Friday, November 30, 2007
1. That they have expressed much concern for Ann's mother (thank you all).
2. That they have no confidence in my abilities to parent alone (thanks again!).
In fact, Ann mentioned her trip at Helen's bus stop and the general consensus was that I couldn't do it. Given that they don't know me at all, it seems a serious 'no vote' on Chinese fathers (and they only have one kid).
As you can see, I know how to feed kids out of a prepackaged bottle like any other modern parent.
Yes, I cleaned her up afterwards! (eventually). By the way, Sophia is now clearly fixated on figuring out who is a man, and who is a woman, and who is boy and who is girl. Every once in a while she asks if Daddy is a girl. [No comments from any of my worthless brothers.]
Below, Helen would like to offer you a shrimp. Yes, it's still alive. People in Xiamen don't seem to believe in eating fish unless they see it swimming ten minutes before it's on their plate.
Helen had an open house at school today. It was very lovely, and Sophia inserted herself into the middle of all the kids as if she was in the class. I'll post on it in a few days (after Ann emails me instructions for getting pictures out of the camera).
I'll leave you with two Helen quotations. The first was when Helen, Sophia and I were walking down the street and four people turned to us, pointed, and began laughing. This is a common occurrence for us. As I was thinking of a variety of non-Christian responses, Helen said "they're pointing at us because my jacket is so unusual". Ah, ignorance is bliss.
The second was a classic 6 year old quotation: "I know everything. And when I get older, I'll know even more!" Amen, and another that all goes well back in Michigan.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
It was a bit of culture shock to land in Chicago..even from the airplane, the US looks so different -- all those cars! And I am stunned by how fat Americans are, as a group. Now I am no skinny thing myself, but walking down the street in China I have grown accustomed to the smallness of the Chinese, and it is really a visual jolt. The diversity of people in the airport is a jolt, too, though a more pleasurable one. Plus the prices were a shock -- I bought a New Yorker magazine (oh great joy!!!), a water bottle and a bag of M&Ms at O'Hare, which came to $8, what I would spend on 2 days worth of groceries in Xiamen.
Its really good but weird to see my parents, especially without the kids here. I don't think I have visited them without bringing a grandchild since there were any! I know I have been putting off confronting my own fears about my mom's surgery, but now that I am here that is no longer possible. So today we will gather here to spend time together, and my sister has me cooking the turkey they didn't eat on Thanksgiving because my mom was in the hospital then. I would not let anyone as punchy as I am cook anything important, but they have agreed to take the risk. I brought some little souvenirs for everyone, so it will be festive, although none of us can help some sighing here and there, and of course my mom is scared that she will die. As I said to her...who wouldn't be? Even with the odds in her favor, as they are..this is a really big deal. My arrival is a distraction for her, I hope. I am glad to be here -- it was the right choice.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I had a lovely time chatting with Thomas's teachers (the usual reports) and Sophia had an even better time drinking juice and raiding the food tables for potato chips and cookies. Sorry about the lack of pictures, we'll try to improve that in the coming days.
Monday, November 26, 2007
A must see for visitors is the quaint little island of Gulanyu, five minutes away by ferry. We go quite frequently for church, but still haven't really managed to see the whole thing. We ended up back at the stone statue of Zheng Cheng Gong, or the Taiwanese statue of liberty as I jokingly called him (since he drove the Dutch out of Taiwan as well as Xiamen during the Ming dynasty). Any day on Gulanyu is pretty relaxing, even with a bunch of kids. Below, sitting on Zheng cheng Gong (also called Koxinga)'s feet:
Thomas is frequently concerned with looking "cool" in pictures but he liked this one. Go figure...
Kate and her mom looking lovely...
Helen and Noam looking like they may be in danger....there are a lot of things in China which would not pass the strict safety guidelines of the US, including this site and the boardwalk along the sea we took to get there, part of which was nearly covered by the tide coming in.
