Friday, May 30, 2008

Official plans for the future

I realize we have not officially unveiled our plans for the upcoming year and beyond, so here it goes:
Return to US
Tiffany and the kids will fly home to Sacramento, CA with Michelle (her sister) on July 23rd. I, unfortunately, need to stick around here until August 11th to pick up my last paycheck (or they won't pay me). We will live with Tiffany's family in Sacramento where we will get some more work experience and save up to go back to school! I hope to make a trip down to Disneyland while we're there, mainly so I can eliminate Tiffany's constant criticism that I'm a deprived human- just because I've never been there before.

Graduate School
Though I thought I'd never go back to school (due to my unrelenting phobia of entrance exams... I heard a monkey did better than me on the ACT the first time I took it), I've found myself extremely excited to get an MBA with an emphasis in human resources! It's been a long journey to get to this point, and since I've yet to take the GMAT or be accepted into an MBA program, it's been a great ride. I hope to start school in Fall 2009, depending on GMAT and application deadlines... we'll see. I have a lot of studying to do.

Far future
Since my experience and interests push me to the international arena, I hope to work in HR for a company who has ties to China or Vietnam (I guess that's pretty much everybody in this globalized capitalist-driven world). I have a great tutor who helps me with my Chinese every weekday morning before work in hopes that I can use the language more in the future.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Why China will rule the world.

3 Year Old Solves Rubik's Cube in 114 seconds

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Musical Memories

I have always been fascinated by the power of music to stir up deep emotion connected to periods of your past. Tiffany's brother Scott recently wrote a very insightful post about the link between memories and music, listing several of his associated memories to specific songs. Because I can't leave comments on Scott's blog from China, I figured I could just post some of my favorite musical memories on this site. Though there are too many to list, here are some that come to my mind:

1) Hangin' Tough, New Kids on the Block, summer 1989
The first time I heard this song, I was with LuAnn and Emily Wood on our way to the 'Shoots and Ladders' park, riding in the backseat of their gray Dodge Lancer with maroon interior. I later caught myself thinking of their revolutionary use of the whistle while sipping on my green Ecto-Cooler juicebox.

2) Pray, MC Hammer, elementary school sometime
I vividly remember riding on the school bus on the way to a local field trip when I first heard this song. Looking out the bus window at the green fields around us, I remember my awe-inspiring epiphany that MC Hammer was not only the most explosive dancer on planet Earth, but he was extremely religious too. He made me want to be a better person both physically and spiritually. Now I'm 2 Legit to Quit.

3) Treat her Right, Mr. T, summer 1989
Also in the car with the Woods that same summer, these lyrics became etched in my memory forever:
there is no other,
My mother,
so treat her right-treat her right.
Emily and I laughed and laughed about the song and repeatedly annoyed our mothers with it. After Radio Aahs (AM children's music channel) sold-out to Disney, I thought I would never hear it again. Then one magical November 2003 evening, a friend introduced me to a life-changing motivational film: Mr T's 'Be Somebody, or Be Somebody's Fool,' which featured this song; I was immediately transported to that memorable Dodge Lancer of my childhood summers. As I unofficially promoted the film, others undoubtedly fell in love with this song's innocence and lyrical rhyme. It's more than that for me, though; it is an emotional connection to my childhood.

4) I Just Called to Say I Love You, Stevie Wonder, 1989
I saved up my allowance for months ($15) to buy the most manly board game ever invented in the history of the world: Fireball Island (you have to dodge fireballs!). Upon arrival at home from Target, we turned on the radio and began to put the pieces together in a carefree love-at-home atmosphere, epitomizing the feeling of this song which played on the radio (but we later lost that feeling when we played the game and tried to destroy each other with fireballs). To this day, every time I hear this Stevie classic, it instantly brings me back to these feelings.

5) The Breaks, Kurtis Blow, Fall Semester 2003
This song will always have a special place in my heart because my roommates and I played it every day at 7am to "get ready" for school. It undoubtedly led to an early-morning dance party which got our blood pumping and minds ready for being educated.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

High Population Density=No Privacy

To survive sharing a country with 1.6 billion others necessitates individuals to redefine (eliminate) any social concept of privacy, or else you would go completely bizzonk due to lack of personal space. As individuals have minimal space, there are minimal social constraints that dictate it rude to invade others' space, because any space is potentially your space. (This drives foreigners bonkers. The lack of elbow room--or something like unto it--is probably the most common complaint I've heard among expat circles here.)

