Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What's That? Wednesday 8/31/2011

I'm going to try a "thematic" post for Wednesdays.  I'll identify something here in China, usually something that wouldn't make into a normal weekly post, and teach you a little more about life here.

The first week is a shout-out to this...

Any guesses as to what this is?  This fruit is called dragon fruit.  The outside does look like large pink scales, so I can see how it got its name.  It is a very mild fruit with very little taste, but Jamie and I still enjoy it (the girls do not like it).  The little black seed remind me of kiwi seeds, but the texture is softer than that of a kiwi and certainly not sour tasting.

My challenge to our family is to try a new fruit every time I go to the wet market to buy fruits and vegetables.  So far I have discovered that my girls love the mini purple plums.  Love them!

Stay tuned for next week's "What's That? Wednesday."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Small Triumphs

With LBean's start to school, the rest of last week was spent experiencing some small triumphs.  Doing things that are much easier to accomplish with one child who will willingly ride in a stroller.  Tuesday morning I learned the first rule of kindergarten, tell your mom you need something for class as you're leaving for school.  LBean informed me that she needed to have a hat to go outside for recess to protect her face from the sun.  If we had already received our sea shipment with the rest of our household goods, this would have been an easy task.  But...I digress.  Finding a hat for LBean became my mission for Tuesday.

I texted a few friends here and they agreed that Decathlon, a sporting goods store would be the best place to look.  I called one of those friends and she graciously agreed to hop in a taxi, with her two kids and ride with me to Auchan to look for a hat.  Decathlon was so much fun.  It has a wide range of things such as bikes, roller blades, swimming gear, sporting clothes, fleece clothing, exercise equipment, etc.  We were able to find two hats to fulfill LBean's request...even a blue one, her favorite color.  I managed to find a few things for myself.  After wandering around the store, it became apparent that since we've moved here I've been craving two things: chocolate and "comfy clothes".  I'm happy to say that I found a few new pairs of "comfy clothes" (the stretchy kind of cloths you lounge around in on the weekend) and EBean and I already fulfilled the chocolate craving by having not one, but two brownies for snack time that morning.  Mmmmm!

My friend and I then decided to celebrate our successful shopping trip by taking our girls out to lunch.  I love turning an errand into an all-out event.

Wednesday was a flurry of activity at our apartment.  One of the pieces of furniture that the landlord purchased for apartment (a wardrobe for the girls' room) had arrived.  Our realtor came over to help oversee the delivery and during her time here people just kept showing up!  The furniture guys carried in the wardrobe in pieces and assembled it.  Our Ayi mentioned to our realtor that the bolt on the guest-bathroom toilet was broken, so a service man was called.  I needed to have 2 more jugs of drinking water delivered, and it's our realtor who calls that man.  While our realtor and I were putting together lamps that our landlord had purchased for the apartment, another delivery came.  The food that I had ordered from Shanghai (free delivery over 300 RMB, ~$50) came, even though I was pretty sure that I had selected the 5 pm-11 pm delivery time slot.  It actually worked in my favor, but I am so glad that I was home and my Australian beef didn't sit outside my front door all day.

We also had a service guy from the apartment complex stop by because apparently there is water leaking from our pipes underneath the floor below the washing machine into the apartment below.  It started doing it before we moved in, but it needs to be fixed, but our landlord doesn't want to pay to fix it since it isn't affecting her apartment, yet.  Some of the floors above us are having the same trouble, so I fully expect it to happen to us at some point. While our realtor was here I also had her talk to our Ayi about our Friday night date nights and that it is okay to stop doing housework and play with our girls.  Her job is to care for them and spend time with them.

What started Wednesday morning, turned into an all-day event.  To fix the bolt on the toilet seat, the entire toilet had to be taken off of the floor since the bolt was screwed in from underneath the toilet.  As EBean and I were having lunch we heard an extremely loud crash and she looked at me and said,"it broken".  I told to go and take a look, sure enough the ceramic toilet had tipped over onto the tile floor and shattered.  When Jamie got home that day I told him that someone in our apartment had a "China day" but thank goodness it wasn't one of us!

Wednesday night we took a visiting Big Yellow employee out to dinner.  The food was so-so, but the atmosphere was great and the chocolate crepes were amazing!

