Monday, July 25, 2011

July 25 - Badda-Bing Lake‏

Hey, everyone!

I haven't sent one of these out for awhile - there just wasn't much to say: "Yesterday, I picked my nose. The day before, I lay on the bed and stared at the wall..." Hahaha! I wanted to wait until there was something interesting to say. :)

And boy howdy, are there interesting things to tell you today.

So yesterday, we went with this touring group (via a travel agency that Summer found) to this lake called Baiyangdian Lake. I call it Badda-Bing Lake. :) We met in front of some hotel for the bus and got acquainted with the other Baoding folk who were going on this leetle excursion. We also got acquainted with three lady street vendors in front of the hotel. They were so in love with Gage that they left their grill unattended and got yelled at a couple of times by people who were trying to buy some food from them.

One of the ladies that went on our group wore whitish face makeup; I've noticed in the stores that, along with face wash and moisturizer and other facial care products, there is stuff that kind of whitens your skin pigment, and white-ish foundation. It's opposite in the U.S., eh? Everyone wants tanner skin, and buys bronzer. So funny.

So we got on the bus, and our little guide spoke a teeny bit of English, which was nice. He was a total sweetheart. We were joined by a local guide once we got to Badda-Bing Lake, and once we got there, she kind of took care of the rest of the group, and he was our constant companion. He kept offering to carry our 75 billion pound backpack and always made sure we were with the group. I just love the people here. Hearts of gold.

May I just say something about the music here - it SUCKS. I mean, when we were at the lake and walking around, I heard traditional Chinese music coming from speakers, and it was fantastic. You know, the stuff you hear when you watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which has a whole new meaning to me, now that I have to crouch to pee all the time) or Hero. Beautiful. But everywhere else - in restaurants and especially in this bus - they play the cheesiest, worst music ever. And they play it REALLY LOUDLY. Like, you have to shout to talk to each other in restaurants and in the bus yesterday. The music reminds me of church music circa the early nineties. Really over-emotional, kind of soft-rock like. I could actually understand some of the lyrics, which made me excited. It was stuff like, "You say blah blah blah....goodbye...I don't understand...blah blah blah..... I know....." So I think the lyrics were just as cheesy as the music itself. They also play a lot of the Carpenters and Kenny G, which is funny to me.

So we rode on the bus for about two hours, and in all that time, we never really left city. There were a few corn fields here and there, but it was major urban sprawl.

So we got there and got onto a motorboat-type thing. The boat reminded me of those boats you get on for that ride at Disneyland. I can't remember the name of the ride - Jungle Cruise? Something like that? Where you motor around in a boat, and the boat operators say all these funny puns, and there are plastic hippos who wiggle their ears, and plastic elephants who spray water out of their trunks, etc. You know the one I'm talking about? There were all kinds of boats on the lake - high-speed boats, old-fashioned Chinese rowboats, etc. And there were fishermen everywhere, as well. We even saw a guy with trained birds on his boat - each bird had a perch, and it would dive down into the lake, snatch fish, bring them up, and give them to the guy. Amazing.

It felt really wonderful to be on that boat - the lake smelled just like the lakes at home. And it was nice to feel the wind on my face. There are reeds all over the place, so you can't see the full expanse of the lake, but I'm pretty certain that it was huge. So we rode for awhile, then got to this enormous area that had lotuses everywhere. It was like 50 times the size of the lotus pond here in town. There were boardwalks all over the place, and cool just walked around and looked. It was really pretty. The heat started to get really, really intense, though, so it was hard to enjoy as the day wore on. We walked and walked and walked... There was a little area with indigenous deer, a little duck farming area, etc.

After a few hours walking around, we got back on the boat and went to an island with a building on it where we ate. I don't know if any of you remember Karate Kid 2, but there is a part at the end where they go to this show and the girl does this fan dance - the building we ate in looked just like the building on that movie. It was very cool, but not It was stiflingly hot. And they weren't turning on the air-conditioners, which I couldn't understand.

And here's another thing I don't understand - at more formal restaurants, they serve drinks with your meal, but everywhere else, they don't. When we ask for drinks with any of our meals downstairs in our hotel, they look at us like, "Why would you want to drink with your meal??" So there were no drinks to be had in this building. And no air conditioning. Gage was drenched in sweat. I felt really badly for him. And he was just getting passed around and passed around to all of these adoring waitresses. He really is such a good sport. The meal was a typical Chinese meal - gross. :) There was rice, thank goodness, so we ate rice. And we had brought water bottles with us, so we drank from those. By the time we left, I felt like I had been in a Native American Sweat Lodge.

Then we went to another island, which I call Freak Show Island. Freaky Deaky. When we signed up for the tour, they said that we would see some traditional Thailand dancers. They were transvestites from Thailand!!! Hahaha!!! They were men. Who have had boob jobs. We were late for the show, so we only caught the tail end, but they were singing songs. We sat down and waited, because we thought there was a second show, but there wasn't. The singers were going around posing for pictures, and I just couldn't stop STARING at them. Neither could Micah. He loved them. He kept saying, "Princess." It was funny. I didn't tell Dylan or Sadie that they were men, and I don't think they could tell. Hahaha! So we were sitting there waiting for the second show, which never happened, and billions of people kept coming and taking pictures with us. I mean, it was nonstop. I just can't get used to that. Finally, one of the transvestites comes up to me and says, in English, "Don't let them take pictures of you unless they pay you." I was like, "Oh, okay...." And he/she said, "You are just so beautiful." And he/she kissed me on both cheeks. It was funny. And then he/she said, in Chinese, basically, "Shoo. Leave these people alone."

So then we went to another little area and watched a show where this guy did these things with alligators - his main trick was sticking his head in a crocodile's mouth - obviously, the croc was trained or whatever. But it was cool. Oh, and there were these synchronized swimmers who swam in this totally disgusting-looking pool. I'm not joking. It was greenish and mucky. When they came out, I thought, "There is no way they're getting in that water," but they did. They didn't look Asian - they looked European. They were really good swimmers. And then the last area was an enormous round cage where a guy in a motorcycle rode around and around - like in Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken. But get this - the guy didn't have ARMS. I didn't see it, because I had to leave and feed the baby, but Ben and Dylan and Sadie couldn't stop talking about it when they came out. I guess he used his head and neck to drive the motorcycle - I just don't know how he did it.

Ben knew where to find me when they left the motorcycle area - he just had to find a crowd of people. I had gone to this covered, shaded area to feed the baby, and immediately, I was surrounded by women and men. They were fascinated by the baby. There was a little gal who looked to be maybe 14, and her English was pretty good. So she was kind of translating for me. This old lady poked me and grabbed her boob and said something. The teenager said that the lady was asking why I wasn't feeding the baby milk. So I told the girl that, in the U.S., we do only milk for the first four months, but then after that, we add other foods, but still do milk. I didn't even go into the fact that I use formula. Didn't want to open that can of worms. This one lady offered to hold the baby while I fed him, and she was thrilled to do it. So then they all wanted to know what on earth I was feeding him. So I pointed to each bowl and said what they were, and when the girl translated "rice" into Mandarin for them, they all gave a grunt of approval, like, "Well, at least this crazy westerner has something right..." When the baby's meal was over, it was time to change him, so I laid out his changing pad and got down to business, and everyone leaned in anxiously, like, "What is she going to do now???" When they saw a diaper on the baby, they were so bemused. "Why would this crazy foreigner put something on the baby's butt???" When I removed the diaper and wiped Gage down, they all gasped when they saw that he was circumcised. And then they all nudged each other and said, "Jew!" "Jew." Like, "Oh, she must be a Jew. Why else would she circumcise her child?" These people crack me up. I love it.

So, we took the boat back to the area our bus was in, and then we drove home for another two hours.

It was a long, hot, hard day. It was so interesting, but I seriously feel like I got run over by a truck. I really, really think we need to save the rest of our touring for when the weather is less hot. I just can't take it anymore. I think I'd rather be bored in my hotel then having heat stroke. It was hard on all of us.

Dylan has an idea that he cannot let go of. Surprised? Neither am I. They had all these areas where you could buy souvenirs, and a bunch of guys were selling teeny little pet turtles with their own little cages, etc. Oh, how the kids loved those turtles. Dylan has been begging me ever since to let him get a pet turtle. I really don't know how I feel about that. First of all, there's the feeding and the cleaning. And then Beads told me that her childhood friend, Bethany, had turtles, and you really can't handle them too much, and that they die easily. So, if they don't die while we're here, we'll have to find someone to give them to when we leave. It just sounds like a big old headache to me. We'll see. Maybe I can get him a cool toy sword or something instead. :)

We got a call last night from Professor Han - our apartment will definitely be ready by Sunday to move in. We have to go pick out sheets, comforters, and dishes and cookware this week. I cannot wait to get into a proper apartment.

