Friday, January 30, 2009

She Crawls!

It started in earnest yesterday. Before that, she'd occasionally end up in a different place than the place where she'd been set, but that was mostly a matter of accidental wiggles. Sometimes, she'd manage to scoot backwards - I kept finding her stuffed under bookcases and wedged into corners.

But yesterday, she was sitting in my office, and when I went to answer the door, she followed me. She's slow - she only made it around the corner to the coat closet, but still.

Now that she's crawling, I can give you a bit more insight into my darling daughter's personality.

I put her in the kitchen, and I placed various toys all around her, so she could crawl from one to the next and entertain herself.

She crawled to the trashcan.

She crawled to the electrical cord for the water dispenser.

She crawled to the fire extinguisher.

She crawled to the little bit of nasty fluff under the counter.

She never, not once, crawled to an actual toy.

Early signs indicate this daughter will cause much mischief.

But really, why should she be different from the others?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

Longqing Gorge Ice Festival

Today we drove an hour-and-a-half north, just past the Great Wall, to check out the Ice Festival at the Longqing Gorge.

As you might expect, it was a bit chilly. But it actually wasn't bad while we were outside. It only got painfully cold when we got close to the dam. They'd covered the area with a tarp and built an elaborate city of ice underneath the tarp. There was a snowy Great Wall carved into ice on the side of the Gorge. An ice slide. A castle, built entirely of ice, that the kids had a blast running and sliding through. The whole thing was colorfully lit up - a really impressive display.

At the back end, we came out from under the tarp and face to face with a massive frozen waterfall hanging off the dam itself. Most impressive - if a bit alarming when chunks of ice broke off and smashed behind us.

The kids loved it - except Ainsley, who was just too cold to enjoy the ice carvings. She was fine out in the sunshine, though, where it felt downright balmy, even though it was probably only mid-30s.

I sat on the ground and nursed her while the kids rode down a sledding hill on big inflatable rafts.

It was great - and though the Gorge is one of the most popular tourist sites around here, it was practically deserted. Today is the first day of the Year of the Ox, so Beijing is a ghost town, as everyone's gone home to celebrate.

On the subject of the new year... the fireworks were crazy last night. They started up all around us after dark. At around 8:30, we bundled up the kids and drove around the neighborhood. Every couple of blocks, people had pulled their cars over and unloaded boxes of fireworks from their trunks. Not little sparklers, either - these are the kinds of fireworks you see in professional displays back home, just not quite as high in the air. Some friends of our were putting on a show just down the street. The guards turned out to watch, shovels in hand, so they could put out any fires that might happen to crop up. The show went off mostly without a hitch... though there was one rocket that fell over and shot sideways into the crowd. A few minor burns, but nothing too bad.

It's nighttime again, and the fireworks are once again exploding all around. The dog is barking. It'll be another long night.

That's all the big news from here. I'm in the middle of a spectacularly good book, so I'll end here and get in a few minutes reading before bedtime.

Enjoy our photos of the Gorge.

the entrance to the festival

checking out the carvings

inside the "princess castle"

in front of the frozen waterfall

on the sledding hill

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Chinese Zodiac - The Year of Expensive Electronics

All over town, fireworks stands are springing up, selling explosives that would be totally illegal in the states. People will buy this stuff and set it off in their front yards for 2 weeks straight. Night and day. At times like this, I'm glad to be deaf in one ear. But even rolling onto my side at night can't deafen the sound of massive explosions directly across the street.

Yes, the Year of the Rat is coming to a close. And here in China, that means Big Sales! It's like Black Thursday in the States, or Labor Day. We have been saving and saving to get a new television set, but it has never quite worked out. Once, when we saved enough, we gave it to Shay's orthodontist instead. Once, it went to Aidan's pre-school. Another time it went to pay the dentist.

But finally - finally! - we had enough saved up to buy a good t.v. Our last one was bought in 1999 - it's a 20-inch, multi-system, multi-voltage tv with a built-in VCR. (Quick primer: you need multi-system multi-volt so you can bring the tv with you when you move. It needs to operate in the U.S. and overseas, so it needs to work in both 110 and 220-volt environments. And it needs to be multi-system so it can pick up programming overseas. Such televisions are more expensive than plain ole U.S.-spec tvs.) Our old t.v. didn't play DVDs, either, which is kind of a problem, because the kids always needed my computer to watch their movies.

The old t.v., posed with an Olympic doll to give you a sense of size, even though you have no idea how big the doll is, either:

So Bart took his envelope of cash and went to the electronics market with his friend Scott, our personal tech guru. He was thinking to upgrade to a 32-incher.

Does nobody in this world watch a small tv anymore? Because when they got there, the smallest tv was a 37-inch tv. And it was the same price as the 42-inch set.

