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.

Sugar and Spice

I was flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks this morning in search of a dessert to take to a dinner party on Friday night.  This particular cookbook is priceless to me as I have so many notes and additional recipes in it that I would be lost if something were to happen to it.  Anyway because the cookbook was published by our Church a few years ago, it also contains many family favorite recipes.  So in glancing through the dessert section, I happened to stumble upon one of my Grandmother’s Spice Cake recipes.

As I am half a world away from the place that I truly call home, every once in a while something will strike me as ‘home’.  Today it was this recipe.  As soon as I saw it, I knew that I had to bake my Grandmother’s spice cake.  The funny thing is, is that I cannot even remember having my Grandmother’s spice cake that she made.  The simple fact that it was her recipe made me have to have it.

So as I sit here writing and eating a delicious spice cake cupcake, let you me tell you about the remarkable women that was my Grandmother.  If there was ever a human being that could encompass the essence of the word home it was my Grandmother.  No matter what was going on in my life and from a very young age my Grandmother always provided me with the warm cozy feeling of being at home.  She was always warm and welcoming and she would give you whatever she had.  My grandparents never had much money, but they certainly made up for it in love – in fact I think my grandmother perfected that notion.  I believe in her kindness she was rare.  I can only aspire to be the kind generous person she was day in and day out of her everyday life.  She always knew just how to make anyone feel as if they were important, special and oh so loved.

My birthday is at the tale end of May.  Growing up with a teacher for a mother and a welder for a father, I often spent my birthday at my grandparents house as both of my parents would be working and I would already be out of school.  Upon arrival, my Grandmother would make me lie down on the sofa and shut my eyes, and before I knew it I would be awoken to scrambled eggs and crispy bacon (my favorite).  Then throughout the day my Grandmother would make me an English tea ring – which would turn out to be one of the best birthday gifts I received each year.  When I was younger my Grandmother would make it while I napped so it would be a surprise.  As I grew up, I started to catch on to her and I soon started to request, nay beg, to let me help her make my tea ring.

I can still remember watching my Grandmother take ingredients and without measuring, mix them all together.  It was if by magic they would create an incredibly tasty birthday treat.  I loved helping kneed the dough, then Grandma letting me use her rolling pin (which is now one of my treasured possessions), would help me roll out the dough so it was the perfect thickness, then spreading the butter on and sprinkling it with cinnamon and sugar.  We would carefully roll up the dough and shape it into a ring.  Usually when Grandma made a tea ring, it was  frosted with white icing and adorned with red Maraschino Cherries, however my favorite colors are purple and green – so for my birthday I always received a frosted purple tea ring with green Maraschino Cherries.  There are so many days in my life that I wish I could be back by her side, still trying to master baking skills, sharing smiles and nods of encouragement.

Back to today…

There was something about seeing a recipe from my Grandmother that brought her here to me today.  Even though she passed away years ago, today it was as if she were right beside me measuring ingredients and mixing away.  It is comforting to know that by drawing upon old memories and recreating certain smells – it’s almost like I can still feel her love.  No matter where I am in the world, I am able to find a way to feel home.

So for your pleasure, I thought I would share:

Grandma’s Spice Cake

1/2 C. Crisco or shortening (I use butter)

1/2 C. Sugar

1 egg, beaten

1/2 C. light molasses (I used dark because that is what I brought from the States)

1/2 C. Strong hot coffee

1 1/2 C. flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon (I used 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice)

Thoroughly cream shortening and sugar.  Add egg and molasses, mix well.  Add coffee and mix.  Add sifted dry ingredients; beat until smooth.  Pour into waxed paper lined 9×13 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.  While warm, frost with confectioner’s frosting (I made my frosting with left over coffee from the recipe).




Strawberry Picking

We went strawberry picking this last Friday.  Like all things to a Westerner living in China it was an adventure like never before.  I’m sure most of you have visited a farm or an orchard and maybe even been strawberry picking yourselves.  Get that picture out of your head and let me paint for you a picture of this experience:

Excitedly we get in the van, stocked piled with snacks and books to keep the kids satisfied as the strawberry picking place is an hour drive away.  Everyone is settled in and the adventure has begun.  Ayi Zou is sitting up front, conversing with Mr. Xu, the kids each have a precious beef stick in their hands and are as content as can be so the focus goes from them to out the window.

