Monday, May 31, 2010

Scattered

I’m feeling too scatterbrained to post anything substantive, despite the fact that all sorts of things are happening. So I suppose it’d be easiest to post in a scatterbrained way. Let’s see…

Pre-pack survey was last week. The gentleman from the moving company estimated that we’re underweight. So that’s good. But of course we’re still tossing and culling and rearranging. We have to get all of the air freight into one part of the house, all by itself. Easy enough – except the air freight is generally comprised of the things you use on a daily basis. So – pack the mixer now, or leave it out and risk it getting forgotten during the actual pack out? What about the towels, or the plates? And if I even try to stack kids’ toys out in the open like that, you just know they won’t stay there long. We’ll get a kit full of glasses and sheets and things from the Embassy, but that isn’t scheduled to arrive until Wednesday.

Also, tomorrow I start packing suitcases. Again – this is the stuff we’re still using, but we need to know how much stuff we can bring, and we need it to NOT get shipped in the containers. So into suitcases it goes, two days early.

-----

At dinner a few days ago, I asked the usual question: did anything good happen at school today? Shay leapt to his feet and ran to the closet, where he rummaged through his backpack for awhile. When he came back to the table, he asked “Did Mrs. Mc call you today?” (that’s his teacher). I assured him she didn’t; he assured me he wasn’t in trouble or anything like that. Rather, he was conducting an experiment.

I made a mental note to check his backpack at bedtime, but by then I’d forgotten all about the conversation.

The next morning at breakfast, Shay pulled a baggie from his backpack. Inside was a tooth. “Ha!” he crowed, “I wonder why the tooth fairy didn’t come last night? I guess she didn’t know I’d lost a tooth!” I looked at him. He grinned at me, pleased with the success of his experiment. Aidan looked at both of us and said “I think mom is the tooth fairy.”

I was not pleased. When Shay saw the expression on my face, he answered his brother “well, I don’t think mom is the tooth fairy.” Crisis averted. If Shay says mom isn’t the tooth fairy, well, then, it must be true.

----

Last night at bedtime, Aidan said “mom, I heard there isn’t any water in Jordan.”

“Well,” I answered thoughtfully, “I suppose that’s sort of true. There isn’t much water in Jordan.”

He promptly burst into tears. “How will we live without water?” he wailed, and I rushed to assure him that there would be enough water to wash and drink and play, but that the country itself might seem a bit brown and sandy. “I hate sand,” he told me. Do you think maybe he doesn’t want to move?

He calmed down after awhile, but it took a lot of explaining and soothing to get him there. When he was finally ready to stop crying, he heaved a big sigh, gave a snorty sniffle and asked “are there any bees in Jordan?”

No, I reassured him, there are absolutely no bees in Jordan. None whatsoever.

----

More to come, but that’s all the words I’m capable of typing at this late hour. Like I said: scatterbrained.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lose 30 Pounds in Just One Day!

I mailed some boxes of stuff to the States. I dropped off a pile of books at the Embassy lending library. And I shredded insane amounts of paperwork from my files.

(I also put some more kids' toys in the trash/donate piles, but ssshhhhh - don't tell the kids.)

All told, I got rid of about 30 pounds of stuff.

To celebrate, I went to Fatburger and ate about 5 pounds worth of good old American junk food. So, while I may not have gotten lighter, my household effects did. And that's good. Packout starts one week from tomorrow. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to go clutter-free. Okay, it's a once every 2-3 years opportunity, but it feels as though it's taking a lifetime, so there's that.

After my productive morning, I came home and told the girls to get their swimsuits, because we were going to the pool to celebrate.

I hate the pool. Hate it. But Kyra loves it, and I decided it was time to earn my mother-of-the-year award. So we got dressed and ready to go. The girls cheered. I ran into the garage to grab some goggles and toys, and that's when it happened.

Splat. I heard a squishy sound on the floor directly behind me, and when I turned around, I discovered that a chunk of the garage ceiling had fallen directly behind me. Worse, it was pouring down water. And I could see a water stain spreading and bubbling across the ceiling.

We didn't go to the pool. The pool came to us!

