Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mini Me

I'm often told I look exactly like my mom, although once I was told I'm the spitting image of my dad. Hard to see how that's possible. I'm going with "looks like mom" though because we've actually had random strangers stop us and comment on how much we look alike.

But what about our kids? I think it's always been easy for me to see that Ethan looks like me. There's a Chinese idiom that translates, "The sister's son looks like the sister's brother" which is even more true. Ethan looks quite a bit like my brother. But Megan's always been a question - me or Erik?

I've heard it both ways - Ethan is like me and Megan is like Erik, or that Megan is my "mini me." I think the red hair throws people off into assuming Megan looks like Erik, but I'm not denying I see him in her too. What do you think? (not about me looking like my mom - I think that's a closed case. I mean Megan looking like me).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Laowai* have left the building

By the end of the summer, my helper just pointed out, there will no longer be any laowai (foreigners) in our complex. We've generally had a good handful (5-6?) units of us throughout the years at any given time.

Why are we all leaving? For various reasons, but generally when someone leaves a foreigner's apartment, we try to find friends to take it over. Not this time. Why? Well, to put it simply, this place has just gotten a little rich for our blood.

When we first moved to China (oh here she goes again with the "back in my day" grandma stuff), our rent for a 1500 sq ft place in another complex was less than $500 US. That's pretty steep for China, but it felt like a steal to us. In fact, everybody's rent felt like a steal. We were relatively rich, to the point where we didn't want to tell anyone what we paid for anything (and believe me, they asked).

Right now in our complex it's impossible to find a 3 bedroom apartment for less than about $1,500 US. All of us who are giving up apartments or have had to renew leases have had landlords ask for a $700-1,000 a month increase. This is mostly due to the high demand to live within a kilometer of one of the best schools in our city. And apparently, there are enough really wealthy Chinese out there who can afford to bump us out and educate their children. So we foreigners are packing up and heading for greener pastures. Actually, it's likely that they'll be less green as this is a fairly beautiful complex, but hopefully they'll be cheaper pastures.

* Laowai is what we are affectionately called here. It means "old outsider" and is somewhat equivalent to calling us "gringos."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The tones

I'm going to make a bold statement. I don't think Chinese is really all that hard. Sure, it can be hard to pronounce, and the characters just look like chicken scratching, but there are other aspects that make it quite easy to learn. I mean grammatically speaking it doesn't get much easier - there is no conjugation of verbs, no articles. And things just make sense here. Like when I was looking for a treadmill, which I didn't know how to say, so I asked for, "The machine you can run on," and they replied, "Oh, run machine." Literally, treadmill in Chinese is "run machine." So often while searching for a word you don't know, you'll actually say it.

But the tones. Ah, the tones. The tones can bring a man to his knees. My first summer here, I was talking with a friend in Chinese and she said, "They should teach you to use the tones." Uh, yeah, they do. Many painful minutes were spent in Chinese class listening to the teacher drill a tone into someone's head (sometimes my own).

It is my responsibility these days to help my kids review Chinese between classes. This primarily consists of helping them memorize the characters (because their teacher says they are lousy at reading. Personally, I think they're stellar - I know a lot of adults who can't read a lick), and pronouncing things correcting. To their credit, they are trying to make the words have tones, and often they are correct. But if they don't know, especially when there are two characters together, they say the first word as 1st tone, and the 2nd word as 2nd tone. So I have to correct them. Sometimes more than once. And then I tell them that I know it's frustrating, because I've been there. We ALL have. (and when I say ALL I'm referring to the people I know who've tackled studying this language). But it will get easier. And once they've conquered the tones and the characters, everything else should be a breeze!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Conversation about the future

Me, "Megan, when you're done being the best soccer player in the world, will you be a coach?"

Megan, "No."

Me, "What will you do then?"

Megan, "I'll keep playing soccer."

Me, "You mean even when you're an old lady."

Megan, "Yep."

Me, "But how will you make money?"

Megan, "I'll just kick the ball around."

Me, "And people will pay to watch an old lady kick a ball around?"

Megan, "Yep."

Let's hope she's a REALLY interesting soccer ball kicker into her old age.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The gift of being yourself

I have to share these thoughts from the book The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner. He's written some excellent books about identity in Christ and living out of our relationship with Him (although I'm still partial to Brennan Manning's writings because they feel more raw and real to me). Here's what he has to say about the true/false self:

We do not find our true self by seeking it. Rather, we find it by seeking God. For as I have said, in finding God we find our truest and deepest self. The anthropological question (Who am I?) and the theological question (Who is God?) are fundamentally inseparable. It is by losing our self in God that we discover our true identity.