It was a rainy Thursday for us and I had planned to stay home again with EBean.  I got an unexpected text from Jamie saying that our driver was in Suzhou because he was having routine service done on the van and wondered if I would like to use the car when it was done.  Absolutely!  I jumped in the shower and was ready to go.  It was nice to spend a few hours wandering around the mall and grabbing lunch with EBean.  Because it was raining, the mall wasn't crowded and it was very peaceful.  I took the time to stroll through some clothing stores that normally I wouldn't be able to because LBean would think that it was "boring".

Friday morning was my last small triumph of the week.  I really wanted to conquer my initial fear of using the bus.  When I had two girls during the day, it was too much for me to think about.  But, with just EBean I was willing to give it a shot.  We were headed across the lake to a friend's apartment for a playdate, which is pretty much a straight shot.  I figured out two buses that I thought might get me there and told myself if the bus turned a different direction, I'd just get off and grab a taxi.  Last week I learned that if there is a snowflake picture on the bus marquee that it is supposed to be air conditioned.  The cost for those buses is 2 RMB, 1RMB for the others.  Each bus stop has a digital sign that lists the buses scheduled to stop there, then some Chinese characters, and finally the estimated number of minutes until the next arrival.  Once our bus arrived, Ebean and I hopped on (took me a moment to figure out where to put the money) and an older woman immediately started calling out to EBean and gesturing for her to sit on her lap.  I was happy to let EBean sit with her if she wanted to, and she did.  I had the diaper bag and the stroller slung over my back, so having EBean sit on a different lap (other than mine) sounded like a good idea to me.  Just a few stops down the road (push the red button to request to get off) and we were there.  We had a great morning with our friends and we road the bus back to our apartment.  This time EBean sat on the lap of a elderly Chinese man.  She was very content to have a place to sit, I'm so proud of her.

It's my hope that I can figure out the bus system well enough to use it for those short trips to the grocery store or on a day that I want a small adventure with the girls (and we don't have a tight schedule).  With my husband's company we chose the option of not sharing our van with another family.  That means the company will pay for the van and the driver, but we are responsible for the gas and tolls.  To take Jamie to work, it's over 20 miles and a few tolls.  If I need the driver, he has to take Jamie to Wuxi, drive back and take care of me and then drive back to Wuxi to bring Jamie home.  I'd like to use our driver for big trips to the grocery store, driving out to Lilly's school and the orphanage and use taxis and the bus for the little trips.  I'll report back in a few months and see what we've decided.

Friday night was date night!  We tried a different place for massages and they were fantastic.  The atmosphere was nice, you walk on stepping stones placed in water to get to the massage rooms, and the massages were so good.  At one point I had to stop myself from drooling through the little head piece that you look down when you're on your stomach.  Afterwards we walked up and down Singa Plaza stopping at the international foods store for craisins, chocolate chips & shredded wheat, the bread shop for pastries for Saturday morning breakfast, and then had dinner outside at Simon's.  I had Thai noodles and Jamie had a sweet and sour pork that was amazing, almost BBQ-ish.

I am happy to report that both girls were asleep when we got home and our Ayi was not exhausted either.  I don't know why I had assumed the previous week that our Ayi would know just to repeat what she had done the previous week and put them down to bed.  It's just like with your spouse, he/she can't read your mind and you need to clearly state your expectations so there is no room for confusion.

The only unexpected result from date night...apparently the massage was a bit more vigorous than I am used to?! (My editor says, please note the nice pair of bruises between my shoulder blades).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Start of Something Good

Monday was LBean's first day of Kindergarten.  I hope that she enjoys learning as much as her mom & dad do.  She laid out all of her clothes the night before and made me braid her wet hair so she would have wavy hair for her pony tails.  I read her The Kissing Hand (a children's story about a little raccoon that goes to school & how his mother comforts him), which I really think is really about helping the moms get ready to send a child off to school.

Nothing like sausage and eggs to fill up on the first day.
Little Sister was pretty happy too!

We were ready early so we could take lots of pictures and make a family event out of it.  Usually LBean will get on the bus at 7:30 in the morning in front of our apartment complex, but on her first day she was to arrive between 9:15-10:00.  Our driver took the whole family to Dulwich.

Posing in our entryway, in front of the shoe cabinet,
and waiting for the elevator.

Mom & LBean outside of our apartment building.

Dad with his big girls.

I wonder what she's thinking about?

Getting ready to paint in LBean's class.  Last look
for mom before leaving.

