Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Blue Zoo Beijing

This weekend we took the kids to the Blue Zoo, an aquarium here in town. The pictures aren't particularly impressive - I don't think our camera was up to the task of taking photos in a dark, underground, surrounded-by-glass kind of place, but at least the grandparents will enjoy them.

The first stop was the shark tank, where you could get up close and personal with the beasts. The glass enclosure isn't very high, and while Shay was posing for a photo, one of the sharks bumped the top edge of the glass, splashing water all over us and scaring the little ones. The sea turtles weren't as scary, but they were equally close to us.

Next we stepped on a moving sidewalk and entered a glass tunnel that took us under the aquarium. This was a huge hit, as we were surrounded by eels, stingrays, sharks and all sorts of sea creatures. Even Kyra got into it. And if you've never looked up and gazed upon the butt of a sea turtle directly overhead, well, you don't know what you're missing.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Four Weeks Gone By

Four weeks ago we arrived in Beijing, which means only 152 weeks to go, but who’s counting?

Slowly, slowly, we’re settling in. Shay hates school. Hates it. The teachers are too mean, the work is too hard, the days are too long, the friends are too few. We’re hoping once he finds a good friend in his class, some of these objections will fly out the window. The elementary school counselors, who hold monthly meetings to educate parents, inform us that it takes 6-12 weeks before the average kid begins to feel at home here. So I suppose this is normal.

Aidan, meanwhile, desperately wants to go to school. This morning there were even more kids than usual at the bus stops, as the rest of the schools started this week, including the pre-schools. So he saw several of his friends in their school uniforms. Not good. But I explained to him that A.) he’ll have to rob a bank to pay for private school here, and B.) those kids in the cool uniforms? Not gonna watch Scooby Doo in the morning. That seemed to appease him somewhat.

Kyra has learned her first Chinese word. She wanders through the house muttering “shi shi, shi shi,” which means “thank you, thank you.” It’s unclear if she knows what it means, but hey, the kid’s got manners. Just don’t ask her to share her cookies.

Bart’s attitude is similar to Shay’s. Not about the teachers or friends. But if you ask him, he’ll tell you that the days are too long and the work is too hard. The difference between the two of them is that, no matter how frustrated Bart gets with his day, he rarely calls me a “stupidhead” when I tell him to go to bed.

And me? Well, I have my ayi, which feels quite luxurious. I’m working on a few story ideas, and I’m eager to make them work. I have a job interview at the Embassy this week for a job that I’d really be quite good at, but which I’m not sure I want (Because, as you might have guessed, the days would be too long and the work would be too hard. We’re a whiny family). So I keep hoping to sell something, anything, before they make a decision about whom to hire. Maybe then I can talk myself out of taking it and focus on being a “real” writer.

But for now, well, the day really has been too long, and so I’m off to bed.

Good night.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

International House of Pancakes

We've been here for three and a half weeks now, and I finally got it together to re-start our weekend chocolate chip pancake breakfast tradition. I used Chinese eggs and yogurt, milk and butter from New Zealand, a chocolate bar from Europe and wheat flour from my air freight shipment.

For the first time in three and a half weeks, the kids were totally satisfied with their international meal. Even Casey the dog got back into the routine, barking at the pan as the pancakes sizzled.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Introducing Xiao Tong

Because every good story needs an interesting cast of characters, and I’m getting bored of myself already, I thought now would be a good time to bring someone new into this story.
After two weeks of battling Beijing dust on the floors, I gave up. After two weeks of dragging the kids to the store on their various bikes, scooters and strollers, I gave up. After just two weeks in Beijing, I decided to hire an ayi.

The first woman I interviewed spoke no English at all (a neighbor helped translate), and shook with fear throughout the interview. She couldn’t even smile at the kids. The second lady complained, also through a translator, about the workload (“three kids! A dog! She better not expect me to cook, too!”). The third woman walked in, picked Kyra up with a smile and greeted Aidan in English. A regular Chinese Mary Poppins. So, dear reader, I hired her.

Her name is Xiao Tong. She’s in her early thirties, with a five-year old boy of her own. She’s been here all week, full time, cleaning and ironing half of the day and entertaining the kids the other half so I can spend my mornings writing and my afternoons playing with the kids, instead of yelling at them for the sixteenth time to PICK UP YOUR OWN TOYS OR I’M TAKING THEM AWAY SO HELP ME GOD!

