Time-Travel in Shanghai

Although it’s more appropriate for a Throwback Thursday, today, I’m returning to one of my most memorable moments in Shanghai.  Where old and new, Asian and Western, and poverty and wealth collide.

Thursday Time-Travelers

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bill and I have spent the last few Thursday nights on the town, while the kids stay home with Ayi.  This past week, we had an errand to run before we went to dinner.

Bill is traveling to India in July, so we needed to turn in the documents for his visa. Once we arrive at the necessary office, they directed us to a side street across the road, so Bill could get the correct passport size photos taken. Mr. Tao parked the car, and he and Bill went to the “cubby hole”  which was the “photo shop.”

As I waited in the car, I watched the local activity, smacking myself for not having my camera with me. We were on a street that looked like we had teleported back in time to the 60s or 70s in China. Much farther in the States. We sat by an ancient two-story building, lined with doorway after doorway, only 10 feet apart. Older Chinese men and women, sitting in front of their homes, on bamboo chairs, sharing each other’s company, in the late afternoon sun. Beside one of the doorways, was a cabinet holding what appeared to be a number of family’s wares.  Next door, a gentleman closes up his “shop” for the day, putting away the homemade sign with a handsaw drawn on it. Taking down the worn kettles and pots that had hung on the wall. Upstairs, someone sits close to the open window, resting their elbows on the sill, and leaning out into the fresh air.

Two school boys walk up to the car, one staring in at the console. The other slapping him on the back and telling him, “Too expensive,” in Mandarin. They then walk to the back of the car, where I notice they are now looking at it from the rear. They are so entranced by the car that they have no idea I am watching from behind the tinted, rear windows. Our car is one of thousands of silver, Buick minivans which travel the streets of Shanghai everyday, but it would seem that none have ever been so close.

Once BIll and Mr. Tao return, we head to dinner, a mere five-minute drive from the small side street. The restaurant is one of about six or eight expensive, modern, and chic locations on the Huangpu River which runs through the city. They serve gourmet international cuisine and fine wine, with panoramic views of the cityscape. They spare no expense in dinnerware, furniture, or staff. It is a well-known and frequently visited location in the life of the wealthiest Chinese, and the expat community, but not one of the people on that side street that has endeared me today, could ever imagine.

Bill and I are early for our reservation, so we enjoy a glass of wine in the bar one floor below the restaurant, where we meet and chat with the owner of both.  She is Australian, and was the first to open a restaurant overlooking the river. She is directing her staff in rearranging the furniture. It’s early, so no other customers are there. Later, it will be packed.

Once we are seated on the terrace for our meal, we order a few starters of lobster and salad. When it is time to order our main course, I order “Veal Faggot with Sweetbreads.” I am initially deterred by the word “Faggot,” because I don’t know what it means, then decide it is probably just the way it is served, and veal sounds good, besides, “Sweet Bread” sounds delicious…..I like “sweet” bread. Bill goes with steak.

Before the meal arrives, Bill gets a “swimmer” in his wine, and we let the waitress know. I think she will get him a new glass, Bill thinks she will “fish” it out. BIll wins. She brings over a spoon, cloth napkin, and a new, empty, wine glass. She fishes it out, puts it on the napkin, tells him “good wine,” and asks him if he wants the clean glass. Meeting the owner already, I know she would not approve of this, but we let it go, chalking it up as one of the quirks of living in China. The waitress leaves, and Bill decides he doesn’t want the tainted wine after all, so I chug it down for him. The wait staff chuckle behind us at his facial expressions.

Our meal arrives and it is tasty, but mine has a funny texture, and where is the sweet bread?! I learn later, online, that the “faggot” was the giant meatball that was on my plate, and is made up of all the “extra” parts of the animal.  The other half of my dinner, which had a strange texture, but was fabulous, was the “sweetbread.” Not at all “bread,” but instead a dish made of glands from around the heart and neck. Who in their right mind would call this “sweetbread?!” Towards the end of our meal, fireworks start going off across the river, and the skyline is lit with the lights that make Shanghai, Shanghai.

