Xiamen, Part II

So, we started day two of our Xiamen trip with a long yoga class.  According to the schedule, it was only supposed to last 75 minutes, but it went for a full two hours.  Despite the fact that this cut int our tourism time, I was quite happy about it.  It’s the first yoga class I’ve taken since I left DC!  I practice on my own, but I really miss classes.  My mom even stuck it out through the entire class, which was quite impressive.

After yoga, we headed down to the waterfront for a mid-morning snack at Starbucks.  We’d had a small breakfast at the hotel, but not much at all (and this preceded the 2-hour yoga session).  This particular Starbucks just might be the nicest one I’ve ever visited.  It occupies a full 4 floors, the last of which opens onto a roof deck with a great view of Gulangyu.

My mom taking in the view

After Starbucks, we hopped on the ferry over to the smaller island.  It was very crowded, and also very hot.  But heat doesn’t bother me because it provides an excuse for afternoon ice creams.  So, we started wandering around, which is the best way to explore Gulangyu.  It’s extremely easy to get lost, and in some way is like a more tropical, Chinese Venice without the canals.  If you can bring yourself to imagine Venice without canals.  Perhaps not.

For lunch, we really wanted to sit down.  This proved more difficult that one might think, as most of the food available on Gulangyu is xiao chi and thus is not served at a table.  Finally, we found a cute little courtyard and ordered off of their tiny menu.  The food was, at best, edible.  Barely so.  Despite the somewhat disgusting food, we were happy for the seats, shade, and cold bottles of water, so we made the best of it and then stopped for xiao chi afterward.  Here, the vendor is preparing our tofu and fish:

The "after" picture

After lunch, we climbed up to the highest point on the island.  There were quite a few stairs, and it was predictably crowded, but it was worth it for the view.

Typical

We spent the rest of the afternoon continuing to guang guang (wander) and bought a few souvenirs.  For dinner, we decided to return to the bigger island.  Once again, we wanted to sit down and thought our chances would be better away from the biggest crowds.  I’ve always been one of those people who turns her nose up at the thought of eating at American chains while abroad, but I must admit that living in China has changed that somewhat.  There’s something to be said for the comfort and relief in the assurance that a Starbucks, for instance, will be exactly the same anywhere in the world.  The menu items are slightly different, but the ambiance, service, and drinks are the same.  So, I’m not  ashamed to admit that our plan was to head back to Starbucks, buy sandwiches there, and eat them on the roof and relishing once more in the view.  Our plans were thwarted, though, when we returned to Starbucks only to find that they had a paltry selection of sandwiches.  Nothing dinner-worthy.  We were forced to seek nourishment elsewhere.  “Elsewhere” turned out to be a tiny restaurant that was literally, not figuratively, a hole-in-the-wall.  Ryan spotted the sign down the street amid hundreds of other florescent signs and swarming crowds.  We decided to check it out, because we know that we love this particular type of noodles.  This style comes from the Western part of China and the restaurants are dependably clean, delicious, cheap, and almost always have picture menus.  It was, as we knew it would be, very satisfying, and it only set us back about $2 each.My favorite part of the meal occurred when I asked our waiter if he could provide us with drinks.  He beckoned for me to follow him.  We exited the restaurant and stepped over to the shop next door, which you can see in the picture above.  He asked me what I wanted, and when I said 3 waters he grabbed three bottles from a fridge and yelled to inform the slightly disgruntled-looking shop-keeper.  I’m assuming he paid her later.  He was very nice, informing us that he came from Lhasa, and that Ryan and my Chinese was, “not bad!”

After dinner, the three of us indulged in McFlurries.  We bought drinks at Starbucks so that we could sit on their roof and enjoyed watching the sunlight disappearing from Gulangyu.

Globalization at its best

We had to be up early the next day for our train, so we retired to the hotel after ice cream.

