Monday, August 30, 2010

This is how it's done

I have wondered more than once how a place like Metro does business in China. Metro, for the uniformed, is like Sam's Club. Theoretically, you need a membership card, though I just tell them every time that I don't have a card and they write a slip for me to go in. Inside, there are carts larger than you've ever seen elsewhere in China (I used to shop at a place where a "cart" was a double decker place to put plastic baskets - have fun shopping for 10 items!). There's everything from lawn furniture to appliances to food to household goods. And in good Chinese fashion, in addition a gallon vat of mayonnaise, you can buy a 2 liter jug of soy sauce.
(side note: despite the massive size of much of what can be purchased at Metro, they do not deliver. Go figure).

The reason I wonder why they don't close shop is that I rarely see people buy any of the larger items. Case in point: today the woman in front of me was buying an 8 pack of Mentos gum, a 3 pack of glue sticks, and a small jar of Dijon mustard. The guy in front of her, a package of noodles. The woman behind me had a bag of frozen dumplings.

This is what I had:
This is easier to understand when you know that until very recently, many Chinese households didn't even have refrigerators. Their kitchens are small, without storage. They shop meal to meal, or at least day to day. True, occasionally I'll see someone with a large amount of alcohol, or an economy pack of holiday treats (currently moon cakes), but they generally have a look of wonder and excitement on their faces that says, "I can't believe I'm buying this!"

So I ask myself, "Is it just us foreigners keeping this place open? Or is the restaurants to whom it is supposedly marketed?" (you can buy lots of restaurant stuff there). If so, maybe we should go more often, cause I don't think I can live without my 2.5kg bag of oatmeal for 29.99Y or the 2kg vat of vinegar for 19.99Y.

The funny thing, they're all staring at my cart like I'm insane, and I want to say, "Hey, this is how it's done here people!"

Thursday, August 26, 2010


"I recognize that I disobeyed the laws of this country by failing to register within 24 hours of moving. In the future I will make a greater effort to abide by the law."

That is the sum of my self-criticism which I was forced to write recently at the police station. Writing a self-criticism is a rite of passage in China, right up there with getting your bike stolen, and getting sick from street food.

The reason for my punishment was that every time you move to a new location in China, you have to go to the local police station and tell them that you've moved. Erik went the day before me to register our family (6 days late), and also had to sign a self-criticism. His was because he had left the country in July and didn't re-register in our previous district. The police officer saw that he had neglected to do so and told him, "We have records on the computer that show when you leave the country, so we will know if you don't do this," which begs the question, "If you have it on your computer, why do I need to come tell you?" But that's a question best left unasked, as there will be no satisfying answer.

Erik had forgotten a few documents (our rent agreement, and the owner's ID) so I had to go back to present these. The woman showed me Erik's self-criticism, and gave me my own to write. I tried to get out of it by telling the woman that I did not leave the country in July, only my husband did. She told me it was because I hadn't personally come to register the day before, and I pointed out that previously when we registered in our old district, only one of us had to go. Then she asked me, "But when did you move up here? Did you come here within 24 hours?"


I admitted that I hadn't, and vainly explained that moving is a busy process, especially with small children. She concurred, but was unmoved. I was sorely tempted to go overboard with my apology. I was writing in English (thankfully - I've had friends have to write it in Chinese) but wasn't sure if they would recognize the sarcasm and make me write another self-criticism as penance for my insincere self-criticism, so I refrained. In the end, she didn't even glance at what I wrote.

A strange form of punishment, but I think it will work for me. I felt like an 8 year old having to write lines, "I will not fail to register within 24 hours." Well done, China.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I'm thankful

I just passed 1,000 posts! But that's completely irrelevant to what I'm going to share with you today.