Two different worlds, only minutes apart. Both scenes are beautiful. Both scenes forever engrained in my memory.

 

Bloggers Are Writers, Entertainers, and Inspirationalists

I love to write. I blame it on my hIgh school English teacher, Mama Lon. She was strict. We were going to learn in her class even if it killed her.  We would learn about the classics, and write lengthy papers that she could take her red pen to……with vigor. She didn’t let her students get away with much. She called people out in front of the class for any reason she saw fit. Mama Lon was also hilarious, and made the hour fly by. We all loved her. Still do. She has a huge student following on Facebook.

When we flew to China to bring Carleigh home, I started a blog to keep friends and family informed of what was going on during our trip. When we moved to China, I started a second, to chronicle our adventures, again for friends and family. I found that I still really enjoyed writing. As a stay-at-home mom, it discouraged my brain from turning to mush. It helped me realize the blessings in our life. It forced me to learn about and focus on the differences in cultures, and to appreciate them more. Once, I sent an email to Mama Lon with a link to the blog. She “red penned” it. Always the teacher.

In January, I began the current blog. This time,  I made it public. Why? Because I love attention?! Of course! Who would start a blog that didn’t like even a little attention? For me though. It is about three things. The first, I’ve mentioned… my love of writing. The second is to entertain. There is, most likely, not a single entertainer out there that does not like a least a little attention. Especially when the are doing something they love. Actors, actresses, singers, comedians, dancers, writers. Do they like the attention?! Yes! Why else would they be doing it? The money is nice, but if they hated it, they would probably move on. They are doing what they love.

The third reason is my hope that I may inspire someone along the way. To encourage people to take a leap of faith and step out of their comfort zone. To see what the world has to offer.  For those who are going through a rough patch, to find strength in themselves to carry on and, in time, thrive. To see that even though they may not know why misfortune has come to them, in the end, no matter how much it hurt, they will look back and think……. “I get it.” “That really sucked, but I’m not sorry it happened,  because I learned from it, and it made me a better person.” I hope to inspire everyone to find beauty and peace in the little things. Blue sky, white clouds, the fresh cool breeze. Mountains, flowers, the sound of children playing. The snuggle of a spouse, baby, dog or cat. To slow down for a minute to appreciate the world around them.

So to those who don’t want to read blogs because they are written by attention-seekers…..turn off your TVs and radios, throw away your books, CDs, computers, tablets, and iPhones.  Go back to the old fashion flip phone with no entertainment capabilities. DO NOT, I say, DO NOT go see a movie. They are written by, produced by, filmed by, performed by, and have music created by……….attention-seekers. Enjoy your entertainment-free, inspiration-free life. You win………..NOT.

 

 

A Rainy Day in Shanghai

This is a throwback blog from our time in Shanghai. With all the rainy spring days we have had lately, it seemed appropriate. It was a second home to us, and I always love to reminisce about our China days.

Rainy Day…..

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yesterday was a rainy day. I sat by the second story window of our local Starbucks, drinking a non-fat latte, and watching the people on the streets below. With my indoor seat and warm beverage, I think that regardless of the rain, it is a beautiful day.

I watch the lady who sells Mylar children’s balloons on the sidewalk. She has them tied to the back of the bike she transported them on, and I wish I could have seen her trip from home. That would have been a great picture. She sells one each, to two young Chinese women, and as they walk off with their purchases, a man walks behind them, smirking at their childish fun.

Locals pass on their bikes. Their children sit in wire seats behind them. On motorized scooters, children stand behind the handle bars and their parents legs. Others have sandwiched a child between two adult riders on the seat. Age is of no concern. No helmets are worn. Some wear ponchos, some do not. It is not raining very hard yet, so no one is in a hurry.

