Thursday, October 31, 2013

万圣节快乐 Wànshèngjié kuàilè (Happy Halloween!)

As a general rule the Chinese don't celebrate Halloween.  That said, Suzhou has many western expats that do, so the trend is catching on.  Our local 7-11 sized grocery store stocks customs and decorations as does our Metro (the Chinese version of Sam's Club). Many of the apartment and housing compounds organize their own trick-or-treating events.  LBean's school does not recognize Halloween, but they did have a free-dress day (no uniform) and she wore pajamas to school.  
Dressed in orange & black and ready to party!

EBean's school does celebrate Halloween and took the children trick-or-treating in each classroom. She chose to wear her Korean Hanbok and be a Korean princess.  She's been very multi-cultural this week.  On Sunday, Jamie brought back beautiful scarves from India for all of us.  On Monday EBean decided to wear the scarf as an Indian sari to school...all day long!  She has an amazing teacher that kept re-wrapping the scarf when it fell.

In the evening a brave, brave friend in our apartment building organized a Halloween potluck.  It felt like hundreds of people (but it really wasn't) gathered in the lobby of our apartment building for hotdogs, baked beans, chips, potato salad, egg rolls, Chinese dumplings, cookies, cakes and lots of other yummy things.

We had a picnic on the floor!

EBean with her friend T

A cupcake, a Korean princess, and Cleopatra!

For the third year in a row, I pulled out my Scarlett O'Hara dress that I had made in Shanghai our first fall in China.  Did anyone happen to read the story about the high school teacher that wore the same outfit for class photos for about 30 years?  I think I'll be like that for the next 30 years with my Halloween costume!

I made Jamie put on a fake mustache so he could be my Rhett Butler.  I appreciate his sense of adventure!

ChinaBean is old enough that she caught onto the idea of reaching for candy very quickly.  She even tried saying "trick or treat" a few times, but not to the dad in the scary mask.  When she saw him she hid underneath my dress!

Often I am told that EBean and I look very much alike (minus the hair color difference).  I don't usually see it, but I think our cheesy grins in this photo do look a bit familiar...

ChinaBean didn't do too badly with her loot.  I think it has something to do with the fact that our upstairs neighbor let ChinaBean empty half her bucket into ChinaBean's Halloween sack.  (Thanks Anu - you might find that candy in your entryway some night!)

The photo below is not a great picture from a photographic point-of-view, but it sums up the night so well.  The air was cool, but not cold and the rain stopped for the evening. I like the lights of other apartment buildings in the background, children coming and going in their costumes with parents trailing behind, a big group people and bigger sense of community.  A perfect night.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What's That? Wednesday: Bug Zapper (Chinese Style)

Suzhou has been called the "Venice of the East" because of all the canals that run through the city, which also means we are surrounded by mosquito breeding grounds.  I am absolutely convinced that if our family had lived in China 100-200 years ago, we would have been killed by malaria or some other terrible disease by now.  Even though we live on the 27th floor, the mosquitoes still find their way into our apartment by riding up the elevators or clinging to our clothes.

Unless you've lived in China (maybe SE Asia in general?), you might not know that such a contraption exists. Let me be the first to introduce you to the Chinese Mosquito Racket. With the push of a button, a small electrical current can kill the pesky mosquitoes that take over Suzhou.  You simply wave the racket in the air and whatever happens to be caught in its cross hairs are electrocuted.  Perhaps not child-friendly, but effective. 

Here is our racket, in action.  Ours is so fancy that it has a light on it (hence the funny glare in the photos).

I went looking online for a photo of a mosquito racket and found this one.  But, what I really liked the best were the product features and advantages to this zapper.  I'm not sure if I am encouraged or frightened that you can use it on cockroaches.

TW-06 Electric mosquitoes shoot
Product features:
1. To kill mosquitoes, flies, moths, spiders, cockroaches, etc.
2. To absorb the pests without dropping and breaking, by the high-voltage static generated between the two nets.
3. To produce ozone and negative oxygen ions by the working electric nets.
4. To be stable in performance and not easy to break.

1. No smoke, no spot
Unlike the traditional mosquito killers, TIANWANG electric mosquito bat leaves no smoke and spot. (after killing the pests)

2.3-layers mosquito swatter, is fresh enough to help you drive the anxiety caused by the scorching summer, TIANWANG mosquito swatter is able to kill a wide range of pests in an efficient way, such as mosquitoes, spiders, moths and cockroach

Happy zapping!

Friday, October 18, 2013

School Days (or is it Daze?)

Both LBean and EBean have had a good start to their respective school years.  EBean is still at Newton Kindergarten, which has two programs, a Chinese kindergarten and an international program.  EBean is in the international program and 1/2 of her class is Chinese and the other 1/2 are international students.  We love her program because 1/2 of her day is taught in Mandarin and 1/2 of her day is in English.  We were told by friends that we would really see her Mandarin skills jump during her second year at Newton and that has certainly been true. 

