Saturday, June 27, 2009


Today was a nasty, steamy, polluted, over-hot day.

But we needed to get out, so we drove to the Old Summer Palace, in the northwest part of town, near Beida University. And I was glad we went.

There were very few tourists. The Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) was destroyed in the 1800s, so there's not much left to do but wander through the grounds and clamber over ruins. Which, as you might imagine, is a perfect way to spend a Chinese weekend if you're a kid. And actually, inside the grounds it seemed much cooler, perhaps because of the shade, the breeze, or the massive ponds covered in lilypads.

So a good time was had by all, despite the heat and poor air quality. The kids were so well-behaved, in fact, that we decided to treat them to pizza afterwards. But as we drove there, the enormous Sprite Aidan had downed to keep cool bubbled over, and he started vomiting. Ewww.

So, no pizza. But still, all in all, a great day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Own Personal Countdown Clock

I’ve been working on an article about the fact that we’ve rolled through 2 years here already, with just 1 to go. I’m at the point, I think, where I’m comfortable enough here that I don’t always stop to take in the oddities. Now that I’ve made it through 2 years, I need to remind myself that lots of things about this place are actually still quite foreign.

With that in mind, I’ll tell you what we did this morning. After I left the gym, I found Bart at the playground with the 3 youngest kids and the dog. We walked over to the shopping center around the corner, and while I picked up a few needed groceries, Bart and the kids looked at some rabbits, hamsters and birds that are for sale outside the store. The vendor gave Aidan and Kyra some leaves to feed the bunnies, and they were happily entertained – until the dog realized the whole place was crawling with tasty bunny rabbits and we had to depart.

Here’s the funny thing about this vendor. He’s out there every weekend with his animals for sale. He doesn’t have a storefront, though. He sells them off the back of his 3-wheeled bike. I’ve never actually seen him set up or leave – it’d be pretty funny to watch him pedal down the road with all of those cages perched on his bike.

There are several other bicycle peddlers out there in front of the store, mostly selling food. That’s right: they have makeshift griddles and glass-enclosed cooking spaces on the backs of their bikes, and they work throughout breakfast and lunch.

Today I bought a little snack from one of the vendors. I don’t know what his specialty is called, but it’s delicious. He makes a big crepe, then spreads a thin layer of beaten egg across the top. He sprinkles it with scallion and cilantro. He then flips the whole thing and spreads a layer of hoisin and red pepper paste on it. Next he takes out this huge fried cracker thingie and breaks it up over the top. He folds the whole thing into quarters and stuffs it into a plastic bag before handing it over, piping hot. Total cost: 3 kuai – less than 50 cents.

I’m not sure what the health department would think of this man’s cart, parked as it is under a tree, stacked high with eggs and sauces and chopped up spices. But Kyra took one bite and proclaimed “this is good!” Aidan added “this is really good!” Ainsley held out her chubby little paws and demanded more… and more… and more. It really was delicious.

Now then. I have to get back to my article. I wanted to be done with it yesterday, but alas. After that, I’ll be whipping up a delicious cherry and mint couscous to take to a dinner party this evening. And I won’t even have to cook it on the back of a bicycle.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Some days, I think the best thing about China is my ayi. My ayi, who called in sick for the first time ever today. This fact made for a not-so-good China day. I was home with all of the kids, and the air was unbelievably filthy. As in, "don't set one nostril outside if you can avoid it" filthy. I let Kyra go out to ride her bike for 10 minutes, but the air had the look and smell of a forest fire. And we're nowhere near a forest. So I made her come in. And we stayed in with the air filters cranking for the rest of the day.

I just looked up the air quality report for the day, and it turns out we hit 500 today. In the U.S., an air quality reading of 0-50 is good. 51-100 is moderate. With a reading of 101-150, children should "reduce prolonged or heavy exertion." At 151-200, "everyone" should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion. At 201-300: "children should avoid all physical activity outdoors."

In the U.S., the chart doesn't even go past 300. And on an average day, there are very few cities that get above 50. If you look right now, for example, you'll find that nowhere in the U.S. is there a reading of above 100.

So now, let me repeat: today in Beijing, we were at 500.

My throat hurts. Ainsley is coughing. Kyra is coughing. The boys seems okay for now.

Sometimes, I think we won't be able to escape this place soon enough.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thank You Mr. Ambassador

Thanks to our friend and mentor from 2 (almost 3) previous posts, I am now back on blogger and around the Chinese censors. I’ll try not to gloat about it too much, as it wouldn’t do to embarrass those pesky censors, who have scads of ways of making life miserable for us when they want to. And I’d like my computer to survive the rest of our posting in China.

But let me just do a quick little jump for joy. I have blogger! And all sorts of other fun places to visit out there on the internet!