And finally, the gang of kids and some warrior horses..the kids have become really close, this is the third time we have been together for a number of days and the older ones keep in touch by email.
After our day we had a last dinner at the restaurant next to our building, which we are often frustrated in going to because the menu is only available in Chinese. since Yoni is pretty fluent in Chinese we were able to order a nice meal with some very fresh fish which pleased everyone before our sad parting...we will see these guys in Beijing in February for the mid-year Fulbright meeting. They have been our extended family here in Xiamen and will be missed terribly...
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Here is my neighbor Deborah on top of the mountain behind our building...read more about the exciting tour of Xiamen we are giving this weekend below....
We are in the midst of a really fun weekend, long anticipated. Regular readers will remember the Fulbright family we visited in Xi'an and traveled with to western Sichuan back in October. We had also spent a lot of time with them in Beijing. This weekend they travelled to Xiamen to see us, and Yoni gave some presentations to students in political science on environmental policy. We all just love having them around and are enjoying showing off beautiful Xiamen. I would like to add that we give this same level of service to anyone else who cares to visit (hint, hint) Above is our morning breakfast party, as they are also in the guesthouse. Coincidentally, another Fulbright scholar in English was also here this week and overlapped with their visit, so we are feeling quite popular, and it was a regular Fulbright reunion. Below are the kids posing with the Xia Da founder's statue near the lake.
And of course the main attraction for the kids..the beach. I do want to emphasize that every place we visited over the last 2 days that is pictured here in the blog we got to on foot. The kids brought a lot of little action figures down to the beach to people their sand fortifications. The students on the beach were mesmerized by this activity.
Ooops -- one photo out of order here...these are the giant lily pads at the Nanputuo Temple next door. which we visited today.
Back to last night...after dinner at the vegetarian Buddhist restaurant, we all got the candied fruit on a stick that my kids have grown very fond of -- Tal and Noam had never had it..by the way -- Thomas loves this stuff, just caught him looking weird! If you look at drawings or artwork depicting Chinese children, especially in a street scene, you invariably see them eating these sticks of candied apples (also strawberries, kiwi and other fruits available)....and with good reason -- they are really yummy.
OK, so today we went to the temple, with the primary goal of a quick visit and then the hike over the mountain behind our house, via the temple stairs up the mountain, much more direct than the meandering way we took with the students. Wondering about the fruit hanging off this palm...too small to be a coconut! I didn't take many photos at the temple which was insanely crowded today, because the clouds of incense rendered visibility quite poor, plus we were busy keeping track of everyone. Once we began the climb up the mountain the crowds really thinned out, the day cleared, and we had a great view of the campus from the top.as shown with Deborah at the top of this post. Eventually we reached the very top of the mountain and followed the trail over and down into the 10,000 Rock Botanical Gardens. We have been there several times but never seen the whole garden. Today we saw a section we had never seen before.
While there, a man was selling flowers made from palm branches...think what a business he could make on Palm Sunday in the US! The speed with which he made this rose was really quite breathtaking.
We spent most of our time in the cactus garden..to think I never knew this place existed just on the other side of the mountain I see out my window.
After fending off the tourists and a hearty amount of walking, we made it down the mountain..we did opt to take the bus back, and ended up at one of my favorite restaurants for lunch, which serves Shaanxi style food, with a Muslim influence. I love their dumplings, which they coat with melted dough somehow which melts almost like cheese -- can't really be explained, only eaten. This patio restaurant is far back off the main road up an alley, seemingly where all the really good stuff is in China. In the late afternoon we hang out again at the beach, and saw a beautiful sunset, enhanced, I'm afraid, by the clouds pollution over the mainland, most of which we are spared here. I had left my camera, so if I get a photo from Linda I will copy it. Tomorrow..Gulanyu .