EBean hops on the little yellow bus at 8:45 and I get her off the bus at 3:30.  She eats a Chinese lunch (no pizza or mini-corndogs here) and is no longer taking naps at school, she's a big Pre-K kid now.  This term she is very excited to be taking swimming lessons once a week during school.  Although, she thinks they could do a little less kicking practice.

In the elevator and on our way to EBean's first day of Pre-K.  LBean hadn't started school yet, so she got to see her sister off too.

Let's go, we don't want to be late!

Time for a quick picture because the bus is here.

Getting on the bus and off she goes!

Home again.  ChinaBean is so excited that her sister is home.  She was waving frantically and saying "jie jie" (big sister) over and over.

LBean is a big Year 3 (2nd grader)  at Dulwich College this year.  This means a new school building, the junior school, a new school uniform, and lots more responsibility.  I think she was more excited than nervous about all the changes and she has handled it really well.  This term she is taking ballet once a week after school and Suzuki violin once a week during school.  She also enjoys being able to go to the library during recess time.

Jamie walks LBean to the bus every morning at 7:30 before he catches his ride to work.


About a month after school started, EBean's new school uniform arrived.  This is the first year that her school is requiring uniforms Monday-Thursday.  Fridays are free-dress days.  She is really excited to wear a uniform just like her big sister and it makes getting ready in the morning really, really easy (yeah)!

It seems that once school starts, time begins to fly and we measure time by the next approaching school holiday.  One holiday down, just a few more to go...

Sunday, October 6, 2013


It seems that our family partied a bit this summer.  We celebrated a birthday, or a half birthday, every month from May to September.  I'm partied out!

LBean turned 7 in May.  She asked for a camping birthday (she's saving her tooth fairy money to buy an RV).  I attempted to make a "campfire" birthday cake with Twix, gummy bears as the logs and hot embers, and a fruit roll-up for the flame.  I don't know how impressed she was with it.

This was our attempt at a family picture.  Jamie was already back in China and my mom took the picture.  It's almost complete!

I love, love the pictures of  Jamie's grandparents talking to Jamie on FaceTime. Technology is an amazing thing!

"Camping Cousins"

This girl ate more than her weight in hotdogs this summer.  It's one of her favorite words (and foods).

Jamie's grandparents with a few of their great-grandchildren!

Happy Birthday to my 7-year-old!

As we were planning LBean's birthday, EBean started asking about her birthday.  I assured her that when December rolled around we would also have a party for her.  What she was really asking was if she could have her Grandmas at her birthday party just like her big sister.  Well, that was enough to break this mama's heart.  EBean's cousin graciously agreed to share her June birthday party with EBean and so we planned a 1/2 birthday! And, it literally was 6 months until her birthday.

This girl girl is getting a hang of all these parties.

Two birthday girls!
It's a 1/2 cake for a 1/2 birthday for a 4 1/2-year-old!  EBean requested a chocolate cake and we piled on as much as we could.
You really can order anything online,
even a 1/2 candle.
She's not a fan of being sung to.
Watch out, this girl is serious!
The last birthday we celebrated in the US, was ChinaBean's 2nd birthday.  We feasted on popcorn, peanuts and pizza, some of ChinaBean's favorite foods!

This girl is ready to party!

Uncle Mike knows how to party too!

I love all my crazy girls, even when they stick out their tongues.  

ChinaBean had a few "helpers" opening her presents.  

ChinaBean's favorite birthday card came from Uncle Matt.  It burped the Happy Birthday Song. She's played the card so much that the battery has run out.

Happy birthday to our miracle!

"Popcorn" cupcakes.

The end of August brought us ChinaBean's actual birth date, so we celebrated, again.  ChinaBean is giggling, but it's hard to tell in the picture.

We celebrated ChinaBean's birthday with a family  that has a special place in their hearts for  ChinaBean.  They saw her through her first surgery and have loved our little girl for a long time.

ChinaBean was so excited to get some new Signing Time videos.  She literally threw her hands up in the air!

Whew, last birthday of the season, Jamie turned 30-something-ish at the beginning of September.  It's a good thing that Caterpillar makes a full range of machines, because I will be systematically going through each machine for Jamie's birthday cakes.

I have an expat confession to make...the cake was cute, but it didn't taste so great.  The cake mix was one I had brought back from the US a while back (ahem).  I can get cake mixes here, but they are expensive, so if I have room, I'll bring enough mixes back for birthdays.  I knew the mix had expired, but I also knew it wasn't "bad" just that the leavening was probably old.  Sure enough, the cake didn't rise like it should have, and even my girls noticed the cake was flat.  I cut the cake in half, doubled it up, and slathered on a lot of chocolate.  We ate it, because it's imported cake mix that crossed the ocean, and as an expat we don't waste precious things like that.  (Even if it's yuck!)

No more parties until December.  Maybe by then I'll be ready for another one! (And maybe a cake mix that hasn't expired.)