Actually, we spent the afternoon watching workers try to stop the leak. They were here for over two hours before telling me, in Chinese, that the blah-blah was definitely blah-blahed and they'd come back tomorrow morning to blank the blank. I asked if it was the air conditioning unit. Yes, they confirmed, the AC was broken. Can we still use it? I asked. Yes, they replied, just don't blank the blank until we blankity-blank. Ummmm... okay, thanks! I think.

I went out to the sunroom where Kyra was watching TV to tell her we could go to the pool now. But she was fast asleep. So here I am in my blankity-blank swimsuit, waiting for her to wake up and whine that she wanted to go to the blank-blank pool.

Blank it. There's always tomorrow. Maybe I can lose another 10 pounds by then.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

UES Track and Field Meet



After we finished up with Aidan's Field Day event on Friday morning, we hopped in the car and headed to the Western Academy of Beijing, which was hosting an intramural track meet for grades 3-5. Most of the area international schools participated, with each sending their top two kids from each grade for each event.

Shay qualified for all four track events: the 60 m, the 60 m hurdles, the 400 m and the 400 m relay, so it was a big day for him.

He didn't place in the 60 m or the hurdles. He placed third overall in the 400m, though, and was thrilled to get a medal. And his team finished in first place in the 400 m relay - they were actually in a distant second, but just before the finish line, the runner for the leading team tripped and dropped the baton. It was heartbreaking for the poor kid, but I was pleased to see his teammates comforting him instead of chewing him out.

I imagine this was just the first of many track meets we'll be attending in years to come.

The kids parade around the track to open the event


Shay on the medal stand


Shay runs the 60 meter dash...


...followed by the hurdles


The baton handoff


The winning relay team

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Field Day



Yesterday was LES Field Day at Aidan's school. All kids in K-2 participated in this event, held on the school track. They went from one event to the next, all morning long. There was an egg-and-spoon race, a three-legged race, a bouncy castle climb, bean-bag toss, hurdles (on special little-kid-sized hurdles), a relay race, Drip-Drip-Drop (a version of Duck-Duck-Goose played with cups of water) and more I can't recall.

The biggest perk to this FS lifestyle is the access we gain to international schools. If we were paying for this school out-of-pocket, we'd have to come up with 25K per kid, per year. But when we're overseas, the State Department provides schooling for all K-12 kids. And in bigger places like Beijing, the schools can be amazing, with everything from smart boards to swimming classes. They also have a great mix of students: Aidan's classmates (only about 16 total) are German, British, Swedish, Swiss, Chinese, Korean and American.

The school in Amman will be quite different - they don't have the massive student body (it's just one-quarter the size) or the extensive quarter-mile-long facility. I doubt they'll have Field Day. I know it will be another quality school, with a diverse group of students and parents. I imagine the smaller size could even be a benefit - after all, our current school can be intimidating just because it is so darn big. It took me awhile to feel comfortable walking these halls. But after three years worth of field days, I've really grown attached to this place.

As I get close to the end of this tour, people keep asking what I'll miss about China. There are so, so many things I'll miss. But near the top of the list is the school. I'll really miss this place.









Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Penultimate Column

Here it is, folks: the second to last column I'll be writing for beijingkids. My last one, as yet unwritten, is scheduled to go to print in the July/August issue.

It begs the question: What's next? I quit my job at the Embassy, and I'm not sure whether there will be another job waiting for me in Amman. A steady paycheck is certainly nicer than the fits-and-spurts pay I make from selling articles. And yet - I still get a thrill when I see my name in print.

I got an email during my last week of work at the Embassy, from an editor I've worked with in the past. She was looking for a 2000-word article on a very specific topic. Trouble was, she needed it in 48 hours. Did I have something already written that could suit? Truth is, I didn't. But I wanted that assignment. So I spent the next few waking hours drafting. When I finished, I'd churned out 1995 words, and I sent it off. No time to sit and brood over it, which is my normal technique. No, I sent it the very next day, and I heard back today - they bought it! So all of that typing paid off.

I like writing. But I like real paychecks too. What to do, what to do?

Anyway, enjoy the article. I have an opening sentence ready to go for my last column, but I haven't thought past that yet. I'm not quite sure how to say goodbye. One more thing to add to the list.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tick, Tick, Tick

Fifteen days until we pack out. Twenty four days until we actually leave. Pretty much everything on my to do list remains undone.

