Monday, June 29, 2009

My should-have-been birthday

Today, June 29th, should have been my birthday. My mom was due with me June 29th, 1973. Oh, I know only something like 5% of women give birth on their actual due date, but I have to point out that my birthday is July 25th. That means my mom was overdue by 26 days. Almost 4 weeks. Say that out loud just to let it sink in.

If you've given birth, you know how going past your due date can feel a little bit like you played the lottery and lost. As each day passes, you want to hole up in your house more and more so you can avoid the questions like, "Haven't you had that baby yet?" As if you just forgot to give birth. Either that or you're out running a 10K, sliding down stairs, or doing a million other things people suggest will bring on labor. Imagine doing that for almost four weeks, to no avail. You would start thinking you would be pregnant FOREVER.

When I finally came out, my parents said I looked like Jonah coming out of the whale (not intending to refer to my mother as a whale) because my skin was all red and scaly, and I was frighteningly bald. Really not attractive. You'd think my mom would be rewarded for her extra month of pregnancy but no, she got something that made her say, "This can't be mine." It sounds horrible but I've seen the pictures and I have to agree.

So if you're expecting, and particularly if you're overdue, I hope this story gives you encouragement. They learned their lesson after me, "Nope, keeping them in there longer doesn't make them any cuter. Get 'em out!"

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Way of the Heart

I stayed back from church this morning, and after a tussle with restarting our electricity (that's a story in itself) I sat down with my journal, a little Rich Mullins music, a Coke Zero (because as I've said before it's never too early in the morning) and The Way of the Heart, by Henri Nouwen.

I'm a fan of Nouwen because he speaks about being authentic and broken and completely loved as children of God. In what I read today he talked about solitude and what it does for us. I admit I like being alone, but the solitude he's talking about is a place where we can get away from the voices that try to tell us we are anything but who we are in Christ. We enter solitude intentionally to meet with Christ, and in so doing, we see ourselves for who we really are. We must see our sin, our brokenness, and see how his grace covers it. He says, "As we come to realize it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us, that he is our true self, we can slowly let our compulsions melt away and begin to experience the freedom of the children of God."

The next chapter tells the outcome of this solitude - compassion. "Solitude molds self-righteous people into gentle, caring, forgiving persons who are so deeply convinced of their own great sinfulness and so fully aware of God's even greater mercy that their life itself becomes ministry . . . the compassionate person is so aware of the suffering of others that it is not even possible for him or her to dwell on their sins . . . in solitude we realize that nothing human is alien to us, that the roots of all conflict, war, injustice, cruelty, hatred, jealousy, and envy are deeply anchored in our own hearts."

In other words, when I lay myself open before God in solitude, I come to see myself - my sin in its entirety, and God's amazing love poured out over it. And in light of how He has shown mercy to me, how can I begin to judge my neighbor? Instead, the mercy I have received will overflow in compassion toward those around me.

I confess I needed to hear this today because there are people I know who behave badly - both in my personal life and in the world in general. It is so tempting to judge them, to be angry and vengeful, and want to right injustices. After reading this today, I spent time praying for them, asking God to help me see their brokenness, to see my OWN brokenness more clearly so that I might show compassion.

Friday, June 26, 2009

More intrusion

This morning I went to check on the progress of our painters. We had a little disagreement about the crown molding. Yesterday he asked me to go buy paint for the crown molding, so I did. He painted it in the living room and dining room, but not in the kids' bedrooms where it is filthy. I pointed this out, and he told me that we weren't paying him to paint the molding. So I asked him the obvious question which was, "Then why did I go buy the paint?" He continued on but I didn't understand what he was saying. Chinese construction workers are the greatest test of Mandarin listening skills, mostly because the majority of them do not speak Mandarin as their first language.

As this discussion was going on, I heard two other voices. This confused me as there has only been one other worker. Turned out to be Snoop Dog's husband! He came in to examine our progress, and gave me a thumbs up of approval. I have to learn to shut my door. Snoop Dog herself was absent because she was in the middle of her morning religious ritual. I can't figure out what religion it is - all I know is that she kneels on a pillow and bows toward something I can't see, while creepy voices are chanting something that does not sound remotely Chinese. She leaves her inner door open. This is how I know.