So far, it’s been a big success. I’ve sold another article to the Christian Science Monitor this week, and my husband hasn’t once asked me if it might be possible, please, that there is some clean laundry somewhere in the house that he might be able to wear to work tomorrow. It’s all right there in his dresser already. Doing the laundry, as he’ll readily tell you, has never been one of my talents.

The only problem I can foresee at this early stage of the relationship is that her English is rather good. And that’s a big problem, because I really need her to talk to the kids in Chinese only. I told her that was a major condition of her employment, but she doesn’t seem to get it, because she’s still going back and forth between English and Chinese. So we’ll see. I’ll give her a week or so to settle in, and hopefully she’ll start to feel more comfortable speaking to them in Chinese despite the fact that I can’t understand. Because while a rotating cast of characters makes for an interesting story, a rotating cast of ayis does not make for a happy house.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nature? Or Nurture?

This morning Kyra, tiny Kyra who still can't say more than the occasional "ma!" or "da!" sat on the floor at breakfast time, playing with cars and making car noises ("brummm, bruumm") as she drove the cars around.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I’m Really in Beijing

I had one of those moments this morning, where I looked around and thought to myself “holy good god, what am I doing? I actually live here!”

See, they had a “Meet the Principal” session this morning at the school. I still don’t have a car, so I looked it up on the map and decided I could probably find the school on a bike. I left the two little ones with their brand new ayi (don’t worry, that story is coming soon), hopped on the bike and pedaled off in the direction of the school.

It was hot and humid and dusty (are you starting to suspect that I will use those three adjectives in every single post?) on the road. I sped along, across the bridge that spans a stagnant river, past the Pomegranate turnoff, along the edge of a major construction project. Cicadas were buzzing from every tree. A couple of three-wheeled cars drove by. Lots of decrepit bikes. A few mopeds. I hit a pothole and almost went head over handlebars. I passed the gated park with a pond full of lilypads and a sign on the fence, something to the effect of “park for important personages only.”

After twenty minutes or so, I found the school. Then I had to convince the security guard to let me in (I don’t have a badge yet). “Ni hao,” I waved. “Ni hao,” he replied. With that, I came to the end of my Chinese, so I switched to English: “I’m here for the parent-teacher meeting.” Apparently, his English wasn’t much better than my Chinese, so he answered in Chinese. Then he asked, hopefully, “badge?” I shook my head no and explained that I still need to get a badge. He answered in Chinese, still not opening the gate. So I went down a list of words he might know in English. “Principal? Coffee? Cafeteria? Meeting? Parent?” Finally, he said “You… teacher?” I answered “No… I… parent.”

Somehow that worked, and he waved me in.

After the meeting, which took place in a dark, cool, not-at-all-dusty-or-humid private school auditorium, I hit the road again, back past the construction and the Lion Mart and the “Health and Beauty Wellness Center” and the guards and the mopeds and the cicadas. This time, I knew where I was headed. That’s when it occurred to me: I really, truly live here.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Boring Ole Me

You’d think, with one of my kids in school now, I’d have more time to write, not less. But somehow the days fly by, and I never finish half of what I start.

This weekend was all about churchgoing and restaurants, but even that lends itself to a bit of strangeness in a foreign land. So I’ll tell you the story.

On Saturday we went to the “underground church” at the clubhouse. We’re Catholic, and as you might know, the Chinese Catholic church is actually separate from the Pope’s Catholic church. The Chinese government does not allow the Pope to select his own bishops or make other decisions regarding the church here in China. So we don’t attend local Chinese Catholic churches. Instead, there is a priest who comes to the clubhouse here at our housing complex. Only foreign passport holders are allowed to attend, and they check you at the door – though somehow you wouldn’t think I’d need to prove that I’m not Chinese. Still and all, I like the idea of an underground church. It conjures images of secret handshakes, smoke and mirrors.

After church, which wasn’t at all secret handshaky, and was actually rather like services everywhere else we’ve been, we met up with another churchgoing family for dinner. We hopped on our new bikes and rode over to Pomegranate, a little bar about a mile down the road. Kyra rode behind me; Aidan behind Bart. Shay hopped in a car and drove with some friends. We rode down the main street, then turned down an alley into the area where the Chinese live. It was dusty, bumpy, cramped and crowded – just the opposite of the crazy villas where we live. The juxtaposition is rather startling. Little dogs roam the alley next to locals on creaky bikes. Toddlers in split pants play in the dust in front of their houses. Through one window we could see a group of men eating noodles off of tin plates – apparently that was a local restaurant. Then, before I could get a really good look, we pulled into a courtyard and found a table at Pomegranate, which caters to foreigners like us. In fact, rumor has it that it was started by a group of teachers at Shay’s school.

