Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Typical Day

Yup, it's been a 6 month break from the ol' blog and I'm just going to restart things with a typical day.  Part of me feels an obligation to fill in what's been going on for the last half year, but that seems too daunting now.  Maybe later.  So we'll just say we've all had birthdays, happy days, and hard days.  And now for a typical day.

Our full-time house helper has now left us.  For good reasons though.  She's expecting a baby in February, and I imagine it's pretty unappealing to take care of someone else's house when just standing up requires a tremendous amount of energy.  Even though we've got part time help from the mother of all house helpers (she's worked for foreigners for nearly a decade), it's up to me to make sure the nuts and bolts of this little house in the big city are running smoothly.  Hence the craziness that ensues on a routine trip to the grocery store.

Our grocery store is actually in our backyard.  See?  That's the view from our bathroom window on the 8th floor.  I watch parking patterns while I take a shower.  (Here's for hoping that the people parking aren't watching me!)  Our boys call it Doctor Fa because that's how they interpreted the Chinese once upon a time, and it's stuck ever since.  I've never seen kids get so excited about going to the "doctor."

Since Micah is in preschool during the mornings now, this grocery run fell to Sam, Hudson, and me.  Usually we take the stroller, but since Sam asked if we could use the car shopping cart at the store, I decided to Ergo Hudson and let Sam walk there in order to fulfill his driving dreams.  It was only when we were half way there that I realized that leaving the stroller meant I would have to walk home carrying all my groceries.  This was a dim prospect since my list included laundry detergent, milk, and oil that comes in jugs the size of office water coolers.  (What can I say?  Chinese people love oil.)  But I marched onward into a certain future of extraordinarily heavy purchases.

We got to the store and were thankfully able to obtain one of a few car grocery carts for the buddies to ride in.  People here rarely have more than one child, so I was actually quite baffled when I first saw these monster carts at the store.  Off I went, rumbling through the aisles pushing the aircraft carrier of all shopping carts with a black child at the wheel and a white child in the basket.  As if I needed anything else in my life to draw more attention!  

We paid our typical respects at the "live" fish/frog/turtle/sea cucumber/unidentifiable sea critter tanks.  I'm pretty sure that more of the fish are dead than alive, but the boys seem content for now with my explanation that they're just resting.  I kept my distance though because one time a fish flopped out of the tank onto the ground right in front of me, and I screamed.  Again, as if I need anything else in my life to draw attention!  I should just vow to avoid screaming and behemoth shopping carts.

We finally made it out of the store with a manageable amount of things and only having to give 8 people explanations that my husband isn't black and Hudson isn't a girl.  We started the long march home, narrowly missing the zooming electric bikes but not so narrowly missing the grandma who fussed at me because Hudson's ankles were exposed to the elements.  If she really wanted to help, she could have carried my milk.

We made it in the door in just enough time to drop the perishables off in the fridge and head back out to pick up Micah.  We were technically a little early but it just seemed like too much trouble to strip the kids of shoes, coats, and outside clothes just to put it all back on 15 minutes later.  So off we set again, this time with the stroller in tow, to take the bus a few stops away to Micah's school.  Thankfully, the bus came quickly.  Double thankfully, there was another grandma who took pity on me and helped get my kids on the bus while I folded up the stroller.  In the ruckus of it all, I forgot to pay my bus fare.  I now owe China 16 cents.  This same grandma solicited help from other people on the bus to drag my stroller down the aisle, make sure I knew where to get off (which I already did but I appreciated her efforts nevertheless), and help me when the time came.  I swear, if it weren't for the kindness of strangers, I really wouldn't be able to go anywhere in this town.

Finally, we reached the school while Micah & his classmates were finishing lunch.  His teachers were so tickled by the entourage I had brought with me that they offered to feed both Sam & Hudson lunch as well.  They of course couldn't have been more pleased to enjoy a lunch of steamed bread, stir fried green beans, chicken wings, and rice soup.  All they would have gotten at home was peanut butter & jelly.

I sprung the $1.30 to take a taxi home and was very happy to find nap time quickly approaching when we walked in the door.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Really China

There is a phrase we ex-pats in China (well, most of us at least) strive for: 真中国.  It translates to "Really China" but more or less is a way to describe an action or behavior as similar to that of a Chinese person.  With the renovation of our new apartment and the move, our cultural intake has been like drinking from a China fire hydrant.  I'm hoping that the experience & drama of it all will in the end make our family Really China.