This week's lunch choices.
There were no tears from anyone and life moved on very quickly.  EBean and I rode with Jamie to Wuxi to drop him off at work.  We had a brief tour of Jamie's office and then EBean and I headed to Metro to load up on sugar, Diet Pepsi, snacks, cereal, etc.

EBean asked to pick up LBean from school when we were done with our shopping, so I had to explain that her sister would not be home until after school.  This took some convincing, but EBean figured it out.  After rest time (I try not to call it "nap time", that gets all kinds of negative reactions from my kids), EBean and I packed snacks for everyone and we walked to the bus stop to pick up her bis sister.

Now, to get up and repeat the process all over again for oh, about another 13 years!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Weekend Update

Jamie and I had our weekly date night while the girls stayed with the Ayi.  This week we had our first massages in China.  I made appointments for us at the salon where LBean and I have been getting our nails done.  It is so inexpensive; $20 for an hour!  I think I might need one every week, right honey?!  Jamie chose the traditional Chinese massage, which he said targeted some pressure points, but there was very little skin-to-skin contact (a towel over his back).  I had the head, neck and arms massage and I was seated in a recliner for the 60 minutes.  After carrying my fruits & vegetables back and forth from the wet market, it felt pretty good.  Afterwards we met some of Jamie’s co-workers at Big & Whistle, the German restaurant, for dinner and then walked home.
I expected the girls to be in bed and the apartment to be quiet when we walked in the door, but I had another lesson to learn.  I must be very specific with our Ayi about what I am expecting.  We got home at 10 p.m. and the TV was still on and the girls were sitting bleary-eyed in front of the screen.  Ayi was doing laundry and looked just as tired as the girls.  I think that I need to be specific and make a detailed schedule for Friday nights and I need to have someone who speaks Chinese explain to our Ayi that caring for our children is the only thing she needs to do on Friday nights.  No laundry, dishes or cleaning, just watching the girls and getting them to bed.  I’m assuming that the Ayi wants to do a good job and doesn’t want me to think that she is neglecting her responsibilities, but when I’m gone, I want her to spend time with the girls.  Something to work on for next Friday night.
On donut day (Saturday), everyone slept in because of the late bedtimes from the night before.  We started packing up our swimming gear when I realized that I was to supposed to Skype with one of my best friends from the States.  I didn’t want to miss that!  I got on the computer really quickly and there she was!  It was so good to see her and talk to her.  I know I talked too much, but I couldn’t help it, I wish all my friends could be here to share in the adventure.
After we wrapped up our conversation, it was time to throw on our swimsuits and head to the Suzhou Water Park.  But, before we could leave SIP (Suzhou Industrial Park), Jamie had to go to the bank with his passport, his China Construction Bank debit card and a little business card that has in Chinese “please change my U.S. dollars to RMB” on it.  When we wire transfer money from the U.S. to our Chinese bank account (doesn’t that sound like a spam email letter you’ve seen in your inbox?), the money doesn’t automatically change over to RMB.  Jamie has to physically go in and ask from the money to be exchanged.  Frankly, it’s a big pain.
After the bank we picked up some friends along the way and headed to Suzhou New District to the water park.  I’m so glad that the friend that came with us spoke some Chinese because it was going to be difficult pantomiming “I want 2 adult tickets, 1 child ticket and the baby is free”.  We stood in line for a long time to get our electronic wristbands loaded with money so we could buy food in the park (there was no cash accepted in the water park).  The park reminded of the Dell’s, complete with wave pool, slides and a lazy river.  Once we were all in the water, it was fun.  At lunch time Jamie was very brave and ordered a hot dog, which was served without a bun (turned out to be a spicy, "Chinese" flavored sausage) and a “yellow box” full of goodies (...had to be, the locals were buying them like crazy) that turned out to be two packages of jerky/meat flavored tofu (well...we’re pretty sure that it was some kind of tofu).  The girls and I stuck to the familiar and cream, twice.  And, I’m going to throw this out there...the fashion craze of men’s surf shorts/swim trunks has not made it this way yet.  There was a whole lotta spandex going on, just sayin’.  We stayed through nap times, so when we left...everyone was hot, tired and exhausted, but relatively happy.

A view of the water park
Another section of the water park.


Can't say that I've ever had to stain stick a water
floatie before!

