Rags to Riches- in Marriage

When I think back to where Bill and I began, and where we are now, I am in awe. We have come so far. Farther than we ever imagined. We never knew the blessings that life would bring us, and although we are more financially stable than we were back then, the riches I refer to, lie in our experiences. In sharing our life together. Today, I am focusing on the beginning.

We went on our first date, when I was sixteen years old, and a junior in high school. He was in Navy boot camp, and 18 years old. We had our whole life ahead of us. We had no idea that we would be married less than 5 years later, and we would never have imagined that 23 years to the day later, we would be standing at the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center. The second tallest building in the world at that time. We would never have dreamt that we would have three beautiful children. That we would live in China.

Although there is no big story behind the proposal, Bill did ask my dad for permission beforehand. He has always been such a gentleman. His mama did good. We were married in a park in downtown Charleston, under the “wedding tree.”  It was a huge, old oak tree with more thick, long branches than I had ever seen on one tree before, or since. The park had been partially destroyed by Hurricane Hugo, but the tree still stood proud. Nearby, a man-made pond with a bridge crossing over it. I wore a dress I ordered through the JC Penny’s catalog, and made all the bouquets myself with silk flowers from the local craft store. We were married by the Navy Chaplin, under God’s natural beauty.

Our reception was at a Holiday Inn on Folly Beach, which we were chauffeured to in our friend’s 1960’s era Camaro convertible. Cherry red. The hotel had also suffered damage from the hurricane, but mostly exterior. It provided the beautiful ocean view we wanted, and was fairly inexpensive, so it worked for us. We had invited about 50 people to the dinner, and a bunch of the guys from his boat (a submarine) afterwards.

A few of Bill’s Navy friends hired their favorite local band, as a gift to us, and another friend deejayed as well. When I caught my veil on fire on a candle, the DJ played “Burnin’ Down the House” by Talking Heads. Bill forgot the tape with our wedding song on it, so it became whatever the band knew that worked. “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton. We had a cash bar.  We didn’t do a receiving line, and we forgot the father/daughter dance (that part broke my heart when we realized it.) Our photographer was either new to the profession, or doing it for fun, so for $100 she handed me a large stack of 4×6 prints. We couldn’t afford a honeymoon. The whole event cost us less than $2,500. Too much for us at the time.

Twenty years later, at the 40th birthday party that Bill threw for me at a local Marriott, he made sure that daddy and I had that dance. He knew how much I had regretted missing it at the wedding. Twenty-five years later, we are finally getting that honeymoon. We have only ever taken two trips by ourselves since the kids were born. A weekend in Chicago at 12 years, and a long weekend in San Francisco a few years ago. This year, we will be gone for nine glorious days. Making more memories.

We began our marriage in a one bedroom apartment. We had a day bed for a couch, a hope chest coffee table, a mini-fridge side table. A mattress on the floor in the bedroom, and a red milk-crate bedside table. We had what appeared to be drug-dealing neighbors. The nighttime people-traffic to their door terrified me on the nights when Bill had to be on the boat, and I would sleep with the lights and TV on. Barely getting a wink. We had strange peach spots on our carpet that seemed to be from something seeping up through the floor, and a shower with a wall that glowed a pinkish-orange. I tried to convince myself that maybe this was due to light coming in from the neighbor’s bathroom. It was one of those big, plastic shower inserts, not tile.  Maybe there wasn’t a wall in between?  I generally only saw it glowing in the middle of the night, when they didn’t have a light on, though. When it happened once during the day, I had that neighbor come over to see. She ran out of our apartment as fast as she could. I was trying not to freak out about it. That didn’t help. We never did figure out what it was.

Bill received his honorable discharge in 1991, and we moved back to Michigan. Bill was starting his college degree, and I was finishing mine. We lived with his grandfather for the first couple of years, as we were paying for two college educations. It worked well for all of us. Grandpa liked the company, and we could help him out when he needed it. He was helping us out by saving us rent. And from glowing walls and seeping floors. We were on the next step in our young lives.

It is when I think back to our beginning,  those two kids, blind to what was to come, just trying to survive, that I am in awe. I am proud of us. We don’t live in a huge house, we can’t buy everything we want, we can’t fly off to an exotic locale at a moments notice, or a year’s notice for that matter.  We still have bills, we still have to budget. We are not dollar rich, but when I think about how far we have come, how much we have experienced together, I realize…….we are marriage rich. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Reposting for no other reason than this is one of my favorite pictures, and I can use it with the new format.