So after that encounter I was returning home and was stopped by a group of grandpas and grandmas with two little children. They encouraged one of the little boys to call me "a-yi" (auntie) so I responded with, "Hey little friend. How old are you?" He sweetly held up five fingers and said, "I'm two!" Awww. Then came this conversation:

"Do you live there?" pointing to my friend's house.

"No, I'm staying there. I live there."

"Do you rent or own?"

"I rent. We haven't moved in yet because they're doing some renovation."

"Renovation??? Why are you renovating a rental?"
"Because before it was an office. And we aren't doing much. Just painting."
"How much do you pay?"
"The landlady gave us a good price."
"How much do you pay?"
"Ok, I've got to go now, bye!"
"Ok, bye!"

I'd forgotten that lovely aspect of communal societies - no question is too personal. We're causing quite a stir in the neighborhood.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Snoop dog

Chinese people are community oriented. They don't actually say, "It takes a village to raise a child" but they certainly live it. They are more aware of what their neighbors are doing and who they are. It's a kind of "your business is my business" attitude. Older Chinese women are particularly adept at expressing this community orientation. There was a woman we knew in our building the first time we lived here who felt the freedom to come into our house at any time if the door was open. You'd come around a corner and boom - there she was, checking out your new paint job, or heading down to the hallway to get your crying child out of his bed. We called her Snoop Dog. We understood that she was just living inside the boundaries of her culture, but it felt a bit intrusive at times.

Here in our new apartment, we have a new Snoop Dog. In fact, she looks a lot like the old one. Today when I let a friend in to examine the progress on painting our place, suddenly there was Snoop Dog peeking into the bathrooms, walking through the bedrooms. I'm not surprised. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of her. Much, much more.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Plant status

Rest in peace my short lived friends! I'm sorry I brought you out of a nice cool nursery into the sweltering heat and sun of my garden where you bravely fought a losing battle for life. For what it's worth, you were beautiful, and I really thought for a day there that you were going to make it. Goodbye my four green plants, my four flowers in a variety of colors, and my four green plants with bright pink flowers. You may be joined shortly by two magnolia plants, I'm sorry to say. For those of you who have been repotted and placed inside, best of luck to you. I hope you muster the will to live.

But there is hope for the future of this garden! Today we took in five petunias. I have it on good authority that these will survive, and if our neighbor's yard is any evidence, I trust it. They have a number of petunia plants hanging in their backyard and I don't think they bought them yesterday. Our new flowers now sit over the ghosts of plants gone by, safely in their pots to give them a fighting chance at life (not to mention height). I thought these five would be enough to cover the length of the garden, but I think I might need 3-4 more. We're going to see how these do first. Live my little petunias, live!

Mosquito attacks

Three nights ago, I was awakened by an extreme itch on my left foot. Turns out I got three mosquito bites right around the ball of it. I found some itch cream and settled back to sleep. An hour later I woke up with two bites on my right foot. Since the AC in our bedroom is sub par, I couldn't hide under the covers, so I went out into the living room where the AC is arctic and slept peacefully.

The next night, I woke up with matching bites on both my forearms. Again, I traipsed out to the living room and wrapped myself up in our big comforter.

Yesterday, I joked with Erik that the mosquitoes were moving up my body and that they would hit my face last night. Not so. They went for my shoulders instead. One on each side. They threw a cluster of 5 onto my left shin for good measure, along with one on my face and a few on my neck. Did I mention that Erik hasn't been bitten? So once again it was off to the couch for me.

Although my prevalent feeling in this situation is frustration mingled with annoyance, I have to laugh. What's with the matching bites? Is it some kind of Chinese yin-yang thing, trying to keep the balance? What should I expect tonight? My ears? Whatever it is, I'm guessing I'll get both sides. Wouldn't want part of me to feel left out.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The flat tire on our plane

When I was about 11 years old, my family went to Hawaii. Now, the details are sketchy, but I remember that there was a delay in our return flight taking off. Halfway across the ocean, we dropped fuel and headed back to Honolulu. We stayed there for what felt like hours, then flew to LA. We missed our connecting flight there, but caught a later one to Salt Lake City, where they'd held a plane for us for 45 minutes. When we finally landed in Minneapolis five hours later than intended, you'd think we were safe. And then the plane got a flat tire. The oxygen masks came down in a few rows. We were pulled back to the gate by a luggage car.

