Friday, September 30, 2011

Leaving the Bubble

This past weekend we finally left the SIP (Suzhou Industrial Park) bubble.  Jamie’s company is sponsoring a new school building in a village about four hours north of SIP and asked for volunteers to attend the ground breaking ceremony.  I was excited about going, but I had no idea how special the weekend would be.
We left Friday night to stay at a hotel about an hour from the village.  Our driver drove us and it was the first long car trip we’d taken since leaving the States.  I was a little nervous about the trip.  Where would eat dinner?  What about bathroom breaks with a potty-training toddler?  What kind of hotel would it be?  What are we getting ourselves into?
As with most things, I shouldn’t have worried about it.  I packed lots of snacks and drinks and a friend shared they’re travel potty chair with us.  We did stop once each way and the roadside restrooms were no worse or better than Central Illinois.  Thank goodness for Jamie’s phone that can “speak” Chinese and shout out “toilet” when we needed it.
We arrived at the hotel around 9:30 and the hotel was really nice and our girls were a little disappointed that we didn’t get to stay longer.  On drive up and again in the morning I tried to prepare LBean for what might happen the next day.  People were going to be very excited to see her because she was a blondie and they were going to want to take her picture and touch her hair.  I also tried to prep her for the formal Chinese lunch that would follow the groundbreaking.  We talked about leaving food we didn’t like on our plates and just saying “thank you” and that if she had any questions about anything to please, please whisper it in my ear!
After a short night’s sleep and a buffet breakfast we drove to the meeting point for the caravan.  We did have a slight detour; GPS difficulties are the same in any country.  I really enjoyed looking out the window and catching glimpses of the Chinese countryside.  In some respects it looked very much like central Illinois with fields of corn dotting the countryside and where soybeans would have been, there were rice paddies instead.  Some of the homes and outbuildings reminded me of buildings I’d seen in the German or Scottish countryside.  Not so much in architectural details, but I imagine many of the buildings were built around the same era and had a similar “feeling” to them.  Many of the homes had a courtyard in front of the home with a large gate at the entrance and many of the central courtyards had family gardens in them.  Where gardens might be “quaint” or a fun “hobby” in the States, you know...getting back to organic food, here it is a means of survival.


A police escort had been arranged for all of the company workers, management, media and local dignitaries.  Our van got in the caravan line and we made our way to the future school building site.  On our way there, we drove through the center of town and because it was a Saturday morning, there was a lot of activity.  With all of the stalls selling shoes, clothing, food, comforters, and the entertainment, the first thought that popped in my head was, “I’ve found the Chinese Spoon River Drive.”  We passed by many buildings were there were logs and thin wood sheets drying in the sun, so I’m assuming this is a major industry for them.

Not sure what the "decorative" golden
cannons are for, but they were interesting.
Some local entertainment.

It's a bit out of focus, but I
love this picture.

It's hard to see, those are rows and rows
of thin sheets of wood drying upright in the sun.

We drove down the dirt lane past some of the village homes and arrived at the school building site.  It was a bit overwhelming when we arrived.  Jamie was given a red carnation and a ribbon to wear on his jacket.  The school children started chanting and we walked to the “stage” and waited for the ceremony to start.  It seems like the entire village was there, it was incredible.  I was a bit stunned at first because I was trying to take pictures and hold on to EBean and keep both girls happy and take in the events of the day.  It wasn’t like we could blend into the background, where ever we went, we were followed by curious folks.  Jamie’s bosses wife was a great example to me and she just went up and started talking to the babies, complementing the girls on their pretty hair bows and smiling to everyone.  It snapped me out of my stupor and I followed her lead.

Local home on the road to the school.

Looking through the rice paddy to a local home.

After the official speeches had been given, the girls and I (along with some of Jamie’s co-workers) gave some of the students new backpacks and hats.  After that I had to excuse myself and the girls off to the side.  EBean was getting tired and hot and we needed to get out of the middle of things.  As we stepped to the side, we drew a crowd of about a dozen people that wanted to touch the girls, play with their hair, take their pictures, one teenage girl was fascinated with the feathers in my hair and a few of the local women tried to talk to me.  I don’t know a lot of Chinese yet, but I did understand that one woman asked if their baba (father) was up on stage, one wanted to know their ages (she then passed the info on to all the other women), and I knew when they were telling me that my girls were beautiful (and then I could say thank you).

The special guests getting ready to start the groundbreaking.

The students of the school.

Jamie listening to the speeches.

Is she not the cutest?  She followed LBean & EBean where ever
they were.  She was also curious about the feathers in my hair
and so desperately wanted to practice her English.

