Saturday, June 28, 2008


I was talking to my Pop a little while ago and we were lamenting something like Sacramento's gas prices, desert landscape, and surprising lack of decent sushi venues, and my Dad just sighed and conceded, "T.I.C."

"What is T.I.C?," you may be wondering. I wasn't quite sure myself, but no sooner did Dad reveal the acronym as "This is California" than I instantly understood his meaning. See, I've been saying "T.I.C." at least once daily, in my heart, for the past year. Of course, my T.I.C. means "This is China." Often, my dissatisfaction is not nearly as good-natured as my Dad's with California, though. As my departure date steadily draws nearer (21 days to go!), I seem to find more and more cause for frustration as I maneuver through town, though of course I've been giving myself much more permission to be displeased, disgusted, and disgruntled.

It's amazing that only a few short weeks ago we were still heavily considering staying in China for another year! WHAT WERE WE THINKING?! Of course, here's where attitude plays a role. If we'd decided to stay, I very likely would survive another year in China, as formidable as that may sound to me now. Here are a few things I will NOT miss about living in Tianjin:

-using a small bucket for bathing the kids
-daily stopping Didi from eating the paint chips that fall off the walls, pulling up pieces of the kitchen floor, floorboards, etc.
-perfect strangers railing me about my kids being too hot, too cold, eating the wrong things, not being held properly, crying, wearing uncomfortable clothing, etc, etc, etc
-even though our apartment is very nice by local standards, numerous parts of it are falling apart, even though it's only five years old-- won't miss that, and I won't miss the landlord telling us to just fix it ourselves when something minor breaks, as if I have a clue as to who to ask to fix it and what to say
-squatters. I'll spare you the details.
-leaving restaurants smelling like I'm a chain smoker
-the reality that, when in public, I am constantly being stared at from several directions at any given moment
-having precious few options for buying attractive clothing and safe toys
-the hock-a-loogey sound, which is particularly offensive when it comes from a nice, attractive, well-groomed woman
-no stains come out in the washing machine, and having no dryer
-hauling strollers, bags, and kids on public transportation
-our bathroom that reeks of mildew, but we can't find the source
-Didi getting into the ash trays in taxis
-the near one-hour ride to church and having to go an hour early and stay at least an hour after every week for Kyle's meetings (simply attending church consumes a good eight hours of my Sundays)
-lack of recreational activities available, especially public parks and libraries
-getting into conversations that I can never finish because the fluency just isn't there
-never actually seeing the sun through the haze, stare as I might
-real ice cream (Dreyers or Haagen Daas) costing $10 a scoop
-carpet-less floors, and all the bruises Didi gets from his falls on them
-traffic jams at every hour of the day
-needing help from a translator to do things I've been doing for myself for years, such as pay my cell phone bill
-our shower that is only technically enclosed-- in reality puddles cover the entire bathroom floor after every use
-the loneliness, the missing family and friends, the having no one to share things with
-being cut off in lines (avoidable only if I'm pressed up against the person in front of me)
-having to cook every day without cheese or processed foods
-the kids and grown men peeing all along the sides of roads
-having great acquaintances, but only a couple actual friends, and even then there's the language barrier
-the lack of manners and social graces (by western standards)
-dirt, dirt, dirt coming out of the woodworks and infesting every conceivable space (I honestly think dirt roads in Uganda felt cleaner than walking through this city)
-unnecessarily greasy meals
-one errand taking up an entire day
-the oxy moronic reality that in a city of 10 million, I feel isolated and sometimes completely alone
-having no idea where I'm going or how to ask someone how to get there
-trying to keep kids from touching anything that might give them diseases, which is a lot of things
-absence of customer service
-no sense of privacy
-mafan, mafan, mafan, everywhere I go
-getting defensive because the Chinese are highly excitable and brutally honest (aka tactless), and often fighting back and harboring negative feelings about the whole experience
-having to control two unrestrained toddlers on a bike, car, or bus, and also knowing how safe their freedom of movement is not
-lack of restaurant cleanliness and ambiance
-problems with having a housekeeper (it's not as glamorous as it sounds)
-Chinese hospitals
-carrying the stroller up and down flights of stairs, squeezing it between teeny aisles, and cramming it onto crowded buses
-comments that indicate I should love my son more than my daughter
-being cheated because of my nationality

Wow, that was a surprisingly easy list to make, and I could truly go on. I have indeed become more cynical than ever in recent times. I'm not blaming my bad attitude on China, although indignation and expressing blatant dissatisfaction (even to strangers) here is completely permissible and not often offensive or inappropriate. That makes it easy to justify the habits of fault-finding and criticizing (I mean, I just do it to fit in!).

