Monday, October 31, 2011

I MISS these girls.

This was the last time I saw our cute little interpreters before we left. They are so stinkin' cute.

I was joking and saying, "Chezzzzzzzz-uhhhhhhhhhhh!" - the Chinese version of pointing a camera at someone and saying, "Cheese!" They thought it was so funny I had picked up on that.

That shirt makes me look fat. Um, because I AM fat! Hahaha! Oh well.

National Day (the celebrating of the founding of the Peoples' Republic of China on Oct. 1st, 1949) was the following day, I think. The Chinese usually take a whole week to celebrate. I asked the girlies what their plans were. Summer was going home to hang out with her fam - they live about half an hour south of Baoding in a city called Shijiazhuang. Don't ask me how to say that. Whenever I referred to her hometown, I would just call it "shwawawawawa." And she would laugh and slowly pronounce it for me, having me repeat after her, but I never could remember it. It was our little "bit," kind of like "Who's on first?" with Abbott and Costello.

Maria told me she was heading home to help harvest corn. Her family lives on the outskirts of Baoding. I asked her if they do corn mazes in China. She had no idea what I was talking about. Dylan got in on this part of the conversation, excitedly telling the girls that some people here in Idaho, after they harvest their corn, make corn mazes and charge money for people to run around and get lost in them. Maria and Summer were nonplussed, just totally baffled as to why anyone would do such a thing.

And THEN Dylan and I started telling them about HAUNTED corn mazes. We told them that, when October rolls around, there are a few corn mazes that have people in scary costumes jump out at you and scare you. The girls' jaws dropped. Then Dylan added that some guys get chainsaws and take the chain off, so that they're safe, but that they may jump out at you and chase you around. The girls' jaws dropped even lower. Summer said, "But why would anyone want to go somewhere to be scared???"

"That's the question I've asked myself my whole life, Summer." I'm not a huge fan of Halloween. (Parenthetically, Ben has been watching scary movies on TV all week, and I've been hanging out down in my bedroom, because I get really, really freaked out when I watch scary movies. So I've been reading White Swans, speaking of China's National Day. I just finished, and it's sooooo interesting. I recommend it.)

I actually got a little teary-eyed when I was hugging them goodbye. I may not ever see them again in this life, which makes me sad.

I just heard from Summer yesterday via e-mail. She moved to Beijing and got a job at a "design firm" - I'm not sure what that means - I asked her more about it. She says that Beijing feels so big, and that she feels a little lost. Beijing, indeed, is enormous - I think one of our tour guides told us that you can fit TEN Hong Kongs into Beijing. That is how huge it is. But it was so funny to me that she has lived in Baoding, a city of 11 million, and considers it a "small town." And that Beijing is a "big city." To me, Baoding is a big city. And Beijing is a big city. When you can't see the edge of the city from any vantage point, that's a big city, in my book. Her boyfriend, Justin, lives there, so I hope he's keeping her company and helping her to transition.

Maria's boyfriend, Double Tiger, lives near Baoding, so she wanted to stay there to be close to him. I'm not sure what she's been doing. Hopefully I'll hear from her soon.

I just wish I could have packed them in my suitcases and brought them over here with me. Every time I do something interesting or fun, I think, "What would Summer and Maria think of this??" Like, yesterday, we were carving pumpkins, and I thought, "I wonder what those girlies would think of this?" Or trick-or-treaters that are coming by tonight. I think they would get the biggest kick out of it.

I wonder if they would appreciate the wide, open spaces and the fresh air here. They might feel as weird and uncomfortable as I felt in such a dirty, crowded, smelly city - a fish out of water. Maria is probably used to the countryside, because she grew up on a corn farm on the outskirts of Baoding. But Summer is a city girl, through and through. I'm not sure she would know what to do with herself. And I'm pretty sure she'd hate the food here. Because here, "Chinese food" isn't authentic at ALL. The people I knew in China had never heard of, say, sweet & sour pork. Or chow mein. Or chop suey. They ate more along the lines of...chicken heart and duck legs and stuff like that. :)

I really am so thankful to be back to My Own Private Idaho. Yesterday, my friend, Megs, and I went driving around the countryside to pick a spot for my family's photos, and I thought to myself, there is just no prettier place on this earth. A girl can BREATHE here. And see the horizon. And the stars. It just feels so great to be home.