So what did I do today? I'll tell you, if you promise not to tell my husband, who thinks I was busy renting cars and reserving hotels and important things like that.

Well, to be fair, I woke up and wrote out a "to do" list, just for today: get prescription filled, buy hard drive case, buy gifts, reserve rental car, draft an article. I made some tea and stared hard at my list for awhile, trying to will myself into action.

But then Jen called to inform me that she has orders, and she's leaving next week. And then Shawna called to ask if I wanted to go to lunch with her and Jen. Well, I couldn't exactly say no, could I? And after that, they had to stop at the frame place, so I went, too. And then, by the time I got home, it was time to take Kyra shopping for groceries, as promised. And there was dinner to make, and there were blogs to read, and the kids wanted rice krispie treats so I made those, and then they wanted to go outside and play after dinner. And then, and then and then.

And now it is 10:30 at night, and I have no prescription, and no hard drive case, and no gifts, and no car reservation, and no draft of an article.

But it was a mighty fun lunch.

And there's always tomorrow, right? Right?

I think I'm in denial.

Anyone out there want to make some car rental arrangements for me?

Anyone?

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Very Best Souvenir of Our Time in China

I gave three years of my life to this place - plus one ear. But in return, I got the best gift ever.

My little surprise baby just turned two. She has a Chinese birth certificate and an American passport. She can switch back and forth between Chinese and English: "Daddy shangban" instead of "daddy goes to work," and "bao bao me" instead of "pick me up." My personal favorite is when she shrieks "mama hui lai le!" as she runs to greet me when I come home from work.





Sunday, May 16, 2010

Blogging Rules

And therein lies the problem: There aren’t any.

Awhile back Digger attended a new media seminar at FSI, and this is what she learned. It’s basic, common sense stuff, mostly.

But it doesn’t explain why some people are singled out and others are left alone. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re funny or obnoxious (or both simultaneously). Positive or negative. I know of several people in my very own neighborhood who blog, and no one seems to care. Why? Why not?

This has become a big deal recently, because there is apparently a line drawn in the sand somewhere, but no one knows where. No one will tell us where the line has been drawn, because of course they can’t. If you’re an employee, you are somewhat limited in what you can and cannot say, by virtue of the fact that you have EERs, and bosses, and onward assignments. But as a spouse, I should be able to say whatever I want, as long as it doesn’t harm the mission. Freedom of speech and all. Lots of Americans have died for that right.

The rules Digger posted seemed reasonable to me: don’t post work details, photos of government facilities, home addresses, medical information about other employees, etc... Those rules all fall under the category of “duh.”

So, what else? Are there less obvious rules that ought to be in play? Are there standards to which we, the FS blogging community, ought to hold ourselves accountable?

I’d argue that there are. We need to find that line in the sand, as a community, and maybe even do some self-policing. One of my favorite FS bloggers mentioned recently that she was warned about posting photos and information about her house that could affect security at her post. She took the post down, which made sense, and she seemed appreciative that someone, somewhere, was looking out for her and gave her the courtesy of a warning. Should we be doing that for each other, letting each other know if something we read sets off any alarms?

I started blogging three years ago. Before that, I was writing group emails home to keep my family and friends up-to-date on my oh-so-fascinating life. But that started to get a little bit awkward, because my address list kept getting longer and longer, and I was no longer sure if people were reading my updates, or rolling their eyes. I started a blog so my addressees could decide for themselves if they cared enough to click through and read my latest drivel. I did not password-protect my blog, in part because I figured people wouldn’t want to memorize another password, and in part because, hello, I’m a writer. I’ve been fortunate enough to have work published in places as big as Newsweek and as small as the Seattle Times. Writers write. They want people to read. So, no password for me. I'm not anonymous, though that would undoubtedly be safer, because I link to my published articles, and that kind of gives away my identity, don't you think?

Three years later, and I know people other than my family read this blog. Sometimes that disturbs me (note to random Chinese guy who keeps commenting: enough already!). Other times, it’s led me to new friends: Jill, and Connie, and yes, I think I can even count the famous Kolbi as a friend now. I’ve never met these people. But we’re all in it together, and we’ve become friends because of our blogs. I’m even rather fond of those anonymous bloggers, No Double Standards and Digger and Diplopundit. I don’t know them (I don’t think I do, anyway), but I enjoy reading their updates.