The armored car arrives to service what has to be one of the most used money machines in Shanghai. Two security guards get out dressed in bullet proof vests, helmets, and carrying what look to me like machine guns, followed by two money handlers. They move into the building with one guard in front, and one in back. The one in back must feel pretty cool, as he has a swagger to his walk. I have been at the ATM when this entourage arrives. It is unnerving, to say the least.

When they are done, they return to the truck. The swaggering man ditches the machine gun and helmet, but leaves on the vest, and returns to the building. The other guard takes off his vest and helmet,  leaves the gun in the truck, and returns to the building in black street clothes. They come back out minutes later, nothing in hand. Must have been a bathroom break. I can tell they are young. This must feel like a very powerful job.

By the time I am ready for Mr. Tao to pick me up, it is pouring outside. There are several silver Buick minivans parked by the road, but it is a 25 meter walk across the courtyard to the street, and I have forgotten my umbrella. I call him to try to figure out which van is ours, but it is lost in translation. His English is limited. I see a police car in the area and I bet on the fact that he has seen it, and parked around the corner. They don’t like drivers to sit on this part of the street to wait. Luckily, if Mr. Tao doesn’t understand you when you call, he usually assumes he is needed at the pickup location.

A minivan pulls up, and I decide to run for it. There are literally thousands of silver Buick minivans driving around Shanghai everyday. It is the telltale sign of an expat. The windows are tinted so I can’t see in, and the license plate can’t be seen from the side of the car. It is raining too hard to try to get to a better angle to see it. The automatic door opens and I jump inside. Generally, your driver will open the door as you walk up, so I am betting it is him.  One day, I will get into a car, and it won’t be, but the rightful owners will be right behind me. The door being opened for them.

I never tire of watching everyday life here. I love experiencing a different culture. Some of it is mind-boggling, but much of it endearing. There is rarely a boring moment, when you live in Shanghai.

 

 

The Countdown

As Bill and I count down to our 25th anniversary trip, I am going to reflect on some earlier anniversary celebrations. The following blog entry is one of my mom’s favorites.

Bill and Beth Celebrate 18 Years…..

Sunday, April 6, 2008

On Saturday night, Bill and I went to a restaurant called “La Villa Rouge” to celebrate our anniversary.  It is set in quaint old house, which was once part of a recording company. A park has been created behind it, where the record factory once stood, and at this time of day is scattered with older women doing Tai Chi, and children volleying balls around. We had the place to ourselves, as we were having an early dinner, with a table by a large window facing the park. It was the kind of restaurant where kids are not commonly seen, and you get a little bit of very tasty food, at a very steep price.

We ordered a bottle of wine, with no worries about who would drink how much…..a benefit of having a driver, and the couple who hardly ever drinks, finished it off. That would be a first in 18 years. Now if you had been the waiter, or the other two gentlemen standing at the desk, you may have thought I was drunk on my way to the ladies room. This impression may have begun to develop when the American girl (that would be me) came down the stairs and missed a step at the bottom of the first landing. Our waiter, being the gentleman that he was, put his hands out to try to catch me if I continued to fall. He was, however, still a flight below me. I steadied myself as I walked across the landing and then promptly stumble down one…..”I’m fine”………two….”Whoops!”…….three……”Honestly, I’m not drunk!” …….more steps. All the while, our fine, young waiter is standing at the bottom with his arms out, trying to save my ass. Each time I stumble, he apologizes. “Oh, saury……saury…….oh, saury!” Just for the record, they were shallow steps, and the back of my heel kept catching on the last one. I was not drunk! Just very relaxed.

After dinner, we went to the beautiful Shanghai Oriental Arts Center to see a Yue Opera. We were two of what appeared to be five westerners in the whole place, and better dressed than all but the cast. Apparently dressing up is not what they do for the opera in China. They had screens with English translation to the sides of the stage, but you could get the basic story without them anyway. It was the story of an army general and his wife, and there were several other male characters in the show, however, in the tradition of the Yue Opera, every one of them was played by a female. It was a fun experience, and the costumes were gorgeous.

