Friday, November 30, 2007

The Usual from Xiamen

If there are two things we have learned from our dedicated blog readers, it is:

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

Arrived in Michigan

Just a quick post that I have arrived back in the US to be with my parents for my Mom's surgery. Even without a 2 year old, that is a really long flight...especially when you are basically dreading it vs. being excited. I had lots of trouble sleeping. What with having to get to Shanghai early enough to switch from the Hongqiao (domestic) airport to the Pudong (international) airport, I think I was up most of 24 hours, got here on time to freeeeezing cold Michigan and slept about 6 1/2 hours but I was craving caffeine, so now I am up at 5:30 am trying to keep quiet. I did read an interesting book on the plane which I bought, surprisingly enough , at the airport in Shanghai. Not sure how it got in to China, but it was published a while ago, some of you may have read it, its called "The Good Women of China" by Xinran, who formerly hosted a radio call in show in China but now lives abroad. I have been distracted recently by thoughts about how each of the middle aged and older people I know must have experienced the troubles of China over the last 40 years..just knowing that they each must have a story, but not yet knowing anyone well enough to ask..maybe I never will find out, but the book speaks to the stories of suffering of women in particular. I recommend it.

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

Ann in Flight

Ann should be, as this is posted, in flight between Shanghai and Chicago. She is travelling back for her mother's surgery. After saying goodbye to her for the week, Sophia and I took a taxi out to Thomas's school (about 35 minutes by taxi: no child-seats, no seat belts) for parent-teacher conferences. Thomas got a day off school and celebrated by staying home and watching "Lord of the Rings" which he is not allowed to watch when his sisters are around.

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

On Gulanyu with friends

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...

I leave on Wednesday to see my folks in the US, so not sure if I will have the time to blog, but will try to keep everyone updated..thanks for all the kind messages about my mom.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Giving the Xiamen tour

Here is my neighbor Deborah on top of the mountain behind our 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 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 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 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

Happy Thanksgiving

Two of the the things I am thankful for : my little cuties>>>

Without a real plan for Thanksgiving and with no oven to make turkey, we decided to take refuge in the hotel buffet dinner at the Crowne Plaza which promised to include turkey. If you take a close look at my plate, you can see turkey and cranberry sauce and a roll with butter along side a hearty serving of sushi -- the perfect accompaniment to turkey, if you are me and just love sushi. We all ended up having a wide variety of foods, and the buffet was fun, especially for Thomas, who had a meat fest, and topped it off with fruit and a half loaf of french bread.

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 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.
I am leaving on Wednesday to go to Michigan to be with my mom for her brain surgery she is having a mass (tumor) removed and biopsied), which is Friday the 30th. I know this is just beginning of a long road for my folks in dealing with the uncertainty of her health in the short and long term, and its hard to know just how to feel. I can only go for a week or so, and even that will be tricky for Michael. I feel guilty about the wonderful year I am having while my mother is facing such a terrible situation. I think being there will help and I can take some of the burden off my sister for a few days. In the mean time, our friends are visiting from Xi'an, and it is a joyful reunion for all..enjoying showing off Xiamen to them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On the routine of ordinary days

If you want to know what these are..keep reading
I am beginning to feel that my life and thoughts might not be interesting enough to blog about any more!?!? It may also be that I am not seeing the novelty anymore. So I humbly submit today's ordinary schedule for your perusal:

6:00 am -- Wake up, rouse Thomas, check email, make coffee

(Have I mentioned that we have a coffee pot? It hurts me to realize that what the Chinese think of as coffee is Nescafe instant. No wonder they prefer tea. If only I could buy ground coffee someplace other than Metro...but no dice so far, unless Starbucks makes it to Xiamen while we are here. Of course my monthly journey to Metro makes for some fun...I found tortilla chips, refried beans and salsa..on Saturday we had nachos, seasoning the meat with a spice packet --fortunately it WAS cumin -- I bought in the Muslim market in Xi'an)

7:00 am Tai chi chuan practice --- I ride the bike there -- the last 2 mornings were almost cold in my sweater. Now my lessons on the 24 basic positions are over, and I've returned to my retirees group on the basketball courts. I must say, I am enjoying having a clue about the basic routine, especially when there are newcomers. When we get to the 42 and 44 positions I still manage to look ridiculous at least every 2-3 minutes, however.

7:35 race back to the guesthouse to pick up Huan Huan and take her to the bus stop

7:50 back home to my Sophia and morning chores...we do not have hot running water in the kitchen, so we boil the water for dishes. If its a sunny day, I always do laundry, so it can dry quickly on the balcony..if its windy, its even better because I don't have to iron.

Morning --Today I spent a good part of the morning online trying to find a plane ticket. As mentioned previously ..I am going back to the US for a week to be with my mom for her surgery. She will have surgery Nov 30th to remove most of a brain tumor, then the long recovery process, along with radiation treatments, will begin. Until the last few days I felt I was coping well with my worrying for her..but now I am anxious to get there..Michael will be on his own for the week, with sitters in the works for the nights he has class. Please pray hard for her to come through the surgery OK, and also for her state of mind, as she is very anxious right now.

