Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Project 365 July

Day 1 - postal delivery bikes

Day 2 - do you buy this much rice at once?

Day 3 - oops

Day 4 - Independence celebrated with sugar

Day 5 - messing around with my camera

Day 6 - why, thank you!

Day 7 - dinner on the street

Day 8 - happy birthday Erik! (four days early)

Day 12 - taking their older relatives out for a walk

Day 13 - trying to get out of the heat

Day 14 - enjoying the shade

Day 15 - by the light of the iPad

Day 16 - I love her hair!

Day 17 - um . . . yeah I was just kind of desperate to get a picture this day

Day 18 - swimming fun

Day 19 - do I take too many pictures of these? Maybe

Day 20 - photographer in training

Day 21 - cutie patootie

Day 22 - the rains are coming

Day 23 - carefree

Day 24 - these old people sit on these benches each night

Day 25 - time capsule

Day 26 - Our own Olympic opening ceremony

Day 27 - Ayis with the children they watch

Day 28 - buckets

Day 29 - hard at work

Day 30 - umbrellas in a dormitory

Day 31 - cozy couple

Monday, July 30, 2012

You Can't Take It With You . . . Unless There's Some Room in Your Container

What do you do when you find out you aren't close to filling your 40 foot container but there's no way you could reduce it to a 20 foot? Why you make the most of it of course! And how do you do this? Well, if you're us (and we are) you think of anything you might possibly need on Tao Bao before you go. When you realize that this will take up about 2 cubic feet of space because let's face it, you're just buying computer cables and travel slip covers for your shoes, you look toward bigger things.You look for furniture.

Now let me add the caveat that our children truly do need new furniture because we're leaving their old stuff behind. We thought about just waiting until we get there but everyone who has gone before us has lamented NOT getting more while they were here. So it only seems smart. (ok maybe smart and a few other things, but mostly smart).

My first attempt was to go to a place a friend of mine recommended that makes furniture. They were happy to make what we needed within our budgeted time, but when she texted me later with her quote, it was obvious they wouldn't do it within our budgeted money. Oy!

In the past, we went to a furniture place out in the boonies and bought a few pieces that we love from a great couple. Since then they have moved their warehouse twice, once in the past two weeks, so we had mostly given up hope that they could help us. We thought we'd give it one more try though and emailed them pictures of what we wanted made. To our great surprise, they emailed back and invited us out last Friday. And hope was restored (cue the peasants dancing).

After an hour long drive to a new part of the boonies, we found them. We were able to order 8 pieces of furniture for a third of the price that the other place quoted us, so we upped our joyful dancing. Not only that, it's just ridiculously cool to walk through their warehouse, take pictures, and dream about how you could possibly (and simply must) incorporate an antique pair of Chinese doors into your new Florida home.

Making It Last

I think I just bought my last bottle of syrup in China. I'm guessing my shampoo supply will be just enough. Unfortunately, I'm out of flax seed, so how much will I need for 5 weeks?

These are the thoughts I have these days. For some reason I have this goal to leave the country without either running out of essential things or leaving excess amounts behind (the former being obviously the greater half of the goal). It's strange to think about seeing the rest of my Asian life here in measures of shampoo, syrup and flax seed, but in some way it helps me know that it's real.

Ok, I need to go order some flax.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Coming Storm

When we lived in Singapore, we could often see storm clouds coming from a long way off, and we knew that before long we would hear the onslaught of rain pounding against our windows.

There's a storm coming for us here too, and I don't mean the one currently dumping buckets of polluted water on our streets. The one I'm talking about has been a long way off for awhile, but I can see it on the horizon. I see the sky darkening, see the storm clouds rolling toward us. I feel the wind picking up and occasional droplets on my face. The storm is coming.

It's a storm of transition, of saying goodbye to people who are like family to us, to places that have been home for 13 years, to a culture that is not our own but which is what we know. It's a storm of knowing that this time we aren't coming back and that we will have to navigate the other side not as visitors but as citizens again. It's a storm of tears, adjustment, goodbyes, new experiences, old memories.

I'm tempted to run down into the storm cellar and hide out while the storm passes. Transition strikes me in odd moments when I am unprepared and sometimes unwilling to enter in, like when I realize, "this is the last time I'll see this person" and I thought I had more time.

I am trying to tell myself to be ok with those off guard moments. Truly that's what I want to be - off my guard. I want to get caught in the rain, so to speak, where my heart will be honest, raw, true. I know the real strength lies in bearing the storm, being willing to let my heart be broken, not in putting on a brave face and telling myself, "It's ok."

So in my mind Erik and I wrap our arms around the kids and assume a stance that will lean us into the wind when it comes. We'll stand together and hold each other in it, not because we are gluttons for pain, but we know that to keep our hearts open for good things we must keep them open to all of life, including the painful parts. And as one of my friends said the other day, "The sorrow is so great because it's been so good." And I want to celebrate that by acknowledging it.

And sometimes, when the storm gets to be too much, I know that my Savior will be close by, my shelter, my haven, my resting place, right in the middle of it all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What It Takes

If I had known what it would take to get a dog back to the States a year ago, we would have told the kids, "We're waiting till the U.S. to get a dog."

