Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Seattle



Kyra's family birthday party.
Riding the ferry to Vashon Island and digging on the beach.
The Locks and the Fish Ladder.
The Experience Music Project.
The Airplane Museum.
A fancy Father's Day dinner.
Bill Cosby in concert.
(saying goodbye to Casey)
The Seattle Aquarium.
Donuts at Pike Place Market.
Target. And more Target.
Starbucks. And more Starbucks.
Take-out sushi at the grocery store.
Going to the gym with my sis.
Swimming at Nana and Bampa's pool.
Dinner with Aunt Ann.
The "tubble bath."

I'm sure there's more to recount, but the van is coming to pick us up at 5 a.m. for our flight to DC.

I can't believe our time here is up already. I'm really missing Casey - his empty crate is in my sister's garage, and his leash is in my suitcase. And of course, I'm already missing my family.

This part of Foreign Service life is the awful part. Truly awful.

But we've had a great time, mostly, and I'll try to hang on to the good stuff.

I'll see some of you soon in DC...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

He Was The Best Dog Ever




More from me later, perhaps. For now, words fail. It's been a rough morning.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Here Are Some Things You Should Know:

I'm here. I don't quite remember how I got here, and the jetlag has already taken years off of my life, but I'm here. And there are a few random things I think you should know about my trip.

1.) They may send your dog through the x-ray machine in Beijing. You can protest vigorously that he is a living being, not a piece of luggage, but the Chinese officials will disagree. Rules are rules, and if the boss says the luggage goes through the x-ray machine, it goes. Whether or not it is barking.

2.) If you pay United several hundreds of dollars to upgrade you to Economy Plus, weeks in advance of your flight, they'll take your money and upgrade you. What they'll forget to mention is that they'll stick you in the bulkhead seats so you can't recline. Also, they'll put a guy in the middle of your group, dividing your family, and not only will he refuse to switch seats, but he will then pull out his little video player and watch all manner of totally inappropriate movies involving people having their heads chopped open and kids being run over by drug lords. Right next to your children, who will coincidentally refuse to sleep during the flight. Thanks, United! And thanks, obnoxious seatmate! What a terrific way to spend 12 hours!

3.) In San Francisco, the only way to get anyone to help you move your dog's crate from the baggage carousels to the next flight is to throw up your arms in dismay at their refusal to assist you, and reluctantly let the dog out of his kennel. They will run to help you if you do this. (But you will also be selected for a secondary baggage search at customs, because you are clearly insane, and not just irritated.)

4.) You will probably be embarrassed when you repeatedly yell at your kids to "hurry! hurry! or we'll miss our connecting flight! oh for the love of gawd please hurry UP," only to have the airline employee tell you that it is 9:15 a.m., not 10:15 a.m., and you are in no danger of missing your flight as long as you remain upright.

5.) You may or may not have met your sister's handsome new boyfriend at the airport. But if you did (and it's hard to remember for sure), you probably inpressed him by looking right past him and repeatedly counting to four to make sure you had enough children, rather than shaking his hand, or saying "nice to meet you," or anything civilized like that.

6.) Target. Could you possibly have spent over $300 dollars? In your very first visit?

7.) What, are you an idiot? Why would you take a 10-year-old boy with you on your first visit to the grocery store? Don't do it, or you'll end up spending $50 on drinkable yogurts and blackberries and bakery cookies and... Hopefully you'll have the wherewithal to say no to the Spiderman fruit roll-ups and the 45 different kinds of sugar cereals and the gumball machine.

8.) On the subject of 10-year-old boys, if you happen to have one, and you're staying close to a video game store, he will undoubtedly beg to go. And go back. And go back again. The name of the video store will be engrained upon your brain forever, along with the words "please mom? Just for ten minutes? Puh-leeeeease? I know exactly what I want, please, can we go? Can we?"

9.) You will quickly fall in love with Starbucks drive-thrus, and you will make it your life's goal to drive through them all. Alas, you will discover that even a venti mocha cannot cure your jetlag. (Though Amy, you were right when you suggested that the bright lights of Target might provide some relief from the dreaded condition.)

10.) Ahh, jetlag. Do you know, having jetlag feels just the same as those first heady days with a newborn, minus the stitches and flabby belly, of course. You're just exhausted all the way into your bones. You fall asleep mid-conversation. At times, you're overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude as you look up and see a much-missed loved one walk through the door, venti mocha in hand just for you. My jetlag is the equivalent of having 4 newborns, all of whom wake up at different times during the night to eat. And none of whom will take a bottle and fall back asleep.

