Friday, September 23, 2011

Oh boy, do I have biiiiiiiiiig news.‏


Well, we are all coming home, but then Ben will return at some point. But not me and the kids.

Let me 'splain. No. There is too much. Let me sum up. (What movie??) So things have continued to stall at Ben's job site. They worked for, like, one day, maybe a month ago? But that's it. The executives at the Chinese company here continued to deal shadily with Ben's company. They haven't paid Ben's company yet - they've missed two payments; and they refuse to pay some customs charges and a few other charges which the contract that they signed clearly stated they were responsible for. Not only are they refusing to pay for anything, but they are acting like Ben's company is soooooooooo privileged to be working with them, they should just roll over and say, "Okay, don't pay us! We don't mind! Because we're so excited to have an opportunity for working with you, oh big, bad, powerful Chinese company." Ben's bosses were so incensed that two of them came over to have a big old meeting yesterday. I would call it a Come to Jesus meeting, but considering the circumstances, I'm calling it a Come to Buddha meeting. Ben's bosses basically said, "You pay us now or we walk." And they meant it. They have so many other projects going on around the world; they don't have time to be pussyfooting around with people.

I'm pretty sure it scared the Chinese guys, because they're all, "Okay, we'll pay you the thousands upon thousands that we owe you within ten days. And we'll get more going on the job site." So the plan is, my fam is coming home. We'll see if they really do pay. If they do, yay. But they still have to prepare the job site. So when or if they actually get it all ready, then Ben and probably his boss again will fly here, check it out, and make sure they're not lying. Because for REALS. They have been big liars. If they're not lying, and they have prepared the site, Ben will stay here and finish up with the project managing. The Chinese company were all, "Yeah, it will be three weeks, tops." But after looking at the job site today, Ben's boss and coworker said, "It will be a miracle if this is ready by February, even if they work every day on it." Sooooo, who knows??

As for me and my kids, we're done. Stick a fork in us. We're ready to get back home. Homeschooling is a nightmare - Sadie gives me major 'tude every day when it's school time for her - "I hate school! I hate you! I hate Math! I hate reading!!" It takes up too much of my time and energy, and everything else is getting neglected. Luckily, Ben has been here to help with the kids, cooking, housekeeping, etc. But I knew that I would be screwed when the project started in earnest. I got a taste of that yesterday and today. Dylan is supposed to do six hours of work per day; Sadie is supposed to do five. Yesterday, Sadie got her hours in, but Dylan got maybe 1 1/2 hours in. Today, vice versa. Dylan got all of his; Sadie got 1 1/2 hours in. Neat. But I have obligations, dude. For instance, today, breakfast had to be made (there isn't any cereal here, so we have oatmeal every other day and eggs and hash browns or eggs and toast every other day), served, and fed to the baby (I am NOT giving him a bowl of oatmeal and seeing how he does with it. That's just asking for trouble). I'm trying to teach the baby how to use a sippy cup and use it himself, but he doesn't get it quite yet, so I had to help him with his drinks. I had to change his diapers. I had to intervene when Micah and Sadie were slapping/punching/pulling each others' hair. I had to put movies into the computer (when we had offline parts of school) to keep Micah occupied. I had to run down and buy some vegetables to chop up and put in our Ramen for lunch. (We have Ramen every other day and peanut butter sandwiches every other day. There is no such thing as deli meat here. I put veggies in our Ramen to make it a teeny bit more healthy.) I had to run a load of laundry and hang it up. I had to do dishes and clean up, because Ben told me his boss and coworker were coming over after they saw the job site today, and my kitchen was gross. Does that leave 9 hours per day for instruction for the kids? Nope.

And the kids can do some parts of their lessons by themselves, but because they're so young, and because, for instance, Sadie needs more help with phonics and reading and stuff, they can really only do the independent reading and the handwriting practice by themselves. For everything else, they need my help.

So, yeah, the kids and I are sick of each other with the schooling thing. And I need to get Micah into preschool. I need to have some separation from him. For reals. He's killing me. And he needs more social interaction. He's more difficult to deal with and harder to understand with his speech than ever. I wonder if he hasn't regressed a bit since we've been here. It's been traumatic for him.

Ben has been really supportive of my thoughts on this and says that, though it will be hard for us to eventually be separated, it will probably be better for the majority of our family to get back to the states. And it will just be, like, maybe six months, tops.

There was some talk a few months back about having Ben head up a project in Korea. If they decide to assign Ben to that job site, again, I will probably send him on his merry way and stay at home with the kiddos. If the Korea project is a year or longer, though, I might just have to join him. That's just such a long time to be apart. And my bet is that Korea will be a bit easier for us - depending on where in Korea, hopefully there would be an international school where I could enroll the kids, a congregation for church that are allowed to meet together, etc. More of a support system for me as a busy mom.

There has also been talk of actually opening an office in London, and maybe of Ben working there. Again, if it's a year-long commitment or more, then we'll go with him and enroll the kids in British public school. I just know that I can't ever try to homeschool again. And I also know that I LOVE ENGLAND. And dude, there is a crepe stand on every corner, and a bakery on every other corner, and chocolate on every third corner....I think I'll be okay if we live in England. :) Verrrrrrry okay.

So that's that. We're leaving. And, honestly, I'm really glad. We have to be out of the country by Oct. 5th, because then we will have been here 90 days, and per our visas, we have to leave the country every ninety days, so we are flying out Oct. 4th, but like I told Ben tonight, now that I know we are going home, I want to leave YESTERDAY. You know? I want to get home and prepare for Halloween and enjoy what little there is left of autumn in Idaho Falls. My favorite time of year. But Ben and I both agree that we really should see the sights in Beijing before we go - it would be so dumb to have lived only 80 miles away and never toured Beijing. So we'll hit the big stuff. Ben booked this touring company and got us a hotel (a Holiday Inn Express) there in Beijing. We'll leave here Oct. 1st, do Beijing for three days, and fly out the fourth. And I'm SO EXCITED. Here's what we get to see - The Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, the Temple of Heaven, Tian'men Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Olympic Park, a jade-carving factory (I'm so in love with jade and have a feeling that many souvenirs will be bought there by me), and a silk manufacturing factory. We will be totally exhausted, but dang. I cannot WAIT.

Soooooooooooo, lots of stuff to do. We'll have to load all of those books and school things, that took forever to get here, into our luggage and try to evenly distribute it. And cart it all back home. I'm not interested in homeschooling for the remainder of the school year. The kids miss their old friends at Hawthorne, so if they still have space, I'll be putting the kids back there. Maybe, with jetlag and everything, I might try to get them started Oct. 10th or so. We might have to buy a couple of more really big bags. Because not only do we have these infernal books, but dude, I want a few souvenirs, you know?? :)

So that's my story. And I'm sticking to it.

I'm jealous of teachers in China.

Kay. So, if you don't know, and you should if you are on my contacts list, but just in case, I taught junior high school for four years, right? And it was wonderful, because I truly love teaching and I love teenagers. I probably won't feel that way when I have my own. Hahaha! Anywho, I had tons and tons of really great experiences, but lots of frustrating ones. One of the hardest things about teaching in this day and age is the disrespect you have to deal with in the classroom. I had students say the F word to me...I routinely had to kick three or four kids out of my classroom per day for serious problems. Many of the parents of the students were mad at me that I didn't give their kids A's for not doing one iota of work in the classroom. I just think that the culture of students is different than it was when I was a teenager. I probably spent 99% of my time with classroom management and discipline, leaving very little time for real instruction or teaching.

So anyways, in talking with several teenagers here, I've discovered that I am breaking a commandment, for I am coveting the experience of these teachers here. Chinese kids have absolute and utter respect for their teachers. There isn't any swearing at the teacher. Kids don't even talk in class. At all. They prepare their work. They work hard.

Some interesting factoids about how school works here - you are at school from 7 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. Candy, the cute little teenager across the hall, has told me this, as has Professor Han's son and his nephew. I think they have class, then a break to study, then class, then a break to study, all day long. I guess that takes the pressure off from studying at home every night, right? You just stay there all day and all night. You take a lunch, and dinner is provided.

Professor Han's son's name, funnily, is Ha Han. If he was in the U.S., he would say, "Hi, my name is Ha Han Han." Here, he says, in Mandarin, "Hi, my name is Han Ha Han." Funny. And weird that he doesn't have an English name that he picked years ago in English class. Anyways, Ha Han is 18 and goes to college about an hour away. He was home last week (more on that in a minute), and we were over at their house, and he told me that in his high school, you have the same 30 kids in every single class. You stay in the same room, and the teachers are the ones who rotate. So you're in the room the whole day and evening. He told me there were 5,000 kids in his school, but he only knows his 30 classmates, obviously. And there are 200 teachers just at his school.

Mike, Professor Han's nephew, is 14. In his junior high school, there are actually 89 kids in each class, again, with the teachers rotating. There is no talking, there are no group projects, there is no conversation. I've met some American teachers who just got here to teach at the university (again, more on that in a sec), and they told me that, as far as reading and writing English, the Chinese are pros. But ask them to speak it or understand it when it's spoken, and they are lost. Because there is no interaction in the classroom. This is where I think the Chinese kids are at a disadvantage compared to American kids. In high school and college, we did tons of group projects, presentations, etc., the idea being that it would better prepare us for the real world - in work environments, you work with other people, together. Not by yourself. Which is true. I guess I just envy the nice, quiet respect that the teachers get here.