But I miss my little friends.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Papa, Paparazzi

So Ben, being the cautious man that he is, put our camera on the couch in our apartment in Baoding. And Gage, being the toddler that he is, picked up the camera and THREW it onto the hard floor to see what kind of sound it would make. This broke our lens. This was my face when Ben told me the news:

Lenses are NOT cheap. You could still technically take pictures with it, but you have to kind of help the automatic focus thingey with your hands. It's a huge pain, and it doesn't always work out. We were worried about being able to get good, non-fuzzy shots in Beijing.

The nice thing is that our lens can be fixed, but it takes time, which we didn't have. So we decided to get a different kind of lens right then new - I don't know what type it is, but it can super-zoom. It's hard to get used to - if you're taking just normal pics of the kids, you have to stand REALLY far back to get the shot, so it's an adjustment. But at least we had a lens for Beijing.

Summer and Maria helped Ben purchase it:

Summer got bangs cut - I think they're so cute. They suit her.

Ben was having wayyyy too much fun with the new camera:

He took tons of paparazzi-like stalker photos of the people walking and riding along stinky street downstairs:

Considering that we were on the 10th floor, these ain't too bad.

And the cute cackling banana lady who wouldn't let me take her picture? I had the last laugh - Ben got a photo of her stand, and I also got a nice close-up of her, and she never knew. Mwahahahaha!!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Floating, Detached Thumb

We had our cute new American friends over a couple of times the week before we left. I was so sad to have met them just a couple of weeks before we had to leave. They were so much fun. They came over to play a raucous round of Uno one night:

Felice is actually an amateur magician! She brought a pack of cards over and did some amazing tricks. Dylan was enthralled:

He told me, later that night, that he wants to be a magician. I said, "I thought you wanted to be a scientist." After much thought, he said, "I want to be a scientist during the day, but a magician at night and on the weekends."

She actually taught Dylan (after much insistence on his part) how to do some of the tricks. But she didn't teach him how she got the penny to go through the coffee table and onto the floor. He has concluded that there isn't a "trick" to it - that she is, indeed, magic. :)

She has a really good way of moving her hands to trick your eye. She can do that detached-thumb trick - where you are like, "Look, my thumb is floating in the air!!" Even I can do that trick (but really badly). But Felice's detached thumb looks soooooo real. In fact, when she first did the trick, Sadie thought FOR SURE that Felice's thumb had come off her hand, and she totally did the ear thing that Buster does on Arrested Development when he's uncomfortable, shocked, or scared (which is always):

She did the ear thing and just started to RUN away. It was really funny. We were over at Megan and Mark's house last night, and Mark pretended to pop his eyeball out. Apparently, it was so convincing that Sadie did the ear thing again. She cracks me up.

Here is cute little Hannah, who never would look right at the camera when we took pictures of her:

I can relate. I feel uncomfortable when people take my picture, too. But instead of just looking away, I make weird faces. We all cope in our own way. :)

We were talking about English names that the Chinese pick for themselves. Hannah and Felice told me some of the funniest names that their students, or some of the students of their friends, have chosen:

Hairy (not Harry. Hairy.)
Easy (a girl had chosen this name - haha!)
Zero (Hannah's student chose this name, because he is positive that he is going to get a Zero in her class. Haha!)

Hannah also explained something to me that she had learned in her training to be a university professor in China - the term "high-context communicators." There is a lot involved with that term, but part of it is that in a country where you have high-context communicators (a.k.a. China and France), the people don't express disagreement or reservations about an issue unless they know you extremely, extremely well. And only in private, one-on-one. If they're in a business meeting, they will pretend that they are okay with everything, but if they really aren't okay, they will pull their boss or coworker aside and communicate it one-on-one, rather than express it for everyone in the meeting. When it comes to communicating uncomfortable things with someone who isn't your utter best friend, they just shut down. Like, I think Hannah was telling me that she was talking to one of her students after class, saying, "You know, you're failing my class. You haven't done this and this....and you need to do such-and-such to salvage your grade." The whole time, the kid didn't say one word. He just shut down. Because he was uncomfortable. He didn't have anything to say for himself.

In many high-context cultures, the concept of "saving face" is a reeeeeeeeally big deal. The Chinese don't want to appear like they don't know something, or aren't prepared for something. So, if you ask them a question, and they don't know the answer, instead of saying, "Gosh, I don't know that," they'll just offer some weird answer. For instance, when I was like, "Summer, where can we buy a hammer to put up these clothing lines?" She didn't know the answer, so she gave me a lame-o answer: "Find a rock to pound the nails in the wall." Do other Chinese pound their nails into the wall with rocks? Maybe. But maybe she just needed an answer, so this is what she thought of.