Dinner was fine, dinner was fun. On the return ride, the road in front of the bicycles was black, and we resolved to get headlights and reflectors for our bikes.

The next day, we met up with two other couples and their children for the 40-minute drive to the Village View Resort, near the Great Wall. We had a big Chinese feast: tofu, shredded snow peas, eggplant in sesame sauce, green beans, fried rice, Beijing-style fried bread. They brought enough food for 6 adults and 6 kids to eat their fill. The grand total for our outing: 278 RMB – less than $40. The kids played on the playground equipment, then we had ice cream and toured the facility, which included Chinese courtyard houses that you can rent. After all of this, we returned home, without even going to the Great Wall – the other two couples have been here for years and had no interest in going. In addition, the air quality was so bad yesterday, even in the countryside, that we decided it was best to head back indoors and huddle around our air filters. So: lunch was fabulous, the resort was nice, but we were both a bit bummed to be so close to the Wall and not see it. Hopefully, we’ll rent a car and go back that way some weekend soon.

And that’s it. I’ve spent most of my free time trying to figure why I can talk to my parents over the computer, but can’t make the connection work with my in-law’s Mac.

I’ll try to come up with something more interesting for my next post. But here’s my dirty little secret: even though I’ve moved across the world to this exotic place, I’m still the same old boring me, with an uncooperative computer, kids who whine and a husband who works too much. So I’ll have to search out adventures, I suppose. Even here in Beijing, they won’t just head my way without some effort.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The First Day of School

It was quite a sight.

Yesterday was the first day of school, and kids poured out of their houses from all corners of the compound. There were five huge buses from Shay's school alone, just waiting to swallow those kids whole.

Shay's assessment?

The buses are "totally cool," because they have curtains and seatbelts and even a television playing a cartoon for the ten minute ride. ("And they have air freshener, too!" one little girl was overheard exclaiming to her mother.) The cafeteria - not so good. Big surprise there. Shay tried to explain to the Chinese cafeteria worker that he was a vegetarian. She dumped chicken nuggets on his tray. So I guess it's back to packing lunches for me. The playground was apparently the best thing about school. They actually have a smoking dragon: when you stand in front of it, a cloud of mist shoots from its nostrils. And there is a river running through the playground, with fish and toads.

Academically, who knows? According to Shay, they only had Chinese yesterday. But I have to think they did something other than that. Chinese, according to Shay, is "so hard, with words even Dad doesn't know!" And they don't translate anything into English. He is under the impression, however, that there will be no reading or math at this cool school. Just Chinese language and Chinese cafeteria workers, with occasional forays into the Coolest Playground In The World.

In other news, Aidan got his first big-boy bike, with training wheels. Aidan being Aidan, he's already managed to crash three times, even with training wheels. And I got a big-girl bike, with a car seat attached, so I can wheel down to the school bus stop and the store with Kyra on the back. Look at the pictures see if you agree: our family is just one big circus, put on this earth to make the locals laugh.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Goldilocks and the Forbidden City

We’ve been in Beijing for almost two weeks now, but the kids and I still hadn’t ventured past Shunyi district, the northeastern corner of the city where we live. So yesterday we decided to check out Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City – that way, if we get kicked out or medevaced next week (hey, you know us – it could happen), we could still say we’d been.

We hired a taxi to drive us in – our car won’t arrive for another month or two. The driver dropped us off at Tiananmen Square, where we were immediately swarmed by hawkers with hats, with postcards, with popsicles, with water, and with an inability to understand the word “no.” Still, we managed to run that gauntlet and set out across the Square, which is mostly famous to us westerners for that iconic picture of the student staring down the tank back in 1989. Tiananmen is three times bigger than Red Square in Moscow, but to my eye, it isn’t nearly as impressive. Just a sizzling concrete square with cars zooming around its outer edges. No onion domes or anything.

We headed north across the Square toward the Forbidden City, a walled complex which once housed the emperor, his concubines and his eunuch guards (nope, we were tempted, but we didn’t tell Shay what a eunuch is). Here we were, surrounded by shards of Chinese history: imperial palaces, Mao’s mausoleum, the Monument to the People’s Heroes. And what do you think the Chinese were most interested in?


