Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A few funny things

I don't often recommend blogs on my own blog. Come to think of it, I can't remember a time when I ever have. Maybe this reveals some deeper anxiety, rooted in the belief that if I recommend other blogs, you might spend less time at mine. Doubtful, though. Mine is just so darn entertaining!

Regardless, I will recommend this one. Reason being that, aside from it being a blog that regularly has amusing posts, right now it has two very funny videos (Japanese pranks and Office spoof - although that will only be funny if you watch The Office) and I'm too lazy to figure out some other way to draw them to your attention. Also, if you haven't visited the Stuff Christians Like blog you really should. Fun stuff I tell ya.

You know what else is funny? When you ask your friend for eye drops and she mistakenly gives you nail antifungal drops. It's funnier about 1/2 hour after your eyes have tried to leave your head to get away from the pain. Oops. I'm not naming names, but you know who you are. :)

Today at the ABC Bargain Centre, I though it was amusing that they were playing Achy Breaky Heart. What made it even better was when the older Singaporean woman behind the counter started singing along for my benefit, giving me a sly smile that said, "See? I know your music!"

And finally, Megan joins the funny pages with her comment to Ethan yesterday when he shut himself in their bedroom, "Ethan? Did you lock the door? You're not supposed to lock the door." Pause, "You better not have locked that door mister!"

Monday, May 26, 2008

Thoughts on being loved by my kids

Lately I've been boggled by this one truth: my kids like me more than anyone else in the world, excepting maybe Erik (we're in a neck and neck race). Some might chalk it up to a Pavlovian response - since I'm the one who's responded to them since they were born, they associate me with good feelings. But there's something spiritual and wonderful, and a whole lot of daunting in it to me. To them, I am the healer of all wounds, the bearer of truth (which is frightening given how sarcastic I can be), the comforter, the provider, the one whose kisses are magical and whose arms chase away all the darkness. It's wonderful because I like being loved like that. And it's completely overwhelming, because I want to cry out, "You've got the wrong person!" In part that's because I know I will fail them in many ways (I already do - I'm just hoping those moments miss the long term memory bank). And because I know that some day, in the not too distant future, I will not be everything to them anymore.

But instead of trying to hold on to that idea, that I am a mini-god to them, I want to just cherish this time when I am who they want the most. And hopefully along the way, I can show them that there's a much better person they can run to, who will never fail them, who is the ultimate Comforter, Provider, Healer, and Bearer of Truth. After all, isn't that what parenting is about?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Triage baby

I know that across Asia, people are engaged in a much more serious form of triage right now as they deal with the aftermath of the tragedies in Myanmar and China. But it is happening on a lesser scale in our home, as the absence of a second adult forces the remaining one (me) to consider carefully what requires immediate attention and what can be left to bleed out for awhile.
The first to go is tidiness. Some things I've left so long out of place that I have come to consider them permanent, like, "Yes, that's where we keep that shoe, right there in the doorway to the kitchen." Yesterday I made an attempt to tackle this when I had the kids pick up 5 things each. When they were done I said, "Ok, another five!" This actually became quite entertaining to them, as they announced that they were on, "3rd of my 3rd" and so on, until the house resembled more of a home and less of a toy store that exploded.

The second thing to go is housework, at least any housework that doesn't directly relate to keeping our place pest free. I was thinking that I really didn't have many clothes, until I saw that they were on the mountain of clothing awaiting ironing. My bathroom floors haven't seen the business end of a mop for so long I'm embarrassed to admit it. On the other hand, I did manage to organize my homeschool shelf, rearrange all the kid's books according to type (easy readers, read alouds, information books), and the DVDs according to genre. But that's because in a sick way misunderstood by the majority of the population, organizing is fun and satisfying to me. And it was long overdue.

The next thing is nutrition, sad to say. If I think about it for more than a second, I know that eating well should be top on our list because then we'll be healthier and in better moods, not on some raging sugar/caffeine/scurvy rampage. Not that we resort to eating junk food, just much less balance than normal. Left to my own devices, I'd probably survive on oats. Really, I like oats - oatmeal, granola, maybe some yogurt thrown in. My kids, left to their devices, would survive on chocolate milk, toast, and fruity mentos. Which is why I'm still in charge. Thankfully we've been rescued many times this week by friends inviting us to dinner.

