Friday, March 25, 2011

Ni da cuo le!

A woman just called me three times looking for her little sister.

The first time I gave her the old, "Da cuo le" - wrong number, and after a brief, confused pause, she hung up.

The second time, a minute later, she tried to clarify the number. It was the right number, so I told her whoever gave it to her must have written it down wrong. She asked if I live in district 3. I said no. She asked my name. I told her. It was nothing close to what she was looking for. Baffled, she hung up.

The third time she called she asked who I was again. I told her our surname and asked who she was looking for (again). She told me it was her sister. She asked if her sister was here. I told her there were four people here, all with my last name. This again baffled. I asked if she wanted me to go look for her sister. She said yes. (sarcasm apparently does not translate). I told her that her sister definitely was not at my house. She then asked again if I live in district 3. I told her I really wasn't. Finally satisfied, she apologized for inconveniencing me.

On the contrary, she amused me greatly.

Our Texting Boy

Since Erik obtained quite possibly the only available iPhone 4 in China last Sunday, we did the traditional passing down of technology (Gina gets the old) except this time, for the first time, Ethan was in line too. My old phone is nothing to brag about, but it has become Ethan's prized possession. He's using it quite responsibly, and, like many kids, has taken to texting. Only the people he texts are Erik and me. Here's what I've had so far.

"Hi" (his first, to prove to Megan that he knew how)

"Ended early. Be home soon." (from Boy Scouts)

"Suephen coming" (we're still not sure what he meant by that)

"Can we start now?" (texted from the homeschool room to me getting ready downstairs)

"Leave?" (while I was shopping he was wondering if they should head to class)

"Teacher made m write 'u' different. Had major brakedown. Want to talk to u when i get home. :)" (during Chinese class. She's got an issue with him not putting a tail on his u's. This is Chinese class lady - quit correcting his English!)

And in response to me asking if he wanted to make an apple pie when he gets home,
"Yes yes yes yes yes!!!!!"

Now I've got to run, because I just got a text, "Can you meet us at the intersection?"

Getting your hair cut: 20Y. The experience: Priceless

I may have mentioned it before, but the one area in my life where I am consistently adventurous and spontaneous (seriously, the ONE area) is my hair. Sure, I do some research and try to find a picture of what I'd like, but often I will decide I want to change it and within 24 hours, it's done. Sometimes drastically.
This is what my hair looked like yesterday. I found a picture, printed it, and was about to head out the door, when Megan came in sobbing. She has a history of not wanting me to get my hair cut. She kept saying she didn't want me to change. After several minutes of assuring her that I was only going to change on my head, I was out the door.

The only place I've tried to get my hair cut nearby is what I call the "Hair Police of Xi Yi." If you know Uptown in Minneapolis, you've heard of the Hair Police. It's the kind of salon where you feel somewhat ashamed of getting a normal haircut. Everything is funky and edgy. This is Hair Police China style.

They all lit up when I got there, like, "Ooooh, who gets to cut the foreigner's hair?" The task fell to a young guy who I think was named "Ou Yang" but it was hard to tell because it was a busy place with pop music playing. He washed my hair, then patiently listened to my explanation of what I wanted. He did point out that the girl in the picture has more hair than me. True, but she also probably had about a pound of product in it. I don't know how to say product in Chinese (at least not hair product). I think that was his disclaimer that I wasn't going to look like her.

And I didn't, but theoretically I could, if I had that much hair product and someone else styling it for me. But, as always, I walked out looking like Donna Reed. Or maybe Elastigirl. I don't know why, but Asian hairdressers really like to curl my hair under with giant brushes in a wildly wholesome looking way. I think they don't realize how easily my hair will curl, unlike most of theirs. Once I tried to ask my hairdresser in Singapore to make it a little wilder, maybe flip it out some. So she curled it under, and then flipped the very bottom out. Sigh.