Or Candy, the little gal across the hall. I once asked her, "What do you do about this consistent sewer smell in the bathrooms??" I don't think she really knew what to do about it, so she said, "Well, you open a window." A lame-o answer, but an answer.

Hannah put it this way - if you ask someone in China for directions, if they don't know how to get somewhere, instead of saying, "Gosh, I don't know," they may give you the wrong directions in order to save face. Isn't that interesting?

So having learned this put a lot of my experiences in China into perspective. For instance, Professor Han took three weeks to get our kitchen in to our apartment. And during that time, we never, ever heard hide nor hair from him. It was like he had fallen off the face of the earth. We would call, and he would avoid our calls. Once our kitchen was in, he and his family were visiting and calling several times per week - our BFF's. I personally think that he was embarrassed that it was taking so long to put the kitchen in, and that he was avoiding us because he wanted to save face. Once his face was "restored," or gained back, then he was fine being friends with us again.

Or Ben's experiences with these work associates in China. They didn't want to admit that the groundwork wasn't prepared for the dome construction. So, instead of saying, "You know, we haven't finished that yet. You'll have to come over when we finish," they said, "Yes, yes, the groundwork is totally prepared." They lied to save face. So we went over there. And nothing was ready.

And then they didn't do any work on the project for the whole three months we were there. Apparently, there were some funding issues they were having, which was causing a halt in the construction, but not wanting to admit that, they said, "Um, well, Ben wasn't available to us...." A lame-o lie/excuse so that they could save face.

When they had that big meeting before we left, and the Chinese company said, "Yes, we will pay what we owe you in ten business days." Well, they never did. When Ben said, "Okay, where are the payments?" the finance guy said, "Oh, my partners never told me we were supposed to make the payments in ten business days." That may be true - maybe they don't really want to make the payments, so they avoided telling the finance guy about the agreement. OR maybe they did tell the finance guy, but he knows they can't afford it, so he's making an excuse/lying to cover himself. Does that make sense? So this high-context stuff is just really different from what we're used to in the U.S. It's complicated, and it's hard to understand.

Anywho, back to our American friends. A foreign professor had lived in Felice's apartment before her, and he had these little muffin tins that looked like they were made of rubber. But they were MUFFIN TINS!!! I hadn't seen anything resembling muffin tins or baking pans at all there. I told her that Ben had gotten a brownie mix in Beijing the last time he had gone, so she was like, "Let's try to bake these in your oven!!!" I was really nervous about the muffin tins looking like rubber. But dude, they totally worked! We had real, honest-to-goodness brownies that night. All four of us adults, while we ate them, were closing our eyes in silent ecstasy. Hannah swore softly to herself. It was really funny. It had been so LONG since any of us had had any baked goods. I'm not usually a brownie girl, but I was pigging OUT. As Hannah was leaving, she saw that there were some brownie crumbs left on Dylan's plate. "I'm contemplating eating those crumbs," she said wistfully.

This is why, if Ben returns to China (he insists that he might be leaving in a month - he's gotten some encouraging E-MAILS from the Chinese company, but no real money yet. I told him I'll believe it when I see it), I'm sending him with some baking pans, muffin tins, and all kinds of brownie mixes - if all you need is water, oil, and eggs, then you're okay. You can find those things in Baoding. But I'm sending some for him, AND I'm sending some for my poor American friends. 'Cause I know how it feels to go three months without baked goods. It ain't pretty.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The History of Rome, by Dylan and Sadie

Amulius was a nasty king who had taken over his brother's throne and exiled him. The exiled brother had a daughter who had twins, Romulus and Remus. Amulius told his servant to kill the twin babies, but in true huntsman-character-in-Snow White tradition, he just couldn't go through with it. So he put the babies in a basket and sent them down the river:

Somehow, the basket reached the banks of the river safely, and a she-wolf discovered the babies and raised them as her own. A shepherd and his wife then found them and raised them as their own. When they became adults, they decided to found a city. They kept fighting over where to build their new city, and Romulus had Remus killed. Then he built the city on the Tiber river and named it after himself, calling it Rome:

Years later, the Etruscan king, who lived on the other side of the river, wanted to take over Rome. There was a bridge that connected the two kingdoms. An amazing hero named Horatius somehow fought off hundreds of Etruscans on the Etruscan banks while his fellow soldiers destroyed the bridge. As Dylan so poetically put it, "He is so drave. He bib not run.":

The kid has troubles with b's and d's - what can I say? Ben used to have trouble with that as a kid, as well, but then he came up with his own way to remember. He made up a sentence that says, "Because b was right, d left." He taught it to Dylan, and he hasn't had a problem ever since!