All in the name of triage baby. Deal with the most important stuff, like homeschool and going to the water park and reading books together and having friends over. If Erik comes back, and my kids are still alive, not starving, their brains haven't completely liquefied from overloads of television, computer games, and over processed foods, then I think I've done my job. Moreover, if they still like each other and me, and we've had some fun along the way, then I think it's even been a good job. The rest is just temporal.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Christmas in May

A jolly happy man made a brief appearance in our house on Tuesday night. Jolly in the sense of joyful, not rotund, and the only thing red about him was his hair. It was Erik, and he came bearing many many gifts. Since his last pit stop was the U.S., he came back with loads of things I'd shipped, and a list of things he'd been instructed to buy. It was a joyous occasion, in which the peasants danced. What he brought included, but was not limited to: an ipod Nano (Happy Mother's Day to me!), a new Canon 70-200 zoom lens with a fixed 4.0 aperture (yay for me as well) a Mac TV, rollerblades for Megan, swimsuits for the girls, a stack of shirts for Ethan, 30 pounds of books, even American Girl matching pajamas for Megan and her doll (thanks to Nonna for that).

No, we won't be taking any vacations this year after that spending spree. Not only did Erik bring all this, he fixed my wacky computer and that pesky outlet problem that was preventing me from using my washer, dryer and dishwasher. He even slay a few cockroaches. Then, like a hero from some western, after saving the day he rode off into the sunset (or in this case the sunrise) while we wept and begged him to stay. At least we have some fun toys to play with until he returns on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oh for the love . . .

I screamed again today. Twice, in rapid succession. I've heard that if you step on a cockroach, they emit some smell that calls to other cockroaches, saying, "Your comrade has fallen! Come avenge his death!" I think it must also happen when they are sprayed into the hereafter with enough Baygon to kill a horse.

That's my hypothesis, based on what happened an hour ago. I turned in my kitchen to see the mother of all cockroaches running across my floor. I was about to step on it, but thought better when I considered that call to arms thing, and the fact that I was wearing my inside shoes and didn't want to have to scrape dead cockroach off the bottom. Cue the Baygon.

Within a few minutes, two more monster cockroaches crawled out of the garbage chute to see what was taking their buddy so long. One of them quickly thought better of it when he heard the weird giant scream that unholy sound, but the other one made a dash for the corner. Honestly, if I hadn't bought this Baygon a few days ago I think I'd be over taken by now.

But I have emerged the victor. This is quite possibly because I am (or was - I'm about to leave the house) wearing my Little Miss Bossy t-shirt today. You remember the Little Miss books from about 25 years ago? Well, their cute little characters are splashed on t-shirts all over Singapore. I also own Little Miss Sunshine. I'm also thinking of getting Little Miss Trouble and Little Miss Chatterbox - have to cover all my moods. Too bad for the cockroaches I wasn't wearing Little Miss Sunshine today or things might have gone better for them.

The Chaos Theory

Which theory is it that says everything is moving from order to disorder? Is it called the chaos theory? Well, if it isn't, it should be. I have my own chaos theory in my house, which is that the number of things that go awry in our house is directly proportional to the amount of time that Erik is gone.

It started with my computer, which is where it always starts. In China, the messages would come into my inbox, hover for about 10 seconds, then zip away into cyberspace never to be seen or heard from again. Back in Singapore, I have the opposite problem. My inbox now suddenly thinks that it filled up a GB of space in a month, and cannot possibly work up the energy or memory to send or receive anything. It's kind of like it had a bad case of the runs and now it's constipated.

On Saturday, I went to wash some sheets and discovered my washing machine wouldn't work. On top of a day fighting allergies, absent-daddy-weary children, and household pests, this was the final straw. In a fit of melodrama, I closed the washer, slammed the top of it a few times with my fists, and let out a fierce yell which may have been heard as far away as Indonesia. Then I calmly took my sheets over to my neighbor's and used her washer.

Not only was my washer shot, it was the actually the outlet that also controls my dryer and my dishwasher. Of course, because that fits in perfectly with my Chaos Theory!

Yesterday, when the printer ink ran out I thought, "Ok, I can handle this one." But when another wardrobe door came off in my hand I just had to start laughing and say, "Are you kidding me universe?"