We've had our fair share of frustrations, especially when the ridiculous crowd you encounter during a routine weekend trip to the supermarket is the same as the 5am Circuit City Day-After-Thanksgiving extravaganza in the US. I think that many 'crowd-sensitive' Americans are only willing to put up with the antics of a door-buster sale because its only one day a year, and they'll score a free iPod out of the privacy-sucking deal. In a space-deprived country like China, all I get for facing the masses is some eggs, a loaf of bread, and maybe some bags of fake milk, if I brave that aisle (this morning, I didn't).

When my frustrations seem to get the best of me, I realize that I'm the one with the problem; the natives don't seem to mind much at all. Adapting to local concepts different from your own is often a necessary survival tactic for any expat family anywhere in the world, and I'm sure Tiffany would agree that it has been especially important for us here. Though, I've tried learning from Didi's attention-grabbing approach to privacy concerns, I can't pull it off nearly as well as he.

Didi takes advantage of the crowds by soaking-up the attention of an adoring audience in order to improve his own self-image. For one example, Didi recently realized that when he smashes his head against our living room window and smiles, he will within a few moments gather a crowd of bystanders who stare into my house for some 15 awkward minutes. Didi loves it. These grown men and women giggle like school children as they admire the foreign baby (and chastise the foreign parents through the window, i.e. his shirt is wet from drool, he's only wearing a onesie, and so forth...). It's funny every time at first, but when they don't leave, we strategize the least culturally-offensive escape plan. Our American concept of privacy often kicks in pretty quick in this specific situation, probably because they don't peer into the house from the street, no!, they come up and put their paws on our window:

Friday, May 16, 2008

Superlatives on my sweetheart

Erik was born a year ago today, and not a day too soon, if you ask me. It's hard to imagine our family being happy without him, and he truly brings out the best in each of us. This is what I had to say about Didi in June, when he was about a month old:

"I love to kiss his fontanelle. His forearms are delectably pudgy. Even when he's hungry he hardly lets out a squawk--mostly he just contorts his face, opens his mouth and complains silently. He already tries to fit his whole hand in his mouth. He is a champion burper--louder even than Uncle Bryce. When he smiles he grows his 13th dimple (after 10 fingers and two elbows) in his right cheek. He loves to snuggle and is perfectly content in any arms. But he still seems to love Mom's the best. He is my beautiful, brown-eyed angel and I can't imagine him being more perfect or irresistible. My heart is his forever."

Shortly after we arrived in Tianjin, life was struggly for me and I made this confession:
"With my bad attitude and Ellie being Jek-Elle/Hyde these days, Didi is the one who has really kept me together lately. When I feel unhappy I can hold him and know that things are going to be okay. He rarely withholds a smile from me and even more rarely makes one complaint. He is perfectly content with his life and a wonderful example to me."

In October, I wrote,
"Didi has been melting my heart lots lately. He's starting to sit up on his own, although usually resulting in an awkward flop one direction or another. His constant craving for nourishment (you should see the way he smacks his lips when he sees someone eating, or his ruthlessness in grabbing my plate or bowl at every meal time and sucking on it) has led me to introduce some tiny pieces of solid food into his diet. Even Ellie delights in the way Didi's face changes as he experiences the taste of scrambled eggs, mashed sweet potato, or the innards of jiaozi. The day he is old enough to have complete control over how much food he shoves into his mouth will not come a day too soon in his book."

In November,
"Didi, that sweet, sweet baby Erik. Was it really only six months ago he came into this world? I already can hardly recall a time when he was not here. Kyle said recently that although before Erik was born, he was concerned about finances, future plans, emotional capacity and more, now that he's here and we love him so incredibly much, he can't imagine our family being complete without him. Indeed Didi is more than just the icing on the top--he is probably half of the cake itself! I am going through that stage of motherhood in which I think my baby is so adorably irresistible that I feel like I must explode with love for him! [Probably a scary thought for any who haven't experienced it.] There is truly nothing more beautiful and divine than a new baby-- the love I feel for him cannot nearly be expressed or quantified."