Mike showed me his English class textbooks. I was BLOWN AWAY. The things he's learning are at the same level as NATIVE ENGLISH-SPEAKING 14-YEAR-OLDS IN THE U.S. I couldn't get over it. In fact, I read lots of the questions and exercises and worksheets and whatnot, and I thought to myself, "Okay, so half of my students would be like, 'Huh?????? I don't get it.........'" After four years of teaching, you kind of know what your students can and cannot do.

In Mike's English class, they do listen to language a little bit - they watch these movies and then fill in worksheets that ask questions about "typical American life" from these movies. Mike was like, "Here are some pictures from the movies. Are these famous movies in your country???" I looked at the pictures - stills taken from movies - of actors I don't know, with early eighties hair and clothing. I laughed and said, "Uh, no. I don't think these have been seen by anyone except Chinese students!" I also was sure to let him know that we don't dress like that in the U.S. anymore, nor have hair like that anymore. It made me chuckle.

Free Stuff Micah Has Gotten This Week

1. A toy car and launcher from our neighbors
2. Little circular cards that pop when you throw them down. They have pictures of Plants vs. Zombies characters on them. He got those for free from the Hans.

People looooooooooove him. The more he is shy and refuses to speak to them or look at them, the more they want his approval. It's weird. Sadie is really jealous of this ability he has to get free stuff from people. She says people don't like her as much as they like Micah, but I don't think that's true. Yesterday, we were buying some fake UGGs on the street (more on that in a minute), and the saleslady was so thrilled to meet Sadie that she embraced her in a huge bear hug while shouting joyously. Sadie took it like a man. She's getting used to the constant touching and grabbing. She's so cute.

Mooncake Mania!

Okay, so Sept. 12th was mid-autumn festival here - a big deal. I was telling my dad that it reminds me of Thanksgiving. People go home to be with their families, always. And they have certain traditional foods, the most prominent being the mooncake, because mid-autumn festival is always on the day that the moon will be full. So the date changes every year. So it reminded me of Thanksgiving, because in the U.S., it's all about getting together and eating, and because what dessert do you always have? Pumpkin pie. We have these traditional foods that we eat at Thanksgiving - same with mid-autumn festival here.

Mooncakes - what can I compare them to? Like pasties from England. But filled with mystery datey, figgy stuff of different flavors. And the pastry part is thin and many-layered, kind of like Baklava. You're not missing anything, I promise. Our cute neighbors bought us a box of them. People exchange boxes of mooncakes like gifts at Christmastime. They had hundreds of vendors on the streets for the whole week before the festival, selling all different kinds of mooncakes. Some of them have edible red stamped patterns on the top of them. Some of them have carvings stamped into them, kind of like they used to do with signet rings and wax in the olden days in Europe. It reminds me of that. But you know, instead of wax, it's mooncake dough. :)

We weren't sure what we were going to do that day - it wasn't a holiday for my kids, as far as school was concerned, so it was just going to be business as usual. And before our neighbors got us mooncakes, I thought maybe we'd buy a few and try them. But then sweet Professor Han's family invited us over. We had a BLAST.

So like I told ya, Professor Han has three sisters, because that was the era before the one-child policy here. And, parenthetically, he told me another provision for the one-child policy - if you live in the country, you can have two kids. If you live in the city, though, just one. And one of my new American friends (more on that in a minute) told me that you can also have more children if you can pay for them. You have to pay some kind of fee.

One of his sisters actually lives right across the hall from him; her son is Mike, the 14-year-old. I can't remember her name or her husband's name. I so wish everyone had English names. The native names are just wayyyy too hard for me to remember. Then Professor Han has another sister who lives on the outskirts of Baoding. She brought her son, Andy. I didn't meet her husband - not sure the story there. Andy is actually 7 years old, so he played really good with the kids. I really, really liked Prof. Han's sisters. Sooo sweet. His mom came over, as well. And then Ha Han came home for the holiday, as well as the third sister's daughter - the third sister lives far away, but her daughter goes to the university here in town. She was adorable. She couldn't get enough of my kids. And Prof. Han's wife completely took over the care of Gage, as usual. When she's around, I don't have to worry about keeping him out of stuff, baby-proofing the area, feeding him, giving him his bottle, changing him - she wants him the whole time. She adores him. And he actually adores her.

So the ladies were making traditional Chinese dumplings, and it was very important to Prof. Han to have me learn this. They make the dough with only water and flour. They don't use any kind of measuring spoons. (I actually have never found any measuring spoons or cups of any sort here. When I make oatmeal, I just measure quantities by eyeballing things in a drinking cup; same with when I make rice.) They just grab the flour with their hands, add tap water, and moosh it around to make a dough. Then they roll it out like a snake, slice it like you would a cinnamon roll, into several small discs, then roll each disk out into a small circle. Then they fill it with the teeniest amount of filling, and then they seal it up in the most artful of ways. The sisters tried to teach me all of these ways of folding the dumplings up. It was fascinating and really fun. And mine were the ugliest. They were so surprised that I know how to work with dough. I was like, "Oh, honey, if you gave me some shortening and a cookie sheet, I could show you my famous apple dumplings." Which have a similar name to the dumplings here, but are nothing alike!! The filling, as far as I could understand through their halting English, and my non-existant Mandarin, was some kind of squash. (They kept calling it a melon, but then they showed me one, and I was like, "Oh! Squash!" They thought that was the funniest word they have ever heard.) It wasn't a squash that I'm familiar with. In addition to squash, there was...some kind of date? And that's about it.

So, after we folded like a million of these dumplings in artistic ways, they steamed them up. Professor Han's mom refused to sit at the table and eat with everyone else. She wanted to man the steamer, and nobody else was allowed near. I felt disrespectful, sitting there eating while she cooked. As far as dumplings go, they were alright. Better than any I've had in restaurants so far. But still weird to me. I kept thinking, "This would be so much better baked!!" They dip their dumplings in vinegar. Their vinegar is dark brown, as is their rice vinegar. Both kinds of vinegar I've used in the states have always been white, so that's interesting to me. They had tons of watermelon, which was good. And grapes, none of which are seeded, so you have to be careful when you eat them. The kids used to love grapes, but after many traumatic seed incidents, they sure don't like them anymore. But they ate like ten pieces each of watermelon, so that was good. It's also traditional, in addition to mooncakes, to serve pita bread with sugar stuffed inside of it. Kind of strange. Like I've said, I'm a fan of the pita bread here, but I haven't yet found any stuffings that Iike. Ben brought some pitas home the other day with donkey meat in them, which is a local Baoding specialty. Barf me.

Gage ate two dumplings, which impressed everyone there. He's a fan of any kind of food. The kid can pack it AWAY. Oh, how I love him.

Professor Han also insisted that Ben play Chinese chess with Mike and with Ha Han. I noticed, while they were playing, that Ha Han was wearing Barack Obama socks. I laughed so hard and took a picture. His mom and dad laughed, too. They must have been a recent college purchase. :) My American friends say that people here love Obama. I thought it was interesting. And it made me ashamed. Do I know the president, or dictator, or whatever they are calling it nowadays, in China? Uh, no..... How dumb. I need to read up on my Chinese politics and history. I'm going to read a book after I'm done with the one I'm reading now, called White Swans. My mom just read it and raves about it, as does my virtual branch relief society president. It's about three generations of Chinese women in this Chinese emigre's family history - her grandma, her mom, and her. It's non-fiction and it's supposed to be just fascinating. I've been kind of avoiding it - I've been kind of Chinese-d out. But maybe once I'm home I'll be in the mood. It's supposed to talk a lot about that time of the 1950's when Chairman Mao took over and all that - I guess this lady's mom and dad were high up in the communist government at that time.

Needless to say, White Swans has been banned in China. Hahaha!

There is a coffee shop across Stinky Street that also sells ice cream - ISH. Pretty close to ice cream. Anyways, I so badly want to take a picture of a sign in there that has a picture of Stalin, Lenin, Marx, Mao, etc., sitting at tables at a party, and at the top, it says, "Welcome to the Party!" I think it's really funny.

Sorry for the giant tangent.

Professor Han was sure to show Ben and I his bed and to assert that firm beds are better for you than soft beds. And he made us walk on this..rug made of rocks. I don't know how else to explain it. He says it's good for the circulation. Whatev, Professor. Whatev.

Often, when Sadie is tired of standing, she crouches, like a true native. They saw her doing that there and were so pleased that she was relaxing like the locals. They encouraged me to try to do it, but my stomach fat got in the way, or I was unbalanced, or something. I'm not sure. I was grunting and almost fell over. Neat.