I loved being there!  I could have stayed all day and in fact, I was disappointed when I found out that lunch wasn’t going to be served there at the school.  I really would have liked to have spent more time with the school children and their families.
I think the girls were relaxed once they got on the bus to leave for the lunch.  They handled the attention well (meaning, no one cried), but it was very overwhelming for them.  I had a chance to talk with one of the school officials and the interpreter on the bus ride.  I even managed to impress the interpreter with my meager Chinese.  She asked about our children and I said yes, “lian ga hai tza” (two children).  The shocked expression on her faced I think meant that I had used the correct tones.  It was priceless!  My language teacher would be so proud and I’m glad that Jamie caught the look on her face too!
We had lunch in a banquet facility and the meal was complete with lots of local Chinese dishes and ceremonial toasts.  I shouldn’t have worried about my girls, they did fantastic.  LBean used her chopsticks and both girls tried several of the dishes put in front of them.  We just tried not to focus too much on what was actually in the dishes!  They received compliments from a few people at the table about their willingness to try things.  The government official asked if I knew how to use chopsticks and I whipped out one of my new Chinese words, “mama huhu”  (so-so) and that got a good chuckle out of him.  Things must have gone okay because we were asked back for the grand opening, which will probably be in December.  I don’t know if we’ll be able to make it specifically for that, but we will go back again.  Thinking about the school gets the wheels in my mind turning and I want to our family to help in any way we can.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's That? Wednesday 9/28/2011

This week’s post might not seem too intriguing at first, but stick with me and I think you’ll learn something.
We are delving purse, specifically what’s inside.  My purse is a bit of a survival bag.  I have the usual things, a wallet, a bit of makeup, my cell phone, etc. but there are a few additional items that make life here in China a bit easier.

You’ll notice my ring of taxi cards, which I carry with me at all times to communicate with my driver and the local taxi drivers.  I also have my own business card holder to put in the ming pians (business cards) that I pick up at my favorite stores, shops, and restaurants.  
The small silver bag on top of my purse holds the copies of my passport and the girls.  At any time foreign passport holders can be asked to produce their passports, so friends suggested that we carry copies with us.  On a side note, we had a knock on the apartment door a few Sundays ago and I opened the door to two uniformed men.  They were very nice and polite (but did not state who they were) and asked if I was the woman listed on the form they were carrying and if the names below mine were those of my children.  Then I had to provide my cell phone number and that was it.  Later, after asking some friends, I figured out that it was the residency police and they will probably stop by again.
I carry my Vera Bradley small ID wallet with me because carries the card that allows me to enter my building and get up to my apartment.  I don’t want to leave home without it!
The red badge on the lanyard peeking out from behind my calendar is my security badge for LBean’s school.  As parents, we are provided badges at the beginning of the year and asked to wear them anytime we’re in the school.
The little clear pouch is my travel doctor’s kit!  It has anything that I might need in a small emergency.  I also tuck in a handkerchief because more times then not, there are no paper towels in the bathroom.  Usually there isn’t toilet paper in the bathroom either, so I carry extra paper with me.  I’ll try to be delicate, but the toilets here are a bit different.  Our family is used to Western toilets or as we like to call them, “sitters”.  The Chinese use toilets that we have named, “squatty potties”.  Basically the toilet is flush (sorry, no pun intended) with the ground and you must “squat” down.  It is a porcelain bowl, but mounted in the ground.  Some expats (expatriates) go months without using a squatty potty, but with the girls that wasn’t an option, so we have embraced it (figuratively speaking) and done our best.  The plumbing infrastructure here isn’t fantastic, which explains the lack of TP in the restrooms.  You don’t flush paper here!
I also carry a reusable shopping bag with me at all times.  Plastic bags at store checkouts cost money, if they’re even available at all.  You never know when you might do a little shopping.  
Other staples in my purse are germ gel (hand sanitizer) because, well, things can be a bit dirty and, as the mother of a potty-training toddler, I carry an extra outfit for EBean.
I have a quick note about cell phones here.  First, they are cheap, and everyone has one.  They are prepay, so if you don’t keep reloading the minutes on your phone you’re out of luck, which happened to me this week.  Secondly, there is no voice mail in China.  For that reason, most people are huge texters.  Not only is it cheaper than a phone call, but it’s the only way to contact someone and “leave a message” for them to read later if needed.
Now, after carrying all of this around China, I do treat myself to massages.  My purse gets heavy!  Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Family Day

A week ago this past Saturday the facilities where Jamie works had their second annual family day celebrations.  Because Jamie's group physically sits at one location, but is managed by people in another building, we were invited to both events.

It was so much fun and a little bit normal-feeling, like something we would have experienced in the States. There were activities for the whole family and our girls loved the bouncy house and paddle boats.  I was really impressed with how Jamie's co-workers were willing to participate in all of the games.  Of course there were prizes and that was a nice incentive, but they really seemed excited about doing things together. I'm not sure we would have seen the same participation level in the Sates.