Back to the story. After Horatius's comrades destroyed the bridge, he, miraculously still alive (though dreadfully wounded), jumped into the Tiber river and swam, armor and all, back to the Roman side of the river. And was a hero forever more.

The Etruscan king was really sad that his plans to take over Rome didn't work:

Many years later, there was a consul in Rome named Cincinnatus. After his term in public office was up, he returned to his farm and worked as a simple farmer. All of the able-bodied men in Rome had gone off to fight a battle, and word came back that things were not going well. So Cincinnatus, even though he was now an old man, gathered up all of the other old men and teenage boys, armed them, and led them to join the other Romans in battle:

They won that battle, and Cincinnatus ruled as a very just and righteous dictator just for a short time, until that war was over. Then he went back to his farm - he was the model of civic duty and humility.

The Romans, being neighbors to the Grecians, picked up on their Greek Gods, adapting them to their own country and naming them their own names. Many of the planets are named after Roman gods and goddesses:

For example, Venus is the Roman goddess of love:

Stories of the gods and goddesses were a way of explaining natural phenomena, for example, the story of Proserpina and Pluto. One day, Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld, heard Proserpina, Ceres's daughter, singing. [Ceres is the goddess of agriculture.] He fell in love with her and stole her, taking her to the underworld. Just in case you were wondering, the underworld is black. I don't think you understand black until you're down there. Black, black, black:

Jupiter, father of the gods, ordered Pluto to release Proserpina, and Pluto obeyed, but first he made her eat six pomegranate seeds:

Pomegranates are the food of the dead, and once you've eaten pomegranates, you can't return to the world of the living. Because she ate six seeds, she has to live six months of the year with Pluto, and six months of the year with Ceres, her mom. This is how the Romans explained the changing of the seasons - when Proserpina is with Pluto, Ceres is sad, allowing everything to wither and die. When Proserpina is with her, she's happy, and everything blooms again.

Who knew Roman history was so interesting? With such intrigue, revenge, heartbreak, and heroicism? And who knew that Pluto had a large, platypus-like beak? Or that Cincinnatus's arm hung from his hair?? Or that the Etruscan king didn't have a torso? Not me. You learn something new every day. :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It was impressive.

Just one more thing about homeschool. I gotta say. The curriculum we had for homeschool (The Idaho Virtual Academy) was in.cred.i.ble. My friend, Lyndsay, had homeschooled for a time with the IDVA, and she had said it was good and challenging, but I didn't realize how much so until we came home.

Before we left, which was three weeks ago, Dylan was doing addition and subtraction up to the number 10,000. Guess what his worksheets have been like since we've been home? "9 - 7 = ?" Yeah. :)

And very hands-on. This is a picture of Dylan measuring the weight (in Newtons) of Sadie's box of Baoding balls, using a spring scale:

The kids la-hoved their science lessons. Dylan says he's going to be a scientist one day. He's cute.

And now it's time for me to have a fight with my three-year-old about his naptime. Toodles!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Channelling the Masters

For the most part, homeschooling was torture for me. And for the kids. Except for the art lessons. Oh, how I loved those. The kids were learning all about line and movement and well as about some of the greatest artists in history and their techniques.

After we learned about portraits and self-portraits, one of their assignments was to make their own self-portraits. Dylan's:

And Sadie's:

We learned about Hokusai - the way he made art is fascinating. Like stamping, but upside-down. I love, love, love this work by him - The Great Wave Off Kanagawa:

One of the kids' assignments was to make a piece of art that imitates Hokusai's use of lines to show movement. Here are the results - Dylan's:

And Sadie's:

Then we studied Joan Miro, who was really into using shapes and bright, bright color. This is one of his works called The Tilled Field:

The kids' assignment was to make a work of art that imitates Miro's use of enclosed shapes, bright colors, and bold, defined lines. Dylan's work:

And Sadie's:

I'm a little sad that these art lessons are over; it was so fun learning more about art and great artists. I'm impressed with what they did.

And, lest you think that Micah was left out, here is photographic evidence that he was in on the creativity:

Dylan and Sadie don't really fit into the role of emotionally tortured artists, per se...

But Micah...oh yeah. He's an emotionally tortured artist. For sure:

He's seriously messed up. He's liable to cut off an ear one of these days...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fancy Girls

When we flew from Beijing to Seattle, we had a two-hour layover or so there in Seattle. We got some bagels, which were H-E-A-V-E-N-L-Y. Ben took Micah to the bathroom, and Dylan and I were munching our bagels while watching Sadie and the baby crawl around on the floor and play. This is how our conversation went:

Dylan: Every single girl I know says the word "like" all the time.