Professor Han kept making me try all of these Chinese snacks before and after our meal. One was a dried date. It was gross. One of the other things he had me try, which was soooo funny, but also made me throw up in my mouth a little, was this chocolate-covered who knows what. I cautiously bit into it, and guess what it was? A GARBANZO BEAN. Dipped in chocolate. If you were to buy a can of garbanzo beans at the store, drain them, and dip each bean in chocolate, that is what this was. I laughed and laughed. They have the weirdest foods here!

We asked them how they felt about cheese. They weren't sure what we were talking about. Mrs. Han pulled from her fridge a sample of margarine that she had clearly gotten from a hotel somewhere. It was very old. "Cheese?" she said, pointing to it. "No, butter," we said. We explained what cheese was. They finally realized what we were talking about and made faces. "Cheese is disgusting," they said. They asked how to make it. Neither Ben nor I had any idea. Hahaha!

After a few hours, I told them that we really needed to do schooling. And Gage had had it. He needed a nap. I was going to start with Dylan anyways, so they offered to watch Sadie and Micah and have them play there, and then said they'd bring them home in an hour or two. The kids have been over there a ton, and they love it. And the Hans love them. So we felt totally comfortable leaving them there. And they felt totally comfortable there. Which is weird, for Micah. He very much trusts the Hans. And that's saying something. Plus, they have an adorable little dog that the kids love. Ha Han, Mike, and the adorable neice brought them home in a couple of hours.

When Dylan, the baby, Ben, and I left, Sadie and Micah were pretending to play Chinese chess, making up their own game, and saying, "I got your guy!" and then stealing each others' playing pieces. The Hans thought that was the funniest thing ever.

I've just been so grateful to people like the Hans who have been so kind to us here. It's made things much easier. And we'll miss them.

Oh, and something I've noticed that's funny - when the Chinese get people into a group to take their picture, they say, "Chezzzzzz-uhhhhh!!" Like our "Cheeeeeeeeeese!" Funny.

Grandpa's Other Job

The kids were doing a history lesson online the other day - it was like a memory game, but with pictures of land forms and their names. So, like, glaciers, peninsulas, islands, deserts, etc., and their names. Each time a kid would virtually turn two cards over, the dude on the recording would say, "Is this a match?" and the kids had to click "yes" or "no." Dylan was convinced that the man who voiced this question that was repeated over and over, was my dad. "Did you HEAR that, Mom? Grandpa Hale did the voice for this game!" I chuckled and said, "Um, I don't hear the resemblance, but I can assure you that he didn't." Dylan, being Dylan, insisted upon this for hours and hours. I finally said, "Well, Dyl, you'll have to ask him yourself when you see him." That kid never says never. Kind of like Jaedan Smith on Karate Kid. "I will never say neverrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.....I will fight 'til foreverrrrrrrrrrrrrr....." By the way, that movie should NOT be called Karate Kid. It's set in China, dude. Not in Japan. My heck. That really bothers me. It should be called Kung Fu Kid.

So I found out the name of the Justin Timberlake-type of guy - Jin Chow. Oh, he's big time here. His face is on everything.

The Seamstress on Bombed-Out Road

Before we knew we were coming home, we had started to buy some cold-winter clothes for the kids. And Ben had bought some slacks at a cheapo store. I wasn't too impressed with the prices, but they were comparable to what you would pay at Old Navy, so whatever. I wasn't about to spend double that in the department stores. Kids grow out of stuff too quickly to spend lots of money on their clothes, in my humble Kar opinion.

Well, after just one washing, one of Sadie's shirts' seams came undone, as did one of Dylan's hoodie seams, and Ben's pants seams. Just really shoddy workmanship. Ben wanted his slacks mended in time for his trip to Beijing last weekend, so I suggested that he go to this lady I've seen on Bombed-Out road. She sits on one side of a canal, her sewing machine right there on the sidewalk, a long extension cord running to the building behind her. She has hundreds of colors of thread. I made a mental note when I saw her a few times, so while I was teaching the kids one day, I sent Ben down there to see if she could fix our stuff. I think he had, like, two other things that needed mending, too. So he went there, and she fixed them up really nicely!!! She matched the thread really well and did backstitching and everything that a proper seamstress should be doing. It cost the equivalent of $5 for her to fix all five things. I'm a fan.

I'm sure she doesn't make very much, but I love the idea that, if you need something mended, you go to the seamstress at the side of the canal to do it. The keymaker is behind the Nut Guy on Stinky Street. You need a key made? That's where you go. Not to Home Depot. To the Key Guy behind the Nut Guy. If you need your shoes repaired, you go to the, ironically, legless man in front of the internet bar. He sits there on the sidewalk and fixes shoes for you. If you need your bicycle wheel pumped up, go to the guy beside the newspaper stand. He just pumps up tires, all day long. I just think it's so cool, though I really feel badly for these people, and for the vendors on Stinky Street and Party street. They work every single day, from 8 in the morning until 10 at night. No weekends off. No breaks. They are out there in the infernal heat, no matter what. If it's raining, they put tarps up above them. I just don't know how they can stand it.

Cowboys and Aliens

My hair was getting really nasty, unbearably so - just so shaggy and gross. So I took Micah and Dylan, who also needed cuts, and headed back down to the non-PTSD-inducing hair salon farther down on Stinky Street. The guy who so harshly sent me away, telling me to come back in three weeks, wasn't there, but it had been three weeks, so I felt justified going. Summer came, and I'm glad. She explained to the gal what I wanted done, and the gal did a good job. Not as good a job as my lady in I.F., but okay. While the kids and I were getting our hair cut, there was a movie playing in the waiting area. And the movie was an American movie I had seen previews for before we left - something about Cowboys and Aliens? It had 13 from House on it, and Daniel Craig, the James Bond guy. I laughed so hard. It's my guess that that movie is still in theaters in the U.S. So there has GOT to be somewhere you can buy these black market movies here! I just can't get anyone to tell me where. But do I want a movie with Chinese subtitles and horrible lighting, that looks like it was filmed literally in an American movie theater, even though it's only $5? Naw. I'd rather get the one I can see and actually hear. That's how I feel about it.

Dude, I've been working on this letter for three days, and it looks like I'm going to have to finish it up tomorrow - it's so late, and I'm bushed.


So last week, Dyl, Micah, and I were walking down Stinky Street, and this Chinese lady yells, "Hello!" I just nodded and said Hello back, like, yeah, yeah, yeah. Because people just shout hello to us left and right while we walk down the street. It's so funny. So I kept going, and she stops me and goes, "No, I'm American!!! I'm American!" I go, "Whaaaaaaaaaaa???????????????" I was so excited that I practically hugged her! My first American in 2 1/2 months! Her parents are both from Hong Kong, but she was born in the U.S. Her name is Felice. She's teaching English at the university for this school year. It was so fantastic to see her. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to call each other. Later that night, I was going to get some drinks at the corner store and I ran into Felice again, this time with a blonde gal named Hannah, also a teacher. And then two American guys came up and chatted, too!!! Their names are George and John. Those two have come and taught for a couple of years now. They go home every summer, all summer, and then return again. George can actually speak Mandarin now, pretty well. This is Felice's and Hannah's first time. They say there are two other Americans at the other university in town, and then two in another town nearby. I told them we should have them over for dinner, and they got really excited - "We haven't had decent food in two weeks!" they said.

I decided to have them over last weekend. I was feeling sad and lonely, with Ben gone, so I got tons of food prepared. I was planning to make marinated Asian chicken, rice, and five-spice carrots - all recipes from, well, That website has saved my life. Because honestly, you can't really cook anything western here. The ingredients just are not here for it. I planned to have them over on Sunday night, all eight of them. But then I got horrifically sick - just a really bad cold, and I canceled.

A couple of nights later, the girls called and offered to bring me medicine. I readily accepted, since we were out of Nyquil, and I hadn't slept well for three nights. It was just Felice and Hannah. It was so fun to talk to them and have them play with my kids. They are total sweethearts. Felice grew up speaking Cantonese in her home. I asked her what the difference was between Cantonese and Mandarin - was it like the southern drawl in the southern United States vs. the accent in, say, Boston, Massachusetts? She said that the writing, the Chinese characters, are identical. But that the spoken language is completely, totally different. She took Mandarin in college, so she can get around pretty well.

Hannah has lived in, like, 27 different countries. All over the place. Many third-world places. She says she just really loves to learn new languages and new cultures. It's her first time in China, and she said that it's been a struggle for her to adjust to life here. I thought it was telling, that she has lived in a lot of impoverished, tough areas, but that this has been the hardest adjustment for her. It made me feel a little bit more justified in my discomfort. :)

They came over again last night - I think they like us. And I like them. And it sounds like their apartments are truly horrific. So we welcome them to our apartment, which really is luxurious, by Chinese standards. I ended up making that meal the night before, and I had leftovers for last night and offered some to them. They gobbled it up. Then Ben was still hungry and made pancakes with his own made-up syrup recipe. He and the girls gobbled up a whole bunch of pancakes, too. They were so excited. They only have one electronic hot plate in their apartments, so I honestly don't know if they'll be able to cook with any butter. You have to have the teflon pans here to cook with butter, and the electronic hot plates don't work with teflon pans. They have microwaves and toaster ovens, so that's good. I told them that they could have my cooking ingredients when we leave. And then I'll send Ben, when he comes back, with baking powder, baking soda, etc. to replace what the girls use.