As we drive along all you see is a grey, dull landscape – and I truly mean grey and dull.  You will have never seen anything as grey or as dull as our area in China.  Even on a clear day the sky and landscape are dull and grey it truly makes you think wasteland, as if you are driving through doldrums.  Driving out of the city you will find random high rises that have popped up here and there without a real sense of belonging – as everything around them seems extremely baron.  You would expect to see villages but you do not as towering high rises have taken their place.  There are small crop fields scattered around, a small house/hut here or there, and more out of place high rises clustered at random places on the horizon but not much else.  So as you are driving there really is nothing to see, but you cannot keep your eyes from looking out the window as it is all still completely foreign to you.

About forty-five minutes later, it is evident that we are starting to get closer to the strawberry patch as the roads we are on become much more narrow and poorer in quality.  The baron land makes way to small walled structures and all of a sudden we are driving around an actual village and not just a random cluster of high rises.  The poverty and living conditions are astounding as you can see each dwelling is an extremely modest rectangular house with maybe two rooms.  Trash is everywhere, it is already everywhere in China, but you notice much larger piles of it as we drive along.  Stray cats and dogs are prevalent and what I can only assume what are irrigation ditches are littered with trash and discarded concrete and building material.  On the edge of the village are many elongated greenhouses with large rectangular concrete entry ways, that I must say are as much lacking in aesthetics as they possibly can.  The roads are down to one lane now and it becomes clear that our driver, Mr. Xu is unsure of where exactly we are going.  Luckily for us, Mr. Xu is excellent and when I sent him the business card for this place, he programmed the number in his phone.  So Mr. Xu got on the phone and got directions to the exact place where we were to pick berries.  This may raise the question of where the heck did I get my hands on a business card as such?  Most all information is passed down from expat to expat here.  From what I gather there may have been a school trip in the past which is where the card was obtained.

Soon we are on the road by a lady on a scooter.  Mr. Xu rolls down the window and I can only assume directions are being communicated.  We follow along for probably two or three more kilometers and stop just beside her greenhouse.  We all excitedly hop out of the van and prepare to pick strawberries.  As we enter the green house, we are given Styrofoam containers to pick berries.  The smell of strawberries is in the air and we begin to pick some of the most beautiful strawberries I have ever seen.  It does not take long to fill two containers, between the kids, Ayi Zou and myself.  The boxes are then weighed and paid for, and this is where it stung.  Strawberries are extremely expensive here.  In the stores you will pay around $3 for 16 strawberries.  Here I got two nice sized containers for about $40.  So as I’m reveling in the sticker shock of this little adventure, I start to notice that Ayi Zou has found celery and is excitedly picking stalk upon stalk of celery.  Meanwhile the lady that owns or operates the green house is neatly arranging a box of strawberries.  Not thinking much of this, I round up the children and head towards the van.  Mr. Xu at this time is holding and playing with the Newbie at the van and Ayi Zou is still in the green house picking celery.  So we finally get settled into the van and get ready to start the journey back and Ayi comes up with two arm fulls of celery, and communicates to Mr. Xu to go to the green house, in which he comes back to the van with the box of strawberries that was being prepared by the strawberry lady.  It then hits me.  We paid the Western price – Mr. Xu and Ayi Zou were getting compensated for us paying the Western price (insert mental note to self to negotiate next time).   In all honesty I am very grateful that Ayi Zou and Mr. Xu were given the celery and berries as I’m sure I paid for it, and if it were not for either Ayi Zou or Mr. Xu our lives would be so much more difficult than they already are.  We pay the ‘foreign’ or ‘Western’ price on many items here.  It is widely known that we get charged much more for the same goods and services received by locals – but hey what are you going to do?  It is not like you can complain, nor put strawberries back on the vine. 