In any case, I just go home and fix it. I might have just cut him off, but he was having such a good time, and there were so many others transfixed by my presence, and especially by the color of my hair (which I assured them was not 100% natural) that I felt I didn't want to rob them. I got to field lots of questions about my life and ability to speak Chinese, which was compared favorably with theirs (they are all from the South, so Mandarin is almost as much their 2nd language as it is mine).

So now I need to get some good styling products if I'm going to achieve the look of the picture, but until then, this is what I have:

Not bad for 20Y.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Transparency vs Vulnerability

Transparency and vulnerability. I used to think they were one and the same. In the last few years, though, I've learned that's not true. Here's how a friend of mine described it to me:

Transparency is like a window display. You put all your junk out there for people to see - all your struggles, your sins. It's good in that you aren't trying to hide it or pretend it doesn't exist, but there's a problem - people can't touch it. No one can come into your store and say, "Hey, what about this? Why haven't you brought this into the open?" It's a great first step in growth - in fact, it took a long time for me to get to a point in my life where I could do even that. But now I'd say I'm in a place where I can usually own my stuff. I know that seeing it, and others seeing it, doesn't diminish my worth. In fact it makes me more real, more authentic.

But it can't stop there. If it does, transparency could become, in my opinion, a defense mechanism. If I put all my stuff out there, then maybe you will think I'm really open, and you won't dig any deeper.

Vulnerability, on the other hand, is giving others permission to step into the display, rearrange it, even bring some new things into the open. Of course you want to be wise in who has permission to do this, because it's your heart they're dealing with, and you want someone who will do it in love and gentleness. But I'm finding there's a great leap between being transparent and vulnerable. Vulnerable takes it to a whole new level! I'm learning though that this is the key to growth.

So who's been messing with your display lately?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pass the Salt, Please

I'm glad I bought salt last week, because there's none to be had right now. Normally 1Y per small bag, prices have risen to 10Y for the same amount. Security guards had to be brought in at little grocery stores nearby, because people were fighting over the small stocks available.

Why? Reasons are mixed. Some say it's because they believe the iodide in salt can be used as a substitute for iodide tablets, but from reports we've heard, it would take somewhere between 80-250 tablespoons of salt to equal one tablet (the tablets are all gone too). My maid said she's heard people think that the salt comes from the sea, and the sea is now contaminated from radiation. She doesn't believe it herself, and said the government is telling them on television not to buy salt. Still, the panic continues.

It reminds me a bit of SARS, when people bought vinegar in mass quantities, thinking it would ward off symptoms. It's such an interesting phenomenon to watch people overreact to crises, basing their decisions not on actual facts, but on rumors. I just hope I don't need salt any time soon.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Encountering Culture

Sometimes I'm a little overwhelmed by the culture here. Today I encountered things that I realize I've become accustomed to (and yet they are, by American standards, strange) and things that completely surprised me (yet most Americans wouldn't blink an eye). So much is changing and still so much is the same (which means it's still different).

Snapshots from our day out:
Police EVERYWHERE - pulled over at intersections, directing traffic (What?!? Why can't this happen every day??), standing on the overpasses, blocking off two lanes of the highway. This actually ISN'T typical - there are big government meetings in town. But the "huh, look, someone's making traffic worse" phenomenon was pretty typical.

The Apple Store - if you want to know where all the hip, wealthy Chinese people are, go to the Apple Store downtown. Every single person there was better dressed than I, and had more technology (I just had my Mac). The guy next to me played games on his iPad while someone fixed his iphone. Me, I used one of the store computers to look up the iphone cover I wanted on Tao Bao to see if it was cheaper than in the store (it was). I felt like the most Chinese person in there at that moment.

The Mizuno store is gone. You'd think by now I would be used to a favorite store/restaurant being gone when I go to visit it. Usually it's become a pile of rubble. In this case I think they just didn't do well. I was disappointed.

12.5Y for parking?!? I remember when I used to pay 2 mao for someone to watch my bike.

At least 3 times I had to lay on my horn in such a way as to communicate, "DUDE. You and your black Audi better thank your lucky stars I have good reflexes. Consider yourself sound slapped." Driving in China is not for those slow on the draw. Constant vigilance!