Hannah has told me the funniest stories about her students. She says they all ask her personal questions, all the time: "Why aren't you married??" "Do you have a boyfriend?" "Are you looking to marry a Chinese man??" It's all about romance. Oh, and they all want to know if she thinks Jay Chow is handsome. [Parenthetically, I think he's really cute. Just my own personal opinion.] There is no garbage can in her classroom - just a corner where people throw garbage. It matches the rest of the city. :)

The other day, Hannah was teaching, and she was saying something about somebody who was Taiwanese. Her students stopped her. "Wait, wait, wait. Taiwanese??? You mean CHINESE."

"No," said Hannah, with a little smile, "I mean Taiwanese."

"Taiwan is a province of China. They are Chinese."

"I'm pretty sure most of the world, and Taiwan, would disagree with that statement."

"Well, it's true."

"Let me ask you a question. Do you have to use a passport when you go to Taiwan?"

Uncomfortable mumbles of assent.

"Mmm-hmmm. I'll take that as a 'yes.' Do you have to have a passport to visit any other provinces in China?"


"Gosh, I wonder why you would need a passport to go to just another province in China..."

It makes me laugh.

I'm sad that, when I finally meet some cute little American friends, I have to leave. But it still feels like the right decision to go, and I'm getting really antsy to get outta here. But I want to hang out with them a ton before we go. They're sweethearts.


We met a dude who is refurbishing the apartment one stairwell over from ours. He is a Chinese national; his name is Eric. He has actually been living in New Zealand for ten years and just returned, so his English is impeccable. And he has that cute little New Zealander accent. He told me that he wanted to have my family over for lasagne after his apartment is finished. I said, "Now waiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit a minute. Where did you get lasagne??" He said he had to order it online and have it shipped over. I laughed.

But then he told me that there is some other grocery store, a little farther away then the 10-minutes-away Da Fu Yuen supermarket, that has a "huge" imports section. I was like, you have got to be kidding me. After all this time, NOW I find out there is a place with more imported food. Sheesh. Will I get a chance to head over there before we leave? Probably not. And it's okay. It's just ironic, I guess.

Chicken Noises in the Market

When I picked up some stuff in the supermarket for our American party that never happened, I wanted to get some chicken breasts. I just wasn't quite sure if I was looking at the right kind of meat. Yes, meat is very mysterious here. I obviously cook enough to recognize chicken breasts, but I really, really didn't want duck breasts. Duck is a big deal here, but I'm not a fan. I saw something that looked like chicken breasts, but I was nervous. The ladies behind the meat counter looked like they wanted to help. (The customer service in markets here is AMAZING. They hire wayyyyyyyy too many people, and they all just mainly stand around and wait to help you. And they get really excited if someone needs their help. It's a nice change from Wal-Mart.) I didn't know how to say "chicken," so I pointed to the breasts and made wings and went, "bock, bock, bock, ba-gock?" They nodded enthusiastically, then adding gestures to indicate those red things that hens have on their heads - what on earth are those called? I've never known. I nodded enthusiastically in return. So they wrapped the chicken up for me and sent me on my way. It was funny.

More Furniture

Those cute Hans brought some more furniture over the other day. It was before we knew we were leaving, and now I feel badly. But Ben's company is going to continue paying rent on the apartment here to hold it until Ben and his coworkers return. Then he'll get three roommates or so.

They brought two large lounge chairs and a desk for the boys' room. It was so sweet. Mrs. Han, of course, wanted to have some quality time with Gage. He loves her, so he didn't mind. And she learned something new to say to Sadie, "Hey, Sadie - WHAT'S UP???" Sadie and I laughed and said, "Good job!"

Professor Han said, "These from my HOME! Put clothes on them!" I was like, huh? And then I realized what he was saying. He wants us to take care of the chairs by putting sheets over them to protect them. I said, "Oh, sheets??" "Yes!" both he and his brother-in-law echoed at the same time, "SHEETS!!" I've noticed, in every home I've visited, the Chinese cover their furniture with sheets to keep it nice. And everyone but us has cool, comfortable couches. Big, Ikea-ish, very modern. I like them. They're cozy. So they have cozy couches and unforgiving beds. :) I would sleep on the couch every night if I had a bed like that.

UGG Mania

So Ben went down Stinky Street the other night, and there was a new booth in front of the post office. The gal was selling UGGs, for only 78 yuen a pair - that's around twelve dollars. He came home and told me about it, and I shrieked, because I had just been talking to my sis, Lex, about this. She and I had heard that you can get UGGs for really cheap here, and here was my opportunity. I knew what size she wanted and what colors, so I ran down there. They had four or five different colors and styles, but only one in the color Lex wanted. I bought them, took pictures of them, and sent the pictures to her. She was so stoked and told me to get another pair in another color for her. And then my mom asked for a pair. So I've been keeping this lady in business.

But then, last night, Hannah, a self-proclaimed UGG expert, examined them, and they're fake!!! Hahaha! They tricked me! On the heel, it looks like it says "UGG", with the authentic "Australia" underneath, but upon closer examination, it actually says, "UGC," but it's written kind of weird to lead you to think that it has a double g. And it says underneath, "Austkalia." They tricked me! Hahaha! But at least my mom and Lex got some warm, cute boots to wear this winter, right? And for only 12 bucks a pair. Not bad. Hannah has a friend in Beijing; she texted her, asking where to buy the cheap, REAL UGGs. She got a text immediately back, and I wrote the name of the market down in my China tourism book. When we get up to Beijing on Oct. 1st, we'll have all that first afternoon to do whatever we want, so Ben and I are thinking we will take a trip to this market and see what we can see.

Did I get some fake UGGs for myself, you ask? Nope. My feet are too big. I wear a size nine in the U.S., which is a size 41 here, and the buck stops at size 40. Sad, eh?

What's On TV

We really don't watch much local television. I've noticed that there are always two things on - cheesy soap operas, or dating game shows. There are, like, 12 dating game shows, and according to Hannah and Felice's students, everyone and their dog watches them. I think that's so funny.

We actually saw a claymation show for kids the other day. It had these animals from a few different countries. The cow was from France, wore a Napoleonic hat, and one hoof was a fork and one was a knife. I thought that was funny. He was leaning against a clay Arc de Triomph and chatting with another character.

If it's not smoked, it's crrrrrrrrrrrap.

I found this amazing salad on a few weeks back - an Asian-style potato salad. I la-hoved it. One ingredient was bacon. I saw slabs of what looked like it could be bacon....ish, at Hui Mart. It just looked like it needed slicing. So I set out to do it, and to cook it in my frying pan.

So when you buy pork here, it comes with the skin on. You have to kind of be your own butcher. So it took forever to seperate the skin from the pork. And then to slice it really thin. So then I cooked it up in the frying pan, hoping to get that wonderful smell of cooking bacon into my nostrils, but it just smelled....really weird. I asked Ben what on earth was wrong with this bacon. He told me that it wasn't smoked beforehand. Ohhhhhhhhh. So that's the deal. I ended up still putting the cooked bacon in the potato salad, but it really didn't add much. I'm excited to try that recipe again when we get home, with nice, normal bacon.

We had a home-run recipe tonight - an Asian noodle salad from It had this peanut butter sauce, tossed with noodles and stir-fried broccoli, red peppers, and onions. It was fantastic. That's another keeper.

But let's be honest - I'm not going to cook Asian food again for several months. I'm all Asian fooded out. :)

It's Time to Graft in a New Head

Sooooooo, Dylan lost his afternoon pills that he takes for his ADHD. He still has his morning pills - the long-acting, gradual release ones. But they wear off about 3 p.m., and heaven help us when that happens. We used to have a respite, giving him his "homework dose," and now that those are gone, oh mama. Life is hard. Schooling is even harder, which didn't seem possible. There are many, many times per day that I really could punch him right in the face and feel good about it.

Tonight, we were attempting to read scriptures - we were reading in the Book of Mormon, in Jacob - is it chapter 4? That enormous chapter that has, like, 75 verses. The chapter about the olive tree. I've always thought that chapter could be whittled down to, like, 10 verses, and still say the same thing. It really would help.

Anyways, we decided only to read half the chapter tonight, because Dylan was literally climbing all over the couch. Ben muttered something like, "I wish we could graft a new head on Dylan's body...." I laughed and laughed. Ben's funny. It's true - the fruit of his head has gone wild and needs to be cut off and cast into the fire. Totally joking. I love the kid. I'm just trying to survive through one more week of schooling with him. And looking forward to when we can get his pills refilled. Like, the day we get home. Hahaha!

A Familial Epidemic

I don't know what the deal is, but we have been the Canker Sore Family for the past three months. Each of us constantly has a canker sore or two in his mouth. I cannot figure it out. In Idaho, I got maybe one per year? If that? What is the deal??? Poor Ben and I can't even peck each other on the lips right now, because we're both suffering with canker sores inside our front, lower lips. And Dylan and Sadie are always complaining of them. I have no idea what the deal is. Any thoughts??