We'll upload some pics to smugmug today or tomorrow of our adventures at Badda-Bing Lake and then send a link to you.

We hope everyone is well and having a fantastic end of your July. Love you!

- Kar

July 21 - Not much to talk about...‏

Hey, guys,

Just wanted to let you know that we're still here! We haven't done much this week, so there wasn't much to say. Summer is arranging a little trip for us to Beijing through a local travel agency - five days long, hitting all of the bit sites up there - The Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall, Olympic Park, and a whole bunch of other stuff I can't remember. Hopefully we'll leave in a couple of days. I'm soooooo excited to be seeing these things I've been reading about since I was a kid. And I'm soooo excited to get out of the dang hotel room. My heck. We all have cabin fever pretty bad. :)

So I got Nat, Pooh, Jake, and Troy birthday presents (you're next, Pats), found some wrapping paper and birthday cards on Stinky Street, along with tape, and scissors to cut the wrapping paper and the tape (I can't find normal tape dispensers here. You have to sit and cut it with scissors - a pain). So I got it all ready and asked Summer to help me at the post office.

Ohhhhh, what an ordeal. It took, like, an hour and a half to get these dang things sent. I swear these girls had never, ever mailed anything to another country before. I had to fill out like seventeen different was crazy. And then it cost me like $20 to send these teeny little things. I couldn't believe it.

I was so proud of myself yesterday - Sadie and I grabbed some soda on Stinky Street, and the lady said something to me, which I obviously didn't understand. It's so funny, when I shrug, or indicate that I don't understand, they just keep repeating themselves. No attempt at acting it out, or just letting it They think I'll figure out what they're saying if they keep repeating themselves. So I finally remembered the phrase I learned from Rosetta Stone: "Wa bo ming bai ni schwa shemma." - "I don't understand what you are saying to me." And she understood! Gooooooo ME!

I forgot to tell you guys - people of the same sex often walk along, holding hands. Especially the women. When I first got here, I was like, "Wow, there are a lot of lesbians in China." But then I read that, often, people who are just really good friends often walk hand-in-hand, and that it seldom has any sexual overtones. And that you need to be careful about making physical contact with members of the opposite sex - that they might get the wrong idea. So, if I was to, say, pat one of Ben's work associates on his arm or something, that would be considered really inappropriate. Interesting, huh?

Well, I'm going to go - I want to play some Plants vs. Zombies. It's my new obsession.

Oh, and Nat, Pooh, Jake, and Troy - your presents won't get there for two weeks. Sorry 'bout that. OH, and Mom, I got a birthday card for Aunt Terri and sent it to her, too.

Alright, friends, I'm outta here. Gonna kill me some zombies.


July 20 - Pictures from Ben's birthday party‏

Hey, friends, Here are the pics from Ben's birthday party: Also, Ben told me that, when I uploaded a bunch of pictures to our "Travel" folder on smugmug, I accidentally marked them "private photos only" or something. So we fixed that so that everyone can view them. So you might want to take another little visit over there:

July 18 - Two Lessons I Learned Yesterday‏

Hey, friends!!

Sorry for the lapse of a few days between e-mails. Nothing much was going on. Sunday, we just relaxed in the room. Well, tried to. The air conditioner has been on the fritz - we've been overworking it, I'm afraid. So sometimes it freezes over and we have to let it thaw. So it's hard to enjoy a day in when it's hot and humid, but oh well. You do what you gotta do. It froze over again last night, so here we are in the humidity. It's still morning, so it's not as bad as it will get this afternoon. Hopefully it will have recovered by the time it gets really hot.

So anyways, our plan was to watch these CES sacrament speakers - this is how Ben's boss, Jason, did sacrament meeting when he was in Morocco with his family a couple of years ago. But we couldn't get it to stream. We tried to watch the Joseph Smith movie on, but again, it wouldn't stream, nor would it download. We do have the primary manuals on our iPad, so we decided to do a primary lesson. I kind of guessed as to which manual our primary back home has been using, and I guessed as to where in the lessons they are. We did a lesson on faith and the brother of Jared. I felt the Spirit, and it was nice. We've been enjoying having family prayer and scripture study - back home, it was hit-and-miss, because I was working so much. But here, we have nothing but time. So it's been good for our family, spiritually.

Yesterday, my plan was to go out and get Ben a present for his birthday. Micah really wanted to come, so I took him along. I wanted to get Ben a shirt; I tried the department store where I got beach towels, but nothing in there seemed quite right. A little too dressy. And a little too expensive. So I decided to go to that one supermarket, because the top level has clothing stores for a little bit cheaper. Again, nothing seemed quite right, but there was one store that seemed to be a good fit. Casual enough. It's called "Free Base." It's a funny store - the entire store is army-like clothing. All that green khaki color. Some of it is camoflauge; some of it is just plain green; some of it is green with stripes. I chose a striped shirt. Their size XL (Ben's normal size at home) seemed too small, so I looked in my Mandarin dictionary for the word for "larger." So the dude went into the back and got a XXL. That looked just right. I paid and then went to the lower levels to get some cleaning supplies - the dang maids aren't cleaning our hotel, and I'm sick of living in filth. So I bought my cleaning supplies, paid 2 yuen extra for a plastic bag to put them in, and took off. (Plastic bags aren't provided for free at the grocery stores.) I looked and looked for a baking aisle, and none were to be found. I also looked for a breakfast cereal aisle - nada.

When I was out shopping with Maria and Summer on Saturday, we looked for an oven - the only ovens we are able to find are the countertop kinds, about the size of a microwave. I think I'll be able to use it - it has a degree dial on the front, and there is a little cookie sheet that comes with it and fits inside. I think I could fit a casserole dish in there, or a dish for baking chicken breasts.

So anyways, I left, hailed a taxi, and Mikey and I were on our way home. Then I realized that I left Ben's bag with his new shirt in it, in the shopping cart in the grocery part. Sickening. I wanted to throw up. Partially because I was so upset about spending money on a shirt and leaving it somewhere. Partially because I get carsick in these taxis because they drive like maniacs. I figured the shirt was long gone.

Ben suggested I call Summer and see if she could call the lost and found there, and see if anyone turned the shirt in. And guess what? They did!!! It was raining torrentially, so Summer suggested we take a taxi over there with her when the rain let up a bit so she could take us to the right place and get our shirt back. When the rain let up a bit, we met in front of our hotel to grab a taxi. It started raining again, and Summer was like, "You will need umbrellas." I was like, "It's no big deal." But she insisted, going into our hotel and borrowing a couple. Oh my goodness, it's a good thing she did, you guys. It rained so hard and fat and long. We would have been sopping wet. And what I learned yesterday was that it is really, really hard to catch a taxi when it's raining. Because everyone else has gotten into taxis to take cover from the rain. It took us maybe 20 minutes to get a taxi to the supermarket. We went, got our shirt back, and then it was time to hail a taxi to come home. That process took us.... maybe an hour??? We stood in the rain for an hour, trying to hail a dang taxi. I had all three kids with me this time (they get bored and needed to get out of the hotel room). We finally decided to take a bus home. Bus drivers are just as crazy as normal drivers - we were flung all over the inside of that bus. :) It reminded me a lot of taking the tube in London. It's cheaper than a taxi - I'll have to get a bus schedule and map soon and use buses to get around.

So I learned Lesson #1. Never, ever go out when it's raining. It's just not worth it, unless you have a bike.

I gave Ben his shirt, and the dang thing is still too small. I told him he can take it back and exchange it himself. :)

We just had time to freshen up and then leave for the restaurant for Ben's birthday party. It was a fantastic evening. I learned that you have to sit in a certain order when you have a traditional Chinese meal. Professor Han made sure everyone sit where they should. Ben was in the biggest chair, the head of the table. I was to his right. Professor Han was to his left, and Mr. Zuo to his left. My kids were all to my right. And Mr. Zuo's family and Professor Han's family sat between my kids and our interpreters. Mr. Zuo has a little girl, maybe 15 months old or so. I thought she was a boy. They keep both baby girls' heads and baby boys' heads shaved for the first few years of their life. And they don't really make an attempt to make the girls dress girly.

Again, there were bazillions of toasts offered and accepted - I learned that, when you are clinking glasses for a toast, you hold your rim a little bit below the rim of the person who was being toasted as a sign of respect. Again, much gross food, but we all did our best. Ben just dove right in - eating fish heads wrapped in pita bread, etc. He's crazy.