 

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Xiamen, Part I

Well, I suppose I shouldn’t make promises about when I’ll post things because so much of it is out of my control.  I did write this post two days ago, but was unable to post it.  Yesterday morning I spent about an hour trying to upload pictures (unsuccessfully) and just when I decided to post it without pictures, the power went out.  Then I went home because I wasn’t feeling well.  So, here we are on Friday.  The internet is still running very slowly, so unfortunately there are only two pictures here.  Maybe I’ll get the rest up later.  In the meantime, here’s the post:

All three of us were very excited for this trip, because it – rather pathetically – marks the first time we’ve left Zhejiang province (unless you count Shanghai, which I don’t).  Due to the brilliant and not at all confoundingly frustrating Chinese train ticketing system, we were very limited in the amount of time we’d spend in Xiamen, but we were determined to make the best of it.  We had a little scare on Saturday morning when, aboard the B2 bus in Hangzhou and about to leave for the HZ rail station, my mom realized she didn’t have her passport OR her train tickets.  Miraculously, with super-human effort plowing through the pouring rain, she ran back to the apartment, retrieved her missing documents, caught a cab, and made it to the station with time to spare.

So, relieved that we’d all be making this trip together, we installed ourselves in the train and prepared for our 6+ hour ride on the dong che (fast train, albeit not the fastest train, which is called the gao tie).  Riding a train in China is an experience in and of itself.  The noise level is quite a few decibels above anything you’d encounter on an American or European train, although nearly all the noise is “happy noise.”  We shared our car, for instance, with what seemed to be an extremely large family which passed the trip laughing, sharing food, chortling, crying a bit (the children, that is), and playing computer games and movies with volume at full blast.  Due to the high volume of people traveling, Chinese trains also offer standing room only tickets, although these tickets cost the same as a seated ticket.  We discovered this the hard way one day between Shanghai and Hangzhou.  As a result, people are constantly walking past, standing next to your seats, crouching down in the aisles.

The trip was half the fun, though.  In addition to the entertainment inside the train, we also passed some incredible scenery.  The trip began in a steady rain, streaming across the windows and making it almost possible for me to imagine I was aboard the Hogwarts Express, although the food trolley was selling cup of noodles and chicken’s feet rather than droobles and chocolate frogs.  As we moved further away from Hangzhou, the landscape quickly became more rugged as the rain turned from a steady downpour to a pervasive mist.  This mist was quite complementary to our surroundings, which were dotted with small villages, terraced farms, bamboo forests, and the occasional scarecrow.  The further south we traveled, the more persistently and successfully the sun tried to burn off the clouds.  The landscape turned humid, lush, and tropical.  Honestly, my eyes were dazzled by all the green.  I kept thinking about how people say Ireland is green and wondering, could any place on earth possibly be greener than this?  It was lush, emerald, and incredibly fertile-looking.

We arrived at Xiamen North station a little after 4 pm and ran to the taxi line.  Our haste paid off and we immediately hopped into a cab.  After a 45-minute ride and a bit of wandering down small, unnamed streets, we found our hotel.  We stayed in a place called the Yoga Village Inn, which turned out to be an excellent choice.  Not only do they offer free yoga classes every day (hooray!) it was cheap, clean, friendly, and very interesting.  The inn is located in the former Indonesian Embassy, dating back from a more colonial era, I think, so the ceilings are extremely high (at least 15 feet) and everything looks romantically but functionally dilapidated.  The complex is encompasses a courtyard filled with flowers and jasmine trees, and a happy little kitten attacks everything in sight, be it plant, animal, shoe, or book.  Does it sound too good to be true?  It seemed so, really.  Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take pictures of the hotel and the following dark, blurry picture which features me rather than the hotel is all that we have:

