Monday, December 31, 2007

Xinnian Kuai le (Happy New Year!)

Not sure if my photos came through -- blogger is sluggish this evening ...but we have a head start on 2008 (and we started even earlier because the kids were sleepy) here's to a happy 2008 for all!!! 8 is a lucky number for the Chinese -- especially in financial affairs -- small wonder that the Olympics are starting on 08-08-08 at 8:08 pm. A few of you may remember that I had a car accident on 08-08-88 (can it really be 20 years ago!) at 8:08 -- so I am hoping to change my luck this time!

We a had a quiet celebration at home since Thomas has a cold-- baked some cookies in my new oven, oh joy, and had a toast and some small fireworks/confetti with the kids....the fireworks are a good story. I bought these 2 tubes because I thought they were wrapping paper. Then I realized they were decorated tubes and concluded that they were some kind of Christmas cracker. We decided to do them tonight. Of course I was holding the first one upside down and shot my self in the leg with a mighty force. Remember those little poppers you can buy for Chinese New Year? These were the super size of those, and by the time we did the second one -- more safely over our heads, the apartment was completely full of's to something else we would never find in the US, land of excessive safety and litigation!

Friday, December 28, 2007

A playdate, a party and the wonder of Skype

Helen's friend Rouen came over this afternoon, and they did their best to make the largest craft mess that the apartment has ever seen-- but also had a great time doing it. Of course Sophia had a great time "helping". Then they watched Mulan in Chinese (for Rouen) with English subtitles (for Helen).Amazing how this bilingual friendship seems to work.

Tonight we went to the restaurant next door to our building for the holiday party given by the University for the foreign professors and instructors. It came at a good time, because we are still missing Deborah and Kate and also said goodbye to another friend today, and so are really feeling the need to make some new connections. There are teachers here from all over the world. In the guesthouse there are Thai, Japanese, German and Taiwanese...and tonight we saw other Americans, Europeans, Australians, Africans....a very diverse group and some familiar faces. After dinner, some of the international office staff got up to do some amateur entertainment..some was quite surprising, including some off key singing and a fair performance on of all things, an accordion.

The girls livened up the party with some dancing..

The famous "Amoy Bill", longest standing foreigner in Xiamen and author of "Amoy Magic", got up to share some humor and a song in Chinese...

And the finale was a great pop/rap song performed quite well by 2 of the African students...they drafted Helen to dance with them at one point.

On top of all this, Thomas is invited on two playdates tomorrow, so I guess we are having a social weekend.

We came home to find that Grandpa was calling us over Skype using his new webcam. Sophia gets quite excited to see him and tries to reach out and grab the little grandpa inside the computer..."That is Grampa...he's a man" was her comment afterwards.

If you don't know about Skype, you calling anywhere in the world over the internet...and with a few cheap webcams, we have video

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Third Intermittant Chinglish Post

We seem to be in a post-Holiday energy funk. We parents, that is. As is usually the case when the kids are filled with energy, the parents are drained. As my sister-in-law Carol said "it's because they suck the energy right out of you!".

Ann has been too tired to post, and since my brother was looking for more Chinglish, I decided to post a short one. Too tired to scour all our files, I will find the rest of them within a week or so and post again on Chinglish.

Below, you see a true to its essence Chinglish sign. This is like the Platonic form of Chinglish signs (to you philosophers out there). We saw it at an upscale restaurant with our Chinese tutor Vicki and our neighbors Deborah and Kate.

In fact, Ann couldn't figure it out for the longest time until we explained it. It means (I think): don't bring any alcohol beyond this point.

Below was a sign at the newly opened tourist site Guang Zai Shan, a mountain area we hiked with our Xiamen U. colleagues. The carver seemed to have high aspirations and an equally high level of concern for hikers.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out.

The sign below doesn't count as Chinglish at all, but I liked it a lot.

We didn't go to the toilet or the tourist service center, but we did stay under the Banyan tree and enjoy the cool shade.

I want to warn you that the menu below has one of the more disturbing items of information we have come across on any continent. No, we are not discussing the "Condon Blue Pork Chop". [And isn't that just one letter away from a complete loss of appetite?]

Nope, just above it they are offering "Donald Duck" for a mere 38 RMB. I've missed Donald. I've not seen him in Disney features for quite a while, and now we know why. He's been served on a platter in Longyuan, Fujian, China.

