Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Eighteen Point Nine Liters

18.9 liters.

That's how much distilled water is contained in just one bottle for our dispenser. We have it delivered, because we can't drink or cook with the tap water in Beijing. So our 18.9 liter bottle sits jauntily astride the dispenser in the kitchen, just waiting for a thirsty person to happen by.

But sometimes, no one is thirsty. Like yesterday. I wasn't in the kitchen. I was in the living room, watching the boys play with the airplanes Uncle Sean sent (thanks Sean - those things rock!). Bart wasn't in the kitchen - he was in the office, placing an internet order. Kyra wasn't in the kitchen. She was running between the airplanes and the office.

Ainsley was is the kitchen. Ainsley, whose favorite Chinese expression is "xi shou," which means "wash hands." Ainsley, who realized yesterday that you can certainly "xi shou" quite nicely with water direct from the dispenser. In fact, if no one is looking, you can just open the spout and wash those hands sparkling clean - with all 18.9 liters of water.

I'm not terribly good at gallon to liter conversions. So I can't tell you exactly how many gallons our dispenser holds. But I can tell you that 18.9 liters is enough to make a mighty fine pond in the kitchen.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Holiday Shopping Story

Just before Christmas, I was doing a bit of last minute shopping at the Toy Market, a two-storied wonder tucked behind the Pearl Market, across from the Temple of Heaven. Jen and I spent the morning haggling with vendors, a sport I've not learned to love.

"How much for the Barbie?," I'd ask, pointing at the cheap plastic knockoff on the shelf.

"500 kuai," the vendor would answer - about $75.

"Tai gui le," I'd gasp - too expensive - and then give my counteroffer of 40 kuai - a bit over $5.

At that point, they'd tell me how that was below their cost price, they couldn't make a living if they sold it for that, and on and on and on.

Now, a truly good bargainer wouldn't let up, and she'd probably walk with that Barbie for 40 kuai - or less. But I hate it. Can't stand it. Get really bored of it after a while. I got the Barbie for 70 kuai - $10. In fact, I bought 5 Barbies for Toys for Tots, and 2 for my daughters. It seemed like a good deal, until the girls opened their Barbie boxes on Christmas and I saw just how flimsy those Barbies were. I should've offered 30 kuai.

Whatever. The point is that you go from vendor to vendor, haggling and shouting and complaining and shrugging and it's just exhausting. Sometimes I get great deals and come away happy. Always I need a shower and a nap after spending a day roaming a market.

Usually, there's at least one point during the day where I offer 75 kuai for something, and the vendor comes down to 80, and I refuse to budge. I'm just so irritated with the whole process, with the lack of price tags, with the back-and-forthing, in English and Chinese, that requires 30 minutes just to buy a silly doll. So I dig in my heels. The vendor, exasperated, exclaims "Why you fight me over 5 kuai? It's just 5 kuai." To which I respond, "exactly. It's just 5 kuai. So why do YOU care?" That usually causes them to throw up their hands and stuff the item in a bag, probably just to be rid of me.

After a couple of hours of haggling, we were pretty much spent and starting to get grouchy, so we decided to head across the street to Lao Beijing, one of our most favorite restaurants in this whole huge city of ours. On the way across the overpass, I snapped these photos looking down into the hutong. It was a cold, dreary (did I mention cold?) day, and these little houses weren't doing much to protect their occupants from the elements. My van was full of Barbies and baubles and scooters and videogames. I was on my way to one of my favorite restaurants with a good friend. I had nothing at all to complain about.

A little holiday reminder of how very, very lucky I am. Even on the days when I feel most grumpy and out-of-my-element. I am blessed.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Audience is Dying to Know...

... will our heroine ever blog again???

Yeah, just probably not this week.

I've been working, see, and the kids are home, and there are gifts to be wrapped and Christmas morning coffee cakes to be baked and I just realized that I forgot to pick up one of my gifts for my husband and we have 2 parties to go to tomorrow and between the 2 parties we have an hour to spend in our so-secret-we-don't-even-turn-on-the-heater church in celebration of Christmas, which is, for some unexplicable reason, barrelling at me faster than I can run.

But no, for those of you who are wondering, we haven't gotten an assignment yet. Though my faithful readers have guessed that we were considering a bid on Nairobi (if I gave out prizes, Leesonthego would be our winner!). For now, we're leaving the list alone and waiting for someone, anyone, to call us and tell us why every other bureau within the State Department has managed to make assignments except ours.

And yes, if you're wanting to know, it's bitter cold here and smoky-aired and we're all coughing. Plus which, we're enduring hour after hour of truly awful Chinese Christmas carols, played at super-high volume, everywhere we go. Also, there's some strange vomit virus running through town, and two of my kids have already fallen victim (possibly three, if you count Kyra's vomit the day we went to meet Santa. She may have been Patient X).

