Saturday, November 28, 2009


I love surprises. To me, they communicate that someone took the time to think of me, and I'm all about quality time. Thankfully my parents like surprises too, because I gave them a big one last night by showing up three days early.

Here's the story - about a month ago, my uncle passed away unexpectedly. My mom's sister passed away last summer (2008) and her other sister also passed away a few years ago this time of year. So this year marks the first without anyone with my mom's side of the family coming for Thanksgiving, which we celebrate on the weekend.

When all this happened I thought, "Our tickets were free (paid for by the company and frequent flier miles). Why don't I spend a little and change my ticket so I can be back with them for Thanksgiving?" So I got my brother to come pick me up at the airport and we were set.

It was hard not to mention it to my mom, especially when she said on the phone last week, "Maybe we should just wait until you guys get back to celebrate."
"No, no you shouldn't. You should do it on Sunday," was my response.

The flight from China is SO much nicer than coming all the way from Singapore. I got on at 5:30 p.m., so after dinner it was almost time to sleep. I normally don't sleep much on the flight because we used to leave at 6 a.m. from Singapore, but I think I got in about 4 hours. I went through customs in Chicago, which was slick. There was no line! And I always enjoy when the customs worker says to me, "Welcome home." It's honesty one of the only times in my life when I am very conscious of being American.

I had a great drive home with my brother and enjoyed the excitement my parents and sister had at seeing me. It's a beautiful day here in Minnesota and I'm glad I can spend it with my family!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Official Car of Injustice

One question the Chinese government neglected to include on the driver's examination study guide was:

If a Black Audi pulls a bonehead, life threatening move on the road, should you:
1. Honk loudly
2. Call the police and report it
3. Force the driver off the road and yell at him
4. Nothing. It's a Black Audi.

The correct answer is #4. Perhaps wrapped into the price of the car is a get out of jail and traffic violations free card for Audi drivers. We're not sure, but whatever it is, people driving Black Audis seem to feel they own the roads and are entitled to constant right of way. You shouldn't cross a Black Audi. It is the official car of injustice in China.

I found this out the hard way tonight. My friend and I were walking our five kids to a nearby restaurant. A car was pulling up onto the sidewalk where we were. Once he cleared a concrete telephone pole, he sped ahead, coming dangerously close to the kids and me. Close enough that it was no effort for me to reach out and smack my hand against the car to demonstrate our closeness and my frustration.

At first it seemed nothing would happen, but soon he slowed down and got out of his car. He unfortunately happened to be one of the few Chinese men who can tower over me. In fact he was quite large. And quite angry. He began to come toward me quickly, and immediately two nearby men grabbed both his arms and held him back while he stood about a foot and a half from me and yelled in my face. At the same time, his wife came and stood to my left, yelling at me. I told them they were not being careful of the children, but it was obvious that no amount of reasoning on my part was going to make them suddenly feel remorseful and apologetic.

Normally situations like that completely unsettle me. But when I realized there was nothing I could do, I became very calm and just walked away (with my friend, who was wisely herding the kids away from the angry Chinese man). I expected my heart to be racing and my body to be shaking, but I was fine. Very weird.

When I told Erik the story in the restaurant, he said, "Was it a Black Audi?" I didn't realize until that moment that it was. No wonder he was furious - how dare a puny little foreigner call him on something? He's untouchable! Next time I'll check what kind of car it is before I call people on their crazy driving.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Let it snow!

We have lived in Asia for 10 years and 3 months. Up until two weeks ago, here is all the snow we have seen outside of Minnesota:

The Great Snowfall of November 2002 (Ethan trying to enjoy the snow before it gets swept away by ambitious sweepers)

The Great Snowfall of November 2003 (Megan not really enjoying the snow, but smiling briefly for the camera).
I think one other time there was a light dusting. But here we are in the middle of our third snowfall in two weeks. The first time was several inches. The second time was six! This time, it's still too early to say.

Thankfully, co-op is canceled today so we can just enjoy the snow. It's one of those days when I love the part of town we live in because the park across the street is a beautiful winter wonderland, and the courtyard is a giant playground for the kids. There is an army of snowmen out in the courtyard. They've even built up a big enough pile to make a tunnel! This morning they were playing hide and seek by following each others' tracks. Ethan was clever and walked backwards to confuse his friends. They were so busy they didn't come in for lunch until 12:30, and now they're back out again. Let it snow!

