Sunday, January 31, 2010

Adventures in shopping . . . or, I miss grocery shopping in America

There are few things in my life as unpleasant as the realization that I need to go to Carrefour on a weekend (admittedly, my life is pretty easy if that's what's dragging me down). I generally try to go to our local grocery store on Saturday morning. It might be, inexplicably, the only place where people don't shop on the weekend here, so it's relatively calm. And for the most part I can get what I need there. Then on Sunday after church we go to the Lion Mart, conveniently located AT church, to pick up any random imported items we can't find at the local store.

But this weekend, my regular plans were sidetracked by a wedding yesterday and the absence of our family from church. Add to that our desperate need for chicken, and I knew I had to make the trek to Carrefour. Because everyone in town should know (and now you do, if you didn't before) that the cheapest, best grocery store chicken can be found at Carrefour.

Here's why Carrefour is a life sucker on the weekend. On any given day, shopping at Carrefour is akin to shopping at Walmart at Christmas time, only people are less polite and the aisles are narrower. The only saving grace in the whole store is that the women who weigh the vegetables for you will not let others budge in front, even if you, the foreigner, are trying to have 10 different bags of fruits and vegetables priced. If they didn't do that, it could get ugly.

But Carrefour on the weekend is like shopping on Black Friday 1999, with Y2K and certain doom looming in the future. It's every man, woman, child, and grandma (because no one leaves grandma at home here) for himself. There are places where you cannot navigate at all because the carts are bumper to bumper. You have to REALLY want to eat.

This kind of craziness used to drive me over the edge culturally, but something's changed over the years. Maybe I'm just used to it, maybe the Spirit's actually got a little more control over me (let's hope it's that), maybe I'm just desperate for tender chicken, but I just put on blinders and trudge my way through it. I even let a man in front of me in line because he foolishly came only to buy lunch. He was going to jump in front of me anyway whether or not I gave him permission, but I felt better having waved him by.

Of all the ways I wanted to spend my Sunday, that wasn't my favorite. That's why I bought such an obnoxious amount of chicken that I got comments about it. I'm thinking I should have bought more. I wish it were possible to go to one place, once a week, to get everything we need here, but it's not. Carrefour has chicken and Land O' Lakes cheese but no canned soup. Metro has economy size popcorn kernels and oatmeal, but their meat isn't great (except the delicious steaks). Jenny Lu's is prohibitively distant and expensive. Our local store has no imported goods. Lion Mart has no milk. Where's a Walmart Superstore when we need one?

But I could manage to do a once a month drive by attack at Carrefour and buy an even MORE obnoxious amount of chicken. That is my plan. Here's to the quest for non-stressful shopping in Asia! Cheers.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

You never know

Whenever he can, Ethan investigates technology. When we got our flight from Minneapolis to Chicago, he put on the earphones and searched for music on the armrest. The pilot broke in with an announcement, which caused the earphones to crackle. Ethan told me it gave him a mild shock all the way down his body. Then he continued with this interesting bit of information,

"Mom, whenever something like that happens, I do this" and proceeded to first hold his hand up, palm forward, then flip it around and hold it Spiderman style. Why? "Just to see if it gave me any super powers."

Always good to check.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Art of International Travel

When we flew to Vermont, we got the customary looks for our kids, the looks that say, "Oh, aren't they cute? I wonder if they're flying for the first time? I hope they behave themselves."

If they only knew.

If I could count the number of times we've flown, I could tell you the number of times we've packed. But if I figured that out, I might start thinking about how many hours of my life I've spent packing and that would be depressing. So let's just say we've packed a lot. And I've decided there are certain laws which apply to international packing. Here they are:

1. In the weeks preceding our departure, I will waver between "we are never going to fit all this in our eight suitcases!" and "we've got plenty of room - let's go buy more!" eventually landing squarely in "Yeah, we have way too much stuff."

2. I will be able to do the first 80% of the packing, after which seeing one item lying around not in a suitcase will cause me to feel violently ill. This is when Erik takes over and does the remaining 20%. It's a good system.

3. U-haul boxes are a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Erik has become an expert at cutting them down from the bottom so they are just within the 62" size limit, and at reinforcing the handles with paint stirring sticks to keep them from ripping. We generally take four of these boxes back with us. This time we're taking 5.

4. Just when you think you have packed most of the stuff in the house, there will be approximately a suitcase worth of last minute items - toiletries, shoes, the clothes you wore yesterday. Prepare for this.

5. Somehow, each time, it will all manage to get in just under the 50lb limit for each bag. (it's amazing to think that we used to be able to take 70lb - we have diminished our load by 160lb!).

Erik hit gold status on United this year, which means we get an extra bag. This adds a new law:

6. Your stuff will expand to fill the amount of space you give it.

For those in Asia - watch for us on Thursday afternoon. We'll be the ones with the obnoxious number of bags.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


Do you like to ski? I don't particularly like to ski. My history with skiing is jaded. The first time I went I was 13, and I learned the "church youth group outing" way which means you drove to a nearby ski hill in a bus with 20 other kids, slapped on some skis, someone told you, "Just make a V with your skis" and you fumbled your way down the hill.

The second time was also the "church youth group outing" variety, but I threw in the discovery partway through the day that I had the chicken pox, just to make it more interesting.

Fast forward ten years to when Erik took me on my first real skiing trip to a real resort: Smuggler's Notch, Vermont. Now, I realize I have nothing to compare to other than Welch Village tainted with chicken pox, but I have to say that we hit the jackpot. Smuggler's Notch is fantastic! And this from someone who doesn't like to ski.

But don't take my word for it - Ski magazine has rated Smugg's the #1 family resort in the US 11 out of the last 12 years. That means it was great when we were a young couple, but it's even better now that we have kids! Last year and this we put the kids into all day ski/snowboard camps while we were free to frolic around on one of three mountains (or in my case last year, free to hurl myself down Rum Runner's and nearly break my leg). This year I took a ski lesson. I can't imagine how my history with skiing might be different if I'd had that from the beginning. (wouldn't have eliminated the chicken pox though).

Smuggler's Notch has a lot of challenging hills (or so I'm told by my ex-ski patrol husband) but for the less vertically inclined, there's cross country skiing, snow shoeing, hikes, ice skating, even dog sledding. We like to finish the day in one of the pools (open to those who are staying in the resort)or at the Fun Zone. Seriously, this place has everything!

If you're looking for a place to do a family ski vacation, you HAVE to go to Smuggler's Notch. Tell them Gina sent you. That will mean nothing to them, but it would be fun to know that you did. Fun for me. A little awkward for you, maybe.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Do you have any other form of identification?

Biggest oops of this trip - I left my Minnesota driver's license in China. This has proven problematic when making returns at Old Navy and Target, but I discovered yesterday that The Department of Homeland Security really doesn't like it. They didn't care if it had my photo ID and passport number in it - they couldn't read the rest of it. I don't blame them for not liking it.

In my defense, I didn't plan to use it. I thought Erik had brought the passports for our trip to Vermont. Thankfully, we had been routed, along with a handful of other luck travelers, to a little used security line because the others were so overflowing. This definitely made the process easier as we were pulled aside, had to wait for them to call security, then ask me a series of identification questions, and we were the only people waiting there. It would have been very stressful if we'd been crammed in one of the crowded lines.

The security guys were very friendly and patient, and didn't give us even a hint of that "you idiots" attitude we got that time when we accidentally tried to bring a carry on that contained a Leatherman tool and my scrapbook tools. I hope the Burlington security people are as gracious, because we're going to have the same issue on the way back.