Monday, November 2, 2015

The New World

Is it really true? Could I fiiiiiiinally be updating the blog after all this time? Yes, it's really happening, so quit pinching yourself and read up.

So what took me so long?
Well, for starters, I had to relocate my whole family. Give that a try sometime. Seriously, I'm stunned that we made it through all of the things that we had to go through to get to this point. You don't realize just how many little things you've got to do to simply START getting settled. I won't bore you with the minutia of that, at least not now though that might be a useful and informative post for some of my readers so I might just put that on the docket to do later. I had to take care of EVERYTHING because I was the US citizen bringing my immigrant husband over. Now that we're more set up,things are getting easier.

So what's been happening?
Jeremy got a job right away, lucky for us. And we got Raelynn into the VPK we wanted. Thanks to the insane cost of daycare though, I'm relegated to being a stay-at-home freelance writer, mommy, chauffeur, chef, seamstress, police officer, shopper, coupon clipper, maid and homemaker. That's an awful lot to put on my LinkedIn profile, so I usually stick to freelance writer. It's really different but much more enjoyable than I ever thought possible. One day, my kids will be grown and I can get back out into the rat race. Until then, I'll save us money by making whatever I can and not having it go directly to paying daycare fees.

Now, I'd like to answer the most common questions I get asked now that I am back:
1) How does Jeremy like America?
Sadly, while I'd hoped to make a sister blog to this blog (and much thanks to my friend Erin and her husband, Will, for their incredibly clever suggestion of "Return of the Broad (and her brood abroad)") I just don't have enough time to devote to writing something that I'm not getting paid to do. So I'll just be keeping this blog and hopefully updating it more often. Anyway, to answer, Jeremy loves it here. He loves how clean and peaceful it is. He loves the choices and freedoms and he's happy every day because he loves it here. He enjoys his job too.

2) How about Raelynn and Seoul? Do they like it?
Well, duh! My kids adore it here as much as Jeremy does. Quite honestly, it's awesome to watch the 3 of them experience things for the first time here. Like going to a fair at the park or celebrating Halloween. Seoul is a pretty happy baby so she seems to like everything (except when she meets her hero, a bird, in person and then flips out...). Raelynn is old enough to understand what's happened and thus seems to really enjoy the new things she encounters. When we first got to the US, I took Raelynn to the bathroom at a bank. As I'm helping her, she says, "Mommy, I love American bathrooms." I couldn't stop laughing, yet I agreed completely. You have no idea how refreshing toilets with real stalls and sinks with real soap are unless you've spent time living in China. NO IDEA.

3) What did you miss the most?
Aside from family and friends, I missed the freedoms most people here take for granted every day. I missed all the choices. The fresh, clean air. I even missed Florida itself, especially the nature and wildlife that just randomly passes by you each day. In Sanford, we always see cranes walking around the medians on the roads or in parking lots and it really takes my breath away. Of course, I also really missed the food here, which became too obvious after about a month of making up for lost time. Now I'm attending to that by hitting the gym 4 days a week.

4) Is there anything that's very different to you?
Oh yes. Like, everything. Everyone uses a smartphone for everything, and I'm no exception to that now. When I want or need to really write something though, I have to use my laptop because typing on such a small surface (plus autocorrect which likes to inject its' own zest here and there) drives me mad. Also, ATMs are so much more modern. And chip technology on your cards! I am always swiping when I should be inserting and vice versa. Prices. Things have gone up a bit since I was home last, except for gas. I couldn't believe how expensive IHOP was. I remember when a big breakfast with pancakes was $4.50. Now it's like $8. For IHOP! Jesus!