But I digress. The point of this post is, I don't have time to post right now. I do have a nice article to link you to, from this month's beijingkids: this one is about my son's fantabulous P.E.teacher. Read it, love it, stumble it, digg it.

For those of you who celebrate, I wish you the happiest Christmas ever. May Santa bring you a pink skateboard, or whatever it is you most wish for. And may your church have central heating.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Article

I wrote this as part of a larger package of articles I wrote awhile back for beijingkids magazine. I had no idea they were going to reprint it this month. But it's a nice little article about a couple of people making a difference for kids in Beijing.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I'm tired. Really, really tired. I guess that's what happens when you age.

That's right - I just celebrated my birthday. My husband took me and the kids out for brunch at Chef Too. (except he had a work emergency, so technically I got everyone ready and met him there.) We had a great meal, and Chef Billy brought out a big ole slice of cake afterwards. Check out that cake - can you see why the kids like it there?

He also gave me some Tibetan jewelry (my husband did - not Chef Billy). And then he watched the kids for THREE WHOLE HOURS while I went to the Spa for a deluxe manicure and a hot stone massage. I knew there was a reason I married that man.

The kids are home for the holidays, but I'm still working (my poor ayi!). So I don't have much free blogging time. I thought I'd link you to an old article of mine, about believing in Santa Claus, just in case you're looking for something to read. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Our Holiday Party

Last year we didn't have our holiday party because we were on a beach in Thailand (I know, I know - some aspects of foreign service life are harder than others). The year before, if I recall correctly, we didn't have our party because I was pregnant and still newly-deaf and just plain not-in-the-mood.

This year, we restarted the tradition. About 50 people showed up at the house last night, and though you might not be interested in the details, I need to record them for posterity's sake.

We made: peppermint fudge, marshmallow fudge, white and dark chocolate peppermint bark, 7-layer bars, almond sea salt bark, walnut dreams, marshmallow-peanut butter brownies, butterfinger-somethings, coconut macaroons, chocolate chip peppermint bark cookies. We made: black bean chipotle hummus, plain hummus, veggies and dip, apples with rasperry-yogurt dip and basil-brie dip, baked garlic-honey brie. (Then we got tired so we ordered chicken skewers for delivery.) We made: champagne punch and hot apple cider, which we served alongside wine, pelligrino and rum-and-cokes for the Marines.

Friends came early to help light luminaria and put desserts on platters. Shay designed a little box to solicit donations for "Holiday Hounds," to help cats and dogs in a nearby shelter. I ate entirely too many scraps as I baked: after all, you can't put those crooked end pieces on a nice platter, but you hate to just throw them out.

It was exhausting and fun and I'm glad we did it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More on Bidding

We turned in our bids for our next assignment way back at the beginning of October.

And we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

But they take their time, and unless you have a really good CDO (career development officer), they usually don't tell you what they're up to. So you just sit around and wait, and imagine yourself living in places like London, or Paris, or Ougadougou.

We had to put down a minimum of 6 bids. We put down 6 overseas and 3 domestic.

Well, it appears that last week they finally started making assignments on my husband's level. At last! We know this because he went to work this morning and discovered....




.... (is the suspense killing you yet?)


Yes, we discovered that FOUR of our SIX overseas bids had gone to other bidders overnight. That's goodbye to Ankara, Madrid, Lima and Brasilia. We only have 2 more overseas bids left: Amman and Geneva.

So it isn't looking good for us. I spent the better part of my morning moping around at work, grumpy and irritated. I knew we wouldn't get Madrid, but c'mon: what's wrong with Ankara?

To make matters worse, we are now left with only 5 bids on our list. Which means we're required to go back through the list and add one more of the posts that we previously rejected, in order to keep 6 places on the list. And if we add it, we could get it, so you have to be careful about what you add.

Just for once, you know, it would be nice to get something you really wanted. I know, I know: that isn't how it works. But still...

I went back to Real Post Reports today, to start looking around at other overseas posts. One of the posts that I might consider putting next in line on a bid list actually has a review that states, in part: "Crime is insane. Had a couple of murders and shootings of embassy personnel, both American and locals." Gulp.

And with that, I'm off to sulk some more.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I Should Be Sleeping

...but I'm not. Obviously.

Yesterday, we decided to go to church, for the first time in a long while. It's not entirely our fault that we haven't been. The local government shut down our super-secret, let's-pretend-this-is-a-party-and-not-a-church-service ceremonies right around the Tiananmen anniversary, and they never let us start back up. Perhaps the churchy-type music emanating from the party room every Saturday night clued them in? Who knows?

Church finally started up again, in a new location, not far from home. It's still an underground, secret handshaky kind of place - no locals allowed, because... well, I don't know why exactly, but they don't want us converting them, I guess.

