Friday, March 28, 2008

The Changing Face of the Neighborhood

Picture a ladder lying on the ground. If you were flying over our neighborhood, that’s what it would look like. The ladder represents the roads. Between each rung is a different neighborhood: River Garden, Capitol Paradise, the oddly-named Gahood, and so on. At the base of the ladder is a cluster of shops, like Jenny Lou’s and Starbucks. At the top is the International School of Beijing. One long side of the ladder is a narrow road, nicknamed “dead ayi road” because the ayis have to bicycle home along it, competing with cars for space. Alongside that road is a river and a big field. The other side of the ladder is a four lane highway that leads to the airport expressway. There are small shops and restaurants along the road. There has been quite a bit of construction along it since we arrived. A new hotel is about to open, along with a mall. McDonalds just opened at the bottom corner of the ladder.

Across the highway from McDonald’s, they’ve been building a huge convention center. We’ve watched it going up and thought to ourselves – how is this road possibly going to accommodate all of that convention center traffic?

Well, the convention center officially opened today, and I am already hating it. For starters, they decided to celebrate by setting off fireworks late last night and early this morning – just when we’d recovered from the New Year’s festivities. But the real problem is just what we worried about: the traffic. Suddenly, there are cars and buses and taxis packed on our little roads. The line at McDonalds is out the door. We can no longer even turn left onto our street, assuming we can bust through the crazy traffic. Our little slice of suburban Beijing has gone urban overnight, except that we’re still just as far as ever from the true urban center. It’s the worst of both worlds.

I know they are widening the main road. Just last week, a bunch of bulldozers arrived and knocked down the hutongs along the road. I don’t know where they put the people who lived and worked there the week before; I wonder if they got any notice before the bulldozers arrived. But traffic here is already crazy. There are no rules, except, perhaps, every man for himself. There are all sorts of contraptions barreling along the road, fighting for space, and it is routine to see people driving down the wrong side of the road, just out of a sense of entitlement, I suppose. And instead of traffic lights, long stretches of road are broken up by speed bumps, which actually increase the hazards: some people veer around them, others brake at the last minute, some chug over them cautiously and others barrel over them.

If they don’t get that road widened and throw some lights up, it’s going to be disastrous.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Great Firewall of China - Interesting Article

As a resident of Beijing, I found this article from the Atlantic Monthly fascinating. It explains, in relatively simple terms, just how the Great Firewall works. I myself have been put in computer timeout quite often.

When my kids are put in timeout for some egregious violation, they still keep at it, hoping they'll succeed eventually. Unlike them, when faced with a timeout, I just give up. Which is, I suppose, why the Great Firewall works. You have to really want that information to keep trying.

Hurricane Kyra Strikes Again

My daughter is a kleptomaniac. She’s not quite as good as her cousin Emma, as those of you who read my sister’s blog will know, but she aspires to operate on that level. And I think, given time, she most certainly will.

So far, in her vast, underground collection, she has managed to squirrel away such items as Aidan’s electric toothbrush, a knife (and not a butter knife, either – we’re talking a genuine, could cut your fingers off if only I sharpened it once in awhile, paring knife), and, quite possibly, my address book. All of these things have disappeared, never to be seen again. It’s a mystery where she put them.

This time, though, I thought I had her outsmarted. You see, this time, she stole the cordless phone. “Ha,” I laughed at her, “what you failed to consider is that I can press this little button on the base and make the phone ring, no matter where you hid it.” So I pressed the button and listened. No ringing sound. Kyra pulled up her shirt and showed me her bellybutton, trying to change the subject.

I got my cell phone and called our house. The phone upstairs rang, but the cordless didn’t so much as squeak. Kyra, ever-helpful, pointed up the stairs and said “mama, phone!”

“Kyra,” I said in my best of-course-you’re-not-in-trouble voice, “if you show mama where you put the phone, we can use it to call daddy!!!” I hoped that would give her some incentive to help out. She just flashed her tummy again.

So I walked around the house, inside and out, calling my own phone and listening for it to ring. It never did.

Right now, I have this image of it floating upside down in the dog’s water dish. Maybe that’s where it is, but I wouldn’t know. You see, right about the time that she took the phone, she also locked me out of the room with the dog’s food and water. All of our doors in here lock, which is somewhat ironic considering that I don’t even bother to lock the front door when I go out – anyone who wants to come in is going to come in, whether or not I lock the door, and I’d rather not lock myself out.

So Kyra apparently turned the little locky-doohickey on the inside of this door, and then pulled it shut on her way out. The key is inside the room. The dog’s food is inside the room. The dog and I are outside the room, both rather annoyed.

You’d think, with all of the training my husband got from the federal government, he would have learned to pick a lock somewhere along the line. But no. I asked him once, when we locked ourselves out of the house in Virginia (that time it was Shay’s doing), if he could pick the lock somehow. “Sure,” he answered mildly, “if I had the right tools.” Ummm… okay, but aren’t you supposed to be able to do it with a credit card or something?