But here we are with a dog we don't want to leave behind because really, could you resist this kind of cuteness?

No, no one could unless they were blind, or heartless, or a robot. So we press on. When all is said and done, this is what we know (at this point, but I am fully prepared for there to be more rigamarole, or at least more money) will have to happen to get her there:

1. My friend Laura takes a collection of Scout's things (bed, food, toys, treats) back to the U.S. with her in early August to give to my parents

2. A health check at one particular clinic in town within 7 days prior to departure where they will unnecessarily microchip our dog (see previous blog post).

3. We take the results of the health check to another clinic in town where they give us some official certificate that proves our dog is healthy. And microchipped. There is a 100% likelihood that this will involve a red stamp of some kind because that's how China rolls.

4. August 30th, 3 days before our departure, we take Scout to the airport nine hours before her 4:10 pm flight so that she can go through customs. It's unclear why it takes this long. Honestly, I'm not at all sure it isn't a scam to grab a few more of our hard earned kuai before we leave. United in the U.S. was completely unaware that this is required on this end. They are also unaware that this process cannot happen on a Sunday, which is why she's flying earlier than us. This would have been SUPER helpful information when we bought our tickets for a Sunday flight.

5. 4:25 pm she lands in Chicago, where my FABULOUS brother and sister-in-law have graciously agreed to come from Milwaukee meet her. The other option was to have her fly all the way to Minneapolis, which would have required a 6 hour layover in Chicago and then a midnight landing. Then my poor parents would have had to pick her up and drive her home. 

6. Scout tries to get over her traumatic experience with the help of said items from #1, adjust to a 13 hour time change, learn what life is like on the 1st floor where, "outside" is just on the other side of a door and not 12 floors down, and wonder where her people are for 3 days.

7. The next day my brother drives Scout halfway to Rochester while my parents bring his dog whom he left with them two days before (because we all thought it might be a bit much for my brother and his wife to have both dogs, especially since their dog would probably freak our dog out or our dog will be doing enough freaking out as it is) and they do a dog swap in the Dells. Scout continues to wonder who these kind people are, and where are HER people?!?  

8. Oh and did I mention at this point this will run is about $1,300 USD? Thank God she only cost $9 in the first place.

Resistance is futile

One of my greatest cultural frustrations in Asia is my American need to know the whys behind a rule. Really, I'm a rule follower, but I'd really like to know the reasons behind the rule. If I know them, I'll (generally) follow.

But Asia does not expect to be questioned, and therefore the question "Why?" is rarely answered with satisfaction. Whenever I come up against seemingly illogical requirements, I feel like the people must feel in Star Trek who are approached by the Borg, "We are Borg Asia. Prepare to be assimilated. Resistance is futile." Do not question. Just obey. Regardless of the ridiculousness of the rule.

Yet, futile though it is, I cannot help but still ask, "Why?" And Asia answers, "It's the rule." But I still ask. Sigh.

So when I was told that our dog must be microchipped days before leaving China, even though the U.S. does not require microchipping, I couldn't resist asking the cargo people, "Why?"

I had a vain hope that, because Jade from Panda cargo has been exceedingly responsive and helpful (unlike Grace from United who sounds less and less happy each time I call, and I really don't blame her), I thought she might give me a reason. Or better yet, say, "You're right. That's silly. You don't have to do it."

But no. She told me, "China requires it." But why, Jade, WHY? Do you understand what I mean when I ask why? Tell me the method behind your madness.

Oh Gina. Resistance is futile.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Greener grass?

"In America, I'll be able to drink water out of the tap again."

"In America, I can just go to the store and buy deodorant, instead of having to try to figure out when someone can bring me some in the next 6 months."

"In America, the likelihood that we will be woken up in the wee hours of the morning to the sound of our dog throwing up yet another inedible thing she found on the street will be significantly less." (this happens approximately once a week. This week, 3 times. Twice in one night).

These are the kind of thoughts I have frequently these days. It's hard not to look ahead and be excited about the positive changes to come. After living here so long the little adaptations we've had to make to do life here become forgotten, but the prospect of moving back brings them all to the surface.

In some ways, thinking about these things is helpful for me. It gives me things to anticipate in the midst of loss, even if they are little things. On the other hand, it's a dangerous route for my mind because it can breed discontent with my situation here. If I develop a habit of discontent in one place, it will not leave when I move to a place where the grass is greener, because I will have trained my heart to dwell on the negatives.

So I struggle to hold these emotions all at once - excitement and anticipation with contentment and gratitude for what I do have here.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Washing Windows

This morning I washed some of our outside windows, because I thought starting off the week with an exercise in futility would be a good challenge. It was also to remind myself how crazy dirty it can be here.

Why would I want to remind myself of that? When I write it, it just sounds depressing. But it serves several purposes. First, it helps me easily justify having a cleaning lady come every weekday morning for 4 hours; it reminds me that I am not a neat freak, just someone living in an urban jungle; and mostly importantly right now, it gives me hope that in the States I won't miss or need my helper as much as I think I will.