Yeah...not a very good picture

Not wanting to waste any of our short time in Xiamen, after checking in we immediately set out to explore.  The city is vastly different from Hangzhou.  Although Hangzhou has been around for eons and was briefly a capital of ancient China in one of its incarnations, most of what we see today is new and modern (and boring, in my opinion).  The streets are wide, straight, and obviously planned.  There is no old architecture to speak of with the exception of a few temples and pagodas around the West Lake.  Xiamen, on the other hand, somehow escaped destruction from World War II AND from the Cultural Revolution and thus remains charmingly ramshackle, meandering, and colorful.  Starting in the 1500s, Xiamen was one of China’s main ports open to the West, a fact heavily reflected in the city’s architecture.  Much of it looks colonial in a Caribbean sort of way – full of wrought-iron balconies, pink- and green-painted buildings, and windows you can imagine pirates’ wenches hanging out of – and the Gulangyu nightscape reminded me bizarrely of Rome (Gulangyu is on of the islands that comprises the city of Xiamen, and is its most famous attraction).

So, we window-shopped and people-watched, then stopped quickly for some xiao chiXiao chi is probably best translated as “street food,” because it is food that one buys and consumes on the street.  Literaly translated, it means “small eat” or “small food.”  It is ubiquitous throughout China and reliably much better than what we Americans might think of as street food (mainly, I think, hot dogs, popcorn, and stale pretzels).  In fact, sampling a bit of xiao chi is an excellent way to get an idea of the local tastes, and we found Xiamen’s to be delicious.

[Here was supposed to be a food photo, but after 30 minutes of trying to upload it I’ve given up]

Shortly thereafter, my mom decided to head back to the hotel for the night to rest up for the next day.  Ryan and I both wanted ice cream, so we stopped for McFlurries and continued to wander as the sun set.  Xiamen was still alive with activity, though – another nice difference from Hangzhou, which shuts down relatively early.  We walked down to the waterfront, relishing the the distinct ocean smell we’ve been missing for 9 months.  The atmosphere was excited, carefree, and summery, bright despite the dark sky.  As the ferries between the larger island and Gulangyu run until midnight, we decided to take a nighttime boatride and check it out.

Gulangyu is a maze of tiny, pedestrian-only streets lined with miniscule shops and restaurants that literally tumble out of and over themselves.  Vendors crouched on the ground hawking their wares and restaurants displayed buckets of fresh, still-swimming seafood available for purchase and consumption right there.  Plenty of people were eating dinner, something we found surprising given that people in Hangzhou, at least, usually eat dinner around 5pm (our Chinese teacher thinks it’s ghastly that we often eat around 7:30 or 8).  Ryan got a great picture of the Xiamen skyline:

We didn’t want to overdo it that night, though, since we planned on spending all of the next day on the small island.  So we made our way back to the ferry dock and squeezed our way on, fighting through quite a crowd:

[Another failed picture]

We then retired to our little Yoga Village Inn and awaited the next day.  Which is what you will have to do, too, because I think this post is already long enough!  So, as long as the internet cooperates, I’ll post the rest on Monday.

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Quick Update

First of all, I want to thank everyone for your warm response to the resurrection of the blog!  It means a lot, and provides inspiration to keep up with it.  I’ve been having trouble accessing it again, but TOR is pulling through again for now. Tomorrow, I plan on posting about our weekend trip to Xiamen, a city located directly across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan.  We had a great (if short) weekend soaking in the tropical weather (not that Hangzhou is all that cold), seeing some vastly different scenery, and smelling the ocean for the first time in months.  Unfortunately, my camera battery is exhausted and I really don’t want to do another post without pictures.  But, in the meantime, I wanted to assure you all that I’m still here and still committed to continuing with the blog. Until tomorrow, I’ll leave you with a list I compiled a while ago.

You know you’re homesick when:

– You enjoy watching commercials for things like Cardis Furniture and the Local RI news

– You don’t have trouble convincing yourself that the Chinese countryside looks like “anywhere in America!”

– You’ve had more McFlurries and McDonalds ice cream cones in the past 9 months than in your entire life previously (actually, that may be due to the fact that good ice cream is just very hard to come by in this part of China, unless you’re willing to pay $10 for a tiny scoop of Haagen Dazs.  Which, sorry, I’m not.  I’ll settle for the 50 cent McDonalds cone)

– CVS sounds like Mecca.  And Whole Foods?  Ohmygoodness.