We set out for church a few minutes early so we could stop at the flower market on the way and buy poinsettias. I ran in while Bart and the kids waited in the car. It took about 5 minutes, during which time Bart was listening to music in the car.

When I returned, I turned the key and - no battery. We were stuck in the parking lot, just down the road from church. I called the auto club people (yes, we have a little club that we pay into for precisely this reason, just like back home). I tried to explain where we were. It took awhile to explain, but we got it sorted out, and a nice guy showed up to jump the car.

I drove down the street, now 30 minutes late for mass, and Ainsley and I sat in the car, motor running, while everyone else went in for the end of the service.

Let's just say it wasn't the best church day ever. But I did say a little prayer of thanks that the car died so close to the house. Because it could have been much, much worse.

That was yesterday. Today the car was fine. We drove to a new burger restaurant that I'm supposed to be reviewing for a local magazine. Watched "It's a Wonderful Life" with the kids. Went to a Christmas party at the neighbor's. Ate dinner. Only then did I realize I was out of milk. I ran out to the car and - can you guess? Dead battery. Only this time, it appears that one of the kids turned on a ceiling light in the car and neglected to turn it off.

Ummm, yes, I was pretty annoyed. The nice car guy came over and jumped the car again. But by that time, the store was closed, so no milk for breakfast tomorrow.

I really, really hope the car starts tomorrow. And I think I'll be looking in to how one gets a new battery for a U.S. car here in China. Also, I plan to staple the kids' hands to the seats whenever they're riding in the back of the car.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Blogging About Work

Blogging about work needs to be done cautiously, if at all. On the one hand, blogging positively about life in the foreign service is probably okay. Blogging about what you're doing in the office is likely frowned upon in most instances. But hey, y'all know I'm working, right? And I'm actually really enjoying it, except for when I'm not. The people I work with are, for the most part, obnoxiously smart, funny, hard-working people. I'm no dummy, but I'm usually feeling about 10 steps behind as I listen to them go about their workdays. I've been off-and-on part-time in the same section for most of the year, and they've given me lots of interesting stuff to do. Mostly writing projects, which I like because I can sit at my desk and research and type and not go out into the real world of meeting people. The learning curve is steep: the office is so busy that they just throw projects at me and let me flail around until I figure it out or come slinking back to ask sheepishly for advice. Usually I figure it out, eventually.

And that's really all I'm comfortable saying about my job for now. Still and all, I thought I'd link you to this interesting report that is now available online, straight outta Beijing. It must have been a lot of work to research, compile, update, etc. I mean, it looks like it, anyway. But how would I know?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


We went out last week, my husband and I, hoping to buy another Christmas tree. That's right: another. As in, the TWO that we already owned weren't enough. We needed another. Where better to buy an export-quality fake made-in-china tree than, well, China?

We bought two.

That's right: two. So now we have four trees up in the house, and I blame my in-laws. We didn't get this crazy, fill-every-last-inch-of-space-with-holiday-cheer-thing from my side of the family, that's for sure. So the fault must lie with my husband's genetic make-up.

The trees do look nice, though, don't they?

Did I ever tell you about my first visit to the in-laws' house, before they were actually in-laws? It was winter. In New York. I didn't have a winter coat. My poor mother-in-law probably said a prayer that night that her son would come to his senses and find a girl with brains enough to bring a winter coat with her when she travelled to New York in the dead of winter. But bless her heart, she never said a word. And she gave me a beautiful purple overcoat that I wear to this day. Literally, to this day. I had it on today in the bitter cold Beijing outdoors.

That year, I brought the dog. Why, I don't recall. But the dog ate my mother-in-law's heirloom gingerbread ornaments, the ones she'd been storing in the freezer all those years and hanging up each Christmas. To his credit, the dog didn't eat ALL of the gingerbread man ornaments. He just ate all of the bodies. He left the heads dangling from hooks on the tree.

And then, a year or so later, I married her son. It all worked out, though. She has some fabulous grandkids; I have a nice coat. She doesn't have anymore gingerbread ornaments; I have a husband who probably wonders why I haven't baked any yet, in all these years of marriage.

There's no real point to telling you this story. I just wanted an excuse to post some blurry photos of our Christmas trees. (Hey, Jill - did it work? Are the photos side-by-side? If so, it's thanks to you.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Of Trophies and Toilet Plungers

Shay was so nervous last week, when his Chinese class did their quarterly presentations for the parents. They all put together powerpoint presentations showing what they do all day, and then they each gave a talk in Chinese using their slides (I get up at 7 o'clock, I eat breakfast and then I go to the bus stop...). Shay worked really, really hard on his, and it showed. He did a great job.