Exhibit A:

Though this story isn't exactly related to moving, it's yet another cultural moment for our little TCK's:
Before we took a prolonged hiatus from our preschool projects, Micah & I were working on letter recognition.  One day, he found a box of Kevin's Oreos in the kitchen.  (Emphasis on Kevin's Oreos.  I don't like them in America, so I'm not going to like them here!)  "Wow Mama!" Micah exclaimed.  "So many more letters to learn!"  You have no idea, child.  You.have.no.idea.

Exhibit B:

We have lived in our new apartment for 11 days now.  11 days without a kitchen.  It's a long, twisted tale of why our kitchen hasn't been installed in a working fashion yet, so I'll spare you the details.  What I will say is that our family has survived off Chinese fast food, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, fruit, and Coke Zero (that would be for me, not the children.  I've had enough trouble controlling them in our messy, unorganized apartment without anymore added energy from caffeine!)  I'm thankful for my two big boys who think noodles & dumplings are the best food ever to grace a table.  

Exhibit C:

We now live in the southern part of our city, which is close to some hills.  Since the thought of pedaling our bike up and down those inclines with all the kiddos sounded torturous, we decided to invest in an electric bike (it's like a moped but not as sissy).  It was definitely a great investment--until it got stolen one week later.  Getting stuff stolen from you is a very China thing to happen, so I suppose it happening to us makes us Really China too.  We ended up buying another one (thank you, insurance company, for picking up half the tab!) and have again been cruising around the city like a real Chinese person.  I even managed to tie 8 baskets on the back of it after a basket shopping extravaganza.  Well, I supposed "extravaganza" might be a bit of an overstatement, considering I only spend $18.  Gotta love living in the heart of production, where I can find almost anything from Victoria's Secret pajama pants material to William Sonoma pitchers for half the cost.  

Exhibit D:

Of course, the key to becoming Really China is to be a China learner.  My, oh my, have I learned!  For the most part, Kevin & I have handled the house hunting & renovating on our own, which has meant a deluge of new words.  My vocabulary has added such crucial words like baseboards, linen, blackout curtains, window screens, window screen that roll up & down (and are actually quite worthless in my opinion), protective bars installed in windows, curtain sheers, designer, blueprint, countertop, hanging cabinets, drawer pulls, measurements, hooks, desk chair, picture frame, several new & obscure colors on the color wheel, and "That's not what I asked for.  Please do it again." Do you see the theme here?  

Something else I've learned (and am not too proud of) is that my Chinese-speaking self is much more feisty than my English-speaking self.  When we hit a snag with the kitchen design & installation, I had no problem hammering out my argument and whose fault I thought it was.  I never would have been that forceful if I was dealing with another American!  Perhaps it's because my Chinese politeness filter is still in process, which is definitely something I need to work on.  

I was made acutely aware of this when during a trip to the grocery store this evening.  I was on the way home from shopping and needed to make a quick stop for some bread (because, of course, pb&j was on the dinner menu).  I didn't want to leave my basket purchases tied to the back of my bike, so I lugged them all in.  As I was entering the store, I heard someone shouting behind me and eventually realized they didn't want me to bring my things inside.  Instead, they wanted me to put them in a locker at the front.  I will (shamefully) admit that when a Chinese person wants me to do something that I don't want to do or think is silly, I'll often play the dumb foreigner card and pretend not to understand.  Yes, I know.  It's dishonest and manipulative.  But this time, since my mind was already reeling in Chinese after an afternoon of shopping, words just started coming out of my mouth about how it wasn't a big deal at all that I was going to bring my things inside and that it wasn't like I was going to steal anything.  The grocery store employee then sarcastically asked me if there are grocery stores in foreign countries, to which I replied (equally sarcastically) that there are lots of them and we can bring in whatever we want.  Then I turned around and walked inside, with my 8 baskets in tow.  I later felt very convicted in the bread aisle, vowed to control my Chinese tongue a little better, and went to find that employee to apologize.  

We've conquered so many obstacles when it has come to this apartment.  It hasn't been easy.  It hasn't been fun.  But it's been very empowering.  Kind of like when I birthed a baby sans drugs and said afterward, "If I can do that, surely I can take on the world."  So I guess this house ordeal has been like birthing a China baby--if we can do this, surely we can take on the rest of China life!

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Goodbye to the Electric Company Healthy Bridge

Tomorrow morning we are leaving this grand ol' complex that has served as our China home the last 4 years to move across town to a new apartment.  How else does one celebrate their final night than by sharing a picture of your face on an advertisement?