– You randomly break out into song, and it’s usually “I Like to Be In America” from West Side Story

– You play the alphabet game with DC restaurants – one restaurant for each letter – and it makes you want to cry a little

– You accidentally join a wedding party for the sole reason that it’s composed of the largest group of foreigners you’ve seen in nearly a year.  Said foreigners then ask you how you know the bride and groom, and you have to awkwardly explain that you don’t know them at all.

Don’t worry though, we’re doing fine.  Besides the fact that we miss everyone and can’t wait to see you, we’re not too homesick at the moment.  Like I said, I wrote this a while ago.  A demain, alors!

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Here’s to doing better next year

If I had to guess, I’d say that you’re surprised to be reading this post.  I admit, I totally dropped the blogging ball.  Once WordPress stopped working for whatever quirky reason the government had at the moment, I got out of the habit of writing and simply stopped altogether.  Miraculously, it appears that a handful of people are still checking back here.  Thank you!  That’s wonderful.  I’ll try to do much better in the future!

So much has happened over the past 5.5 months (I can’t believe I let the blog go for that long) that it’s difficult to know where to re-start.  Last time I wrote, it was snowing outside.  Now, the exterior temperature is around 90, I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and much of the summer humidity has already returned.  Perhaps an additional reason for my lapse in writing was simply that the winter was very difficult.  Much more than I had expected.  I’ve always liked winter, enjoyed the cold, the sweaters, hot beverages, and coziness.  I usually look forward to each season as it rolls around, and winter was no exception.  This year, for the first time, I hated it.  Worst of all, I didn’t realize I hated it until it had ended, so I (along with Ryan) spent most of the winter wondering why I felt so miserable.  It’s not that Hangzhou gets particularly cold, or that my workload increased, or any other such tangible reason.  The dull and sad feelings that beset me were caused by things much more subtle, much more difficult to identify.  For one thing, everything in Hangzhou turned grey.  In wintertime, one expects a certain amount of leaden skies, drizzly days, and bleak-looking landscapes.  And, as someone who spent the first 13 years of her life living in the Pacific Northwest, I’m no stranger to damp weather.  But Hangzhou has something that doesn’t usually factor into the equation in a climate like this:  dust.  And not the yellow, gritty, desert dust you may be imagining.  Hangzhou’s is a dirty, brownish-grey, disgusting, fine dust, one that sticks to everything and gets through the tiniest cracks in doors and windows making it impossible to keep anything clean.  The dust is a result of the mind-boggling amount of construction going on in Hangzhou at the moment, so it’s mostly comprised of fine concrete.  It coats all the trees, bushes, and grass in the wintertime so that all that should be green is instead a sad, dirty grey.  So, in addition to the damp and rainy weather (which certainly abounds here in the winter), there was absolutely nothing in the landscape to relieve the monotony.  Furthermore, I developed a cough that persisted throughout most of the winter.  I’ve never had respiratory issues, and my colds usually play out cough-free.  I can only attribute the presence of this nagging, hacking, nasty cough to all that dust combined with the damp weather.  Of course, the same dust-levels are still present here today, but they stay off of the trees and flowers once the cold weather departs.  And, although I have no idea what all this concrete is doing to my lungs, I haven’t been coughing since February.