The mysterious "meat" package
As soon as we got home I put Jamie on bath patrol (the Chinese let their kiddos pee on the ground, so you never really know what was in that puddle you just walked through, bathing is essential, bleach anyone?...and no shoes in the house) and I threw together an “all-American dinner”.  We had invited over another expat for dinner who is here in China without his family and I wanted to give him a little taste of home.  I managed to pull together meatloaf, steamed green beans, baked beans (that had to be doctored with brown sugar and bacon...the Chinese baked beans are a little different), corn on the cob, iced tea and banana bread for dessert.  As LBean was waiting for dinner to be served she started to fall asleep at the table, a first for her!  We tried to get them to bed early, but by that point they had gained that crazy “second wind”.  You know...where if they stop moving they’ll fall asleep.  

We got them to bed and Jamie and I settled down for our new favorite show, Modern Family.  I'm afraid that we'll run out of episodes to watch way too quickly.

I'm just going through this out there, Sunday was almost a "China" day-the day where things just don't go quite right.  Fellowship was great, lunch with friends was perfect, but LBean had another fit after church (she was tired from the day before), EBean had an accident at the restaurant, I couldn't get the washing machine to start to save my life, the girls never took a nap and I had a massive headache.  I don't want to give the impression that every day here is sunshine & rainbows and real life moments don't happen.  But, I didn't give in, no tears were necessary and I just moved on.  Here's to fresh starts & second (and third...) chances!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Here Comes our British School Girl

This past week was the last week before school starts.  Monday night we got to meet our new friends in person.  When we were on our house finding trip in China, Jamie and I looked at the current ISE (international service employee) list and saw one name that looked pretty familiar.  We didn't actually know the family, but we had friends that did and through life's crazy way, we connected with another company family before arriving in Suzhou.  I had talked with the mom via Facebook, email and a random voice mail (on my part), so it was nice to meet each other in person!  We ate dinner at Casa Zoe, the Mexican place (yes, yes the one we had eaten at the day before for lunch), but we didn't stay quite as long this time.
Tuesday was a partial "home" day, a request by LBean.  We did meet two other mom's at a preschool across the street to take a look around.  In the States I had enrolled EBean in a Mom's Day Out program for this fall at a church in a near-by town for two mornings a week.  When we moved here, I wanted to find something similar, but it is a bit of a challenge.  Chinese "Kindergarten", which is basically day-care, can begin at 6 months of age and is typically full-day, five days a week...not what I was looking for.  I was excited to learn about this preschool from another mom, and it has a morning program for three days a week.  Perfect!  The teacher is Phillipino and there is an assistant teacher and an Ayi (helper) in the class.  No more than 15 kids in a class and the class registration was in Chinese and English (a plus for me).  My only hesitation was the lack of Chinese instruction.  Jamie and I want both of the girls to learn Chinese but the class teacher speaks English to the kids because all of the Chinese moms want their kids to learn English.  However, the Ayi will speak Chinese and just walking into the class reminded of a preschool back in the States.  It's a difficult balance to decide when "comfortable" is a reassuring and positive thing or when's it's refusing to step out of the box because of fear.  
While I was at the preschool I started talking to a mother there.  We discovered that we lived in the same apartment building (not just the same complex) and swapped telephone numbers.  Of course there's more to come there.  
Tuesday night it was back to the pool at the apartments across the street.  Jamie joined us when he got back from work.  The pool is right in front of the building where the preschool is located, so the girls and I showed Jamie where EBean's preschool might be.  We ordered the buy-one-get-one free deal from Melrose pizza again, but instead of eating at the pool we had it delivered to the apartment...alas, summer is coming to an end, no more eating by the pool!
The next was a big day for LBean.  We had the driver for the day and thank goodness because it was pouring.  We went to Dulwich, LBean’s new school to pick up her uniforms and purchase a lunch card.  It was also a good excuse to take LBean to her new school and look around without the pressure of classes and all of the students present.  We were required to purchase a summer uniform (we got 3), a winter uniform (we purchased 3 polos & 2 dresses), a summer P.E. uniform (1 set), a winter P.E. uniform (1 set), a “house” uniform (the students are divided into houses, LBean’s house colour is purple), a cardigan to wear over the summer uniform when it get’s chilly (maybe in October at the rate this weather is going), and LBean chose a Dulwich school bag, some white socks and a pair of leggings.  She is required to wear black leather shoes with her uniform.  We did pass on the very Harry Potter-ish striped scarves.   LBean is going to be the cutest little British school girl that I’ve ever seen!  We got all of her uniforms for just over $200, which I think is a pretty good deal since I won’t have to buy any other “back-to-school” clothes.  And, unless LBean has a major growth spurt, she should be able to wear all of her uniforms next year as well.  I can really see the benefits of a school uniform.  No arguing in the morning about what to wear, no teasing based on what you’re wearing and each age group has a different uniform, so if a student is somewhere he/she shouldn’t be, it’s pretty easy to tell.
LBean was so excited about her uniforms (she will laugh at this blog entry some day), that she took everything out of its packaging in the van and tried to stuff it into her school bag.  We celebrated our successful shopping trip with a trip to the nail salon (LBean chose pandas for her toes this time) and lunch at Singa Plaza.
When we got back to the apartment LBean neatly arranged her uniforms and insisted on wearing her summer uniform to play at the play ground.  She was so excited when Jamie got home from work that she made us sit in the living room for a fashion show, complete with a curtain and a runway.

