Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Project 353: Week 11

Sorry for the late post on this week's project!  I was out of town from Sunday to Tuesday and thought I had post-dated this one to go up on time.  Apparently not!

March 20
I tutor this little boy every Monday night.  His family had us over for lunch last Sunday and said the best words of all to me as we sat down to eat: "Just eat what you like.  If you don't like it, don't eat it."

March 21
A Friendly Neighborhood Rooster

March 22
Fishing...but for what I wonder?

March 23
Some Package Love from Mei Guo...thanks Joey!

March 24
I think I'm ready to believe that spring has arrived...

March 25
This is my first attempt at the "sun flare" effect.  I'm not sure how much practice I'll realistically be able to manage since the sun here is most often blocked by tall buildings or hazy pollution.  Oh well...

March 26
Thanks to China YouTube, we've been able to catch the Texas/Arizona game and the UNC/Washington game.  Not quite the same as watching them live but we're thankful for what we can get!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Two Weeks & Counting...

As if I haven't had enough disastrous adventures with international travel, here's another nightmare only closely averted.  Back in February, I found a great deal on plane tickets from Beijing to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The flight was with Egypt Air, which didn't make my parents happy, but Kevin & I weren't too bothered by that fact.  Plus, there was a nice, long layover in Cairo, which meant that if things were safe, we might even get a chance to leave the airport to see the pyramids.  And maybe eat at Chili's or Macaroni Grill or On the Border.  A little adventure and some yummy western food...that sounded like a fine plan to me!

Well, last Wednesday, I found out that the best laid plans too often fail.  I went on the Egypt Air website to check our itinerary and noticed that our flight had been rerouted.  Normally, that's not such a big deal, but this reroute changed our departure airport from Beijing to Bangkok, Thailand without providing any recourse for us to get to Bangkok.  Obviously, we can't just hop in a taxi and end up in Bangkok!

Because of the 13 hour time difference, I had to wait 9 hours before I could call the Egypt Air ticketing office in New York.  It was a pretty nerve-wracking 9 hours.  When I finally got someone on the phone and explained my problem, I was informed that all Egypt Air flights leaving China during the month of April had been canceled.  All of them.  Every last one.  Gone.  My only option was to apply for a refund and go back to square one with my ticket search.  Not really what I wanted to do at 10 PM that night!

But my desire to see these little boys and hopefully be legally declared their mama became my midnight oil that slowly burned away as I searched for a new flight online.  Thankfully, I found a second flight from Ethiopia Air that was only about $150 more expensive per ticket than our previous flight.  An additional praise was that the price didn't differ at all if I was leaving in two weeks (which we are!) or two months.  

I went to book the tickets but got on error message from the Visa processing service.  Thus necessitated another late night international call to a chipper Visa employee, who informed me that since my denied transaction was not yet registered in their system, I would have to call back in another 30 minutes.  Finally, I was successfully able to navigate the maze of Visa's corporate call center and had our purchase verified.  All the Visa reps were so friendly.  After explaining why we were flying to Ethiopia, one wanted to know the boys' names and what else remains in our adoption process.  It also made me laugh when our phone call finally ended close to midnight that she wished me to have a good day!

So we're two weeks out with a brand new flight itinerary!  Thankfully, the whole situation was resolved in less than a day.

In other news, we heard from our agency that our birth mother hearing took place yesterday and was completely successful.  The mother appeared before the judge and relinquished her custody.  I'm not sure how to feel about this.  On one hand, this is good news for us, as she has agreed to allow a foreign couple she's never met to raise her son.  On the other hand, I can't imagine the conflicting emotions this woman is feeling to give up the little boy she carried for 9 months.  I'm disappointed that we won't get to meet her and let her know how thankful we are to her.  We recognize that she made a great sacrifice in choosing to carry & give birth to him rather than ending his life.

There is still no word if our MoWA letter has been completed yet, but there is no way to know that until we show up for court on April 12.  We'll keep waiting and praying!

So that seems to be the theme for these next two weeks...waiting & praying.  Thank you to all of you who are waiting & praying with us!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Slumber Party of Monumental Proportions

Since all of us expats are so far away from our families back in the states, we take our roles as "aunt" and "uncle" to the kids very seriously. Kev & I have had a play room in our apartment for almost as long as we've lived here (too bad for the kids though that the boys will take over the play room as their bedroom in not too long!). Last Saturday, to give the mamas & papas a night to themselves and to give the kiddos a rip-roarin' good time, we invited our 6 little peng yous over for a slumber party.