So when I wrote this morning and said all I had to do to get our kids' birth certificates was a taxi ride across town, I should have remembered this incident.

When I got to the hospital, I was helped by a woman named Apple, who connected me with Cherry from Medical Records. Cherry came down with photocopies of Megan's birth certificate which were not as nice as the ones I already possess. I told her that we needed actual original copies and asked if she could have them generate some. After some deliberation, they decided that they could not because they didn't have the right stamp for it (the Chinese have a love affair with red stamps).

The kids and I walked a few blocks to a market where I bought a few things. Erik called there and said that it was possible we only needed the hospital to write a letter confirming that our children were in fact born there. We headed back over, only to discover at the entrance to the hospital that I had set down the birth certificate copies somewhere on our shopping trip. After a frantic run there and back, and an hour wait for a doctor to write a "medical certificate" I now have two barely legible documents stating that "Butz Ethan" and "Butz Megan" were born in their hospital.

I sincerely hope that this is the flat tire on our airplane, but I'm not holding my breath. We're not to the gate yet! :)

More visa craziness

When Erik called the Hennepin County courthouse in Minneapolis last Friday to obtain another copy of our marriage certificate, he was told on the voice recording that they have birth certificates dating back to 1853, and marriage certificates back to 1903. That's impressive.

Not so here, at the clinic where our kids were born. I called this morning to see if I could get another copy of the kids' birth certificates. I was told that they have birth certificates dating back to when Megan was born, and record of birth dating back to March 2000 (Ethan was born February 23). This clinic has only been open about 10 years, so I can't imagine they are all that loaded down with records. I am baffled as to why they felt the need to purge already. Thankfully I have a copy of the original, from which they said they could issue a new birth certificate.

Why these new copies you ask? Oh well, it's just another step in the craziness that is our visa process. We found out last Thursday that to do this last step (hopefully) in getting our visas, we need original copies of our marriage and birth certificates. The problem is, we appear to have left those in our shipment, which is still in Singapore.

So another $100 to process and ship a marriage certificate from Minneapolis to Rochester to China, and a taxi ride across town to the hospital later, we should have what we need in time for the last processing stop. The message it seems we're getting is, "You have to REALLY want to live here." Well, we do. So on it goes.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Finding my green thumb

You know what grows quickly and has crazy roots? Bamboo! Guess what's all over my backyard? (If you can't guess this you really aren't following my train of thought here). Yeah, so even though we cut the bamboo down - not all of it, but some of it, to make room for something else - I'm discovering that the root systems are vast and the bamboo itself grows horizontally underground. So I bought a hatchet. I think I never knew until today that I really wanted a hatchet.

So far in my little plot of dirt I have planted two what I believe are magnolia bushes, four purple plants, two large green plants with white flowers (for lack of a better description), four pink flowering plants, four small green plants, two bushes, six little plants, and a jasmine tree. And I have four flowers waiting to be planted.

And so far I've managed to kill four purple plants, two large green plants with white flowers, and two of my little plants seem precarious. Someone tell me this is normal? The problem is, the extent of my plant vocabulary in Chinese right now includes, "Does this plant like a lot of sunshine and heat?" (literally, "Is it afraid of sunshine?") and of course any self-respecting plant seller will say, "No, it likes sun!" because their goal is to take my money.

Thankfully, they haven't taken much of my money because plants are cheap. We'll see what continues to grow and what has just been brought here to die.

Every man for himself

As a family we recently ventured up to the north part of town where many of our friends live. We opted for the subway because it's a pricey taxi ride there, and the western most subway stop is a few blocks from our house. Since it's the first stop, it's almost a guarantee you'll get a seat, which is good because as you continue on, the subway can start resembling a "how many clowns can you fit in a Volkswagon" joke.

Ethan, being our anxious one, started preparing to disembark about two stops ahead of time. He started saying to me, "Mom, shouldn't we get ready to get off?" as he was eyeing the sheer number of people between him and the door. I told him we could wait. It was all I could do to keep him in his seat until we got to our stop. Then he bolted.

I told him to relax, saying, "Ethan, don't worry. You're going to get off the train."

