off guard? I think the custom that caught us most off guard is the way the Chinese pay no attention to personal space.  This goes hand in hand with how they push and shove to get on trains.  You can be standing in a checkout line with only one other person behind you and the person behind you gets as close as they possibly can to you.  It drives us crazy.  You want to be like back off but it just doesn’t happen.

How do you communicate with the local people as you are in the process of learning Chinese?  We use a lot of hand gestures, facial expressions and finger pointing.  On a day to day basis I interact with our driver and ayi.  With our driver, I have been instructed to send him a text in English and he will use an app to translate it to Chinese.  We’ve had less confusion this way as before when we were using an app to translate and then send, there was more lost in translation.  I tend to try to be clear and use few words when I send him a text.  So far everything has worked out well for us.

Our new ayi has worked with Western families for the past 10+ years.  She knows some English and she works on communicating with us by speaking what English she knows and speaking Chinese rather slowly to us while moving and pointing to objects she is talking about.  She also has a list of common foods  (produce and meat) that she keeps in our kitchen.  So when she is planning a meal or going to the store, I can show her what we like and she will buy foods that we will eat.  Or if I’m looking for something specific I can point out what I want her to buy.  Our ayi shops at the Tongu Markets which are where locals buy a lot of their foods.  This is wonderful for us as many of the foods are priced better than what you would find in the super markets where we shop.

Any other communication issues we have with anyone, be it driver, ayi, or whomever, we call Fiona.  Fiona will then either call or talk to that person on the phone and then translate for us.  Fiona has also called and ordered McDonald’s for us (yes they deliver here) as well as set up of phones to be able to have Papa John’s delivered – where we can order in English.

If you wake up and find you are out of something you need, what do you do?  I debate how much I really need what I don’t have and then decide from there.  A lot of the non perishable basics (toothpaste, diapers, wipes, soap, etc.) we have a huge stock of – this also goes for vitamins and  drugs.  So usually the only things that we run out of are baking supplies and or food items.  At this point I have two options.  I can either call Julie and see if I can barrow something or walk across the street to the very overpriced grocery store at the mall and over pay for what I need.  If it is something I need for dinner, then I often either decide it is a breakfast night and fix scrambled eggs and wait until I go to the store the next day to pick up what I don’t have. If it is a week day, I can text my driver and have him take me somewhere, this usually takes a little more planning though.

How convenient is it to just go to the market?  In all honesty it’s not too bad.  I usually go shopping during the week after school drop off in the morning.  Most shops do not open until 9, so I often drop off the boys at home with the ayi and have our driver take me to the store.  Our new ayi also shops for us too.  She will have our driver take her to the Chinese markets and any other store she needs to go to buy what is on her list.  I do really miss having the freedom to hop in our own car and drive myself to where I want to go, however I would never want to drive in China.  The Chinese have a much different style of driving compared to the West.  It can be uncomfortable even cross the street.

How do you shop for food?  It depends on which market or store I’m going to for what I need.  The Tongu markets are more of a challenge for me.  I have only been there once and not as comfortable going there as it is very Chinese.   I can pick most items ups at Jusco or Tesco (think the equivalent of Walmart).  These places often have a small selection of Western foods, but they also supply the basics such as bread, eggs, milk, etc.  If you are really looking for a specific Western food item, such as cheese you go to Times – the Western grocery store (and be prepared to spend an arm and a leg) for whatever you need or have a craving for.  We buy most of our meat at the German butcher because it is all imported from Germany (again you pay for it) but we’ve also had some of the best chicken breasts we ever had from here.  Oh, yes, we have our water delivered as well as juice and beer.  Whenever we are out, we have our ayi order more.

Tongu Market:Tongu Market

Things here (U.S.) that say made in China are many times cheap.  Are things in China cheap — except for exports?  JD and I have a saying – things in China are shiny on the outside, crap in the inside.  This seems to have proven time and time again for us.  China is a society where things are not meant to last.  Take houses and residential buildings for example.  When we visited back in March we toured the Royal Palace – which is basically a small residential area of town houses and/or individual homes.  Just glancing down the street there were a couple of homes torn down and they were working on rebuilding – they were only ten years old.  We live in a high rise filled with million dollar apartments.  At first glance they look shiny and luxurious, however upon closer look (after living in one for a while) you start to notice how the marble is not completely grouted in the shower.  When they have to fix something in a wall or ceiling its not patched to our Western standards.  The front elevator has been broken for two months now with no signs of fixing it any time soon.  There is a room in the basement of this building full of broken marble and tile that does not appear to be going anywhere any time soon.  Nothing is made to last.  So if something breaks you throw it out and buy new.  I think this is why many exports are much more expensive – because they are required to meet much higher standards and can come under scrutiny by Western consumers!

 

Life’s complications X5

This is what JD and I have decided that living in China is:  It is taking something that is normally not very complicated at all or something that may be a minor hick up and you proceed to amplify it five times and that is what it is like living in China.  Because lets face it nothing is ever simple here.  Remember busted water pipes that were plastic and buried in cement between our floor and the ceiling below us (which equaled a three week stint at a hotel)?  Lately it seems like it has been one thing after another and we cannot catch a break.  For instance, our key cards are currently not working to get into our apartment or the fact that the back elevator was not working this morning.  So you could go down the front elevator but not back up as you can only get back up with a key card.  We are on the 22nd floor and at this stage in the game I’m not about to climb 22 flights of stairs.