There is no true life apart from relationship to God. Therefore there can be no true self apart from this relationship. The foundation of our identity resides in our life-giving relationship with the Source of life. Any identity that exists apart from this relationship is an illusion.

Giving Thanks

I confess that earlier in the week I was thinking about this on-going list and thought, "I don't think I could think of 25 things right now!" It's been a tough week emotionally with Erik being gone. I think often we consider the ramifications on our kids for Erik's travel, and assume that the two of us will be able to manage ok, but I think this last month of business for us has been taking its toll on me personally! Add to that the fact that our best friends here leave in less than a month, and I've got a recipe for a very busy heart.

But we are to give thanks IN all circumstances right? So here goes:

226. The weather has been blessedly cooler than usual, which is glorious
227. Rain!
228. The flowers I liked the best of those I bought on Mother's Day are still alive and beautiful
229. My jasmine plant is finally blossoming!
230. Our car is powerful and I love it
231. While our apartment is still waiting to be renovated, we have a great local guy helping us who gives us confidence that it will get done eventually and well
232. We have friends who are having their apartment renovated by the same guy, and he's ahead of schedule and under budget. In China????
233. Free mornings
234. My treadmill
235. All the stuff Erik's bringing back from the States for us - it will be like Christmas!
236. I have completed 3 (almost 4) sections of a writing project I'm doing
237. The kids have been reading like gangbusters lately
238. Our friends who live next door - love how easy it is for us to stop by and for them to come over!
239. My family comes in just over a month!
240. The book Bold Love, by Dan Allender. His stuff is always challenging.
241. Reading with the kids - we're actually reading a book they both love!
242. Tao Bao
243. Lohao city - an organic store outside our building that has really good stuff, including flax seeds and Sunmaid raisins
244. Chinese class two times this week and seeing my kids be able to read lots of characters
245. Seeing the lights go on in their heads when they understand what's being said to them in Chinese
246. The dirt market - heading there tomorrow. It's one of my favorite places in town!
247. Heading to the dirt market with good friends=even better
248. New fun places near our building in which to eat and play
249. A great time out with girlfriends on Wednesday afternoon
250. Finding out that it's cheaper than I thought it was to change my middle name (from Marie to Brenna) even though I have to wait til next summer to do it

Wow, that was easier than I thought it would be. :)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Changing times

Just this morning I was lamenting the loss of aspects of this culture due to development. For example, When we came in 1999, the bike lanes were as wide as the streets. At a stoplight, there were often 50 people stopped on bicycles. Now, there might be a handful. Times, they are a changin'.

Sure, you still see people walking backwards for exercise, but you see far more running forward in a more sensical manner. Most of them are actually wearing sneakers now and not dress shoes. Most would say this is for the better, but I'm nostalgic for the old backward ways (both literal and figurative).

Then this afternoon I went to pay for my kid's Chinese classes. I was given a three layered receipt in one office and instructed to go pay in the next room over. The girl in there looked startled, as though she is rarely called upon to perform this duty. When it came time for her to give me my 60Y change, she pulled out a large Butter Cookie tin and rummaged around for it. She came up 10Y short, so she reached into her own wallet and gave me the extra. Then she stamped my receipt, took one copy, and told me to go give one of the other two to the girl next door.

I was so ridiculously happy at this exchange, I can't tell you. I hope some things never change.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The "easy" teeth

Today was my red letter day for tromping back to the dentist where she planned to work on the "easy teeth." This required drilling out the old silver filling in one tooth (not a problem), then drilling in to the recently refurbished tooth next to it to find out why it was turning gray.

Wow. So it turns out that when you drill into a tooth and it's healthy, it should be yellowish, which the first one was. Now, I'm no dentist, but I didn't need her to tell me that when she drilled two holes in the second one and I was looking at two black caverns, it wasn't good.

The dentist was very proud and pleased when I told her initially that I could skip anesthesia for the first tooth. It got a little sensitive toward the end, but I reminded myself that I have pushed babies out of me and that I could handle it. She told me the second tooth was deeper and more likely to hurt. I told her I'd give it a try. Again, proud and pleased.

To our surprise, it didn't hurt at all. I thought this was good. She informed me it wasn't. She was potentially going to have to drill a lot deeper to get all the black out. Then she launched into a long explanation of the various possibilities (dead nerve with cavity, dead nerve without, not dead nerve suddenly being touched by drill equaling pain, most of these options involving more money) which would follow. My main concern was, "So WHEN are you giving me anesthesia? Because all of this sounds really painful." Showing me what would happen on her little three dimensional tooth model did nothing to assuage my fears.

Finally she called in a colleague who spoke English. I have never, in all my 11 years in Asia, been so happy to find an English speaker. He went over all she'd said again. I realized I had mostly understood her (though she didn't think I did) but it felt so reassuring to hear it in my own language. I could have hugged him, but that might have been awkward.