After a romantic, child-free evening together, we arrived home happy, relaxed, and in the mood, so we climbed into bed………….pulled out the fifth season of 24, and watched four episodes. Perfect. 18 years.

 

 

 

Running From the Law….in a Kayak

Last summer we vacationed in The Finger Lakes region of New York with our friends from Canada. This was our second trip with them, and we’re looking forward to our third this year. We have been friends since meeting in Shanghai, at the bus stop where our children stood every day waiting for the school bus. Nick and Brennan have been good friends ever since, and the same with Lin and I. We are especially lucky that after both of our families repatriated, we only live a few hours away from each other.

Last August, we rented a small house on Canandaigua Lake. The water was a mere 20 feet from the back of the house, it had a long dock for fishing, a couple of brand new kayaks, a blow-up boat-like raft, and a gorgeous view.  One afternoon, Bill and I, Lin, and her husband, Jiming, left the kids at home to go to a food festival, and a couple of local wineries. It was an overcast day, not great for being outside, so we expected that they would watch TV or play cards, maybe fish from the end of the dock…………..we underestimated their ambition.

While at one of the vineyards, I got a text from Brennan. It was vague, but suggested they had been out in the kayaks, that it had started to rain, and they had come in. Oh, and by the way, they had been stopped by the “lake po-po,” (his words, not mine) for not having life jackets. This, of course, peaked my interest, so I asked him for details. He said that they were following him, in a small boat, that did not appear to have official markings.  Or none that he could see from the front. He has always been a very cautious boy.  Constantly looking out for anything suspicious. This nondescript boat with two men in it, made him a little nervous. They called out to him, and he picked up speed. Heading for the hills. Or the dock. Certainly not towards them. They called out again, and tapped the throttle. He went faster still. In a KAYAK. Against a BOAT. With a MOTOR. As they floated up next to the vigorously paddling teen, they asked him to stop, blew a whistle, and turned on the siren for a second or two. He finally stopped. Appeased that they were not serial killers, kidnappers, or pirates. Regardless, I’m pretty sure he realized at that point, his efforts were futile.

This is how Brennan recounts the conversation. One of the officers asks  Brennan why he didn’t stop, and he responds that he didn’t see them. The officer scoffs and says, “You looked right at us.” Brennan: “Ummmmmm. Nope, I didn’t see you.”  They ask him if he has a life jacket, and Brennan says he does not. Po-Po: “Do you have one in the hull hatch?” Brennan……..”Where’s the hull hatch?” Po-po: “How are you using a kayak you know nothing about?” (Implication: Did you steal it?) Brennan: “It came with the cottage we’re renting.” At this time, Nick is passing by in the other kayak. He says, “Hello, sir” to the police, then turns to Brennan with……. “THE LOOK.” The one that says….you DON’T know me. DON’T tell them you KNOW me (in my matching kayak.)  They ask Brennan, “Do you know this person?” Brennan: “YUP!. He’s my friend.” They proceed to ask Nick if HE has a life jacket, to which Nick also says he does not. They then ask the boys where they live, and Brennan points in the general direction of a hundred other docks. Finally, the officers decide their fun is done, a warning is given, and they are “released.”

The boys pull away, relieved, and ready to go home. But first, they head out to rescue Nick’s older brother and Carleigh who have been endlessly circling in the water. A twenty-something and a ten-year old unable to get a productive stroke going to make progress. The first group to be approached by the “life vest patrol” (Carleigh was the only one in compliance).  It will be a childhood memory they joke about for years. Our children’s first interaction with the law. Let’s hope it their last.

Patience is a Virtue……

Patience has always been a struggle for me. I’m pretty sure I had 0% patience as a child. Not much more as a teen, or even in my twenties. I have grown leaps and bounds in this skill, but it is a daily battle.

During my Crohn’s years, I was constantly waiting for a new medicine to kick in, for a fever to subside, for a break. There were times I asked God, “Why? Why me?” But then I would remember how many people were suffering from cancer. How many people in the world were so much sicker than I was. And my patience grew.