Stories were read...

Beans was played with...

Macaroni & cheese was made...
(the legit stuff from America even! Though I'm not sure how "legit" I'd call cheese in powder form.)

Macaroni & cheese was happily eaten...
(after all, even Batman needs sustenance)

Jello molds, lovingly made by a mom with more prowess in the kitchen that I, were destroyed during transit in the cab...

But there's always room for jello, even if it fell apart...

Fun was had...

"Hook" was watched and the bad guy pirates were loathed. Favorite quote of the evening: "I'm glad I'm a Christian and not a pirate. I don't want to wear a pirate costume. I don't even want to wear a pirate hat!"

Laughs were laughed, memories made, and sleeping actually took place. Kevin & I genuinely enjoyed the time with the little ones and are looking forward to pulling off this stunt again.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Little Girl With the Big, Black Glasses

I've introduced you to the Little Girl With the Big, Blue Glasses before. Now I'd like you to meet the Little Girl With the Big, Black Glasses. The Little Girl With the Big, Blue Glasses loved to read, and as the years passed, she grew up to be the Little Girl With the Big, Black Glasses who loved to write. She even wrote a story once in fifth grade that won an award.

Thankfully, as the Little Girl With the Big, Black Glasses grew up some more, the fashions of the times changed and she became a Not-So-Little Girl With Contacts instead. But what didn't change is that the girl still loved to write. What colors are to painters, words are to this girl.

This girl is also excited to share that some of here thoughts are being featured over at this blog today. Hop over and check it out if you'd like!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Project 353: Week 10

March 13
(Whenever your year of the zodiac comes up, people will wear red underwear to protect themselves from bad luck. Apparently my neighbor was born in the year of the rabbit.)

March 14
The Best Way to Spend a Sunny Day

March 15
If Panera ever needs a reason to go international, here's one:
my failed attempt at homemade bread bowls!

March 16
Only three weeks to go...

March 17
How Strangers Become Friends

March 18
Weeping Willows Waking

March 19
Sleepover Madness With My Favorite Little Friends

Friday, March 18, 2011

Plans With a Stranger

Every Wednesday night, I have a get-together with some local friends. We chat, hang out, talk about life, etc. It's fun, and I usually come home with my head still buzzing from the past two hours of non-stop Chinese. The two girls who first brought us all together just happen to be my two best friends who recently moved to Australia (who, by the way, BOTH called me last night just to say hi!). In their absence, guess who was nominated to take the lead? Yup, it was me.

Two weeks ago was supposed to be my maiden voyage as the organizer of our little soiree. But unbeknownst to me (because no one told me!), two of the girls had training at work and another one had to work late. I biked for half an hour only to show up and find only half of our friends were there. In my opinion, Chinese people are notoriously bad planners. Or maybe I should phrase it in a more positive, complementary way: they are extremely flexible with their time. Regardless, after last week's disaster, I figured out that I was going to have to be the one to contact people to make sure if they were coming or not.

This past week, I vowed to do a better job at communicating to everyone. I texted a friend who works with some of the other girls and asked her to let me know if everyone was planning to come. When I didn't get a response, I took it a step further and tried to contact them myself. This was the text conversation that ensued:

Me: can you come tonight?

Alice: come where, my friend?

Me: to the coffee shop where we always meet

Then the phone rings. I guess Alice was as confused as I was. But before I go into that conversation, I just have to ponder why is it that it seems like everyone has the English name Alice? Can we get a little variety here, people? But maybe that's how my Chinese friends feel about so many Americans being named Rachel...

Anyway, this is how the phone conversation went:

Me: Wei? Ni hao?

Alice: Wow! Your Chinese is so good!

At this point, I start wondering, Why is she complementing my Chinese? We've been speaking Chinese together since September and all I did was answer the phone...

As we talked, it became all the more apparent to me that I had contacted the wrong Alice. The conversation went on in an incredibly awkward manner, as she told me that she would check with her husband and son to see if we would be able to meet this week.

So skip to Thursday...

