Tuesday, September 30, 2008


And speaking of corn drying in the road...

They're doing it all over our neighborhood, too. Take a look: They leave it out in the roads and mark off the piles with bricks. After they've husked it all, it sits for awhile to dry some more. Then they separate the corn from the husks and leave the little corn seeds out in the road. When it's good and dry, they sweep it all up into cloth bags. From there, I've no idea where it goes.

I can tell you there are piles of corn in the roads all over our neighborhood, but just you try to buy some fresh corn in the stores. Ain't gonna happen...

Beijing Aviation Museum

For the second time, we set out to find the Aviation Museum north of town. We got directions from the clubhouse here at our compound. And the directions were actually very good - well, other than the fact that they got the highway exit wrong. Oh, and they said to turn right at the exit, when they should have said left. But other than that? Fantastic directions. So after stumbling through some truly rural hutongs, where the farmers were busy harvesting and drying corn right there in the road, we found the museum at last.

It was rather decrepit, and not too many visitors were there (perhaps they all turned right off the highway, too?). But the kids loved it, as it was full of old Chinese military planes and anti-aircraft missiles. Kyra pronounced the planes "so cute," which I think is what those Air Force folks had in mind when they set out to build intimidating military aircraft. "Make it cute," they no doubt instructed their engineers and designers.

Look at the pictures below and tell me those airplanes aren't cute...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Too Tired to Write

No Xiao Tong today - she had a doctor's appointment. But it was the Terry Fox run at school today, so I took both girls to cheer for their brothers. Also took them to the Kindergarten picnic.

A lovely day was had by all, but I was at the school from 9:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., chasing Kyra, mostly, so for now I'm too tired to write much of anything.

I'll just leave you with some photos of the cutest kids ever.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How to Stay Married Overseas

I should be working right now. I am researching an article about relationship challenges overseas: how does your relationship with your husband change when you move overseas? Did you give up a job to follow him, and if so, do you resent him for this or are you happy with your decision? What are the major stressors in an overseas marriage (loneliness, lack of communication skills, lack of car??)? How do you keep your relationship on track?

Funnily enough, lots of people are willing to talk to me, but no one wants to go on record. So I can’t write, for example, “Julie Smith remembers the time she locked her husband out of the bedroom when he told her they were moving.” It’s a great topic, though, and I’m learning a lot as I research. Problem is, I haven’t found a structure for the article yet.

Today, Shay is home from school with a bad cough – the same one that is decimating our neighborhood. Tomorrow, I’ll be at school all day for the Terry Fox run and the kindergarten barbeque and learning to read seminars and tea with the Chinese principal and gawd help me but I don’t know how I’ll fit all of this into one day.

My article isn’t actually due for another week, but next week is a holiday, and I’ve given my ayi an entire week off. Can I do it? Can I survive a whole week on my own with four kids (no school next week), no ayi and a writing deadline?

I know some of you out there reading this have tons of experience with overseas moves, so tell me – if you dare – what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in keeping your marriage happy? What’s the stupidest post-move argument you’ve ever had? And please: what are your tips for others out there who are ready to throw the dishes at their husbands and hop on the next plane out of town?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mother Daughter Days

Some of you women out there only have boy babies, and while you love your babies, there might be one small part of you that wishes, just every so often, for a girl. With a girl, you reason, you get to buy those cute pink clothes. You get to brush hair and paint toenails. You get to watch Dora and play shopping.

Prepare to be jealous. Because just now, I finished a rousing afternoon of play with my little girl. That's right: Kyra and I just finished up playing... with a whoopee cushion.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bad Milk

Maybe you've been following the latest scare from China? It seems that much of this country's infant formula has been recalled because a milk supplier added the chemical melamine to his watered-down milk in an effort to make more money off less milk. A couple of brothers have been arrested: if found guilty, they'll likely be executed shortly. But that won't help the parents of the babies who have already died - at least three so far - or those whose babies have fallen ill.

Even though we live in China, these stories don't always affect me, because I buy a lot of imported goods. Milk, for example. I've been buying the imported long-life milk since we arrived, just because I've been concerned about the safety of the local milk. I also buy a rather expensive but extremely tasty locally produced organic drinkable yogurt, which the kids love, whenever I can find it.