Still, I know that succumbing to such a mindset takes a toll on the soul. It does take more work for me to be positive than it ever has before, but that doesn't mean I can't do it. Sure, China can suck the health and effervescent optimism right out of my system at times, but all in all, I know it still claims its charms. I don't always feel so resentful and disgusted with my circumstances. A lot of the time, I like certain things about China, and will even miss some things about living here:

-15 cent ice cream bars sold on nearly every block that I use to bribe Ellie with on outings
-being able to afford eating out every day (not that we do, but we could, as could most people here)
-never having to wash dishes. or clean the toilet. our ayi is worth her wage right there.
-there's no vegetable I can't afford
-lamb shishkebabs, Uigher style
-spontaneous sleepover parties in the living room, watching $1 dvds
-getting lots of compliments on my kids' good looks, playfulness, obedience, big eyes, etc.
-perfect strangers always being willing to hold Didi for extended periods of time, which particularly comes in handy while I'm trying to shop
-bartering in Beijing
-being the church pianist, because my mediocre skills will likely never qualify me to play in church in a big congregation
-being in a branch (church congregation) so small that I know every individual quite well and it feels more like a family than any church group I've ever known
-shopping for fabric
-no t.v. (I've honestly gone the entire year without it and haven't missed it much at all)
-really appreciating it when that rare patch of blue sky briefly appears
-knowing people who truly and honestly want to babysit my kids for free (though I've only very recently taken advantage of this and regret that deeply)
-making great money tutoring English and teaching piano lessons
-helping friends with less Chinese experience on shopping excursions and errands
-strangers being genuinely interested in my life, particularly concerning the kids
-Kyle being able to come home for lunch every day, and working only eight hours a day in a relatively non-stressful job (compared to his future, at least)
-finding great deals at local markets and presenting all of my treasures to Kyle at the end of the day
-a pretty simple life, and lots of time for just the four of us to be together
-the challenges that make me a more interesting and well-rounded person, hopefully

No doubt I've learned a lot about myself this past year. Even though my list of bads is much longer than the goods list, it still has been a great year and I don't regret our decision to move and stay here. I know it was part of our lives' plan. I suspect in times to come that we will look back on this year with gratitude and even fondness.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Memorized lines

Recently, I booked flights and hotels for my little sister and her friend who are coming to China next week. Though the travel service employee was technically speaking English, in reality I felt I was speaking with an automated phone service. A sample excerpt of our conversation...

"The check out time is 12:00. Would you like to make any other changes to your hotel reservation?"
"Yeah, actually I have a question. We need three beds so can we pay to have an extra bed pulled in or do we need to book another room?"
"I'm sorry. I don't understand."
"See, we have three adults so we need three beds. Can three people sleep in one room, and if so, will it cost more?"
"I'm sorry. I don't understand. Would you like to book another hotel reservation?"
"No, but we have three people, not two. Do we need another room or can we pay for an extra bed?"
"...[pause]...The check out time is 12:00. Would you like to make any other changes to your hotel reservation?"

It rather reminds me of how a couple weeks ago a stranger showed up at our door (claiming she "knows" me because I'd passed her in the neighborhood once before), practically inviting herself in while soliciting seemingly urgent assistance. After Kyle showed her in, plugged her zip drive into our computer and started translating and editing an enormous document for her, I started getting suspicious and inquired as to the nature of this document and what we had to do with it all. It turns out she needed to memorize numerous phrases in English in order to interview for a position with an Italian cruise liner. These English lines were supposedly responses to questions that she would be quizzed on, demonstrating her English fluency.