But we're here. We made it. More from me later - for now, I have to shower up and get ready to go through the drive-thru on my way to the video game store.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Radio Silence

Hard to believe, but we're wheels up in about 24 hours, so this is the last you'll be hearing from me for awhile.

There is so much left to do: shut off phone and internet hookups, kill the computer (shhh, it doesn't know), return the water jugs, attend a teacher conference and a school birthday party, empty the fridge and cupboards, re-pack the welcome kit, finish packing the suitcases, go to the bank, pick up soccer picture, pack one last box for shipping, get my haircut?, take the kids to one last poolside dinner with their friends, say goodbye to zillions of people...

That's just the part of my to-do list that I can easily type up. Oh, and I'm doing it all without a car or a bike, because they're both gone already.

The dog will make it to Seattle, it seems (assuming nice weather in SF), and from there we'll have to find a shipping company to get him to Jordan. Thanks to all who emailed me with shipping suggestions.

Shortly after I post this I will be sending the computer to doggy heaven, or wherever computers go after they've lived in the People's Republic of China for too long. So, while I'll be able to read your comments on my phone, I won't be able to respond.

I'm going to get all sniffly and tear up a little here as I say thanks to all of you who have offered your friendship, support and comments over the years. Who knew, when I started this blog in 2007, that I would end up meeting so many fabulous people because of it? But there you all are, and you've made my time in China that much more fun for your presence.

I will be posting infrequently over the summer, because really: who wants to hear about my adventures in Target? Also, there's the little matter of not having a computer.

But I'll fix that soon: I'll buy a new computer just as soon as possible so that I can keep up with everyone in my google reader. And I'll check in when I can to tell you all what an awesome summer I'm having, living out of suitcases and prepping for Jordan.

To some of you: I'll be seeing you tomorrow, and I am just so excited!

To others: you have no idea how sad I am to have to say goodbye. This part, I hate. But I'll have to keep it together for the kids, who are so sad and mopey that it hurts my heart to do this to them.

So that's it. No words of wisdom, unless you count those of Shay's friend Jack, who said, while thinking about Shay's imminent departure, "This is the worst day of my life." It ain't easy, not for the leavers or for those left behind.

But we're leaving anyway.

Zaijian.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

And Here’s Where it Falls Apart

We’re pretty good at this moving thing by now, right? I mean, sure, it’s stressful, but you know it’s coming and you can plan for pretty much everything (unless you’re Shannon over at Cyberbones – you can’t plan for stomach flu on packout day).

So I went to the dog place yesterday. I got there 30 minutes early, so I sat in the hallway and texted a friend – maybe I would have time to meet up with her, after all. When the office opened up, I showed the guy my slip of paper. Not here, he explained, you need to go back downstairs and get a different piece of paper. Not a problem. I retrieved the other paper and brought it back to him. He gave me another form to fill out, so I did. Then he asked for another 100 RMB – about $15. I handed it over. Okay, he said, you’re all set. Come back tomorrow for the papers.

Ummm…. Tomorrow? I thought I was here for the papers today.

Nope. It turns out I had to drive 45 minutes downtown in order to take a piece of paper and hand carry it from the first floor to the second floor. NOW they’ll start my paperwork.

(I should explain here that there is a guy who runs a clinic down the street from my house who offers to handle this whole process for a fee of just over $100. I opted to do it myself because $100 is a lot of money to me. I am beginning to regret this rash decision of mine.)

So I drove home, cursing and swearing and generally lamenting my inability to fork over $100 in order to save myself from this nightmare of wasted time.

And then my husband called.

Ready for the bad news?

(Keep in mind that we are leaving here in 4 days.)

Well. He discovered that our flight from Seattle to DC has a 30 minute layover in Detroit. It will be impossible to get all of our kids from one flight to the next in time, and there’s no way the baggage handlers will be able to get our luggage and dog onto the connecting flight, so he tried to change to a later connection. And that’s when someone finally let him in on a little secret they were keeping from us:

The dog is not allowed to fly from Seattle to DC. We are required, for reasons relating to USG bureaucracy, to fly on Delta for this leg of the trip, and Delta won’t take the dog.

Also: we are required to take Delta from DC to Jordan. And – can you guess? Delta won’t take the dog.

Also: we are taking United from Beijing to Seattle, connecting in San Francisco. And while United happily agreed to fly the dog, they are now promising to take him only to San Francisco. After that, they reserve the right to kick him off the flight. No word on what they do with him, or with our onward flight.

Remember awhile ago, when I posted about the fact that every single time we’ve travelled with an animal, something has gone wrong? Yes, well, I thought that something in this case was the Chinese bureaucracy. Apparently, though, that is going to be the laughably easy part.