The sign below is befuddling for two reasons. First the spelling is so atrocious that you cannot grasp what it means at all. Apparently, based on the little picture, it says "No Crossing".

But not only is "No Oyossihg" difficult to grasp, the notion that anyone would jump off this roof is truly absurd. We were 4 floors up in an old Hakka roundhouse [see the December list of posts]. You can look at the pictures and recognize the danger. Certainly if anyone were stupid and daring enough to jump, they wouldn't be held back by a "No Oyissihg" sign.

Last night we had dinner with some Chinese faculty in the English department. The subject of Chinglish came up, and, true to English teacher form all over the world, they began yelling and screaming about all the atrocious grammar and spelling. It is good to know that wherever there are English teachers, there is a concern for good spelling and grammar!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas everyone!!!

We have been quite merry here today on a beautiful sunny Christmas Day..we actually got up before the kids this year, since we had them out so late last night. Above is the outpouring of gifts from all wonderful and exciting for the kids -- who I think had not been sure what to expect..
Sophia was covered in chocolate within about 4 minutes of waking up...

Sophia and her gingerbread puzzle.

Helen with the art set of her dreams. Santa brought her an electronic piano, which after one day is clearly going to be a burden for the ears of the family, as is Sophia's xylophone. At least Thomas's new crop of video games and books keeps him out of my hair for a while!

I found Michael the perfect Chinglish-esque shirt here - it has the name of our alma mater on it --University of Detroit. Wrong colors, and the patches are from Dickinson and Iona College in New Rochelle New York. Had to have it -- just too strange to pass up. Of course he got some other stuff, too :)

Thomas is delighted with the size and shape of this box which her guessed might contain the long awaited Heroscape game.

I was delighted with a tea set for "everyday use" here -- as well as my Tibetan bracelet.

We hosted the Christmas Day dinner for a few friends -- our neighbors who are leaving tomorrow for America :( as well as our friends Roger, who is teaching English in the business school at Xiada this year. It was a decent meal, I think, especially the eggplant Parmesan that Michael made in the new toaster oven.

Roger in his role as honorary grandparent...

The hardest moment today was hanging up the call with my parents this was Christmas Eve for them and Grandpa read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to all the grandkids over the Skype (web based calling with video) and it reminded us how much we really do miss everyone -- just too busy to notice usually. But after a walk on the beach our dinner preparations began, the kids were busy with their toys, and we made our own circle of friendship and love here in China in honor of the day. Tomorrow Kate and Deborah are leaving in the morning, and Deborah and I can hardly look at each other without tearing up, so I think it will be a hard parting.

A moonlit Christmas Eve

It has been a full day, a day of remembering friends and family far away, but especially a day of warmth and companionship. I have always been a person quite committed to the Christmas traditions -- what we eat, where we go, what decorations -- I like to follow the family tradition each year. In fact I have never not woken up in my parents home on Christmas morning.

Of course we have to approach this holiday thing a bit differently. But I have been inspired by gladness all day today. First, it was the lobby of the guest house, decked out by the staff with 2 Christmas trees and lights on the play house. Then it was the way every Chinese person I met today wished me Shang Dan Kuai Le (Merry Christmas). And it was our neighbor from Germany inviting the children to tea and reading a Hans Christian Anderson story, giving each a small present. We have made a new way of celebrating for ourselves this year.

This morning we went on a shopping trip in a quest for Christmas finery.

Then we took the ferry to Gulanyu -- the island was so beautiful lit up tonight. But my camera just couldn't capture it. Our friend Tian came along, as well as our neighbors. Here is Kate's new haircut:

After dinner we waled around in the shops for a while. The full moon was out and it was a perfectly clear and lovely evening, pleasant and warm enough to shed our coats for a while.

Deborah takes a break from her last minute shopping....

Finally we made it to our church for the service. Christmas Eve is the big Mass here -- because most people don't have the 25th off of work. There was a really packed Chinese service followed by the English Mass. Both were held outside under the stars in the courtyard, to accommodate the crowds.