LBean as Ariel

One of the group games

A place to rest under the tents

Getting our goodie bags with water, a Diet Coke, snacks and a fan

LBean designing her kite

Getting a little help from one of Jamie's co-workers

LBean mid jump in the bouncy house

I just like this picture!

LBean driving her paddle boat

What a cutie pie!

I have no idea what I'm laughing at, but I love this photo!

The festivities were interesting for the workers in the lot
next door, they kept climbing up to take a peek.

LBean the boat captain, driving a friend around.

One of the funniest things to watch watch was the fish pond.  Everyone could grab a pole and try to catch a gold fish to take home.  But, the fish were smart and all huddled together in the middle of the large inflatable pool.  All the adults took turns throwing things into the middle of the water, splashing the sides of the pool and any thing else they thought might get the fish to swim out of the middle.  Later in the afternoon we walked back by again and the adults had finally given up and rolled-up their pant legs and just walked in to catch their fish.

We had lunch at the facility too.  I had chuckled when Jamie and I had to pre-order our lunches a few weeks before.  There was a traditional Chinese meal, which we weren't sure if it would include fish and the girls would not have enjoyed that or McDonald's.  McD's sounds reasonable enough, right?  Well our options were chicken, chicken or chicken, but that's not the funny part.  It was what different kinds of chicken did you want.  Between our family of four I think we were given 2 chicken nugget meals, 4 chicken drumsticks, 2 spicy chicken sandwiches, 2 regular chicken sandwiches and 4 tarot root dessert pies.  No sides, just lots of chicken!

By early afternoon we were hot and tired and headed back to our apartment for a rest.  Well, Jamie and I napped, but the girls didn't, go figure!  We headed back to Wuxi in the evening for the other facility's family day celebration.  We arrived in time to go through the buffet line and sit down to watch all of the different employee groups perform on-stage showcasing their talents.  There was quite a range of abilities.  Some sang, others performed puppet shows, a group did tai chi and there were even a few actors in the group.  It was a fun night!

One of Jamie's team members helping with a puppet show.

One of Jamie's team members performing Tai Chi.

Enjoying the show and a little ice cream!

I think this guy was proposing!  How can you top this
at the next year's Family Day?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What's That? Wednesday 9/21/2011

Jamie is the mastermind behind  this week's What's That? Wednesday.  It's made a huge impact on the quality of life for Jamie.  Any guesses?

Are you able to read the bottom line on the converter?
"Made in China", of course, where else would it come from?
(But we bought it off of Amazon)

It's our handy-dandy power inverter/converter!  Originally when we were planning for the move, we had decided to not bring any of our electrical things.  The electrical output for China is 220V and in the US it's 110V.  If you plug in something from the US into the wall here it will be fried, literally.  But, a friend had suggested bringing a converter/inverter, which takes the electricity out the wall (220V) and converts it to 110V.  Because of this magic piece of equipment, we are able to plug in our appliances. 

I must note that the converter is not extremely portable.  Our small one weighs about 20 pounds and sits on the kitchen counter for our coffee pot, crock pot, toaster (oh how I had missed toast), Kitchenaid mixer, etc.  The big one weighs closer to 35 pounds and we plug our printer into it.  Or, as of late we've used our humidifier with it since the girls have had colds.  Except for my beloved mixer, none of our appliances were expensive, but the thought of leaving them in the States to sit in storage for a few years and purchasing all new things here wasn't very appealing.  In addition, the quality of appliances here isn't very good.  With also figured that most of our things were wedding gifts and now 10 years old, if they were fried in the process, it wouldn't be a big deal.  (This is true for all but one of my appliances...I would shed a tear if I fried the mixer).

The converter has made Jamie very coffee in the morning.  In the States Jamie would drink his green tea in the morning and sip on coffee throughout the day, but here it's the exact opposite.  Green tea is readily available, but it's the coffee that he has to make special at home and take to work.  What's even funnier is how much we paid for the coffee pot in the States.  I really think I paid about $10 for it at KMart at midnight one evening.  We had friends coming to help re-roof the garage the next day and Jamie's little French Press wasn't going to make the volume of coffee we needed.  It was a great excuse to get a coffee pot and for me to pick up what at the time was the newest Harry Potter book (hence the need to go at midnight, when the book was released).  Just goes to show, it's not how much things's what they mean to you that makes them important! 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Babies, Birthdays and Rock Bands

Two weeks ago Monday was my first day volunteering at the orphanage.  The volunteers are there five days a week for two hours a day and each day has approximately six volunteers.  The job of the volunteers is to assist the Ayis (pronounced "i-e") by taking the children out of their cribs, helping with feeding and diaper changes, playing with the children in the activity room and giving them as much love as possible.