Suddenly there was an ethical dilemma-- not only was it dishonest for us to rewrite sentences that she would be claiming as her own into perfect English, but we would also be promoting the falsehood that she can speak English at all. Still, she kept insisting that her employer couldn't care less how fluent she is on the job as long as she can "pass off" the memorized dialogue. After all, my travel agent had clearly memorized the script, and that's all that was required of her.

Thus is much of the Asian world, so consumed by the perpetuation of favorable appearances that they sometimes don't even know who they really are underneath the layers of desperately maintained images. (But that's a topic for another post.)

And I guess in a country that is seeking with all social and economic and ethnocentric desperation to elevate its status in the world, English speakers are unconditionally in demand. And so I don't condemn either the cruise craving girl, the inept travel agent, or either employer that would endorse them. I can't assign the blame, but I feel I'm among the many who witness and experience the consequences.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Gray skies in Tianjin

This morning my feelings have been more or less congruent with the rainstorms we've had here the past few days. Ellie picked up on this, asking "Mom, why are you sad?" "Ummmm, because I don't feel happy." (Dumb answer, I know.) "Why don't you feel happy, Mom? You miss Daddy?" "Yeah, Ellie, I miss Daddy. And I miss Grandma and Grandpa, and Aunt Christie and Uncle Joe, and Aunt Mish (and I recited all the family members and friends) and I miss being able to handle stress and being able to keep the house clean and seeing sunshine and being able to buy groceries without Daddy's help and not stressing when we have people over and I miss looking forward to every day and I miss caring about people and things and enjoying playing with you and Didi and I miss --" "Mom, what are you talking about?"

"Good question, Ellie." I'm worried that going back to the US isn't going to make me feel happy and able to handle stress. I'm even worried that a good old anti-depressant won't do the trick. My life is different now than it was before Didi--perhaps I'll never be that old perky me again. I can't thank my family enough, though, for their encouragement and reassuring insights. (Indeed few families understand as much about depression as mine.) Despite the heaviness hanging over my heart, I know deep down inside that there's hope for recovery. I don't always believe in it, but the fact that those who love me do gives me the strength to persevere.

No shame to my game

Today I pursued one of the most daunting cultural experiences any of us westerners could imagine: the Korean bath house (don't worry--this will be a photo-less blog post). Yes, I realize many of you (my sisters, in particular) are gasping in horror or hiding your faces in embarrassment (by association), but there really was no such shame to be had amongst us community bathers.

A Korean lady in our church group has been politely encouraging me to join her at the bath house since basically the week we moved into Tianjin. I've avoided it these many months, fabricating excuses at every invitation... but to be perfectly honest, I didn't 100% loathe the idea of experiencing it. And though I lumbered with somewhat dread toward the locker room this morning, another part of me was actually looking forward to it.

And indeed, once I got Didi calmed down and into a baby bath and Ellie was gleefully splashing around in the warm tub with "Olsen," her favorite grandma figure in Tianjin, I was able to relax and enjoy it, realizing that absolutely not a single soul in the room (and thanks to the season there weren't terribly many) cared about a single other woman's physical imperfections.

It was even a little Garden of Eden-esque; "And they were [all] naked,... and were not ashamed." Any germophobes out there can rest assured that the hygienic standard was admirable. Everyone showers thoroughly before entering any of the baths and the water is changed regularly. I'm quite certain walking through the Tianjin air facilitates more germ transfer than any Korean bathhouse. After an invigorating exfoliation session, sweating in the sauna, and polar bear plunge in the cold tub (to close the cleansed pores), indeed I feel fresher and cleaner than I have in ages.

Kyle will probably be a little embarrassed when he finds out I posted about this, but what I'm realizing is that our standard of appropriateness is not always mandated by indisputable, universal morals, but rather, simply by culture. (Trust me, by and large, the Koreans are a much more modest people than Americans.) And I can guarantee you that American women at the pool, the gym, and virtually anywhere are out to flaunt their bodies more than anyone would dream of at the bathhouse today (and yes, I think even if it was only women at the pool, we'd still feel the need to flaunt). The experience I'm relaying is probably much more appropriate than the amount of flesh any one of you sees during regular public outings.