Kevin & I headed to the designated restaurant, still without even a clue as to who we were meeting. "How will we recognize them?" Kevin asked me. "Good thing we're foreigners," I replied. "They'll just have to be the ones to recognize us!"

It turned out that our evening with Alice & her family was surprisingly enjoyable. It also turned out that Alice is a woman I met at an English corner nearly two years ago. Her husband, 11 year-old son (whose English name is Tom), and her son's classmate (whose English name is, appropriately enough for an 11 year-old girl, Silly) joined us for dinner. The kids provided wonderful fodder for conversation with stimulating, soul-searching questions such as my favorite juice, my favorite season, and my favorite fruit.

With his trusty tea pot sidekick, Tom pulled off his role as host without a hitch. Kevin kept knocking back his tea over and over again, probably because most tea cups here hold about the same volume as an over-sized shot glass. Not very helpful if you're thirsty. Since it's bad manners for a guest to have an empty tea cup, Tom made his rounds at least ten times during the course of the evening in order to meet all of our Kevin’s tea needs.

Maybe I need to learn a valuable lesson from my Chinese friends about how to be more flexible with my time, plans, and routine. After all, it's not really my time, my plans, or my routine. Relinquishing Chill Day to spend unexpected time with a friend and having dinner with practical strangers with whom I haven't spoken in years usually ends up being a blessing to my soul and (I hope) to theirs. And, if none of those things, it is at least quite an entertaining affair!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's go time...no...hold up...keep waiting

It is still my habit to check the email first thing in the morning as I eat my oatmeal. I'm not sure why exactly. We've received our referrals already, so I know who our little boys are. Our court date is set, so I know when we'll be traveling to see them. New pictures of them usually come at the end of the month, so I know I can expect them then. I guess my daily email check is just an ingrained habit from all those months of waiting we've been though. More than likely, it will continue to be my habit once we return from court and continue to wait for the US embassy's approval to go back to pick them up.

Every once in a while though, there is an unexpected email pertaining to our adoption. Like the one this morning that invited us to come to Ethiopia now and have our court hearing moved up two weeks. My mother's heart went pitter-patter just at the though of getting to meet them now instead of in two weeks.

But that's when the details, schedule, and reality of life collided with my desire to get on a plane at this very moment to see them.

Plane tickets would have to be changed but the ticketing office is in New York and is already closed for the day...

Plus who even knows how much it costs to change plane tickets to Africa?

Add to the fact that I'm planning a super-fun sleepover party at our house for the kiddos this weekend. Even though they wouldn't be disappointed because their parents haven't told them yet, I would be...

And we're preparing to welcome two new families to our city soon...

In addition to the visitors we have from the states coming through...

Also, I'm traveling to another city to teach a two-day language-learning course...

Did I mention we've got dentist appointments scheduled in Beijing before we fly out...

Furthermore, we've promised our friends moving to town that we'll have some furniture shipped to them from the Beijing IKEA (as if I needed an excuse to go to IKEA!)...

So it will be another two and a half weeks until I get to hold this little hand...

until I get to kiss these fat cheeks...

So until then...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Project 353: Week 9

March 6
Chicken Delivery Bikes

March 7
Laundry Day: What one must do when there is no dryer in the house

March 8
The Best Way to Start the Day

March 9
A Surefire Sign of Spring: Pineapple Season!

March 10
A Little Boy's Dream (but perhaps not the mama's): Playing in the dirt on the side of the road

March 11
The Wonders of Public Transportation

March 12
Brick House

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Chill Day

Sunday is our chill day. Since we have our worship together on Fridays, our Sundays are wide open. PJs for most of the day, iChat with my parents in the morning, popcorn and a Ling Du Ke Le (Coke Zero) for lunch, and a whole lot of nothing in between. I know it seems bad and don't take this as a confession that I don't like living here (because I do!) but on our chill day, we usually just hang out at home and pretend we're not in China. Is it terrible to actually say that out loud? Maybe...maybe not.

But the thing about Chinese friends that can often cramp your style on Chill Day is that they just love to stop by. To an American, this is often not so well-received. I need at least a few hours to wrap my mind around entertaining people, let alone getting the Chinese part of my brain jump started on a day it's used to going into hibernation.