Anyway, we finally get back on the road and start for home.  Only now, as we are trying to get back to a main road there is a cement truck parked at the next intersection and cement is being dumped in a huge pile on the road.  We are not able to go anywhere until the cement truck moves, so to Bear’s delight we get to watch cement being poured.  While all this is going on a worker moves beside the van and relieves himself for all to see.  And the only thing you can do is shake your head and mutter the words, “Only in China.”  Finally the truck moves and we start back.  Except this time Mr. Xu is taking us home a different way.  We turn left instead of back right.  This is no big deal except as we travel along we run out of road, and from what I can see Mr. Xu is trying to get us from the back roads to the main roads quicker.  And as we have run out of road, we just keep driving, much slower as to avoid all the pot holes and dips in the dirt/gravel.  We cannot turn back as this is clearly the way to go as there are semi trucks ahead of us, behind us, and on both sides of us all trying to drive the same direction.  This goes on for two to three kilometers and then miraculously a four lane highway appears.  Half an hour later we are safely home with our berries and Ayi’s celery.

Off roading in the van!
Off roading in the van!

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

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!


Happy Halloween!

Oh how I needed today to be a good day and I firmly believe with all of your prayers and with the grace of God it was truly a good day!  This morning we woke up and decided that since we were all up, we would go down and have breakfast together at the buffet.  It was wonderful to start the day off together as a family, even if it meant that it caused us to be in a mad dash to get Sis ready and dressed in her Halloween costume and off to school on time.

Last night Sis and I worked very hard to make witches hat treats for school:

Sis helping make witches hats.
Sis helping make witches hats.

So after dropping her off at school and returning home, I accidentally called our neighbor (in the Vantone apartment) Julie.  I am still trying to learn my new phone and I have no idea how I even managed to pull up her number (I think God had a hand in this one).  After talking for a few minutes she asked if I wanted to go out for lunch.  This was something wonderful for both Bear and I to look forward to!  So to kill a time before then, I took Bear to play in the kids club room.  We both had a wonderful time.  The hotel keeps a staff member in the room while we play and I must say this particular staff member takes very good care of us.  She had bottles of water waiting for us, tissues to wipe Bears runny nose, and was ready to sit and play with Bear too.  She kept saying how lovely of a child he was (which makes this mama smile).

As we were getting ready to leave for lunch, Ayi Jo helped wrangle the Bear into shoes as well as remembered to put my phone in my purse so I would not forget it! As Bear and I headed down to the lobby to wait for Julie, I received a text message from our other neighbor, Heather.  Heather said that she was going on an unexpected trip to the U.S. and had lots of empty space in her luggage to bring things back.  If I get my list to her by Monday she will bring items back over for us.  So believe it or not we are excited about the prospects of getting our hands on a few boxes of mac n cheese!

Julie greeted us with treats for Bear – fruit snacks and animal cookies!  Needless to say this made him content.  We walked to a western pub where I had pizza and she had homemade mac n cheese.  Bear ate like a little bear.  Not only did he have almost two slices of pizza (small 9 incher), he also mooched cheesy pasta from Julie.  It was wonderful to sit and talk about everything and nothing at all.

Before we knew it, it was time to go to school for Sis’ Halloween party.  Bear and I took in the witches hat treats.  I think our driver Mr. Xu was rather disappointed that he did not get to go to Sis’ classroom to pick her up today.  (Because Bear has been so stressed he has not wanted to walk very much on his own.  As pregnant as I am, I just cannot carry a 30 pound bear cub up and down three flights of stairs.  Therefore, we have arranged for our driver to go all the way upstairs to Sis’ classroom to pick her up – and I’m pretty sure he loves every minute of it – he will not even let her carry her own back pack).  The party was fun with lots of treats for the kids.  Bear was even included and given a homemade cookie, drinkable yogurt, and crackers.


Tonight we had an amazing dinner compliments of Ayi Jo.  After dinner we went to the pool to play and relax a bit before bed.   Again I cannot reiterate how wonderful it was to have a good day – such a blessing!  The Lord is so very good!

Adjustments and Jet lag

TEDA night pic
TEDA at night

Oye… We are trying to get adjusted to life over here.  It has been a long, slow process.  Jet lag hit us extremely hard.  Our travel day was so super long. We left Dubuque at 6am on Wednesday morning and arrived in TEDA at 7:30pm (6:30am U.S. time) on Thursday.  The kids and JD were able to sleep  on the plane and unfortunately I was having enough Braxton Hicks contractions throughout the whole flight that I was unable to rest.  Poor Bear was hit the worst.  Last night was the first day that he actually slept fairly well.  Before he wanted to sleep for hours upon hours at nap and then would be wide awake at 3am.  Sis seemed to take the time change the best.