Thankfully, the opposite of the Chaos Theory is the Whisperer Syndrome, which states that when Erik comes within a two foot radius of any appliance or machine which has previously succumbed to the Chaos Theory, it will right itself without explanation. The unfortunate by-product of this is that I am made to look like an idiot for thinking it didn't work. I can sometimes hear the object snicker in my direction. I don't care. I just want them fixed. And since Erik comes home this afternoon at 4, after traveling for about 36 hours, I know he'll make it all right. That's how great he is.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sorry about your tail, dude

Nothing makes me make that weird screaming sound more than cockroaches and geckos. Both of them like to appear in odd places, and when they realize you've discovered them will scurry away with lightning speed.

I've thankfully encountered the geckos much more frequently these past few days. There are at least two, maybe three, who have taken up residence in my kitchen cupboards. Several times now I've opened a cupboard to find one of them hanging on the inside of the door. They always greet me with a guilty look, like I just caught them stealing, or maybe pooping in my cupboard. If I've opened the door quickly, they run. But sometimes we just have a stare down (cue the western show down theme music).

Yesterday I caught one little guy who seemed paralyzed with fear. I decided I might have the opportunity to nab him and take him to a more appropriate nest, somewhere far far away from my food pantry. I grabbed a large rubbermaid container and the cover. Because I have terrible aim, and I was creeped out of my wits, I missed him. But not entirely. No, to my children's delight, I managed to nab his tail. As he ran for safer ground, he dropped his tail behind as a twitching gift for me in my rubbermaid.

This is how I know I have more than one gecko in my cupboard - I've seen another one since then with a full tail. I don't know how quickly their tails grow back, but it can't be within a day. What's more interesting to me is pondering how geckos feel when they lose a tail. Is is just like, "Aw man! Not again!" or maybe "Oh well - better my tail than me!" or, I fear, "Until my dying day, I swear I will not sleep until I have taken revenge upon the giant screaming creature who made me drop my tail!"

What I do know is that I am really tired of screaming each time I go in my kitchen.

What's a season?

This is yet another post about the weather. I'm sorry if that sounds boring, but read on and you may find yourself pleasantly diverted. Or maybe not. But do you have anything better to read on the internet right now?

When we landed in China about 3 weeks ago, the average temperature was hovering around 70 degrees F. Within a few days it had shot up to over 90. I was surprised that it didn't feel like 90 to me though, I suppose because it lacked an accompanying 90% humidity. But by the weekend, it dropped back down to a damp 60 with clouds and rain. The second week was glorious - 70's and clear skies every day with cool evenings. Our last few days there even dipped into the upper 50's and low 60's.

Why the weather report? Well, to give you a context to understand the tropical wimp family's reaction. I was shocked into remembering what it is like to need every kind of clothing you own within a 2 week time period - tank tops, shorts, sweaters, pants, jackets. My kids were just thoroughly confused. Ethan said to me, "Now, this is the time of year when the weather gets colder right mom?" When I said no he replied, "But then why is it so COLD?" (It was 70 degrees).
By way of experiment, I asked Ethan what his favorite season is. Without hesitation he said, "Winter."
"But you don't know what winter is like?"
"Yes I do."
"So what's your favorite thing to do in winter?"
"Have a snowball fight!" (I think he's done this once or twice in his eight years)
"What about spring?"
"Um . . . plant flowers!" (never done it).
"Go swimming!"
"And fall?"
"Jump in the leaves!"
"But Ethan, you've never jumped in leaves."

So there you have it. My son describing his experience of something he hasn't experienced for so long he really doesn't remember what it's like. As for me, I am back to what I've grown accustomed to - a place where temperatures vary only about 15 degrees all year. Not sure what I like better.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Time for a change

We visited two families in China whose kids share a room, leaving another room free for playing. This idea was inviting to our kids, so much so that they requested to share a room. I just spent an hour rearranging things and I have to say it's a much better use of space! Of course now I have to go to IKEA to get some storage containers (those Swedes - so good with the space solutions!) and I admit I'm a little sad that they no longer have rooms that are coordinated to look like Pottery Barn ads. But last night Ethan begged to sleep in Megan's room because he was lonely, so I think this will be a blessing in the end. Ask me in a week how it's going.

While the cat's away . . .

the ants and geckos and cockroaches will play! The kids and I came back last night from a 2 1/2 week trip to China. Erik came back for about 12 hours a week ago, but other than that, our house has just been maintained by our neighbors, so the word got out that there's a party in 06-18.

