Sunday, December 30, 2007

Liver Transplants R Us

第一中心医院 Number One Central Hospital

Last Saturday, I battled the unfriendly wind and traffic (on my 快车 tricycle) to the Number One Central Hospital where my liver transplant surgeon friend, Lilin, works. I guess this hospital is pretty well known for their transplant surgeries; in my friend's department, they do about 700 transplants a year, which is by far the highest number done anywhere else on the globe (that's about an average of 2 transplants every freakin day). Lilin humbly added that they are not the 'best' liver transplant hospital in the world as to quality, but their high quantity of work is due to a large number of organ donors (criminals on death row). Also, I assume it has a relatively low cost when compared to prices in the West (200,000 RMB, or just over $25,000 USD). I was initially surprised to find that such a hospital is right here in Tianjin, though, why wouldn't it be?

Tianjin is the 3rd largest city in China, but takes a back seat in the shadows of the cultural and political giant, Beijing. I've noticed that Tianjin has its own distinct feel differing from Beijing, maybe because there are relatively few foreigners. For this reason, it feels more like "China" to me than the capitol. City development projects seem to focus more on the building-up of much needed infrastructure to support city growth than on beautification or cleaning projects when compared to Beijing. Though it took a while to find the beauty and charm in this crowded/polluted town, Tianjin has a lot to offer foreigners (beyond sinus infections and troubled bowels), especially if you want to experience 'China' without sacrificing many familiar Western conveniences as well as minimizing contact with foreigners. (Parts of Beijing seem like a Western nation because of the diverse ex-pat community; also, so many of the native Beijing residents speak English, even when we speak Chinese to them first!)

Here are some pics I took on the way home from the hospital:

Nankai University is one of the best schools in Northern China, maybe in the "Ivy League" of China if there was such a thing.

On my side of town (pollution permitting), you can almost always see the majestic (but somewhat useless) Tianjin TV Tower (everyone has cable or satellite). I hear that they will soon open ice skating around the frozen TV tower lake!

This time of year, city workers construct these picturesque tarp teepees to protect the trees from the powerful Siberian North Wind. Actually, much of the vegetation around town is covered in this beautiful green plastic.

If you keep your eyes open, you will see ancient-looking architecture and sculptures that add a real Chinese charm to this modern city. It continually reminds you of the rich history found in this part of the world.

Of course, a modern city of this millennium would not be complete without the Colonel duking it out with Ronald on every corner. Urban Chinese are getting bigger than they used to be, too, maybe because of the new 快餐 (fast food) phenomenon.

Cranes fill the skies here. While visiting Shanghai in October, we were told a statistic that China owns over 80% of the world's cranes, like the one you see above. I don't know how accurate this statistic is, but the large number of construction machinery seen every day truly shows how serious China is about quick development. When I came back from Shanghai, I started to pay attention to cranes throughout the city, and I was astonished! It's not uncommon to look down the road and see 4-5 cranes in a single lot!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our first China Christmas

Santa came to China this year, and delivered tailor-made Christmas jammies for the whole lot of us. (Mine bear the lyrics to "Deck the Halls"-- in real English, which was a priceless find on the Tianjin market)

No one leaped out of bed with excited anticipation on Christmas morning. Actually, we considered postponing gift exchanges and waiting for a morning on which we'd feel less exhausted, but after lights and music set the mood, we dragged ourselves up (but didn't even need to get out of bed!) to open presents.

Ellie only looks mildly pleased with her play-doh because she'd already opened it about a dozen times prior to this. No patience for surprises, just like her dad and Goodwin aunties.

Didi was the least convinced that Christmas presents were worth waking for. His mind is fairly easy to read:

"Tell me again why I woke up to unwrap this."

"I can't believe all you gave me for Christmas is baby food."

"Mom, why'd you use that picture of me on Dad's mug? It's so embarrassing!"

"Oh well. Mugs are at least good for sucking on--let me get to it, Dad."

"This better not be more baby food."

"And on to the tastier times of Christmas!"

And here's our Christmas morning aftermath. Tamer than I've ever previously experienced, and I even had an ayi to clean it all up.

We spent the rest of the morning at work with Kyle, teaching Christmas songs and games to his students.

Chris and Emily Hardy had us over for a scrumptious pot roast Christmas dinner. If you think that sounds delicious, multiply it by four months of no American home-cooked meals and you'll get a sense of how thrilled we were.

And Christmas was topped off with some rousing rounds of everybody's favorite party game: Pit!

We had a lovely holiday, though it just couldn't be the same without the companionship of all our family (and Mom Goodwin's pumpkin marshmallows). Nevertheless, this year I learned that the spirit of Christmas must come from within. There were no concerts, pageants, parties, lights, snowmen, songs, and festivities to facilitate my Christmas cheer. That also meant there was no excessive commercialism plaguing the season. Anyway, it made time for us to reflect a bit more than we have in years past about what Christmas and the birth that it celebrates means to us. We hope you all enjoyed a merry Christmas. We think of our friends and family often and miss you all much.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Evolution of Sleep-over Parties

A few weeks ago, I was shocked to learn that two of my 15 year-old students had never attended or hosted a sleep-over party. They had never even heard of one before. This got me thinking about how sleep-over parties have influenced the social and emotional development in my life.