If you haven’t realized it yet, I have named each of the recent posts about the children after hymns. They are all songs that bring me joy, just as my children do. They are God’s gift to me. Blessing from Heaven.

Our youngest child, Mei Mei, is known to most as Carleigh. When she was younger I called her our little spark plug. A firecracker. She was energetic, passionate, curious, stubborn, and fearless. She was as I have said before, taught by her older brother, so there is no other way she could be.

When we lived in China, she would get on the giant school bus, which was actually a touring bus, like she was in charge. Talking the minute her four-year old body climbed the steep steps, and not stopping until they arrived at their destination. She was a social butterfly. When she was home, she was stuck to me like glue. My tiny Asian sidekick, endlessly filling me in on what was going through her mind. She was never one to play with toys much, never cared for dolls, and only used her play kitchen and pots to store the chalkboard paint she peeled off her wall, or wet pull-ups she wore at night. If she hid those pull-ups and put on a dry one, she would be closer to the reward she would receive after a pre-determined number of dry days. Bringing up another of her traits. Sneaky and mischievous.

The sneaky part reminds me very much of myself as a child. If she wanted it, she would find a way to get it. I can’t tell you how many fruit snack wrappers I would find hidden in her room. We would buy them, and she would binge. This was troublesome mostly because a box of fruit snacks cost about $10 in Shanghai. Needless to say, we stopped buying them. On the mischievous side, one day, before we moved to China, she was supposed to be napping in her room. She was very quiet, so I assumed she was. Unfortunately, when I opened her door, she had taken a black magic marker and “outlined” every single thing she could in her room. Dresser drawer handles, parts of the door, toys, a carousel rocking horse and all of its details. One of many, many shocking but lovingly humorous memories of her younger years.

Carleigh loves everything fluffy and soft. Fluffy pillows and blankets, soft sweatshirts and fleeces. Blankets are the biggest obsession though. It’s hard for her to pass one up. The fluffier and softer, the better. Each one getting pushed down the line a little when a new one arrives, but all getting used and loved. Pillow pets and stuffed animals were her favorite toys, along with the blankets, when she was little.

She is still all, or most, of those things and more. She is passionate in both anger and joy, but sometimes she holds things in and let’s them simmer until they boil over. This tends to come out on Bill and I, Brennan, or on herself. I rarely get a snuggle, but she likes to lay with me while watching TV sometimes. Today, was one of those days. Cherished time with my baby girl. She loves watching anime with her biggest brother, Ethan. She is solidly a tweener, so she also enjoys hanging out by herself in her room reading or listening to music. She is trying to figure out who she is as a person, and doesn’t feel especially comfortable in her own skin right now. She is getting there though. Discovering who she is. Who she wants to be.

I hope she always knows that no matter what she does or who she chooses to be, she will always be my baby girl. Forever in my heart, all things bright and beautiful.

Causing a Ruckus on Dong Tai Lu…

As the days of Dong Tai Lu in Shanghai end….. I fondly remember my time spent there.

Dong Tai Lu………

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Yesterday,  I met my friend Andrea, and her friend April who is visiting from Michigan, on Dong Tai Lu, or “antique street,” as we call it. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Shanghai, sunny and 60s, and great for a walk outside.

Dong Tai Lu is lined on both sides with tiny shacks that sell anything and everything that is old,  or even “looks” old. Items are cluttered all over tables, on shelves, and on the ground, and are often dirty or tarnished. It’s like a giant garage sale with every shack competing for your business. Many of you know that I am not a garage sale-type. I hate searching through piles trying to find something I like, but Dong Tai Lu has plenty of entertainment to go along with the shopping, and I usually find a “treasure” or two anyway.

Up and down this little street, along with the shacks, are locals,  usually grandmothers and babies.  They are sitting on the sidewalk, on folding chairs, holding babies with split pants. Yes, little bottoms hanging out all over the place, at the ready for any necessary potty breaks.  Smiling grandmothers, enjoying the company of neighbors, on a warm spring day.

It is common  to find lots of Buddhist items on antique street.  There are all sorts of Buddhas, prayer bowls,  prayer sticks,  jewelry, etc. There are also books, rugs, posters, porcelain dishes, vases, and figures. Ornately carved wooden boxes, old Chinese instruments, creepy old dolls, and bird cages.