So now we are scrambling to find a solution. Take the dog to SF and take a chance that they’ll let him continue on? And then…? Kennel him somewhere in Seattle while we continue on, and then have him shipped to Amman, at a cost of several thousand dollars, through a pet transport service? Or leave him here in a kennel for several months, hope he stays healthy enough to make the journey and then, again, have him shipped to Amman, at a cost of several thousand dollars, through a pet transport service? Change his name to Paddington Dog and leave him in the San Francisco airport? (just kidding about that last one.) (sort of.)

So now I will spend my morning researching shipping companies and cursing Delta to the skies. Then I will spend my afternoon driving back to the vet in order to pick up those papers – the ones that will be worthless if we decide to kennel him here, because they have to be done one week before departure, so he’ll have to go through the whole process again before being shipped to Amman.

I will not spend my morning hanging out with friends, talking about how much I’m going to miss this place. I will not spend my afternoon getting a massage, or cooking dinner, or attending Secret Agent Training Camp at the school (another story).

And I am very, very, very grouchy.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Woof

On Saturday, I loaded the dog into the van and headed down to the Guanshang Animal Hospital in downtown Beijing. It’s the only place in all of Beijing that does entrance and exit inspections for pets. How convenient!

Also convenient: they don’t speak any English. Okay, I know: I’m in China, and I need to speak Chinese rather than expecting them to speak English. Agreed, and so on. But – these are the only people in town dealing with foreign dogs. Throw us a bone, people, and find a vet who knows a few rudimentary words in English, or let us take our puppies to the vet near us who does speak English.

The last time I was at this hospital was three years ago, when we first arrived. I spoke not a word of Chinese at the time, and I didn’t have a car yet, so I hired a guy to drive me and Casey there. Did I mention this was three years ago? So I’m not sure what made me think I could find the place by myself three years later, but hope springs eternal.

I knew it was on the north side of the Third Ring Road. I thought it might be #7, but I wasn’t really sure, and it hardly mattered since none of the buildings are visibly numbered anyway.

Well, I found it. I did! It took three trips back and forth on the Ring, and a teensy bit of cursing, but eventually, there it was. With a parking space out front and everything!

In the three years since I was there last, they haven’t found an English-speaking vet. And my Chinese, while much improved, is still dreadful. So I can’t tell you exactly what happened there. But Casey did get some sort of inspection. “He’s scared,” they said, noting his shaking legs. Fear, arthritis, whatever. “Is he blah-blah-blah?” they asked. It was like a real life Mad Lib, where “blah-blah” is either a noun or an adjective related to animals. Sick? Neutered? Old? Healthy? Friendly? When they saw they were getting nowhere with me, they pointed to the form, where it said, in English “generative organs?” Excellent: I knew the answer to that question, though how they would’ve thought I’d know the Chinese word for “generative organs,” when I can’t consistently remember the word for mozzarella cheese, which I buy every week, well…. Next question: “What is his blah-blah?” Temperature? Temperament? Food of choice? Age? Nope – this time they found a form that said “microchip” in English, and I was able to answer at last. He doesn’t have a microchip… not as far as I know, anyway, but we are in China, so anything’s possible.

It went on and on like that, with them asking questions and me attempting to answer. I had written, in English, that he was tan and black. They wanted to know what “tan” means. How do you explain tan? You know: brown, coffee-colored, lighter-than-black? They showed me that the official form lists him in Chinese as “yellow and black.” Not tan. So okay. I agreed that he could be yellow instead of tan, and on we went.

They sent me to the pharmacy, where a kind lady handed over two prescriptions and explained in great detail what to do with them. I smiled and thanked her. Of course, I can’t give them to my dog! I have no idea what they’re for or why he should even need them.

Next they sent me to the lab, where they took samples from his front and back ends (good times!) and drew blood from his leg. Then they sent me to wait in the hallway, where some guy with a telephoto lens was surreptitiously trying to take my picture while I pretended not to see him and held a book in front of my face, blocking his shot, just because I was annoyed with the attention.

Eventually, they sent me to the cashier, where I forked over almost $100. They handed me a slip of paper – in English! – telling me to return to their hospital in three days for my “healthy inspection form.”

Hopefully, when I go back today, it’ll be for the last time.

I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that I am basically an illiterate idiot here. Can’t wait to start all over in Arabic.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Finished.



They came back at 9 this morning, and by 2:30, they were finished. We watched them drive off with all of our earthly possessions in the back of a truck. I looked at Bart, who looked at his watch and said "we still have time to go get a massage before Xiao Tong goes home."

So that's what we did to celebrate a successful packout.