Winter Uniform
House Uniform

Summer PE Uniform
Winter Uniform

New Dulwich bag
Summer uniform

Panda toes

We had no plans for Thursday, so I was excited to get a text from the mother I had met at the preschool on Tuesday, asking us to meet downstairs and play at the play grounds.  (I love that about being an expat here; there is not hesitation to reach out and be a friend because we're all in this together).  We ran from playground to playground (something that I love about our apartment complex) for a while, but it was so hot & humid that we were invited to go up and play at our new friend’s apartment.  Morning turned to lunchtime and we ordered pizza (thank you Sherpa-man) and had a girls’ lunch.  
Friday was another important day for LBean.  It was open house at Dulwich and we got to meet LBean’s teacher and tour her classroom.  She was pretty shy and wouldn’t talk to her teacher, but we spent quite a while playing in her classroom, finding the restroom, playing on the playground and looking at books in the school library, which I think helped.  She insisted on wearing her uniform to school, which was not required, but it sure was cute!  I talked with LBean’s teacher about volunteering in the classroom and there should be an opportunity for me to be in the classroom at least once a week (or more if I wanted) helping out with reading groups.  We also found the bus schedule before we left.  LBean will be getting on the bus at 7:30 a.m.  It will be so early for the both of us!  She’s like her mama and she needs her sleep.  I predict a very early bedtime from now on.  The good thing is, it should give her and Jamie some time together in the morning and Jamie might take her to the bus stop to see that she gets on the bus okay.

The glassed off area is the parents' lounge.
Looking towards the front doors and the eating area.

Where LBean will eat her lunch.

LBean has Mr. Lund this year.
Already trying on the costumes!

The students will mark where they
are from on the big map.
Some of the outdoor play equipment,
smartly covered to block out the sun & rain.

EBean wishes she was in Kindergarten!
Lunch was a celebratory Happy Meal at McDonald’s with the friends from our building that we had met earlier in the week and a new mother/son from our building.  As we were talking, I mentioned that I needed to run some errands after we left and that the girls wouldn’t be thrilled about coming along.  The mother that I had just met that day offered to watch the girls at her apartment while I ran errands.  In the States, I never would have considered it, but for some reason here, it’s okay.  The girls were thrilled to play at their new friend’s house and I got to run errands quickly.  The only thing I made me a little nervous was EBean...we started potty training this week and I was praying that she didn’t make a mess in this mother’s house that we had now known for a total of 3 hours.  I’m happy to report that it was just fine!
One of my errands was to drop off the paperwork at the preschool for EBean.  Jamie and I decided that this would be a good place for her to start.  She will be close and it truly is a half-day program.  At most of the local Chinese preschools you can pull your child out whenever, but there isn’t a specific half-day program.  EBean will actually be one of the older children in the program, but she’ll be with lots of other little girls from expat families, so I think it will be fun for her to see friends outside of class too.  In the future we might put her in a local Chinese preschool once her Chinese (and mine) is a little better and she’s accustomed to a school program.
Whew!  This week’s entry is long, I’ll leave the weekend for a separate post... 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

One Month Check-up

We have survived the first month!  The good news is, I think we will survive all of the ones to come too.  The McClintocks are going to be just fine.  We have learned a lot already, but we have much more to conquer.