Adoption is a complete leap of faith. You never know what is going to happen that may delay, or stop, the process. When we were getting all of our paperwork together, we had quite a bit of control, but not all. We had to complete several steps in the home study with the social worker, and wait for documents. We had no control over those. They took time. We had to work with an adoption agency, on their schedule. Once our dossier went to China, we were at the mercy of a foreign government. Anything could happen. My patience flourished, and tanked, and rebounded again.

When we learned that Bill may have a chance to work in China, it took many months for it to develop. We were told it would not be certain we were going, until we were on the plane. We went through all the steps. Cultural training, social worker studies, conference calls that lasted hours. All planning the move. The move that was not certain to ever happen. Once we were settled in Shanghai, there were many other tests of patience. Language barrier, cultural differences, Internet speed. Too many to even recall. When we were done with our first 3 year contract, we didn’t know if we were going home or staying in China until the very last minute. We stayed another year. I didn’t mind. I loved it there. We were blessed to have the experience of living and traveling abroad. Many never have that chance. So, my patience grew.

Last year, as I have said, was a rough year in our family. There were innumerable meetings with doctors and school staff. There was plenty of waiting. Not knowing what was coming next. Waiting for things to improve. Waiting for brighter days. And my patience grew some more.

How many times do I have to tell my son to put his clothes in the hamper? I mean it’s RIGHT NEXT to where he drops them. Same with my daughter. Clothes on her bedroom floor. Mere inches away from the dirty clothes basket. How hard could it be?! Put the dishes in the sink?! Nope. Left on the table, until eventually I take care of them. Or better yet, until the dog realizes there is a tasty treat lurking nearby, and I start to hear the clinking of the collar and tags against the plate. I try to wait. I don’t want them to think someone else will take care of it. But eventually, it annoys me enough to do it myself. Backpacks, books, phones, glasses, shoes. They don’t intentionally leave them. Something else is pulling at their attention, and they just forget. Often.

The oldest does put his stuff away. His problems lie with getting up in time. Leaving the house in time. How many times do I have to wake him up in one morning?! Too many. Shave your face. Put on deodorant. Brush your teeth. Daily maintenance is a burden to him. He picks things up, walks around with them, then sets them down. Somewhere else. I have to go track said item down. He constantly has very important things going on in his head. He doesn’t even realize he’s doing (or not doing) it.

Over the years I have learned to pick my battles. They are good kids. I know they’re trying because these things have improved over time. Slowly. I continue to remind them. I find methods to encourage improvement. Reward. Punishment. Whatever works for each individual child. I remind myself that I am lucky to have kids. Healthy kids. There are so many people in the world who are not so lucky. And my patience grows again.

All of these things, little or big, have been lessons in strength for me. I worry less. I am less stressed. I think of the positive. I thank God for all of our blessings. And I remember…..patience is a virtue. I will continue the struggle.

Encounters with The Law

When we lived in Shanghai and something would happen that we thought was unique to our current location, we would say, “This is China.”  Below, I have posted an entry from my first blog discussing one of my favorite “This is China” moments.

My First Encounter with the Shanghai Police…..and My Second

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Everything was as usual on Thursday. I was trying to get things done, Carleigh was trying to make it as hard as possible…and I had a limited amount of time. Wednesday afternoon, Bill informed me that the next night we were going out to dinner with one of his superiors, and I had nothing to wear. Thursday afternoon, just hours before dinner, he informed me that it was my job to pick the restaurant… no pressure there. Nice.

So Carleigh and I headed to the mall, and after three hours, came out successful. Great, so far so good! I got home with a few hours to spare before dinner, and decided which of the new outfits I was going to wear. Good, step two done. Now, I needed to get our AYI, Yuan-Yuan, to iron the skirt. I would have done it, and tried, but she thought she was failing us if she didn’t do it. I got the voltage converter out of Brennan’s room, and got out our American iron, for the first time in Shanghai.