So - you guessed it - Bart bought the 42-incher. And a DVD player. Now we can hook up a DVD player and our AFN box, both at the same time. (AFN is American Forces Network - military television - and it allows us to watch some programming from back home, minus the commercials. AFN makes their own commercials, and you haven't seen cheesy til you've seen these commercials. They're all about how to save money and how to prevent suicide, interspersed with mini-history lessons and such. But I digress.)

When you buy a tv set here, they deliver the next day. And then someone else comes to put it together for you. But I guess that last bit was lost in translation. So when the delivery guys dropped it off, Bart and I assembled it together. Then he went to the gym. Then the doorbell rang again, and there was a guy standing there saying "television?" in Chinese. I answered, in Chinese (go, me!), "yes, we got the tv." To which he replied: "garble-garble-garble?"

Me: "We have the tv."

Him "Garble garble tv?"

Me: "It's here. Do you want to see it?"

Him: "Garble garble."

Me: "Come in, please."

He comes in, looks at the put-together tv in astonishment, points at me and says "Garble garble garble?"

"Yes," I answer, thinking maybe that's the right answer.

"Oh, okay," he says (hey! I understood that!), then "Garble garble."

He checks the cords and cables and doohickeys, then pronounces it all "okay."

He holds out a paper for me to sign, and is somewhat perturbed by the fact that I'm signing with my left hand. "Garble garble," he says, trying to put the pen in my right hand.

"I can't," I reply, waving my left hand in the air, in a gesture intended to mean "I'm a lefty."

Eventually, after a few more garbles, he lets me sign with my left hand and leaves.

So there you have it. We have entered the new millenium at last. A television too big for our Virginia townhouse! With a DVD player!

Now we can watch Dora on the big screen.

Life is good.

New television, same Olympic doll. And Dora! Que bueno!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Flat Stanley in Beijing (and Henry Kissinger, too)

You've heard of Flat Stanley, haven't you? The idea is, students mail Flat Stanley to their friends at other schools. Those students take Flat Stanley somewhere interesting in their home towns, then send letters and photos explaining what Flat Stanley's been doing.

Our neighbor's son, Henry, got a Flat Stanley in the mail, and his Flat Stanley has had all sorts of crazy adventures. He gave a speech at the Embassy, appeared on Chinese television, and even got to meet former SecState Henry Kissinger. I love the photo of Flat Stanley waiting in line to meet Kissinger. And I love that Henry's mom, Ingrid, had the guts to bring Flat Stanley to the meet and greet.

Really, can anyone out there top this Flat Stanley experience?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Will I Ever See Anything in China Other Than a Doctor's Office?

Where were we?

It's been so long, I can't remember what I've told you about. Let's see... hmmmm... everyone's sick... cough... doctor... antibiotics... stuffy nose... back to doctor... vomiting... hmmm... toenail ripped off? Did we cover that yet? Yes? Okay, then... doctor... doctor... there must be something else I've been up to lately. Hmmm... doctor... hand stuck in toilet.... Oh, THAT's what I wanted to catch you up on today. I almost forgot.

So, Kyra's been on antibiotics for her random fever/cough/vomit situation. Of course, she hates the antibiotics, so she takes a gulp and then swishes it around in her mouth like listerine or something. Try explaining to a 2-year-old that she should just swallow already and get it over with.

Last night she started a few other symptoms which I won't get into in a public forum so as not to provide fodder for her frenemies in ten years when they google this post. Suffice to say that the medical unit needed to do a urine test because they suspected a UTI.

So off we went to the Embassy to collect a sterile cup and fill it up.

Poor Kyra had performance anxiety, I guess, or else she was just feeling stubborn, because she couldn't make it work. I sat her on the potty in the medical unit and held the cup underneath her, cajoling, pleading and wondering what I'd done to deserve this fate of mine. Seriously. I was half-crouching, half-kneeling, on the floor of a public restroom with my hand in the toilet, waiting to be peed upon by a sick 2-year-old. Back in the labor and delivery room, NO ONE told me this fate would one day be visited upon me. When I held that tiny baby in my arms for the first time, I thought the grossest stuff was over with. But no.

I promised lollipops.


I promised cocoa.


I promised lollipops and cocoa, together.

Right again. Nothing.

Eventually, I gave up. I put the (still sterile?) cup in my purse (yes, ewww), washed my hands about a thousand times and took her to the Embassy cafeteria. I ordered a salmon salad and a big 'ole Sprite. She downed the Sprite before turning her attention to my salad. She ate that, too.

Then her daddy showed up. She squealed with delight and hugged him close with her greasy salmon hands while I told him of my hand-in-potty adventures.

"Would you pee for Daddy?" he asked.

She nodded.

So they went into the men's room together and, mere minutes later, they emerged, victorious, cup held aloft.