I mean don't get me wrong - I love this woman just as a person and I will miss her terribly. She brings joy into our house every day. But I know that my house will not rapidly decline into something filthy that would be featured on some reality show called "Dirty House."

See here's the thing. This is what my windows look like regularly, particularly if it has been raining (and this is the rainy season). I washed my windows this morning. By the end of the week, certainly sooner, they will look like this again. Why bother?

Last summer when I was at my parents' house, I noticed their front windows needed washing, so I did it. By the end of the summer - two months later - they still didn't need to be washed again.

This is true for our floors as well. We can justifiably mop every single day. It's not that I need super clean floors. It's that you can see dusty footprints, and also paths through the dust, if you don't.

This is something I'm always trying to explain to my Stateside friends, but they just don't seem to grasp it. They say their houses are "dirty" because they haven't cleaned in a couple weeks, but I look at them and see no visible dirt, so to me they're pretty darn clean.

Ok, I need to go finish washing the windows. Hopefully it won't rain for a few days so we can enjoy it.


This is the sign our neighbors across the way posted last Saturday after hearing that the bank in Orlando accepted our offer on a house there. It's been a long and at times frustrating process, but we're nearly there (pending all those details with the loan and what not).

If you're curious, the address is 14419 Nell Dr, Orlando, Florida, 32832. We hope to get everything settled before Erik goes radio silent out in the Wild West of China this Thursday.

Rejoice with us and pray that all goes well with the details!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Our Patriotic Cake

from glorioustreats.com

Ok, so above is the picture of what we wanted to make for our friend's 4th of July party. Fun right? So we set out to make it. Now because I am often impatient, I did not refer back to the instructions, which was my first and repeated mistake. Primarily this resulted in me having to make an extra cake because I initially baked 2 white cake rounds instead of a white and red, then a red and blue. So altogether we had 6 cake rounds. Six! Oy. If only that were the worst of it.

Assembling proved difficult as I injured my wrist and was trying to rest it, so I had to give instructions to my family while I watched. By the time we got all the layers together, on a scale of "Nailed It!" to "Epic Fail", we were cascading toward the latter, as you can see below.

At this point, I was ready to throw in the towel, but Megan was desperate to bring this cake to the party. We left it in the refrigerator overnight, hoping it might pull its act together by morning. It did not.

But wait - cutting in to it proved that there was hope! Yes, it seems we managed to make two red stripes next to each other (yet another proof of Gina's strange reluctance to actually refer to instructions. You would have thought that trying to fit 3 cake round halves alongside one cake round and wondering why they weren't the same height would have been my first major clue. 1/2+1/2+1/2 is not equal to 1).

So we trimmed around the outside and made an obscenely large second batch of frosting with which to cement the cake together long enough for it to be consumed by the hungry, patriotic masses. Here it is waiting to be judged in our little mini-competition:

We won "most patriotic" which seems fitting somehow - the American way always seems to be a fight against the odds, isn't it?

Next time, (if there is a next time) I think I will just use red cake and put copious amounts of white frosting in between as the white stripes. I mean who doesn't love more frosting?

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Growing Up in China, and I Don't Mean My Kids

"Can you summarize your China experience in one sentence?" This was the question posed to me by one of three students from a local university. I'll get to my response in a minute, but let me give you some context. This was an interview set up by an old Chinese friend of mine who is their English teacher. Students from their university are compiling a book of foreigners' experiences with Chinese language and culture. I was also asked to write a short excerpt for it. They showed up this morning a week earlier than I was expecting (my fault, not theirs) so they got to see what foreigners look like when they have gone for a long walk on a hot morning but not had time to shower change into anything other than the equivalent of pajamas. Lucky kids!

We talked for about an hour and they asked me about things like my most embarrassing language moment (I don't really have one), homeschooling my kids as opposed to putting them in local schools (the whole concept seemed to baffle them) and the best ways to learn language. They also shyly asked me for advice on living in America. It was fun to answer their questions, although I found myself having to pause occasionally and swallow hard before I could answer because it was digging up so many memories for me. I thought it best not to weep in front of three strangers who would probably be freaked out and feel responsible, "Teacher, we made her cry! What did we do wrong? Are all Americans this emotional?"

But this question about summarizing my China experience in one sentence stumped me for a minute. I finally was able to answer, "I know this might sound strange, but I have grown up in China." They indeed looked puzzled, so I continued, "When I came to China, I was 26. In China I learned how to be a mom, how to be an adult. China has been the background for me to learn to be a mature person (at least as mature as I am at this point!). It has forever influenced who I am."

They said this was the best answer anyone had given to this question. :)

Sunday, July 01, 2012

What Did Our Ancestors Do?

So here was our conversation at dinner:

Ethan: I've realized that a lot of times peoples' last names have something to do with what their families did. Like the Schumacher's family probably used to make shoes. And the Hausmans . . . I think they made houses. Or maybe they sold real estate.

We all giggle.

I ask, "In Germany?

Ethan, with a grin: Yeah, they were ancient German real estate agents. And the Olivers sold olives, obviously. But what about Butz?

We're all silent. Then we burst out laughing.