5) What's a typical day like for you now?
It's such a change from my old teaching job, which I do miss. But I'm much happier back in America and holding my many job titles mentioned above. We have only one car at this point so I'm in charge of driving everyone around. Jeremy's job is very close to our home, as is Raelynn's school, so it's not too annoying. We drop Jeremy off at work before 9am and then Seoul and I take Raelynn to school. If we have errands to run (post office, bank, supermarket or some place else) I usually get those done right after we drop her off. Seoul's a perfect companion most days. I've tried taking both girls in the afternoon and Raelynn gets upset about stuff I won't buy her at the supermarket, screaming and crying until I wish that a sinkhole would swallow me whole. I do a lot of coupon clipping as well as seek out rebates on my phone through various rebate apps, so some days, like today, I'll go to 2 different stores to get the groceries I need. If I'm not out stocking our pantry or handling our affairs, then I work on chores around the house and the best part, play with Seoul. We go get Raelynn around noon and then I fix us lunch. I put Seoul down for a nap after lunch, and when I'm done with that, I sit down with Raelynn to help her with her homework. Once she's busy with that, if I have any freelance projects, I get busy on those while Seoul sleeps and my writing juices are running. Once Seoul wakes up, I'll read to her and Raelynn. We'll also eat fruit or some kind of snack. Then when they're busy playing, I start getting dinner organized. Some nights, I make sure it is completely ready before we pick up Jeremy so that I can dash off to the gym once I get everyone home. Other nights, we eat together as a family. I bathe the kids and Jeremy cleans up the kitchen and the dishes. We have story time and most nights, Jeremy will call his parents on the video messenger on qq (a Chinese app, much like Skype meets Facebook). After that, I get Seoul to bed and Jeremy makes sure Raelynn gets ready for bed. Once Seoul's asleep, Raelynn will be waiting for me to come kiss her goodnight. Then Jeremy and I enjoy some time alone together without the kids interrupting our conversations. We talk about our days and watch TV. Sometimes we enjoy some wine and cheese, a perfect ending.

6) Does Jeremy miss his parents?
Of course he does! He worries a lot too because unfortunately, soon after we arrived in America, his father's health problems were becoming more of an issue. He was at high risk for a stroke and I told him he needed to change his diet and take blood thinners but he didn't listen. He wound up in the hospital again for about 2 weeks. He's doing much better now, but every time Jeremy calls them and they don't answer, he thinks the worst.

7) Do YOU miss his parents?
And this of course would be the most popular question. The one thing everyone wants to know. So? No, I don't miss them but since we've come  here, I like them more. Much as I suspected. MIL's voice annoys me much less coming through the qq app. I made peace with MIL right before we moved too. Maybe it was all the baijiu I'd drank at a dinner his relatives took us all to the weekend we moved. Or maybe I finally realized she wasn't going to impede us from leaving. But it felt good to leave with a clean slate. You might think we wish we had her to watch the kids so I could take an office job too, but no. If they were here, I'd be even busier than I am now. Which is insane to imagine, tbh.

I am going to try to be more on top of this blog so I can tell you all about our first Halloween in the US, what it's like to make an international move with 2 small children (spoiler alert: it sucks but the end result is worth it), and much much more.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Guest Post - Top 10 Do's and Don'ts When Learning Mandarin Chinese

Hello from the good ol' USA! I owe you guys LOTS of posts, I know, I know. But it's been really hectic over here with apartment and job hunting and everything in between we've been doing to get settled in. I am still hoping to make a new sister blog about how Jeremy's handling life in America but that's just going to have to wait until the dust settles more.

In any event, you may recall this guest post from a while back from Learn Mandarin Now and thanks to them, you now have some new reading material. Enjoy, and I hope I'll have a chance to post something more soon.

From Learn Mandarin Now:

Learning Mandarin Chinese is one of the most popular things to do in the world today, and more and more people are taking up the challenge.

Naturally, the ways to learn the language can vary and may include on-line learning, in classes or via one-to-one tuition. Similarly, the reasons for such study will depend on the individual and may be for career advancement, to challenge one’s abilities or simply as you enjoy the sounds and rhythm of the language.

In any event, as part of our continuing efforts to help you with learning better Mandarin Chinese, we at Learn Mandarin Now are always looking for ways to bring you new ideas, tips and suggestions—and, hence, we devised and wrote this Infographic:

We believe that, if you are really serious about learning Mandarin Chinese, it’s well worth learning something about Chinese culture; plus, find out about some do’s and don’ts. In our view, not only will this give you a greater insight into the language but also, perhaps, prevent you from getting yourself into potentially awkward situations!

After reading through our Infographic, if you want to know more about How to learn Chinese take some time to read about the results of a recent extensive survey we undertook, and get some top tips and advice from others in a similar situation to you.

Have fun and learn well—you might be surprised at how quickly you start to learn Mandarin Chinese once you get going!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow...

After 4 years at KISQ, tomorrow will be my final day teaching there. Or teaching anywhere, because I'm seeking employment opportunities that focus on writing as I go into my future in America. I certainly don't regret this little hiatus to teach. I'm stronger for having done this. But teaching was never an official, permanent career change. It just was a way to be useful in the world. I got so much more out of it than that too.

I began teaching in Seoul as a means to an end. It was just easy pay. If you're good with grammar and spelling, it's an absolute cakewalk. Honestly though, I've seen people with lousy English skills teaching while I've been in Asia. I think many schools are just happy to have a native English speaker to stand in front of classrooms and look the part.

For me, it was more than looking the part. Sure, I went into it for a paycheck. But as I come out of it, I realize how much I've gained from this experience.

I taught children how to read, which is probably one of the things I will always treasure the most deeply about teaching. I remember a few years ago, I had a boy named Tony in my class. He was struggling to read when I first met him. I worked with him, patiently teaching him to sound out each word. And suddenly, like a bird taking flight, off he went. He went on to become one of my strongest readers. I had many like him who suddenly blossomed into fluency. Watching my kids get it was one of the best feelings I ever had while teaching.

I taught children how to remember the often randomly insane rules of phonics in my native English. I made them laugh while I did so, hoping that it would help them crack the code with every new word they'd learn. And when they'd read new words I'd never taught them without missing a beat, I knew I'd gotten through to them and it made me feel proud.

I gave these kids my all, every day. And as I get ready to leave, I realize they gave me so much too. They showed me that I could really be kind and patient. That I could really cut my own finger with the scissors and NOT shout out a profanity (I am still amazed by that one).  That I should always find the opportunity to smile and laugh. That sharing is love. That we should always make time to play. That teachers make fun monsters on the playground. That the stuff we learn in the books isn't all they learn from me - it's my speech patterns and my informal lingo that they love to mimic the most (beware: there are a bunch of Korean kids who now happily go about using "dude" and "bro" and "you must chill!" in daily conversation).

I've had 4 different classes over these last 4 years. The first group of children is now in  4th grade. Because living abroad is a transient experience as families will come and go like the changing tides, many of the children I had in my first year at KISQ are gone. Five of them are still there though. One of them, Wendy, said hello to me today in the cafeteria, as she often does. I looked at her and nearly cried. She was so tall now, and even more beautiful than she was as a kindergarten child. I couldn't believe that she was getting close to being my height! Her English was fairly good when she was small. Now it's excellent. I wish her well and tell her how lovely it's been to watch her grow up, and then I tell her I'm moving away. She looks sad too and I realize I must keep a smile on my face and not cry. God. I'm going to cry. No, not here. I can't. Somehow, I get away before my tears betray me.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I did find out more of who I am by teaching these children. I found a reason to be proud of myself. Sure, I survived in advertising but could any of those people be strong enough to suddenly uproot their lives and move to two different countries to do a completely different job from what they'd ever done before? I learned I could adapt. I learned I could work with people from different backgrounds who didn't even speak the same first language as me. I learned what it was like to be responsible for something so much more important than words on papers designed to motivate people to buy something.

Through all my classes, this year has been my favorite. I started with 9 children. Two of them left within the first 3 weeks due to an issue with the school's bus pickup times. Then I was left with 7. I've always had at least 15 children each semester. Having so few was really a nice way to end my time teaching here. In a smaller group like this, I had more opportunity to work with each of my students to help them improve where they needed strengthening. And we all got to know each other better overall. So maybe that's why it's so hard to say goodbye to this bunch.

Last week, Jinny parted with us as her family moved back to Korea. Today, we said goodbye to Chris, who will be moving down to Shanghai. And now tomorrow, I will say goodbye to Ann, Jaeseo, Rachael, Jason and Joy. I've known Ann, Rachael and Jason since they were only 4 years old, when they were in the baby class.

I'm so excited for our move to the US in just a few days. It's something I've wanted for so long but of course, parting is such sweet sorrow for the wonderful relationships I've created over here from my friendships with other teachers, the few friends I've got out here still (and the ones who are already back in their home countries who I still stay connected to and my darling students who kept me feeling young and in turn, will stay forever young in my heart. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Things I Can't Unsee

Less than 2 weeks before we move and things are getting INSANE around here. I just realized it's been about 10 days since my last post and I have inadvertently kept you all waiting about my reader poll. I just want to thank those of you that contacted me with your votes and other suggestions. You rock! I will debut the new blog with a new name once I'm back in America. For now, you'll just have to wait and see what I've decided as I'm busy packing and looking for jobs online but I had to take a break to tell you all about this.

Have you ever seen something and then promptly wished you could rip out your eyes, burn them and replace them with new eyes in hopes that the image you just saw will be washed from your memory? Or perhaps you go share it with someone because nothing helps more than spreading some grossness around, amirite? Of course I am! So enter, if you dare, into my Hall of Things You Can't Unsee!

Now, because we're leaving so soon, I'm stuck with my in-laws constantly in my face. I've never been so relieved to go to work each day so that I don't have to be trapped with them. But on weekends, which normally should be my quiet and peaceful time with Jeremy and the children, my chimp-like in-laws come trampling over at 8am to make us food I don't want to eat and let Raelynn act like a brat. I'm trying not to let it aggravate me too much since we'll be on our way to America hopefully before I completely lose my mind. Though sometimes, they make things even more difficult for me to refrain from flipping out.

Like when my FIL came over on Saturday and then proceeded to grab MY Miami Dolphins cup that I ALWAYS use off the table and drink MY green tea from it. Yes, really. I had to resist the urge to vomit. Has he done this before? Oh. My. God. Please tell me this is the first time he's drank from my drink. "Zhe shi wo de," I say, trying not to sound so shrill but I am straining so hard not to scream it truly hurts me. "Oh oh, wo zhe dao," he replies "I know" to my "that's mine." I hurry to the kitchen to make him his very own teapot full of tea and bring it to him, with a glass for him to use. While he's distracted with that, I go to disinfect my glass and make myself fresh, non-FIL-contaminated tea.

MIL of course is busy wrecking my kitchen which I gave up on about a month ago. I have no time to clean up after that woman anymore. She's taking over this dump and it's just easier to let Jeremy exhaust himself picking up after her. I wonder how he will react when he sees my parents' open-plan kitchen. Even simple things like a garbage disposal will likely entertain him. Me too, because over here, we've got sink traps. They're essentially metal cups with small holes in them to strain out the water. When you wash your dishes, any bits of food get collected into the sink traps. When they fill up, you just empty the traps into the garbage and all is well and good again. Of course, any sane person would use plastic dish washing gloves for this task. But MIL being MIL gives me such a treat as I walk into the kitchen. I watch in helpless horror as she sticks her BARE HANDS into the sink trap, digs out the clumps of food and tosses it into the garbage. Then, to make it even more disgusting, she rinses her hands ever-so-briefly with cold water and dries them on the dirty rag she uses to wipe down everything, and continues cooking. God. Help. Me.

I try to explain to Jeremy who is also disturbed by this but pats my leg reassuringly and reminds me that this is why he doesn't like to go out to Chinese restaurants because the old people that work there do stuff like this too. I'm not sure how this is supposed to make me feel any better.

After the meal, which I haven't eaten much of, I go put Seoul down for a nap. As I rock her to sleep in my lap, I stare off into the fish tank in front of me. I'm humming a Pink Floyd song and zoning out on the fish as they swim around, thinking about all the tasks before me: packing, finding work, where to live, enroll Raelynn in school, pediatrician, driver's license renewal...and as it all swirls around in my brain like a cyclone, Seoul drifts off to sleep. Ah, now that's a nice sight. A sleeping baby. I smile and then I make the mistake of looking up at the fish. And that's when I see one fish swim up to the butt of another one and eat poop right out of it. GOD NO.

So yeah. I told you so! But hey, I'll help you cleanse your eyes by leaving you with this very darling picture of our sweet Seoul, who will be turning one shortly after we arrive in the US. My how it's flown! Yay Seoul! We love you!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Goodbye, Car!

This weekend, Jeremy sold our car. I didn't expect to feel so sad about it. After all, I was the one who didn't even want him to drive here in the first place. We've been through a lot with that car. It's become like a member of our family. One that I will miss more than my husband's parents.

Jeremy went with a buyback program at a dealership. They offered him a fair amount for it and agreed to pick it up on Monday. That gave us an extra day with the car. So we decided to say goodbye to it.

I've had 3 cars in my life so far. The first one was my 1993 Saturn SC1 which I had for 8 years until a drunk driving loser smashed into it. Lucky to be alive, I then bought a 2001 Nissan Sentra. And my last car was my favorite...a 2006 Pontiac G6 V6. I loooooooooooooved that car.

But this 2008 Chevy Aveo was Jeremy's first car. His face says it all - all his hopes for the future and all his sorrow for saying goodbye. It is oddly difficult to bid adieu to cars, isn't it?

We decided to take our special red car (as Raelynn had nicknamed it) to Metro one last time. That way, we could also say goodbye to Metro. For better or worse, it's been the supermarket we've frequented the most during our time here.

We bought wine and cheese, green tea ice cream, cereal, bread, yogurt and a few other essentials that we'd need over the next 20 days. It was strangely uncrowded, which was a plus. But despite it being mid-June, the air conditioning was not on. Add that to the list of things I won't miss about living abroad in Asia. Sigh.

Raelynn got a sample of yogurt but accidentally dropped the small plastic spoon they gave her through the bottom of the cart. Sorry kid...maybe you can try to slurp it out somehow but we're not giving you a spoon that fell on the dirty floor. Yuck!

Jeremy poses for a photo to commemorate our last time in Metro because I didn't slap on any make-up and was not about to document that by taking a picture. At least this face is happier than the one he was making by the car. Maybe because he's happy it wasn't crowded and the lines were short. Or maybe he's thinking that he doesn't care it's our last time at Metro because I've told him so much about Publix.

In any event, goodbye Metro. We will miss you, but not as much as we'll miss our special red car. And to our special red car, thanks for making our days in Qingdao a lot more convenient. We hope your next owner comes to love you as much as we have and that if they have any children, they will not get as many crumbs in you as Raelynn did.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

My Husband's Twin

I can't believe I never posted about this!

We've had these foam blocks since Raelynn was a baby. Now Seoul enjoys playing with them. But all of us enjoy laughing at one of the pictures that happens to be on the block that has "D." I swear to you, the picture looks like Jeremy.

You be the judge! See for yourself!
We've always said it's "D" for "Dada" which is just perfect. You can see the duck on there too. "D" for "duck." So there. You see? It MUST be "D" for "Dada" then.

Jeremy doesn't completely agree with Raelynn and me, but he is a good sport about it.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Oh No You Don't!

My husband the comedian says this to me last night:
"I want my mom to immigrate to America in the future."

No. No. No.

He can't be serious. Can he?
Oh but yes. He is. Why in the world is saying stupid stuff like this? Men are such idiots.

In the morning, I'm still homicidal.
"You're still angry?" he asks. My Drew-Barrymore-Firestarter-stare must have given me away. He implores me to calm down. That it's something we can discuss again when we are settled in America.

Yes, time is on my side. And I'll buy as much of it as I can to keep those parents of his from coming over permanently.

I kept stewing in my rage so I decided to look online to see what I could find out. Had anyone else been in this situation before? And thankfully, I discovered that I can't be responsible for his moron parents. They're not MY immediate relatives. So I can't bring them over. Oh darn. Yes, that was a heavy layer of sarcasm coating that statement.

Even though I can't get them a permanent resident visa, there is one person who can. Their own son. Yes, my husband can do it. But not while he's a green card holder. He needs to become a full-fledged US citizen first. And that will be lots of paperwork, money and time. Plus, he'll have to prove he has enough money to support those two before they will grant his parents green cards.

I don't like my in-laws. You know this. I don't want anything bad to happen to them though, despite how much I despise them. I really don't. But just because I don't wish any ill will on them does not mean I want to dote on them. I did not work this hard to get out of here and get my husband and daughters into a better place just to have tthem tag along. Maybe that sounds selfish but I don't want to waste my earnings on 2 people who are old and aren't going to accomplish anything else in their lives. The money we make should be spent making our daughters' lives the best we can make them.

I'm fine with them visiting or us going to visit them. I'm fine with sending them money. Even though they have money. Fine. But I'm not in any way, shape or form down with this.

I know that getting all worked up about something that's not even happening yet isn't helpful either. I just had to vent though to get it out of my system. And now that I feel a bit better, I will be praying that this idiotic idea of my husband's never ever comes into fruition.