To which he replied, "Yeah, I'M going to get off the train." Implication: I don't know about you people.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hong Kong Disney, take 2

Erik had to bolt early in the morning to pick up our visas (oh yeah, that's why we're in Hong Kong) so the kids and I spent part of the morning watching - what else - the Disney channel. We tried to hit the pool but got rained out within 10 minutes, so we decided to brave the park on our own. Megan decided to give me a mild cardiac arrest by getting to the gate and announcing that she couldn't find the ticket I gave her back at the bus (never, ever, give your children control of their tickets early). Thankfully we found it in a little puddle, wet, but still intact.

I convinced Megan that she really DID want to go on Space Mountain again with me. She said once a day is enough. The kids figured out soon afterward that the Disney employees offer free stickers of all the characters if you ask. Megan proved more motivated and brave in this task, finishing the day with over 30 different stickers. We met up with Erik at Mickey's Philharmagic show, which is in 3D. It was amusing to see the kids keep reaching out, trying to grab what was coming out of the screen. What was more amusing was seeing the Chinese woman on the other side of me do the same thing. I discovered that my good eye can't compensate for my bad one when I'm wearing 3D glasses, so it was a bit of a blurry show for me, but entertaining nonetheless.

What Disney trip would be complete without pictures with the characters? We nabbed Pluto (Megan's favorite) and Mickey before Ethan said "enough" and we headed for It's a Small World. You what's great about that ride at Hong Kong Disney? It was obviously made recently. Not that I didn't thoroughly enjoy the one at Orlando, but I'm pretty sure those are the same dolls I saw when I was 6. They've also thrown in other Disney characters at this one, which is fun. There was a western family in front of us who told us all the primary schools in Hong Kong were cancelled that day because of swine flu, and Disney was giving discount tickets. There was an article in the paper the next day about how the government got upset over that. I can see their point, because it's like saying, "don't go congregate in school - come to Disney and pass potential germs to an international community!" But in Disney's defense, their sanitation practices are pretty good.

We did several rides again - Megan loved the Cinderella carousel, and while the kids liked trying to improve their scores on Buzz's Astroblasters ride (you shoot aliens to get points) I think Erik enjoyed it the most. We watched The Golden Mickeys again because they were just so much fun (and because Erik admitted that he slept through it the first time), ate dinner, and went back to the hotel to watch an encore of the fireworks from the night before.

So what's our assessment of Hong Kong Disney? Well, I'd say if you had little ones, say Megan's age and younger, this is about as much Disney as you need. It's easy to navigate because it's smaller, the rides are better suited for them, and the lines are SO much shorter (our longest wait was 20 minutes). I will say that if you have already been to Disneyworld, this isn't nearly as exciting. On the other hand, if you take them here first, Disneyworld will seem FANTASTIC.

Hong Kong Disney

We left our hostel behind in the questionable part of town and upped our standard of living by moving to the Disneyland Hollywood Hotel on our third day. This was partly because one night there got you a "two days for one" deal at Disney. We were told you could do Disney in a day, which is true, but we planned to spend both mornings either traveling or doing other things, so this was perfect.

Hey, so how many of you have seen Lilo and Stitch? If you haven't, you'd better watch it before you go to Hong Kong Disney. I didn't really realize it was a Disney movie but apparently Stitch is filling in for Mickey at HK Disneyland. When you walk down Main Street into that center circle and look up at the Sleeping Beauty Castle (or in the case of Hong Kong Disney, just forward and slightly up. It's not a very big castle), right in front of you is a big sand like statue of Lilo and Stitch. And then there's Stitch in Tomorrowland, which makes sense cause he's an alien and that's where they put those. But then there he is in Adventureland, and Fantasyland, and on the t-shirts in the gift shop, and there are big pictures of his head all over the Disney map. All day I wondered about this. I just can't say that Stitch falls on my list of beloved Disney characters. To be honest, I think he's kind of obnoxious.

But we still had fun, despite the prevalence of Stitch. Hong Kong Disney is a scaled down version of Disney World. It has the same layout but fewer rides. In fact, the only one that really has a thrill factor was Space Mountain. Megan LOVED this last year in Orlando so we headed there first. We walked straight on. Erik and I loved it and were all prepared to go again, but the kids said it was "loud" and "creepy." Whatever.