I loved, loved, loved the Weekly Roundup, because it put me in contact with all of these other FS bloggers whom I probably wouldn’t have searched for on my own. Can someone out there puh-lease start the Roundup again? Because that was a terrific service to the community. That blogger took the time to pull us all together into one room and make us get acquainted. That was a true gift she gave us.

So. Back to the rules. What are they? And do they change from post to post? Who can stop us from blogging? What can they do to you if they don’t like your blog? Does anyone have answers to these questions?

My own personal rule (not FS-specific, but for blogging in general) is not to post anything that I wouldn’t say in front of my mother, or my husband, or my kids. You know: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. After all, this is a public record here, if only for a very small public. When I’m writing, I picture a few very specific people in my mind. If what I’m writing would upset them, then I generally don’t hit “publish.” If what I’m writing would embarrass my children or my husband, I don’t write it. Nothing’s worth that. And I hold myself to that same standard when I write personal essays for magazines and newspapers. If it’s going to show up in the Washington Post or beijingkids or the Foreign Service Journal, I’d better be darn sure it doesn’t make me or my loved ones look ridiculous. That’s my rule.

But that’s just my rule. I imagine it isn’t the same standard to which the State Department is holding me.

What do you think? What’s your rule? And is it enough to keep you out of trouble? How can you be sure?

(Sorry, I mentioned a lot of bloggers by name, but no links from me today.)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

K.R.H. where are you?

Sorry if this seems cryptic to many of you. But at least one of my readers will understand. And to her: what happened? You've disappeared, and I'm worried. My emails bounce back, but I know you have my address. Please write to let me know you're okay.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Snap!

I’m not always the nicest person. No, really: I hear you all protesting vociferously (don’t I?), but it’s true. I tend to make snap judgments about people based on little things. And my judgments aren’t always nice.

I think I’ve let my judgmental side take over more because of this lifestyle. You’re forever throwing yourself into new situations, with new people, who may or may not share the same cultural touchstones with which you grew up. Example: the Euros at the pool tend to smoke. Right there at the kiddie pool. But I’m from California, where you probably can’t even smoke inside your own house anymore. I happen to think the Californians have the right idea, so when I see some lady sucking on a cigarette mere feet from where my child is wading, my judge-y self pops out and I think all sorts of disapproving things about her. She could be a perfectly nice woman and a wonderful mother, but I’ll never find out because ohmygawd-she’s smoking-get awayyyy! And don’t even get me started on the dad who wore his bright orange speedo last summer when he had to dash from the pool into the store. Cover ups, people! They hide a multitude of sins, none of which the gentleman was aware he had.

(See? There I go judging again.)

Ahem.

I bring this up because I’m nearing the end of my tour, and I’ve just spent the past three years in close proximity to a lot of the same people. I judged them all – and they me, undoubtedly – when we arrived, and it amuses me to walk around now and see all of the times I was right, and the many more times I was wrong.

I’ve become friends with the oddest assortment of people, and many are the exact people with whom I assumed I’d have nothing in common. There are a few friends whom I found within weeks of arriving (Peggy? Jen? Shawna? You listening?) and with whom I simply clicked. There are so many others whom I wish I still had the time to get to know better. So many.

Here I am, finally having found my tribe, and it’s already time to move along. So I have to remind myself: it’s important to take it slowly when you move to a new post– you don’t want to accidentally befriend the neighborhood nightmare, after all. But it’s also important not to let those snap judgments prevent you from pursuing new friends.

Here’s a great example. There’s a woman here – I’ll call her, oh, let’s say, Kim – and when I first met her, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we would NOT be friends. The lady always had perfectly coiffed blonde hair. When I met her, she was wearing some serious stilettos and a mini skirt, with her perfect hair and her perfect nails and yikes! I could never, ever have anything in common with that woman. I’m a t-shirt and jeans gal, myself.