Elementary Sleep-overs
If you were like me, you probably stayed up later than necessary, engaged in youthful mischief. The skills you learned at elementary sleep-over parties are very important for your sense of competition, as well as your individualism. You also learned how to interact with other kids. There are many ways to do this. Maybe you dressed up in dark clothes to play night games with your friends: Ghosts in the Graveyard, Capture the Flag, or Flashlight Tag. Maybe you stayed inside for the night to refine your 8-bit Tecmo Super Bowl skills (Bo Jackson could run for a touchdown every time with the complicated zig-zag technique to outsmart the defense). For many people, it doesn't really matter what you did, as long as you selfishly destroy your friends in the competition (but not so much that they won't want to play with you again). On another matter, if you are about the same age as me, you learned American analytical skills by critiquing pop culture. You probably either 1) unmercifully trash-talked the New Kids on the Block, or else you showed your pop icon preferences by 2) snuggling up to an adorable Joey McIntyre pillowcase in your Hangin' Tough sleeping bag. Whatever you did, it helped shape who you are today.

Teenage Sleep-overs
I suspect that as you matured from your elementary age, your sleep-over parties did too-- there were new social matters to consider. In your early teenage years, it was fun to socially "mess with" the first person to fall asleep, which often involved warm water, ice cubes, or soft whispers to coax subconscious secrets out of drowsy minds. You began to value honesty and trust by talking about girls/boys with your best friends, sometimes with games like Truth or Dare. Because it's generally unacceptable to speak to your crush directly (in your early teenage years), I'm sure your buddy learned the true meaning of courage by calling her/him while you quietly listened-in on the upstairs phone. Though phone spying is questioned in today's world, it sure was exhilarating in our adolescence, huh.

Young Adult Sleep-overs
In your college years, every night is like a sleep-over with your roommates, whether you want it to or not (there always seems to be someone you don't know staying over). This is when we begin to balance fun and responsibility by learning to prioritize. In my experience, nightly "sleep-over parties"with your roommates were almost always extremely memorable. Picture this: it's 2am, you haven't slept in 32 hours, you have a 10-page research paper due in 6 hours from now, and you've just finished your first draft. Somehow your roommates logically convince you that it's in your best interest to drive them to 7 Eleven for a Slurpee run. When you get home, you've lost all motivation to finish your draft paper, so you sit down with your friends as they watch Strange Brew (which is really only funny at this hour of the night) and personally eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food. The sunlight wakes you up on the couch with just barely enough time to print off your paper and stumble off to class. I mean, a rough draft is almost like a final draft, and the forgettable low grade you'll receive does not compare to a memory that never fades (until you're job-searching after graduation and you suddenly realize that you don't remember much academics in the past 4 years of your life).

Young Family Sleep-overs
As young parents, Tiffany and I are trying to figure out which family traditions to adopt for our own. This month, we decided to start a new December tradition: the Monday Night Family Sleep-over Party. We pull our mattresses into the living room where we watch movies, dance, eat sweets, and try to come closer as a family. I hope sleep-over parties will continue in my home, ever-changing to meet the needs and desires of our growing family.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Spirit

Well, in accordance with American tradition, we have been trying to get in the Christmas spirit ever since Thanksgiving. You may think that, in an officially atheist nation, it is a challenge to get any Christmas cheer. We'd agree. But that's no excuse for anybody because Christmas cheer should come from within the soul. How do we look into the soul? Often we can look into our past for clues.

The other day, I was talking with my friend Erik about childhood Christmas memories when, for some reason, only one brief (but maybe life-changing) memory came to mind with true clarity. I could remember presents I received from multiple years, but for some reason, all my thoughts turned to one special evening. You could say my heart skipped a beat with youthful joy as I recalled the "MACGYVER Christmas" from my past.

(Yes, Macgyver is balancing an oversized explosive on his shoulder, just because he can.)

Now, on to my purely magical memory of my youth. That Christmas season, my dad and I put the Christmas tree up--just the two of us. The way I remember it, it was picture perfect for any boy with his dad: plastic evergreen leaves organized in piles according to branch length, the floor cluttered with boxes reeking of attic from the 11 month storage system adopted my many Americans, and lastly (and maybe most importantly) our brand new 6-inch portable black-and-white television resting on the carpet, featuring the marvels of a new Macgyver episode.

Though I won't divulge the juicy details of that December evening long ago, I'll just say that Macgyver turns hearts toward Christmas. When you think about it, it is easy to see how he brings Christmas cheer. Christmas is about giving right? He ALWAYS gave the bad guys their come-upins with gifts of colorful explosives (sometimes green, sometimes red) made from television sets and weed-killer, as well as guns made from pens, paper clips, and fruity gumdrops. You and I both can assume that Santa's opinion of him is positive, due to his extensive work in the cosmic battle of good verses evil.