It’s a little appliance, so I didn’t think to check the wattage of the iron, with the wattage max on the converter. After AYI started ironing the skirt, I left the room. About two minutes later I heard a pop and a scream (from Carleigh) and the converter was smoking… piece of junk! I just bought that! My phone rang, and it was Bill.  I told him the story and, engineer that he is, he advised me that  irons draw quite a bit of current….hmmmm, what do you know… Iron: 1500w, converter max: 150w. Whoops, my mistake! I told Yuan-Yuan not to worry… in charade form… and moved on.

Then she tried to turn on a light… no power… no power ANYWHERE downstairs… oops! We must have flipped a breaker. She made a call to maintenance, as I never mess with that stuff in China, for fear of screwing something up. Maintenance came and flipped the switch back, and the house alarm started trilling. They shut it off…..no problem. Five minutes later, compound security showed up. Yuan-Yuan explained the situation. Actually, with the little bit of Chinese I know, I heard her RAT ME OUT!  “Tai Tai (wife) gave me the wrong converter!” Do they really have to know whose fault it was?!  Five minutes later, the police were at the door. She explained again, and then they looked to me, forcing me to feel the need to charade my explanation.  They smiled. I’m sure that was fun for them. Entertainment by Expat. I signed a piece of paper that they assured me was not a ticket, and they left. I then set AYI up with a larger converter, and she promptly  plugged the iron into the 220v instead of the 110v plug. Since the iron was from the States, it immediately started smoking. Good grief! Now the refrigerator was not working. Maintenance showed up again to fix the problem, and I thought to myself…..”Did you RAT YOURSELF OUT THIS TIME, AYI?!

During all this, I still had to find a restaurant which was suitable to take Bill’s boss to for dinner, and make a reservation. Mr. Tao was supposed to come pick me up at 5:30 and take me to Bill’s office, however, signals got crossed, and when I called him he was still sitting in the car under Bill’s office at 5:40 PM. By 6:00, I was on my way to pick up Bill and a coworker, cross the river to pick up his boss, and make it to a 7PM reservation on “The Bund, ” which lies on the old side of Shanghai, along the river. With rush hour traffic, it would take a miracle.

We actually made it by 7:15PM and the restaurant was fabulous, with a beautiful view. I figured, not much else could go wrong, so I stepped out of the box, for me, and picked the wine for the table. Luckily, it was a great choice. At least after the stress of the afternoon, things were going more smoothly. After dinner we walked along the river, which was bustling with tourists and vendors, and offered a gorgeous view of the cityscape on the newer side of Shanghai.

Eventually, we called Mr. Tao and set off to our pick up site. We linked arms to cross the busy Chinese street, and one of us, I won’t say who (but it wasn’t me), decided it was time to cross the street, illegally, in front of a police officer. Now for most of us in the group, we could just feign stupidity and language barrier, but we did have Wen, who was a Chinese Aussie, with us. It was her idea to pretend we didn’t know the language, which was funny because she is the only one who DID, and looked like she did. No surprise, we were stopped. She pretended she didn’t understand him and had never lived in China, and he didn’t even attempt with the rest of us. We were sent back to the other side. No worse for the wear. For me, on that day, it was par for the course.

 

 

 

Chinese People-Watching

Gawkers in China

August 12, 2008

Gawkers are seen every day in China, much the same as in the US.  However, in China people seem to find vastly different situations, and ways, in which to gawk. This is not something that occurs only when a fight breaks out or someone is injured, it is a part of daily life. One’s day would not be complete, without a little bit of gawking to break things up.

There are several types of Chinese gawkers. Below I have listed a few examples:

1. The Celebrity Gawker: This person is usually found at the zoo, museum, or other tourist attraction. They are Asian descent and are so excited to see a westerner, they need to capture the moment on film. To prove that they were actually there, they are  required to be in the photograph as well. The smaller the westerner the better, and if that child is wearing red they are a moving target. There will be no avoiding this type of gawker.