Kyra immediately demanded her lollipop.

So, that was my morning. How was yours?

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Three times to the doctor last week. The first two were scheduled: one a sick child visit, the next a well-baby check-up. Then Friday hit. Aidan was in Chinese class, and I was at a birthday luncheon with some friends. My husband called me at the luncheon, which was awfully strange, given that I hadn't told him where I'd be. It seems that, right about the time I was wishing my friend Peggy a happy birthday, Aidan's Chinese teacher was giving Aidan's shoes a strange look. Why, she asked Aidan, is one of your shoes grey and the other red?

When they took off his shoe, they discovered that his big toenail had parted ways with his toe. He'd dropped a toy on it over the weekend, and the nail turned purple-grey and blue. But on Friday, it popped off and started bleeding profusely.

(apologies to those of you who like to read blogs over breakfast.)

So, short version: ewwww. Slightly longer version: went to see Embassy doc, who advised a wait-and-see approach rather than a more aggressive shot-in-the-toe and yank-the-nail approach. He then likely wrote in his little book: "note to self - be sure not to get posted with this train-wreck of a family ever again!"

You see? Busy.

Also, for Christmas - have I mentioned this yet? - my lovely husband somehow procured an iPhone for me. I say "somehow" because they don't appear to be for sale here, and I'm told by most people that they aren't even supported here. But mine works, so go figure. A couple of my friends got them for Christmas too. That thing is a time sucker, I tell you. Really bad move on his part to get it for me. My friends keep showing me all kinds of crazy apps for this phone. Of course, no one can tell me how to sync it to my google calendar - anyone out there know how?

And speaking of brain suckers - there is one more reason I've not been blogging much. I'm afraid this past week I've been too tired to write, so I've fallen into the rabbit hole of my google reader, and I've been catching up on all of my favorite blogs rather than writing in my own. Sorry about that. But there are some good blogs out there. My two current favorites are Seattle's own Mrs. G, who is just funny as can be, and simple mom, who runs a great site for home managers, which I'm supposed to be. Go check them out and see if you agree that they're good.

I have a column due shortly, so I'll be working on that this week. And hopefully all of my family members will be able to keep their toenails firmly attached this week. I'm bored of the doctor and I'm sure he's tired of me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Because I Want My Poor Mother to Worry...

From a management notice distributed throughout the Embassy:

"The Chinese government announced on January 6 the death of a Beijing woman from Avian Influenza H5N1 (highly pathogenic bird flu). The announcement indicates that this person contracted the disease from cleaning the internal organs of ducks bought in a market in Hebei Province. It also states that no other individuals have been found to be infected, and that there are currently no sick or dead birds in the region."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I Know, I Know

Yes, it's true, dear reader, that you probably expect updates from me more frequently than, say, once a month. And I'm trying, truly I am. But here's the deal. If you've been paying attention, you'll know by now that I have four kids. Sometimes, just sometimes, they need my attention. And then there's that pesky husband: he gets annoyed if I'm on the computer all night instead of chatting with him when he gets home about how simply lovely my day was. Also, two of my kids are sick, as am I (it's coal burnin' season in Beijing; expect us to be sick til spring). So I'm spending oodles of time driving back and forth to the Embassy to visit the doctors there, who scratch their heads in befuddlement at the vast list of symptoms I put forth for their consideration. And I have several friends who currently need talking down from ledges, so there's that.

See? I have all kinds of excuses, people. But I promise I'll be back with something substantial soon. Because, you know, my sons are back in school this week, and since I haven't lifted a finger to work toward my New Year's resolutions yet, well, why start now? There's always next year. That buys me lots of free time.

I'll leave you with one observation and one link.

Observation: I've been here too long. Here in Beijing, when someone hands you something, be it a business card or change at the grocery store, they do it with two hands. Never one. This used to bug me, especially when I was trying to hand over money for my latte and I was also holding car keys, a phone and a wallet. How could I possibly free up two hands to fork over my money? And why should they care? But on our recent trip to Thailand, I was quite startled to find myself getting offended when shop clerks tossed me my change with one hand. How rude! How boorish! How soon can I return to the States and straighten out this confusion?

Second, a link: In last month's beijingkids Magazine, I wrote an article titled "Expat Economics," about how expats can weather this financial storm. You can read it here, though you'll note that their tech person accidentally titled the article "Expat Economies," which makes no sense. Gotta get that fixed. Anyway, go read the article. I hope you like it.

Me? I'm off to bed now.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Beach Bums

Happy New Year, everyone. We celebrated Christmas today, too - pictures to follow shortly.

Today, Kyra asked her daddy to take her on an airplane to the water. Apparently, she's already ready to go back. Me, too.

Please. Write your own stuff.