Our xiao qu (read: apartment complex) has had a giant banner hanging in our main square area for several months now displaying what a great place this is to live.  Apparently, I am one of those reasons since there's me, right smack dab in the middle, showing off all my foreign charm as I wrapped some sticky rice in a leaf to celebrate some holiday whose name I can't quite recall at the moment.  

How appropriate that picture is though to sum up our time living here.  It was our first summer here four years ago.  My hair was short, my China experience even shorter, and I still thought there was a chance that I might run another marathon--in China at that!  I was living off a beautiful concoction of exoticism, optimism, and naivete.  And this home saw me through all the days following.  The hard days of home sickness, cultural confusion, language stress, hopes deferred.  The joyful days of chasing our puppy Beans through the "grass" outside, BBQs with friends in our make-shirt backyard, bringing our boys back from Ethiopia to this home, growing into my new China self.  

Since our house is trashed and our kitchen is packed away in boxes, we ate out tonight.  We walked down our familiar alley to a restaurant Kevin frequents several times a week.   As we reached our building entrance after our meal, two women rushed up to us with a stroller.  They had apparently chased us down in an effort to meet the foreign family.  While this isn't an abnormal occurrence for us, this particular meet n' greet was special.  The younger woman, who was out walking with her mother and son, was deaf and was exuberant about meeting us.  She held Hudson, stroked my white arms, hugged my big boys, and smiled and gestured with glee that was humbling to me.  In a cultural where homogeneity is utmost, being deaf or being disabled in any way is often tantamount to complete ostracism.  Having the opportunity to bless a woman (who is probably often ignored or mistreated by the rest of society) so deeply just by letting her hold my baby was so meaningful to me, as it reminded me of what Jesus says about serving the least of these.  I do hope that our family has been a blessing to this community as a whole as we were to that one particular woman tonight.

So goodbye, dear little home.  Goodbye Electric Company Healthy Bridge (the translation of our xiao qu's name).  Thank you for all the memories.  Thank you for seeing our family grow. Thank you for the people we've come to know & love in this xiao qu.

Goodbye, across-the-hall neighbors.  Thank you for letting me & my children squeeze in your tiny Audi sports car to take us to the hospital when Sam had a seizure.  

Goodbye, peeing neighbor upstairs.  Even though I can hear you pee through the ceiling in our bedroom, for some strange reason, it makes me laugh instead of grossing me out.

Goodbye shrimp-loving neighbors on the third floor.  It has been fun to know exactly what you had for dinner that night based on the odor of my kitchen.

Goodbye, piano player neighbor on the fifth floor.  I've loved hearing you plink & plunk away as you practice every night.  Keep up the hard work!

Goodbye, pajama man neighbor.  I love that you always wear pajamas outside and smile at me in the elevator as if there's nothing strange about that.

Goodbye, Coco, my former student & first floor neighbor.  I always love it when you smile at me and call out, "Hello Teacher!"

Goodbye, man who works at the Nutrilife store and lets my children stare at your turtles all afternoon.

Goodbye to all the food vendors in the alley who fed my family countless times when I didn't have it together enough to get a meal on the table.  We're sad that there aren't any Hui restaurants near our new place across town.  You will be sorely missed!

Goodbye friendly neighbors who all know what floor I live on and push the elevator button for me when my hands are too full of kids & kid paraphernalia to push it myself.

Goodbye to the tai qi club that meets in front of our kitchen window and spills their tai qi music inside at 7 AM.  It's always fun to start my day on such a cultural note.

Goodbye to all the concerned nai nais (grandmothers) at the playground.  No, I still will not make my baby wear socks in the summer but don't worry about him.  I don't think he'll get diarrhea from it.  But I have always appreciated your concern for his health.

I hope I have been more to you than the crazy foreign lady who spends a lot on electricity and has a gaggle of children that are all different colors.  Because all of you have been so much more to me!

Monday, May 20, 2013


So we're moving.  This time, just across town instead of across the globe, so surely things should be easier than every other move we've had in the past five years.  This moving thing has certainly been quite a cultural experience.  Our current landlord let us know about 6 weeks ago that she wanted to start showing the place for other renters to see.  She agreed to let us out of our lease six months early without any consequences, so I wanted to do my best to make our home as marketable as possible for her to find another tenant.  I set to work cleaning and organizing.  I had big dreams to borrow a wide angle lens and take professional-ish pictures of our apartment during the hours of pleasant natural light.  All the while, my househelper was snickering at me.  I couldn't quite figure out why until the real estate agents started showing up.