And then there were gifts. Oh my goodness, these people are so generous. Professor Han gave Ben this amazing traditional art piece - a portrait of a Chinese man, made out of flat pieces of bamboo - gorgeous. Amazing. And probably really expensive. And then the man gave Sadie a teddy bear, Dylan these magnetic building things, Micah a ball that you sit on and bounce, and Gage a small ball. I was blown away. Mr. Zuo gave Ben another piece of art - a traditional New Year's picture of six babies. Each baby symbolizes some kind of well-wish, but I can't remember what each one means. Summer and Maria gave Ben a traditional Chinese fan and a calligraphy brush - beautiful. And Jack Chan gave Ben some beautiful vases and a plate with peonies painted on them. I guess peonies symbolize a wish for much wealth. Can you BELIEVE this??? We have just met these people! And I found out that Mr. Zuo and Professor Han and their families were out of town on vacation, but cut their vacations short to come back for this party. I'm amazed. These people are just such good people.

Professor Han and his wife have only one son, who is 18 - he didn't come. But Mrs. Han could not get enough of Gage. She held him and played with him the whole entire evening. And she would feed him bit of something that resembled sweet potatoes. She told me that she and Mr. Zuo's wife "admire" me for having the strength to care for four children. I told them that it's hard and that I'm not doing a very good job. :) Professor Han would play with Micah, bouncing him really high on his bouncy ball. Micah would get embarrassed. I've noticed that, when Micah is embarrassed or feeling shy, he picks his nose. It's funny. So there he was, getting bounced really high on his ball, and picking his nose with this look on his face - like a deer in the headlights. Really funny.

The cake I got Ben turned out beautifully. When we cut into it, Ben and I were surprised at the consistency of the frosting. It is like whipped topping. I don't know how they can make these intricate things on cakes - dragons, lotus flowers, etc., and make them stay up. The cake was a lot like a pound cake.

And here is Lesson #2 - here, when you invite friends out to eat, that means you want to pay for them. Yeah. It turned out to be an expensive night. Oops. My fail, again. Ben wasn't angry - he said it was worth it to have such a good time.

I have the best news ever - we're going to Beijing this weekend to see the sights! I really want to see the Great Wall, and if we have time, the Forbidden City. And I want to go to the English-speaking branch on Sunday. And I want to hit the western market there and stock up on stuff. I'm soooo excited, you guys. So excited.

I think there is one more garden worth looking at here in Baoding - that's what Summer said. So I'm going to see if we can hit that this week.

I also want to look at some street vendors today and see if I can find a birthday present for Nattles.

Well, I'll resize and upload the pics from Ben's birthday party tonight and let you know when they're on smugmug. The kids are hitting each other and screaming, so it's time to intervene.

Oh, and the cold water isn't working - I guess someone broke a line of some sort. Fun.

Love you,

July 16 - Finally - some photos for you!‏

Kay, I don't have all the photos from China up yet, but here's a start:

July 16 - My First Chinese Haircut‏

'Sup, homies?

Thank you so much for all of your e-mails - I'm working on replying individually to them, but it takes time; thanks for your patience. It means so much to me that we have the love, support, and prayers of our friends and fam at home.

My hair is soooo shaggy, so I called Summer yesterday and asked if she could take me to a salon today and interpret for me. (And Beads, I'm so sorry - I missed our skyping appointment. Dang it!!! Write me and we'll reschedule.) She and Maria picked me up this morning and took me to a place on Stinky Street. Oh my goodness, was it ever hot. And...squalid. That's the word for it. But bless the hairstylist's heart, she gave me a really good cut. I wanted to shorten up my a-line a bit - again, much of what I wanted was lost in translation, so I ended up with a bit of a bob, but it's alright. As long as it's short. In this weather, short is good. She took probably half an hour to 45 minutes to cut my hair, and she did a fantastic job. And guess how much this haircut cost me? ONE DOLLAR. No, I'm not kidding. One. Or six yuen, to be exact. I asked Summer and Maria if it's customary to tip hairstylists, and they said, "Nonononono." I read in one of my books that tipping is just not common here, that it's more of a capitalist thing.

While I was getting my hair cut, Summer and Maria had a good time looking at my Mandarin/English dictionary. And then they had a great time asking me what I know how to say. So I said some of the stuff I know - "Do you know English?" "I'm American." "I don't speak well." "I don't speak Mandarin," etc. They said my pronunciation was fantastic. Thanks to Rosetta Stone, dude. Thanks, Megs and Mark, again, for downloading that for me. I need to listen to more lessons. So then Summer and Maria set about teaching me some other things. I wanted to know how to say, "You're welcome," because when people take pictures with us, they always say "Thanks," and I don't know how to respond, except for to nod and smile (sound familiar, Patty?). So I found out today that, to say, "You're welcome," you say, "Boyo shuh." Easy enough.

The hairdresser told me (and Summer interpreted) that she has seen my family walking up and down Stinky Street. Well, of course she has. We're hard to miss. She then asked if we don't believe in birth control. :) I told her that Ben and I definitely believe in birth control, but that we always wanted a big family. I also told her that, in the area where we're from, big families are common. That a couple of my friends have five or six kids, that my brother-in-law's family has eight kids, and that a family down the street from me growing up had 12 kids. Summer, Maria, and Hairdresser were sooooo shocked by this. I asked her about the law for number of children, and she said that the law is, you can only have one child, but if you were an only child, and your husband was an only child, then you're allowed two. Can you imagine having the government dictate the number of children you can have? I'm so grateful to be an American.

I asked Summer and Maria to show me a local swimming pool - luckily, it's just down Bombed-Out Road, then you turn right onto Perpetually Flooded Road, walk for about half a mile, and you're there. There is an indoor pool next to an outdoor pool, but you can't go from one to the other. The prices were pretty decent - about $2 per adult - and the facilities were really good, so that was exciting. There are swimsuits and floatie toys for sale up and down the road that the pool is on - I've noticed that, at least here in Baoding, the women are very modest. I mean, they all wear miniskirts, but I haven't yet seen a bare midriff or a low-cut shirt. Which is cool. And the swimsuits are also very, very modest. No string bikinis to be seen anywhere. And all of the bottoms of the suits have ruffles to cover the bikini line. Pretty cool. I was hoping they had some beach towels for sale on this road, but there were none to be found. Maria and Summer suggested we walk down the street and up another to a department store to pick some up. I didn't have enough money on me to buy six - I was in charge of getting lunch, as well - but I did buy two. In the department stores, you pick out what you want. The sales lady that is helping you writes a ticket of sorts. You take the ticket to the cashier and pay her, then you take this stub thing back to the sales girl and show it to her to show you actually paid, and then you're allowed to take the wares away. Interesting. It was about $15 for two large, plush beach towels.

I decided to get Pizza Hut again for lunch. Because I'm naughty. Summer used her student card to get me an 18% discount, which was really sweet. Summer and Maria are spending the summer writing their post-graduate theses. Then they head up to Beijing this fall to do their internships. I assumed, since they were both so good at English, that they were English majors, but Summer is a waste management major, and Maria is a land resources major. Smart girls. They said they'll arrange for a new interpreter when they leave. I'll miss them.

Some stranger asked Summer if she could use Summer's student discount card, so Summer sighed and gave it to her. But then we had to go retrieve it. While Summer went inside, Maria said, "Summer is very can."

"Can?" I said.

"Yes, can."

"What does 'can' mean?" I was thinking she was using the Mandarin word for "nice."

She said, "You know, nice."

"Ohhhh. KIND."

"Yes, KIND."

Pizza Hut was really busy (it's a Saturday here, and everyone is out celebrating the weekend) and had a half an hour wait for carry-out, so we went to a department store next door to walk around in the cool while we waited. In the basement was a huge place for traditional Chinese snacks. Summer bought these bread thingeys called "Chien." They have many, many layers, kind of like baklava. Oh my goodness, they were actually good. I can honestly say that this is the first thing I've liked here. It was a nice discovery.

We took the kiddos to the pool this afternoon - we chose the outdoor pool. It was nice and cool. It felt fantastic. People just stared and stared at our powder-white skin. I'm getting used to the stares. I wonder if this is how movie stars feel?? A group of little boys came up to us and befriended us. They teach English in the "primary schools" here, so they knew a little. This one kid, who said he was eleven years old, picked up Dylan and carried him all around. Dylan did not know what to do. Ben was like, "Why is he holding you?" Dylan said, "I do not know." But he sat and allowed himself to be carried around. It made me giggle. The kids asked various things, like, "Is your baby a boy or girl?" "Are you from America?" and of course, the old standby, "Are these kids all yours??" They were adorable. The water really was quite cold, so we got out for awhile (and warmed up instantly). The little eleven-year-old boy got out with us, and then the sweet thing went and bought us some food from a street vendor. I couldn't tell what one skewer was, and he couldn't say what it was, but whatever it was, it was seasoned with cumin. Ben thinks it was some kind of fish. And then he brought us another skewer, and said, "This is chicken." We had just barely eaten, so I was honestly full. I was trying to tell him, and he finally said, "You not hungry?" "Yes, I'm not hungry." He shrugged and wandered away. Then he came back with a camera to take his picture with us, of course. What a sweetheart.