Though Erik's family didn't celebrate Christmas when he was young, I'm sure he immediately understood how one resourceful secret agent could have stayed in the front of anybody's holiday memory bank. Even you, right?

Though I haven't found this holiday television series on any of our 200 Chinese TV stations, here are some holiday pictures of our current memories in the making:

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Going potty, in style.

As seen in our last post, Tiff and I really do live in style here. This yellow duck potty sports a Pooh Bear bow-tie and when you push the button on the top, its eyes flash communist red and plays a medley of our favorite Christmas carols. Buying this friendly and inviting duck is our attempt to help Ellie fit in with her potty-trained Chinese friends by introducing a 'potty friend.' Luckily for us, it seems to be working. Though she's only "gone" a couple times in it, she enjoys to strip-down, and sit-down, for recreational purposes, too. That's gotta be a step in the right direction, right?!!

For any "Engrish" fans out there, we found this gem on our high-class plastic product:But, for some odd reason, it seems to fit... or maybe I've just been here too long.

Going native, in style.

Well, thanks to some past Tianjin church members who were kind enough to leave this bad boy in town, we are now able to travel a lot easier with our sweet luxurious ride. Now I don't think you can find this kind of machinery in the states: it's half hog, half bicycle, and the best part is that it runs off electric power! (Who said we never did anything for the environment?!) It's actually quite convenient; if you are running low on power, you can pedal to recharge the battery automatically. I drive while Tiff sits on the throne with the kids.

We call it our 快车 (pronounced kwai-chuh),which is the same term used for the high speed bullet train that gets us to Beijing in just over an hour. I would say there is probably just one difference between our bike and the train: after an hour ride, our 快车 only gets us to church. Oh, one more--it's freakin' cold riding this hog in this season. So two-wheelers, BEWARE! The 老外快车is back on the road and ready for some sweet action.

(No Mom Larsen, we aren't fighting off SARS or getting out of surgery, the masks actually serve a face-warming function.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ellie's landmark discovery

Ellie grew up a little more this weekend... she discovered the difference between boys and girls while Didi got his diaper changed. After witnessing six months' worth of diaper changes, she finally made an important observation and showed heartfelt concern for Didi's "owie."

Props to Aunt Christie for those sweet glasses--three months later we still think its hilarious whenever she wears them, or whenever she forces her short-armed and uncoordinated brother to wear them.

Grandpa's house

Recently, Ellie has become obsessed with a daily construction project: Bapa (h)ouse! Though she has yet to define which grandpa gets to enjoy her brilliant airy design, she started renting the premises to The Colonel until she gives further notice.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

American Standard???

It turns out the rumors I've been hearing seem to be unfortunately true. Somebody help me understand:

How could American restroom standards have dropped this much during my short three months of living abroad?

Is it due to the battered US housing market? Global warming? Flattering the Chinese to get cheaper advertising rates during the 2008 Olympics? I need answers.

Whatever the reason may be, I'm definitely not ready for the words "American Standard" on any of these bad boys.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

My job ruins self-esteem.

This past work week has been a memorable one. Thursday there were no classes because of a music/ dance festival; Friday was the annual sports day. On Saturday, we teachers attended an all-day workshop (in Korean, of course) at a hot springs resort halfway up to Beijing. Now that the week is over, I am convinced that these activities had one hidden purpose: humiliation.

Though the administration masked their embarrassing intentions with "its for the kids" rhetoric, I immediately read right through that garbage after seeing the secondary school teachers perform in Thursday's festival. Take a look:

Is this in the best interests of the students? The way I see it, it's probably one of two things. First of all, it could be the ultimate drag queen act of selflessness to lift the spirits of troubled and isolated Korean teens stuck in China. But to me, after this weekend, it appears as if the untouchable administration enjoys pushing their teachers down to the dirt; you wouldn't believe it, but they actually give monetary incentives to the most foolish-looking departments. I've come to the conclusion that it's a scheme to destroy our self-esteem.

Here is a brief list from the past few days which may help prove my point (This is limited to what I personally saw or experienced):

-3 separate occasions of cross-dressing- all of which included "booty-shaking"

-calling out the skinniest males of each department to run an obstacle course with a balloon between the legs and do ridiculous tasks along the way including stuffing ho-hos down their throats and singing songs

-calling out the individuals of each department with the biggest backside to participate in a balloon popping contest (by sitting on them)

-putting "love marks" (which thankfully turned out to be heart stickers) on embarrassing places on the body

-having a teachers lottery where the host consistently jerked back the prize as the winners reached for it; after the taunting, the host demanded a hip-hop dance (regardless of age or ability) before handing over the prize

-making "forced volunteers" play games which require awkward positions to pass random objects balanced on chopsticks or toothpicks to the next "volunteer"

-mandatory participation in uncomfortable dances and songs aimed to highlight personal weakness and encourage mass laughter at those individuals

Well, I guess the yin-yang forces balance out when everyone makes a fool out of themselves, including the administration. Maybe it isn't to ruin self-esteem after all, but just a part of Korean working culture. And since I've always been the first to jump on the "I willing to look like an idiot" boat, I know I'm gonna like my time at the Korean school.