11:00 Take Sophia to the supermarket. Today we walked, because its easier to load more bags on the stroller than the handlebars of the bike. Bought some assorted household items and groceries..even a bottle of wine in honor of visitors coming this weekend (our friends who live in Xi'an). Did not opt for "catch your own" at the sea food counter..instead -- tofu and slivered pork

12:00 No lunch date today, so back to the house and lunch for me and the baby -- she is getting addicted to peanut butter.

1:00 Sophia's nap -- my favorite time of day..the sunlight streams in our apartment and it's so quiet! Usually I do my Chinese I did some online Christmas shopping for the kids, since I will be in Michigan and can cart some items back with me.

2:30 Michael home so I head out to the travel agent down town (by bus) to buy my plane tickets. I usually pay in cash because they charge a service fee of 4 % for credit cards (on top of the foreign currency transaction fee -- that's pretty stiff), So I have to keep a fair amount of cash around when I am planning a trip. Fortunately there is an HSBC in the same building, so I can withdraw some more..Making big purchases in Chinese money is weird because the 100 kuai bill is the largest in circulation, so to buy plane tickets I needed more than a hundred of them -- doesn't fit in a wallet!

3:00 Heading home, got off the bus early to find the knitting store and get some needles, which I don't usually get to because its between bus stops -- too much trouble with Sophia. I decided to walk home, which took about 40 minutes, but full of sights, mostly little cubicle stores along the street which sell everything you can think of . Its a bit of a narrower road, with apartments above the shops, laundry hanging overhead, and alleys of even smaller shops and restaurants off to the sides. I love walking in the city when there are lots of other pedestrians and stuff to look at -- hate the sterile car-oriented parts of Xiamen, where it is no fun to be a pedestrian.

4:15 Stop at the vegetable market for the rest of tonight's dinner, since I am now too snobby to but the wilted veggies at the supermarket, when I know these fresh ones are out here at a fraction of the for $1 I bought 3 tomatoes, 2 eggplants, 2 crispy fresh green peppers, and 2 small heads of bok choy.

4:30 Thomas gets home, Micheal meets Helen at 5:00.

6:00 Tonight's dinner at home : noodles with sesame oil, fried tofu, a stir fry of pork, garlic, onions, eggplant, green pepper and bok choy, along with these lovely mild mushrooms that I buy dried and rehydrate called wood ear mushrooms (see photo above -- still can't seem to put those pesky photos where I want). Also Asian pears.
6:40 Short bike ride to work, as tonight was one of my teaching nights..we played store with plastic fruit again (2 different classes this time). The students also REALLY like "the very Hungry Caterpillar." Several of my students are also classmates of Helen's. Tonight one girl's mother told me -- "she is always talking about Huan Huan and about you coming to the class")
9:00 Walked the bike back while accompanying one of my fellow teachers. She was trying to explain to me all the different ways that Chinese is typed on the computer. Some younger people rely mostly on pinyin, but you can also memorize the radicals (parts of characters, really simple characters in themselves) on the key board and type them in the correct order/combination to generate the character you need. Did you follow that? I had trouble myself.
10:00 Home blogging to ordinary day, but somehow pleasing, too.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

On being Catholic and Christian

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 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

Deborah's haircut and random thoughts

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?!?

Dinner with some Colleagues

While Ann and the kids were celebrating Kate's birthday last night [see below], I had dinner with some colleagues from another department. They are sitting in on my course so we had a chance to chat about things over dinner. A very interesting conversation about publishing and the world of academia in China. The most pointed aspect of the conversation was about the lack of religious and academic freedom. I explained the purpose of tenure and its relation to academic freedom and they were clearly envious. They related various stories about how academics deal with the different ways their work is controlled, or living with the consequences of going your own way. A very interesting discussion.

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

Helen's school website

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".

Another Xiamen Birthday

Our neighbor, Kate, who's mom is the other Fulbrighter here, turned 11 today, so we had the fun of another birthday party..with real ice cream form Wal-Mart. Happy Birthday Kate..sorry the picture is a little fuzzy..I still wanted to use it because her grandma checks the blog! She is head on a weekend jaunt to Shanghai with her mom...not every day you turn 11 after all. She and Thomas are both Rats (Chinese zodiac) and as this is the Rat year coming up in February at the Lunar new year, this is an auspicious year for both of them, I guess.
Its been nice having another kid here..even though Thomas hardly talks to her since she's a girl (and vice versa), they spend long periods of time emailing and instant messaging on the computer to each other and their friend in Xi'an. We will sure miss them when they leave, as they are only staying one semester :(

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Digging to America and lunch with "Amoy Bill"

What are Thomas and Helen doing in this picture? They are digging a big hole...all the way to America! So if any of you want to start digging to China maybe you can meet in the middle. Do you see the man watching them? Nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon I guess. The really funny part is when Thomas traced 美国 (mei guo, or America) on the sand with an arrow pointing to the hole.