This is the picture you get when you tell the kids to say "snow!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Something happened to me today for the second time in my life, something I never imagined would happen even once: my kitchen cabinets fell down. Thankfully, this time they didn't fall completely off like the first time. That was back in our first year here, when we moved into an apartment that was an empty concrete shell. The kitchen initially had only the old Chinese yellow cabinets that are knee high, with nothing on the walls. Ok, maybe not knee high, but they might as well have been for how useful they were. So we had some cabinets made. And apparently the workers didn't anticipate us actually putting anything IN the cabinets because the second we did, they fell down. They conveniently had already left for Chinese New Year break, so our cabinets sat in our dining room for a good month before someone could come back and reinstall them.

Fast forward 10 years to another apartment in China. This afternoon, I heard a crack. I thought the kids had dropped something, but they both plead not guilty. Later, when we went into the kitchen to wash the dishes, we noticed that the cabinet doors didn't line up anymore, and the bottom of the cabinets was hanging precariously low. We tried using our tripod to boost it back up (of course without all its contents) but it was reluctant to bear the weight. Erik went into our neighbor's backyard and found a discarded two by four left over from making their deck. The workers had left their circular saw behind so Erik was able to cut the 2x4 to the exact length needed. How convenient! So our cabinets are being supported by a piece of wood, and all the contents have been transferred to something that is resting on solid ground.

Ah, China. I shake my head and laugh. Do these kind of things happen anywhere else?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

That's not how we roll

Erik and I have been looking into buying a used car. We've been doing this with a fair bit of trepidation because we've heard used cars can be sketchy. Honestly, we've never bought a used car (the new car we bought in Singapore is the only one we've ever bought!) so we don't know what we're doing. We've hit a few used car lots but haven't found what we want.

The car we'd really like is called a Freeca. We have friends who own one (it's actually passed through three families of people we know) and they like it alot. We found two used Freecas at a lot in the south of town, so we borrowed a car and headed down there. Let me tell you a little bit about how things work at a Chinese used car lot. It might be different than what you have experienced in the States.

First of all, when you drive into a used lot, you will be inundated with people trying to buy YOUR car. I can't say how tempting it is to sell someone else's car, especially when you know they are actually trying to sell it. But we refrained.

We have yet to find someone who knew how to operate the car they were trying to sell. Rear defroster? No, that's a light! (No, sir, it's a rear defroster).

Safety standards are what we'd call "wanquan bu yiyang." (completely different). I kept examining the cars to see if the seatbelts worked or even existed. In one car that had two rows of back seats, there were none. I mentioned this to the woman and she said, "Shui yong?" (Who uses seatbelts??)

The whole idea of showing the car off well to the customer is a bit lost here. In one car, there was a jump seat in the back that was folded down. I asked the woman if she could put it up for me. She fiddled around for awhile trying to put the middle row down so she could do that, but she couldn't (see point #2). Finally she said, "It looks just like this one."
"Well, I'm going to have to see it."
"You can do it yourself when you buy it."
"How can I do it when you can't do it?"
Finally her friend who was smoking came over to help, leaning her cigarette precariously into the car while she did. I thought, "Lady, you might want to avoid leaving the smell and ashes from that thing IN the car" but I don't think it crossed her mind.

We did find a car called the Great Wall Hover, which we may buy new instead. Finding a used model was intriguing enough that we asked the man if we could test drive it. His response? "Are you going to buy it today?"
"Well, we don't know. We need to drive it first."
"Let's decide a price first. Then you can drive it."
"But we don't know if we want to buy it unless we drive it."
He was unmoved. So was the car. But we were moved to leave.

One thing I will say is that all the cars there look great from the outside. All of them were shiny and clean, even if inside some of them looked like they were 30 years old. I think we'll be buying new, but it was an interesting experience.

Is that really necessary?

Last year when we arrived in the States on November 24th, from Singapore, it was 45 degrees. And our tropically grown son walked into my parents house, took off his coat, stripped down to his t-shirt, and unzipped the bottom half of his pants so he was in shorts again. We warned him that he would be cold. Eventually he did put pants and a long sleeved shirt on, but later he went out on the back porch with no socks on. I thought, "I guess he won't have any problems adjusting to the weather!"

I think I was wrong.

Yesterday, it was supposed to be 50 degrees. The kids went outside in the morning, and two seconds later Ethan came back inside "freezing!" He went back out 15 minutes later wearing: long underwear, two pairs of pants, two long sleeved shirts, his winter coat, gloves, a neck gaiter, a hat, and his ski goggles. Over the course of the next hour, he progressively came back to strip off bits until he was done to something more reasonable. I don't know what he's going to do today - it's just started snowing.

Answer: add snow pants, go outside, come back in complaining that you need better mittens.