And in December,
"Cute things about Didi:
-pudgy hands that grab anything and eagerly shove them into his mouth
-sometimes while nursing he unlatches for a few moments just to give me a huge grin
-he smiles and offers his boyish charms to pretty much anyone
-the "beached whale" shake during tummy time
-little beads of sweat gather on every pore of his head when he nurses, even in the dead of winter
-he cracks up when Ellie dances for him
-long, black eyelashes
-he sticks out his tongue a lot, often sideways or curled upward, and he also sucks/smacks on his top lip
I actually think everything is irresistibly adorable about Didi. Numerous times daily, I'll just look at him and my heart will skip a beat, and I'll just well up with an inexplicable and overwhelming love and adoration for this sweet, precious babe. Didi represents to me all that is good and beautiful in this world."

People here are naturally confused when they first see me out with the kids, since I look much more like Ellie's ayi (household helper) than her mother. When I explain that she looks like her father, though, they always knowingly nod their heads. Here it is commonly accepted that daughters look like their fathers and mothers look like their sons. Didi and I share more than just dark eyes and big ear lobes, though. We share a mutual attachment--I need him every bit as much as he needs me. Sometimes his smiles are all that gets me through the day.

This may sound kind of silly, but before Erik was born, Kyle and I were seriously concerned that we might not feel as strongly for our new baby as we did for Ellie, or that we wouldn't think he's as cute as her. The miracle of parenthood proved us wrong, of course. We are every bit as obsessed and enamored with our second as our first, which is also good news for any more children we may have.

When it comes to Didi, I really struggle trying to avoid superlatives, as my journal excerpts and commentary have demonstrated. I try not to be obnoxious about it, but to me, he really is the most and best of everything worthwhile. It's hard to imagine him ever doing anything wrong or being a nasty teenager someday. For now I just bask in the reality that, as someone wise once said, "Babies are such a nice way to start people." I have to agree.

Happy birthday, little D.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

China itself not so bad after all???

In the spirit of that last post (which I guess no one has read yet since I'm posting them on the same day), I will shock you by sharing non-kid-related experiences even more thrilling than finding bell peppers on sale at the market...

I have post-partum depression! According to my diagnosis, that is. For the most part, I'm relieved. I was worried that I've just undergone an awful personality change or that cynicism is my new and permanent way of life. Knowing that it's just my brain chemicals that are out of whack is good news and so, ironically, knowing I have depression has given me hope. Even though it has only been a year since Didi was born, I still can hardly remember how I used to be, but Kyle does, and he's the only one who knows the pre- and post-Didi mes, and he's pretty convinced it's ppd.

The good news is that this means we've decided to move back to the US this summer-yippeee! China has been fun, but it would've been more fun if I weren't depressed. The bad news is that I'm still depressed for the next few months without any access to professional help, and somehow being aware of the source of my struggles has made them more poignant and discouraging.

One of my greatest frustrations, though, has been the reactions of some people with whom I've shared this news. See, I am not ashamed of being depressed. I know it's not my fault and it doesn't make me a bad or lazy person, though I may feel so at times. I am truly disheartened by how many people don't begin to understand what depression is, though! Yes, there is situational depression, which may come and go without medication and therapy. Post-partum depression, which is what I suspect I have, as well as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), require treatment, but are still temporary, in most cases. Biological/genetic depression can be a life-long illness. Some people still seem to think that we should be exercising or praying our way out of depression! Hellooooo-- can a diabetic exercise his way out of insulin-deficiency? Can a broken arm be mended by increasing spirituality? Kyle and I decided that the word 'depression' is just too broad. The actual, clinical illness should bear a different title so it's not so easily confused with just feeling down, which happens to everyone from time to time.

So yes, I'm irked that people are trying to sympathize with me by saying things like, "Oh yeah, my first year in China was hard, too. But you're young and maybe once you learn not to expect life to be so easy and stable, you'll accept it and feel better" or "I sure hope you're not planning to take an anti-depressant. My friend said it didn't help her and she just started eating more vegetables and living a simpler life and feels much better." I'm irritated because they don't understand me at all, but mostly I'm irked for the sake of others whose depression is much greater in duration and severity and who are perceived in such a way by well-meaning by-standers.

I think and hope Americans have come a long way in understanding and treating depression, but I feel the general public still has a long way to go in clearing up the unnecessary stigma associated with what is simply a disease, like heart or liver disease. Liver disease sounds like a lot more fun, honestly, but that's probably my depressed self thinking that. Anyway, knowing the audience of our blog, I'm preaching to the choir here. Actually I'm just venting. And lest anyone be truly worried about me, I'm doing fine. I'm grumpy and unmotivated, but I'll make it just fine. Be worried about Kyle, because he's the one who has to bear the brunt of my irritability and lethargy.