While I was there, the overwhelming feeling that I had was the same one I had when I was working as a speech-language pathologist...not enough time, resources and hands.  I think that it's a good feeling; the drive to do better and help more.  I'm looking forward to my Mondays at the orphanage and doing a little better each time.  It also struck me as such an incredible honor to care for these children until they are matched and united with their forever families.  I hope and pray that someone might be doing the same for our future McClintock.

The rest of the week was really busy for our family.  Jamie had some co-workers visiting from the States and he had several dinners, which meant late nights for everyone.  By Friday we were all pretty tired, but we couldn't let the day pass without a little celebration.  It was Jamie's birthday, his first one in China.  I got  an unexpected text a few hours before dinner from a friend.  She graciously invited us over for dinner if we didn't have plans.  I told her I had run out of energy to cook dinner about an hour into my fight with EBean about her lack of nap time. I was happy to take her up on her dinner offer and I could even bring some birthday cake for dessert!

Happy 34th Birthday!

The rest of the weekend was recovery from the busy week.  On Monday we celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival at home (see last week's What's That? Wednesday post).  Tuesday morning Jamie and I had a big question to ponder, "to rock or not?"  One of the bands that Jamie really enjoys was playing in Shanghai and we weren't sure if we would be able to go.  It is unusual for music groups like this to be allowed to perform in China.  In fact, it has become our personal joke that you have to go to Malaysia to see a good concert.  While watching our cable (which comes from Australia) an advertisement for a good concert will pop up and of course it's not local for's in Malaysia.

We are starting to show our age because on Tuesday morning we looked at each other and Jamie said, "I kind of hope we can't get tickets, I'm so tired."  I laughed and said that I was too.  But, in the early afternoon Jamie spoke to someone at the concert venue and although the pre-sale tickets were gone, she felt like that if we got there early we would be okay.  Our driver was prepared to take us to Shanghai and our Ayi was coming to watch the girls, so when Jamie texted and asked if I wanted to go, I had to say yes, it seemed too perfect not to go.  That's what life is about, right...saying yes to opportunities?!

At 6:30 we hopped into the van, did a quick run into KFC for dinner (I need to learn some better fast-food options when we're in a pinch) and trekked the 90 minutes east to Shanghai.  Now, I have to explain the name of the concert venue, it's acronym is MAO, which I think stands for "music-art-oasis", but it also happens to be the name of a very famous Chinese man, Chairman Mao.

Recognize the outline of the hair on the cup?

I'm not sure if this cup is considered sacrilegious or a nice nod to Mao, but I found it very amusing.  The concert itself was awesome!  It was only one act, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club for a 2 1/2 hours in a very small venue.  We were about 6 people back (until the mosh pit started).  Girls, your mom & dad can still rock.  

Jamie loves music and it's been an important part of his life.  I surprised Jamie with tickets to see Oasis when I was pregnant with LBean (with some help from a good friend), I surprised him again for his 30th birthday & M.B.A. graduation with tickets to the Austin City Limits Music Festival, so it seemed fitting that we would again be celebrating his birthday with music.  (Do you see a pattern developing?)  We got home shortly before 1 a.m.  Even though we felt good the next day, I think it eventually caught up with us, but the concert was so worth it!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What's That? Wednesday 9/14/2011

Today's What's That? Wednesday is (insert drum roll)...

             the Moon Cake!

The first two Moon Cakes we tried, chocolate and
bean paste.

This past Monday was the Mid-Autumn Festival, a celebration of the eighth month of the Chinese Lunar calendar.  The moon is supposed to be a full moon during this time  It is also called the Moon Festival because of the fables surrounding the holiday.  Traditionally the Chinese will gather with family during the festival and they might present offerings and share a Moon Cake.  The cake is cut so that each family member will get a piece.

I have decided that the Moon Cakes must be the Chinese family's version of fruit one really likes to eat one, but the holiday isn't complete until it's arrived.  There are many varieties of Moon Cakes, some with meat, fruit, bean paste, chocolate and some with a hard-boiled egg yolk in the middle (to symbolize the full moon).  No one really seems to like them; the Chinese think they are too sweet and the Westerner's don't appreciate the flavors either.  But, you still see entire displays of Moon Cakes at shops all over the city and people continue to exchange them out of duty!

Jamie had the day off of work and the girls were home from school, so we were able to have a nice relaxing day.  We're still trying to unpack all of the boxes from our sea shipment and it was great having time to work on that.

LBean, a friend and EBean getting ready to sample the Moon Cakes.

EBean wins the prize for the most Moon Cakes eaten!