I missed two calls from a prospective piano tuner while I was driving (probably couldn't hear him over the honking). He'll be here soon to tell me things about my piano in Chinese which I will not understand. Let the culture keep on coming!

More Tales of the Kingdom

A week or so ago I posted about a book I'm reading called Tales of the Kingdom. I enjoyed the moral of the story I read last night,

"So the boy learned that quests can be a journey inward as well as a journey outward. There is a kingdom within that must first be conquered before one comes brave enough to challenge the world without. This is an idea that all caretakers of the soul know."

Good Gifts

571. The house is consistently clean, and I didn't do it
572. Ethan's joy in Boy Scouts
573. homemade food like peanut butter and apple butter
574. The smell of campfires (ok, it wasn't really a campfire, but someone was burning something that smelled like one!)
575. Experiments in not eating processed food
576. The redemption of my soul through asking my kids for forgiveness after a tough mommy day
577. The graciousness of our kids after said tough mommy day
578. Getting my husband back for the weekend unexpectedly (he was supposed to be at a campout but they were kicked off their campsite)
579. Learning that the pain in my feet from running can be fixed with stretching, heel inserts, and better shoes
580. A fun birthday party for two friends
581. A shower curtain to replace the glass that broke
582. Highs in the upper 50's
583. The smell of rain
584. Homemade granola bars and yogurt
585. Encouraging words affirming my language skills 3 times in one week!
586. A quiet hour of The Hobbit
587. Erik and Megan playing capture the flag together in the house
588. Kids buried in books
589. Ethan being a patient teacher (to me!)
590. A snuggly moment with Megan in the morning
591. days of sunshine
592. Good friends who love me and invite me over to play
593. A reminder to look for God in the hard moments
594. And then to thank Him for them

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Hello Spring!

In Minnesota, my favorite season is autumn. I love the way everything turns golden and the trees look like they're on fire. I love excuses to start bundling up, while still not being too cold. I love bonfires and squeezing in that last outside grilling, football games and crunching leaves.

But here in Asia, I love spring! In Minnesota, March "comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb." I'd say March here comes in a like an old friend, beckoning you outside! The wind blows the pollution out more often than not, and there is an abundance of flowering trees that will start to blossom within the next few weeks. All in all, it's blue skies, mild temps, and green (well, at least at the park!).

Today on a quick walk to the store I saw the buds appearing on the trees. It's coming!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Awkward Attempt at Friendship

I just opened my door to an eager faced Chinese man holding two bags of fruit. He made to walk into our house, but I stopped him. He started talking excitedly but I was talking on the phone with a friend and couldn't understand him. I had to cut her off by saying, "I have to let you go. There's a guy here with fruit. I think he wants to be my friend. I'm not sure what to do!"
Here was his heart felt and honest plea:

"I heard there are foreigners who live in this building, and I came to see if we could be friends!" He didn't show any indication that he thought this request would be denied. Probably because he had some good looking fruit.

I felt badly, but it just seemed a little odd to show up at someone's door and offer instant friendship, no matter how much fruit you bring. I told him it was a little strange. He said it wasn't. I told him I was actually really busy. He said he could help. I told him I had to help my son get ready to leave for a camping trip. He told me he could watch Ethan while I did that. I told him I was married and that it really wasn't appropriate for me to have a guy for a friend. He said it wasn't that kind of friendship. He even showed me some ID. Two kinds, actually. I told him that my husband wasn't home. He said he could wait. I told him this situation was strange and not suitable. He said it wasn't. Through it all, his eagerness did not fade.

It didn't even fade that much when I essentially pushed him out the door. He tried to keep it open a bit with his foot, but I insisted. I was tempted to deadbolt the door after I shut it, but I assume he was pretty discouraged on the other side already. No need to add insult to injury.

I told my maid all about it when he'd left, noting that in America we don't do that kind of thing. She said that's not normal here either, and thought I'd done the right thing. Then we giggled about the absurdity of it for awhile. What will China do next?