One after one for an entire afternoon, they knocked on my door, wandered around a bit, and snapped awful pictures with their cell phone cameras.  "Wait!" I wanted to shout.  "Surely we can do better than that!"  But no.  This is what we found posted online the next day.

Hudson's room wasn't in such bad shape.  Besides, it's a kid room and isn't supposed to be perfect.

The same for our bedroom.  Sure, there are boxes in the window sill and contico trunks on the floor but we're about the move.  (Truth of the matter is those boxes & trunks have been sitting there since we got back from America in December.  But that can be our little secret.)

Then things started going downhill.  Apparently, the real estate agent/photographer couldn't be bothered to shut the microwave.  At least the fantastic view and my Texas saltshaker that I found at a random ceramic store in town made it in the picture.  Surely it will allure a Texas-loving Chinese person to want to live here.

Shame upon shame when I saw this picture of Micah & Sam's room.  Now the entire world wide web knows that I use my boys' top bunk for storage.  And that I opted to pile junk in the window instead of buying blackout curtains.  But come to think of it, I'm now posting these incriminating pictures again so I suppose it's just as much my fault as the real estate agent's that my decorating failure has gone public.

Showing our place was but one aspect of the apartment search that has had some unexpected twists.  Finding a new home was a whole other beast.  I'll spare you the gory details and just share the happy news that we signed a three-year contract for a new apartment.  It's a former office for a milk company, so it has no kitchen.  The past few weeks of my life have been scouring Pinterest for kitchen design ideas and trying to communicate them all in Chinese.  Not an easy feat.  Nevertheless, I think I've prevailed and signed off on a sketch yesterday that should be installed in the next 20 days.  What an ordeal!  What a headache!  But surely it will all be worth it!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

School on the Road

Sorry to disappoint anyone who thought this was going to become an all-star homeschooling blog.  Though I do have a few more books we've covered that I've been meaning to post, I figure those of the grandparent persuasion would rather see their littles splashing in the ocean than another picture of a lame craft made out of a paper plate.  This particular project brings together both of them!

I read the book "Sand Cake" a gazillion times when I was little.  It's the story of a bear family that goes to the beach and makes a cake out of flour, milk, eggs, and salt drawn onto the shore.  I loved the book so much that I snatched it from my parents' house when we were in Austin last year.  And then I brought it all the way to Thailand, so Micah could reenact Little Bear's beach baking.  

First, we drew a cow and milked it to get milk for our cake.  Ever since we studied "Angus Lost," the kid has been a little obsessed with udders.  He frequently asks me whether fill-in-the-blank animal or certain family members have them.  

Then he harvested the wheat to make flour.

And collected some eggs from a chicken.

Finally, he added a salt from the ocean water and stirred it all up in a bucket.

Then it went into the oven to bake.  About this time, Micah got distracted by the mud bath festivities and forgot completely about his sand cake.  At least Emma was there to take charge for him.  She even decorated it with little shells after I told her it was done baking.

The book concludes with the Mama Bear announcing that she has made a cake for the family out of real flour, eggs, and milk, and then they all enjoy a nice picnic on the beach.  Not this Mama Bear.  I scrubbed the mud off them and then fed them Thai food for lunch with definitely no cake for dessert.  Even still, there wasn't any complaining coming from my little beach-going baker.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Boys Will Be Boys

The tide is low in the morning at Dolphin Bay.  So instead our beach time that morning was more accurately an entire shore of mud.  Sloppy, gloppy, squishy, oozy mud.  And six little boys and two grown-up boys were quite literally in hog heaven.

What began as Kevin's assertion that mud works better than sunscreen quickly developed into football pads to complete Sam's linebacker physique,

pants for daddy,

a pair of shoes,

a mud bath for a growing crowd,

and then the classic bury-daddy-in-the-glop game.

Note that it's the boys who are hard at work.  Our lone female representative in the kiddo crowd didn't seem too keen to get in on the muddy action.  Boys will be boys.  Dirty boys who were fishing mud out of their noses & ears for days afterward.

Even Hudson was smitten with the slimy stuff.  It was a chore to keep him from ingesting too many shells.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dream Beach

You can't have a beach vacation without...well, the beach.  Let me just say that this is probably the most kid-friendly beach I've ever been to.  That doesn't really say a lot since this is only the second beach I've visited during my not-so-long tenure as a parent.  Nevertheless, there was zero undertow and the kids could walk into the ocean 30-40 feet before it got deep.  A parent's dream beach really.  

A place where you can wrestle with daddy long enough to melt away the cheesy toddler grin that frequents so many of my pictures...

Where a baby can eat as much sand, shovels, and shells as he can get away with...