I told Maria and Summer, when I was with them this morning, that it's Ben's birthday on Monday, and they got soooo excited. "We want to have a party for him!" they kept saying. They arranged the WHOLE thing. We're going to eat at a restaurant not far from here. They took me to the bakery on Stinky Street to pick out a cake and arrange for it to be finished on Monday. Summer says that it's customary for a friend to bring the cake to the restaurant a little bit early. Then, when the Birthday Boy comes in, he sees the cake on the table, waiting for him. I ordered the cake with the dragon on it - it is soooo cool-looking. I'm really excited. It only cost $15. Summer is calling all of Ben's work associates and inviting them. Maria's mother's birthday is on Monday, but she insists on coming to Ben's party instead of her mother's party. I kept telling her that she should be with her mother, but she is not going to miss it. Summer says that first, you eat your dinner. Then you sing some kind of happy birthday song, and then the birthday person eats a special kind of noodles that stand for longevity.

Summer asked me why Ben would want a dragon on his cake, since she read that westerners believe that dragons are bad. I told her that, in midevil times, they believed that, but that people think they're pretty cool now. :) She says dragons stand for good luck here. I told her that they're perfect for a birthday cake, then.

She asked me more about teaching English at the university. I told her I felt really unqualified, but she said that all Mr. Tsuo wants is someone to converse with his higher-level English majors, just like I was conversing with Summer and Maria today. Again, I'm not going to push for it, but if he wants it, I'll do it.

I need to get Ben a birthday present on Monday morning. I think I'm going to see if they have any DVD's in English for him.

Oh my goodness, they have these crazy, crazy thunderstorms here. Almost every single night. It's weird - it never rains in the day. Always at night. And there are so many tall buildings here - the thunder strikes soooo loudly and close, hitting all of the lightning rods on the taller buildings. It has woken me up several times. It's thundering right now. I think it's so cool. And the rain here is "fat rain," just like Forrest Gump described Vietnam. It rains long and hard. I love it. And the streets need the cleaning. :)

Cars and taxis honk here like crazy. All you hear is honking. They do it more to say to bikers and pedestrians, "Hey, I'm driving on the wrong side of the road for a minute - watch out so I don't hit you." It seems to be just like a kind thing to do. If you get honked at, you know that someone is generally worried about hitting you. No one takes offense. Bicyclists are so funny - they wear these big things that look like visors, but they have sunglasses material on them. And they lower them over their whole face. Then they always wear a long-sleeved shirt backwards - maybe in case there are bugs that hit their shirt? If they don't have a long-sleeved shirt in front, they wear these long glove things, but without fingers. They're like elastic sleeves. It's interesting.

We haven't found any LDS church members here in Baoding, and it's too expensive to travel to Beijing every week to attend the branch, so we are planning on having church on our own every week. CES has sacrament meeting speakers online that you can watch, and then you can conduct your own primary. So that is our plan for tomorrow. Ben got special permission from our bishop to prepare and pass sacrament here in our hotel room.

Ben just brought some food home, so I'll sign off for now - we're trying this fast-food place called "Dico's." I'll let you know how it goes. :) And then I have to wake the baby and feed him.

Love you tons,

July 15 - The Supermarket‏

Hey, guys,

Well, I had another little meltdown this morning - I'm just having the hardest time here. I've been praying and reading scriptures and trying to figure out what I should do. I finally asked Ben to give me a blessing of comfort. I trusted him to use his priesthood and say the words that Heavenly Father would have him say, rather than say what he himself wanted to say. It helped so much. I could feel Ben hesitate, but then say that it was Heavenly Father's will for our family to stay together, and that He will protect us, guide us, and comfort us. It was a powerful blessing, and though I'm not happy about it, it was the answer I've been looking for. Heavenly Father wants me here. So I'll stay here until we're done. He was crying pretty hard by the end of the blessing. He said he knew that I wanted to hear that it was right for me and the kids to go home, but he truly felt like we needed to stay here with him. So here we are. Sigh.

I guess Ben won't be able to get in and see how the apartment is doing until this wall foundation issue is fixed, in one week. So it will definitely be more on the two-week original schedule they originally set for us to get in there.

We needed baby wipes, so we took a little family trip to this supermarket Ben keeps talking about. And guess what is above the supermarket?? (The supermarket is underground.) A park!!!! A normal, grassy, non-garbage-filled park. Um, there still aren't kid toys, but dang. A park. A clean park. So I was really excited about that.

So we decended into the deep to see what was down there. The first level you get to is like a shopping mall. Cute Clothes Central. Oh my. I told Ben he needed to give me lots of Retail Therapy while I'm here. He chuckled and said he would. I'm also holding him to my Trip to Hawaii requirement, dude. So then we went down to the second level. This level is mainly fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, milk, etc. All of the milk is in boxes, and unrefrigerated. Ben says that Summer says that it is indeed pasteurized, but I'm worried that it will taste really weird. I didn't see any milk like unto what we see in the states. I saw oodles and gobs of different options for vegetables and fruits, which is awesome, but I can't really see anything of the Mexican food persuasion - cilantro, jalapenos, or anything like that. I checked out the meat section very thoroughly - it was cleaner than the pics I had seen online. The workers get everything for you, and they all wear masks, hair nets, gloves, etc., and the meat is refrigerated. There was every kind of pork you could ever want, and any kind of chicken you could want, but not a sign of beef anywhere. And, obviously, seafood mania. The bakery was on this level, and it didn't have anything that looked familiar at all. The bottom level had baking stuff, boxed stuff, etc. I wanted to explore that area more thoroughly, but Gage was getting hungry and it was sooo crowded in there. And we kept getting stopped so that people could take pictures of us and with us and touch Gage and hold him and pinch his cheeks. :) So we left.

We were on our way up when we passed a bra store, and I was like, dude, I need a bra. I thought I packed one for washing, one for wearing, but apparently, I only packed one. It's an issue. So we stopped there for a minute. The chest measurements are the same as ours, I think, but not cup sizes. Their cup sizes are in numbers. So I picked one that might be my size, then I pointed into my mandarin dictionary for, "May I try this on?" She indicated that they didn't have a trying-on area. She kind of signed to me that I would have to try the bra on outside of my clothes. Oh, and she did succeed in signing whether or not I wanted padded or not. I indicated not. :) So she sat and helped me try on bras outside of my shirt. I got one as close as I could to a good fit - who really knows until I try it for reals under clothes. It was funny.

Oh, another funny thing that happened - on the first floor, Micah had been whining about needing to go pee, so we found a public restroom and Ben took him in. But then, in the second level, he said he had to pee again. Sigh. So we were looking all around and couldn't find any. We were checking out, paying for our baby wipes and some Skittles that I was really excited to find, and he was whining, and the checkout lady took her garbage out from under her little area and set it in front of him. And the actually indicated that he should pee in there. We were like, "Whaaaa?" Yep. That's what she wanted to offer us. So we had him pee, right in the checkout line, in the checkout lady's garbage. And no one even blinked an eyelash. If I was her, I wouldn't want to work next to a garbage can full of urine all day, but it was no prob. So weird!!!!

Dylan did a great job hailing a taxi for our way out of there. That makes him so proud.

Everywhere we go, the number one thing people ask - or sign - to us is, "Are all four of these kids YOURS?" When we nod our heads, the older people laugh so hard, like it's the funniest thing ever that we have four children. The younger people always smile and give us a thumbs-up sign. I don't know if rules are still applicable about how many kids you can have here or not - Ben heard they relaxed the rules so that, if your firstborn is a girl, you can try for a second. Who knows.

I did check into this imperialism thing from 1900. Apparently, there were foreigners here and there in Beijing and here in Baoding at that time, living, working, whatever. And these rebels, called the Boxers, wanted to rid China of all foreign influence. So they started this thing called the Boxer Rebellion, where they would kill and drive out any westerners, along with any Chinese people who had converted to Christianity. So this is why those troops from France, Germany, England, and Italy applied such brute force and destroyed so many things. I'm not saying it was okay of them to do this, but now I kind of understand the history around it.

We saw our first white person today!!! In May Down Low [McDonald's]. (By the way, I ordered an egg mcmuffin, which I had a couple of days ago and just loved, and they didn't put ham on it today! To compensate for lack of ham, they put on like a half-inch layer of mayonnaise and ketchup. Onto the egg. Gross.) He is actually from Russia!! He spoke good English. He said that most Americans and other English speakers are gone for the summer because they are professors, and school is out at the university, but that they all come back in the fall, and there are lots of them. This made me soooo happy. I'd like to make some friends who understand me.

Gage needed a nap, so I'm here holding down the fort. Dylan is playing Angry Birds. And Ben just took Micah and Sadie with him to Popland to grab another gross lunch. Sick. I don't expect them back for a couple of hours. "Fast food" is a foreign concept here. It has every appearance of being a fast-food joint, but it is slower than molasses.