So, it was cold, it was damp, it was grey.  Because we live south of the Yangze river, heating is not standard in Hangzhou (Hangzhou’s winter weather is similar to that of DC – can you imagine a winter without heat in DC?).  One of the best parts of winter – coming in from the cold to a toasty, warm, golden environment – was gone.  At school, they’d turn on the heat only when temperatures went below 0*C, so from late-November until late February, I never removed my coat at school.  They also never turn on the lights in the hallways, and the building is made almost completely of concrete, so it was all very cold and dark.  Work was stressful – one cultural misunderstanding after another left me feeling undervalued and confused.  I eventually had a meltdown that luckily coincided with a snowstorm, so I only had to take one sick day from work.  In late January, my mom came down with a nasty case of pneumonia and spent 2 weeks in the hospital.  Of course, this added another level of stress and worry.  She was able to return home just before Ryan and I headed out for a 2-week trip to Japan, where we stayed and traveled with my long-lost friend Saya, who I met in Belgium way back in 2002.   Japan was wonderful, it was a much-needed reprieve from some of the things that had been slowly but determinedly wearing on us since we arrived in China.  Most Westerners traveling to Japan feel like they’ve entered an entirely new world – bright signs everywhere flashing characters, a sea of black hair everywhere you turn, fascinating cultural traditions and nuances, new tastes and smells coming from every direction, the sound of an unfamiliar language playing with your ears.  We felt many of these things, too, but most of all being in Japan felt like we were a step closer to home.  We were with a warm and welcoming family, everything was clean and orderly, Western foods and products were available in abundance (although, fear not, we ate Japanese food at every chance we got, which is to say constantly).  People didn’t push in lines, everyone said please and thank you, the toilets were AMAZING (Japanese toilets are ridiculously high-tech), AND we had a translator with us wherever we went, thanks to Saya.

In short, Japan was fabulous.  But our return to China probably marked our lowest point yet.  The four-hour trip from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to our apartment in Hangzhou reminded us of all the reasons we felt unhappy here, starting with the bleak landscape visible from the above-ground metro outside of Pudong and ending with the jostling, overcrowded, loud bus in Hangzhou.  Coming home from vacation is always difficult – no one likes that return to the everyday, mundane tasks of daily life, getting up and going to work, commuting, grocery shopping, etc.  And it’s even harder when “home” doesn’t feel like home at all.

Where am I going with all of this?  I’m not sure, exactly.  I certainly didn’t intend to turn this post, the first in months, into a lament over Hangzhou winters.  Nor do I want anyone to feel sorry for us.  We came here totally voluntarily and, what’s more, I’m sure you’ve all had your share of trials and tribulations over the past few months.  Plus, soon after we returned from Japan and overcame the impulse to simply pack our bags and leave in disgust, the weather got warmer and suddenly I realized winter was over.  And, miraculously, I felt better.  As I said before, I’ve never felt so profoundly affected by the weather.  And daily life here is difficult, and sometimes I still want to leave the country on the next westbound plane.  But things have improved, and next year I’ll be prepared for the winter.

Which brings me to my next topic: our plans for the year to come.  After a long, painful, drawn-out decision-making process during which we changed our minds on a daily basis, Ryan and I decided to stay here in Hangzhou for another year.  He’ll be remaining at his school, Greentown Yuhua Primary School, in the same capacity.  I’ll continue to teach Kindergarten, but will leave my school in favor of my mother’s (Greentown Yuhua Kindergarten), which is much, much closer to home (a 10-minute bike-ride as opposed to a 1.25-hour bus ride).  My mom is returning to Rhode Island.  I don’t like to talk about this very much because the thought of living here without her makes me want to cry, but I am 100% sure that the decision is right for her and I’m glad that she made it.

Are we thrilled about staying for another year?  No, not exactly.  But for a variety of reasons too boring and complex to go into, it makes sense.  And I am excited about the chance to improve my Mandarin (which, I have to admit, is not bad for only 10 months of study), to travel more within China and in other parts of Asia, and maybe to glean a little more understanding into exactly what China is at the moment.

This year has not been easy (and it’s not over yet).  But there’s no denying that it’s been interesting.  And we’ve learned a few valuable things that should help to make next year a little more fun and less…confusing, frustrating, bewildering, etc.