Me: Every single girl you know?

Dylan: Well, maybe three-fourths of the girls I know.

Me: Um, okay....

Dylan: [reconsidering] Well, maybe not that many girls say "like" all the time. Only fancy girls say "like" all the time.

Me: [giggling] "Fancy Girls"??? What on earth are "Fancy Girls"??

Dylan: You know, like Aunt Lex. She's a fancy girl.

Me: What do you mean??

Dylan: Well, fancy girls wear makeup and have cute clothes. So Lex is a fancy girl. And it's true. When she talks, she's always saying, "Like, totally. Like, what-ever..."

Me: [laughing] No she doesn't!!! You're so weird!

I laughed and laughed. The bizarre things that come out of his mouth... So Lex, just in case you ever wondered, you are a Fancy Girl. And, apparently, you talk like a Valley Girl. According to Dylan.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Boy, you're in a heap of trouble...

Look at Micah's Chinese haircut. Sa-weet. I have never seen such nasty-asty haircuts as the ones we all got in Baoding. I'm scheduled to see my dear hairdresser this Friday, and I. cannot. wait.

A couple of days before we left, I was talking to Summer. I was telling her that I thought coming back to the U.S. might be the best choice for my kiddos' sake. I told her how I was especially worried about Micah's anxiety and...general freakishness. :) I said, "I think I need to get him into preschool." She responded, "Yes, Micah needs to learn the English language." Hahaha! I love that. And it's so true.

I've noticed, however, that he's speaking so much better, just in the past two weeks since we've been home. Isn't that weird?? And good?

Here's something crazy - Micah says something my sis, Lex, used to say when she was little: "Leave my lone." Which is, "Leave me alone." I love, love, love that he says that.

Cars is one of his favorite movies, and there's a part where Lightning McQueen just got tangled up in electrical wires and barbed-wire fence and is hanging there. The cop who has been pursuing him says, "Boy, you're in a heap of trouble." When Micah is angry at someone (which si 99.9% of the time), he yells, "You in a heap of trouble!!!"

Mom was bathing him the other night, and she poured some water on his head, because he refused to lie down to get his hair wet. He stood up and screamed at her, "NOT COOL!! Not cool!!!"

Like I mentioned before, our bathrooms in Baoding didn't have bathtubs, so we had to do this communal shower thing every day with the younger kids, because let's face it, they won't wash themselves. Ben was showering Micah, so obviously, they were both, ah, in their birthday suits, right? Micah smiled at Ben and said, very sincerely, "I like your body." I guess he was giving Ben some kind of compliment. Ben laughed and laughed.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

JibJab Baby

Gage's hair cracks me up. He reeeeally needs a haircut. His hair looks like that one guy on the JibJab logo, the guy on the left. Let me show ya. Gage:

The JibJab guy (on the left):

See what I'm sayin'?

He is the babiest baby ever. Here are some pics of him that last week we were in Baoding:

Love this kid.

Friday, October 14, 2011

My bags are packed, I'm ready to go...

Ben went with Summer and Maria and got tons more suitcases for our trip home. We hadn't accumulated that much stuff while we were in China, but we had to bring these infernal school books home (and I still have to mail them back in - it's on my to-do list), which necessitated more luggage. The kids had a good time fitting into the suitcases and then popping out:

I was so preoccupied with schooling the kids for a million hours per day, so Ben did allll the packing that last week, which was sweet. We had to make sure that each bag wasn't over fifty pounds - tough to do when you have a zillion books to take home. He had me pick up a scale at Hui Mart - it was in kilograms, so he had to use his phone converter app to figure out how many pounds each bag was - he would move books around from bag to bag to make sure none of them went over the weight limit. He's cute.

It was a huge pain in the butt carting those things around the various airports on our travels home. It took forever to check them in at the Peking airport. When we landed in Seattle, we made the mistake of keeping a club sandwich from the plane, which a special sniffing dog found. So we had to get our luggage from the plane (we had to do it ourselves - the airport personnel weren't supposed to touch it until it went through a conveyor) and then, after the conveyor, it had to be thoroughly searched by various airport personnel. Then we had to re-check it in. It was fun to do that after a ten-hour flight with four small children. :) A tip from me for any future international travelers out there, especially if you're returning from Asia - don't bring the airplane food off with you. It spells big trouble. They said it was the whole bird flu thing they have to worry about. And because we had turkey in that sandwich, ka-bam. It's a good thing we had a two-hour layover there in Seattle in which to do all that.
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