Visions of China…….

This blog was written during our time in Shanghai, our second home, which I miss everyday.

Visions of China

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

As I look out the window of the tour-style bus that I ride with the children on Tuesdays, I think about how my views of China have changed in the last 8 months. When we first arrived I noticed the extreme poverty that is prevelant in so many areas, and how it is so close in relation to areas of extreme wealth.

Right outside of the gates of over-priced, over-sized, ostentatious compund, is a gentleman who sells Chinese pottery. He has just recently chosen this spot to set up “shop.” A mere ten feet from his products, stands his tent. This is his home, not just shade for the day. Just 50 feet from his location, the migrant worker’s housing starts. This is a “neighborhood” built of tin shacks, where the men, and sometimes their families, who are building the new part of our compound live.

When we first arrived, I was greatly bothered by these sights, but they are common to me now. I still find it very sad, but it is no longer a shock to see. It is everywhere. Tucked into the corners of downtown Shanghai, next to five-star hotels and expensive shopping, and on the road which leads to Shanghai American School.

I have stopped looking at these things as upsetting, and begun to enjoy watching the people within them. I find these areas are one of my favorite parts of life in China. Of course this is from the outside looking in. I could never imagine living this way, but they handle it gracefully. It is all they have ever known.

On the road to the school, there is a small, poor, town. It is not a tin shack town, but a few steps higher on the housing ladder. People sit outside their homes eating breakfast, doing laundry, taking care of grandchildren. The “shops” consist of open stalls, selling whatever the locals may need. Everything looks old and dirty. Items we would probably never touch. The local school looks like a warehouse, or even an abandoned buiding. It took me a long time to realize it was the town school. I see the students occasionally, lined up to go inside.

A few hundred yards away, the gates to another expensive housing compound, and an international American school. Millions of dollars of materials and technology, just a short walk from poverty. We know which provides the better education. We know which kids are sure to have a full tummy at night. We know which children have a better chance of physical health.  I wonder how the souls of those children compare with mine. I’m sure they’re full of family, friends, and love, with no expectation of anything else.

 

 

Thank You……A Letter to God

Thank you, God, for all the blessings you have given us.

Thank you for my husband. For the life we share. The adventures we have taken. For making him the thoughtful, smart, funny, loving man that he is. For helping us find each other. For helping us make it through tough times together, and continue to grow closer.  For a love so deep, I can’t even find the words to describe it. Thank you for Billy.

Thank you for our parents. Without them, we wouldn’t exist. They kept us safe through childhood. They shaped our personalities. They gave us the tools we need to succeed in life. They love us unconditionally. They are always there when we need them. Thank you for keeping them on this Earth with us for as long as possible. Thank you for our moms and dads.

Thank you for our three beautiful children. For showing us the  love that fills a parent’s heart. For trusting us with their well-being. For keeping them safe. For everything about them. Even the rough moments. Without those, we would take the happiest times for granted. Those difficult patches will help our children grow into strong, independent adults. Thank you for Ethan, Brennan, and Carleigh.

Thank you for our siblings. Without them childhood would have been a much lonelier time. Thank you for giving us someone to play with, and learn from. Someone to fight with. It is through our interactions with them, that we learned many valuable lessons in life. It is them we  turned to in tough times. It is them we continue to turn to. Thank you, for our sisters and brothers.

Thank you for our friends. They help us through the day-to-day. They are like family. They join us to celebrate the good times, and mourn the bad. They are a shoulder to lean on when we need it, and to prop up when they do. We learn from them. We grow with them. Thank you for the friends you have blessed us with.

Thank you for the home we live in, the clothes on our back, the food in our cupboard, the water that flows out of our faucet. Health. Love. For my husband’s job, good schools for our children, and the transportation to get to them. Thank you for giving us everything we need, and more.

Thank you for the sun and the moon. For the green grass and trees, the blue sky in day, and the starry night. For the sound of birds, the smell of flowers, and the feel of a cool breeze. For our oceans, lakes, mountains, and valleys. For rain, snow, and fluffy white clouds. For the occasional rainbow. For glorious  sunrises, and vivid sunsets. For those little, yet big, things that inspire us, and give us hope. Thank you for the beauty of Earth, and the galaxy around it.

Thank you, God, for the life you have provided us. It has been far from problem-free, but the good far outweighs the bad. We have learned from our experiences, and grown because of them. We would not be who we are today without them. Thank you, God, for the all the blessings you have given us.