So on a random Sunday in February, I got a phone call from my dear friend JJ. It's actually surprising that I was able to answer the call considering sometimes Sundays find my cell phone either turned off, out of money, or entirely ignored. It went something like this:

JJ: Are you home?

Me: Yes.

JJ: OK. I'll be right there.

Me: Uh....ok.

And sure enough, five minutes later, the doorbell rings, which indicates to me that JJ was already heading to my house when she called, which begs the question what would she have done if I wasn't home?

JJ bursts through the door with a metallic bag filled with New Years presents for me. The typical New Years gifts involve entirely useless and superfluous stuff packaged in ornate and expensive boxes. The box is the most important feature of the gift and is often saved and passed off to other friends for years to come. It's like the combination of the American fruit cake (useless and unwanted) and Hobby Lobby clearance gift bag (gets used over and over again).

But JJ knows me and knows I don't really care much about Chinese pomp & circumstance. So instead of trying to impress me with flashy red boxes, she brought the goods she knows speak right to my heart: strawberries, bananas, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

The other providential thing that happened was that earlier I had decided to do some tidying (not a common practice on Chill Day!). It is a very good thing to have a moderately clean home when your former house helper decides to make a surprise visit. "Your house is so clean!" she remarked, after taking a look around. Oh good! I've managed to convince her that my life has not fallen apart since she left.

Despite the fact I was still wearing my workout clothes and was long overdue a shower, she stayed for the next hour, and we chatted it up about her holiday, her son's birthday, her tempestuous niece, and her burgeoning business venture as a shop owner.

I would just like to add that this picture was not taken during JJ's surprise visit. My workout clothes most certainly do not include one of the few sweaters I own!

It's funny to me that it seems like JJ has changed so much since she quit working at our house. I feel like she's gotten more trendy. Maybe she has to look fashionable in order to sell clothes to people? I guess she never thought before that my dirty dishes would be impressed with her leopard print tops and permed hair. Jeans & sweatshirts would do just fine. Our favorite sweatshirt was one that had "The Most Fly" printed across the front in English. She had no clue what it meant, so we explained it to her and proceeded to ask her for the next few months, "JJ, who's the most fly?" "Me," she would answer.

So with the interruption of Chill Day, a most important revelation came to me. My time is not my own. My life is not my own. Even Chill Day is not my own. I want to be free to love and serve and welcome anyone into my home & life, even if it's perhaps a little inconvenient to me or my well-intentioned plans. Besides, life is what happens in the interruptions. So if Chill Day (or any day for that matter!) is going to be interrupted, there is no one I'd rather interrupt it than my most fly friend.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Project 353: Week 8

February 27
Another Snow Day

February 28
Always Winter But Never Christmas

March 1
100 Days!
(Your baby's 100 Day Birthday here is big news. You get professional pictures done and, if your head isn't shaved already, you get it done then. This is my good friend Lisa's daughter.)

March 2
The Man Who Sharpens Knives on the Side of the Road

March 3
Off to Australia They Go...
(our going away party for two dear friends)

March 4
14 Days!
(Our friend JJ's labrador just gave birth to 5 little puppies. To call them "cute" is a severe understatement, I think.)

March 5
Thrilling news...we rearranged my living room furniture! Now there is more open space where the boys can play when they come home.

Friday, March 04, 2011

I Heart Faces--Best of February

This week's photo challenge at I Heart Faces is a people's choice--which means you can go vote if you want to help choose the winning photo.

My favorite shot from February was this one that I took at one of our city's many Lantern Festival celebrations (or Glutinous Rice Dessert Festival as we now know it can be translated!). Some of my other favorites from Lantern Festival are posted here.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Because every adoption needs a moment like this...

I have an iChat date with my parents every weekend. It's fun to hear about how their week has been, how dad's Horns are doing, how mom's workout program is going. And I imagine they enjoy hearing what's going on with us too. But it's not every weekend that a conversation like this happens:

Dad: You got a letter from the IRS. Looks like they gave you some money.

Me: Wow. Kev sure is on top of things if we've already got our tax return back.

Kev: (bursts into the bedroom after overhearing us) But I haven't finished our taxes yet. How can they be giving us money?

Dad: Oh. It looks like this check is from your 2008 taxes.

What a blessing. The exact week we are shopping around to buy plane tickets to Africa, an unexpected check shows up with our names on it.