So I avoided her, mostly. But then one nasty winter day, I ran into her at Jenny Lous. How are you? I asked politely, and she smiled back and said “great, thanks,” or something inane like that. I continued digging through the fruit bin and forgot all about her. But a minute later, she reappeared by my side. “Can I tell you the truth?” she asked, before immediately launching into a monologue about how she actually wasn’t that great: her husband was working a lot, the weather was too nasty to go outside, and she couldn’t find whatever it was she needed in the store that day. It was so unexpected, this little bit of candid misery, coming from this perfect-haired woman, that I stood there awkwardly, not quite knowing how to respond. But we started chatting, laughing about the weather and the way it makes you crazy to be housebound, and I was amazed the whole time that she managed to be so vulnerable with an almost complete stranger right there in the produce aisle. Who does that?

This woman, with her perfect shoes and chunky jewelry, is one of my favorite people in all of Beijing now. If she hadn’t started the conversation that day, I doubt I ever would have felt the need to chat her up. But she’s funny as hell, a curious mix of confidence and insecurity, with the best laugh you’ve ever heard. She’ll tell you the truth right to your face and not worry about how you’re going to take it. She might have the best shoes in the room, but she’ll tell you if they’re giving her a blister. And I’m really glad she gave me the chance to get to know her.

Snap judgments are helpful when you’re living such a transient lifestyle. They keep you out of trouble: Don’t go down that alley! Buy your apricots from this vendor, not that one! Stay away from the guy in the orange speedo!

But I really have to try harder to assume that anyone I meet could end up being my new best friend. And I don’t know: maybe I should get Kim to lend me a few pairs of high-heeled shoes.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Know, I Know

You're all sitting around, anxiously tapping the "refresh" button, hoping for an update.

But we are wheels up in 30 days, people, and there is a lot of stuff to cross off of my to-do list.

I did finish up with work last week, which was sort of bittersweet. This was the first time in more than a decade with the Foreign Service that I found a job I really liked, and for which I had the right skill set. I was working with some of the smartest people in the FS, I'm sure of it. I'm no dummy, but next to these people.... Still, it was time to be done with my paid job so I could focus on the rest of this craziness as it unfolds.

I gave away the crib yesterday, that crib which held four of the most beautiful babies ever to crawl this earth, which means I'll be announcing a pregnancy on this site within two months. I also gave a vanload of toys and clothes away.

But we still have to: reserve rental cars in the States, and find hotel rooms. We have to pack suitcases and lock them away somewhere so they don't accidentally get packed and shipped. We have to make sure our "go-bag," with passports and school records and pink slips and bank account numbers, is hidden in those suitcases - it wouldn't do to ship your passports with your HHE.

I have to schedule two well-child check-ups. Oh, and I have to convince the hospital to stop sending me bills. Seriously, every time I pay off my bill in full and request a note from them stating that I have a zero balance, they find some other little bill they forgot about. I am so ready to be done with this hospital.

I still haven't looked into whether we have traffic tickets, but regardless, I have to go to the ticket police. A good friend asked me to claim his tickets: if you get too many points on your license, you lose it, but if someone else is willing to take your points, you can keep your license. Since we're getting ready to leave, and he has another year, I'll be claiming his tickets.

And I have to solve the problem of what to do with the computer, which apparently has to die a horrible death in order for us to leave here. Lots of file transfering, scanning, cleaning, erasing and then buying anew in the near future.

Don't feel too sorry for me, though. I hired a babysitter and went out to dinner with friends on Saturday: perfect weather, rooftop restaurant, good friends, awesome Chinese food. I got a massage for Mother's Day, courtesy of my awesome husband. On Monday, I gave myself yet another holiday and spent the morning at the gym followed by an afternoon at Starbucks with a novel. Tuesday was move-related stuff all day long, followed by today, which was spent in one of the local markets with friends.

So you see: I complain, but still my life is pretty darn good.

Tomorrow: Day Two at the vet, lunch with former colleagues at the Embassy, a trip to the hospital to visit a sick friend, and more items crossed off that ever-expanding to-do list.

The countdown continues...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bowzer Bureaucracy

Owning a pet in the Foreign Service is not always easy. Moving a pet around the world is certainly difficult.

Back when Casey was a puppy, we were PNGed out of our very first post (for you non-FS-types, to be PNGed means that you are declared “persona non grata;” that is, you are ordered out of the country, never to return again).

So there we were, needing to leave rather quickly, but the U.S.-based airline wouldn’t take the dog – too hot, they said. I still remember standing in the travel agent’s office, listening as she pleaded with the airline supervisor “but they have to leave the country this week! They’ll be arrested if they don’t! Can’t you do something???” “Arrested?” I wondered. “Really? Because that would really kind of stink.”