 

 

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 Letter to my “Otherly-Raced, Religioned, or Abled” Friends

I am not racist. If you are a good person. Kind. Caring. Thoughtful. Honest. Polite. You will always be my friend. I don’t care what color you are, or what religion you believe. You are my friend.

I could never say that I didn’t notice your color, because I did. Just like my red-headed friend, or my really tall friend. I noticed, but I will not treat you differently than any other friend. If someone asks something, where I have to point you out as an area of reference, like “it’s over there next to the tall, red-headed girl.” I will. I may refer to your color: “See that Asian girl? It’s to the right of her.” But that means nothing about how I feel about you. We all have differences. I am short, and a little over-weight. Feel free to point that out. I don’t care. It’s who I am.

I don’t care if you go to church, synagogue, or mosque. Believe what makes you the best person you can be. What gives you hope. What makes you get up every day. Don’t try to change who I am, and I won’t try to change you, but help me grow as a person. I enjoy learning from my friends, or anyone for that matter. I love other cultures, and experiencing them.

I don’t mind a good debate. Don’t get mad at me if I don’t agree though. I will do the same for you. Mutual respect for differences is important. I have lived in an area that is populated by many, many people who have political views that are not the same as mine, for most of my life. That is not a problem for me. Again, if you are a good person, believe what helps you to be your best you. What makes you happy. What makes you thrive. I will never hold your beliefs against you.

If you have a disability, please don’t be offended if I say that word. It doesn’t mean I look down upon you, or think you are any less than me. It’s just a word. My friends are full of gifts to give the world. You contribute to society in many ways. You contribute to MY life in many ways. I don’t care if you can’t walk, talk, see, hear, or anything else for that matter. It doesn’t mean anything to me, so don’t be offended. It implies nothing, except  maybe a closer parking spot.

If you are not a good person, I don’t care what color you are. Bad people come in all colors, religions, races, and abilities. If I have a friend who is not who I thought they were. If I find out that they are not the kind, thoughtful, honest, and polite person I thought they were. They won’t be among those I call friends.  I surround myself with people who I feel have a positive effect on the world, and humanity. I don’t care what color you are, or what god you believe in.

Good people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and religions. I will take all the friends I can get. They are blessing from Heaven. Be a person to be proud of, and I will call you friend.

 

The Heart of a Parent

I am so proud of my kids. They are strong. They have already been through many ups and downs in life, but they thrive. Most of the time. Sometimes they fall. Sometimes, they curl up into protection-mode, because the world can be a harsh place, and they are scared.

In the last few days, they have shown me many reasons to be proud. Giving a dollar to a homeless man, sharing a dessert they swore they wouldn’t with a sibling, calling out the child who was mean to another, reminding me that they have listened to what I have said, and learned what is polite, and what is not. They are growing up to be caring individuals. I have done a few things right. These moments are beautiful……for the heart of a parent.

Many times, though, I get the feeling something is brewing, deep in the pit of their being. They are not ready to talk yet, but it is coming. They desperately want to figure it out on their own, but they cannot. They don’t have the tools. Did I fail to provide them? Did I let them down? Or is it just something that comes with time, different for each child? Life lessons are hard for kids, maybe even harder for the parents who have to watch. And wonder. Could I have done something different, to better prepare my child? These questions are always floating around……..in the heart of a parent.

Over the years I have learned to be patient. To give them time to come to terms with whatever is bothering them, and seek help or advice when they are ready.  I have learned that trying to dig it out of them will only create resentment. But it’s hard to wait, when you know they are struggling. Or hurting. Or stressed. Patience can be hard……… on the heart of a parent.

I can only hope that years down the road, I will see how these experiences helped them grow. Become stronger, and more resilient. Molded them into adults who will wear armor when necessary. Who will not hide from the harshness of the world, but will stand up,  weather the storm, and come out even stronger still. That as parents, we will have provided them with the skills and the determination they need to be successful in their endeavors, whatever they may be.  In the meantime….Parenting is hard…….on the heart of a parent.

 

 

 

 

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.

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!

 

I Wish…….A Letter to my Children

I wish I could protect you from all of the harshness in the world.Iwish you would believe me when I say those mean girls are just jealous. I can’t say of what, because I do not know, but over the years I have learned. They are insecure, it is not you. And those kids. The ones that think they are so cool. They will face the same difficulties in life. They think they are immune, but they are not. Life does not discriminate.

I wish you could know the dangers of the Internet, and that it is much less important than face-to-face relationships. Those people online will not be there for you when you need someone the most. Your family, your siblings, your friends. They will be. I hope you never take them for granted.