What are my general impressions so far?
*China is growing and changing right before our eyes
*There is a strange balance between the new & old: There are ultra-modern buildings that are being put up left & right, but you'll still see men tearing down buildings by hand or making deliveries with a hand cart
*New and glittery is appealing to the Chinese, but it does not mean that the quality is great.
*Suzhou is definitely "China-light", if you don't want to learn Chinese you could survive here without it, but a person would miss out on so much.
*The people are fantastic and no, they don't all look alike.
*Our family has already benefited having to work together and rely on each other.
*The other expats are just phenomenal.  It's like an amoeba, they just reach out, grab and pull you in, no questions asked.  Everyone is in the same boat (without extended family, close friends, comforts of the home country) and it's not uncommon to exchange numbers after talking with someone for five minutes (I did it yesterday when I was looking at a preschool for EBean).  It's okay to go right up to someone and introduce yourself and say you're looking for a friend.  I don't know if people who volunteer for international assignments have a common personality trait that makes it work or the realization that "we're all in this together" strips away any desire to be introverted.
*Our girls are receiving an education that I wouldn't trade for anything.
*The Spirit is moving here, I've never been surrounded by such faithful people in my life, it's incredible.
*This will be an adventure of a lifetime.

I have figured out where to do most of our food shopping and I hope to start cooking more meals soon.  I would like to experiment with the free home delivery that several places offer; I've just been too afraid to try and ask about it.  I have a favorite fruit stand and we get some free fruit for being regulars.  I also have a favorite vegetable stand because the lady has the warmest smile of anyone at the wet market.

I have made goals for myself as school is starting and our schedules will start to fill up.  My top three priorities are to 1) learn some basic Chinese, 2) volunteer at LBean's school, 3) volunteer at a local orphanage.  This is my opportunity to learn more about what our future adoptive child's life was like before joining our family and I can try to be a positive impact on other children's lives.

Those that know me well, know that I am a crier by nature.  I've called it my "spiritual gift" and I really can't help it.  I made a deal with myself that I could cry 6 times in the first 6 weeks.  I had to evaluate whether something was worth crying over because I only had 6 cries available.  So far, I've kept it together (and the breakdown might still come) and I certainly can't take credit for holding the pieces together.  I'll give all the credit to Him because I had nothing to do with it!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Squeeze Every Bit of Summer

Last weekend was much less eventful than we had anticipated.  A typhoon was east of Shanghai and we weren't sure what weather it would bring.  Saturday we walked to the wet market to pick up some fruit, veggies and eggs in case we were indoors until Monday avoiding the wind and rain.  We wandered around the rest of the neighborhood center to pick up bread and find the little bookstore that sells children's books in written in English. 
I went out on a limb and left the girls with our new Ayi (household helper) and ran errands by myself for a few hours on Tuesday morning.  It was a very strange feeling being out by myself since the girls and I have almost exclusively been together all-day, every day for the last oh...8 weeks.  I went to Auchan (the place with 100 lanes, open at all times) and for surviving it, I rewarded myself with a doughnut & a regular Pepsi.  Alas, no diet Pepsi on tap here!
Tuesday night we spent another evening at the pool splashing around and munching on pepperoni pizza.  It's just a way we're trying to squeeze every bit of summer out of the last few weeks before the start of school.  I can hear the "tick-tock, tick-tock," of the clock ticking down to the first day of kindergarten.  LBean's school has an open house on the 19th and her first day of school is the 22nd.  

LBean requested a day at home on Wednesday.  So, we packed a picnic lunch and ate at our apartment compound and played in the sandbox.  Tuns out that playing in the sandbox is not the best idea.  A friend happened to mention in passing that some kids had gotten pin worms after playing in the sandbox.  Just great.  I'm so glad that she said something!  As we were walking back to the apartment LBean asked if we could go wash her hands so she could start sucking her thumb again!
 LBean got her wish on Thursday and we joined some other families in Suzhou for a visit to Wee World at Times Square.  I expected to be like a children’s museum, but it was a little more like an indoor camp.  The kids were lead around by a host and checked their passports at four different occupations.  At each occupation stop the leader walked them through an activity linked to each job.  The kids got their passports stamped and earned 5 Wee World dollars for doing each “job”.  LBean got off to a slow start because the first occupation was fashion model.  For those that have seen her at her past preschool programs, this was painful for her.  She refused to walk down the runway, but I am so proud of her for not crying or running out to find me.  Little steps!  At the next stop the kids learned about cooking and LBean was so good to try the rice/dried meat/veggie mix.