Since it was a bit rainy, we stayed inside to watch the Lion King show and the "Golden Mickeys" which was a bunch of the songs from Disney movies with live dancing and singing. It's a little weird seeing most of these characters played by Asians, and particularly to hear them speaking Cantonese (especially Ariel, who was actually white but speaking Cantonese). But for the most part they have replicated Disney quite well. Megan and I got front row seats (on the ground) for the High School Musical show in front of the castle. She got pulled up at the end to learn a few steps to one of the songs. Normally that kind of thing would freak her out, but she was a great sport and did pretty well. We'll get that inner performer out of her yet!

We had the added bonus of getting a park view room in our hotel from which we could watch the 8 pm fireworks display. There's even a channel on the TV devoted only to playing the music that goes with it, so it was a great way to end the day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Adventures in Hong Kong, day 2

The first morning when we went out foraging for food, Erik made the mistake of asking me, in front of a restaurant owner, what I wanted for breakfast. It was a mistake, because my honest answer was, "Probably nothing I can find on the street here" which was just rude to say next to the man offering us his set breakfast for $20HK. I just gave Erik a look and we moved on. I'll admit I'm not an adventurous eater, though I'm willing to be flexible at times. Those times do not include my breakfasts however. I'm an oatmeal girl. If I can't have oatmeal, I'll take cold cereal. Beyond that, things might get dicey.

So it was with great joy that I went into the lobby of our hostel yesterday morning (I use the word lobby quite loosely here. It's a room about 10 ft sq) and saw that the desk held cereal, milk, and fruit for our family. What a great start to the second day!

Our plan for the day was Ocean Park, supposedly one of the highest rated theme parks in the world. I didn't see this information personally. I only heard it from a nine year old, so it's iffy. But I have to say that for the price, Ocean Park is a good deal. There are two main sections divided by a hill which you navigate by cable car. It's a combination of amusement park rides and animal habitats like the "sea jelly spectacular" which really was spectacular. Especially the dark mirror lined room full of cylindrical tanks that was a crazy maker - which way is out? I don't know but look at these jellyfish! I can't tell you how many people walked into the walls in that room. One little kid full on ran into one.

The only hiccup in our plan was that our little Megan was not tall enough to ride the best rollercoasters, which led to some tears. Oh yeah, that and the fact that someone took my sunglasses. When Ethan and I rode The Dragon (big rollercoaster), we were invited to put our personal belongings on shelves next to the ride so we wouldn't lose them. Ah, the irony. I want to believe that someone accidentally took my glasses because there was a pair left behind (which the ride operator wouldn't let me take even though someone took mine. I thought that was a perfectly fair proposal). But my glasses were nowhere near the pair that was left behind. Thank God for gift shops with decently priced replacement glasses, because it was a sunny and muggy day. That's the other thing about Ocean Park - not for those unwilling to walk a great deal up and down hills, especially in this weather. It's situated on a hillside overlooking the ocean. Beautiful view but man, a lot of hiking and sweating!

In the afternoon we found some rides that satisfied Megan's height and interest, so all were pleased. This morning it's off to Disneyland!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Adventures in Hong Kong, day 1

I'm not a luxury girl. Sure, I appreciate a nicer stay, but I'm pretty ok with the average one. That's a good thing, because the path we've chosen to take in life could be characterized as "economy." I don't mind this because it means we end up living closer to local in most places, and I find it much more interesting. So in choosing a place to stay for our time in Hong Kong, we opted for a downtown hostel as opposed to a southern hotel, since it was half the price.

I began to question that choice when, as we approached the hostel, we found ourselves in a part of Hong Kong that I have only seen in movies like Mission Impossible and 007. Minus the motorcycle chases with crazy stunts that have been disproven as impossible by Mythbusters. The part of Hong Kong where the neon lights are so bright that it feels like daytime all night long, and the other hotels are pay by the hour.

Fortunately, our place is on the 9th floor, and while it's not exactly 5 star (or even warranting stars) it's new, clean, quiet, and the manager is a sweet and helpful woman with impeccable English. Sure, I have to sit sideways on the toilet because the bathroom is smaller than a closet, but sitting forward is so overrated. It has air con, and internet access, and we're the only ones staying here it seems, so we're ok. And we're only here three nights before we move over to one of the Disney resorts. We're just staying here to make that seem even MORE fantastic.