There’s plenty of jade and bone in various forms,  and this is where the “visual” entertainment comes into the picture. Along  with charms, statues, and small swords and knives that can be found, there are also many things of a more “adult” nature. One thing that I purchased to bring back and show friends, merely for entertainment value,  is something we like to “Naughty Fish.” It looks like a regular wooden Chinese-style fish on the outside,  but if you pull its head off of the body,  you’ll see “naughty” pictures carved into the piece that fits into the body. You will find similar Kama Sūtra-type pictures on bone panels that are strung together, a different picture on each panel, and on both sides. Things like this can be found on vases, rugs, and in figurine form as well. It always amazes me that they sell this stuff in such a public place.

At one point, not long after we arrived,  Andrea saw a shoeshiner that she had met before, and asked him to shine my shoes. It turns out he’s a well-known shoeshiner, who has been featured on the news and in newspapers. He had a notebook with the names of many foreigners whose shoes he had shined, and had me sign it as well.  He was a cute and animated older guy, and it was a fun thing to do. He also gave me a GREAT shoeshine for under one dollar.

Along our way down antique street, April accidentally knocked something off of a shelf, causing it to break a plate below it on the ground. The vendor wanted us to pay for it, but we argued that she shouldn’t have had plates on the ground. Andrea and I went back and forth with her for a bit, while April worried about being taken off by the Chinese police.  Luckily, to our Michigan friend’s relief, the po-po wasn’t called. Andrea and I had a great laugh, as we knew that wouldn’t happen, and I think April joined in, once her heart rate went down.

Towards the end of our trip, I bought a small wooden boat at a stall, and a few minutes later, just down the street, another vendor came up to me with a much bigger boat. It actually was much nicer than the first one, and he started talking to me in Chinese. In the middle of his rant, he called me a “Ben Dan,” or “Stupid Egg,” thinking that I would not understand him. But I did, and knew that he had just insulted me! I started loudly announcing, in Chinese, that he had just called me a stupid egg, and I could not believe he  done this. This resulted in a crowd, of mostly older Chinese women, forming. This always happens in China when something interesting is going on and can grow quite large, with people of all ages. I continued to rant back at him for the show. He apparently thought I paid too much for the boat (the reason for the insult), and I probably did, although I had looked for one all day, and it was the only one I had seen. In the end,  I bought the bigger boat, even after the insult. Although, we did make him apologize. Maybe I am a Ben Dan!

 

Xin Nian Kuai Le! It’s the Year of the Sheep/Goat

Last night, our family got together with another family we knew from Shanghai, to celebrate the New Year with a fabulous Chinese meal. They moved back to Michigan around the same time that we did, and have children of similar age. In another one of those small world incidents, when we moved into our first house in China, the kids and I met the neighbor’s wife and children almost right away, as they were pulling in with their car when we got there. They were very friendly, and we discovered we were there with the same company. I knew we would get along wonderfully. The husband came over to meet us and my husband later in the evening. When Billy came down the stairs, both men started laughing and smiling. They had worked together in Michigan years earlier and neither had any idea that they were in China, nor that of the thousands of houses available to expats, we would choose one right next to them! Needless to say, we have remained friends, and although we don’t get together as often as we’d like, we love seeing them when we do!

Xin Nian Kuai Le…….Happy Chinese New Year!

A blog entry from January 26, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year, or as the Chinese call it, Spring Festival! This year, 2009, is The Year of the Ox. The Chinese spent their New Year’s Eve “scaring away evil spirits” with fireworks (“Nian” is a mythical beast who is afraid of the loud noises)), sending Chinese lanterns into the sky in honor of deceased relatives, and “sweeping” away the “old year,” while welcoming the “new.”

We spent the night in downtown Shanghai, on the Pudong side of the river, in the Shangri-La. We were joined by another family from the children’s school, and had a great time enjoying the holiday together. The kids swam in the hotel pool, we enjoyed dinner together, and then settled into one of the rooms with snacks and movies to wait for and watch the fireworks display.

At midnight, much like in the States, the fireworks peaked. However, in Shanghai it sounded like a war had begun in the city. No celebration in the U.S. has ever reached this level. In every direction, we could see fireworks rising above the buildings. Although we had heard fireworks at a decent rate since about 7 PM, at midnight the sound of the explosives could be heard continuously from all directions, for what I’m guessing was about an hour or more. In our awe of the show, we lost track of time.

Before we left the hotel today, we watched a Lion Dance performance in the lobby. Lions are a symbol of protection, and the dance is to summon “luck” and “fortune, ” and scare away evil spirits. The God of Fortune was there as well, giving out “golden nuggets” in the form of foil-wrapped chocolates.