They were fascinated by our three beautiful children. Partly it was Shay’s blue eyes, partly Aidan’s curls, but mostly, I think, it was just the fact that there were three of them. In a country where the one-child policy is somewhat rigidly enforced, a three-child family is something of a circus. Throw in the hair color, and we could’ve sold tickets. Everyone wanted to touch Aidan’s curly hair. They all “ni hao’ed” Kyra, who mostly smiled back. And I can definitely count to three now. When Bart disappeared for a few minutes to find some drinks, we were suddenly surrounded by Chinese tourists, who thrust cameras in our faces and made their kids pose with Aidan and Shay. Then they’d ask me “one, two, three blah blah blah?” I’d smile and nod “one, two, three,” pointing at the kids and then myself. Cue the popping flashbulbs.
The Forbidden City is massive. We must’ve walked a mile, end to end, and then out the north gate and back again to the beginning, where we squeezed our way onto the metro for the ride to the China World mall, where we hoped to find some food to sooth our three savage beasts and some seats to rest our rears.

You know how men don’t like to ask for directions? Well, picture that you’re in a crowded Beijing shopping mall with no maps, three whiny kids and 5 very grumbly stomachs. Quick, ladies: what do you do? That’s right. You ask for directions. Now, picture this: the only one among you who speaks Chinese is… a man.

We strolled that mall for quite awhile before we gave up on finding a kid-friendly restaurant and headed for Starbucks instead. Never did ask for directions. I've gotta learn some Chinese..

After filling up on caffeine and cocoa, we hopped on the River Garden shuttle bus, a decrepit old thing that wheezed its way back north to our housing complex, dropping us right around the dinner hour. We ordered pizza and Chinese food from a nearby restaurant (who knew? I thought it was only in Los Angeles that you could order pizza and Chinese from the same restaurant, but apparently it’s big here, too).

We washed the kids thoroughly – they’d been petted and patted quite a bit – and tucked them into bed. Shay tugged on his hair and said “I wish my hair was curly like Aidan’s.” I suppose he was feeling jealous of the attention that had been heaped on his flaxen-haired little brother. Aidan, ever-helpful, piped up from the bottom bunk “well, it’s not curly, Shay. Only I have curly hair.”

The moral of the story is this: when you come to visit us in Beijing, wear comfortable walking shoes, pack snacks and prepare to pose like a rock star. But please don’t ask me to walk the length of the Forbidden City again.
In Tiananmen Square; Forbidden City behind us
The circus begins

Inside the Forbidden City

The moat outside the Forbidden City

Friday, August 10, 2007

Blue Skies Over Beijing

We’re settling in nicely and beginning to sleep on a normal schedule.

This place is kid paradise: there are kids in every house, and because it’s a walled and gated compound, they are more or less able to roam freely. A neighbor has loaned a bike and a trike to Shay and Aidan, so they pedal up and down our street, to the playground or the clubhouse. They park their bikes at the clubhouse so we can walk to Starbucks or go to the pool or the indoor playground.

But even kid paradise has its limits, and the limit is this: the school year starts on Tuesday. On Tuesday morning, every able-bodied child in the place will hit the road by 7:30, all heading for the main gate, where they’ll park their bikes and board their buses for school. Then Aidan, Kyra and I will be left to our own devices. No more bickering with Shay, no more Scooby Doo, no more building forts out of the air freight boxes in the garage. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with the two of them come Tuesday.

Between now and then, however, I hope to start interviewing ayi candidates. An ayi is a housekeeper/nanny, and most families hire one full-time to help with the cooking, cleaning or child rearing. After a week of trying to rid this big house of Beijing dust, I’m ready for some help. Plus, I figure it’ll be a good way to get some Chinese cooking and language lessons.

Speaking of language. It isn’t getting any easier. After hours of practice, I can now say “Nice to meet you” (hen gaoxing renshi ni). Of course, I said it to someone who smiled and said “very good – but not too many people say that.” Sigh. And I can definitely say “I don’t want an ayi” (Wo bu yiao ayi) because several times a day someone knocks on my door or stops me in the street to ask if I want an ayi. In defense, I’ve had to learn to smile and say “wo bu yiao ayi” even though I desperately, definitely yiao an ayi.