They found a way to get us out, with the dog, and all was well. Until the third time we moved, that is, and the dog had to transit back through this same country, alone. Worried that the dog wouldn’t be allowed to transit the country, an unnamed-on-this-blog Embassy official opted to fudge the documents just a bit, so it wouldn’t be obvious that he was ours. The dog made it through to the next post.

Sure, it’s funny now, to have a “puppy non grata.” But trust me: it wasn’t funny at the time.

Every time we ever move, something dog-related goes wrong. There was the time the dog was stopped en route, pulled off of a flight in Germany. Airline officials told my husband, who was travelling with the dog, that the dog was in an improper cage, and unless my husband forked over $300 right then and there, the dog wouldn’t be allowed to fly on. Never mind that it was technically their fault for allowing the cage on board. And never mind that he’s flown countless times, before and since, in the same cage. $300 later, the dog continued on.

So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me just what a pain it is going to be to get poor old Casey out of here. A four-day long pain, with multiple steps to be taken and fees to be paid and instructions to be misunderstood.

Today was Day One.

I took the dog to one of only two vets in the city who is authorized to give rabies shots for entering and exiting pooches. The rabies shot needs to be administered at least 30 days before you plan to escape the country. They’ll then make a doggy “red book,” providing proof of vaccination. But they can’t do that on Day One. No, you have to come back five days later to pick up the red book. So that’s one day next week.

Then I’ll have to go to yet another clinic, the only clinic in all of Beijing that is authorized to do an “exit exam.” Never mind that Casey had a thorough exam today. For which I paid $100. He’ll need another $100 exam. The next one will be conducted entirely in Chinese. So I’ll be forking over almost $100 to say things like “huh?” and “say again?” And here’s the real catch. This exam has to be completed no more than 10 and no less than 7 days before we leave. Unless, the receptionist cheerfully explained today, the government bureau changes the rules. “They do that sometimes,” she told me, “Best to wait until 7 days before you leave. In case they’ve changed the rules again.” I’ll have to pay for the exam, she explained, and then I’ll have to come back the next day to pick up the results. Unless I want to pay an extra $15. Then they might be able to have the results back a few hours later on the same day as the exam. How convenient.

But wait! There’s more! After that’s done, no more than five days before we hop on the freedom bird, I have to take those fancy papers somewhere else. At this new office, I’m told, I’ll finally be given permission to take the dog out of the country.

So: for those of you keeping score, that’s four, possibly five, days that will be devoted to doggy departure issues over the next month.

Today’s visit wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. For starters, everyone there spoke English. So when I called them from the road, hopelessly lost, they were able to talk me in. That’s a first for Beijing. And, though they were concerned about Casey’s hips, they did not think he is in any excessive pain. They prescribed more glucosamine, and seemed surprised when I told them I didn’t have enough cash on hand for a month’s supply. “But hey,” I noted cheerfully, “I’ll be back next week anyway, with more money!” They seemed pleased to hear it.

They took his temperature and scraped his ears and shone a flashlight in his eyes. They seemed concerned about a growth he has on one eyelid. “How long has this been here?” they asked. “Ummmm…. At least 6 weeks?” I responded, because that’s when the last vet saw him. “It’s grown that fast?” they worried. “Ummm…” I said again. “Maybe? But, you know, it could have been there longer. I mean, he’s really hairy, so I might not have noticed it.”

They looked at me, baffled, I suppose, that I could have overlooked such a thing.

“When is the last time he had a full exam with bloodwork?” they wanted to know.

“Ummmm….” I said again, thinking hard. “Six weeks ago? I think? I guess I’m not sure what they did then.”

Yes, I wanted to add, I am the world’s worst dog owner. You try feeding four kids, holding down a part-time job and packing your house to move to some random foreign country. Let’s see if you can remember the last time your dog got a shot.

But suddenly the atmosphere in the room changed. It was a tiny exam room, you see, and by this time it was overfilled with two vets, one technician, one scatter-brained owner and one terrified dog. One terrified, flatulent dog. Yes, the dog began to pass horrid gas. They all just kept asking me questions, and all I could think was “somebody, please, open the damn door!” But of course they couldn’t open the door, because the dog was leaning on it, panting his old-dog breath frantically.