The ants who regularly reside here took advantage of our absence to further instill themselves into our home. Not only that, but they invited their gecko and cockroach friends to join them. I've been finding ant trails and gecko poop all over, and I'm terrified to open the garbage chute because when I did it this morning I disturbed a large roach congregation. One of them leaped to what he hoped was freedom, only to meet his dastardly end tangled up in my mop. I left him on the floor and the ants came to check him out. They have no shame.

It's me against the pests today, armed with Baygon, vinegar and a large supply of paper towels. Wish me luck.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

China pictures

Here's me being lazy. I'm tired of putting pictures on my blog, my flickr acount, and my facebook page. So if you'd like to see pictures of our time here in China, please look here.


There is no better bargain shopping in all of Asia that in China, in my humble opinion. This may be because I'm fairly adept at doing it in the local language, or it may be sheer practice. But I've found no greater discrepancy between the initial asking price, and the amount they actually expect you to pay than here.

These bargains, however, come at a steep price to one's personal and emotional well-being. Bargaining here is not for the faint of heart, especially if you choose the more foreign infested markets where the vendors have acquired a functional level of annoying English phrases. To walk away with loads of dongxi ("stuff") at rock bottom prices, you must be willing to endure a constant barrage of these phrases which include, but are by no means limited to the following:
"Hello lady, you wanna buy some jacket?"
"Hi! Lady! How about some man t-shirt?"
"Hello, shoes! Look at shoe please!"
"Hello lady, Prada? Gucci? I have Coach!"
As you make your way through a tunnel of this pleading (with occasional grabbing - nothing turns me off like the grabbing) a stall might catch your eye. You pause. The vendors, sensing interest, being displaying their items within inches of your face. "You like this one? You want this color?" Don't rely on them to accurately provide answers to questions like, "Do you have one like this?" because to them, anything is similar. You're looking for a purse right? They're all purses, therefore all alike. You can count on them to pull out, at some point, something that is so hideous you will wonder who IS buying it. You also cannot depend on vendors to judge size correctly. Whatever size you need is exactly the size they have, as evidenced by conversations like,
Me: Do you have this in a different size?
Vendor: What size do you need?
Me: 6
Vendor: That's a size 6.
Me: It says 24 months.
Vendor: Yeah, six year olds can wear it too.

If you do find something of interest, then the delicate dance begins. Showing too much interest will let them know they can get a higher price. But if you're too tough and belligerent, you're in danger of leaving them crying and cursing on the floor. This may not seem like a bad idea to some, but you'll never be able to come back to that vendor, and at the very least you'll have to endure them throwing darts at you with their eyes every time you pass again. Do you really want that?

So when they do pull out just what you've been looking for, how do you proceed? Contain your enthusiasm. Make a doubtful look. Casually ask how much. They will assure you that this price they are about to say is special, just for you. It will be astronomical. Express utter shock and take a step back, as though what you've heard was even just a bit obscene. They will back track with something like, "ok, friend, ok, give me your best price."

Now comes the tricky part. What you just heard is probably up to 10 times the price they actually expect to get from you (case in point - yesterday I bought something for 60 kuai when she started at 520). Whatever you do, don't say a price yet. Ask them to give you a better price. If it's still not reasonable, then walk away. Immediately the price will drop to something more reasonable. Once it's within range of what you're willing to pay, come back and pick your price. Then stick to it. Don't raise it. They'll ask you to, but don't. 95 % of the time you can get it for what you start with. When you're done, give them all the assurance in the world that you will send all your friends to their stall in the future.

So there you have it. A brief tutorial on how to buy something for less than you'd pay anywhere else, if you're willing to navigate the process.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

New Blog

Because I don't have enough to do already, I decided to start another blog, focused solely on our homeschool adventures. I could give you lots of reasons for it, but I plan to explain them there, so if you are interested, here it is: The Grand Experiment


How not to see the Great Wall

Well, we've quite possibly ruined the Great Wall for our kids. We've been talking it up to them, reviewing the history, reminding them that "Bu dao Chang Cheng fei hao han" (whoever has not climbed the Great Wall is not a real man). All in an effort to encourage them to want to drive an hour and a half from where we're staying in China to climb a wall.

