Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Traffic, Beijing-style

I mentioned a few weeks back that they were preparing to open a massive convention center directly across the street from our little residential enclave, and that we were all preparing for disaster. Well, that disaster has arrived, in the form of the 2008 Beijing Auto Show.

The Convention Center, I’m told, is something like 660,000 square meters. Hard to fathom how big that is until you see it. Clearly, a lot of effort went into planning it. But as 8-year-old Shay said, “I think they should have fixed up the roads before they opened the building.” It seems that, in the weeks before it opened, someone suddenly thought “perhaps we need more than a 2-lane road from the highway in order to get people to this convention center.” So now they are busily tearing up roads around the center, which has the short-term effect of making the roads impassable. Long-term, who knows? They appear to be adding one extra lane, but I don’t know if they plan to put in lights or bike lanes or crosswalks. Supposedly there is a parking lot somewhere in the complex, but it is only partially finished, or it isn’t big enough, or people won’t pay to park there – depends which rumor mill you subscribe to.

All of this means that while the auto show goes on, we’re all trapped in our houses. You don’t want to leave the compound between 8 and 6 if you don’t have to. The roads are clogged with buses and taxis and double-parked cars. People have been leaving their cars in muddy ditches by the side of the road and walking down the middle of the street to get to the show. I needed to run errands yesterday, and the guards had blocked off the parking lot to the little shopping plaza across the street. They let me in when they saw I was a shopper, not an auto show goer, but it took quite awhile just to get there, get past the crowds and then get into the lot itself to park. If I weren’t 9 months pregnant, I’d just ride my bike, but I don’t think I could climb onto it at this point.

And speaking of pregnant, I’m hoping I don’t burst until after the auto show ends. Otherwise, I suspect I’ll be delivering in a taxi somewhere on Jingshun Lu.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Bampa

I wish we could be there to celebrate your big day. We had our own cake over here instead.

We love you,

Shay’s First Communion

Sunday was Shay’s First Communion here at the underground church, Our Lady of China. It was actually quite nice. About 15 kids participated in the ceremony, and afterwards we had a little party at a nearby restaurant. It poured all day long – not the best day for a celebration, I suppose, but then again, the kids didn’t complain as much about dressing up and going to church.

I surprised myself by getting a little teary-eyed when my baby boy stood up to read a prayer, and later when he actually received communion. I always thought I was a cynic. But somehow, it seemed so special to watch him do something that his father and I had once done, and that our parents and their parents likely did, too. It felt nice to know we were connecting him to something so much bigger than self.

I had been telling Shay all along that he had to go to “church school” every week until he got his First Communion. After that, I told him, it would be up to him to decide, in future years, whether he wanted to pursue his religious education or not. I guess I should have consulted my saintly husband on the topic. While we were driving to the restaurant afterwards, Bart mentioned that it was time to sign up for next year’s classes. Shay protested vociferously, saying I promised he wouldn’t have to go. I concurred. Bart said “I went to church school every year of my life until I got confirmed.” Guess that’s how he turned out so well. Still, Shay and I both convinced him that it ain’t likely to happen in this generation. That’s what he gets for marrying a heathen (well, a near heathen, anyway – I was never confirmed, either).

Some relatives sent cards; some even sent money. Shay was duly impressed – I don’t think he really understood that we considered this to be a very big moment in his young life until he read their cards and counted the cold, hard cash. He then started planning what he’d do with all that money, and decided “I’ll buy a game for my Nintendo and then I’ll try really, really hard to save the rest so I can buy a used car when I grow up.” I don’t know if the lessons of church school have stuck or not. But I was pleased to hear him thinking about saving money. That’s also a big step in life, wouldn’t you agree? We talk to him all the time about saving money versus spending – can it be he’s actually heard?

Once I get the photos from the event photographer, I’ll post something for you. In the meantime, enjoy this very funny shot of Kyra in her Sunday best:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Flying Calendar

We have a magnetic calendar on our refrigerator. It’s made up of four pieces, one for each week, so you can erase one week at a time and shift that piece to the bottom.

After nine long months, the weeks have shifted enough so that the new baby’s birthday is finally on that calendar. I don’t know which day it’ll be, but it is there all the same: the day we go to the hospital, the day baby is born, even the day we bring her home. It’s a strange feeling to look at that dry erase board and know that one of those days is going to be such an important one. We just don’t know which day it will be.

Our official due date is three weeks from today. But of course I’m hoping it’s sooner…

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Aidan's Sports Day

Today was Sports Day at Aidan's school.

First, they demonstrated the kung fu moves they've been learning this year.

Then on to the tennis courts for another demonstration of their skills. Aidan's teacher Nisi helped him out.

And here's Ayi helping him on the obstacle course.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Birds and the Bees

On the way to school yesterday, Aidan asked me, “mom, did daddy grow out of your tummy?”

“No,” I explained, “daddy grew out of nana’s tummy. Nana is daddy’s mommy.”

“But Shay grew out of your tummy?”


“And me and Kyra?”


“But not Casey.”