2. The Opportunistic Gawker: This person is afraid that they will miss something that is important, deeply discounted, or worth any sort of money earned, if they do not stop to see what others are looking at. Usually involving some sort of sign or advertisement, you will see up to 10 or more Chinese people reading it at once.

3. The Drama Gawker: This is the person who sees someone talking to a police officer and goes over to see what the commotion is about. The difference between this situation in the US and in China, is that the Chinese don’t mind if people are aware they are gawkers.  They will walk right up to the incident as if they were also involved, therefore positioning themselves to see and hear better. This crowd will grow up to 20-25 people.

4. The Cultural Gawker: This person, or group of people, want to see what westerners eat, wear, read, drink, smell like, talk like, look like, feel like………you get the point. If you pick up an item at the grocery store they will look over your shoulder, or wait until you walk away, and then pick up the product to inspect. If you are in an arcade they will watch you or your children play video games for hours on end. You might think that this person is waiting to play, but if you walk away they will wander off, most likely to show up at the next game you play. If you are found in a bookstore by this gawker, they may just sit right down to watch you look at books, providing commentary in Chinese. When you look up, they will smile and nod.

Most gawking directed towards the expat is done in a good-natured, curious way. They are intrigued. They would love to be your friend, if that darn language barrier didn’t get in the way. They would ask questions if they could. Sometimes they do, in what we grew to know as “advanced charades.” We were curious as well, but our people-watching was done with the American approach. On that note……coming soon…..the American Gawker version.

On the Corner of “Hope” and “Faith”

Bill has always said I can make a friend anywhere. Usually I have no problem striking up a conversation with a total stranger, but for months I have wondered about the stories behind some of our local “sign holders,” and have been too afraid to approach.

They appeared a few years ago, out of the blue it seemed. Along a major highway in our area, at every intersection. Different people, all the time. I hardly ever saw any one person twice. We all wondered what was going on. Were they drug dealers disguised as homeless? We’re they just looking for easy money? Did they work in shifts?  It couldn’t be legitimate, so we drove on.  As the weather got worse, they dwindled in numbers.

It has eaten away at me since the beginning. It breaks my heart.  I want to help. When we lived in Shanghai, we were told to be careful of the beggars. They make more money begging than working, so that is what many do, hanging around areas where westerners live. Regardless of this warning, I used to give a handicap gentleman in Shanghai money when I passed him. He never asked, but I knew he needed it. He was sweet. He always smiled and said hello, even on the days that I didn’t give him anything. I enjoyed our little interactions, which were limited by the language barrier.

When we were on vacation in Chicago, my daughter, at the age of 8, had the compassion to give a homeless guy outside of the Disney store, a few dollars of her allowance. When we were in Washington D.C., my fourteen year old son asked if we could buy a homeless guy a sandwich and drink at Starbucks, which we did, and the oldest son volunteered at a food bank during his senior year of high school. We often give to charities for the needy. We have taught our children to give to the less fortunate, yet I kept passing them by on the street.

Lately, there has been a gentleman standing by a local church. A beautiful church, which was recently deemed a minor basilica by Pope Francis. He is almost always there. His sign says “Family Hungry, Need Job, Do Anything. ” Carleigh and I gave him a dollar once when we were sitting at the light, but it is on a major street, so there is no time for chatting. He is out there in any weather. In below zero temperatures, biting wind, and blowing snow.  This made me believe that he must really need the help, as it is only the diehards I see out there now. The same people, all the time. Today I decided to take him a hot chocolate, and talk with him. As I turned the corner to park, I saw he was smoking. I had a judgemental moment. He was buying cigarettes with money he could use for something else. I almost left, but I didn’t. I’m so glad I stayed.