We awoke to the haziest day I've seen in a very long time. Visibility at about 1/4 mile. Not good. We hired a woman to drive us to the Wall. Ethan set his new watch to timer and started counting down. He still thinks that if I say "it takes an hour and a half" that we will arrive in precisely 90 minutes. I was praying that the haze would lift, or at least be less at the Wall. Forty five minutes into our drive, it started to rain. That wasn't what I had in mind.

It had stopped by the time we got to the Wall, but the clouds looked mean. We bought tickets to take the chair lift up and the alpine slide down. As we touched down at the top, the thunder and lightning began in earnest. Rain we can manage, but thunder and lightning when you're on the highest, most open spot around we cannot. We squeezed into one of the towers with all the other poor fools who chose today for their Great Wall adventure. We ate our snacks. We took some pictures. The rain stopped so we ran to the next tower after tying Megan's adult size rain poncho around her waist. How can someone look so adorable in a five kuai rain poncho?

They stopped the chair lift after we got off, and the alpine slide was out of the question (it was more of a water slide at that point). When they did reopen it, we joined the long queue of people regretting their Great Wall trip. We found our driver and headed for the nearest McDonald's so as to salvage our journey and ensure the possibility that one day, when we say, "Hey kids, you want to go back to the Great Wall?" they won't scream and run.

Oh well. We've seen it before, and the kids really had great attitudes (it's amazing how much easier it is when the parents maintain good ones too). Pictures to follow.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Thoughts from China

Visiting China is always a barrage of old and new, surprising and not so surprising. Here are some of the things I've noticed/experienced/enjoyed/sighed about:

1. Words keep coming back to me. At the store I was buying Ethan a watch, and I wanted an instruction manual. Poof - the words popped into my mind. Thankfully, they were the right ones. Last night at my great massage, I remembered "pressure" and "relax." I should really learn more massage vocabulary. Very important.
2. China is cheap! Yeah, I know prices keep going up and the dollar is dropping, but I bought watercolor paper, sketch paper, drawing pencils, Chinese paint brushes, and notebooks for my kids today. I spent $10 total.
3. I love Chinese street popcorn! Last night I brought home two bags after standing on a breezy walking bridge watching a man make it. It's worth the wait, especially for 3 kuai.
4. China smells. Not just bad smells - good ones too. But there are always smells. I like steamed sweet potato and pineapple, but could do without stinky tofu and suspicious bathroom odor.
5. No Chinese food equals the Chinese food in China. Cashew chicken, spicy beans, broccoli, tofu, sweet and sour pork - it's all good.
6. Only being here a week, I can tolerate these things, but this is what I want to say out loud in my more carnal moments, "Stop staring at me, stop talking about me, don't push me, don't steal my cab, don't tell me what to do with my kids, wait until I get out of the subway before you try to get in, and whatever you do, don't honk at me." There, that's out of my system.
7. I miss having a water dispenser! I know we can get them in Singapore, but they're just so darn cheap here it seems criminal to pay that much for water I can get out of the tap. Tap is not an option here.
8. I had forgotten what pollution looks like. It's strange when the building 50 meters away is a bit hazy.
9. I love the fashion freedom here. If you're just running out to the store, why not wear your flannel teddy bear pajamas?
10. There are probably a lot of products that can be purchased in China, but when you go to the store and stare at the characters on the package, you really can't tell the difference between powdered sugar and corn starch. Note to self- study more characters.

We are enjoying ourselves immensely here, despite and maybe sometimes because of the cultural quirks. Our kids are soaking in time with old friends (as am I!) and asking questions that betray their tropical upbringing, "Why does the sun come up so early? Why is it so cold?" (it's 75 degrees).

Check out our flickr account for pictures of our Great Wall adventure.

Megan's quotes

Megan comes by this trait honestly - she likes to quote movies. My brother and I have been known to have entire conversations just quoting movies. He starts it. Usually.

Her first favorite movie quote was from Night at the Museum. She'd walk up to someone, and say with all the toughness a little red headed five year could muster, "D'ya wanna dance hot dog? D'ya wanna dance?!"

The next was unintentional - Erik and I were watching Hairspray one evening, and she wandered out of her room. She watched it long enough to see the line, "I'd make EVERY day Negro day!" and said it all the next day. Again, cute, but we told her maybe she shouldn't repeat that outside of our house.

Most recently, after watching Shrek, she's been saying in her best Eddie Murphy imitation, "I know! I go witCHU!"

I don't know what else to say about this. I just thought it was amusing enough to share.