The other day he was struggling with some situations at work and contemplated the possibility that he may be having problems with anxiety. "No!," I thought, and a rule-of-thumb shared by my sister came to mind: "There's only enough room for one dysfunctional person in this relationship!" I laugh every time I think of that stipulation, but for us it is really true. One of the blessings of our marriage has been that while one of us endures a lot of stress, the other one is somehow able to stay calm and help to compensate. I'm not sure how, but that's what happens every time. Kudos to Kyle for assuming that calming role most of the time these days.

More than meets the blog

Our blog is one of the few among our associates that's truly shared between two authors. By some unspoken rule, I blog about the kids and Kyle blogs about everything else. Of course I think the kids are interesting, but I do have non-kid-related experiences and interests, you know. For instance, bell peppers.

Yesterday was supposed to be our weekly date night, but the ayi cancelled on us so we went exploring on a bike ride and visited a big dirt market we'd never been to before. We had less than $10 on us, and I was apt to blow it on a cute, maternity-looking shirt (not that I'm entering that realm again, but as an apple shape, I am truly pleased that loose, flowy tops are now in-style). Instead, we stocked up on all sorts of produce that we've been buying for the past nine months for much steeper prices at our local market. Of course, we do live in the ritziest neighborhood in town, but had we known we were paying double for our strawberries, we'd either be buying half as much, or coming to this market a long time ago! I was pleased, and yet at the same time felt deceived and betrayed by my home market, rather like I did when I abruptly discovered a few weeks ago that the "beef" we've been using for nine months to make hamburgers, spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, and tacos has really and truly been ground pork. The whole time. No, I'd never noticed the cute little animated pigs gracing the chopping station.

Anyway, so what's my natural reaction? Stock up on bell peppers, of course, which I only buy when they're down to $1/lb at my local market. Here the huge, shiny red and yellow peppers (which happen to be my faves) were nonchalantly being sold for about 40 cents/lb. Mmmmhmmm, I stocked up indeed. Virtually every inquiry about prices we made revealed the inevitable truth that we've been getting ripped off in a serious way. I honestly had wondered how restaurants can afford to charge so little and now I know-- they weren't shopping at my produce market!

I even purchased a big bunch of artichokes which have been so far from economical in my experience that I've never even tasted them in my life-- I've always viewed them as a luxury vegetable, but no longer! Throw in a few carrots and we walked away like bunny bandits, $2 poorer but loaded with colorful, vitamin-packed veggies.

The only problem now: what can I possibly do to make them appetizing in the absence of butter and cheese???

China's New Baby Face

Well, the results are in and all-in-all, I have to be pleased with how the baby modeling photo shoot turned out. Of course, there are far more unflattering shots than pleasing ones, but that's why we use digital cameras and employ Photoshop, right? The following is a mere sampling of photos from round one. The photographer will be delivering the results of round two, which was mostly shot of Ellie outdoors (Didi wasn't feeling well that day), at the end of the month. I know my faves, but if you had to choose one of these shots to advertise your studio and skills, whose mug would you bank on? =)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Olympic Soccer

I scored some sweet Olympic Soccer tickets!!!!

USA vs. Japan

I am happy.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Kite flying

A few months ago, we took a trip down to a local park notorious for kite-flying and roller-skating. Though we declined to risk our lives by skating among the masses, we did buy a cute Fuwa (Chinese Olympic mascot) kite, and watched others dodge the crowds... and my Fuwa, falling from the sky (due to my amateur kite-flying skills; unfortunately, Tiff couldn't do much better either). There was also a sweet blue horse which propels itself forward when you bounce on the horse's back; we couldn't resist it. Ellie wouldn't stop saying "Neigh! Neigh!" the whole time--just like her first real pony ride. If you look carefully in the background, you will see some adult-sized stallions as well... Joe, Christie, and Mish are in for a treat come summer.This guy followed us around for about an hour, initially zooming his spy lens onto my kids faces from far distances, never saying a word. He slowly came closer when he realized his prey wouldn't scamper away as he intruded in close proximity. He's just lucky my kids weren't baby models back then because then we would have charged a pretty penny for those pics! Really, wherever we went, we saw him taking pictures of us... until we finally left. These child-admiring picture-takers are not nearly as annoying because they actually communicate with us (and they don't have intimidating zoom lenses and scowls; only camera phones and smiles).