In fact, the bathhouse experience even felt a little like a celebration of womanhood. Those of us with stretch marks and a little extra here and there didn't need to feel any less respectable than those with "ideal" shapes. I was impressed with the reality that every single one of us was created with the incredible ability to carry and care for children. Whether or not all of us yet have is irrelevant, but the reality that our bodies were created in light of these nurturing abilities is empowering.

So, at the bath house and in the delivery room, I have nothing to be fearful of; nothing to be ashamed of. It's those who are scantily clad in the pursuit of non-celebratory functions of the female body that have cause for shame. It's those who shun or disrespect the incredible female ordinances of pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation that are the ones who will never be pleased or grateful for the way they look.

I'm not saying I'll never again groan when I step on the scale or can't fit into my jeans, but I believe my perspective is broadening. And I surely believe that the world over-- men, women, and children alike-- could use a great deal of the kind of enlightenment I received today.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tag--I'm it!!!

I never understood the blogging concept of "tag." The rules were never explained to me as they seem to have been to blogging residents of the Free World. One day I just found three friends had posted autobiographical trivia in an identical format under the title "I've been tagged!"

I never felt compelled to participate in the tagging game, partially because I missed the introduction and rules, but also because who could honestly care about my Narcissistic ramblings on personal preferences and the like?

And then I realized that this is exactly what blogs are about! They provide a socially acceptable outlet for an individualistic, one-sided conversation that is totally and completely all about me, no apology needed!

Sure, I like to think that my posts are selflessly centered around my kids. Yet that's only because their lives are my life. I enjoy babbling about myself and my ideals just as much as the next person, and the blogging world tells me that's okay.

In the spirit of this discovery, I will now "tag" myself (and don't tell me that's against the rules that you never bothered to explain to me).

8 things I like:
-bright (but not tacky) color schemes, usually involving green
-big yards, gardens, fountains
-"all-out" themed parties
-the way milk crystalizes when poured over ice cream
-natural birthing philosophy
-a picnic at the park
-sleeping in
-friendly debating

8 things I would like to be if I were not momming:
-event planner (eg weddings, reunions)
-middle or high school social science teacher
-interior designer
-children's dance instructor
-public health/nutrition/women's health worker in the developing world, probably Africa

8 interests/hobbies:
-watching BBC's Pride & Prejudice (and Kyle's tastes are so improving that he requests it himself from time to time these days), but NOT the Keira Knightley wanna-be version
-do-it-yourself home decor, especially if I can sew-it-myself
-precious stone jewelry sales for Mothers Without Borders
-"Hairspray" and other musicals
-playing piano, especially my newly-mastered LDS hymns
-international adoption
-novel hunting, with novel reading to come...
-herbal/natural dietary supplements

8 places I would still like to live:
-New Zealand
-Seattle, WA
-western Africa
-Beijing or Shanghai
-South Carolina
-New England

8 foods I could eat forever:
-soft, warm, whole-wheat bread doused in honey butter
-fresh strawberry slices over Breyers vanilla bean
-grilled cheese sandwiches
-bacon and spinach quiche
-lemonade stand pie (way yummier even than it looks, get it on
-barbecued lamb shishkebabs (a specialty of the Muslims in western China)
-Red Robin chicken fingers dipped in honey mustard (by far the best h.m. in existence)
-and yes, a good shredded pork salad at Cafe Rio

8 things I wish I was good at:
-giving people the benefit of the doubt
-getting up early
-remembering/keeping track of birthdays, bills, etc.
-non-begrudgingly cooking two meals a day
-homeschooling my kids

8 things I should be doing instead of blogging:
-preventing those messes Didi's making
-chopping veggies for dinner
-practicing hymns for Sunday
-reminder calls for the youth activity
-reading scriptures
-taking a nap (Didi just fell asleep, and when they're both down, napping is my first impulse!)
-sorting our pre-move piles of junk around the apartment
-replying to emails

Better get on to all that... Thanks to anyone who made it through that somewhat bland summary of my life. Ooo, now I get to tag someone else, right? I think everyone has already done tags like this and moved on to more elaborate and creative topics, but I'll tag my sister Christie, because anything she writes is entertaining.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ellie's epidermal disaster