This time, I didn’t even ask. I just asked him to report the tragedy to the Embassy. Later this week, they will send some workers to spring the dog’s food by removing the door or something.

Meanwhile, I still don’t have a phone. Or a paring knife. Or Aidan’s toothbrush. I do have one small demon of a child who, I am happy to report, has a very cute belly button.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter

Here are the kids in their new Easter outfits, courtesy of nana and pop.
We dragged them all to a long Easter vigil mass, at which they were actually pretty good. We are currently waiting for them to fall asleep so the Easter Bunny can visit.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Strange World

I’m told it wasn’t impressive, as dust storms go, but it was a little odd.

It was dark all morning, as if a storm was coming. The sky was a strange orange-y brown color. Then it started to stink. And for a few hours, fine particles of dust blew through the air, coating everything.

By afternoon, the wind had blown itself out, and the world regained its usual color. Still, after 20 minutes on the playground this afternoon, the kids were filthy.

More dust storms to come. Apparently, it means spring has arrived. Personally, I prefer daffodils.

Meanwhile, I dare not mention any current events. Because of the situation south of here, my internet connection has been quite sporadic. Just you try to go online to check the news – within moments, your connection shrivels up and dies. It’s one of those annoying facts of life that I can disregard most of the time. But really, I just wanted to read Sunday’s Post – is that too much to ask? Apparently so.

I was reminded today, for these reasons and others, that it’s a strange world I live in.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The End of Soccer Season

Here in Beijing, there are four soccer seasons. Well, technically, as the program is run by Brits, there are four football seasons. But I just can't get used to saying that.

Anyway, the indoor winter soccer season officially ended on Sunday. The kids laced up their cleats for the first time in months and headed outside for a tournament. I believe Shay's game ended in a tie, though I spent most of the match at a nearby playground with Kyra and Aidan, so I can't be totally sure.

Afterwards, I complimented Shay, who was one of the fastest kids on the field. He pointed out that being faster isn't always better, "because all they have to do is stop and I just keep running right by."

Here are a few photos of Shay in action during the game.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Baseball in Beijing

On Saturday, we packed up the whole family and headed for Wukesong Field, where the Los Angeles Dodgers were playing the San Diego Padres. Yep, right here in Beijing - as I understand it, this was the first time any major league team has competed in Beijing.

A great time was had by all - even Kyra sat in her chair, clapping and cheering with the rest of the crowd, though I doubt she knew why she was clapping.

The game ended in a tie, in case anyone out there is wondering. And no - Dodger dogs are not so good here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

And Another Article...

This one is from the same magazine as the last one. The illustrator even did a cute little line drawing of pregnant me with the three kids. Hope you like it...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Another Article

Here's an article I wrote about preparing your kids for college. Ha! I'm still trying to get them out the door for elementary school. But at least, after doing the research, I know what I'll be up against a few year hence.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Second Grade Circus

Friday night we went to the Second Grade Circus, an annual event at Shay's school. It was a pretty big deal - the kids rehearsed for days, and they all either bought or made clown outfits.

Each class showed off a different skill: they had tumblers and plate spinners and ladder climbers and jugglers... Shay's class had to balance feathers, as you'll see in the pictures below.

It was a lot of fun to see all of the kids working so hard. They had several rather tricky choreographed routines that involved all of the kids. Shay seemed to particularly like the part where he ran, jumped on the trampoline and did a 360 in the air. Alas, no pictures of that. Enjoy...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Uncle Sean Strikes Again

Those of you who’ve been faithful readers might recall the story of Slingshot Monkey, Uncle Sean’s Christmas gift to the boys. I figured you might be wondering how he topped that for Shay’s birthday.

A box arrived in the mail last night. When we opened it up, Shay started jumping for joy – there was a huge bag of miniature marshmallows inside. After doing the marshmallow dance for a few minutes, he stopped and wondered aloud, “Why do you think Uncle Sean sent me marshmallows for my birthday?” He then thought to look in the box and found one more gift inside – a marshmallow shooter. It shoots 25 rounds at a time, up to 30 feet. Shay and Aidan both exploded with excitement at the idea of a gun that shoots Actual Marshmallows.

Aidan said “I’ve always wanted a Marshmallow Shooter,” to which Shay responded, somewhat disdainfully, “No you haven’t. You’ve never even heard of one. I have, though. The only reason I didn’t ask for one is because I knew mom would say no.” Snotty little know-it-all.

I expect there will be quite a battle out in the neighborhood this afternoon when Shay returns from school. Don’t you wish your kids had an Uncle Sean?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sheng Ri Kuai Le!

Happy Birthday to Shay. Somehow he's made it all the way to 8 years old.

He had enough cakes to feed a small town. First, cupcakes at his school. Then, his family celebration, with a car cake. Then his birthday party, with a soccer cake (the Chinese letters spell out "Happy Birthday"). Plus, of course, all of the leftovers from each cake. Here are a few of the highlights:

Please. Write your own stuff.