This week the Chinese celebrated “one year until the Olympics.” To mark the occasion, they’ve shut down a bunch of factories and banned many of the cars from the roads. Suddenly, Beijing’s noxious, choking grey sky has turned a beautiful shade of blue. My eyes no longer sting. I’m not coughing, either. It’s frightening to think that they are pumping so much nastiness into the air every day, and it’s sad to think they can shut it all off when they have the political will. I worry about what the pollution is doing to my children. I suppose it’s like everything in life. There are benefits and drawbacks. Kid paradise in a factory town.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Aidan in the Post

Here's an article from yesterday's Washington Post Health section. In the picture, Aidan looks so sad. But he was happily watching Scooby Doo while the packers were working all around him and the photographer was snapping his picture.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

If I'd Known Then...

If you had told me, back on August 6th, 1994, that I would spend my 13th anniversary in this house in Beijing, China, taking an inventory of my government issue household furniture and unpacking my 800-pound air freight shipment, would I have married the guy anyway?

Yes, I think it likely.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

I Could Never Be a Travel Writer

It takes me a long time to get accustomed to a place, to start to make sense of what’s around me. I find it difficult to jump in and write up a vignette that tells a story and describes a place, with a beginning, middle and end. Problem is, at first there are so many stories that I can’t decide which is the one to write about. Is my story going to be about the nasty pollution, the air so dirty and grey that it can seem like night is falling? Or should I write about how Aidan disappeared from a toy store and we spent a heart-stopping ten minutes searching for him in the shopping center? Maybe you’d rather know how difficult it is to get a kid’s chocolate milk in Starbucks? Or should I tell you about the crazy 3-story shopping center, full of bizarre fruits and mop salespeople?

As I said, I have trouble figuring out where the story should take me. But I need to start somewhere, and those of you who know me well have probably already guessed that I’ll need to start with the hunt for food, my favorite topic in any language.

I used to love shopping at Wegmans grocery store in Fairfax, Virginia. But those days are over. Now, the store of choice is Jenny Lou’s. It’s within walking distance from our house, maybe a ten minute walk beyond the main gate of our complex. It ain’t big, but it’s full of food. Shay and I had a contest today. He asked me to think of one thing I could get in the States that I couldn’t find at Jenny Lou’s. They have cake frosting. They have diapers. They even have El Pato salsa, a favorite brand of mine. They really do have a lot of things for sale – even chocolate chips, though at $5 a bag I still think I’ll have to mail order. But I finally came up with a few things they don’t have. Graham crackers. Flax seeds. Veggie burgers.

The best thing about Jenny Lou’s is that they deliver. You can phone in your order, or you can do what we did today: go in, load up your cart, pay for your groceries, give them your address and leave. In short order, a gentleman will appear at your doorstep, riding a three-wheeled contraption called a sanlunche (san=three; lun=wheel; che=car). It’s a bike, but the back end has two rusty wheels, with a little metal box between them. Your groceries will be stacked in the back of that sanlunche, and he’ll carry them into your house. You won’t tip him, and he won’t expect you to.

Even though it seems as though Jenny Lou’s has everything, it’s still different. There isn’t a lot of produce, for starters, and that’s bad for this little family. Some of the things we use regularly, like frozen raspberries, are impossibly expensive. No veggie burgers, so Bart will go hungry. But we found edamame, so Aidan was happy.

A neighbor drove me to another store this afternoon. This one is a big discount store called Makro, closer to the town center, between the 3rd and 4th ring roads. It’s massive: whereas Jenny Lou’s is the size of a big country store back home, this one was the size of a 3-story Super Wal-Mart. There were all sorts of crazy things there: One fruit looked like a cantaloupe that had mated with a sea anemone. There was a bag of something that looked like greasy black pumpkin seeds. I even saw asparagus juice – ewww. Then again, watermelons were about 5 cents a pound. Still no graham crackers. I guess there’d be nowhere to put them, what with the aisle after aisle stacked high with monster jugs of peanut oil and sixty pound sacks of white rice.

We won’t starve. But we’re currently in the beginning stages of what I like to call the “Foreign Service Diet.” We go on this diet every time we move to a new post. You’re just too exhausted to make a complete meal, and you don’t have many spices or utensils anyway, not until your air freight shipment arrives. So you try to make do with pb&j or toasted cheese, but the jam tastes funny, or you can’t find ketchup, or the bread isn’t whole wheat, and so you give up eating for a few days, until suddenly you start dragging and you can’t figure out why. Then, like tonight, you take the whole family out to a restaurant where the kids can get pizza. And you plan to breakfast on 5-cent-a-pound watermelon.