So that's that.

Love you guys.
- Kar

July 14 - What's behind that wall??

Hey, dudes.

I find that, if we have one little adventure per day, it helps me immensely to cope. Going out in this heat is a guarantee to return home with clothes completely drenched in sweat, which is hard, but we brave it. So today, our main goal was to figure out what on earth is behind this huge wall we keep driving by.

I'm not sure if I told you this yet, but Ben asked Summer about this wall, and she said that it used to protect the inner city from attackers. It's old, old, old. Ben asked what was behind the wall now, and she tried to tell him, but it was lost in translation. It's really close to our hotel, so we decided to walk on over there today.

Lo and behold, it's a zoo! I should put "zoo" in quotes. There were two hippos, an emu, and a bazillion birds. And a whole lotta trash and disrepair. And that's it. I realized, as we were walking past Stinky Street and down what I now call Bombed Out Road (several buildings have been demolished, but no effort at cleanup has been made - it's just mountains of rubble), this place is a dump. Everywhere I turn, garbage, muck, and stinky stuff. There was a little Funland-type area next to the zoo, but only ride was working, and it was a couple of bucks to have the three kids ride. And the rest of the rides were lying there in disrepair. Pretty disappointing. The best part for me was checking out this old wall. Who even knows how old it is!! It has trees that have punched holes through it.

While we stopped to buy some bottled water in the "zoo," again, we got accosted by very excited Chinese folk. They took ten thousand pictures of us. It's so weird and funny.

The Chinese use different hand signals for numbers. We have to use a lot of hand signals because we don't know the language yet, and I learned today that "ten" is not like I use - holding up both hands with fingers extended. The Chinese cross their two pointer fingers making an "X" in front of themselves to signify "ten." To say "eleven," they do the "hang ten" sign. I've also learned that, to gesture that they want someone to come to them, they don't crook their finger toward themselves. They wave their hand in front of themselves, palm down. Up, down, up, down. They also find it rude to pick their teeth in front of others. If they use a toothpick, they put their hand in front of the toothpick so as not to show their teeth. And showing someone the bottom of your foot is the utmost rude thing to do.

Men here pull up half their shirts when it's hot and just walk around like that, with their little bellies hanging out. I'm jealous of them. And people here crouch all the time. I'm surprised their knees aren't blown to heck. Though I don't blame them for not wanting to sit down on the dirty ground. :) Ben thinks their knees aren't blown to heck because of genetics. I've decided this is also why everyone here is skinny. Because Chinese people pack it away. As Ken would say, they "put away the groceries." They eat and eat and eat. And it doesn't stick. It might also be because everyone rides bikes everywhere. And there are usually multiple people on one bike. The kids ride on the handlebars and usually another adult rides on the pegs on the back wheels.

Dylan and Sadie have become experts at hailing taxis. I think it's so cute. And little Micah knows how to use our card keys to get into our hotel rooms. We have some little city slickers developing here.

There are two kinds of taxis - turquoise sedans and burgandy sedans. If you are lucky enough to see and hail an empty burgandy sedan, oh, that is awesome, because those ones have air-conditioning. The turquoise ones do not.

After we went to the "zoo," we came home - again, that should have quotes around it - "home" - and have been lying in the air-conditioning ever since. I read a few magazines today - ones I bought back in the states - with these amazing recipes in them that I'm desperate to try. But will I be able to find the ingredients? Probably not. We need to take a little trip to this Wal-Mart like place (according to Ben) tomorrow to get some baby wipes, and I want to go to scout out what's available. I'm excited to cook in. I'm tired of eating out. Again, that should be in quotes, the "eating" part. We just kind of pick at stuff. We tried another pizza place today - it was reeeeeally gross.

We also stopped at an appliance store - Ben needs to buy a printer/scanner for our hotel/apartment. The refrigerators at this store are so beautiful! They are painted with lotus flowers, cartoon characters, all kinds of stuff. And they come in all kinds of colors. I didn't find one oven in all of the displays. Yikes. Bikes. Boy, would I like to have an oven in our apartment.

Ben and Summer went to go check the progress of the apartment renovation today - they were unable to go in - they're completely fixing the plaster on the walls and the place was in a shambles. I was happy to hear that they're actually working on it. It will be great to have a place to spread out.

Did I tell you about the babies/toddler's clothes? Camille told me about this before we left. They have gaping holes where their privates should be. No diaper. Just little bumbs and other business showing. They potty-train their kids really early here. What they do is, when they feel their toddler starting to pee or poop, they hurry and take them to a bathroom to finish the business, or they just hold them out in the street and let them poop or pee right there. You have to watch out for poop when you walk anywhere. They DO have diapers for westerners at that supermarket, though, thank goodness.

The kids are still suffering from jet lag - weird that it lasts this long. They crash in the very late afternoon and are hard to rouse for dinner. Ben just went to "May Down Low" to get some hamburgers to bring home - I didn't want to deal with waking the Grumpersons up and trying to get them into a taxi.

Ben bought these DVD's at Wally's before we left - 200 old-fashioned cartoons on like four discs. We brought them with us, and the kids LOVE watching them on Ben's computer. They're watching Gumby now. :) Dylan's favorite is Popeye, and Sadie's favorite is Betty Boop, which she keeps calling "Betty Boob." Dylan has started saying "Gorsh" like Popeye says. We also brought a few of our favorites - Nacho Libre, Napoleon Dynamite, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and The Man Who Knew Too Little. I wish we could have packed more.

We ran into Summer on our way home from the "zoo," and I asked her if there was a swimming pool around. She said there was. Ben thinks he and Summer should check it out before we go. I'd like to go tomorrow, if it's decent and clean.

Mr. Tsuo wants me to teach a class or two at the university - English. I told him that I am soooo not qualified to teach at a university, but he thinks I'm more than qualified. He says I would teach latter classes for English majors, so I wouldn't have to know any Mandarin at all. I don't know - it might be fun. We'll see. I'm not jumping up and down, saying, "Let me teach! Let me teach!" But if it's, like, one evening class a couple of nights a week, and I get paid for it, why not?

I'm so sorry for lack of pictures yesterday and today. I am working on resizing them. And then I'll link you to our Smugmug page on my e-mails and you'll be able to see everything we've been doing.

Love you guys and miss you tons.


July 13 - Well hydee ho...‏

Hey, my special ones.

I'm working on sending out individual e-mails, but it takes time, so be patient with me.

We went to Pizza Hut last night again. It was awesome. Never have I had such amazing stuffed crust. Apparently, it's expensive, though. Ben was like, "Um, just so you know, this meal costs the entire per diem amount we've been allotted." Oh. I don't think we'll be eating out that often once we get into our apartment. I'd rather cook myself and have food that I actually like. :) Depending on what I can find. Yikes. Jason, Ben's boss, spent 4 months in Morocco a couple of years ago for the company with his family, and I was like, "Howwwwwww did you eat??" He's like, "Um, we had a lot of potatoes and carrots..." Bless his wife's heart. We women go through a lot for our men.

They kept bringing us these Cokes that...I don't know. Something was wrong with them. They were not only flat, but they tasted really bizarre. We thought it was tea, but the lady told us that they don't serve tea there. We kept asking her to bring us new ones, and she kept bringing back the same ones with a lemon, without a lemon, without ice.... Lost in Translation is the story of our lives here. We finally got the menu and gestured for 7-Up. And that tasted normal.

Eating out takes ten zillion years here. Even at "fast food" places. You wait FOREVER for your food.

Our cab driver took us to the wrong university last night when we wanted to come home - we had to call Summer and give the phone to the cab driver so she could tell him where to go. She is so cool - today she gave us this little notebook that has written addresses for our hotel, Pizza Hut :), McDonald's, that big supermarket, and a place she says that has nice clothing for me. She is adorable.

We tried some local pastries from a bakery on Stinky Street for breakfast. It was nice to see some bread that has been baked instead of steamed. But it all tasted weird. They have some dope-looking cakes - there was one with this huge dragon thingey on it - I'm sooo getting that for Ben's birthday on Monday. I'm trying to figure out what to do for that. I wonder if I should invite some of Ben's work friends here to a little party somewhere.

I skyped with Beads this morning - it was fantastic. If any of you want to skype with us, it's more reliable than Google Talk here. Ben's skype name is utahben76. Let us know.

We ate at Popland for lunch again. More grossness. And it took like an hour and a half to get our fries. Sigh.