The teacher told the kids that one student would be getting a trophy for overall best presentation, and guess what? The trophy went to... Gao Shi! (Yes, that's Shay's name in Chinese). Shay came home with his trophy this afternoon, and he was so thrilled to show it off.

But wait - there's more. He's also been working hard at his juggling skills, because he wants to become a "Jedi Juggler" at school. First he learned to juggle balls, and when he got up to 50 times in a row, he graduated to rings. Once he mastered those, he got his clubs. Today, he passed the 50 mark with his clubs, and so he's been invited to perform with the Jedi Jugglers.

He had to choose a skit to work on, and he chose the "Plumber" skit. I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but he came home with three toilet plungers that he is now learning to juggle.

Trophies and toilet plungers, all in one day. Who'd've thought? He's making his mama proud...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dr. Santa Closet

Last year, Kyra called him "Santa Claus-it." This year, I was telling her about him, and I slipped up. "We're going to go see mister... doctor... santa claus!" So now she calls him "Dr. Santa Claus-it."

The good doctor was planning to stop by the Embassy Christmas party this evening, so we got all decked out to go see him. On the way there, Kyra threw up all over herself. I don't think she was sick, persay. I think it likely that she shouldn't have helped herself to her dad's nasty protein shake earlier in the day. We pulled into a restaurant complex near the Embassy and Bart took her in to clean her off. So much for the cute Christmas sweater and tights. He was able to salvage the dress, though she was a bit stinky.

I was a little worried when the kids went up to read a Christmas book with the Ambassador and his wife. It wouldn't have looked good if she'd chosen that moment to toss up the rest of the protein shake. But she was fine. (Someone else's kid peed on the floor, but hey, it happens. As long as it's not one of my kids.)

The role of Dr. Santa Closet was actually played by someone in my office. It just so happens that I'd brought a loaf of pumpkin bread in to share last week. And when Santa asked Kyra if she helped her mommy make that delicious bread, she nearly burst with pride. Too cute.

Ainsley, on the other hand, could not wait to get off of his lap. She wasn't impressed at all. I don't know what Aidan thought of his visit with Dr. Claus. Even Shay sat on his lap - hedging his bets, I imagine, as he's hoping to find a Nano under the tree.

Enjoy the photos...

The Ambassador and his wife read to the kids...

Four kids, four different reactions to Santa...

Monday, November 30, 2009


After a lovely Thanksgiving, the weekend slid straight downhill and over a cliff. I didn’t start this blog to create an internet library of my general whininess, so I’ll try to leave the details out. (Suffice to say, I was right and HE was wrong. And that’s the last I’ll say about that!)

The low point of the weekend? There were so many, piled one atop the other, that it’s hard to choose. Perhaps it was the silverware drawer that broke for the fifth time, leaving me to wash and re-wash the two spoons I’d left out on the counter? Or maybe it was the garage door that broke again, meaning the door couldn’t be shut, and once forced shut, it couldn’t be opened. It could have been the kitchen table that lost a leg while being moved. Then again, it might have been that moment just before bedtime on Sunday, when all of my reserves of patience had been long since used, and Shay came downstairs to announce that “somebody” had pulled his bedroom door shut, and it was locked and by the way, the key hanging next to the door? Not the right key.

And those are just the moments I care to post for all the world to see (all 15 of you, anyway). I confess I’m still exhausted and cranky. I spent the whole day at work smiling as broadly as possible, figuring I might convince myself eventually. And do you know? It actually sort of worked.

When I arrived home this evening, I discovered that someone from the clubhouse had come and fixed the drawer. Someone from the Embassy came and dismantled the locked bedroom door, removing the frame to access the lock (supposedly someone else will come fix the damage tomorrow). The kitchen table is still on its side in the garage, which coincidentally is still impossible to access. But things are looking up.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tis The Season

Styrofoam season, that is.

You see all sorts of strange contraptions on the streets of Beijing, and all kinds of overloaded vehicles.

Using my not-so-good quality phone camera, I snapped these shots near my house on two separate occasions. These folks have loaded up their 3-wheeled bicycles and are hauling chunks of styrofoam - where?

They use styrofoam for insulation here. (It is covering the outside of my house, which is fine except when the house gets hit by a poorly-aimed soccer ball.) So perhaps these people are insulating their houses for the winter? Or perhaps they're selling the stuff? Recycling?

They all thought it was the funniest thing when I hung out of a car window to take their pictures. And here I was thinking I was the normal looking one.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

The kids are in school - it's not a holiday here, after all. My husband is home, but he's sick. The girls are out playing with Xiao Tong. And I am supposed to be using this time to get started on my feast. We have several families joining us tonight, so there's lots to cook.

Yesterday, they talked about Thanksgiving in Aidan's American Studies class. They went around the room and each child said aloud what he was thankful for. Dear, sweet Aidan, who has so many blessings in his life, thought of this particular one: "I'm thankful," he said, "that my dog had puppies."