What We've Learned

Last night, during family prayer, Ben was praying, and he said, "We thank Thee for the experiences that we've had here in China that have helped us learn more about ourselves." Later, I asked him what his deeper thoughts on that were, if there was anything in particular he has learned about himself, or about the kids or me. Here are the things he feels he has learned: 1) He says he has learned that it is a good thing for him to go to work and be away from the kids, that he needs a separation from them to be a better dad, that he doesn't have enough patience. 2) He says he has learned that our kids are not self-starters, as far as school goes. They are definitely not motivated students. That they need to be sent to a school and never, ever, ever homeschooled again. I concur.

This, of course, got me to thinking about what I've learned from my experiences here. The things I've learned here are humbling: 1) I'm more of a fuddy-duddy than I thought. I thought I was a bit of an adventuress. Turns out, I'm more of a homebody than I thought. I like to plant some roots and watch them grow, you know?? 2) I'm more high-maintenance than I thought. I'm picky. And a bit of a food snob. I'm snobby. Weird. I never knew I was snobby, but I guess I am.

So, um, this whole experience has made my opinion of myself much lower. Hahaha! But hey, it's good to be made aware of one's weaknesses, right? So that we can work on them.

Sooooo, that's what's been going on here in Baoding. We leave in about a week for Beijing, and I am thrilled. When people ask of me, "How was China?" I think the best response will be, "It was interesting." Because it really has been interesting. Has it been wonderful? Um, no. Has it been awful? Sometimes. Has it been great? Every now and then. So I think "interesting" will be a good response. :)

Oh, and when we're in Beijing, who will be eating at T.G.I. Friday's? And at the Hard Rock Cafe? That's right. Me.

Here are some picture-poohs of our recent adventures:

Mid-Autumn Festival at the Hans' house:

Sadie's ca-razy morning hair:

The seamstress on Bombed-Out Road, locals playing dominoes, and a rare glimpse at the mountains near Baoding:

More homeschooling science experiments and art projects:

More furniture for our apartment, and funny signs Sadie made for the doors:

A picture of Hannah - we'll add more pics of her and Felice soon:

The fakey UGGS - pretty convincing, if you ask me:


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mooing in the Supermarket‏

Herrrrrrrrrrrrrroooooooooo! (as the Chinese would say.)

They all remember "hello" and "goodbye" from their English lessons in high school, and...that's about it. :) Just like me and the French lessons I took for so many years. Gone. Blip. When I'm walking alone, the locals just nod and smile at me, but when Micah is with me, they always say, "Herrrrrro!" because the "l" is kind of hard for them to do. Most of the time he just smiles and looks down shyly, but other times, he says hello back. The other day, a lady in the corner store yells to Micah, "Herrrro!" and grabs him to take a picture with him, and Micah started freaking out. When I told him that she just wanted a picture, he relaxed and smiled for her. It's funny - the locals just kind of grab your arm and drag you to do what they want you to do. There isn't any gesturing or waving of the hands - they just grab you and drag you. It's funny.

More Clothes Shopping

I wanted to return to that open-air market to get more clothes for the kids - it's cooling down rapidly here - but it was raining, which would have rendered it a muddy, muddy little trip. So Ben and I took the kids to a kids' clothing store here on Stinky Street instead. We bought a few things. We got some pants for Gage, and the lady was indicating that we could cut the seem on the crotch with our own scissors to expose it for easier peeing and pooping capabilities. I giggled. Yeah, that won't be necessary. We'll keep that sewn up and use our diapers, thanks. :)

Oh. And Micah got a free toy car from that store. Because people give him free stuff. That's just what happens. :)

Why They Wear Those Sleeves

I told you, way back when we first got here, that everyone rides bicycles or motorbikes around. And that the women wear long-sleeved shirts backward when they ride. I don't know if I also told you - I also sometimes see these sleeve...addition thingeys. They have elastic at the tops. So if ladies are wearing short sleeves, they pull these sleeve thingeys up and snap the elastic over their short sleeves and are off to the races. I wondered if it was to fight bug bites, or's very, very dirty in Baoding. I asked Summer the other day what the deal was with the sleeves. She says that women wear them to avoid getting tan. White skin is beautiful skin here. And they all use umbrellas constantly - if not when it's raining, then to protect their skin against the sun.

When we were briefly thinking of taking a little trip to the beach, Summer said, "But Karlenn...your family will get sunburnt." "Well, it's a good thing I brought sunscreen with me, huh?" I said, smiling. But then she frowned and said, "Yes, but you will still get brown." I said, "You know, that's alright with me." A difference in perspective.

A Word About Office Supplies

Maybe it's different in other cities, but in Baoding, there is no such thing as a tape dispenser. You can get rolls of scotch tape, to be sure, (I haven't seen any masking or duct tape yet, but I have seen clear packing tape) but they don't have any way to use a jagged end to cut the ends. You have to sit and pick at the tape to pull it up, and when you have the desired length, you have to cut it with scissors. I have searched high and low and asked everyone. Nobody knows what a tape dispenser is. When I bought our microscopic oven, the lady that put the floor model that we bought into the box, pulled out her boxing tape. She wrapped it over the flaps of the cardboard box to secure them, and then she pulled out a ballpoint pen, jabbing at the tape until she poked a hole in it, which enabled her to rip it the rest of the way.

Same thing goes for the post office. I've sent a few things, and each time they box something up, they use this boxing tape, then find a ballpoint pen to jab at the tape to make a hole that they can rip to separate the tape from the tape roll. There's a better way, people! :)

Glue. They do have rubber cement and glue sticks, but I haven't found anything resembling elmer's glue anywhere. I've sent a few birthday cards home to the U.S., and no envelopes come with self-adhesive licky things on them. You have to glue them yourself. They have a jar of rubber cement in the post office that you can use to glue your envelopes shut. The very first time I went to mail some stuff with Summer, she very, very, very carefully applied the rubber cement to the envelope for me (maybe she didn't think I knew how to apply glue?). When she folded the flap over to seal it, some of the glue came out the sides. So she digs and digs in her purse and finds a kleenex, and then very, very, very carefully wipes the excess glue away. The whole process took like five minutes - I kid you not. I just stood staring at her, mouth agape, like, "Are you serious??"

So the next time we went, I just walked up to the glue myself and sealed my envelopes. When some of the glue came globbing out, I wiped the excess with my finger, rubbed my fingers together until the glue hardened and balled up, and tossed the glue ball into the garbage can. That whole process took like 30 seconds. It was Summer's turn to stare agape, like, "You got glue on your fingers???"

Crayons - you can't find 'em. You can find zillions of pastels, anywhere and everywhere. Even in convenience-type stores. Pastels, colored pencils, and markers. But crayons? They've never heard of 'em. We brought one box with us from the U.S., and we hold that box very sacred. We're careful with our crayons, because if we lose them, that's it - they're gone.


Guess who finally got their books on Friday??? Yeee! It was like Christmas around here. The kids are especially excited about the science stuff they got - safety glasses, graduated cylinders, balances, iron filings, a magnet set, a rock and fossil collecting tray, complete with labeled rocks and fossils, grass seeds, beans, all kinds of stuff. The kids are thrilled. We got to do our first "experiment" on Friday for science class - measuring orange juice in our graduated cylinders and "figuring out" how many milliliters makes a liter. They insisted on wearing their safety glasses for this very important experiment. And Dylan wore his safety glasses during his one hour of required independent reading that night, also. So cute.

So this is how we got our books released. A different gal at DHL said that we would never get them if we said they were books. She sent us a form to sign that said that the boxes contained our "personal effects," instead of books. And then I had to send, via courier, my passport up to Beijing. Once they had that signed document and a look at my passport in the flesh (I was really nervous doing that - that is my only ticket out of here, dude), they delivered our books, and thankfully, my passport, right to our door in Baoding.

Often, Dylan will be playing on the computer while Sadie and I are reading Ramona the Pest together, and he kind of listens to the story as we go along. The other day, I was like, "Sades, let's get the iPad out and do our reading for today." Dylan said, over his shoulder, "Oh, are you guys going to read Aroma the Pest?" I laughed and laughed at his cute little slip of the tongue. Aroma the Pest. Hahaha!

To kind of introduce graduation marks on cylinders and thermometers, one of the lessons had the kids rate their favorite foods, giving their favorite food a "10" and their least favorite food a "1." As we were doing that activity together, Dylan said, "If we were rating beautiful girls, Sierra would be a 10." (Sierra is his "girlfriend" from his school in Idaho Falls. She hung out with him a few times when school got out; we tried to get her parents' e-mail address before we left, but we couldn't get them to call back, and we were so busy... so we never got it. So the two lovers haven't been able to communicate since we've been here. I feel bad. He misses her.)

Ben was helping Sadie with her math class the other day, and he was saying everything in a weird accent. He kept referring to "forty" as "farty." He was reviewing with Sadie counting from 1 to 100. At one point, ,he said, "So, what comes after farty?" Sadie smiled and said, "Poop, and then pee." It was funny.