I haven't responded to any comments on my previous packout posts because, hey, I've been sorta busy. But - Daring Adventure wins the prize for funniest comment. Seriously, are you and your husband spending all of your waking hours gazing upon our pile o stuff? Don't you have a weekly roundup to compile or something? Sheesh. Kolbi, when you're ready to pack out for Chengdu, let me know and I'll send you a list of everything you absolutely must fit into your UAB. Also, a quick suggestion while I have your attention: don't let the movers pack all of your baggies and saran wrap, or you won't be able to pack school lunches at night. Also: if they pack all of your cereal, your kids won't have any breakfast in the morning. Not that we experienced anything like that. Ahem.

And then there's Jill. Jill is 24 hours ahead of me in Chennai, and she posted her final packout numbers yesterday. Well, there's nothing like a little healthy competition, I say, so I'm happy to report that I won!! That's right: Jill had a final total of 6929 pounds packed out of Chennai. I already posted that we had 850 plus pounds of air freight. Today they packed 168 boxes into 7 crates on that truck for a grand total of 5777 pounds of HHE.

(Just think of all the stuff I can buy in Jordan with that extra weight.)

(Of course, Jill's possessions are travelling to Newport Beach, California, so maybe she wins anyway.)

Tomorrow we have a going-away party to attend, along with a kids' birthday party. And I have to find time to take the dog for his exit inspection. So maybe I should sign off for now.

One more week...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

850+

And here, my friends, is what just under 900 pounds of air freight looks like:


Another gratuitous shot of the living room, all packed up:



And here's Kyra, happily bouncing around threatening the movers with a squirt gun:



They were here from 9-4, with a break for lunch, and they managed to pack up almost the whole house. Amazing. They still have to finish the office, the master bedroom and Ainsley's room. They also have to pack up the coat closet and the clocks. Then they have to load it all onto the truck while we watch and check off every single box. So tomorrow will be another long day.

And now: to the pool, where we will order dinner for the second night in a row.

What Do You Think?

So what do you think? Does this look like 900 pounds to you (minus the furniture, of course)?



Well, we didn't think so either. So we added this:



Now how many pounds do you think it is?

Oh, and here's a view of the living room last night, pre-pack out. Nice, huh?



The movers are here right now, packing up our life. When they finished weighing all of that air freight, it turned out to weigh a whopping 600 pounds. So we grabbed more clothes and toys and books and a few stuffed animals and an entire arts-n-crafts box.

Now - we wait for them to finish.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Moving Survival Kit

Aidan's teachers gave him this moving survival kit, full of all sorts of things to help him as he transitions out of here. It came with a "parents' letter" containing tips about how to help him through the stages of grief he's experiencing as he says goodbye to his friends.

The kit contains sandpaper ("Things may become a little 'rough' at times but if you work at it things become smooth"), a puzzle piece ("life in a new place may feel puzzling but you will figure out where the pieces go eventually") and a bookmark ("to mark your place wherever you are"). If you click on the picture you should be able to read the whole thing.

Just one more reason to miss this school....

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

T minus 24 hours

We're in pretty good shape over here. I think we are, anyway.

I spent the entire day moving stuff around. I'm trying to get 900 pounds into the sunroom, and everything else out of the sunroom. How much is 900 pounds, anyway? Because you want to guess as close as you can. If you only separate out, say, 700 pounds, then after they weigh it you'll run around the house firing random crap into the box until you hit 900. But if you go over your 900 pound limit, you'll agonize over what to take out.

I tend to go under. So this time I have a mental list of the things I want to toss in at the last minute.

All of the rugs are clean and rolled up - no small feat, that, as it takes forever to vacuum, flip, shake, vacuum, flip and roll each one. Especially if you have an almost-4-year-old helping you. The pictures are mostly down from the walls, dusted and stacked in the living room. The toiletries are boxed up. Half of the kitchen is in the sunroom already, and the rest of the kitchen is slowly making its way over.

The real challenge is figuring out how much space there is in the suitcases. You don't want to over-estimate, or you'll have too many things and not enough suitcases after the movers leave.

So tomorrow I will continue the challenge of packing the suitcases. I'll also yank all of the bedding from the beds the minute those little beasties awake so I can get it all washed, dried, folded and stacked in the sunroom by nightfall.

I'm exhausted just thinking about it. But there is light at the end of this packout tunnel - by Saturday, I'll have an empty house.

Even though I'm doing all of this work, I still find it hard to believe I'll be on a plane any day now, winging my way out of here. I'm definitely in manic mode - happy, sad, happy again. By now, I know what to expect of myself when I leave a place. I know what's going to happen. And yet I never get used to it.
Please. Write your own stuff.