We're really not quite sure what to think. It seems that most of them itch, and Didi and I are getting bitten by bugs, too, but then a random blister showed up on her thumb today. The bumps are covering her arms and parts of her legs and face. All 42 have surfaced within a matter of days, less than a week after Didi's "grass allergy" hand and foot rashes, which have mostly healed but a new rash has developed on his face. According to all we can read about it online, it doesn't fit the description of hand foot mouth disease at all, but I guess anything's possible. We bought some mosquito treatment for the kids' room tonight and if her flesh is still looking highly devoured come tomorrow, perhaps I'll make another landmark visit to the hospital.

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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Congratulation to Me, the almost-native

Yes, I will toot my horn on this one, partially because nobody else (who speaks English) was there to witness my spectacular achievement and boast on my behalf. I had to do it without waiting or thinking, otherwise I would have recognized I was setting myself up for failure and frustration, and thus never would have accomplished such a feat.

Few environments are scarier to me than Chinese hospitals, and I maneuvered through one and the whole slew of associated processes last Friday SANS translator. Be impressed. Be very impressed. If you're not, you may need to revisit our post on hospital experiences in January to glean the severity of my task, but even then it can truly only be captured by experience, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

What looked like mosquito bites on Didi's back and hands multiplied over a period of a few days, and by Friday morning they were covering his hands and feet and (gasp!) even a few near his mouth, causing me to momentarily fear the worst (aka Foot/mouth/hand disease which have had some deadly outbreaks among kids in China recently). Also, I've allowed myself to get about eight months behind on Didi's immunizations because obviously I try to avoid Chinese hospitals, and words like diptheria and hepatitis somehow haven't worked their way into my humble vocabulary yet. I had it on my "to-do" list weekly for several months, but previous troubles at the imm. office contributed to my deep desire to procrastinate. So, my ayi (household helper) was convinced that Didi had contracted one of those diseases that he should have been vaccinated for already if I hadn't been such a slacker mom. Without having access to my nurse consultant friend in Tianjin anymore, nor her husband who served as my trusty translator (miss you, Em and Chris!), I was forced to tackle the hospital alone. My ayi thankfully consented to watching Ellie at home. That was our first step toward success.

The second was arranging for a friends' driver to escort me to the hospital. As you may conjecture, Tianjin public transportation leaves much to be desired as far as efficiency and cleanliness are concerned. Under normal circumstances, I cease to be fazed, but when I fear my child has contracted a terminal illness, I am a bit too panicked to deal with long waits and bumpy rides. Besides, I didn't know a bus route to the hospital where Didi gets immunized.

My only bilingual friend who doesn't work during days was helping another friend at a different hospital that day, so I was on my own. Oh, the other reason I loved taking the driver was that I got to say his name/title a lot, which is Lee Shir Foo, meaning "Master Lee." I feel like I should be bowing or at least round-kicking every time I address him, but no. He is a master of the Tianjin roads, which is probably at least as challenging and far more life-threatening than martial arts, if you ask me or a stray dog.

Anyway, the immunization office was inexplicably closed (but the nurse behind the desk was bandaged and hooked up to an iv, so maybe needed a day off???), so we went to the Children's Hospital. Thankfully, I remembered which of the countless counters was for checking-in. I used some sign language to explain our problem and was given a ticket with which I walked around aimlessly for a while until I was directed toward a register counter. It's not that hospital employees are unkind, but truly they're not helpful unless you explicitly ask for direction. They just see too many people all day long to take a vested interest in any one of them, and this includes the doctors. Fortunately, I'm not afraid of talking to strangers, even in my broken second-language, so I minimized wandering time by frequently asking employees and bystanders "wo choo nar?" meaning "Where am I going?" Of course I wanted to ask, "Where should I be going?," but they got the point, and usually pointed me in the right direction.

So, up and down corridors and escalators I went, and seven mandatory locations later, I'd registered, paid for the doctor visit (about 60 cents), seen the doctor, paid for medicine, verified my purchase with the doctor, and finally retrieved the medicine. It was a Christmas miracle, six months early. And not only did Didi NOT have foot/hand/mouth disease (but rather, an allergy to grass that is seasonal and hopefully will not persist throughout his life), but he also cooperated with me by not insisting on walking on the filthy floors and decided to be particularly charming and flirtatious with the nurses.