Ben really adores math, and I really don't adore it, so I was grateful that he offered to teach Sadie that day. It made me giggle within myself, though. Math and Sadie do not get along. Much like Math and I have never gotten along. Watching Ben struggle to try to teach Sadie these concepts brought back memories of my poor dad trying to help me with Math, every evening at the kitchen table, for hours. I swear Math took me like four hours per night to do. And my dad tried so hard to make me understand these abstract concepts. It was so hard. Sorry I had to put you through that, Pops. :) Some of us just do not have the math gene, eh?

More Market Facts

Something I've just barely realized (I'm really slow on the uptake) is that, when I indicate what I want at a fruit/vegetable/egg stand, they are referring to yuan. When I've told them I want 12 eggs, they have always given me, like, 24. I was always like, "Okay, I guess you want to give me more. Whatever." But I just realized that I've been paying 12 yuan every time. Light bulb goes off. And then I realized, when I told my Cackling Banana Lady that I wanted four bananas, she was giving me, like, 8 of them, because 8 bananas is about 4 yuan. So now I know - don't ask for pounds or numbers of these things. Ask for how much you want to pay. You learn something new every day.

I have to wash my eggs when I get them home, because they are straight from the chicken's bumb, dude. They have chicken poop and feathers stuck to them, in some cases. So I wash them before I put them in the fridge.

Summer thought that maybe we would have to request our beef to be ground, if we wanted ground beef, but luckily, Ben found some ground beef in the supermarket. They had a lot of ground-looking meats, and Ben wanted to make sure he got beef, but he forgot his Mandarin/English dictionary. Not knowing how to say "cow" in mandarin, he was left with no other recourse than to put his fingers up by his head to make horns, and to say, "Mooooo." When he did that, they were able to direct him to the ground beef. :)

Like a Purse

I went to the supermarket awhile ago, and this lady was walking in front of me on the sidewalk. I noticed that she was carrying a kitten. I was like, "Awww, kittens are so cute..." as I looked at the kitten, though, I realized that it was dead. And she was just carrying the cat and walking and walking. I was like, "Weird!" I would have put it in, like, a grocery bag or something. And then...I don't know...the dumpster??? But there she was, carrying this kitten like it was her wallet, or her purse, or a pair of keys. A dead kitten, flopping there in her hand. It was weird and sad.

The Nut Couple

There are some trees by our building. For a couple of weeks, every now and then, I've seen this elderly couple underneath these trees, gathering something. They have three long sticks lashed together, and at the end, a hook. The man reaches this long apparatus up into the trees, grabs a branch with the hook, and just shakes it and shakes it. After awhile, some nuts fall down on the ground, and the lady puts them in her bag. I'm not sure what kind of nuts they are, but I think that old couple is really cute.

Mid-Autumn Festival

Tomorrow is a holiday - mid-autumn festival. Everyone eats these things called Moon Cakes - Ben has tried them and says there's nothing really awesome about them. But we've seen them everywhere recently. You eat the Moon Cakes at Mid-Autumn Festival. And you have family reunions. Summer wanted to go home to her hometown, but she'll be going there next weekend for her big test, so she would rather spend the time tomorrow studying. She's been studying for this thing all summer long; I hope she does well. She says it might take a couple of years to pass the test, but that when she does, she'll get a certificate that enables her to get paid a lot more for whatever job it is she's going to do. She said that her professor invited she and her classmates to his house for a little party tomorrow night. I think maybe we'll buy a few moon cakes as a family and give it a shot.

Jessica Alba Socks

So almost every little thing seems to have someone famous on it. Shampoo bottles have Jackie Chan on them, along with his signature next to the picture of his face. That girl from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - I can't remember her name - is on a certain brand of milk. Again, her signature is right there next to her face on the milk cartons. I haven't seen that Michelle Yeoh lady or Chow Yung Fat yet. And that's the extent of Chinese stars I know about. :) There is this famous singer guy - like the Justin Timberlake of China - and he's always on crackers and chips. He's always making a "number one" sign on them.

Anywho, I saw, on packages of socks the other day, Jessica Alba! I did a double-take. I haven't seen any product packaging with any American stars or anything yet. The picture looked really weird, like someone had stuck her face on someone else's body. I was wondering if she had given her permission to have her face on the packaging for these socks. I laughed.

District Conference

We had district conference yesterday and today for church. I get the feeling that district conference is like stake conference? Like, maybe several wards make a stake, and several branches make a district? Anyways, there are bigger cities that have branches that are able to meet together, like in Xian and Shanghai and other big cities like that, and obviously, Beijing. And then there is our virtual branch, with people all over China in smaller cities. So our district is ALL OF CHINA. It includes the branches in Xian, Shanghai, everything. Every single international Latter-Day Saint in China. The Chinese citizens have their own branches and districts that we're not allowed to be a part of. There was an area authority who is American, who flew in from Taiwan, and also a man from the quorum of the seventy who was born and raised in Taiwan. It was neat to hear what these guys had to say. I enjoyed it a lot. I was supposed to give one of the prayers in the adult session last night, but my neat computer cut me off, so they had to ask someone in the congregation there in Beijing to pray for me. Sheesh. The same thing happened last week when I was supposed to share a story in Relief Society! Dang skype...sometimes it's not very reliable. I was embarrassed. Oh well.


Ben found cheddar cheese at the supermarket the other day. It was so exciting for us. It's very white and very sharp, but we'll take it. He also bought some Dutch Edam cheese, which I've been a fan of since I first tasted it in Europe. We won't be able to buy cheese that often, because it's like $7 per one half-pound brick, but it's been luxurious. We had grilled cheese last night for dinner and enjoyed it IMMENSELY.

You Give Me Fever

Gagey became the first person in our fam to get sick since we've gotten here. It was bound to happen sooner or later, eh? He was fevering for about four days, but today, he woke up fever-free and back to his happy self. He was suuuuuch a grump last week. I felt badly for him. There were no other symptoms - no runny nose or diarrhea or dehydration or anything. Summer was very, very alarmed. The very first day he was feverish, she was like, "We need to take him to the doctor NOW." I told her that we should wait it out and see if it went away by itself in a few days. I told her that, if it got too high, we'd take him in immediately, but where it was low-grade, I wasn't alarmed. She was so shocked that I wasn't more scared. I was like, "This is my fourth, babe. I'm a pro." :) She's so cute. I want her to come to the U.S. to visit us when we go back. Or just maybe move there permanently. :) She has become such a dear friend to me.

Alright, Micah has been sucking on the geometrical shapes that came in our Math supplies, so apparently I need to intervene. Here are some pics taken this last week:

Some cute pics of the kids:

Sequin Mania:

Pics of our new kitchen:

Homeschooling Adventures:


Monday, September 5, 2011

Throw that tooth up on the roof!!‏

Hellooooooooooooo!!! La-la-laaaaaaaaaaa... (That's from Seinfeld.)

I hope all is going well for you guys back in May-gwah, as they call America around here. School is probably starting up, the weather is probably cooling down...I love autumn time.

Things here are good. Life is good when Kar has a kitchen. That's all there is to it. :) We continue to eat Americanized Chinese food, and I'm okay with that. We've found a few little parts of the local cuisine that are nice - they make these wonderful pita bread things down on the street - better than any pita bread I've had in the states. But we don't really like the fillings they like to put inside of the pitas. So we just buy the pitas plain, and then fill them with our own meatey-vegetabley mixtures. And it's good.

Losing Teeth

Sadie-Sue lost her second tooth last week. Here is what a bad mom I am - she lost her first tooth, like, the day before we left for China. And I was so stressed and busy and just..FREAKING OUT that I forgot to have the tooth fairy come to visit her and give her some money for her tooth. And then we left. Sadie kept saying, "But I thought the tooth fairy was supposed to take my tooth and leave money..." I blushed and said, "Well, maybe she forgot that night. And then, when she remembered, she didn't know where you had gone..." I'm such a dork. So we were eating one night, and Sadie picked this thing out of her mouth that I thought was a piece of rice, with this look of horror on her face. I was like, "Sadie, dang it, eat your dinner!" And then I realized that wasn't a piece of rice; it was a tooth. :) So we put it in a little paper cup next to her bed and I told Sadie that I thought the tooth fairy would remember this time. She did. And she left a little note, saying, sure enough, "I was sick that night you lost your tooth, and the next day, when I went to give you some money, you were gone!!" So she left $2 for July's tooth, and $2 for this tooth, but in yuan, so - 24 yuan.

When Summer and Maria came over two days later for Sadie's birthday party (more on that in a moment), she proudly showed them her gap. Summer later asked me what we do when children lose teeth. So I told her the whole tooth fairy bit. She asked what we do with the teeth. I told her that I don't know what other people do, but I just throw them in the garbage. :) I asked her what they do here in China. She said that, if the tooth was a bottom tooth, you throw it on the roof of your house, if you can. Because those teeth grow up, toward the sky. So you throw your tooth up on the roof and make a wish. If the tooth is a top tooth, you throw it into a water well and make a wish, because upper teeth grow DOWN. I asked her if there are that many water wells around - what do you do if there aren't any wells? She laughed and said, "Well, you dig a hole and bury the tooth." Interesting, huh?