“That’s right,” I replied. “Casey grew in his dog mommy’s tummy.”

“Can daddy grow babies in his tummy?” he asked.

“No, that’s something only girls can do.”

“Well, but you still need a boy to grow a baby, right?”

Here’s where I started getting nervous, dear reader, but I forged ahead. “That’s right,” I said, “you need a daddy AND a mommy to grow a baby.”

“Yep,” agreed Aidan, “because you need a daddy to put in the baby booster seat.”

And there you have it: the birds and the bees from a four-year-old’s perspective.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Strangers in a Strange Land

Last week I had to drive into town for my check up at the OB (only four weeks and two days to go… but who’s counting, right?).

Driving downtown is always an adventure. You have to be a curious blend of hyper-vigilant and hyper-aggressive in order to survive on the roads here. Always anticipate that the guy in front of you is going to pull a majorly stupid move – usually you’ll be right. And always be prepared to pull a dumb move of your own to get around him before he gets his chance. I’ve gotten pretty good at guessing which taxi is going to suddenly swerve into my lane, forcing me to slam on my brakes or get sideswiped. I’ve also gotten good at speeding up and cutting him off with inches to spare before he gets his chance to run me off the road. A common refrain at dinner parties here: “My mom/brother/aunt/friend/whoever’s visiting soon is going to have a heart attack when he sees how I drive now.”

The hazard lane is somewhat jokingly referred to as the diplomatic lane, or dip lane for short, because diplomats and others with special plates on their cars tend to use it as an extra lane. Not me: I don’t fancy myself important enough to pull in my side view mirrors and blast past the slow traffic with inches to spare on either side. But lots of people do it. Makes me nervous just to watch. One wrong move and you’ll take the whole side of your car off.

Anyway. The point of this story is that you see all sorts of strange things as you drive down the airport expressway. Once I saw a huge open-sided truck with hundreds of empty bottles tied to it, at least three times higher than the truck. The truck had gotten a flat tire and caught on fire – right in the middle of my off-ramp, no less. A passerby proffered a fire extinguisher, so the truck driver put out the fire, returned the extinguisher, started his engine and then limped down the exit. He didn’t even pull over to check his flat – just kept right on going. Once I saw a group of people walking, dragging their suitcases behind them (in the dip lane, at that!), headed toward the airport, which was 10 kilometers away. It’s also pretty common to see guys pull over and pee off the side of the road, always right around exit 6, for some reason.

The worst was the time I was fighting traffic to get back on the expressway heading for home. In the middle of the 8-lane road, fighting traffic along with me, was a horse pulling a wooden cart stacked high with bricks. The horse’s leg muscles were straining as he tried to get traction on the asphalt and get his load moving. But every time he’d start up, some car would cut him off and his legs would backpedal as he tried to avoid getting hit. It made me want to cry, watching this poor bewildered beast try to negotiate city traffic while pulling an over-large load.

Anyway, anyway. On this particular day last week, just as I was approaching the exit to the hospital, a decrepit bus pulled to the side of the road. I thought perhaps it had broken down, but no – it was just off loading passengers… directly onto the freeway. I saw two middle-aged men get off and trot across the off-ramp, heading down to the street below. Behind them came a family: mother, father and one child, who looked to be around two or three years old.

I only caught a glimpse of this family as I sped past them down the off-ramp, but they reminded me of that horse. They weren’t city folk. They were dressed like the farmers who work near us, in padded coats. Their skin was dark, sun damaged, and they squinted in the sun and dust. They held onto their boy’s hand – I imagined how terrified I would be to stand on the side of the road, in the dip lane, holding Kyra’s hand and wondering: what next? The last thing I saw as I turned off the highway was the dad, stepping out into the road and lifting his hand, as if to thumb a ride or hail a cab. And for some reason, I keep wondering what happened to them. They seemed so out of place there on the highway into town, just like that frightened horse. More out of place than me, even.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Kids Can Make You Crazy

So this morning, both boys got up before me. I awoke to the sound of them fighting over matchbox cars. Went downstairs, broke it up and started preparing breakfast. They joined me at the breakfast table, bickering throughout the meal. They fought while putting on their shoes, argued about who should get in the car first and who should sit where. They then poked each other, teased each other and made themselves generally unpleasant during the 10-minute drive to school.

At school, I pulled up to the carpool lane and let Shay out. The door closed behind him and I said a silent prayer of thanks: no more fighting for 8 hours! I pulled away from the curb and Aidan started to cry. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

Sniff, sniff. Wailed Aidan through his tears: “I miss Shay.”

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Skating Lessons

Aidan had his fourth skating lesson today. He's learning to get around the ice by himself, holding on to a traffic cone as he gets a feel for the skates. He loves it - refuses to come off the ice for breaks, and stays out there til the bitter end. Very fun to watch him, and to hear how excited he is about it. Today, Shay stayed home sick from school, and I took him with me when it was time to pick up Aidan. Aidan was so proud to show off his big brother to all of his school friends - and of course, he was excited to have an audience of his very own.

Please. Write your own stuff.