Friday, November 23, 2007
I had to take a picture of the dessert side of the buffet..really quite impressive to an ordinary commoner like myself. We shared out meal with Deborah and Kate, who actually ate Italian food..so it was an eclectic Thanksgiving. It was a regular work and school day for everyone. In the morning I went to Helen's class for English, and in my halting Chinese tried to explain that we say thank you on Thanksgiving and eat a big meal with turkey. I taught them the poem "thank you for the food we eat...thank you for the world so sweet...thank you for the birds that sing...thank you for everything" with some motions and printed thanksgiving signs to color. It was a beautiful day here and I was maybe more in touch than I sometimes am in the US amidst all the cooking, of how very humbled and grateful I am by the blessings of my life: mostly obviously the children and Michael of course, but also the dream of living in another country, the chance to travel, study a new language, and the many kindnesses that people show us every day. Not to mention the natural beauty of Xiamen, which really gets in your head and makes you happy to get up each morning.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Anyone who has been reading this blog fairly regularly will recognize that I love it here in China. The people, the food, the language, the novelty of each cultural revelation...I spend most of my time on these topics. In the interest of balance I also want to comment on some insights and thoughts which have been coming up lately as we move a little more deeply into relationships with people here. It is hard to understand the peculiar form of "oppression" of freedom here. Much of it appears to be self-imposed..as one friend was saying about her apolitical stance..."we don't want to create disorder, so we leave it up to the government and hope they do a good job..." In daily life, the people seem to have a lot of freedoms, some, like the freedom to choose one's own work and place to live, are quite new (only about the past 10 years or so)-- and not always popular, as some people miss the days of guaranteed employment and housing in an economy where there is a lot of rapid change and demand outstrips supply.
For Christians, we are beginning to get a sense of how much more problematic the situation can be. For example...worship services are only supposed to be held in officially approved churches, led by clergy approved by the government. These churches may not evangelize or advertise in any way. There are some foreigners on campus who have a nondenominational worship service...but you have to show a foreign passport to get in. Some churches will sponsor "English corners" as a way to open up communication with the community at large, but these have to be non-religious conversations, or they will lose their permission to operate.
Which brings me to our church...we attend an officially sanctioned Catholic Church, and I have been learning a little more about its history. We have been so delighted with finding an English liturgy, and are getting to know more of the established members, as it is fairly small. The parish re-opened in the early 1990s. One of the members told me that our priest spent many years in prison during past times of persecution, and apparently taught himself English while there. When you get to know someone personally and find out something like that...and then the readings are about facing trials and persecutions with strength of faith -- it really gets your attention. People at our church believe that some who attend the Masses are observers who are sent to "spy" on what is being said.
The officially sanctioned Catholic Church, called the "patriotic church", is not permitted to acknowledge papal authority, and has to cooperate with the government in the naming of bishops, etc. There are also "underground" priests and congregations, who oppose the cooperation of other Catholics with the government, and continue to operate at great risk.
We have also heard that Christians who acknowledge the fact openly may face discrimination in the workplace..not advance in their careers, etc. All this has made very tangible and real so much of what we take for granted as Americans-- some days, like today I find myself quite preoccupied by it all.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Today's file photos -- actually taken last Friday, are of my friend Deborah's haircut. It takes a pretty gutsy person to have their hair cut in a foreign language. I have a hard enough time communicating about my hair in English. In particular, you are a risk taker if you take me along as your translator--whose vocabulary is limited to "li fa" (haircut), "yi dian dian" (a little bit) and the all purpose "Bu yao!" (don't want!). However, as you can see form the before (above) and after (below) shots -- she made out just fine!...she reported that the really interesting experience was the shampoo...apparently you lie flat with your head back and lots of massage thrown in.