And now, to temper the joy with pragmatism: In my absence from the internet, my google reader piled up with over 700 blog postings. Which would take forever to read even if my time were unlimited. Which, as you might imagine, it isn’t. It’s summer vacation, so I have 4 kids – plus various hangers-on – underfoot all day long, looking for snacks and entertainment. Also, I have an article due on Friday. Have I started it? Well, technically, I did jot some notes in my notebook, but aforementioned book has apparently escaped from the madness that is our house and gone to find a quiet nook befitting a writer’s notebook. So alas, I’ll be starting over.

It’s good to be back.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

She Walks!

Forgot to mention, but need to do so briefly for posterity - Ainsley started walking last Saturday, June 6th. She is currently trotting all over the house, causing trouble. More from me later... for now, I promised the kids a trip to the swimming pool, where we'll be ordering dinner poolside. Some things about this life of ours still make me laugh out loud. Dinner poolside... what a concept!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The World Turns...

I'm not the sort to get teary-eyed on the first day of school. Firsts don't bother me so much. But lasts - that's another story. Friday is the last day of school, and can it be that my little Aidan is almost finished with kindergarten? And big brother is finishing 3rd. Kyra turns three this weekend. And Ainsley started walking last weekend. I'm feeling terribly old.
My last day of work is tomorrow - I'll be spending the summer with the kids, and hopefully my current bosses will bring me back on for some more projects in the fall. It's actually been pretty interesting. This is our fourth Embassy assignment, and I've worked part time at three of these posts, but this is the first time I've really gotten a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what goes down on a day-to-day basis. It's pretty amazing, all the things that get done at an Embassy on a given day. And then, I've had a chance to really study up on China, and I now feel so much more knowledgeable about this place I'm living. Of course, the biggest perk has been getting an opportunity to hang out with my husband. We haven't spent that much time together - I think we went out to lunch once? But it's fun to get to see what he's working on, and  I'm always impressed with how good he is at his job.
So to summarize. Tomorrow: work. Thursday: parties and events all day at school. Friday: hopefully squeeze in a massage before the kids get home at noon. Saturday: summer vacation - an impossibly long stretch of time to fill with four little ones at home. I love it. I dread it.
Good night for now.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I Fought the Law and the Law Won

I'm trying to figure out how to get around the censors and post some photos to my blog. Not sure if you could see the last one, appropriately titled "Huh?". Here's another try, with a different photo. This photo is of one of the five traffic tickets I was just told to pay.
Five tickets. I believe that, in my entire adult life up until now, I've gotten maybe 2 tickets? Yet here, where every second driver is doing something dangerous or stupid, I'm the one getting tickets. Each of the tickets was for speeding. Seems I got caught in a speed trap on Jingshun Lu. In this particular area, big cars like mine aren't allowed to go over 40 kph. So I had to hand over the equivalent of $100 to the bank. Sigh...
It's odd. I'm throwing pictures and stories out onto the internet, but I can't see 'em once I've put them out there. I can read your comments, even when I can't respond, so keep them coming. The big anniversary was on Thursday - I won't be more specific than that because I really don't want my computer to crash on me. Y'all either know what I'm talking about, or you can google it. But I'm hoping that with that sensitive date in the past, the censors will loosen up and let us all back onto our blogs!
More from me later. Right now, I'm in the middle of a great book, a collection of essays by Marjorie Williams called "The Woman at the Washington Zoo." She was a terrific essayist who died way before she should have. Must go read and recover from a rainy day Saturday after a too-full-of-work week.
Oh, but first, a postscript: My apologies, Judy and Bart - I didn't mean to scare you with my post about the bike accident. I really should have contacted you before I posted that.

Sent from my iPhone


Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reason #107 Why You Shouldn't Let Your Husband Commute by Bicycle in Beijing

Really, do you need 107 reasons?
Well, here's a good reason not to commute by bike in Beijing. If you happen to be travelling home from work in a bike lane next to, oh, let's say, a lady on a small motorcycle, and she happens to swerve into you, she might knock you off your bike. She might even land, along with her motorcycle, on top of you. You might extricate yourself from the pile to discover you're losing blood at an alarming rate. Also, you'll realize there is no ambulance service. So you'll call the Embassy, but it'll take 40 minutes for them to find you there by the side of the road. It'll take your spouse that long to find you, too. Maybe she could've gotten there faster but, you know, she probably had to find a neighbor to come over and sit with the kids. So, even if you're lucky enough to crash on the same street as the hospital, it'll be well over an hour before you get to the ER. You'll need stitches. Lot of stitches. Inside of your face and out. And you're likely to be pretty bruised and cut up and sore. Maybe you'll even have some nerve damage if you hit your shoulder particularly hard. Also, your bike will be mangled. Which is okay, really, because at this point you really ought to give up commuting by bike, don't you think?
(p.s. Bart's doing much better now.)

Please. Write your own stuff.