Monday, November 30, 2009

Craptastical

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

49!

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

500

500.

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.

500.

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...





Please. Write your own stuff.