There was a moment during the liturgy..when I realized that the stripping away of holiday "Traditions" has had a deep impact on me this year. It was a moment of purity, of being overwhelmed by the beauty and simplicity of the idea of Christ born in Bethlehem , and reborn in our hearts. The choir was singing Silent Night, and as I walked up to communion through the crowd Chinese, Filipino, Europeans, Africans...I was so moved by the scene and my own realization that Christmas had indeed come again -- without baking cookies, beautiful snow, mistletoe, a month of carols on the radio, all my precious ornaments, without even our extended family....Christmas was very much here in this place, even though we had had to look a little harder to find it.

Finally we were back home, and ready to hang stockings and head off to bed..the children are confident that Santa will find us here, and our holiday will be a merry one indeed -- we wish the very same to all of you.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The goodbyes begin -- our last noodle lunch

Deborah ( our neighbor and fellow Fulbrighter) and I have a favorite restaurant. It is tucked away in a neighborhood near campus, but you have to go up a dark alley to reach it. Suddenly you are welcomed by the sight of a lovely garden patio restaurant, which has fruit smoothies and Shaanxi province specialties in addition to great noodle soups. It's tiny, the food is great and you can eat outside, but away from the bustle of the street. Deborah and I (and of course Sophia, our lunchtime companion) have eaten there many times, and Thursday we went for the last time...

Deborah and her daughter opted for the one semester Fulbright and are leaving the day after Christmas to our great regret, and theirs, I think. Having another family to share the adventures with and make those early weeks less isolated and overwhelming has meant so much to all of us. They are leaving the day after Christmas, and Deborah and I keep getting to the point in our conversations of getting a little teary, and then quickly putting the thought off for another day....but they have begun to pack and have their goodbyes with students, friends, etc., so I will soon have to face the prospect of some lonelier lunches, and we will all find ourselves missing the people who have become like family since we have been here.
Who else will appreciate the fun of Sophia in restaurants and her emerging chopstick skills?

Tomorrow Deborah is hosting a big party for all her students and some other friends, and today we made fudge with the ingredients I brought back from Michigan.

Deborah also talked me into buying a toaster oven, which I should have done our first week here. My biggest hesitation was space, but it so good to eat toast again! We even made brownies today! It will be handy to have around for Christmas dinner too, which I am hosting.
We all had lunch with our Chinese tutor, Vicky, at a terrific restaurant in honor of Deborah and Kate.

Kate's best friend and Thomas's best friend at XIS happen to be brother and sister, so today they came for a playdate in the afternoon, which Thomas would not let me photograph. So today was a full day, and this evening was the Christmas party for my English students, and Thomas and Helen came to help. I will post those photos tomorrow.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Raising the flag at the Xiada Kindergarten

OK -- I did not get the memo about Helen wearing red to the flag raising ceremony. But nothing could dampen my pride as I watched Helen and 4 other children lead the Kindergarten flag ceremony earlier this week. Each class takes a turn for this monthly event. They memorized a speech welcoming the teachers and xiao pengyoumen (little friends). Then they each took a turn introducing themselves to the assembly, before leading the Chinese national anthem. As I watched our Huan Huan boldly and clearly introduce herself in Chinese, I naturally got a little choked was a moment of clarity for me about what my little daughter has accomplished already on our trip. She belongs here. She feels at home in China, the land of her birth. Maybe you have to be an adoptive parent to understand the meaning of this for me...when you adopt a child, of course you are welcoming them into your life and it is a generous act, although most of us adopt primarily out of our drive to have children vs. pure altruism. Adoption is a joyful event, but one which takes place in the shadow of loss -- this child has lost their birth family, and in Helen's case, being adopted by also also meant she lost her native language and citizenship, her culture. In exchange there is abundant love, and a new family, new culture, new opportunities, but........a small voice in the background wondering "what if?"
All this to say that my hope for Helen this year was not to change all of that, or pretend that 1 year in China alters the fact that she is very much an American girl in every way, but to give her a chance to "try on" China -- to have a primary experience of growing up for a time in the manner she might have if she had not lost and gained so much at such a young age. And of course, to give her the chance of speaking her native language, something she has felt strongly about since she was a toddler and first heard her own story. She has a long way to go on the language side, but her pride in being able to lead her peers in Chinese seemed to be a crucial development for her -- a moment to remember and treasure forever. Choosing her from among her classmates for this role -- her teachers have given her a great gift.

By the way -- there is videotape of this event. Some day when I am bored I will experiment with uploading it to this site or Youtube or something!