By the way -- to respond to the comment about the children at Helen's school wearing western style clothes...traditional Chinese clothes are generally only worn for holidays and festivals. On very little babies you might see a jacket or hat in a traditional style, and some older women tend to gravitate towards coats with Mandarin collars and "frog" closures, but in general, the clothes are a universal (maybe slightly dated modern style (and to our delight -- often containing Chinglish) Hardly any "Mao jackets" around here either..though in the country-side there were more. The children are generally bundled up a bit in the mornings, even though it is still getting up above 75 degrees every day. I am making Helen wear tights or knee socks when she wears skirts to school, to head off any concern that I am exposing her to the cold -- my experience is that this is quite alarming to the early childhood educators of China, not to mention the grandmas at the bus stop.
Of course, no post of children's clothing in China would be complete without a description of the unique phenomena of "split pants" for toddlers. First of all, despite the wide availability of diapers here, many little children do not wear them. Instead they wear pants with the crotch missing, so that when they need to go, they need only to squat or be helped to a squatting position, usually in the gutter or drain of the street or some out of the way place and do their business. While the caregiver must usually be alert to the possibility at all times to avoid accidents, I have seen children pee in stores, etc. I regret that I have no photo to aid my description, but haven't figured out how to get one with out looking like a weirdo. I was led to believe that split pants were becoming uncommon when I was in China adopting Helen and first became aware of them, but I would have to disagree, having now seen my share of little bottoms. We are living on a college campus, and I don't think that affording diapers is the issue in many cases. Many children are cared for by grandparents who I guess are simply more comfortable doing things the way they are used to, like grandparents the world over. Maybe split pants will come in handy for potty training Sophia?!?
By the way, for my sake they ordered a "local delicacy", which turned out to be seaworms stuck together in some kind of gelatinous mass. You pick it up with a toothpick and pop it in. The worms were grayish and the gelatin a kind of green-gray translucence. Luckily it came with a saucer of soy sauce with a plop of wasabi in it. I soaked mine for quite a while and then popped them in. Must admit it wasn't too bad, but I focused on the conservation in order to avoid any visuals that may arise while chewing.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
There's our Huan Huan in the back row..this picture of Helen's class was taken on her field trip to the science museum at the beginning of the school year. Another parent told me there were pictures of Helen (and me teaching English) on the school's website. I actually ended up using Worldlingo (fun site -- translates any language...its a rough job but very enlightening) and reading most of the web site. If you want o find the photos, try pasting this link
Then click on the second sentence, which starts with 大 三 (da san -- third "big" class -- refers to the age of the kids). It will take you to the class's website with photos and a description (in Chinese of course, but I translated it and it was very positive) of recent events, including the field trip and my English lessons. I was interested to finally see more about the curriculum, as well as the motto of early childhood education in China: "all for children, for children's all, for all children".
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I have been in a blog slump, caused in part by spending more time on my Chinese which is a good thing. Today, though, I made time to go to the monthly lunch meeting of the Association of Xiamen Expatriates. Its an interesting group, but mostly the wives of men who have been transferred here for one reason or another. some of them are not that happy to be in China and confine themselves to the expat world uptown. But they are very nice, and this month had invited the author of Amoy Magic (Amoy is Xiamenin the local dialect-- see the link above to the web site. This is the lone guide to living in Xiamen that is available in English. Bill Brown and his wife, who I had met previously on campus, have lived here for 19 years, raised two children here and were the first foreigners to get residency in Xiamen. They are Americans, he is a professor in the business school. His wife was very friendly to me and had lots of good advice. The book is very funny and liberally sprinkled with puns and humor. He tells some very interesting stories about the history of Xiamen. For example, he says..."did you know that there without Xiamen there would be no USA? The Boston Tea Party which sparked the American revolution involved the dumping of Fuijian oolong tea off a ship that had just arrived from Xiamen ..." And when Columbus discovered America he was really looking for Quanzhou, which is also in our province, about 2 hours north of us along the coast. In ancient times it was the largest port city in the world...who knew? Fun stuff for a history buff.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
And some smaller, more modern pieces as well. Did you see the Mao Zedong piece above?