An unexpected check for $783.84.

An unexpected check that we should have received two years ago.

Our God is so good. He knows our needs and provides for them in the most surprising ways.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A Woman & A Puppy on a Mission

There are only a handful of occasions which cause me to intentionally take a deep breath when I'm out & about in China:

1) When I get stuck behind a bus while out on my bike. Said deep breath is usually held until traffic clears up and I'm able to get around the bus and its accompanying fumes.

2) When I walk past the corner outside the east gate of our apartment complex where the fruit seller always pees. This breath is also held for an elongated period of time.

3) When I pass by the kao di gua sellers on the street.

Kao di gua? What is this marvelous delight and why would it bring me olfactory bliss instead of scorn?

Imagine a huge, insulated oil drum that is filled with hot coals. Next, add dozens of sweet potatoes inside the drum on top of the coals. Allow sweet potatoes to bake all day until they result in gooey, delightful yumminess. Place your oil drum on the back of a three-wheeled bicycle and position yourself on a busy street corner on a cold day. Charge an amazingly small amount of money for this tuberous treat, and prepare to make this little foreigner's day.

This is what I had in mind to track down when I set out the other week around dinner time. Since Beans had pretty much been doing this all day, I decided to take her with me.

The thing about street vendors, however, is that they are mobile, ie-rather unreliable. So the first corner we hit up after about a ten minute walk had nary a di gua seller to be found. But our mission couldn't be deterred! We headed east for another 20 minutes to another major intersection. Lo and behold...the holy grail of the vitamin A powerhouse had at last been discovered!

Beans & I happily made our purchase and then turned south toward home. About five minutes into our homeward voyage, a woman on a three-wheeled trash bike* rode by and struck up a conversation with me.

(*For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the "three-wheeled trash bike," please see below.)

"I know you," she said in Chinese.

"Oh. Really? How?" I asked. These are the moments my minor celebrity status as the resident foreigner can be a little annoying--most everyone recognizes me! Oh for the long lost days of anonymity!

"You bought vegetables from me one time, and you knew how to say eggplant," she replied with confidence.

I appreciated this woman's friendliness, but, not having expected a trek this long to get my di gua, I hadn't worn my scarf or socks. A cold nose and blistered toes don't always get me in the mood for conversation. But nonetheless, we chatted for a while about her Spring Festival and Beans, who was happily sniffing about and eating trash at my feet.

"I'm leaving," I said finally. This might sound rude to some of you, but it's one of the beauties of Chinese conversation. Things get awkward, you're out of things to say, or you've got somewhere to be...it doesn't really matter. Just announce you're leaving, be on your way, and no one thinks anything strange of it.

We resumed our journey home only to be interrupted once more by a cheerful call behind us:

"Dou Dou! Dou Dou!" The trash bike lady had caught up with us again and was greeting Beans using her Chinese name. (Yes, my dog has Chinese name. Kevin has one. I have one. The boys will have one. So Beans has one too.)

A friendly wave and we were off again. This time we ran into a friend of mine in the alley outside the east gate of our apartment (but don't you worry--we were far enough from the fruit seller's pee spot that I could talk with her without having to hold my breath). My friend had just given birth to a baby a few months ago, so that was an easy enough topic of conversation to start with.

"How is your son?" I asked in Chinese.

"He's great. Very fat. And you? Do you have a situation?" she inquired.

Situation? What does she mean by that? Am I an international spy whose cover has been blow? Do I finally have an excuse to meet Jack Bauer in the "situation room?" Or is my Chinese failing me at the moment because I have no clue what she wants to know?

And this is the moment that the "once-over" became my savior & interpreter. You know--the "once-over." It's the look you get at college parties from the sorority girls that starts at your running shoes, makes its way up to your sweat shirt, and ends with a disapproving glare at your pony tail. (True story for me unfortunately.) But this once-over's purpose was not to judge my outfit but to evaluate the size of my belly.

Ooooohhhhh...I get it! She wants to know if I'm pregnant. A kind denial and again we're headed toward home.

So one hour, one mile, one di gua seller, one three-wheeled-trash-bike-riding friend, and one pregnancy denial later, Beans and I make it home with this bounty of a dinner:

And it was most certainly a good dinner to end a good day.

*For educational purposes: a three-wheeled trash bike