1.  (this is a big one) We need to readjust our expectations.  And that is a continuing process, one that has to occur almost daily.  As I mentioned earlier, we came into this pretty much blind.  We each knew a pitiful amount about China and Chinese culture, had no idea what to expect, and were consequentially consistently frustrated, angered, and bewildered by what we experienced.  I’d like to say that I devoured as much literature as I could on Chinese culture one I realized the error of my ways, but that is not so.  Besides, so much of that sort of knowledge comes from experience, from trial and error, rather than from a book.  There is a lot more to say on this topic, and maybe I’ll devote a post to it sometime in the future.  But for now, I’ll leave it here.

2.  Winter sucks.  Be prepared, buy a warmer coat and some boots, and travel everywhere with a supply of hot chocolate and Harry Potter books on tape.

3.  Do more yoga, because living in China often makes me feel like I’m 7 again, and my little brother is sitting next to me in the car poking me ceaselessly and laughing maniacally as he does so.  So I need to cultivate some inner peace.  A happy place.  Or something.

4.  Splurging on weekends in Shanghai is totally worth it, because it’s possible to make yourself believe, for 2 blissful days, that you’re in America.  Or Italy.  Or, maybe, the rest of China 10 years from now.

5.  Plan ahead as much as possible, because travel in China is, sorry, a bitch.  More on that later.

6.  Did I mention that Shanghai is awesome?

7.  Remember that life here is all over the place, and that your best and worst days often come together, as one.  So many times I’ve been cursing this place, wishing I could transport myself somewhere else, and then something small will happen to put a huge smile on my face.  A nice lady will save a seat for me on the bus, an old man will let me go ahead of him in line, the man at the fruit store will help me pick out an extra-delicious pomello, a teenaged girl will see me pass on the street and say, “Ta zhende hen piaoliang!,” or one of my students will look at me adoringly, and I’ll remember that individual Chinese people are some of the warmest, friendliest people I’ve met.

Those are just a few things.  This post has been very long.  I’d like to post some pictures, because I know that a long blog post broken up with some visual stimulation is a lot easier to handle.  But I’m at school and don’t have any photos at the moment, so you’ll have to use your imaginations.

Oh, and on a practical and more exciting note, Ryan and I will be back on the East Coast from mid-July through mid-August, so we hope to see as many of you as possible then!

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It’s snowing!! (A post from Wednesday)

I started writing this post on Wednesday before TOR stopped working and I could no longer access the blog.  But I’ll post it now! It ended up snowing quite a bit, and I got Thursday off!  A very nice early Christmas present.

So, from Wednesday:

It’s snowing!  This makes me very happy, so I thought I should share with you all.  We started out with a light drizzle this morning, then a few small flakes started to appear every once and a while.  I expected it to simply turn back to rain after a short while, but the flakes have actually gotten bigger and faster!  It’s even starting to stick on the roof, which is pretty much all I can see from my office window at work.  Little birds are huddled under the eaves, shaking the flakes off of their feathers every so often, apparently trying to escape this unusual December occurrence.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the snow will continue throughout the day and into the evening, as I know I won’t truly enjoy it until I’m back at home with Ryan, our Christmas tree, and a cup of cocoa (provided ever-so-thoughtfully by Ryan’s grandparents).  But even if it ends now, I’m still delighted to have seen it at all.  In all my classes, I usually begin by asking the children what the weather is like.  Today, in my oldest class (pre-primary), one of the boys immediately exclaimed, “White!”  I laughed a little bit and said yes, it is white outside, because it’s snowing!  I then proceeded to draw a snowman and a snowflake on the board and encouraged them all to run to the window and watch the falling snow.  This class, incidentally, is by far my favorite.  For one thing, it is comprised only 15 students, half the number of all my other classes.  I know the name of every student in the class (in most classes I’m lucky if I know one name).  I spend a bit longer with them than I do with other classes, as each of their sessions lasts 30 minutes as opposed to 20 or 25.  Out of all my classes, this one makes me feel the most like I’m actually teaching.  Generally, I feel more like a performer or an entertainer than a teacher.  In fact, I sometimes think that the qualifications needed to be a foreign teacher in China are similar to those needed to be an “accomplished young lady” in a Jane Austen novel.  One needs to sing, to dance, to play the piano, to draw, and to speak foreign languages.  It can be, to say the least, exhausting.  But this class is different.  The group is small enough and the students old enough so that we can have real interactions, I can get to know them all, and I feel like I’m actually making a difference in their English progress.