Where a mama can happily wear her $3 Louis Vuitton sunglasses... 
("They're real!" the Thai seller at the night market promised.  "A real copy!")

Where a baby can learn firsthand the joy of cheap sunglasses and the nonjoy of sunburns... 
(hey, you can't blame me!  I've never had a white kid before!)

Where little boys can unleash their inner fish...

Where diapers are so full of ocean water that swim suits can't even stay up...
And two year olds remind you for days that he no like the boat be loud...

Where daddies bond with their sons...

Where fledgling marine biologists chase after crabs and comment on how beautiful they are...

Where two little men learn that they have more in common than the last 5 letters of their name...

There's really not much else to say except that we had a beachin' good time.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Vacation Life

No, this picture is not photoshopped.  If it was, I would have actually made all of my children looking the same direction.  (Is there an action for that by the way?)  But that sunset...oh that sunset...is as real as they come!  And that, my friends, is one of the many reasons why we love Thailand.  

After our meetings in northern Thailand, we took a short flight and a not-so-short drive to Dolphin Bay with these fine friends.  We've known each other since our paths crossed in Louisville and before there was nary a child in the picture.  Now there are 7 children between our two families! 

The resort where we stayed booked us in a cottage, so we had a living room where we could hang out after the kids all went to bed.  That is worth its weight in baht!  They also kept our kids one day during nap time so Kevin & I could sneak away to get a foot massage together.  We've decided that vacationing with friends is definitely the way to do it.  Our kids have more fun, Kev & I have more fun, and I'd like to say that our friends had more fun too (though you'd have to ask them!).

Upon arriving, we were disappointed to find out that the pool where we were staying was undergoing repairs.  But what we got in return was permission to head down the street to the fanciest resort to use their pool.  The kiddie pool was big enough that it didn't feel like a glorified toilet, and there was a restaurant right next to the pool where we ate a few times.

One of my favorite things was the grass.  Lush, green, and...grassy.  While at our resort, I pretty much went the entire day without wearing shoes.  We were asked to take of our shoes at the door where we met for meals, so I figured there wasn't much point in wearing my shoes at all during the short walk there.  We could see the stars at night, hear the birds singing in the morning, and could taste the freshness of the air.  Our urban home definitely makes us thankful for these things!

We loved watching all the kids play together.  The two babies, Judson & Hudson, were fascinated with one another.  We had story & song time in our cottage during the odd hours where we didn't have enough time to make it to the beach or the pool.

I'm certainly not one to complain about vacation, but I have to admit that there are some definite challenges to vacationing with littles.  I've heard some moms not even refer to it as "vacation" but instead substituting "trip."  Probably a more accurate portrayal of the whole experience!  Gone are the days of lounging around, only appealing to my fancy for a decision on what to do next.  There are kiddos to chase and tummies to feed.  But there are also memories to be made and laughter to share, which makes it totally worth it to take yet another international trip with our brood.

Challenge #1 was hotel life.  We are still able to fit our family of 5 in one hotel room.  Our hotel room during the first part of our trip had two twin beds for Kevin & me, a crib for Sam shoved in between, a mattress for Micah on the floor, and our pack & play for Hudson crammed in the corner.  It was definitely a cozy fit but, since we didn't travel to Thailand to hang out in the hotel, we made due.  The only thing about having one hotel room for the entire family was the when the kids went to bed, Kevin & I were relegated to hanging out in the hallway.  So for 8 nights in a row, you could find us in the hallway, perched on pillows, watching a show on our lap top.  A date night of some sort you could call it.  The other thing about sharing a hotel room is that when one person gets up in the morning, everyone gets up.  And if that person was under the age of four, they usually ended up in mama's bed.

This was our final moment in our hotel room home before we headed south to the beach.  Maybe we were just happy to soon be in a place with a bit more space!

Challenge #2 was bath time.  Since we were swimming and sweating under the Thai sun everyday, my pretty flexible stance on the frequency of bathing firmed up a bit.  But since we didn't have a bath tub where we were staying, we had prison shower time.

Challenge #3 was just getting there & back.  Our resort at Dolphin Bay was a four hour drive from Bangkok.  For some crazy reason, we decided to drive to the airport, hang out there for 6 hours, board a 6 hour red eye flight to Seoul, spend another 6 hours at the airport there, and then board another short flight home.  We've always had good experiences with overnight flights with our kids before but this one has caused us to reconsider our position.  

Fear not...what is a trip to the beach without beach pictures?  There's enough of those for a post all of its own, so they should be up in a few more days.