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

Girls night out: Chaozhou, Guangdong shopping trip

Helen and I joined a group of teachers from Thomas's school and on an overnight shopping trip to Chaozhou...about 4 hours south of Xiamen along the coast and just over the border into the Guangdong province. They had booked a bus and a hotel here, which is well known as a porcelain center in China with a lot of wholesale dealers and excellent deals! Helen befriended one of the two male teachers in the group-- naturally it was Thomas's homeroom teacher! She and I had a nice time one on one for a change, including a late night tea party with the tea set in our hotel room. They had also hired a guide, and he and I had an interesting conversation about the pressures his generation (he is in his late 20s) is feeling with all the changes in the Chinese economy, the loss of company-provided (or government-provided) housing, urbanization, etc.

In the morning some of us went first to the Chaozhou Porcelain museum, where we saw some enormous and intricate pieces.

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

Movie Night

Ann and Helen went on an overnight bus trip to Guandong province. They are going to some village known for its ceramics. It sounds interesting but I decided to pass on spending a day as the only male on a bus of women and girls. The trip was organized by teachers at Thomas's school, XIS, and Deborah and Kate - our downstairs neighbors - also went.

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

Dragon Fruit and learning Chinese

One of the joys in life awaiting us in China was the discovery of new fruits. Most significantly, the dragon fruit. 火龙果 (huo long guo, or "fire dragon fruit" in Chinese) is kind of like a kiwi on the inside, but infinitely more impressive on the outside..the skin peels off whole and makes a nice shell to display a fruit salad to impress your friends. The taste is very mild and juicy. We have now almost completely abandoned the supermarket for fruits and vegetables unless pressed for time and now proceed down an alley off the main street outside the gate to our favorite fruit and vegetable vendors. 6 oranges, a star fruit and a dragon fruit came to 11 yuan (about 14 cents) this afternoon. The vegetables are even cheaper...I can buy as many green vegetables as I can carry for about 15 yuan. The quality is simply amazing -- the freshest I have ever encountered, and even cleaner than the supermarket, although we still wash them all quite thoroughly. This alley was a place we were afraid to enter, let alone shop in a month ago...the butcher has the first 2 stalls, and you need some time getting used to the up close and personal relationship that the Chinese shopper has with meat before venturing past. Still haven't bought anything from him, preferring the impersonal wrapped meat packages in the store, where if the slaughtering conditions are unsanitary, at least I don't have to watch and I'll just cook it well.
So you may have noticed I figured out I can cut and paste Chinese characters into the blog...let me know if they are readable or not. Yesterday and today I spent more significant time pursuing my Chinese study and have slowly been coming to some important conclusions 1) that I should not be wasting my time reading novels in the afternoon during Sophia's nap 2) that time is going by and this is my golden opportunity to speak and learn Chinese and its up to me to seize it 3) that while it is a difficult language to speak and read and write -- it is not impossible and we have made excellent progress so far, but we need to increase the intensity if we want to get past one word statements and start understanding what's going on. 4) learning characters is not the enemy...even though we westerners are scared of them -- it can be fun and rewarding!
This is what we are doing to learn Chinese -- we have a tutor who works with us 1 hour twice a week and we are attending a 2 hour class on Sundays. We now have 2 textbooks, one for each teacher. I am also going to spend more time on the Rosetta stone program we that I have some vocabulary it is more rewarding! Most importantly for me -- trying to put myself in situations where I hear Chinese in conversation, and especially where I am expected to respond. Whether its at the market a restaurant, at Helen's school or at my tai chi practice, I am making a little progress in comprehension.
The latest Tai chi news is that I was dragged by two of the ladies to a free workshop on the 24 basic positions (dragged because I had only a vague notion of what they were trying to tell me). I think for the next seven days --but each day I just ask one of them "mingtian ma?" (tomorrow?) so I know when to come-- I am spending an hour in a large group receiving more in depth instruction for beginners. Some of the folks I have been practicing with are also attending. The lesson in in Chinese of course, but its pretty visual, and I have the advantage of daily repetition over the past 2 months already, so I am really getting a lot out of it ...I had missed a lot of the finer points.
Some commenters asked about Malinda...she is much better and is now staying with her parents for a few weeks (see her mother's comment from a few days ago). Thank you for all the responses about my mom -- we are waiting to find out when her surgery will be, but probably not for 2 weeks or so. Its hard to wait, but keeping busy helps.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Second Intermittent Chinglish Post

If you have noticed that the blog posts have been less frequent lately, it's because Ann is working through the complete detective novels of Dorothy Sayers. At least it seems that way. So while she is reading "Gaudy Night" (which she assures us is "the best by far"), I am launching into our second Chinglish post.

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:

If I've said "No Striding" once, I've said it a thousand times.