We went to this really famous garden here called the Lotus Garden. According to the sign, it's one of China's Top Ten Gardens. All of China! It was INCREDIBLE. Oh my GOSH. When we came upon the Lotus Pond, my breath was literally taken away. Surrounding it were all of these pagodas and buildings. It was, like, the governor's official garden, or something like that. I finally found out what all of this Imperialist Pigs stuff is about - there was a sign in English. In 1900, some allied forces from Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany invaded Baoding. They looted and burned all of the buildings surrounding the pool. I'll have to read up on my history to find out why they would invade Baoding in the first place. But it's sad. Anyways, they just barely renovated everything - but there are a few buildings they're still trying to fix. They have all these really cool bridges and paths going over the pool - the bridges are vaulted really high. So neat.

It was my turn with the baby backpack, and holy crap. I have never sweated so badly, except for, like, in spinning class. My hair was dripping wet when we got back. I took a huge nap - not meaning to. I slept right through dinner, which Ben bought from a local street vendor - which makes me really nervous. He's had a little bit of diarrhea, and so has Sadie - I just don't want everyone to get sick. The food from street vendors isn't as weird or spicy as from nicer restaurants. Ben bought some wrap-looking and pita-looking things. I only took a few bites - I'm just scared of getting sick. If you have ever gotten food poisoning in your life, you are scared of it forever after.

Kay, I'm going to finish re-sizing our pictures, and then I'm going to put them on Smugmug. Then I'll send you a link there so that you can see more than two pictures at a time.

I'm hoping we do more cool stuff - I find that, the more interesting stuff we do, the better I feel about staying here.

Oh, and our small refrigerator was delivered today!!! Cold drinks. So important.

Love you and miss you tons.
- Kar

July 12

Hey, guys,

I just realized that my last title was "dry-cleaned underwear," and then I forgot to write about it! We desperately needed to wash some clothes, and Ben found a laundromat on what I have started to call "Stinky Street." It's the street our hotel is on - from mid-afternoon clear until midnight or so, it is a huge flea market. Like Portabello Road. But stinky. And really dirty. People here don't really seem to care about litter. Everyone just throws their junk on the street. And with so many people, well, it adds up.

Anyways, so he found out that it was a dry-cleaning only place, but he felt too shy to ask one of our interpreters where the nearest actual washing laundromat is. (Summer, one of our interpreters, offered to help us even before we signed a contract with her, Maria, the other interpreter for me, and Jack Chan, Ben's worksite interpreter. Yes, his name is Jack Chan. Funny. But Ben felt like he would be taking advantage before we signed contracts with them, which I think is weird, but oh well.) So he took a huge duffel bag of clothes down there to get dry cleaned. What a dork. It was like $40, so he learned his lesson. We will be asking Summer very soon where a normal laundromat is. :)

I'm doing a lot better today. Sorry; yesterday was hard. I had a major meltdown. But I truly feel like things will get better as soon as we get into an apartment. And the more time I spend outside of the hotel, the more I think that it's okay to just stay indoors. :) It's so stiflingly hot and humid outside. You walk outside, and it's instant pouring of sweat. It's awful.

Ben checked with Mr. Tsuo about getting a different hotel - one with a kitchenette. Mr. Tsuo is worried about us doing this - he feels like it's safer to stay as close to the university as possible. So then we checked into getting a bigger hotel room within this hotel - a suite - but Ben feels like it's too expensive. So here, in these two teeny rooms, we will stay. Ben's boss gave the okay, however, for us to buy one of those small refrigerators that people have in their offices or dorm rooms or whatever and also a small microwave. When our time at the hotel is done, Ben will transport the fridge and microwave to his office by the work site. It will be really nice to have something to keep the baby's food cold and then something to warm it up. Ben and Summer are out shopping for those right now.

Last night we ate at a place on Stinky Street called Popland. It's weird that so many signs have English on them, but then nobody in the city seems to speak English. Bizarre. We tried the chicken nuggets. Gross, yet again. And then we tried their ice cream. Weird. And gross.

Dylan sprained his ankle last night jumping down some stairs, the dork. And I burned my cheek on a teapot. Not joking about that. It's a long story. But now I have a big patch on my cheek that looks kind of like one of those birthmarks that people get on their faces. It stung for a really long time. Poor Sadie opened the hotel door too fast and didn't move her foot quickly enough. Her toenail bent backwards all the way and has been bleeding ever since. We think she might lose it soon. We're quite the miserable group.

We decided to try to see this Lotus Pond thing today - we wanted to go in the morning, before it got too hot, and also so that our maids could come and change our sheets and garbages while we were gone. All of it backfired - we asked directions to Lotus Pond, but instead, our taxi driver took us to this thing called the Governor's Mansion. The whole thing about going in the morning before it gets too hot - naw. It was plenty hot. Wayyyy too hot. And our maids didn't show up until we got home.

The Governor's mansion was really cool. I guess Baoding used to be the capital of Hebei, the province we live in. Now, the capital is in a different city farther south. I think it moved in the 1920's or so. So we got to see where these dudes lived and ruled for hundreds of years. Nothing was in English, but we kind of got the gist of it. I felt like I was in that movie, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Courtyard-style houses are so cool. There were many, many exhibits about British Imperialist Pigs. I couldn't read the writing, but I could tell from the little dioramas they had displayed, and the photographs and paintings. It was funny.

When we first walked into the outer courtyard, there was a tourist group there from somewhere in China. Oh my GOSH. They swarmed us like we were Branjelina. They all wanted to take pictures with us, and they all wanted to touch Sadie's hair. She had a stomachache, so she was not in the mood. She really was the biggest whiner this morning. I'm used to people staring at us and all syaing "Ni how" to us, but this was ca-razy. I think they must have been from some really remote area of China, where they don't get many foreigners.

When we finished touring the Governor's mansion, we stopped at that underground shopping center again. I don't have enough capris, so Ben was like, "Buy some!" We went to this area for women's clothing, and these ladies swooped on us. She "measured" me by grabbing my hips with her hands. She had to dig in her back area to find a pair of jean capris big enough for me. But when I tried them on, bam. They fit like a charm. And they were 10 bucks. Aw yeah, baby.

Acid-washed jeans are really popular here. Like the kinds that were popular in the late eighties. People here dress soooo cute. I love it. Everywhere I look, I see clothes, clothes, clothes!!!

We had another gross lunch at the hotel. I'm hoping I can talk Ben into taking a repeat visit to Pizza Hut for dinner.

I'll be okay. I'm feeling better about life. Plus, Ben promised that, at the end of all this (hopefully the end of February), we can stop at Hawaii on our way home. Aw yeah, baby. Anyone want to meet us there??? I'm for reals, ya'all. I want to go for a week and just... be in a non-third-world country for awhile. And a place that doesn't smell like garbage.

Love you and miss you tons. Sorry I can't blog. Someday I'll be able to. As soon as Summer can direct me to an internet cafe.


July 11

Hey, all,

How is everyone? We miss you all so, so, so much.

Hm. I'm starting to wonder if I'm gonna make it here. I've been praying a whole lot. It's just...impossible to take care of my children here. And to take care of my sanity. I've been feeling pretty low.

We found out that the job site isn't nearly as ready as we were told it was. It won't be ready for Ben's portion until mid- to late August. He will have small things to do every now and then, but until then, he's free. I thought to myself, "Sweet! Then maybe we can go touring around." But Ben flatly informed me that we don't have money yet - for some reason, the Per Diem thing hasn't been set up over here. We've just been spending our own damn money this whole time. So we are stuck in this hotel until that gets arranged. It's been Sunday for you guys, so maybe something will happen tonight while we're sleeping.

Um, they don't vacuum in this hotel. No kidding. We found someone's fingernail in the carpet last night. The housekeepers have been changing the bedding in Ben's and my room, but not in the kids' room. I wonder if it's because it's a little more cluttered in the kids' room. I've been washing the baby's bottle with hot water and my neutrogena face wash, since I can't find liquid dish soap anywhere, and I can't speak the language to find a market. I asked Ben if we could call our assistant to ask for help on these things, and he said they haven't signed official contracts with the girls yet, so we can't utilize them yet.

We did go to McDonalds yesterday (they call it "May down low") for lunch, and thankfully, it tasted normal. It was wonderful. We lost Dylan for a moment - he went to the bathroom (he insisted on going by himself), which was upstairs. We were downstairs ordering food. Then one of the gals helped us get a food and find a table. We couldn't find any downstairs, so we walked upstairs. While we were looking upstairs, Dylan came out of the bathroom, and, not seeing us, went downstairs. And we didn't see him. So he went downstairs, and we were gone. We put our stuff down on a table and I went to the bathrooms to find him, and a nice Chinese guy used hand gestures to tell me that Dylan had gone downstairs. I ran down there, and he was standing there, and I felt awful. Poor sweet kid.

After we ate, we walked around this cool underground shopping center. It was like an underground flea market. Cute, cute clothes. And toys. And anything you could want.