In looking over the list of suspect products, however, I've found that the Yili brand has been contaminated. Yili makes an inexpensive yogurt that I feed Kyra, every day. She loves it. Scratch that: she loved it. I saw the word Yili in the news and I promptly tossed every last container in the trash.

But you know, I can do that. It's only money, you know? I'd rather throw it in the garbage than read tomorrow that her yogurt made the list of contaminated products. Likely, she hasn't eaten any of the nasty stuff. But it's scary, over here, to get this reminder that we can't always keep ourselves safe.

One Chinese mother was quoted in the news: She has a two month old daughter, and she'd been feeding her daughter the formula. Her doctors sent her to a nearby town to get the baby checked up. And, they said, don't feed her any formula. So the woman has been feeding her daughter water - water! - until they can get to a hospital. She's been trying to buy cow's milk from a neighbor's cow, because she needs to give the baby something to drink besides water.

My biggest worry, here in China, is that someday one of my kids will get sick, and it will be linked back to our time here somehow. The air pollution, the metals in the bathwater, the poisoned milk... what's next?

I'm saying my prayers for those parents of babies who are waiting in line at the hospitals. Even as I pray for the health of my own little ones.

There Oughta Be A Law

There oughta be a law that says moms don't get sick until their kids are old enough to cook. Because, really, who has time to get sick?

Last Saturday was Aidan's big birthday party, but Kyra woke up with blood coming out of her ear. Off to the emergency clinic we went. She has an ear infection, but the blood can't be explained until the infection clears up enough to peer inside. (She went back to the Embassy doc on Wednesday, but they still couldn't see inside. So we wait.)

Aidan's party went off almost as planned. Someday I'll upload the pictures.

The next morning he woke up with croup. He was panicking and gasping for breath - not a good thing in a country without 911. I brought him into the bathroom and ran the hot water to ease his cough. While he and I were sitting on the floor, I realized I didn't feel too good, either. Thankfully his cough settled down enough to avoid a trip to the ER. But he's still coughing as of now, so I foresee another trip to the Embassy doc next week.

Meanwhile, I spent all of Sunday as horizontal as possible, with flu-like symptoms, much to my husband's chagrin. Husbands and kids don't really know what to do with us moms when we're sick. I'd give you the gory details, but, well, my husband does read this blog on occasion. Suffice to say they'd all starve without me.

But I'm still alive and feeling much better. I've got all sorts of stories, but no time to type 'em up. I'll do better next week, I promise.

And with that, I'm off to sleep, perhaps even for a few uninterrupted hours....

Friday, September 12, 2008

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

Monday is an official Chinese holiday. They are celebrating the mid-autumn festival, or moon festival, and if you want to know more about it, you can read an article I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor's KidSpace section last year.

Yes, I know I keep telling you I'm busy with writing assignments now, but I'm giving you no proof of this. I've actually written several things in the past few months for beijingkids magazine, but they are currently revamping their website, so you can't see 'em yet. I'll post links to all of them once they're online. I've also been working on stuff for some guidebooks and maps, but if you want to see those, you'll just have to come visit us.

Tomorrow is a busy day, with ice skating and birthday parties and general loads-o-kids-in-the-house craziness.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

He's Five!

That's right - my little guy turned 5 today. I brought cupcakes to school and the whole class sang Happy Birthday.

We'll have another little celebration on Saturday, when three of his friends are coming over for pizza and cake. I love that about him - he didn't really want a party, but is excited to have a few people over for pizza. That's plenty, it seems. Xiao Tong gave him a little remote control truck, and he was thrilled. He played with it all night. I told him he couldn't open our present til the weekend, because tonight daddy had to go to Back To School night. And he didn't fuss, he didn't whine. He just asked how many days til Saturday. I pray he always finds happiness in the little things. Also, I pray he stops ramming into my furniture with his remote control truck.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It’s Been Awhile

What can I say? I’ve been busy. I turned in my articles early, but the effort expended seems to have sapped my writing ability. Also, I’ve done nothing much of note. We meant to do all sorts of things this weekend, but somehow never got it together to do any of them. Someone was always either napping (Kyra), nursing (Ainsley), working out (Bart), skating (Aidan), going on playdates (Shay) or eating (ummm…me?).

It’s the nicest time of year in Beijing. Summer has broken - the heat and humidity are subsiding. But winter, with its burning lump o coal air, is still far away. Actual blue skies have been visible for several days. So we need to make an effort to get out and enjoy.