Today was supposed to be the day we got our shipment.  It was supposed to be delivered at 9:00 this morning.  So as 10:00 rolls around, a representative from the moving company comes to our door telling us that it will be 11:00 am before we get it because the fuel lines in the truck froze due to cold weather.  Okay fine – 2 hours delayed now.  Then 11:00 rolls around and they have now fixed the fuel lines but still no shipment because they have to take the newly fixed truck and pick up our shipment from the port and there is a traffic jam.  Now our said shipment should be here by 2:00 pm (if it does arrive today – I’m starting to have my doubts!)…

I just got a text from Sis’ teacher that they will be taking the kids outside to play in the snow.  Snow by the way is very rare here – so when there is an inch of snow, other parents want their children to go out at recess and play in it!  Parent of the year award is headed my way (oh how I wish there was a font for sarcasm) as my poor child does not have gloves, the pair of mittens I did buy her are in my purse and she has no boots.  Have I mentioned that all of our winter clothes and gear is in our shipment?

…Thankfully our shipment did arrive by 1:45 and oh the chaos that did ensue.  An itty bitty Chinese girl named Shirley knocks on our back door and hands us a sheet full of numbers.  She then proceeds to tell us that there were 113 items/boxes on our shipment and tells me to start marking the boxes down as she calls off the numbers.  Hmmm…okay.  So then she wants to know which room each box goes in in which we explain that that is not happening as Bear just got down from a nap and no one is taking any boxes down the hall.  There is a reason we call him Bear and everyone knows that you let a sleeping bear lie.  We convince the workers to start piling boxes in the living room.  Part way through the delivery the movers decide that it is time to get some of the boxes out of the way by unpacking them.  Please note these movers have been downstairs waiting for the shipment since 10:00 am.  They want to get in and out (which I get).  So now I have four Chinese men going through all of my things and half the time they do not even ask where something belongs – they just take it to whatever room or space they feel like and place it in a pile.  I’m trying to make heads and tails out of everything and before I know it more boxes arrive and the process repeats itself.  Two and a half hours later our apartment looks like a tornado deposited our shipment and now that Bear is awake and Sis is home from school the chaos continues.  I forgot to mention that the back elevator that has worked part of the time as decided to no longer work so now I have movers waiting by the back door as well as moving items in the front.  Oh, and the movers that packed us seemed to have done a less than stellar job as diapers were placed in hanging wardrobe boxes – instead of clothing, which were placed in horizontal wardrobes.  This has left suits, dresses, coats, and many other articles of clothing completely crushed.  Much of my sewing items that were packed in neat bags by yours truly was randomly dumped out of their bags and into boxes. Grrr!

So with everything out of it’s box, the movers are ready to leave but as I’ve been keeping track of the numbered boxes, I note that one box is missing.  No one is leaving until that box is accounted for – according to Shirley.  Shirley is asking us what is in said box based on what is written down on her clip board:  Holiday crafts.  Before I know it, there are two Chinese people arguing about said box in the middle of my living room (Shirley and one of the movers).  I glance at JD, give him a ‘hell if I know look’ and shrug my shoulders.  There is no way I remember what is missing and considering that my household is now a chaotic mess, it will be a while before I figure it out.  We have not seen this stuff in months – there is no telling what is there and what is not.  So now, the movers are going through boxes they have already broken down on a hunt for the missing one.  Unbeknownst to anyone, one of the boxes was accidentally numbered twice.  It only took them half an hour to find this out!

I can only imagine what Ayi Jo is going to think tomorrow morning when she walks into the spotless apartment she left yesterday.  This place is still a wreck!  I should actually be putting stuff away and not blogging.  However the kids are in bed and I need a break.  Alas…I must get back to work as I’m bone tired and want to go to bed.  Right now the only way to get in my bed is to move all the crap, I mean put all the things on my bed away.  Oh what a day!!!!!!

P.S. too tired to take any pictures…maybe tomorrow – or better yet when the apartment is all put together!

Pregnancy in China #2

Today was an overall pretty good day.  I had a few more experiences and insights of being pregnant so I thought I would briefly share.  Yesterday I went to pick Lucy up from school and I had three different grandparents touching my belly (more or less rubbing my belly).  While this is going on I’m trying my best to just stand there with a smile on my face, and not act like this is really creeping me out which it totally is!  Bear being Bear, has decided that he fits perfectly under my baby bump – which he loves to do and then poke his head out from under it and look at me – as if we were playing peek-a-boo.  From what I figure, he finds this space to be safe from the attention of these Chinese grandparents  because they are focused on my belly and not on him.

I was relating this experience to my friend Julie on our way back from IKEA (don’t worry, there will be a post to share that experience later).  She told me that someone had told her not to be surprised if her family got invited to Chinese weddings – simply because she has two children – one boy and one girl.  It would be considered lucky for a bride and groom to have siblings at their wedding that were boy and girl.  This is again due to the previous one child policy.  Julie went on to explain that she would not be surprised that the action of these grandparents is more of a luck/superstition thing as I already have one girl, one boy and another boy on the way.  This never occurred to me.  Having one boy and one girl is completely rare over here – and then to have one girl and two boys would be like hitting the jackpot as male offspring tend to be favored over female offspring.  I am sure this is about to change simply because the one child policy has now been lifted to allow two children.

With this new insight my cultural vision has sort of been expanded.  Instead of seeing that my personal space is being completely invaded, I can appreciate that these grandparents actions may be a cultural thing that I just do not understand.  So I will try my hardest to stand there and appreciate all the interest given to my huge belly.