I wish I could protect you from people who don’t understand you. Your quirkiness, your humor, your eccentricities. People who don’t know how smart you are. You are planning great things in your head. They will never know, because you will never show them that you care. But you see it all. You don’t miss much.

I wish you would believe me when I say not to worry how much money you will make in life, but to do what you love. We only have one life. Make the best of it. Dream big. Don’t let fear deter you. Travel. Discover the world around you. Never stop learning.

I hope you treat people, no matter who they are, with love and respect. Be polite. Be generous. Pay it forward. But if someone treats you badly, move on. Life is too short.

I wish you would believe me when I say that being on time is important. It shows you care, you are responsible, and reliable. It stresses me because it doesn’t reflect the awesome person that you are. I know eventually you are going to learn a life lesson as a result of this. It will make you sad, or mad, or hurt, and that breaks my heart. I wish that didn’t have to happen, but it will. It’s part of growing up.

I wish I could be there when that teacher that was so cruel, the one that didn’t like you because so many teachers did, has a moment when he gets it. When he realizes how wrong it was. I hope it doesn’t happen to his child though. I hope his wife, the other teacher who treated you badly, realizes it too. I hope it tears at her heart a little, or a lot. I hope that she never does it to another child.

I hope you realize that no matter what your body looks like, you are absolutely perfect. Short, tall, skinny, or fluffy. That your grades are important, but not as important as you as a person. All “A’s” doesn’t make you better, “B’s” are okay too, and even an occasional “C.” What matters is the effort you put into it. That you are a smart, funny, caring person. You have so much value. You make the world a better place.

I hope you know that I love you with every part of my being. That when I get angry, yell, or punish you, it is because it is my job to help you become the best person you can be. I will always be there for you. I will be your advocate, your protector, your shield. Every now and then, I’ll have to let that shield drop a bit. Not enough to damage, but it may hurt a little. It will break my heart, but you have to learn to stand on your own two feet. The world is a harsh place, but I am your mother. I will always be there for you.

I Wish…….A Letter to my Children

 

I wish I could protect you from all of the harshness in the world.

I wish you would believe me when I say those mean girls are just jealous. I can’t say of what, because I do not know, but over the years I have learned. They are insecure, it is not you. And those kids. The ones that think they are so cool. They will face the same difficulties in life. They think they are immune, but they are not. Life does not discriminate.

I wish you could know the dangers of the Internet, and that it is much less important than face-to-face relationships. Those people online will not be there for you when you need someone the most. Your family, your siblings, your friends. They will be. I hope you never take them for granted.

I wish I could protect you from people who don’t understand you. Your quirkiness, your humor, your eccentricities. People who don’t know how smart you are. You are planning great things in your head. They will never know, because you will never show them that you care. But you see it all. You don’t miss much.

I wish you would believe me when I say not too worry how much money you will make in life, but to do what you love. We only have one life. Make the best of it. Dream big. Don’t let fear deter you. Travel. Discover the world around you. Never stop learning.

I hope you treat people, no matter who they are, with love and respect. Be polite. Be generous. Pay it forward. But if someone treats you badly, move on. Life is too short.

I wish you would believe me when I say that being on time is important. It shows you care, you are responsible, and reliable. It stresses me because it doesn’t reflect the awesome person that you are. I know eventually you are going to learn a life lesson as a result of this. It will make you sad, or mad, or hurt, and that breaks my heart. I wish that didn’t have to happen, but it will. It’s part of growing up.

I wish I could be there when that teacher that was so cruel, the one that didn’t like you because so many teachers did, has a moment when he gets it. When he realizes how wrong it was. I hope it doesn’t happen to his child though. I hope his wife, the other teacher who treated you badly, realizes it too. I hope it tears at her heart a little, or a lot. I hope that she never does it to another child.

I hope you realize that no matter what your body looks like, you are absolutely perfect. Short, tall, skinny, or fluffy. That your grades are important, but not as important as you as a person. All “A’s” doesn’t make you better, “B’s” are okay too, and even an occasional “C.” What matters is the effort you put into it. That you are a smart, funny, caring person. You have so much value. You make the world a better place.

I hope you know that I love you with every part of my being. That when I get angry, yell, or punish you, it is because it is my job to help you become the best person you can be. I will always be there for you. I will be your advocate, your protector, your shield. Every now and then, I’ll have to let that shield drop a bit. Not enough to damage, but it may hurt a little. It will break my heart, but you have to learn to stand on your own two feet. The world is a harsh place, but I am your mother. I will always be there for you.

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.