We took a break for lunch and LBean's inner "fashion model" came out then.  She got excited about walking down the runway when "no one was taking pictures" as she put it.  I'm glad that she took advantage of her second chance.

Lunch with the girls.

Trying out the runway.

After lunch the kids tried their hand at being convenience store employees and the last one was the best...a dairy farmer.  LBean was thrilled!

Friday morning the day started off with a huge downpour, not a fun way to run errands, but we had the driver and a friend to help.  We went across the street to the wet market to grab some fruits & veggies for the weekend.  We're "regulars" now with the guy at the fruit stall, which means the girls get free bananas when they go with me.  Our most important task was to get doughnuts for "doughnut day" (our Saturday mornings).  After that we ran to Singa Plaza so the girls could pick out a movie for Friday night and then it was off to Incity mall.  I promised the girls Auntie Anne's pretzels at the mall (some things never change).  

Friday night is now "date night" at our house.  One of the best pieces of advice I got when we moved to Suzhou was to include one night a week of babysitting with our Ayi.  I'm not gonna lie and say it doesn't take a huge amount of trust to leave our girls with a new person in a foreign country, but I have to trust my gut instinct and really watch he girls' reaction to our Ayi, which has been very positive.  This was the second week we left the girls with our Ayi for a few hours.  We met friends at the performing arts center and saw the final Harry Potter movie.  The girls love "date night" now because they get to watch a movie and eat popcorn with our Ayi.  Everyone wins!  

We are finding that our weekends are very special.  We have no yard to maintain, no committee meetings to attend (yet), and no household projects to steal our time.  It's complete family time.  We had considered taking the girls to the Suzhou Water Park, but there was a 70% chance of rain.  Instead, we went to the pet & plant street in Old Town.  The plant section of old town is very fun.  We wandered around back alleys and side streets looking for potted plants.  I am learning the art of negotiation (a must in China) and I'm very content to "walk away" and see if I can get a better deal.  It also helped to have our driver with us and watch him negotiate on our behalf.  He had warned us, by using the translation function on his phone, that the store owners try to cheat the foreigners.  The not-so-great part of the day was the pet section of Old Town.  We warned the girls that under no circumstances would we be purchasing a dog from any of these shops.  Jamie and I promised the girls a dog when we got to China, but these animals are kept in small unsanitary cages, in the heat, with little food and no medication.  When it comes time to choose a dog, we have found some foster/adoption dog programs in Shanghai that we will look into.  We saw turtles, squirrels, chipmunks, ducks, rabbits, cats, dogs, chickens, pigeons, fish and several other kinds of animals.  It was not a very pleasant place to be and we didn't spend much time there.  

After we loaded up the plants in the van, the girls requested a McDonald's lunch.  Our driver took us to another part of Old Town called Walking Street (named that because it's mostly closed off to traffic).  Jamie and I had been there on a Sunda during our home-finding trip, but it was a little less crowded on a Saturday.  It was fun to show the girls the temple, try to negotiate a good deal for princess wands & fairy wings (we "walked away", the girls took it well), and picked up miniature umbrellas for the girls dolls that matched the ones Jamie and I had bought for them a month earlier.

A row of E-bikes (electric bikes) in Old Town
Love this picture!

Looking at the turtles

Our driver and EBean looking for a deal
(notice the calculator in her hand)

LBean telling us to be quiet because
the animals were sleeping (or too hot to move)

Near the temple on Walking Street in Old Town

Looking at all of the burning candles at the temple

Another temple

I love this picture because if you notice all of the people that are
turned around and looking at the camera...they are looking at us,
group of white people in Old Town and they are smiling at our

Sunday was just nice, in fact Jamie and I commented on how nice it was several times.  Last week we opted to skip Fellowship because of the typhoon and instead studied at home.  I was glad to go to Fellowship this past weekend and be around other believers.  People are starting to come back to Suzhou after their summer holidays in their respective home countries and the pews are starting to fill up again.  We took a different bus back to our side of town and it dropped us off right at the Mexican place with the kids' play area.  We had lunch with two other families from Fellowship and we were at Casa Zoe for at least three hours, if not longer.  I laughed and said that if we stayed any longer we could have had supper there too.  We walked back to our apartment compound with another family and LBean cried to whole time!  Her poor, poor legs were just so tired (please note the sarcasm in that sentence). It was very tragic!