So, that's my latest and greatest accomplishment. You may be thinking, "You've lived there almost a year so your Chinese must be sufficient, especially if you were able to successfully navigate the hospital alone." You may think that, but you'd be wrong. Oh yeah, I did utilize cell phone technology with that bilingual friend to understand the doctor's diagnosis, since I basically understood about 0% of what she was talking about. So yes, basically I understand hardly any Chinese, but I can still express myself in very layman's terms almost all of the time, when we're referring to necessary conversations, nothing deep or philosophical, of course. This is another way in which Kyle and I complement each other, because he understands 50-90% of the Chinese he hears, but struggles to construct sentences verbally.

How my beginner-level verbal Chinese suffices, and indeed in many cases I end up being the translator of choice among foreign friends, is truly a wonder. Perhaps my Chinese ancestors are involved? I haven't learned as much Chinese here as I originally hoped to, but as one who spends most days indoors with little kids or outdoors with English-speakers, I shouldn't be expecting too much. I have, however, developed the communication skill that served me so well on this hospital trip. I will call it the "clever manipulation of 12-word vocabulary plus Olympic-worthy charades" fluency factor. And no, I am no less verbose in Chinese than in English.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Happy Father's Day

It is already Father’s Day in my hemisphere, so I’d like to pay a small pictorial tribute, interspersed with reflections on fatherhood, honoring the fathers and fathers-to-be that we are fortunate to have among our family and friends. We are remarkably blessed to be connected with so many admirable, selfless, talented, and loving men.

"One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters." --English proverb

"Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father!" -- Lydia M. Child

"He didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it." --Clarence Budington Kelland

"The longer we live the more we think and the higher the value we put on friendship and tenderness toward parents and friends." --Samuel Johnson

"It is a wise father who knows his own child." -- William Shakespeare

"My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, "You're tearing up the grass." "We're not raising grass," Dad would reply. "We're raising boys."" --Harmon Killebrew

"Better to be driven out from among men than to be disliked of children." --Richard Henry Dana

"If the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right." -- Bill Cosby

"All the feeling which my father could not put into words was in his hand--any dog, child or horse would recognize the kindness of it." -- Freya Stark

"One night a father overheard his son pray: Dear God, Make me the kind of man my Daddy is. Later that night, the Father prayed, Dear God, Make me the kind of man my son wants me to be." --Unknown

"The family--that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to." -- Dodie Smith

"Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope." --Bill Cosby

"A father carries pictures where his money used to be." --Unknown

"When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry. " -- Jewish proverb
"It is admirable for a man to take his son fishing, but there is a special place in heaven for the father who takes his daughter shopping." -- John Sinor

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years." --Mark Twain

"A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty." --Unknown

"There are three stages of a man's life: He believes in Santa Claus, he doesn't believe in Santa Claus, he is Santa Claus." --Unknown

"You know, fathers just have a way of putting everything together. " -- Erika Cosby

"Father! - to God himself we cannot give a holier name." --William Wordsworth

Of course I want to pay special tribute to my husband for being such a kind and devoted husband and father. He is truly more patient than I can ever dream of being. He is considerate, humble, generous, loyal, disciplined, sensitive, and loves me and the kids the way every wife and children dream of. I love you, Kyle.

And to my own father, who belongs to the highest class of men on the earth. I think one of the best essays I’ve ever written was in the fifth grade for state testing—a creative essay on a topic of our choice. I wrote of everything I loved about my dad, and I received the highest scores of anyone in my school. Somehow I don’t think I can take the credit, though— it wasn’t difficult to rave over you, Dad, and it wasn’t hard to persuade the test graders that you were worth A+s all across the board; I wrote from the heart, and my love and admiration has only increased with time. If only all men could be like you, the world would be very near perfection. It has been through your example that I have learned what true manhood is, including how a husband and father should treat his wife and children. Those are lessons that, I believe, can only be learned through example, and are among the most significant of my life. Thank you for all you are to Mom, me, and the rest of us. I love you, Fa.