My brilliant sister figured out how I could post to my blog, so I’m back on board with a plan to keep you informed. I’ll be able to post to the blog, but I won’t actually be able to see it, so if she goes in and changes the background to pink and yellow polka dots, I’ll never know. And I won’t have internet access in my house for at least another week, so my postings will be somewhat sporadic for a bit longer. Bear with me as I try to figure all of this out.

And I’ll try to come up with a more interesting topic for my next post.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

God Bless America

I have discovered that I am unable to access my blogfrom here. Apparently, it is one of many blocked sitesin China. I can feel myself going all dissident as I contemplate this frustrating turn of events. So I have asked my sister to post my entries from the good oleUSofA until I come up with another solution (anyoneout there have one for me?). Blame all typos on her,please.

I still don’t have internet access at home, but hopefully I’ll have that set up by this weekend. We still don’t have our Air Freight, but it’s in customs this week, getting cleared, so hopefully we’ll get it this weekend, too. I haven’t seen much of my lovely husband yet. He takes the early shuttle in and the late shuttle back. But maybe this weekend?

As you can see, I have high hopes for the weekend.

We’ve explored the surrounding neighborhood a bitmore, and it seems more than liveable. I still can’t figure out what to feed the kids, however. They don’tlike the yogurt, don’t like the bread, don’t like the $8 a box Cheerios. The vegetable selection at JennyLou’s is, well, it ain’t Wegmans. My kids love spinach (nope, don’t have it), carrots (only huge dried out cooking carrots), peppers (thank god yes), green beans (nope), edamame (not yet), cucumbers (yep). They do have apples, so they’ve mostly eaten apples all day.Today perhaps we’ll try an orange, if only to stave off scurvy.

We were out all morning yesterday, exploring the ‘hood with a neighbor, Steve, who was assigned along with his wife to be our sponsor. In the afternoon, we wentto the pool with another neighbor, Tracy, and her twokids, a 4 year old girl and a 6 year old boy. Then Shay and Aidan played at her house while I tried to pull together a dinner they would eat. Tracy sent them home with some toys they can use for the next few days. The boys were quite happy with their day –until, of course they saw the slop I was trying toforce them to eat for dinner. They both threw fits, I threw them in their beds and they promptly fell asleep.

That was 7 p.m. I saw an opportunity to sleep myself (keep in mind that I’d been awake at this point since 1 a.m.), so I tossed Kyra in her crib and we all passed out.

8 p.m. Bart comes home. He doesn’t have a key, so he rings the doorbell and I drag myself out of bed. He takes my key and leaves for the gym.

8:15 p.m. Massive thunderstorm starts. Dog barks. I wake up again.

9 p.m. Someone starts ringing the doorbell – over and over again. One again I drag myself out of bed. This time there is a man in a police or guard uniform standing outside along with another man in a black trench coat. They don’t even flinch as lightning and thunder is shooting off all around them. They’re saying something to me in Chinese. I have absolutely no idea what they’re saying, and I tell them this.T hey clearly don’t speak English, either, so they start over in Chinese. One of them makes a gesture that looks like he’s hanging up a telephone. I know my phone is broken – is that what they’re here about? I motion for them to come in. They shake their head no and make the telephone gesture again. So I walk over to the phone, pick it up, say “ni hao,” shake my head and hang up. They keep talking. I remember how to say“I don’t understand,” so I say that over and over again while lightning flashes and they talk. Finally, they say “excuse me,” I say “excuse me” right back at them, and they disappear into the storm.

9:20 p.m. I go back to bed, certain of one thing. Right now, those guys, whoever they are, are thinking pretty much the same thing as me: “Why the hell can’tshe speak Chinese?”

4 a.m. All three kids spring awake as if on cue. Stormis over, night is over, time to start figuring this country out anew.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Perils of Jetlag

Well we made it. The plane ride was aneyeball-shredding experience, but we had two things inour favor: we got a last minute upgrade to business class, which was nearly empty except for us, and thekids were spotlessly behaved. Truly, they couldn’thave been better. Aidan actually slept for 7 of the 14 hours; Kyra for about 6. Shay slept not more than 2hours, but he loved the flight. He had unlimited use of his Nintendo DS, along with a new game, and that alone would seem heavenly to a 7-year-old. And he loved business class. What’s not to love? They served him ginger ale and chocolate cheesecake – at the sametime even. He dug into the cheesecake, then leanedback in his seat and rolled his eyes about in hisskull like a cartoon character, sighing “I think I’m in love.”