The children are also very sweet.  Shortly after I directed the students’ attention to the snow-filled vista outside, I was hit by a nasty coughing fit (I’m getting over a cold).  One of the teachers asked, “Who would like to get Emily laoshi a cup of water?”  All their hands flew into the air, and the student who was finally selected looked absolutely thrilled to be honored with this task.  He went to the water dispenser with a huge grin on his face and fulfilled his mission with endearing care and attention.  He made sure to obtain the perfect mixture of hot and cold water (as far as I’ve seen, the Chinese always drink warm water, never cold) and made his way back to me with extreme caution so as not to spill a drop.  I made sure to thank him profusely, at which he simply beamed and returned to his seat.

Of course all my classes are filled with adorable children, but I feel much closer to these students than I do to the others.  For both Ryan and I, one of the most frustrating things about our roles here is that we don’t feel like we actually get to know or impact our students.  We (and especially Ryan) see them so infrequently that it’s nearly impossible to have more than the most superficial knowledge of their personalities.  But sometimes, in my pre-primary class, I can fool myself into thinking I’m a real teacher!

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Through the Firewall….again!

So, as you may have noticed, things have been rather quiet around here recently.  It’s been a little over a month since our last post.  I’ll give you all the benefit of the doubt and assume that you attributed this silence to our inability to access the site.  I know you would never have assumed we were just getting lazy in our posts.  For those of you who did think the worst, shame on you.  In fact, WordPress is still blocked here in China.  But we’re now using a service called TOR (The Onion Router) which directs us through servers all over the world and allows us to access sites otherwise blocked in China.  I was quite proud of myself for setting this up on my own at work, although Ryan found the service itself.  I guess blogging necessitates some computer geeky-ness.

I’ll try to give you a brief summary of the past 6 weeks or so, aided by a few pictures.

Apart from the fact that we were missing our family and friends, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Determined to make it festive and joyful, we invited some of the friends we’ve made here in China.  You may remember Ben and Elynne, Yan and Jud, and Jurgin and Margrit from previous posts.  All of them, along with their respective children, were kind enough to join us for dinner.  It was wonderful to share the evening with them.  We were thrilled to find a turkey, which just barely fit in our oven:

We also found dried cranberries, which we turned into a surprisingly delicious cranberry sauce, and ended up with a classic spread:  the turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing (all with homemade bread and cornbread), mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, sweet potatoes, an assortment of other sides, and apple and pumpkin pies for dessert.

We obviously have limited resources here, so in addition to making every imaginable component of the meal from scratch, we also brought Jurgin and Margrit’s table and chairs down to my mom’s place and completely cleared their cabinets of dishes and utensils.  Combining three tables (the last from our place), we were able to form a sort of banquet table running down the middle of the apartment.  It was very cozy, in the end, and quite a memorable Thanksgiving.

Well.  It looks like the photo-journal will have to end here for today, unfortunately.  I’ve been attempting – literally for the past hour – to load more photos into this post, but to no avail.  Perhaps I’ll put some up on Facebook if I have the time, but it’s unlikely today.

I’ll try to continue tomorrow with more photos and recaps of the past few weeks.  Hope everyone’s week is off to a good start, and I’m glad to be able to update again!

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A Photo Update and the One Child Policy

I thought I should share some photos while I have the time.  First, some pictures from our anniversary dinner:

The table set and ready to go

I was quite proud of my handiwork for this dinner.  In addition to the food, I also made the flowers out of tissue paper, which I painted pink, the blossoms for the branches, and obviously the menu, place cards, and little banner.  The lovely photo of the Newport Bridge came from our friend Ethan, who sent us a few of his beautiful photos to help us decorate our rather bare walls.  Here I am making gnocchi; Ryan thought it was hilarious to see me dressed up with my hands all covered in dough.  Also, a close-up of the table.