Finally after one week we are starting to feel like ourselves.  Yesterday I went to the grocery store with our neighbor.  It has been interesting to see what we can find in grocery stores – (but more of that to come in a later post).  I figure next week will be much better for shopping with a clear head and as Sis will be in school so I will only have a Bear to wrestle with when going out.

It has also been difficult for us to adjust to the sounds of city living.  We are not used to the night lights, car horns, train whistles, and many other sounds of living in an apartment building.  Needless to say we will be truly missing our backyard: green grass, wild life, and fresh clear air!

Forest Gate wild life
The backyard we left behind.


The moving process…

Hello all!  I’m so sorry that I have been MIA lately – we’ve just been super crazy busy.  I’m no stranger to moving – this is move number six for us in the past ten years.  However, I think this move to China has so far been the most difficult of them yet.  We have been planning, buying, planning, deciding, and more planning for months.  I have already decided that if we have another international move – we will not do it the way we did it again.  How could it possibly be that difficult you may say?  Well…I will give you a rough idea:

  1. Most things (western things) in China are more expensive.  Take diapers for example.  A small box of diapers over here is about $60 compared to a large box in the U.S. (approximately $35).  So when you have one child not yet potty trained and another along the way – it is more cost effective to buy diapers in the U.S. and have them shipped (in your sea shipment) to China.  In case you were wondering, here is what a lifetime supply of diapers looks like:Henry and diapers
  2. Personal items (i.e. soap, shampoo, tooth paste) are different here.  This is okay, except if you are accustomed to a particular type.  Not to mention that as Asian hair is different than Western hair – some products are just not the same.  So we stocked up enough for three years on bar shampoo (we were not allowed to ship liquids), tooth paste, and body soap.  All of this we had to best calculate how much we will go through in a month (times 36 months).  For example.  I go through about one tube of tooth paste a month – so that is 36 tubes, etc.
  3. Toys.  Toys for kids and toys for gifts.  Let us start with the kid’s toys.  It has been a challenge and I’m thankful the kids have been wonderful about deciding what toys to bring and what toys to keep in storage.  We simply could not bring them all.  Now onto gifts:  when JD and I visited in March, we walked through a toy store and noticed how unbelievably expensive toys are over here.  For example, I bought Sis an $8 Barbie doll and found the exact same Barbie doll over here for the equivalent of $32.  So needless to say I have Christmas and birthdays planned and bought for for the next two years.  I will buy for the third year sometime when we are on home leave (but with the kid’s changing interests as they grow, I did not want to take any chances).
  4. Items to make our apartment more like home.  This was one of our biggest mistakes when we moved to Germany.  We did not bring enough items that made the apartment ours – to make it feel more like home.  As this will be our home for three years we felt this is extremely important – especially for the kids.  So we have spent time, money, and energy trying to figure out those special items to make our apartment home.  We were told to bring rugs, as our floors are mostly stone.  We spent hours trying to figure out which would be best to bring.  Next, we wanted the kids rooms to feel like theirs, which meant finding wall decals and decorations specifically for them.  Bear was easy – we found a road rug for toy cars, and will use many of his toys for decor as well.  Sis wanted a princess room so we found princess wall decals, a bed spread (custom made Frozen quilt by mom and grandma), as well as a few special pillows, etc.
  5. Clothes and other necessities tops off list.

We were allotted a 4×4 foot container for our air shipment and a 20 foot container for our sea shipment.  Needless to say we put most of our items in the sea shipment, and toys, diapers, and fall clothes make up our air shipment.  Hopefully we will get our air shipment next week and the sea shipment by the end of October.

Stay tuned…the move details to come!!!!

About Us

We are a crazy, but fun-loving bunch of people!  Life is never dull at our household, as there always seems to be something going on.  Between home, work, school, trips to the ER (compliments of children of course), and life in general, I’d say we lead pretty normal lives.  Then again we have decided to uproot our family and move around the globe.  We love trying new things, visiting new places, and are always up for a good adventure.  Our motto is Carpe Diem! – cause life is too short not too! 😉