His name is Steve, and he is 60 years old. He is Catholic, and occasionally attends mass at the church which he stands by. He rents a room about 25 minutes from the corner, and takes the bus to get there. He has two children. A fourteen-year-old daughter, who according to him, is just beginning to blossom, and a twelve-year-old son. They live with his ex-wife, and mother-in-law about a half hour away from where he is standing, in the opposite direction from where he lives. He sends money to his mother-in-law for the kids, as he says his ex-wife is not trustworthy. He visits when he can. He appeared to choke up a little as he told me that his kids do not know he stands on a corner.

He grew up on the east side of Detroit, and is a florist by trade. He worked in his parent’s flower shop on the corner of Jefferson and Alter. When the area started deteriorating, and they were robbed, they closed down. His parents are now both deceased. He took care of his mom for the last six years of her life.

His most recent job was as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, but it closed 8 months ago. He is always looking for work. He just applied for two more jobs. He said he has found jobs standing on that corner, or the other one he uses two miles south. He takes day jobs that people offer him until he finds something more permanent. He is trying to get enough money to pay his room rent.

After about 10 minutes of chatting, he tell me he has to get back to “work.” He doesn’t  want to miss a job opportunity. I gave him five dollars and told him good luck and God Bless, that it was nice to meet him. Then I left him there. Standing on the corner of “Hope” and “Faith,” holding a sign, repeating the Rosary over and over in his head. Looking for a break, but not giving up.

 

 

 

Adventures on a Chinese Movie Set

Lights , Camera……Action!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Yesterday, Bill, the boys, and I headed to the Chedun Film Studio, just outside of downtown Shanghai. Over the weekend we were offered the opportunity to be western extras in a movie, and I thought it would be a fun experience for the kids. We portrayed a British family in the 1890s, on holiday in Yokohama Japan.

The day started at the insane hour of 3 AM. Yuan-Yuan arrived at 3:30 AM to watch Carleigh for the day, and Mr. Tao arrived at 3:45 AM to take us to the studio.  Once at the studio, we were “fitted” for costumes. I use this term loosely, as this process was much like what I would do with my kids while out shopping. “Turn around, Honey, let me put this up to your back. Try on these shoes. They’re too big? Can you walk in them? Okay they’re fine. You’ll grow into them.”  We were dressed in clothing which was appropriate for the time period.  Unfortunately for the boys, this consisted of ruffled shirts (about a year ago, Carleigh was calling Brennan a new nickname; “Ruffles.” She must have known this was in his future.)

After putting our costumes on over our own clothes (good thing it was a cool day), we were sent to “makeup.”  This consisted of Ethan’s hair being slicked back with mousse and hairspray, much to his distaste. Bill, Brennan, and I were given hats, and I was the lucky recipient of bright red lipstick and nails, and I mean BRIGHT red. When completely costumed, Bill look dashing, Brennan looked adorable, Ethan looked like a preteen who was just glad he wouldn’t be seen by any of his friends, and I look completely hideous.

Once filming began, we were put into key positions and told to act as if we were choosing a restaurant, walking down the street, watching a fight, etc.  The day consisted of lots of sitting around, blowing dirt from the set street, bathrooms with no toilet paper or soap, a really bad Chinese breakfast and lunch, and nothing to drink but water and one packet of instant coffee with powdered creamer, but nothing to stir it with. From what Bill tells me from his experiences in the past, this is nothing like how they do it in the States. From our experiences in China; par for the course.

Brennan as usual attracted a lot of attention. His gregarious personality is always a hit here, and at one point he had a line of the men and women of “makeup” waiting to have pictures taken with him. The hat and ruffled shirt made him look especially adorable, which didn’t help his chances of hiding when it came to the Chinese camera. He was targeted for photos all day long. They also love to watch him play his game system on breaks, and were often looking over his shoulder.

It was a long day, and we didn’t arrive home until 7 PM. I made sure the kids took showers and ate, and then took a shower myself, and went to bed. It was 8:26 PM. It was an experience, and I can’t really say it was fun, but I can say it was interesting, and we did get paid. I don’t think it is something we will do again, but I’m glad that we did it. We were Americans, playing British tourists, in a Japanese movie, filmed in Shanghai, China. Not many people can claim that.