The purpose of our visit to Hong Kong is to obtain visas. We have letters of invitation from our company to get business visas. We came here with some trepidation as we were told by a few sources that this kind of visa must be obtained in your "country of origin" which for us means Singapore. So we came here knowing that it was quite possible we'd be boarding a plane back there if this didn't pan out.

But, armed with our Jedi mind tricks ("You don't need to go back to your country of origin for these visas. Move along"), and prepared for at least a 2 hour wait, we hopped the MTR (subway) to the embassy. 23 minutes later we were back on streets having submitted said visas without a hitch, and we weren't quite sure what to do with ourselves. Finally we took the Peak Tram up Victoria Peak where we saw a beautiful view for about 5 minutes before we were swallowed by clouds and enjoyed a nice rainstorm. We probably should have quit there and gone back to our little hostel, but took a taxi across the island to Stanley Market. We'd heard good things about it, but when we got there, we realized we had no money, the exchange rate was terrible, and let's face it - living in Asia 10 years means we've seen our share of markets. Taking a double decker bus back downtown afforded a beautiful view of the coast, then we joined the evening commute (read "thousands of Hong Kong residents") back to Mong Kok.

There are several things which I've observed about Hong Kong: first, I didn't realize they spoke so much English here. Really, this should never surprise me about a former British colony. Those British leave their mark. I am also surprised by how many people can speak Mandarin, since this is a Cantonese speaking area. This means many people here are trilingual and I am supremely jealous. I only know one phrase in Cantonese which is "Where is the McDonald's?" This is an important phrase in any country because it will get you food you recognize and decent bathrooms. Second, I've never seen so many tall buildings in one place. They've certainly made good use of their limited real estate. Third, mango tic tacs and Mentos gum - very fun! Fourth, while parts of Hong Kong are offensively urban, others are amazingly beautiful. Finally, the public transportation system here is quite similar to Singapore's, and boy do a lot of people use it. I've never seen so many people use the subway at once.

Day 1 in Hong Kong complete.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Banking on my genes

I just got back from my garden. That's right, I have a garden. I fought a battle with some gnarly bamboo plants whose roots are crazy and even go under the brick path. I felt powerful ripping those things out of the ground, like we were mortal enemies and I conquered them. Hey, I'm small. I have to pick my opponents to match my size.

Armed with my gloves, my shovel, a clippers, and a small rake, I managed to trim back the bamboo I didn't feel like digging out yet (but I've got my eye on you, you rascally plants!) and the rose bushes that are attracting cities of ants. I dug up the random weed like plants that were growing, and removed a great deal of charcoal from the soil. Is charcoal good for soil? Or did someone dispose of their grill remains in my garden?

The back 40 is ready for planting. Or rather, the 2x10 ft strip of dirt below our back windows is ready. My friend Meg and I went to the nursery again and bought some plants. I got a jasmine sapling (which I think I'll plant in a big pot outside), some violets, some cool plants I recognize from Singapore but whose name I don't know (the seller gave them to me for free! I asked her if it was because they are going to die tomorrow. We laughed), and a few smaller flowering plants.

I have no idea if any of those things will grow, or if I've simply brought them to my house to die. But at one point during my work, as I grabbed a rock and threw it on my disposal pile, the image flashed through my mind of my dad doing the same thing in his garden, and I was encouraged to think maybe I could be as good as him someday. If I had $1,000 sitting around, I'd fly him over for a week so he could show me how to do this, because this is what his garden looks like:

And that's just one part of it, and not even when things are really blooming. I'm hoping maybe it's in the genes. Out of all these plants and seeds, hopefully something will grow! If not, at least I'm having fun in the process.

Form without Substance

I heard recently the idea that when it comes to developing our children spiritually, we can give them form, but not substance. In other words, we can create an environment for them in which they learn about God through us and others, but we cannot fill them with faith. We can't make them believe. Only through God's spirit can there be substance. I can teach them to apologize, but only God can give them a repentant heart. I can teach them to memorize verses, but only God can make those verses come alive in their hearts and guide their living. Comprende?

This post is actually not about parenting at all. I just use that illustration because yesterday it struck me that my Chinese skills are often "form without substance." I can grammatically form a correct sentence (well, at least to speak as well as a small child - but I can't figure out that darn "ba" construction!) but I often don't have the key verbs and nouns I need to fill in the sentence. I once read on the cover of a book, "This is the most _______ book in the world." I thought, "That is the most useless sentence ever to me! It's the most WHAT book? It could be anything." All because of my lack of substance.