His dog. His ancient, male, neutered dog. Had puppies? And this is what he was thankful for.

We'll have to work up a better list when he gets home from school today.

I am thankful for so many things, but I'm too superstitious to put them in print. I know, though, that I am a very fortunate woman.

And with that, I'm off to cook. Turkey, dressing, potatoes, green beans. I already made the veggie dip, the purple fruit dip, the citrus salsa (no fresh cranberries here, alas) and the fudge. Someone else is bringing salad and pie.

I'm hungry just thinking about it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my loved ones and friends across the globe. Be warm, be fed, be with family and be grateful for it all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Marine Ball 2009

Last night we went to the China World Hotel for the Marine Ball. This year, it was a lot of fun - I never like it the first year at post because I don't know anyone, but by the end of our tour, it's loads of fun getting dressed up and hanging out with friends for the evening. Jessie the tailor made me a Chinese dress, and for the first time ever, I decided to go get my hair done rather than doing it myself. No joke - there were SIX people working on my hair, using hair dryers and hot rollers and pins and spray. If only I could keep it that way, but alas - the Ball was yesterday, and today I'm a pumpkin again.

It's fun to get all decked out once a year. They always have fancy appetizers, and I always embarrass myself grabbing everything that comes my way. For dinner I had this tasty, if somewhat undercooked, beef with red onion marmalade. The dessert looked delicious, but I got up to take some photos, and when I got back to my table, they'd confiscated my dessert. Drats. I managed to get my hands on some truffles, though, so all was not lost.

I'm not going to post a ton of photos, because technically, I didn't ask my friends for permission. But here are just a few (ssshh, don't tell - I don't think they read my blog, so they'll never know if you don't tell them). If you and I are facebook friends, you'll find more pictures over there.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Please Explain...

Today I was driving home along the 4th Ring Road, which was backed up because of a 2-taxi crash on the side road. As I approached the crash, I could see a smashed taxi up on a tow truck, and bunches of people standing around, staring. But it wasn't on my road, so why was traffic moving so slowly?

Up ahead was the problem - a guy in a black Mercedes, slowing to a crawl in the lane in front of me. Was he rubbernecking at the crash? No. Was he trying to pull off the highway? Because that's a common move: if you miss your exit, you stop and back up. But no, he wasn't trying to back up. He was just... talking on his cell phone. That's right, he was having a very important conversation, so he brought his Mercedes to a complete stop in the middle of the 4th Ring in order to focus on his conversation.

It took every ounce of self-control in my body to NOT scrape down the side of his shiny Mercedes as I squeezed by. Can anyone out there please explain the mindset that allows people do such selfish, boneheaded things? I've been here for over two years, and I still can't figure out why people think it's okay to drive this way. But they do, and they get away with it.

It's a mystery why there aren't any road rage shootings in Beijing...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Learning Disabled in Beijing

I wrote this story about schooling options for LD kids in Beijing. Like it? Stumble it or digg it, please.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

POTUS in Beijing

I took all of the kids except Ainsley to the Embassy to meet President Obama today. I decided it would be best to leave Ainsley at home, because these events are usually crowded and crazy. Kids who wanted to be in the photo with the Prez had to be able to stand by themselves on the risers for almost 45 minutes. I was so proud of Kyra - she made it through. At one point, after the photo was finished and the President was chatting with the kids, Kyra went running up to him, but I didn't get a chance to take a photo before she was shooed back to the risers. My friend Jen was the official Embassy photographer; hopefully she got some better photos than these, but I'll attach them anyway just to prove we were there. I even got to shake his hand! Alas, no photo of that. You'll just have to trust me. If I get some better photos in the coming weeks (you listening, Jen?), I'll be sure to post them here.

In this blurry photo, Shay is near the top left, in the blue and white polo shirt. Kyra is at the bottom left, in the brown dress, two away from the President. You can't see Aidan, as the President was standing directly between me and Aidan at this point.

Everyone wave at Jen, the blonde lady taking pictures. Hi Jen! Just to her left, in the middle row, behind a girl in a red dress, is Aidan, in a brown polo shirt.

Kyra is the blurry brown dress on the bottom right. Shay's at the top right. Once again, Aidan has managed to escape the frame.

Here he is, the President of the United States, and I didn't even have to use the zoom lense. But aren't you appalled at what a bad photographer I am? Seriously, I had a chance to snap some great shots, but no...

And here's my husband, hard at work, just a few feet away from the Prez. But since he was armed and working, he wasn't allowed to go all goofy and try to shake the guy's hand. So, no photo op for me. No matter - by now it's apparent I would have blown it anyway.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Girl Genius

Little Ainsley turned one-and-a-half last week, a milestone that has thus far gone unmentioned in this blog.