The room was slowly filling with these terrible smells, and still they pressed on, poking and prodding and consulting while I tried to take shallow breaths and the dog panted and passed furious gas.

Finally, finally, they were satisfied with the exam. They picked up the needle, which had been on the exam table the whole time, and injected Casey with a brand new dose of rabies vaccine. “Now you must wait 30 minutes, in case there is a reaction,” they solemnly declared. They must have noted my glassy stare and realized I’d stopped breathing, because the chief vet added magnanimously, “you may wait in the waiting area.”

So there you have it. I made it home safely, lighter of wallet, weaker of lung. But I’m home. And I don’t have to deal with any more vet appointments until next week.

Next time, I’m buying a goldfish.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spring in Beijing

Yes, folks, spring arrived one day last week. The flowers bloomed, the bees buzzed, the sky was a clear(ish) blue.

And the very next day, summer arrived. Sweaters were exchanged for shorts and t-shirts. We had our first summer thunderstorm. The outdoor pool opened.

Poplar seeds are still floating through the air in thick swarms: apparently nobody told the trees that it's summer already.

Last year one of the ayis swept the poplar seeds off to the side of her employer's yard here in the compound. But there were piles of white fluff: So unkempt! So unsightly! She decided to set the fluff on fire. Almost burnt the house down, apparently. No word on whether she kept her job.

We had piles of poplar seeds in Moscow, too. Must be a communist thing. They planted loads of male poplar trees years ago because boy poplars grow quickly. But no one thought of the fluff they'd be fighting in years to come (it's "pukh" in Russian, but I don't know the English or the Chinese words for the stuff).

It gets in your eyes, it flies up your nose, it jams up your car filters. I read a story last year about someone who was found to have a small poplar tree sprouting in their lungs after breathing a seed in.

I tried to take a picture of the flying pukh on my way home yesterday, before the thunderstorm washed it away. But of course the pictures didn't come out.

So instead, I give you these non-pukh summertime pictures: first of the season.



Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Scary

Xiao Tong came in this morning with a frightening tale. It seems a 5-year-old girl was kidnapped off of the playground at the school that Xiao Tong’s son attends, just down the road near the airport. It happened a week ago, and I’m not sure why she waited until today to tell me. Is it possible she didn’t know until today? She told me it was on the local news – perhaps that’s how she found out.

She said she’s told her son he isn’t allowed to play after school – he has to go straight home instead.

Tonight, I heard from someone else that a little girl was kidnapped, but that the police found her with her kidnapper, and as he was holding a knife to her throat, they shot and killed him. True story? Apparently. Same girl? Seems likely. I’ll ask Xiao Tong in the morning.

The poor girl, and her poor mother. I’ve been worried about them all day. There are many, many kids who disappear here, and most of the time, it never makes the news. It’s a huge country, after all, with a tightly controlled media. As foreigners, we have security concerns in Beijing, and we have some issues that are unique to this place. But my kids are free to roam here, and I’m pretty certain they’ll be safe. The same could not be said if we were in the States right now, and I doubt it’ll be true in Jordan. Here, though, in our little corner of Beijing, we’re running a kid paradise. It’s safe, it’s secure, and all of those prying eyes simply mean that little foreign kids can’t get far, even if they want to.

Older kids, not so much: there are always scary stories about them. My husband gets involved sometimes, and I’ll get a glimpse of what he’s working on, and it gives me the shivers. There are just so many ways for a kid to get hurt.

Hug your kids extra tight tonight, folks. And then, if they’re anything like mine, you’ll need to tell them to get back in their bleeping beds already. I know why I lie awake at night worrying. But why the heck are they all still awake?


EDITED TO ADD: It was not the same girl. One girl was rescued from her kidnapper yesterday, according to news reports. But the little girl from Xiao Tong's son's school is still missing. Say a prayer for those parents, would you?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Early Birthday Present

Since her actual birthday will be a jet-lagged blur, I think it makes sense to celebrate early, don't you?

What the pictures don't show, because I am the lamest photographer ever, is that a few hours later, she went out to try again - but the second time, she was wearing a full-length, shiny-gold, Belle-style princess dress.

I love that kid.



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