One of my motives for going was to spend some time with a new friend, Julia, and her 2 daughters who have just moved to Xiamen. She and I met online over the summer and she has previously lived in China, and both of her daughters are adopted from China, like Helen. We enjoyed shopping along with my neighbor Deborah and her daughter, although our motley group got the least shopping done, I think. I manages to buy a couple of tea sets at a heavy discount. This photo is of a cute baby and a really interesting old-fashioned stroller.
When we went downtown we, we stopped for some waffle-like snacks on the street, apparently a Guangdong thing, because Julia was familiar with them.
For, lunch rice and meat cooked in a bamboo log...which we spotted at some adjacent tables, since we couldn't read the menu we got lucky!
Finally, a harrowing and thrilling ride in a motorcycle pedicab back to the bus, since we were running late and no taxis to be found. The amazing thing about this city was there were almost all motorcycles on the street, none of whom paid the least attention to lights, lanes or rules of any kind, yet as long as you made no sudden moves, it seemed to work OK. Glad that motorcycles are banned from Xiamen island, though.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Thomas, Sophia and I stayed in for a simple meal of eggs, noodles and broccoli. Then Thomas watched Pirates of the Caribbean 3 while Sophia and I read books. Sophia returned to the TV at the climax of the movie to exasperate Thomas. There was a lot of rain and Sophia kept asking "man need rain coat?". She just couldn't figure out why the pirates wouldn't put on rain coats. After all, she has a yellow plastic rain coat (left by the Fulbright girls last year) that is so nifty she wears it on sunny days. Then, when a lot of water seemed to come into a ship, Sophia very reasonably asked if they needed a "water bucket?". She proceeded to say "water bucket?" about 150 times - until Thomas almost pulled his hair out.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
As those of you who read the first post are well aware, Chinglish is that uniquely Chinese style of composing English. We met an Australian at a Xiada party who teaches communication and cognitive theory. He claims that Chinglish actually follows specific rules that makes it comprehensible to the Chinese. He was given a long Chinglish-laden report to read on local television. He rewrote it so that it sounded like natural English. He was then informed that he was not to read that but to go back to the original since the Chinglish-ey version would be more easily understood.
So, here's to Chinglish - long may it reign!
The advertisement below comes from an in-flight magazine on China Air.
Ann and I rented flats for the first 10 years of our marriage before we bought a house. We had a lot of good landlords, but we had a couple landlards as well. But it must be really tough to be a foreigner and have a landlard.
Ann nearly dropped the coffee cup below when she first saw it in the store. Now she drinks from her blissfully Chinglish style coffee mug every morning. Whenever we have to go on a trip, Ann begins shouting "Animal Family General Mobilization!" while packing up our things.
I also want to let my sister-in-law Laura know that we have found a pig family general mobilization coffee mug. We have purchased it and it is awaiting her arrival in Xiamen to collect it. Maybe we will post a picture of it next month to further tantalize her.
The picture below does not count exactly as Chinglish, but I thought it worth posting. It lays out the PROCEDURE to follow at the Xiamen airport.
We understand the need to check-in first, but we think that buying aviation insurance even before security shows a lack of confidence in the whole system.
Below is my favorite pen that I mentioned last month. The picture might be hard to read but it says:
If you have what problem.
I answer this hard nut to crack for you.
The thought which uses me answers your question.
If anybody wants me to buy one, just send a message and I will bring some back for you. They are readily available at the local snack shop on campus.
Speaking of Chinglish on campus, we have spotted several t-shirts that are worth reporting. We cannot verify these with pictures as they are spur of the moment experiences (and a bit rude to photograph someone's chest).
I spotted a student with a shirt that read:
Two many chef poil the brot.
That's not a misprint. Ann has seen a 70-ish year old women (3 times) with a t-shirt reading:
Harsh Love Vibrate
We are pretty sure that she doesn't know what it means (and we are not sure ourselves, really).
This is Thomas's water bottle for school. Classic Chinglish sentence: Make living a more fascinating than a day.
And finally, remember to warn the children: