Saturday, September 29, 2007
We visited the
I will let the pictures just speak for themselves. Dave took a video of five monks chanting but it takes a lot of space to put it in here so I'll just have to show any who are interested when we get back home. It's really an amazing sound.
The Five-Pagoda Temple
p.s. I still don’t have email access. A friend in
Dave’s mom arrived in
And so Grandma arrived in
He listens to this whenever he can, plays air guitar, and sings along with all the songs. He says (and my apologies to Marie, his fiddle teacher, if she is reading this, because I don’t think this is a permanent decision on his part) that he no longer wants to take fiddle because he wants to take drum lessons. Because you can’t play rock with a fiddle. Um…. I don’t even know what to say to that. It’s kind of funny. So we don’t say anything, just nod and go “uh huh”. Last week the kids and Dave watched some of the Beatles Anthology on DVD and now Dave and I are thinking that he has fallen in love with the whole rock star thing. It’s those screaming girls and the Ed Sullivan show and the limos. Oh, and the two youngest of the English teachers here, Jed and Kenneth, have told Samuel they’ll teach him how to play football (Dave says, “I want to teach him football!” Yes, Dave, but you aren’t his new “playmates”.) so now Samuel wants to check out NFL stuff on-line. Yup, come to
Grace received an American Girl doll from Grandma, this one is Elizabeth, the best friend of her doll Felicity. She loves the doll, so why does she look so miserable in the picture?
This is a long story, bear with me, because it makes for an interesting contrast to the crazy transformation of my son. About a year ago (I told you it’d be long…) Grace had an infection in her eye, maybe from a sty or something. I took her to our doctor and he prescribed eye drops and a cream, both of which eventually made the infection go away. Last week, I noticed the beginning stages of a similar infection. I showed it to Athena, whose uncle is a doctor, and asked her if she thought I should take Grace to a doctor, or just find something at the pharmacy. After a telephone consultation with her uncle, we went to a pharmacy where the pharmacist handed over eye drops and cream. Oh, I thought, just like at home, how convenient and wonderful! Of course, I forgot to have the pharmacist take a look at the weird dry round itchy spot behind her ear, but I figured that wasn’t as important as the eye infection.
After four doses of eye drops—which seemed to work really well—over the course of a 24-hour period Grace started breaking out in a huge rash. Big red splotches all over her body. Itchy and welty and not very comfortable. Finally it occurred to me that I should have looked up the medicine. I had looked at the boxes, noted that the cream was Erythromycin which is familiar to me, but didn’t give the drops much notice. So I googled the drops only to find that they are a steroid antibiotic and a common side effect is, you guessed it, a great big rash that can last up to 5 days. Gah! I will spare you the long drawn-out details but say that this has been an amazing rash, starting on her torso, spreading to arms, legs, neck, face, in alternating patterns and following no apparent logic other than the need to travel around from one part of her body to another. Poor thing—and despite all of it she’s been so good about not scratching, doesn’t complain, keeps up a positive attitude. I’ve been plying her with benadryl and coating her body with calamine lotion (the latter one purchase from the pharmacy that hasn’t back-fired on me) and although it had only been 36 hours, by last night Dave and I were starting to freak out a bit.
Wouldn't you freak out?
It hit her at bedtime with a vengeance and we both started to feel very far away from home and our trusted doctor. Grace finally fell asleep and we stayed up till 11:00 p.m. to catch the doctor’s office at home just at opening time. I will tell you this, I have never been patched through to a nurse so quickly as last night, when I said in a terribly pathetic and woebegone voice, “I’m calling from
Monday, September 24, 2007
Tomorrow, September 25th, is the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival in China. You can find moon cakes on every street corner and in all the large grocery stores, sold in elaborate box sets and individually. Naturally, we have been sampling them for the last week, since they come in all kinds of flavors. On the way up to the apartment this afternoon--armed with the four moon cakes in the picture--we ran into Mr. Song (Clyde) and Mrs. He (the "manageress" of the building). They spied our bag and were surprised to see that we had moon cakes. Not because we aren't Chinese, I suppose, but because we're a day early. I didn't admit to the many cakes we've already consumed.
From lower left going clockwise: candied fruit and nuts; sesame (?) paste; strawberry jelly bean (I'm sure that's not what it's called but it tastes like that); bean paste. There are also savory cakes but I haven't come across any yet.
The only thing I have around that tells me about the Moon Festival is in a kid's book of Chinese holidays and accompanying activities that I brought with me from home. I'm sure I could find lots of information on the web, and I did look, but after the many viruses Dave keeps bringing home from the campus computers, not to mention Lynette-next-door's experience of having her entire computer temporarily shut down due to visiting a Chinese web site, I decided to just give you the undoubtedly watered-down kid's version of the holiday. So here goes:
When the days grow shorter and the balmy breezes of summer are replaced by the brisk chill of fall, it is time to prepare for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, which is also called the Harvest Moon Festival. On the evening of the fifteenth day of the eighth month, the moon appears at its brightest, and for one night only it is said to be perfectly round.
Because the moon festival honors the female goddess of the moon, the women in the family prepare for the holiday. Houses are cleaned from top to bottom, and "moon papers," or bright posters, are hung near the door. [...] Candles are set out, and apples, persimmons, grapes, and melons--all round, like the moon--are arranged on platters. Everything is readied for the moon ceremony, which takes place at night.
When the moon is nearing its total roundness, candles are lit and incense is burned. Women and girls bow to the moon, and they honor the moon rabbit [who is said to live in the moon]. The moon papers are folded and burned, and tea is served with a variety of moon cakes.
--from Moonbeams, Dumplings and Dragon Boats (by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz, & The Children's Museum, Boston)
I forgot to mention that on every other street corner you can find vendors selling big boxes of apples, grapes, peaches, and pomegranates. Judging by the number of people I see on the streets carrying fruit and moon cakes, I'm sure the above description is at least partly accurate.
So on Tuesday night, look out your windows and see the same beautifully full and round moon that I will see tomorrow night, look for the rabbit in the moon, and enjoy the last days of summer and the coming of autumn.
Friday, September 21, 2007
We spent about $23, including a case that holds 52 DVDs. Next trip I'm buying all the Mozart operas I can find.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
The Great Mosque (minaret in the background)
Blankets, wicker store next door (think Pier 1 Imports, but infinitely cheaper)--too bad most of it won't fit in my suitcase.
Kitchen stuff--it's overwhelming trying to find anything. And of course, the pie pan or 8 x 8 pan that I can live without, but wouldn't mind stumbling across, don't exist here.
After a long afternoon of shopping, time to find the bikes and take our pumpkin buns and wicker coasters home.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Yup, Dave turned 41 today. We borrowed a pizza maker from Vanetta upstairs (which made quite good pizza, especially with the pepperoni she gave us, mailed from the U.S.--who would have thought it could travel that far and still be good?) and bought this cake at the pseudo-European bakery, Einan's. All in all, a good birthday, even without a homemade cake by yours truly. By the way, that's the brand-spanking-new table that the college bought the apartment, along with four lovely chairs. No more moldy fold-up chairs and crotchety fold-up table (which already bit Samuel once). We feel terribly civilized now.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
This brings me to a passage I am going to thrust upon you, whether you want it or not (of course you can just stop reading), because it made me laugh and feel better and once again feel complete and total admiration for Mary. She is talking about the ways to explore mangrove swamps and I think the description is wonderful.
This is a fascinating pursuit. But it is a pleasure to be indulged in with caution; for one thing, you are certain to come across crocodiles. Now a crocodile drifting down in deep water, or lying asleep with its jaws open on a sand-bank in the sun, is a picturesque adornment to the landscape when you are on the deck of a steamer, and you can write home about it and frighten your relations on your behalf; but when you are away among the swamps in a small dug-out canoe, and that crocodile and his relations are awake—a thing he makes a point of being at flood tide because of fish coming along—and when he has got his foot upon his native heath—that is to say, his tail within holding reach of his native mud—he is highly interesting, and you may not be able to write home about him—and you get frightened on your own behalf; for crocodiles can, and often do, in such places, grab at people in small canoes. I have known of several natives losing their lives in this way; some native villages are approachable from the main river by a short cut, as it were, through the mangrove swamps, and the inhabitants of such villages will now and then go across this way with small canoes instead of by the constant channel to the village, which is almost always winding. In addition to this unpleasantness you are liable—until you realize the danger from experience, or have native advice on the point—to get tide-trapped away in the swamps, the water falling round you when you are away in some deep pool or lagoon, and you find you cannot get back to the main river. Of course if you really want a truly safe investment in Fame, and really care about Posterity, and Posterity’s Science, you will jump over into the black batter-like, stinking slime, cheered by the thought of the terrific sensation you will produce 20,000 years hence, and the care you will be taken of then by your fellow-creatures, in a museum. But if you are a mere ordinary person of a retiring nature, like me, you stop in your lagoon until the tide rises again; most of your attention is directed to dealing with an “at home” to crocodiles and mangrove flies, and with the fearful stench of the slime round you. What little time you have over you will employ in wondering why you came to West Africa, and why, after having reached this point of folly, you need have gone and painted the lily and adorned the rose, by being such a colossal ass as to come fooling about in mangrove swamps.
Last night I got to the part in Peter Pan where Captain Hook jumps ship into the gaping maw of the crocodile; once the kids were asleep, I read the above passage in my own book and felt that sometimes there is a nice symmetry to life. I figure, what right do I have to moan about lack of library books or friends, when this incredibly brave and funny woman could write so cleverly about such a scary thing? And she didn’t have internet and there are no crocodiles in
Friday, September 14, 2007
The kids, much to their chagrin (though sometimes I think they keep up the “I hate school” routine because somehow they feel it is part of their childhood rights to complain about it, not so much because they really believe it), started back to lessons on Monday, also. Samuel is in 3rd grade now, Grace is in 1st. In our haste to get ready for the kids’ birthdays, my annual trek to Alaska, and for the trip to China, we ended up cutting school off pretty early last spring. Because of this, we have unfinished business, mostly in the math department, and so the transition into school has been fairly un-traumatic, as there isn’t anything too new. In spite of occasional melt-downs, the kids seem to be happy to have this familiar structure to their day. School also makes the days go by faster, which helps ease the recurrent bouts of homesickness. Nothing like being able to say to them, “Look how quickly time is going! Only 5 ½ months left!”
Not to get on the pity wagon, really. I’m just so used to the usual ups and downs of homeschooling and now, like with everything else we have encountered since coming here, I have to re-orient myself yet again and fit homeschooling within the context of being very much isolated, educationally as well as linguistically. At this point I am sure someone out there is saying, well gee, what about all the kids there? Can’t you all get together with them for weekly play dates? Well, yes and no is my answer to that. We live next door to a huge school.
Some kind of group p.e. class--view from our balcony
As far as I can tell, Chinese kids spend a lot of time at school, much like kids in America. There is a huge traffic jam every morning about 7:30 as the kids arrive to school, on bikes, in cars, on foot. About 11:30 they go home for what seems to be a 3 hour break, then return around 2:30 and stay until 5 or 6 (when there is an even bigger traffic jam, accompanied by a cacophony of horns), depending on how old they are.
Cars, bikes, buses--going home from school
Many kids stay even later than that, though, as there are kung fu lessons, dance lessons, and other lessons, the kind that take place behind desks, in the building right next to ours. I’ve seen kids in dance class as late as 8. Of course, I am kind of old-fashioned and believe that kids need a lot of unstructured time to play, goof off, read, stare at the wall, exercise, etc. I also feel they need to get lots of sleep. So I tend to feel a little alarmed at how much time these guys are in school. I guess I am just too lazy to consider having them out for lessons at a time I think best suited for showers and pajamas.
I don’t think anyone has figured out the best way to teach kids, the best way to raise them, the best time to go to bed. For me, I'm just trying to work out what seems best for us. I struggle with being too rigid and too stuck on a set routine, when oftentimes that rigidity is just a symptom of my concerns that I am doing the best thing or just ruining my kids. And now, mixed in with the usual parental doubts that plague us all, I must create a fruitful and fun learning environment, which incorporates both the wide world around us as well as the usual suspects of any curriculum. And to think I used to just be worried about the water!
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
We went out on our bikes this afternoon for a little loop around the block, ending up at the veggie lady behind the International Exchange College. She has excellent tofu and very fresh vegetables. For 3 1/2 yuan (about 50 cents) I got everything in the picture--that's about a pound of fresh tofu--which we'll have with steamed rice and red and yellow peppers for dinner tonight. The tomato is actually a gift from the veggie lady to Grace. (Grace gets lots of freebies wherever we go, because everyone is so taken with her. Yesterday about 6 clerks and the manager of the grocery store huddled around her as I was buying eggs and gave her a little motorcycle toy.) Anyway, we made it home and got our bikes stashed under cover just in time for a terrific fall thunderstorm. Nice and cozy and ready for dinner!
Monday, September 10, 2007
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Saturday, September 8, 2007
We took a night train to
A sleeper train is definitely the way to go, though, because we pulled into
We checked-in and headed out to Tiananmen Square and the
But we didn’t find Starbucks. [We later found two buried in the basements of mondo-sized super malls on Wangfujing.] By this time we were hungry and thinking food would be a good way to keep the kids happy while tourist-ing. After a short stop in the incredibly expensive foreign language bookstore (200 yuan for a Tintin comic and a unicorn book), we went to the Wangfujing Food Court (not to be confused with the Wangfujing Snack Street, which is outside and offers among a dizzying array of fare, such delicacies as deep-fried seahorses, bugs of many sorts, and octopi) recommended in Lonely Planet. The
One of many restaurants
You pay money to get a debit card of sorts, then wander around a bazillion restaurants (not much different from a food court at any
Re-fueled and feeling good
As we got closer, Samuel progressively dissolved into a quivering, shaking, crying little boy who absolutely did not want to go in. I never was able to get from him exactly what he was afraid of, since this is generally how he acts when frightened (is it because of the name? because of the size? because of all the people trying to be our “guides”?), or if he was just really exhausted, but he basically clung to me through the first part of the F.C., sobbing and wanting to spend the day in the hotel. This of course caused Grace to go into anti-Samuel mode (something I think sisters can do very well, at least this one) and she became super-trooper number one, not a complaint or a whine to be heard. Maybe Samuel has been permanently scarred by my seeming insensitivity, but we really felt he needed to see that we wouldn’t take him somewhere scary, and that we hadn’t come all the way to
A lot of the F.C. is undergoing a giant face lift, probably for the Olympics (whose logo is pasted on absolutely everything from milk to buses to hats and shirts) so much was unavailable to us anyway. I think if we ever go back, I’d probably spend most of my time in the gardens that surround the buildings. It is definitely very impressive, though, and it was easy to imagine a whole world existing there, completely insulated from the city outside its gigantic walls and moat.
We bought great pastries from this guy.
Because of the Olympics, and because I guess the government doesn’t think they are that charming, the hutongs are disappearing and the families who lived in them are being shuttled to the outskirts of town to live in newly-built huge “family buildings”—giant skyscrapers reminiscent of the co-ops on the outskirts of Manhattan. The hutongs we saw ranged from extremely narrow and crowded to much more spacious with shops and even a youth hostel clearly intended for a Western crowd.
Dave went deep into one alley to get this beautiful picture.
A particularly harrowing alleyway--Grace perched on back.
They are really quite wonderful and have to be explored on bike (even when you are afraid your knees and elbows might scrape on either side of the alleyway). Part way through our ride we stopped at
The last day in
Gondola ride, with the toboggan route below.
I don’t know how to describe the Wall, it has been described so many times, we’ve all seen pictures of it, it seems like it should just be a big tourist trap. But really, it was absolutely awesome to be on it. I mean awesome in the sense of awe-inspiring.
These worn bricks remind me of the 300-some steps up to the top of Notre Dame in Paris.
Samuel said we should write to the lady who writes the kids’ history books (Susan Wise Bauer) and tell her we visited the wall, since Samuel studied about ancient