Happy Father’s Day to all.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Isn't "leisure reading" an oxymoron?

There are lots of things I feel guilty about: eating the whole batch of cookies (especially if they're gone before Kyle even comes home from work), letting Ellie "babysit" herself and her brother every morning so I can sleep in a little longer, occasionally staying up late scribbling down do-it-yourself home decor ideas from, etc. This entry isn't a confessional, though. It's a plea for help. See, I also really feel guilty about never making time to read. I like to use the alibi that ever since I've been old enough to have good taste in literature, I've made myself too busy to pursue it. This, unfortunately, must be untrue, because in reality I'm no busier than your average adult who still makes time to read for leisure. I was perusing a friend's blog the other day and he wrote a lengthy post about how much more attractive his wife is, how intelligent and informed and conscientious and confident-- yadda yadda you get the point-- she is because she reads. I'm thinking, "but I read... my emails... and other people's blog posts... and Green Eggs & Ham..." No no, this girl doesn't read-- she just inhales mass amounts of written work. She's read over 70 books this year already. How that's possible except through osmosis, I'm not sure. Then again, she's doing her masters degree in library science, so it may not all be elective reading.

In any case, I know many within the audience of this blog find the time to snuggle up with a paperback on a regular basis. How do you manage to do this without ignoring your familial (and other) responsibilities? During the few periods in which I've picked up a novel the past year, I was basically non-functional outside of the realm of that book. Until I'd reached the last page, my husband and kids didn't get any meals or attention, messes didn't get cleaned, I doubt I showered, I definitely didn't sleep much, didn't answer the phone, yeah. So... I have this great desire to read real, good stuff, and not just out of guilt! I really, sincerely do enjoy it, and recognize the value for myself and anyone else within my social sphere. So here comes my inaugural blog post survey:

Note: I don't think you should vote for that last one, though. Every mother knows that once the kids suspect something is more interesting to you at that moment than they are, the previously appealing distraction becomes sharply disinteresting.

Okay, while we're all in cyber audience participation-mode, let me also request recommendations for children's books and authors. I've grown quite weary of kids' Chinglish literature and the few books we brought from home, and the others I borrowed from an art teacher, so they're all Caldecott winners but the writing surprisingly lacks substance and creativity. Since I'm coerced into reading the same book of Ellie's choice several times daily for a stretch of days, I'd just appreciate being able to somewhat enjoy the material myself. Dr. Seuss is wonderful, but if all you read was Dr. Seuss three times a day, you'd be seeking some variety, too.

While you're at it, feel free to throw in a couple recommendations for my brand new "up next on the shelf" book list. I've been away from the library for so long that I've never heard of any of the books you all are reading, so please enlighten me, but only if you responded affirmatively to the first survey question. Otherwise you're just taunting me and perpetuating my poor mind's cycle of guilt and ignorance.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Coming soon...

...A complete post enumerating the adventures of we four plus my sister Christie and her husband Joe during their visit with us last week. Good times were had. Greasy food was had. But surprisingly few pictures were had. I'll favor you with a couple from Didi's birthday party, though. Speaking of which, Kyle still has Didi's first-year-of-life video montage in the works. Feel free to join me in nagging him daily to complete and post that project.

Before the compliments start pouring it, let it be known that Joe was the one to craft this beautiful cake, perfectly beach themed, and sans the Wilton tools I always require. So please direct compliments to Joe.

Ready or not...

... here comes the next wave of baby modeling shots. Oh, there's one of me and Kyle thrown in there, too, for contrast. =)

These are in reverse order. This was Ellie at the very end of the day. You can surely imagine the accompanying dialogue.

This one was taken while I was helping Ellie at the squatter. How they managed to successfully evoke an inebriated expression out of a baby holding a beer bottle, I don't know. That's what makes them trained professionals.

I'd like to Photoshop my arm out of this one so Ellie looks all independent and koala-like.