Business class is far superior to cattle car class,it’s true. But it can’t disguise the fact that you’rein the plane for 14 long hours. Honestly, I don’t knowhow pilots and flight attendants do it every week –Randy, is there some secret potion that keeps your eyeballs from petrifying?

So we’re here. But the jetlag is killing us. Bart had to report for work at 7 a.m. the morning after wearrived, sleep or no, and he had a full day yesterday.The kids are sleeping all day and watching Scooby Doo all night – but that’s not the worst of it. They’re all adjusting on their own time, so for example, yesterday they all fell asleep between 2 and 3 in theafternoon. Kyra woke up a few hours later, but Aidan didn’t wake up until 9 p.m. I somehow got them both tosleep again at 11 p.m., then went to sleep myself. Shay stayed asleep until 1 a.m. Kyra woke again at 2 and Aidan at 3. At 6 this morning, Kyra fell asleep again.

Sigh. I have a feeling it’s going to be awhile beforeI get them all on some sane schedule. In the meantime, my comments about Beijing will be fairly shallow, as I’ll have to be awake and coherent in order to make any intelligent observations.

We live in a very large house in a very large complex. We’ll be quite spoiled by the end of our tour, I’m certain. The house is about 3200 sq. feet in two stories. Main floor has a mud room, entry, livingroom/dining room, kitchen, family room, sun room, office, guest room and restroom. Oh, and a two cargarage. Upstairs we have 4 bedrooms, two very full baths and a balcony. There’s a “clubhouse” about ten minutes down the road, with a gym, an indoor pool, anoutdoor pool, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, a little grocery store. Basically, I’d never have to go into China proper if I didn’t want to. That said, I did drag the kids past the gate yesterday morning, and after ten minutes of walking, we were rewarded for ourefforts by the sight of a Starbucks. I have to say, I’ve never in my life been happier to see a Starbucks– at that point I’d been decaffeinated for about 36hours . It’s right next door to a bigger grocery store, a Subway, a Baskin Robbins, a few restaurants... again, I suppose I could be happy right in this one square mile for quite some time.

We haven’t seen much of Beijing yet. We’ll try to fits ome sightseeing in this weekend, when Bart’s home. But it is definitely polluted. The sky is the color of chalk, and so dirty that we couldn’t see the groundwhen the plane landed. I’m told that they actually have days when they have to close the airport because the visibility is not good enough to land without some sophisticated gear, which is apparently lacking at Beijing Int’l Airport. I’m glad I wasn’t told that until after we landed.

Right now it is nasty-hot and humid. Both nights so far it has thundered and poured. Don’t know if this is typical weather or not.

I’ve already acquired a few more Chinese words. I can be relied upon to remember the following: hello, good morning, where?, I don’t understand, goodbye, thank you and I don’t know. It’s a start, but it wasn’t enough to help me buy chicken legs at the grocery store. I had to hop around, pointing alternately at the butcher case and then at my own legs. When they figured out what I wanted, they asked (I think) “how many?” And I can’t even say “two.” I’ve known for over a year that I’d be moving to China, and yet I can’t even count to two yet. Heck, I can’t even count to one. Aren’t I pathetic? Yesterday, as the kids and Iwalked to the store, every single police man and security guard greeted us. Each time, Shay and I would both respond “ni hao.” After about the 30th time (yes,there are a lot of guards), Shay sighed and said “I sure wish I could say more than just ‘ni hao’.” So I guess he’s feeling the same frustration as I.

The good news, from his perspective, is that we have discovered at least 2 other boys his age on our street alone. One lives right across the street. When I saw the bike helmets out front, I marched right over andrang the bell. The mom invited us for a play date and gave us a fresh batch of cookies and brownies. Unfortunately, Shay slept through the planned playdate yesterday, so he hasn’t met the boy yet. But we’ll try and get them together today at the pool.

Well, Scooby Doo has run its course, so I’m finished with this update for now. Now to see if I can log into my blogspot account from the clubhouse. Wish me luck – in that and more.

Please. Write your own stuff.