SOO many ways to be thankful right now, as we settle in to our new place. Here they are:

276. Our apartment is finished and it's beautiful!
277. I have a kitchen island
278. I have an OUTLET in my kitchen island
279. The ACs work
280. I have more storage space than I currently need. This has never happened before in Asia
281. Our guest room is ready and it makes me happy to look at it
282. Erik is 4 minutes away
283. There's a huge produce market 5 minutes away
284. I can get my hair cut for 15Y at a really cool place at the bottom of my building
285. Street popcorn
286. Friends within walking distance
287. Our friend Gary still had furniture in his warehouse that we could use and he gave us great deals on it
288. My dryer works (just not my washer)
289. A double sink!
290. Beautiful views from our 12th floor
291. The friendliness and curiosity of the Chinese people. I almost always feel welcome in this country
292. Children who are flexible and adaptable and adventurous
293. The freedom to let my kids bike down the street to play with their friends
294. Friends returning from the U.S. each day
295. The ability to communicate in this language (most of the time!)
296. My husband who DOES communicate well in this language and who rescues me often, and who never tires of serving and encouraging (or at least doesn't show it)
297. Homeschool co-op starting soon
298. The book The Rest of God
299. P90X that is kicking my butt
300. The knowledge that all these things are little gifts from a God who loves me

Monday, August 23, 2010

I just moved to China

So I just moved back to China last Monday.

I know, I know. I moved back to China last June right? Yes. But, no.

The part of town where we lived this last year was a bit of Chinese utopia. It was sort of China lite. There were very few people, little street traffic or food vendors. There was a lack of blatant staring at the foreigners, local restaurants and stores, or unexpected nasty smells. There was an overabundance of luxury SUVs and a shortage of bicycles. It was green and clean. In short, it wasn't typical.

You wouldn't think that moving to a part of town where the opposite of these things being true would be desirous, and I'll admit, it will take some adjustment. But the other night, our family ate Muslim food on the street at the bottom of our building, then I got a 15Y haircut a few doors down. The other morning I saw a guy sitting on a rickety stool, sketching some trees. There are old men who gather at one corner to play ma jiang each day. There's food everywhere. People are curious and friendly. The produce market down the street is gigantic (and I'm told it's the "smaller" one). Within walking distance of my house I can find a dry cleaner, hair salon, restaurants, convenience stores, pharmacy, vet, and I'm sure hosts of other things I'd never imagine I need right here.

Sure, the unabashed staring will get old, as will the fact that it can take about 15 minutes to travel from our north gate to the stoplight two blocks away because people make it a free for all in terms of how many lanes they make (and which direction they flow). But last night as we walked back from a friend's house, we bought a bag of street popcorn for 3Y and thought, "This is going to be fun."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The State of Things

I'm happy to say that as I look around this room (our living room) there is only one box. It is open, and most of its contents are either put away, or on the floor next to it. I can hear Erik unpacking and sorting in our office as I type. Apart from needing a few more pieces of furniture in which to place unpacked items, we've got things put away (if you count throwing lots of boxes into the storage room "putting away", and we do).

I think I'm a little surprised it's happened this quickly. It doesn't feel like we're done though by any means, because we haven't put anything on the walls. Oh, and did I mention I can't use my washing machine or oven yet? And our dishwasher is having a hard time making it here from Shanghai. Apparently it's been sidetracked by the ocean view along the way. Can't blame it.

I have to say my favorite room is the kitchen/dining room. Every time I walk into it, I think, "This is a kitchen in China?!?" Knocking down the wall was inspired (I give Erik the credit - I was reluctant, for reasons I cannot now recall. Probably it was just me not liking change). It's huge and open and beautiful and I love it. Come see for yourself!

My goal (and Erik says it's ambitious, but those of you know me know ambitious is how I roll) is to have everything in place, including pictures on the wall, by September 1. This week that includes going to the furniture place to see what Gary has left, and heading to Golden Five Star to buy the rest of our curtains plus replacement covers for our couch (wow - didn't realize how much the love seat faded in the sun!). Hopefully the dishwasher will show up, most likely with a tan from all that beach time. Erik's job is to switch the plug on our oven so it will fit into the wall (it has a Singaporean plug) and to find the piece we need to hook up our washing machine.