Yes, your observation is correct: Didi is wearing Ellie's shoe. Chastisement from the general public (the Chinese fliiiip out about babies and their cold feet, and cold heads, and don't get me started on cold bellies...) about my child's poor, cold feet finally made me cave. For heaven's sake, we were INDOORS!

I find kids (and of course beagles, Christie) wearing glasses one of life's more amusing spectacles. Good thing, too, because with our set of genes, our kids will be sporting prescription lens' in the very near coming years.

I'd be nervous with Didi behind the wheel, too, Elle, especially if he takes after his maxophobic Mom.
The kids will never be this refreshing combo of ages in China again, so was it too much to ask for a single photo of them smiling together, adorned in Chinese faux-silk, perfectly content and frame-able? Yes, it was. This was the best of the lot.

This is why I love candids so much. You can't command a toddler to inhale the deep aroma of plastic roses with this degree of determination.

Forget Origins and Oil of Olay-- the best remedy for complexions is black & white photography! I mean, is there a way to carry around a color-muting screen over my face all day? Too bad in Chinese culture black and white photos are strongly associated with funerals. Boy, will I look good in my obituary!

Props to Kyle's sister Tana for the homemade panda hat that has gone over exceptionally well in this country. I hear rumor of a new Kung Fu panda show soon-to-be gracing American screens... perhaps this will boost your headgear revenues, Tana???

I don't mind the pink backdrop-- this one's actually my fave. It reminds me of my baby sis Mish (sorry, even though you're an adult now, you know well that you will ALWAYS be my baaaby sister, at least as long as you're so snuggly and stinkin' adorable) making her newborn debut from the hospital in a Christmas stocking.

I love this shirt you sent, Grandma L, even though in Tianjin it never stays white more than five minutes. So here I must also give a shout out to Mish (haha, that pun was purely accidental) for sending that superbly useful Shout detergent pen.

Do you ever wonder what they're thinking about and who they're gazing at over your shoulder? I believe babies know a lot more than they are able to disclose.

Again, my vain ambitions... this is the closest we could get to "playful, natural sibling love." At least one of them is crying in all the other twosome shots.

This concept would have been captured better in the nude, but still there's such an endearing vulnerability to a baby donning angel wings and smiling through his tears. I'm still working on growing mine, Dad. =)

The photographer made a cute little storybook from the photoshoot, starring Princess Ellie as Sleeping Beauty, of course (unfortunately, this creation was not included in our free package, though we're still attempting to secure it in digital form). It was all nonsensical, misspelled English, of course, but that added to its charm. Despite our attempts to stifle her "I'm a princess who's obsessed with pink and poofy dresses so I can have whatever I want and there's nothing you can do about it" attitude, the girl remains quite convinced of her royal status and claims affinity for all things pink and poofy. ("But Ellie," I encourage her, "Blue is a great color, too! Did you know green is MY favorite color? I think I'm going to wear pants today-- would you like to wear pants, too? They're just as pretty as poofy dresses!")

Just like her mama... coupons are surely worth rejoicing over.

Okay, you'll love this: while browsing the proofs, I immediately recognized that something is abnormal with Ellie's face in this and several other outdoor shots. I'm going to let you all guess, though, and disclose the secret at the end of the post...

"More french fries, please!"

No words escape Ellie's mouth more frequently than the fiercely independent assertion, "No, I'LL help YOU!" And actually, her helping herself does free up a small portion of my responsibilities, so I can't very well complain. Unless we're late and she still won't let me help her dress or eat.

Well, did you guess it?

Does Ellie look suprisingly well-rested and China doll-esque to any of you? They completely Photoshopped out (haha, that is an official verb by now, right?) her undereye circles. I always thought it a shame that Ellie should inherit all of Kyle's good features and yet be burdened with my nose and undereye baggage, particularly with such a fair complexion. Still, though this face could grace Parenting magazine covers, I remain partial to my shadier-eyed girl.

It's not that I'm offended that they would presume to alter the complexion of my two-year-old, but well, I guess I don't exactly know why I dislike her shadow-less eyes. Because the other her is the real one? Because she's too young to be addicted to concealer like her mom? Because every mother believes her children to be perfectly good-looking? Don't know, don't care. I'm happy the pictures are cute, and happier that the models are mine for keeps.