During Chinese New Year, oranges are considered very symbolic. The Chinese word for “orange” is similar to the Chinese word for “luck.” Giving oranges to friends or relatives is sending “good wishes” for the new year. Fish is also a huge part of this holiday. The Chinese word for “fish” sounds like the word for “wealth.” The fish that is served whole, including head and tail, during the new year’s dinner must be tasted, but not finished. If the fish is gone, so is everyone’s “prosperity” for the coming year.

On New Year’s Eve, red is worn, as Nian (which is also the Chinese word for “year” ) is afraid of the color red, and therefore, will not come down to eat the villagers or the children. Everyone sweeps out the house and cleans, to get rid of the “old year” and prepare for the “new year.” At midnight, all the windows and doors are open to let the “old year” out. For the next 15 days houses are not cleaned, as this would be cleaning away the “good luck” for the new year. Finally, one of the well-known parts of the holiday, “Hong Bao” (red envelopes) filled with money, are given out, generally to children and newlyweds, as gifts. This 15 day period, known as Spring Festival, ends with the Lantern Festival, when thousands of Chinese lanterns fill the night sky.

I love the tradition and folklore that the Chinese New Year is filled with. I miss celebrating it in Shanghai. It is such a joyous and beautiful holiday. It will always be close to my heart, and bright in my memories.

For The Love of Two Worlds

Remembering China fondly today, it will always be close to my heart. This Valentine’s Day, I am posting a blog entry of mine from September, 29, 2008. For love of my second home.

Similaries and Differences

If I am sitting in my room with the windows open on a cool fall day,  I could be in China, or Michigan,  they both feel the same.  If the kids are playing in the park and I am sitting on the bench watching, it is the also the same. Sitting in Starbucks reading a book is no different. There are times in China that feel just like Michigan. When it’s hard to notice the differences,  but here we have luxuries that we would not have at home. Yuan-Yuan comes for the day to clean and cook,  and Mr. Tao pulls up in a silver Buick minivan to cart us all over the city. These things are very different. It  feels strange to have someone else taking care of my home.  I miss driving.  I miss having a car to jump into whenever I want to go somewhere.

There are many wonderful things about this experience,  many adventures to be had, but there are also wonderful things that we have left behind. We are seeing parts of the world which many will never see, we are learning a new language, and culture, but instead of learning it in a class, we are living it. We are strengthening  our minds and our spirits. It is a growing experience which I believe is very important for our children, especially in today’s world. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is a hard,  but rewarding thing to do. I am proud of us for taking such a bold step. I am proud of my children, for  even though they may not have had much of a choice, they have handled it well.

We have left our home, friends, and family to move to the other side of the Earth. That was very hard. As we all know,  our home is a soft place to fall,  and when things get tough that is where you want to be. I look forward to the first time I sleep in my bed at home again, lying my head down on that soft pillow,  and being a car ride away from those I love.  We are doing great here, but we look forward to our upcoming visit.

There are so many differences in our surroundings here compared to home.  When a guest arrives, you bring them a cup of warm water. This is better for the body.  They will take off their shoes at your door even if you tell them they don’t need to. You must offer them a pair of slippers.  If you ask your Ayi or driver if they’re able to do something,  the answer will be “yes.”  They will not tell you that they do not want to do something,  or know where something is. That would be “losing face.”

There is not a fourth floor in most buildings,  as the word for the number “four” sounds too much like the word for “death.”  I’m sure Yuan-Yuan is not happy that Carleigh  has drawn a three foot tall “44” on the wall by the study. She has had to pass that forbidden Chinese number 20 times a day, and I think she’s afraid to touch it to wash it off. You can’t drink out of the tap, and must order water for the water cooler. Most bathrooms  STINK.  Here  you learn the places that have Western-style bathrooms and avoid the ones that do not. Tissue is always carried with you, as bathrooms do not always have toilet paper,  or soap, making  hand sanitizer a must as well. Surprisingly after the last statement,  there are always workers cleaning on the street,  and in the buildings.  You  will not have trouble finding someone to clean something up. Service in  restaurants is better than in the US, and no tip is required.  You must ask for your bill or it will never come.

You’ll never see more bikes than you see in Shanghai.  You will probably never see as many cars either. You would  be amazed at what can be fit on a bicycle. Don’t ever think you can’t move a refrigerator just because you don’t have a car. Nothing is too dressy to wear while riding a bike.  Heels are almost a must,  good for any occasion. Ankle-length nylons are fine with capris, or anything else for that matter.  Getting  there first does not mean it’s your turn,  getting noticed first does. If this means pushing to the front of the line,  so be it. Sleeping can be done anywhere, and is.

We enjoyed living in China. Its differences are intriguing and its similarities, when found, are little gifts.