As we say here, "Man man de" which means, "Slowly." I'd have to say though that for a week in, the state of things is pretty great.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A new story

I was going to say that we have just started a new chapter of our lives, but it feels more like a new story entirely. I say that because when you finish reading a good book, there's often that sense that you wish it would continue. You hate to say goodbye to it, but you know the story is resolved. That's how I feel about the last year of our lives. It was a great story, filled with old friends and new experiences of a culture that we love. But those friends have moved on and now so have we.

And when you're starting a new book, you don't know much about what's going to happen. It could be a story that sucks you in and makes you fall in love with it, or you could get partway through and think, "Why am I reading this?" I have a vague idea of where this story is going and what could happen, but so much of it is still uncertain, and I don't like that. As I was sitting on my couch this morning, I thought, "I don't know how to do life here." We are blessed to know many families in the area already, but I don't know their schedules and how we will fit into them. I know there must be places to buy food, but I don't really know where I should go. I know that I will have a new helper come September but right now I couldn't even recall her name to you. In all these things there will frustrations and joys - days when we find something and think, "This is awesome! I never knew this was here!" and other days when we think, "I just want to go crawl in a hole because I can't seem to figure this out." I like routine, and I like feeling competent, and I know that I will have little of that in the days to come.

I am thankful in the midst of this transition to have a husband who is gracious and helpful, and seemingly unstoppable, and children who are flexible and independent (which is maybe another way to say they have figured out how to entertain themselves when I can't do it for them!).

A friend once told me that when you move a house plant from one place to another, it wilts a little. But after awhile it perks up again, once it becomes accustomed to its surroundings. So I know I need to give myself grace to be a little wilted while I get my bearings. (this also reminds me that I should really go check the status of my jasmine plants on the porch!).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nothin' like a little love

Nothing cheers like a genuine verbal boost from your kids when you least expect it, and believe me, today was a day when I least expected it. Needing to focus entirely on packing, and having almost no options for neighbors to watch the kids (not to mention all their toys being packed) I shamefully admit that they watched 3 movies, in addition to some Wii time. Ok, a lot of Wii time.

Maybe that's why Megan said this to me, "You are the BEST mommy in the whole WORLD! Because you're beautiful, and loving, and kind! And I LOVE my mommy!!"

This comment came after some Wii and a movie, but before the 2nd two movies and more Wii, and macaroni and cheese which I loathe giving them (but they adore), so I'd like to think it was based on some truth and not just spouting from a media induced euphoria. It might also have stemmed from her observing my state of mind and thinking, "Mommy might crack. I'd better pour some sugar on this or we could lose her."

Either way, it was encouraging!

One last time

I haven't spent much time down by the canal this summer because unlike last summer, it's been wickedly humid and hot no matter how early I rise. I miss Minnesota summer mornings, the kind where you can still see your breath a little sometimes. Alas, that kind of cool isn't reality here, but at least something where you don't feel like someone's trying to smother you with a blanket. It's just fun that way (I have found myself wondering how on EARTH I ran every morning in Singapore, but I think it was because a) the sun wasn't up and b) I had no choice and c) you really do get used to it when it's constant).

This morning I planned to take one last walk (I've given up on running with this humidity and the stress of moving) around the canal. When I woke up and walked into the homeschool room, I was encouraged that it didn't feel like I was stepping into a sauna, which it usually does. I headed out the door sometime just after 6 into a beautifully cool, sunny morning. I walked about 4 miles in a loop, snapping a few pictures along the way. Unfortunately my camera battery died, so I couldn't capture the collection of old people slapping their legs in unison, the produce market hopping like mad already (along with various other vendors), the people doing tai chi in the park, or the old men painting Chinese characters on the ground with water and giant sponge brushes. But I got to see them, and that was pure joy. I'm so thankful to God that my last jaunt by the canal was such a fun one!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Packing day

Today is a packing day, and I can't tell you how relieved I am that Erik is finally free to help me (I've done about 60 boxes on my own). He's all motivated right now. We'll see how that goes.

Though Erik and I are committed to this process, the kids are either a) not as excited or b) not quite as capable of packing. So this morning when Megan woke up and came to sit with me, I tried to psych her up for the day (she's the excited, but not as capable one).