So when I was at the nursery, trying to communicate to the girl that I needed a great deal of soil to fill in a large fish pond, I could say, "I have a large ________ in my garden. I need to fill it with _____." Since that wouldn't make sense, I had to say, "I have a thing in my yard that used to have fish. And now I want to put flowers in it, so I need the stuff to put in it." Since then I have learned how to say "soil." Very important.

I'm thankful for the form, and I know that the substance will come over time as the felt need is strong. This morning on my walk I was mentally making a list of words I need to learn quickly, "Can, liter, glue, plant." What makes this different than my illustration is that the Holy Spirit unfortunately is not going to come fill me with Chinese words. For that I'm on my own.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Life is good

I woke up at 5:30 yesterday morning to a bright sunny day, headed out the door and down the canal that is a block away. It's lined on both sides with sloping green grass, and a white marble fence keeps you from falling in. There were men fishing (using empty yakult bottles as buoys) and people running and walking along the 2 miles I traveled out and then back. At one point I ran past a group of men climbing out of the canal after a morning swim. They seemed a little surprised to see a foreign girl, but not at all embarrassed that they were standing there in their dripping bikini underwear.

On Thursday we went over to our new place and my friend Jen and I schemed about how I could transform the backyard. Currently there is a lot of bamboo, some filthy brick tiling, and a gigantic empty fish pond. My plan is to cut back a lot of the bamboo, lay down more (not filthy) brick to make a space for a table and chairs, and fill in the fish pond with dirt to make a vegetable and herb garden. Now if only my green thumbed dad were here to show me exactly how to do that well. I emphasize the word "well." Any idiot can throw dirt in a hole and put seeds in it, but only someone like my dad knows how to make it grow.

Everywhere I turn here, everywhere I go, I am finding little joys. Seeing our kids outside at 7 a.m. playing with friends, being able to teach them bits of Chinese in situations where they actually need it (and having them speak it back to me!), breathing in cool fresh air in the morning, finding products they didn't used to have here, settling back into old friendships, looking out my window and seeing the Summer Palace against the foothills, living in a place with more green than I knew could exist in China - joys everywhere.

I think we always have expectations about how something will be in life, whether we realize it or not. I know that I had expectations about life here, in many ways how it was going to be "better" than our life in Singapore. So far, it's even better than what I expected - that doesn't usually happen to me because I have HIGH expectations! So rejoice with me. Life is good.

This is the view from the apartment where we are staying - they are on the 15th floor so they can see over to the foothills. If you click on the picture and look at the hill toward to the right side of the picture, you'll see the Summer Palace.
This is the courtyard below where we are staying. We are two buildings over with a similar coutyard. There's so much green here compared to other parts of the city! And that lower building across the street is where the gym and pool are.

This is the view looking west. You can see the park that runs along our complex, and the rollerblading rink that's there. There's also tennis and basketball courts, and a playground over there. The canal I run on is on the other side of the park.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Is it real?

I'm looking out the window at a blue sky, and a horizon of foothills lining our new city. Well, it's not really new. It was our home from 1999-2004. It's where our children were born. It's where we've made life long friends. And as of 6:15 a.m. this morning when we landed, it's our home again.

Our friends met us at the gate of our new building, and I haven't seen the kids more than about 2 minutes since then (it's almost dinner time) as they've been tromping between three apartments and the courtyards between them. I accompanied a friend of mine to register with the local police (a must in this country, even for a short stay), and to the Carrefour (think a downsized French Walmart) where I was delighted to see how much more we can buy than we could before. Much has changed for the better, but so much is still familiar. Erik is getting the key to our new apartment as I type, and I hope to head out for a run later tonight once the sun has gone down a bit and it's cooled down to 75 or so.

I can't get over the fact that I just think we're visiting. After all, we've stayed with these friends before. But there's no return ticket to Singapore around the corner. Once we're back from Hong Kong next week (where we'll get our long term visas) we will settle into the apartment next to ours (which belongs to our friends who will be in the States this summer) and finish readying our place. Our belongings should arrive around the beginning of July, and then I think it will finally hit me: we don't live in Singapore anymore.