One-and-a-half is such a fun age: they're curious and excited and stubborn and oh-so-busy. Ainsley gives kisses now. She bites and hits too, but the kisses make up for all of that. When we turn on the music, she dances and spins in circles. She talks now - in Chinese and English. She says "bao" in Chinese when she wants to be picked up. But she says "cheese" in English when she's hungry. She's starting to string together words: "milk please," "my daddy" and "no mommy."

And today? Today she peed on the potty! She's been all excited about the potty this past week, and has been having a great time sitting on it. Now, naked potty sitting isn't the best activity from my perspective, because a naked baby never actually pees in the potty. There's a lot to clean up before you see any tangible rewards. For example, there was that pair of my high heels that she was wearing when she had to pee last week. Not good.

But today, she sat down and produced! Girl genius, I tell you. We did the traditional potty dance, and then I gave her a chocolate chip. Her eyes widened with astonishment when she ate it, and she spent the next 15 minutes in the kitchen, pointing at the cabinet and screeching "more! more!"

Now, I know enough not to get my hopes up too high. After all, Aidan did the same thing at 18 months. He mastered the potty quickly, and then reverted back to diapers, where he happily remained until he turned 3. But I do think it would be just lovely if we could move beyond the diaper stage for the first time in 10 years.

And with that, I must go get ready for tomorrow. I'm starting back up at the Embassy, though I'm not quite sure what I'll be working on yet. I picked a bad day to start - I'm pretty sure everyone will be crazybusy dealing with the upcoming Presidential visit. I'm an Obama widow right now - haven't seen my husband in forever. And when I do see him, he has a phone glued to his ear. Still, it's kind of exciting. I'm an Obama fan, and I'm hoping I'll get to see him. I'll keep you posted on that front. For now, I'm off in search of some decent work clothes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Yesterday morning it hailed and snowed and rained and thundered and the skies parted and it was all very Biblical. No locusts, but the mosquitoes are still out, so we'll count that as a plague. Yet I'm rejoicing, because the air quality index currently reads 49. We can officially stop holding our breath.

This morning we woke up to this view from the front door:

The schools are all closed - the first snow day since we've been here, I believe.

So I will spend the day shuttling kids in and out of the house, watching them ruin sock after sock and glove after glove, and trying like heck to avoid going out there myself. (I'm like a cat - not a fan of precipitation.)

I'm fully stocked up in the cocoa and rice krispie supply department, so we're good to go.

Poor Bart, though - he still had to go to work even though the shuttles aren't running. Last time I saw him, he was tramping around in the snow, in a suit and dress shoes, looking for a way in. Disaster! With the Prez on his way, no one can take a day off, snow day or no.

And with that, I'm off to entertain my kiddies. The girls both have hacking coughs and sore throats, like their mama. So it should be a fun day.

Deep breath...

Monday, November 9, 2009

More on the Air Quality

Thanks, GlobalGal, for bringing this great article by James Fallows to my attention.

500 and holding

We spent the whole weekend indoors, as the air quality index never dropped below 500. The air is so awful you can taste it. And it's either made me incredibly sick, or I've come down with the flu, because I could barely move all weekend: headache, cough, chills, chest pain. Plus which, President Obama is due to arrive at post shortly, so my husband is insanely busy working the visit.

So, to recap: working husband, sick mother, 4 children, noone is allowed to leave to house. Ever.

Why, yes, our weekend was heaps of fun.

This morning, it started to thunder, lightning, hail, rain and snow. All at once. And all I could think was: please oh please let a tornado sweep through, too, and clear this nasty air out of here.

Friday, November 6, 2009



That's what the pollution index is today.

The only reason it is at 500 and not, say, 501, is that the scale stops at 500.

If this level of pollution were recorded in a city in the U.S., the city would grind to a halt. Schools would shut down. TV news stations would go into overdrive. No one is supposed to leave the house when the pollution is at this level: it's hazardous for everybody. If you were to check right now, you'd find that Bakersfield, CA, and Atlanta, GA, are both suffering from moderate levels of air pollution. That means the reading for those cities is between 50-100. At that level, the air quality is considered acceptable for almost all of the population. And those are among the top 5 worst polluted cities in the U.S. today.

I say again: we're at 500. My throat hurts. My eyes are burning as though I've been in a chlorinated pool all day. I'm dizzy. I'm coughing. I feel sick to my stomach.

What does it look like? Well, as I drove to the Embassy, I couldn't see buildings that I know are right next to the road. High rise buildings. Invisible. The sun, when it broke through the fog, was orange. Thick dirty fog to the horizon - which is only a few yards away on a day like today.

This is the one reason I can't wait to leave this country.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

You Know What I Hate?