Yelling in the Marketplace

The streets here are just...really LOUD. Not only do people speak pretty loudly, but in the afternoon or so, the street vendors get these loudspeakers out. And they have the loudspeakers where you can record yourself saying something, and then play it over and over again, nonstop. So they'll be like, "Come buy my scrunchies for your hair! They're really beautiful! Get them now, while they last!" or whatever, in Mandarin, of course, and they put those loudspeakers on top of their cart and push the "play overandoverandover again" button, and that's what we hear all night, until 10 or so. Sometimes Dylan thinks that there is music on in the other room, but it's usually somebody's loudspeaker, on repeat, yelling about their wares.

Joyless Line Dancing

There's this park thingey we've passed when we've gone to the far-away supermarket, Da Fu Yuen. In the evening, all of these ladies line up in four or five lines. And it's just ladies, and only older ones. And someone has always brought a boom box which plays some traditional Chinese song. And these ladies do this...line dance thing. Like we do to country music in the states. The dance doesn't seem me. The moves are pretty bland - I could see anyone from anywhere doing them. But they line dance for hours out there. Once, we went to the store at like six, and we left at like eight, and there were these ladies, doing the same dance, over and over and over. And it cracked me up - it was just like how people watch/listen to fireworks here - with a totally straight face. They don't smile. This line dancing is serious business. It cracks me up.

An Answer to the Fireworks Question

The other morning, someone lit firecrackers at 6:30 a.m. I am not even joking. I was like, "You have got to be kidding me..." And then one night, there was this enormous firecrackers show, at like 9 at night. It was right on Party Street (what we call it), only maybe a block away, so our view was phenomenal. It was a really good show, too, lasting quite a long time. And they were the big old firecrackers like you see on the 4th of July in Idaho Falls. So I asked Summer the next day, "Is there some celebration going on? Why all the fireworks? Why the fireworks so early in the morning? And what was that fireworks show about last night?" She told me that, if someone is opening a new business, they light firecrackers to attract business. Interesting, huh? Or, often, people light firecrackers right after a marriage ceremony. So the thinks that, most likely, the culprits of all these early morning firecracker wake-ups are a new business opening about a block away. Funny.

This Time, a Real Playdate

So we have the coolest neighbors across the hall. I can't remember the names of the parents, but their daughter, who is seventeen, goes by the name of Candy. I asked her how she chose that English name for herself. She said her English teacher gave them a list of possible names to choose from, and that was her favorite one. The parents, interestingly, are both architecture professors at the university! Anyways, one day, they invited us over for Asian pears and the watching of a Garfield cartoon. Sadie was in hog heaven. I excused myself early, because they weren't running any air-conditioning, and I thought I was going to pass out.

So the neighbors have a neice/cousin who is Sadie's age named Tian Tian, which is the word for "sky." She was visiting her extended family and wanted to meet the little May-goren girl. :) She was too nervous to play by herself over here, and she doesn't speak a lick of English, of course, so Candy offered to be Sadie and Tian Tian's translator. The girls played with paper dolls for awhile, and then ran around screaming and laughing and tickling each other - Sadie's favorite pasttime. :) Tian Tian is ADORABLE. And she helped me figure out a couple of more words. She kept saying, "Jigga," which makes me laugh, because Lex is always saying, "Jigga what?" when someone says something she just cannot believe or whatever. Example: "I got into a car accident today!" "Jigga what??" So she kept saying, "Jigga," and finally I said, "Candy, what does 'jigga' mean??" She smiled and said, "This. It means 'this.'" So Tian Tian had been referring to this paper doll, or that paper doll, and she was saying, "this blah blah blah. This blah blah blah." So now I know. She was also saying something that sounds unfortunate to my English-speaking ears - "nigga." I asked Candy what "nigga" means - it means "that." Who knew??


So, as you know, we've started homeschooling, and one of the requirements for the Idaho Virtual Academy is to do P.E. They mainly give you carte blanche on what you can do. So we try to shake it up - jumproping, playing on the big toy, etc. We just bought a basketball that needs to be pumped up, and then we can dribble the ball around and stuff - they have basketball courts at the university that we are allowed to use, but the hoops are too tall for the kids, you know... I need to take our new ball to the dude on the corner. His job is to pump up bike tires and balls. That's what he does for his living. Poor guy. So I need to pay him a visit. There are ping-pong tables at the university, near the track (which I plan on using daily, if it would ever cool down), and I saw ping-pong paddles and balls at the school supplies store the other day, so I think we might do that, too - play some ping-pong with the kids.

The other night, it was pretty late in the evening - too late to go outside for P.E. But we had to do our P.E. requirement for the day. So I decided to hop online and see if we could find some yoga videos. None of them would download or buffer correctly or whatever, but we did find a couple of websites that showed pictures of the poses, and how to get into and out of the poses correctly, etc. So we did that one night for P.E., and it was a big hit. We did it again a couple of nights later. We use our bedspreads as our yoga mats. We were doing that one pose - is it called the lotus pose? I think so. Where you are sitting, like, kind of cross-legged, and your hands are on your knees, facing up, index finger and thumb touching. You know the one. So we were supposed to hold that pose for a minute, so I was closing my eyes and breathing deeply and holding the pose, and Sadie whispered to me, "Mommy, are you listening to Jesus?" It was so funny. She is so cute.

Sadie's Birthday

Our little Sadie girl turned six on Aug. 31st. We had Summer, Maria, and the Hans over. I'm not as mad at Professor Han as I used to be, now that we have our kitchen in. I got another cake at our little bakery on Stinky Street - hand-picked by Sadie herself. Summer got Sadie a hand-held compact, which was sweet. And Maria got her a music-playing snow globe. The Hans gave Sades a barbie. My mom sent a package over with more paper dolls, and Littlest Pet Shop toys, which she plays with incessantly ever since, by the way. Gloria had given me a card with money in it to give to Sadie - it was in my suitcase and I got it out. Ben and I got her two things - a set of Baoding Balls - she has been begging for some for ages - and a real Chinese tea set. Every time we see those in the flea market, she just stares and stares at them and tells me how much she wants one. They weren't too expensive, so I just got her one. She adores it. The cups for tea are soooo teeny-tiny. And they come with this tea tray thing. It's wood, with designs on the top, and slats in it. And underneath is this drip-catching drawer. So when you are serving tea, if you drip, it goes through the slats and into the drip-catching drawer. She adores it. I'm sure she'll break at least one of the cups or pitchers or whatever before our time in China is over, but she is so thrilled about it.

Professor Han, in addition to Sadie's Barbie, brought some candy for the kids, and for Ben and I - a special treat. A can of peaches. They acted like this can of peaches was this huge delicacy. They made a big show of opening the can for us and dishing out several cups full of them for people to eat. You would have thought they had brought caviar and old wine over or something. It was so funny. I was like, "Wow. Canned peaches. Ooooh." We smiled graciously, and stored them in a tupperware for everyone to see how grateful we are, and we have eaten them.

After we had cake, Maria and Dylan made up a game with fans and balloons. You can't let the balloon touch the ground, and to prevent it from doing so, you blow it from underneath with your handheld fan. But you can't touch the balloon with the fan, either. They played that for, like, an hour. Maria is so cute. I told her she would make a great mother. She seems to really like doing active things - she's always jumping and dancing around. I love it.

Professor Han had brought his nephew, Mike, over. Mike is a doll. I was confused and thought at first that Mike is Lillian's brother. No, no, no, Prof. Han laughed. He's a nephew from a different sister. My eyes widened. "You have more than one sibling???" I asked. He chuckled and told me that he has THREE sisters. I asked how that was possible, with the laws here about number of children you can have. He said that law is only 30 years old, that he and his sisters were born before that law came into effect. I had no idea!

Professor Han's wife is awesome. Very down-to-earth and sweet. She brought us pictures that she had taken of Ben's birthday. Such a babe. She was wearing these ankle-length panty-hose with her dress. I've noticed that about women here, maybe age 30 and older - they wear ankle-high panty hose with their sandals and shoes. I think it looks so, so funny. I can see wearing those if you're wearing long pants that cover the tops of the anklets, you know? But they wear them with their miniskirts or knee-length skirts or whatever, and they look really dorky. But it's cute. Just a cultural thing, I guess.

Our Very Shady School Supplies

Well, we've and a half weeks of school so far, and guess who still doesn't have their books? Us. Ben's company actually ended up sending them via DHL. There is a DHL office in Beijing. It took two weeks for them to get to Beijing. But then, because there were SIX of them, and they were heavy, they were under heavy suspicion. What are in these boxes? Are they full of contraband? Why so many? So first, we had to send a list of every specific piece in those boxes. I had to look up and copy and paste the list in an e-mail. Several books, some workbooks, science instruments, rulers, an inflatable globe, on and on. So we did that. So then they were like, "Ooooh, are any of the books banned???" We were like, "Um, not in the U.S...." So then they had this customs agent go and inspect our suspicious books. I'm not even kidding. Word on the street is that they were inspected and found worthy to enter China for reals. So we should get them hopefully by the end of this week. One of Ben's work associates is going to pick them up when he goes to Beijing next.