Last night, we wanted pizza. After much wild gesticulation, our taxi driver figured out what we wanted. He took us to a pizza hut! The pizza there was wayyyy better than in the states. For reals. I've never had such good stuffed crust. They had tons and tons of other non-pizza options for people there. It was kind of like a T.G.I. Fridays, with lots of gross Chinese food options. Ben informed me that we can't afford to eat outside the hotel anymore - that if we eat in the hotel, it's part of the hotel bill that Dome is paying for now. So I guess that's the end of that.

Gage slept until, like, 4 a.m. this morning, then was up yelling and crying again. Sigh.

We went down and ate breakfast (the fried rice was all gone, so I had two eggs and some kind of spicy green beans) this morning, then came back and hung out while Gage slept. Now he's awake - Ben's feeding him - and we're going to try to go see this famous thing called The Lotus Pond. I'm glad to be getting out of here.

I'm seriously thinking of just coming home. It would be more fun if I didn't have to worry about them. The normal baby food that doesn't make Gage vomit is dwindling. The kids are bored. I'm bored. We apparently can't go see anything fun or interesting, and I whhate the food. I'm desperately unhappy. If it was a situation where we were in comfortable living arrangements, with Western food, I think I could hack it, maybe. But I can't hack this, guys. I think Ben would be happier without us here, and I think we'd be happier if we were home. I'm going to have a serious talk with him today. I just want to make airplane arrangements and go home. I'll miss Ben, but at least I can raise my kids in a safe and sane environment.

I'll let you know what I decide.


July 10

Hey, friends and family!

I was finally in the mood to upload some pics to my blog, but I can't get it to hook up today, dang it. I've tried facebook as well, and nope. I know that the Chinese government blocks certain web pages - I wonder if facebook is one of them? They can't have blocked blogger, because I know people in China who have accessed my blog at one point or another and been able to comment on it, etc. And I was able to look at it when we were in our hotel in Beijing. Who knows?? Maybe I'll upload some pics onto this e-mail. How does that sound? We make due.

So I last wrote you two days ago in the afternoon (for us). That night, we went out to dinner again with Ben's work associates. It was just downstairs in our hotel. I've noticed that a lot of Chinese restaurants are just several small rooms with hallways in between. There was a main dining area with several tables in the restaurant we ate at in Beijing, but I haven't seen one like that since. And each little room has a round table with its own waitress. These waitresses crack me up. People bring the food in, the waitress puts it on the lazy susan, and you swing the lazy susan to reach the things you want to dish up (which, for me, is nothing). Man, such service. In Europe, customer service was non-existant. Here, it's almost like the gals that work in the clothes stores at the mall - you're like, "Dude, leave me alone." Gage was asleep on me, and I was trying to cut this thing called a "Bowda" with my fork - a bowda has either vegetables in it, or some kind of meat, and they're wrapped in dough and steamed. All dough is steamed here - not baked. In fact, in the apartments Ben has been looking at, we have been unable to find an oven. People steam or fry everything. The bowdas are okayyyyy. Better than lots of other options. So back to my story. I was trying to cut the bowda with my fork, but not succeeding, because steamed dough is kind of rubbery, and this little waitress kept coming over and cutting my food for me.

So here in China, everything is about connections. Ben's work associate, William, has a good friend who teaches at the university here in Baoding. His name is Professor Han, and he is a sweetheart. So that night, Professor Han, as well as a bunch of his friends, ate with us. It's Professor Han's friend, Tsu, (which is the Mandarin word for "left"), who is a realtor and has been showing Ben apartments. Connections, connections, connections. Professor Han's neice is staying with him for the summer - her name is Lillian, and she is actually from Toronto! She's 12 and very tall and skinny. We met her this morning. It was a relief to speak English with someone.

They have the funniest cultural tradition here - when you go to eat together, you spend the entire meal toasting each other. And you do it in a certain order. You'll go around the table clockwise. So you'll toast the person on your left, and then the person after that, and so on. And you are supposed to take a shot from your shot glass every single time. Except if you don't drink, like us, you say, "Co-Cola." And then you're supposed to take shots of your coke. If the table is too big to clink your glass, you get up and clink glasses. They spend the whole meal on their feet, getting drunk! It's hilarious. Or sometimes, if the table is too big, you clink your glass on the lazy susan at the same time as everyone else.

The kids are still struggling a little bit with jet lag. Actually, Dylan's doing alright, and Ben and I are accustumed to the time change now, but Micah, Sadie, and Gage are having a hard time with it. Sadie ends up zonking out in the late afternoon, and we have to get her up to go eat, and she is grumpy during the whole dinner, which is embarrassing to me. These poor Chinese people are trying to smile at her, shake her hand, etc., and she just frowns at them, crosses her arms, and says, "Hmph." Jason said that she is like the Children of the Corn, which made me laugh. I succeeded in keeping Sadie and the baby up all day yesterday (except for scheduled naps for the baby), but they still were up a lot in the night. Hopefully, once we get an apartment and have a sense of normalcy, things will settle down.

Micah and Sadie continue to be very, very clingy. They fight over who gets to spend time with mom. Sadie is obsessed with these paper dolls I bought her for the plane ride. I'm soooo tired of playing paper dolls. I've been stuck in the hotel a lot with the kids, which is hard. Ben's been on a breakneck schedule since the second we got here. I really, really wish he had come over here a few weeks earlier and then come home to get us, like we originally planned. They've been interviewing for a local interpreter - for now, Debbie, who I just found out is actually "Gabby" - oops - has been Ben's interpreter just for now. She lives clear down by Hong Kong - she works for William. William and Gabbie will come up every now and then to see how things are, but they won't be here much. Actually, Ben just got "home" (to our room), and he hired me two personal assistant interpreters - just for me! Weird!!! So they can help me if I want to go somewhere with the kids, or if I need anything...they will switch every other week, ten hours a week each, to help me.

We finally picked an apartment today - I haven't seen the other apartments, but Ben and Jason say it's the very best one yet. It's very close to where we are staying right now. It's housing for foreign university professors and their families. We took a look this morning, and um...yikes. Bikes. I think it's been uninhabited for a long time. Very, very dirty and smelly for now. It's also unfurnished - which means that there is NOTHING. No cabinets in the kitchen. No fridge, no microwave, now flooring. Just concrete. Gabby told me that Dome Technology is going to pay for the apartment to be completely refurbished - flooring put in, furnished, air conditioning, etc. It will take two weeks. I have to stay in this teeny hotel with these naughty children for two more weeks. Ugh. The apartment is very, very spacious. I'm excited about it.

Ben left me high and dry yesterday for lunch, and I was like, Raaarrrr! So I resolved to go find a western restaurant with the kids. I went down to the front desk - they don't speak a BIT of English. So I pointed to the sentence in my Mandarin-English dictionary for "Please hail me a taxi." So she did. Then I showed the taxi driver the Mandarin sentence for "Please take me to the closest western restaurant." He goes, "K.F.C.?" Sigh. Okayyyyyyyy. So we ate at dang K.F.C. again, again with the grossest food ever. en I hailed a taxi all by myself, showed him the business card for our hotel, plus the word for "university" - because there are a few of these hotels in Baoding. And guess what? He brought us right back here. Phew. I was proud of myself.

Ben and I were invited to a fancy party last night with his associates, but we obviously had no one to watch the kids. So Ben went and guess who got to stay here in the hotel with the kids? Me. It's getting rearlly old. Ben's work friend (I can't remember his name) remembered that I like mushrooms, so he had the waitress pack some up for me. So sweet. I had one - they were spiiiiiiiiiiicy. Gabby says the food in this province is renowned for its spiciness. She says food in Shanghai is more sweet and calm. So yeah. I had one mushroom for dinner last night.

Ben went to a "western" supermarket yesterday to get some snacks for the kids. The pringles don't taste like pringles. The oreos don't taste like oreos. The only thing that tastes normal is Coke. Thank goodness. We don't have a fridge or a microwave, so to make the baby's bottles, I have to pour bottled water into a teapot, heat it up, and pour it into the bottle. Ben got some Heinz-rand baby food yesterday at that market, and I don't know what was in it, but Gage vomited alllllllllll of it up. Yeah.

Kay, we have to feed the baby lunch and then set off to try to find a McDonalds. I pray it tastes normal.

I miss you guys tons. I'll write individual letters later tonight, hopefully, and possibly blog if I'm allowed to.


July 9


I promise I'll start uploading to my blog really soon. We're in our hotel in Baoding now, and their internet totally works in the rooms, which is great. It's hilarious, because the bathrooms don't have soap, and they have those showers that are just out in the open - weird - everything is just really outdated, but you bet your sweet bippy there are flat screens in each room and a dope internet connection. :) Chinese people are funny.

Alright, let me continue filling you in on KFC. So, yeah, like I said, the "popcorn chicken" was soooooo disgusting. So we mainly ate fries. Which also tasted weird, but we were so desperate to eat anything that we just stuffed them in our mouths. Sadie asked for seconds. It cost like $14 to feed me and the three older kids - not as cheap as I thought it would be.

