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.

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