Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Well done, China

Dear China,

Thank you for finally making a pretty decent saltine. For years I've hunted and hoped for just a plain old cracker and you've given me crackers that are greasy or flavored funny, or too thick or not salty (in direct opposition to the name "saltine"). In moments of desperation I have succumbed to paying exorbitant prices for imported saltines, so great was my desire to enjoy them.

I hesitated to buy your "original saltine" crackers in fear of being disappointed once again, but you succeeded in proving that you continue to develop at a rapid pace (because saltines are a definitive mark of a cultured society). They're about as close to Premium brand as I could hope. Well done, China, well done.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I just did something I have always been curious to do - compare our city with the Twin Cities metro area. It's always seemed to me to be about the same size, and it is! There is a loop running around our city that is approximately the same length as the 494/694 loop, the former being 98 km and the latter being 119 km. East to west the areas are the same distance (around 15 miles). North-south the Twin Cities exceeds ours by about 6 miles, but we've got them in population. The metro area has 3.5 million people. We've got almost 20 million.

This was brought to mind for me a few weeks ago when I was explaining my home town to a masseuse. He hadn't heard of Minnesota, and I told him that was because it wasn't a very populous state. When I said my hometown has about 100,000 people and is one of the larger cities in my state, he laughed. The area of town where we live has 600,000 people! Yep, just the area of town.

No wonder it's crowded.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Have Patience

When I first came to China, one of the things that amazed me about this culture was their ability to wait for ridiculously long periods of time. I often see people in lines 40 people long waiting for things like vegetables or train tickets. I had great admiration for this patience endurance.

But something confused me. I've also observed that when it comes to driving, people have no patience at all. They will run lights, drive around someone who hesitates for a second, even drive down the wrong side of the road to skip waiting at a stoplight. And, my least favorite show of impatience - the person at the door. Just now the woman who brings our milk showed up. She knocked twice every 2 seconds incessantly until I showed up. We have a big house - it takes awhile to get to the door! This happens whenever someone shows up at the door. It's like they think you're just standing on the other side of the door waiting for them to show up.

So why the difference? Well, at some point I finally put it together. The people who willingly wait in long lines are not overflowing with patience - they are motivated by the opportunity to save money, and the fear that if they do not get it this time, it may not be back. The latter is what also drives them to cut queues frequently. It's quite natural when you consider China's history - until recently, there was not an abundance of resources, so a scarcity mentality is deeply engrained.

I still don't quite understand why they are so impatient at the door. Maybe because most Chinese houses are much smaller? I'm not really sure, but as with most cultural differences, eventually I'll figure it out.

Monday, May 09, 2011


Erik arrived back this afternoon from a trip (and the peasants rejoiced!). Here's the conversation we had shortly after, while I was browsing on Amazon:

Me: This book looks interesting.

Erik: You should buy it on your Kindle . . . $12.99?!? . . . I mean, Happy Mother's Day!

Me: Yeah, that's what I thought.

Erik: I think I forgot to get my re-entry visa.

Me: I think you might need to re-acculturate.

The Home Stretch

It's that time of year again, when I find myself running on less than a full tank. It usually seems to happen that Erik has a lot of travel in May, right when I am trying to convince myself that our kids should keep doing school at least until the end of the month. This trip has been 8 days and the time difference had made it difficult for us to communicate at all, so I've been one tired and lonely mama. He arrives back around 2 pm this afternoon, and while I already slept in, I'd love to do nothing until then.

But that brings me back to school, which theoretically should happen between now and then. Right now the kids are happily playing with these Angry Birds and Plants and Zombies trading cards they've been buying 10 for 1Y at the little store down the street. Let's see, talking with the shopkeeper has been great language practice, and playing together is socialization, so that should cover school for the day right?

In other news, I had a great Mother's Day. A few days ago Megan said, "Mommy, I made you something that I want you to wear for Mother's Day" which is a fun but somewhat scary prospect. It turned out to be a clay heart on a turquoise string that she'd made in art class and painted red. She was over the moon that I wore it - sorry, no picture!

Later we went out to lunch at a sort of new restaurant (recently reopened under new management) with friends. We had hoped to sit outside on the veranda overlooking a river, but it was cold and then started to rain (yay for rain!). We had a big party and there was another large group that came at the same time, so our food took a very long time. Thankfully we enjoyed our time together and were entertained by the Irish accents of our staff, and that carried us through.

Afterward I went for a massage with three other moms and then chatted for awhile at Starbucks while the dads took the kids. At one point we were at a stoplight and I looked back and said, "Hey, that donkey just ran into my car!" I moved forward a little and he did it again. All of us wished we had a camera! So weird to look back and see a donkey head in your back window.

As refreshing as all that was, I am still dragging today. Pray that I can keep on keeping on because Erik leaves again on Saturday!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Magic Millimeter

I've heard many tales of errant bathing experiences here in China, like showers that feel like a weak person spitting on you, or ones that alternate between freezing cold and burning lava hot, with a few seconds in between where you can clean yourself. I even heard of one that had mushrooms growing out of the floor.

So given that perspective, I have to be grateful for the shower we have, but I do have one issue with it. We call it the magic millimeter. It's a tiny space between hot and cold where you can have a pleasant shower. Finding this millimeter takes a great deal of patience and fine motor skills. It wouldn't be so bad if you could just leave it there all the time, but to get the hot water to kick in you have to crank it to the hot side first. Then you set out finding that magical spot again.

At least there are no mushrooms.

Monday, May 02, 2011


Ethan and I spent some time this afternoon watching Obama's speech, reading about the death of Osama, and looking at pictures of peoples' reactions. Then he asked me,

"But mom, in the Bible it says we aren't supposed to murder people. Isn't it wrong that they killed him?" (he's in the middle of reading Exodus so the ten commandments are fresh in his mind). Megan asked me a similar thing later in the day. We talked about justice and how God sometimes commanded people to go to war for righteous reasons. But in the end, it was hard to give any satisfactory answer to them.

I'm pretty ok with just letting them wrestle with it rather than giving them a definitive answer. I think it was just interesting that they ARE wrestling with it.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

I haven't forgotten to be thankful!

I know I haven't posted a thankful list for awhile, but it's not because I haven't been! I've been noticing the little gifts in my life (and for that I am, of course, grateful!) but not taking the time to write all of them down.

Some have made the list though, and here they are:

595. old friends
596. more old friends
597. and still more old friends! (I mean I've known them a long time. They are not, because if they are, then I am too).
598. Finding a teapot online for 1/2 the price in the store
599. spring blossoms
600. warm sunshine
601. seeing dramatic ability grow in our kids
602. finding just one more dark chocolate m&m (thanks Rachel!)
603. a sherpa throw
604. prayer time with friends
605. the joy of watching our kids learn
606. running
607. free cranio-sacral therapy
608. overcoming fear
609. hearing an old friend on Skype
610. knowing she thought of calling me in a free moment
611. making plans for the summer
612. nearly finishing a six year long writing project
613. Nine years of Megan
614. Friends from #604 asking about the things I asked them to pray for
615. my curtain lady who was delighted that I came back to her because I like her so much
616. Waking up early without an alarm
617. The small painting that now hangs across the bedroom that reminds me to stop and enjoy life in the moment