And let me just say that Chinese people are not that short. Seriously. I've seen some really tall ones, and most of them are average height. But I was right on the money that every single one of them is skinny. I'm wondering if it's because the food here is so gross. Ha!

So back to KFC. Nobody there understood English, so I had to point to the menu, then show on my hand that I wanted four of that item. I felt dumb.

Oh, I forgot to tell you - when we got into the airport and came out into the crowd that was greeting people that had returned from China, it was like walking the freakin' red carpet. People were taking pictures of my kids, cheering, waving, so excited. One of them gave Dylan a Chinese flag. So funny.

After Ben finished his meetings, we all went out to dinner. I was hoping for some decent food - nope. More weird stuff. Duck with the head still attached... lots of pudding-ish textured things... I really did try hard. I think I have Sensory Perception Disorder. Seriously. The kids didn't do much better. Ben has done really well with the food here. And Jason, his boss, has done well. So when I say "we all," I mean us plus Ben's work companions from here. There's a lady named LeAnn (she is so nice and seriously in love with Gage), a guy named William, a guy named Mr. Ju, our interpreter, Debbie, and another guy named... crap. I forget. Mr. Ju is all business. He loves Gage, but seems uninterested in getting to know the rest of us, which is fine. William is Mr. I-want-everyone-to-be-
comfortable. Such a sweetheart. He makes bird noises for Gage, which he loves. He kept trying to make me eat stuff. Debbie told me it's a Chinese custom that you give the last bite of something to someone at the table as a blessing, or a well-wish. So he was trying to wish me well, which was sweet as heck.

I think they all have chosen American-sounding names that are as close to their Chinese names as possible. Again, so sweet.

Debbie is so concerned for me and the kids. The kids still have tons of snacks that I packed in their backpacks, so if they don't eat, they can come back to the hotel and snack, but I don't, so if I don't eat, well, I'm just hungry. She keeps asking if she can go get me something, but I tell her that I'm fat anyways, so it's all good. She says I'm not fat, and so does LeAnn, which is kind.

We took a rental car down to Baoding this morning - for only 80 miles, it took 2 1/2 hours. The freeways are so crowded. And can I just say that Chinese drivers are INSANE. It reminds me of France. There are dashed lines on the street, but everyone ignores them. And all the taxis and rental cars don't have seatbelts. So yeah. A little scary. The biggest rental car they could find barely held all of us, plus our luggage. We were stuffed in there like sardines.

When we got to the hotel, our rooms were sooooooooooo hot, and I couldn't find any air conditioning controls, but after about half an hour, I thought to look up. Oh. They're way up by the ceiling. Thank the Lord. I was about to have a heart attack. It's really humid here, which makes the heat unbearable.

Oh yeah, we stopped at a rest area to use the bathroom - it was all "squatters." Sadie was dismayed at first, but sucked it up and did a really good job. Guess who did a bad job? Me. I accidentally peed all over my flip flop. How embarrassing. And gross. We looked at the snacks inside the snack area of the rest stop, and I couldn't recognize one thing except for the sodas. Thank goodness they have coke everywhere here. We did see something that looked like peanuts, so we bought some and snacked on them.

There are Plants vs. Zombies and Angry Birds toys to be purchased all over the place. This makes Dylan really happy. :)

It took a long time to get out of Beijing - city forever and ever. And then it was just farmland all over. Not rice paddies. I think they need to do those on hills. They seem to grow a lot of corn and potatoes.

We went to lunch, again with Ben's work associates, and we ate more gross food. The only thing I recognized was watermelon. So I had a lot of that.

Ben, Jason, and Debbie are looking at an apartment right now - and they're scheduled to look at four more tomorrow. Debbie is working really hard to find us an apartment that has western amenities, which is also close to a western market. Oh, I pray that there is a western market here somewhere.

I forgot to tell you - we could see the Olympic stadium thing in Beijing from our hotel window - the building they called the "bird's nest." So cool.

Alright, Ben is going to be home soon, and we're going out to "eat." I put that in quotes, because I'll probably nibble on something disgusting and go to bed hungry. :)

I'll upload pics to my blog as soon as I can, alright? For now, I'm going to try that crazy shower. Life is crazy.

Love you guys-

July 8

Whassup, homies?

Kay, I need to check Ben's inbox, and I only have time to write a
teeny e-mail right now, but when things get less crazy, I'll be able
to write more later.

Welllll, yesterday, Ben was gone at meetings most of the day. They
don't have a swimming pool in our hotel. (it's really, really nice, but
I don't get the impression that Chinese people are big into swimming
for leisure. When I've asked if there's a pool nearby, they look at me
like, "why would you want to do that?")

I'm in the hotel lobby with the three oldest kids, and I think their
behavior stresses the hotel workers out. They're definitely not used
to kids. There is one lady whose sole job is to keep the pillows on
the couches artfully arranged. My kids are making her job hard this

So anyways, yesterday for most of the day, the kids watched movies
that we brought on our laptop (sooo glad we brought that). I would put
Gage down for his naps and then go next door to the kids' room and
hang out there. I would just mainly cuddle them and dose in and out.
It's the first time I have relaxed in weeks.

I had to take them out for lunch by myself, which ended up not being
nearly as scary as I thought it would be. Chinese people are sooo
nice. We walked to KFC, and it was really, really gross. There are
signs that say, "we do chicken right!" all over the place, along with
pictures of food I don't recognize. We got "popcorn chicken," which
ended up being like sweet and sour pork, without the sauce. It was

Kay, more later. We have to catch the rental car to go to Baoding.
Love you and miss you TONS.


July 7

Hey, guys,

This is actually Kar - I'm a faster typist, so Ben told me to type up something really quickly while he takes Micah upstairs to our room to pee. For some reason, the internet won't work in our rooms, but it's working well in the main lobby of the hotel.

Kay. To say that the plane ride was horrific is the understatement of the century. Actually, the three older kids did pretty well and slept the whole time, but Gage struggled. Ben and I took turns rocking him to sleep and praying he would stay that way, but he never did for long. When it was my turn to sleep, my restless legs would kick in and kill me. Ben only slept like an hour the whole time.

I watched Jane Eyre on the plane, and from the subtitles at the bottom, I figured out the Chinese symbol for "Hell" and "No." I'm proud of myself. :)

The interpreter that works for Ben and Jason picked us up at the airport in a hotel shuttle and brought us straight here.

It was breakfast time for us when we got here, but everything in the hotel was shut down as far as food - they had two sandwiches and two hamburgers left in the kitchen, so that's what we ate. Then we did baths and put the kids to bed. It took a really long time for them to fall asleep. Gage slept fitfully all night - again, I hardly slept. Neither did Ben. I think we slept maybe 10 minutes the whole night.

Beijing looks really cool, what I can see. We're on the 16th floor, which is fun. They actually have a couple of English-language TV channels, but it's all news channels, which makes the kiddos sad. So they're spending their time shrieking and screaming and running around. Sigh. We have two separate rooms, one for Ben, me, and the baby, and one for all three kids. They only had two twin beds in the kids' rooms, and a rollaway bed costs $40 per night, so we squished the beds together and poor Mikey had to sleep in the crack.

The kids are rock stars. It took awhile to check in to the hotel lobby, and since it was midnight, it was quiet. Gage had like five people staring at him, holding him, taking pictures with him...he was a good sport and complied, but he wouldn't smile. People also wanted to take pictures with Sadie. I think Micah was giving them the "don't even think about it" vibe, so they didn't try. One guy asked me a question in Mandarin, which I didn't understand, but I could tell he was asking the age. I held up three fingers, and he taught me the Mandarin word for "three." People here are really, really nice. They always seem surprised when we say "goodbye" in Mandarin.

We came down for breakfast this morning - they had pancakes and french toast, but everything else was totally weird and scary-looking. I had a couple of slices of watermelon and...that's it. No appetite. Ben was adventurous. He ate a few different things. The kids tried dumplings and decided they aren't as good as they look on Kung Fu Panda. :)

Ben has a meeting in a few minutes here in the lobby, I think. Or maybe they're meeting here and going somewhere else. So it's just me and the kiddos, stuck in the hotel room. Yaaaaaaaaay. I plan to make Gage nap in one room and play games with the kids in the other.

I got a little panicked and overwhelmed last night and spent a while crying. I'm homesick and wondering, "What have I DONE??" But I know it will get better. I felt this way when I first got to England, and it got better. And with Ben here, it will be an easier adjustment.

We spend tonight here in Beijing again, and then tomorrow morning, we take a shuttle down to Baoding.

Kay, I'll write more when we have time and internet access. We miss you guys and love you. We just wanted you to know that we're doing alright. It will start getting more fun once the jet lag has subsided.

-Kar and Ben
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