I hate when I start writing a post, something about the craziness that is shopping for clothes in Beijing's local markets, and my computer suddenly crashes, taking my draft with it.

I hate when I make a special trip to a specific restaurant, where they have promised to sell me some fresh beets, which I plan to turn into the most fabulous borsch, but when I get there to pick up the beets, it turns out they are mushy and bad.

I hate when I have an article due in 24 hours, and it's done, but I don't quite like the ending, and I haven't a clue how to fix it.

I hate when I go to lunch to celebrate a friend's birthday, only to discover that this time I'm the idiot who forgot to stop at the bank on the way to the restaurant and I don't have enough money.

I hate when it's so cold that the windows freeze shut, but there are STILL mosquitoes flying around.

I hate when the air is thick with coal dust and my poor son can't stop coughing.

I hate when I've called three times to get the back door repaired, and now they finally agree that yes, it's broken, and no, it can't be fixed, so it'll have to be replaced... maybe tomorrow.

Those are all things that I hate. But do you know what? I had a really, really nice day today. Because there are a million more things that I love.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Just Because You're Paranoid Doesn't Mean Someone Isn't Following You

Life in Beijing would be hard for the paranoid among us. I mean, when you come home from a night in the hospital to find someone has taken the time to disconnect your car battery, despite the watchful guard directly across the street, well... best just not to think about it too much, or you'll begin to think you're the starring character in a Tom Clancy novel.

You live here too long and you start to go a little bit paranoid. I belong to an internet expat group, where you'd think half of the posts are lunatic ravings. These people go on and on and on about how the government has shut down their Facebook access and uninstalled their VPNs and so on. They even insist the government has the power to alter the weather. What's wrong with these people?

But then you move here. And you discover that Facebook is indeed blocked, and that you need a VPN just to access your own blog! It's a strange world. Who's to say they don't control the weather?

So here's a new factoid for my paranoid friends: did you know that there actually is a government agency called the "Beijing Weather Modification Office"? That's right: a real government agency dedicated to manipulating the weather. They're the folks who turn droughts into storms, and who supposedly gave us the blue skies we saw during the Olympics. They fire silver iodide into the clouds to encourage precipitation in specific areas, and they say it works.

Jen Ambrose linked to an article about how the Beijing Weather Modification Office actually created the snowfall we saw on Sunday. According to the article, Zhang Qiang, the woman who runs the Weather Modification Office, claims they were able to add "more than 16 million tonnes of snow" to what had been predicted to fall.

And here I didn't even know the office existed. Now, if I could just figure out who disabled my car that day...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fame and Fortune, Coming My Way Soon

That's right, my blog received a mention in this month's edition of the Foreign Service Journal. Of course, they listed it as a blog written by a husband and wife team, while I'm pretty sure I should actually have a disclaimer stating "the views on this blog are held only by the wife-half of this diplomatic partnership." My husband is a great editor, and I rarely submit an article for possible publication without getting his input first. But, nope, he doesn't write or edit anything here. Though now that I think about it, he has been know to shake his head and mutter, after a particularly trying China moment "bet THIS makes it on your blog."

So there you have it. You can say you knew me when. I'll just sit here and wait for the millions of fans whom I'm certain are heading my way.

Oh,and my blog-friend Jill made the list, too (can I call you a friend, Jill? I've been a reader long enough, don't you think?). They called her brutally honest. They called her endearing. They said she injects sass and emotion into her blog.

I always wanted to be endearing. To say nothing of sass-injecting. Maybe next year.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November 1st

Happy day-after-Halloween to all. I'm currently a bit over-sugared, as I've been sharing (errr, stealing, actually) my kids' candy.

We had over 500 kids show up last night. I ran out of candy within an hour. I made the last 25 pieces last another hour, as I only pretended to drop them into bags, when actually I just reached in and kind of smacked the sides of the bags. I know, I know - but I didn't want to blow out the candles and lock the door at 6:30. That seemed somehow more wrong than handing out tricks instead of treats.

Shay had a soccer tournament scheduled that afternoon, so we missed all of the pre-trick-or-treat festivities. Who schedules a tournament on All Hallow's Eve, anyway? Brits, that's who. I guess Shay's British coaches don't trick or treat. His team came in second, after which he grabbed his medal and dashed home.

Aidan's tournament was scheduled for this morning, and he was so excited to play. Except - we awoke to a blanket of snow. It snowed all morning - unusual for Beijing - so we stayed in and ate candy. No soccer for poor Aidan, who reallyreally wanted that medal. The snow has finally stopped, but it's cold and wet out there, so I say: keep eating candy! No need to set foot outside. And does anyone know if Starbucks delivers?