Me: "Megan, maybe while we pack, we should play music on the Apple TV!" (If you don't know what an Apple TV is, I'm sorry, I'm not going to explain it here).

Megan: "Or we could just play a CD."

Me: "But if we use the Apple TV it will just keep playing and playing."

Megan: "But we might get a song that's not so packish."

True. We'll still try though, and hope that all the songs are packish songs, and also maybe joyful and patience-producing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

One Room's Transformation

It's been amazing watching our apartment take shape, from empty shell to livable home. There is still plenty of transformation to come as we haven't even moved our stuff in yet, but here's an example of the level of work that's being done there:

The original kitchen - for some reason, painted dark gray. The part jutting out on the right covers pipes, and was unable to be moved, but the wall to the left we decided to tear down so it could be open to the dining room.

The kitchen/dining room, taken from the door you see in the first picture, after they tore the wall down. The small room there is a guest bathroom.

Taken from the same viewpoint as the first picture. As you can see, taking down the wall really opened up the space.

Color!! I love this color. I wanted something slate/blue/gray to contrast with some pumpkin/copper color stuff we have in our dining room. You can see the start of a heater cover there. Most of the heaters won't be covered - just painted because it's too expensive to cover them.

The kitchen view from the dining room. I love that we have this little breakfast bar, and bookshelves for things like cookbooks. There is a space for our dishwasher between our sink and stove. The space above is for the "oil sucker."

Here you can see the space for our refrigerator (to the right of the part covering the pipes) and space for our oven (below) and microwave (above). Below the cabinet on the right we are going to put our buffet.

Beneath all the dust and construction supplies you would be able to see some nice tile they've installed too. No point in cleaning along the way. Our move date is next Monday. It won't all be done by then, but it will be close. You can see more before pictures on my Facebook pages. I'll take more "after" pictures (or at least "in progress") pictures today when we go see what's happening.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Trying to be more local

One of the ways I have always wanted to be more local is in my Chinese signature. Whenever I have to sign it, I feel like it must look like a kindergartner wrote it. When Chinese people write characters, it's very fluid and flowing. When I write them, I am conscious that one wrong stroke can change the meaning, and that when a Chinese person is watching me do it, he or she knows if I write it out of order (yes, the order in which you write the character is important to them), so it's very precise.

Our extreme dependence on Taobao deliveries means I am often called on to sign my Chinese name. In light of that, about a week ago, I decided I needed to master a more Chinese looking signature. I spent some time yesterday signing my name over and over. Today at the hair salon after a much needed head massage, I took a risk and signed it as casually as I could. The girl who was helping me said, "Wow! You sign just like a Chinese person!"


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Looking Forward

Now that we've said our goodbyes and are picking up the pieces of our broken hearts, it's time to look forward at the next step. In two weeks we will move up north, closer to our office. While packing box after box and dongxi bag after dongxi bag (these are plastic like bags that zip shut. Dongxi means "stuff"), I have started thinking about our new apartment and what I'm excited to experience in it, like:

1. A double sink in the kitchen
2. Dishwasher
3. An island with stools next to it - breakfast is served!
4. A guest room, maybe two!
5. That beautiful duvet I bought at Hola for the guest room
6. Using the shower curtain and towels in the guest bathroom that I never could part with but haven't needed for the past 3 years (and the new bathmat that matches them that I got for my birthday!)
7. Bright, bright rooms
8. A five minute commute to the office, door to door
9. An office in our home
10. Beautiful new paint colors
11. Stairs! I haven't had stairs in my house since right after college
12. Leaving behind the leprous walls of this apartment (from the water damage)
13. A giant homeschool/playroom
14. A closet! Chinese apartments rarely have closets. They just use wardrobes
15. That huge built in shoe/coat cabinet in our main room
16. Friends across the street and down the street in more than one direction - so many people we know who will be close!

That last one is probably the best (and I'm not just saying that to counter the material emphasis of the previous 15 thoughts). I'm not thrilled about the packing and unpacking, but I'm excited to think about how much fun it will be to live in!