Finally, having a glass of champagne and some cake on our actual anniversary:

Next, I have some photos from a school picnic we took a couple of weeks ago.  All the kids piled into charter buses and we took an hour-long drive downtown to the botanical gardens.  We paraded around for a bit while the teachers took class pictures and then settled down in the grass for a little picnic.  I loved seeing the kids eating.  Their parents had stuffed their backpacks full of snacks – candy, cookies, chips, crackers, etc.  Each kid had enough food for about four.  But whenever one opened up a new container, he would automatically turn to the child sitting next to him and offer his classmate some of whatever he was eating.  It was adorable.  I mentioned to Helen, one of the teachers, that I found this very endearing.  I told her that American kids don’t really do this, at least not so automatically.  She immediately started nodding and said, “Yes, in China every child is only one.  So his parents and his grandparents give him everything that is good and he becomes very spoiled.  So we must teach him to share, and always to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.'”  I told her that she’d done a very good job training her students.

Before I came here, I didn’t think much about the one child policy, or about its ramifications.   But here are a few things to think about:

Every child in China whose parents and grandparents are all living has six adults doting upon it.  Pouring all their love (and money) onto their one hope for the future.  My grandmother has ten grandchildren, which means that – while she loves us all – her love is spread around a little bit.  Here, that is never the case.  Most people who live in China take for granted that they will only ever have one child, and that child will have one child.

Obviously, most Chinese children don’t have a brother or a sister.  What I didn’t think about before I got here, though, is that they also probably don’t have any aunts, uncles, or cousins.  Imagine an entire country devoid of aunts, uncles, and cousins.

I’ve found that Chinese people like to ask me when I’m going go have a baby.  Once they find out I’m married, it’s the first question they ask.  But, rather than asking when I play to have a baby, they usually ask when I’m planning to have my baby.  The other day, a young teacher asked me if I’d like to have a girl or a boy.  Without thinking, I said that I’d like both.  I then immediately felt guilty and rather embarrassed, because this possibility that I take for granted may not be an option for her.

There are ways around the one child policy, of course – you can have babies abroad, depending upon the circumstances.  You can choose to have multiple children here in China and simply pay the fine (and I have no idea how large this fine may be).  But both of these options do require a certain degree of financial power, and most people opt to stick to one baby.  Musing on the social and political ramifications of this policy as time passes is one of Ryan and my favorite topics of conversation here.  It really is fascinating.  What will happen when, for all practical purposes, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, and sisters are phased out of Chinese culture?  Especially in a culture in which the traditional family structure is so important?  What will happen to ageing parents?  To traditional values?

Anyway.  Back to the picnic.  You can now see firsthand how totally adorable all of these children are, and why it’s categorically impossible for me to dislike my job.  Trading in binder-making and law jargon for picnics and basic English vocabulary seems to have been a good decision.

Heading towards the buses, backpacks stuffed full of goodies.

Entering the gardens

Choosing a gummy worm to share.

Enjoying some corn.

Contemplating her hànbǎobāo (hamburger)

Emily Lǎoshī, why are you taking my picture while I'm eating? Seriously, put away the camera.

So that was the picnic.  Aren’t they cute?

Here’s a praying mantis we found outside our door one morning:

And here’s Ryan emerging from a tiny doorway in L’Amour Cafe, which I mentioned in my last post.  The entire cafe is not this small, of course, but you can see in the picture that the ceiling in this area was quite low.  Even I had to duck.

And I think that’ll have to be all for today.  Have a great weekend!  We’re planning on taking a trip to Metro, the amazing super-store full of imported goodies, and exchanging baking lessons for some Chinese cooking lessons.

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