I've already made dinner (lentil and barley soup, for the curious among you), and even cooked up some spicy Chinese fried peanuts, just to offset the sugar calories. I'm pretty sure I've hit 3500 calories, and it isn't even 3 p.m.

Whatever. One of the nice things about living in this crazy expat compound is that we can do things like this with our kids. Nowhere else have we experienced such an amazing Halloween. I guess it's because the Americans have basically taken over our compound. Everyone knows it, so people bus and drive kids in from all over to trick-or-treat. Fine with me - except when the kids don't bother to put on a costume. That ticks me off a little. I'm not a huge fan of Halloween, but it is fun to see my kids get costumed up and race around the neighborhood. I'll miss this, next year. Hopefully our next post has some good holiday traditions in place.

And hopefully, whereever we end up next has not-too-many snow days. Though they do make for some nice photos...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bad Day, Good Day

Yesterday was a disaster of a day, primarily because I invited myself along to join some friends who were going out, only to discover they weren't going where I thought they were or where I wanted to be. I was wearing rather uncomfortable heels - part of an effort to look decent in the morning because I was going to a parent meeting at the school. I spent the morning learning math - the 4th grade teachers taught us all how to add and multiply the "Everyday Math" way - and I figured I might seem like an idiot when I screwed up the answer to 4x9, but at least my feet would be looking good.

Big mistake. After the meeting, my friends picked me up for what I thought would be a spa trip or lunch somewhere fun. Turns out they changed their minds and decided to go shopping downtown instead. I had not enough money to purchase anything, and no great desire to acquire, though I did buy a bunch of inexpensive holiday candles and a big box of wrapping paper, just because. But I mostly just followed them around making snide remarks til they tired of me. Then we all drove back toward home, and they decided to get manicures on the way. I didn't have any money left, but didn't want to say anything, so I waited with them while they got their manicures. Eventually it became apparent that they wouldn't be finished in time to get me home to pick up my car and head back to the school for the big 1st grade musical performance. So I left them there, hoisted my bag o candles and my gigantic box of paper, and I started hiking home, heels and all.

It was only a 15-minute walk, but by the time I got back my left foot was screaming in pain and my right foot was numb. I had not quite enough time to drop the candles and paper, grab the keys and head back to the school. No time at all to change my shoes. Naturally, the performance was in the theater at the far end of the school from the parking lot. I limped along as quickly as I could, but I was a few minutes late, which meant I had to stand the entire hour. I was almost in tears by then.

The other moms in the audience probably thought I was just the emotional type, tearing up when I saw my son had his own solo in the performance. That's right: he was the moon in the song about the cycles of the earth. So he had to walk around two kids who were supposed to be the earth. They in turn walked around four kids dressed in yellow to represent the sun. Behind this amazing display of choreographic brilliance, the rest of the first graders sang a song to the tune of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." The lyrics were something like "The earth revolves around the sun, hurrah, hurrah. It takes 365 days hurrah, hurrah." And there I was, crying and bleeding from the toenails and looking like a crazy lady, who by the way, did you notice she can't answer 6x8? I saw her looking all dazed and confused in the math seminar this morning, too.

But okay. Given the craziness that was my yesterday, I decided to lay low today and nurse my wounded arches back to health. I didn't have a car today, anyway: Some random Chinese man picked it up this morning and drove it away for its annual inspection, leaving me to wonder vaguely whether my insurance would cover it if he crashed on the expressway.

I rode my bike to Kyra's new school for their Halloween party. (Have I even mentioned yet that she's going to school part-time now? I'm so far behind on my stories. Well, she is, three days a week, three hours a day, because I found a school that took pity on me and worked out a part-time flexible payment arangement. But I digress.) I was fabulously late, as I'd already scheduled and rescheduled a haircut, and I was determined not to miss it this time. So my hair looked good when I walked in almost an hour late. I'm a horrible mother, aren't I?

I arrived just in time for the pumpkin decorating craft. I am a horribly uncrafty person, so the glue sticks and pompoms were too much for me. But we tried, Kyra and I, and you'll see that our pumpkin doesn't look half bad (front row center in the photo). Kyra was just thrilled to be dressed in her Belle costume - isn't she cute?

After the party, we rode home. Kyra ate lunch and took a long nap. I sent Xiao Tong home super early and Ainsley and I crashed on the couch. She read a book, ate pretzels and bopped me on the head. I read my book, ate her pretzels, and played an occasional round of peek-a-boo. We spent an hour thus engaged, my sad blistered feet up on the coffee table. It rained outside, but inside all was calm. For a few minutes, anyway. Soon enough, the boys came home from school, Kyra awoke and it was time to get ready for dinner.

But I'd already made dinner, the night before, in a brief burst of energy. So even dinner was relatively low key for once.

All in all: a good day. Even if I was constantly humming "the moon revolves around the earth, hurrah, hurrah."
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