Sunday, June 22, 2008

Joestie comes to China

I'm not very responsible or artistic with a camera, so I delegate photography tasks to anyone else who is with me witnessing anything worth remembering. Such were the funny, frustrating, and fantastic experiences we shared with Joestie, my sister Christie and her husband Joe, when they visited us last month. We were so thrilled to have them come, especially since Christie has already been to this part of China and Joe is a polite, tidy, non-chaotic sort of person (the antithesis of China living)-- we knew they were actually wanting to see US! Actually it was probably the kids, but we were pleased anyhow and had a great time showing them around Tianjin and Beijing. Their six-day visit flew by, as we'd anticipated it would. Here's a sampling of our activities:

Christie is a licensed massage therapist, so was eager for the opportunity to be in the receiving end of one, at least until the foot reflexology came out and the masseuse had her squirming and giggling (a Goodwin trademark) in pain all over the bed. Alas, the masseuses (husband and wife team worked on Joe and Christie together) insisted the suffering would benefit all sorts of Christie's organs, as would forsaking cold water and ice cream, but somehow I think such would be even less bearable than the foot massage...

All of Wednesday was consumed by preparation and execution of Didi's birthday party. I waited so we could throw it while Joestie was here, and I was grateful to have their help indeed. Under normal mental-health conditions, there are few things I love more than throwing a good party. However, the past year there have been few things more stressful and strenuous on my nerves and emotions than hosting a social event. When I've attempted it, I've suffered from anxiety-induced insomnia for days before the event and sometimes even inexplicably burst into tears after the party because of how awful I perceive it went. Anyway, thanks to Joestie's help with this one (beach themed, in their honor!), no such tears were shed. The weather wasn't quite cooperative (it was ultra windy and with Tianjin's air quality, wind is somewhat less than refreshing), so I didn't attempt any of the games I'd been exceedingly stressed over, but the food was good and I was very happy that our friends took the time and trouble to come and celebrate Didi's first year of life. Now if only we had that birthday video montage... (are you all still hounding Kyle for that with me? I can't be the only one who is interested in the finished product.)

Didi was in lovely spirits for most of the evening, right until the point where we put the cake in front of him and prepared to sing the song. Then he grabbed a handful of the frosting, which is what babies do, but several of us made some sort of concerned or surprised exclamation that wasn't intended to be scolding, but the sensitive little kid just howled...

...and honestly wouldn't stop crying until long after the cake was devoured and the photo opps expired. This is why we call Didi bi-polar. When he's happy, he could charm the marshmallows out of any leprechaun, but if you do anything at all to upset him (usually something as subtle as removing a dangerous object from his hand or giving a bite of food to someone else first), he's truly inconsolable for a little while. I don't mind him being an emotional, sensitive little guy in general (if he turns out to be the thoughtful, compassionate kind), but it will be nice when he learns to channel his emotions into expressions a little less disruptive.

Here's the fan club as we know it. Our mix of American, Korean, Indonesian, and Chinese friends in Tianjin.

The next day we headed up to Beijing for some obligatory sight-seeing, which doesn't mean it's not enjoyable, but you just can't really come to this part of China and miss seeing the Great Wall or Tiananmen Square. We were lucky (or not lucky, depending on who you ask, when it comes to hygiene standards and odors) to secure a hotel almost overlapping with Tiananmen Square. Here's a night view of the famous Mao portrait and gate that leads to the Forbidden City.

This is how many more seconds remain until the Olympic opening ceremony (as of May 30, 9:20pm), in case you were wondering. Do you think they're excited? Actually, I think it's great. I'm happy for the Chinese to get this opportunity and I wish the international community was a little more respectful and considerate about China's progress, efforts, and what hosting this enormous event successfully means to them. But that's a discussion for another post.

The Forbidden City, open to the masses.

We met up with members of our church group for lunch and a show. Ellie is shown here possessively protecting her new bff, as Christie dubbed it, aka PJ aka Peach Juice. At first I think she just liked it because it's pink (I'm starting to think that some irrepressible affinity for pink resides in little girls' genes, because I've sure promoted other colors, but to no avail), but after one sip she was quite committed to PJ and spent the rest of the trip cuddling and clinging to it with great affection and loyalty.

The Kung Fu show was vibrant and impressive and a little scary at times; good entertainment, though a sad story. We've always liked the idea of putting our kids into martial arts, for the athleticism and discipline it teaches, and most importantly, so they can kick the rears of any kids who persecute their nerdiness (and with us as parents, that's inevitable).

Our hotel was also a hop and skip away from Beijing's Planning museum, which was amazingly uncrowded and sterile, and even displayed some interesting aspects of the city environment. This huge screen (consuming half of a museum floor) flashes psychedelic images completely unrelated to the city or its plans, but it makes a cute picture of Ellie and her Auntie C.

One floor displayed a model of the important parts of the city, so of course Joe the architect, Tiff the geographer, Christie the historian, and Kyle the map-head enjoyed gawking at it.

Here's a classic Goodwin scenario. I insisted that Kyle try to capture the essence of our hotel experience with this attempted reenactment of our sleepovers. The beds were so slim that we pushed all three together and slept facing a variety of directions (particularly Didi, who was kicking a new person's face every few hours) on the remarkably stiff mattresses. Our accommodation left a bit to be desired, especially for Joestie, who remember how nice American living is, particularly the part where the walls reeked of fresh paint and the only ventilation was a crayon box-sized window. Yes, we are cheap, but Joestie also claimed they didn't mind having an adventure, so I booked the cheapest hotel available and figured we'd make some memories (and with sleepovers, we always do), and we rested assured that with the Goodwin's history of motels, we know we've endured much worse.

I think because of wacky sleep schedule, Ellie was throwing a disproportionate amount of tantrums during Joestie's visit, and yet they say their willingness to have children is unaffected. Here's Ellie in the aftermath of one, in which she insisted on stripping off the top half of her dress because a white ice cream bar dripped a few drops on it. How is it possible that I'm raising a neat-freak?

After we sent Joestie off to the airport on a shuttle bus, we headed back to Tianjin via train, but were only able to secure standing tickets. I was sure someone would offer us seats somewhere, as they almost always do for people with kids on public buses. No such luck. We were filthy already, though, so weren't so opposed to chilling on the ground for the ride.

I wish I'd taken some pictures of Joestie and all of us together, or some more representative of the goodness of our time together (like custard pies and roadside ice cream stands), but this is all I've got. Nevertheless, we really did love having them here and appreciate their tolerance of China's lack of charms (I didn't even get into our customer service nightmares at the antique market, train station, and Great Wall, all magnified by language barrier) and the kids' bouts of screaming and whining. Navigating China (especially during the weekdays when Kyle was at work) without speaking Chinese is no cup of green tea, but Joe and Christie are easygoing, gracious, and a lot of fun, and that made it all worthwhile. Kyle and I decided that we need to be next-door neighbors with them for life. They are just too cool, funny, and lovable to live far from.


blaine and michelle said...

I'm so glad it went well. It looks like so much fun! And Kimberley's the same way about messes -- she won't stand for it. We should get these girls together more often. And KYLE I WANT THE VIDEO MONTAGE! :)