In the meantime, I've been trying to teach lessons without these books. Which has been really fun. Some things are available online, which has been helpful, but others haven't. I was lucky and found a grammar workbook that Dylan is supposed to be getting, online. And it showed the first 10 pages, if you click the "look inside" button of this web page where you can buy this workbook. So I was able to "look inside" and copy and paste the worksheets from Dylan's grammar lesson last week, onto a word document. Other things I haven't had such good luck with. So I do what I can. We don't have our literature books, but if the lesson plan is available online and tells us the names of the short stories or poems the kids are doing, I'm able to look those up online and find copies of them. So I"m making due.

It's interesting to see, close-up, what Dylan's and Sadie's strengths and weaknesses are, as far as schooling. I always knew Dylan enjoyed Math and was good at it, and that he wasn't a huge fan of reading, but I'm seeing more than ever how much he detests English-ey stuff. If he has to write three sentences in response to his history lesson, saying what he thought was interesting about it, he acts like I've just asked him to wash our entire apartment building using a pulley system of ropes. I'm like, dude. It's three sentences. It will be okay. We are reading Tuck Everlasting for his literature class, though, and he's enjoying it. So that's good. He just...takes more after his dad in his preferences in school - he's a sciencey/math kind of guy.

Sadie is definitely not a sciencey/math kind of girl. Dylan and Sadie take three classes together - the specialists at the Idaho Virtual Academy said that would be okay and still fulfill both kids' requirements with Idaho for the next year, and it would cut my time down considerably. So they both take 2nd grade history, 2nd grade science, and 2nd grade art together. It has helped, time-wise, but obviously, Dylan catches things immediately, and Sadie is taking more time to understand things. Because it's second-grade curriculum. So we do the lesson, and then Dylan takes the assessment online and usually passes with flying colors the first time. Sadie has to take each assessment two or three times before she gets it. Which is fine. I don't make it a big deal. I say, "Well, let's review this again tomorrow and see if we can ask you the same questions tomorrow and see how you do."

Sadie takes 1st grade math, however, and she really struggles with it. It's just not her forte. So I find us reviewing lessons two or three times in math, too, poor girl. And she just hates it. I know how she feels. She also really hates phonics. And boy, does that girl give me attitude when we're working on a subject she doesn't like. But when it comes to things like, "Is this a sentence?" Oh, she loves that stuff. She totally gets it. "Which of these words best fills in the blank?" That kind of stuff is easy for her. She has a natural talent for it. Like her mama. She and I are reading Ramona the Pest together, and she loves it so much.

I've been reading Vanity Fair by William Thackeray, and the other night, I hopped onto the iPad to read a few pages of it. I had forgotten to close out of Ramona the Pest earlier that day when Sadie and I had read. I was so tired that I didn't realize my mistake and just started reading Ramona the Pest. I read, like, three pages of it before I realized, "Hey, I'm reading Ramona the Pest, not Vanity Fair!" It was funny. I was sitting there, going, "Oh, that Ramona is just like my Micah..." and then I was like, "Why am I reading this?" Hahaha! I guess once a Beverly Cleary lover, always a Beverly Cleary lover.

Sadie's Bedtime

Sades has to share a room with Gage, and what we have to do is usually get Gage to bed first, and then wait an hour or so, and then sneak Sadie in there. If we put them in together, Gage won't fall asleep. So we try to put Gage down at 8 and Sadie down at nine, but sometimes that doesn't always happen. Sometimes we get Gage down at 9, and we have to wait until 10 to put Sadie down. I don't mind having her up the extra time. She's easy and self-entertaining. She and I will play a quiet game of "chest" or memory or whatever and it's usually really pleasant.

The other night, we didn't get Gage down until nine, so we were kind of hanging out, waiting for 10, and Sadie goes, "Hey, Dad, are you ready to put me to bed? I mean, it's your choice...but I was just wondering." I giggled. She was trying to say that she was tired, but she was being all passive/aggressive about it - "I mean, it's your choice..." That is so what I do when I'm talking to my kids. "If you don't eat your dinner, you can't have anything until breakfast. So are you going to eat your dinner, or are you going to go hungry until breakfast? It's your choice."

Taiwan - oh REALLY?

The other day, Summer was like, "So, do Americans think that Taiwan is a separate country?" I was like, "Um, yeah. It is, isn't it?" "Oh no! It's just a province of China. Just like Hebei." I was like, huh??? I later looked it up. From everything I have read, Taiwan is NOT a province of China, when you talk to Taiwan (or anyone else in the world) about it. When you talk to China about it, it is. I guess it depends on your point of view. It makes me laugh. It's like those funny propaganda-style news shows in the English language on Chinese television - "Oh, Tibet loves being under our rule. The Dalai Llama is wrong. We've made Tibet so successful and happy..." Yeahhhhh.

Gage's Walker

Gage is Mr. Walk-Along-Couches-and-Walls man, right? He's really close to walking. He has discovered that he can use his high chair as his own little walker device. It's wood, so it slides easily on our laminate flooring. So he pulls up against it and is off to the races. He walks that thing all over the apartment. He's such a mover and a shaker. And the kid is the best eater EVER. I had forgotten, after Mr. Weak Cheeks (Micah), that a baby could eat easily and happily. The kid PACKS IT AWAY. He eats as much as Dylan, at every meal. And he's chewing so well.

He Gets Free Stuff

People on the streets ADORE Micah. He's so shy, and when they try to talk to him or touch him, he looks down and picks his nose. We've talked about this. This doesn't make people less affectionate toward him - if anything, it makes them MORE affectionate toward him. The kid gets soooooooooo many free things from people. When I was buying school supplies, the lady gave him two free packages of stickers. When I was getting Sadie some wrapping paper for her birthday presents, the lady in the store gave Micah a free gerber daisy. When we were staying at the hotel for a month, one of the gate keeper guys drew these really neat pictures of planes and fighter jets and gave them to Micah as a present. He is a favorite. I love it. Nothing makes peoples' day more than when he says, when we are leaving, the Mandarin words for "goodbye" - "Tsi Chien!" They laugh and ruffle his blonde little hair and give him free apples, bananas, sodas, candy, etc. etc. etc. It's adorable.


It's still pretty hot outside, but I can tell a difference - it's not, like, melt instantly into your shoes hot. It's more like, "Well, it's ninety degrees out here, but we can cope for a few minutes while we run down to the market." It's very, very hazy most days. You can tell if you are having a non-humid day, even before stepping outside, by seeing how hazy it is outside. The other day, it was surprisingly clear. I mean, I could see buildings clearly for miles and miles. I couldn't believe it. And there, on the horizon, were some MOUNTAINS! I was like, "There are mountains right there?" They were really relatively close, but it's so hazy that you never see them. I haven't seen them before, or since.

The other day, it was 4 o'clock or so - when the sun should have hit our eyes really bright as we were walking westward on Stinky Street. And the sun was right there in front of us, but it was just bright red. I couldn't believe that I was looking at the sun, and that it looked red. That is how hazy and polluted it is here.


We went to this alleyway by a different McDonald's to do some more cold-weather shopping on Saturday. There were tons of kids' clothing booths. I was hoping to find some, I don't know...normal clothes. Those hopes were dashed. Kids' clothes are so crazy here! Things still do not match each other at ALL. I was wondering if it was just that flea market, but no. It's everywhere. And everything has bedazzled this and sparkly that and sequins, sequins, sequins. Even on little boys' clothes. Micah picked out a shirt for himself that he is so in love with. It was cheap, so even though it's butt-ugly, I got it for him. It's clearly meant for a boy, because it has a picture of a little cartoon boy on the front, right? And it says, "Hip Boy" on it. So whatever. The long sleeves are covered in British flag pattern. The front and back are neon blue. And the cartoon boy is wearing these, like, gangsta clothes, with all of these sequins and bedazzled things and bright, shiny studs all over him. Micah calls it his Sparkly Shirt. In fact, he wore it for a day and a night and a day, and it's in the wash right now, much to his consternation. He went to the market with Ben the other night, and he insisted on wearing his Sparkly Shirt, even though it's actually a sweatshirt, and it was crazy hot outside. He's so funny.

All of Sadie's clothes that she picked are totally sequined and sparkly and just crazy. I've decided that I'm never going to find some plain jeans or any plain shirts for my kiddos, and to just go with it. Haha!

Ben bought me some cute, cute, cute little pageboy hats on Stinky Street the other night. They were only $3 each! Now that's what I"m talkin' about. I love them so much, and they're perfect, because I throw one of those on in lieu of doing my hair, and voila. Cuteness.

Well, so that wraps up this week's events. I uploaded pics of all of the things I just talked about (and other stuff) onto smugmug:

Pictures we took for our virtual ward directory -

My cute new hats -

Sadie's Birthday -

Laundry, Yoga, Tian Tian, and Firecrackers -

Alright, I have to go - Ben's on the phone with his work associate, Charles. I guess, because our school books are so scary, there has to be special documentation by someone in China to verify that the books are okay to enter China officially. There are only a few companies in China that offer that service. Are you KIDDING me????? Kill me now!!!

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