In the end, I did get anesthesia (thankfully not up to my eyeball like the last time). She was able to get out all the black stuff without hitting the nerve, throw some disinfectant in there, and fill it with a temporary filling. She told me I can't eat off that side for the next two weeks or the filling will come out, which feels a bit like saying, "So only sneeze out of the right side of your nose for the next two weeks, ok?" but I'll try. Then I'll go back for her to replace it.

I am so not looking forward to the "hard teeth."

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Haircuts in Asia

Getting a good haircut is an art. Getting a good haircut in Asia is a miracle. You have two choices - go to a ridiculously expensive foreign place (where your chances of getting a good haircut are better, but your chances of regretting dropping that much for a bad haircut are significantly higher too). Or you can brave going to someone local and trying to explain what you want. Me, I go local.

I try to go armed with some pictures to give them an idea of what I want. I have picked up some vocabulary that includes "length, cut, trim, color" but should really expand to include, "layers, bangs, blunt, thinning shears (as in, "Don't use them")." I have a hard time explaining what I want in my own language. Add to that the fact that I have the hairline of Dracula (seriously, I'll show you sometime) which messes up any normal haircut, and you've got a recipe for tears and months of ponytails.

And yet, I still try.

I went the other day and explained with pictures that I wanted her to cut bangs, and leave the length but give me more layers. Essentially she did that, though in retrospect I realize I should have been more specific. This is when I am glad I am not a Barbie doll - my hair will grow back. It always takes a few days for my hair to process, "What on earth did you let her do to me? Now how am I supposed to look? What was wrong with me before?" and then it reluctantly settles into something new.

The interesting thing this time is that it finally cut off all previously dyed hair. I now, for the first time in about 2 decades, have all my own hair color (including my first few gray hairs - what??). When I came home, Megan said, "I don't like how dark they made it." I had to inform her that was the part which actually went right. I was hoping it would finally be my own again. Who knew I was this much of a brunette?

Haircuts in Asia. Not for the faint of heart.

Happy Pizza

I love times when I am out and about here, something happens, and I think, "I am SO going to blog about this." Last night I had one of those moments.

Erik and I had found, on our way back from the dentist, a new restaurant called Happy Pizza. It had outdoor seating and was adjacent to a complex with a courtyard where the kids could play. That's our kind of restaurant. So we decided to try it and it didn't disappoint.

Well, it maybe disappointed a little in the food and beverage arena, but not in the interest level. For one thing, they had sweet dark brown velvet chairs that we coveted. They were unfortunately made in a province outside of ours. The menu had everything from pizza to salads to burgers to Chinese food. We ordered a tomato and corn salad, wings, a half Hawaiian, half vegetarian pizza, and drinks which included a strawberry milk tea for Erik. What do you think of when you imagine a strawberry milk tea? Do you imagine a cup of hot pink liquid that tastes like Slim Fast? No, we don't either. Especially since I thought Erik had ordered a strawberry milkshake. But that's what it was. By my account they'd really missed the boat. We laughed heartily.

Our pizza had some extra, surprising toppings. Our vegetables included broccoli and corn, both good, both not usually found on a pizza (unless in a non-franchised pizza chain in Asia). The kids did not appreciate the addition of black olives on their Hawaiian side. The only mark against this place was that they could not produce a Coke Zero or a Coke Light, and tried to offer me a regular Coke instead. In this part of town, that's pretty surprising.

After dinner we wandered into the complex next door and found the largest expanse of green grass I think we've seen in the city. You and 100 of your closest friends could easily have a picnic there, if the locals didn't boot you out (they probably wouldn't - they'd just gawk).

These are the kind of experiences I love here - finding a new little spot to enjoy, and having it remind you that you're not in Kansas (or Minnesota) anymore. I say keep 'em coming cause I love writing about them!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

I need more imagination

I posted previously about how I've been using my imagination to help me extend grace to frustrating people on the roads here. It's been helpful, but I find that I am lacking creativity to deal with one of the most prevalent problems:

People just don't look.

It's hard to believe that's true. It's like everyone's playing a game of Frogger blindfolded. This goes for drivers and pedestrians alike. The theory seems to be "If I don't acknowledge you, you must avoid me." The problem is, what if I don't see you? So it falls on me to be constantly vigilant for old people wandering across the road, women riding bicycles like they can't turn their heads if they tried, and cars that are pulling into my lane. It's made me quite a defensive driver. I also have to swerve a lot.

So, any creative ideas on how I can justify their actions and not want to just run them over while calling, "Serves you right!" out my window?*

*For the record, I would never actually do that.