We did manage to go out to a Chinese restaurant for dinner with a couple of families. All told there were six adults and eleven kids at our table. Since my kids aren’t fond of Chinese food, I figured it would be a disaster. Then, one of the couples ordered water for their kids, so I didn’t even want to offer up special-treat-soda to my guys, as I feared the other kids would have a meltdown. So I offered my kids water or sparkling water. I should have known something was up when Shay said he wanted plain water, not sparkling (normally he loves sparkling). But I was just pleased that there was no whining going on, so I ordered plain water and moved along. When the waitress brought the water, I heard Shay ask her very politely to please bring him some lemon slices and sugar water. You know the saying: when life hands you water, ask for lemons and sugar water and make lemonade. Or something to that effect. Anyway, he asked so politely that I decided not to interrupt. Next thing you know, the boys are down at their end of the table ordering up more rounds of bottled water – and ordering in Chinese, at that! I was actually amazed at their ingenuity, language skills and politeness, all put together. So I didn’t say anything while they all sat there and chugged their homemade lemonade.

While they gulped lemonade, Aidan pulled out chopsticks and started downing the food. He and the girl across from him just wolfed down everything in sight. And all eleven of the kids were well behaved throughout. Even Kyra. Wonders never cease.

The grand total for our feast, including the homemade lemonade? About $36 per family. A lot by Chinese standards, but not so bad for an entire family meal, especially considering we all left the place stuffed to the gills – either with food or lemon water.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


School's off to a rip-roaring start, but you won't be hearing much from me. I have two articles due on Friday, so I'm trying to focus on getting those done. Of course, I also have Chinese class tomorrow. And today I spent the day at the Embassy, where I attended a spouse employment program. I know, I know - I'm busy enough as it is. But it would be nice to make some money (hey, we've got FOUR kids to put through college) and any of my fellow writers who are reading this blog will know that it's hard as heck to make any serious money writing. I have a regular gig with a magazine here, and I've been updating guidebooks and maps and writing for stateside newspapers, but unless I break into the big magazines, I won't be pulling in lots o cash any time soon. Hence the job fair. But of course, once again I had to bring Ainsley, seeing as how I'm a nursing mom. So I walked into a room full of spouses who looked pretty professional, and I was, ummm, shall we say, not exactly the pick of the litter.

They did a big conference call with some of the consulates, and as the tech guy was setting it up, he explained that whoever was talking would appear on the screen, as the microphones are sensitive enough to pick up "the slightest noises." I would've grabbed my baby and fled right then and there, but I was wedged in a corner. Oh, well. Amazingly, Ainsley was a trooper and held out til the bitter end with nary a cry. I did have to stand and bounce her throughout, but whatever. It's not as though I was wearing heels or anything nice like that. Oh, no. I had on tennis shoes.

I'm sure they'll hire me, aren't you?

This afternoon, I went to meet the kids at the bus stop. I offered to get them ice cream and hang out at the playground, but Shay wanted to go straight home and get his homework out of the way (aside: huh?). So I said we'd choose some and bring it home. Then Aidan pitched a fit because he wanted to eat his ice cream at the playground.

So I left him at the playground with his ice cream, pedalled home to deliver ice cream for the other kids, then pedalled back to the playground. I got there just as Aidan was strapping on his helmet, and he told me in no uncertain terms that I was to Turn Around and Go Home, as he wanted to ride home by himself.

I rode off a ways and hid. But when he came pedalling around the corner, he saw me and screeched to a halt, refusing to continue until I left. I tried one more time with the same result. So I went home. He rode up to the house a minute later and waved and smiled as if nothing was amiss, as if he hadn't just chewed me out for wanting to escort him home.

My little guy: he's growing up too fast.

His brother, too. Bart and I stopped by the school to visit the boys on Monday, but Shay's class was at lunch. So we went looking for him in the cafeteria. When he saw us coming, he nearly melted into the floor from embarrassment. And then he asked us to leave. They break your heart, these kids, they really do. I don't remember being embarrassed by my parents until I was quite a bit older than he is now. And gee, my parents really were embarrassing (hi, mom!), unlike me.

Would you look at the time? That's it for now; stop by again after Friday and I'm sure to have more news for you.
Please. Write your own stuff.