Friday, December 23, 2011

Raelynn Takes A Stand

Happy Christmas Eve Day Everyone!

Lane and I got quite the surprise gift this morning. We were busy preparing breakfast together in the kitchen while Raelynn was busy playing with her toys in her crib. I started slicing up some oranges when she began to cry.

"Go to see," Lane says pointlessly since I'm already on my way.
"What's wrong, Raelynn?" I sing out.

And then I stop short. I cannot even believe what I am seeing. "HONEY! COME LOOK NOW! QUICK! QUICK! QUICK!" I shout.

Would you like to see what we saw? Sure you would:
There Raelynn stood all by herself, munching on the crib. It must taste good. Lord, please don't let it be covered in lead paint. You just know with China's track record that they would totally do something THAT dumb. She stopped crying as soon as she had seen me. I think she was just trying to get my attention, as if to say, "Look Mom! Look what I can do!"

Here's a longer shot of our stand-up gal.

And who could possibly resist a close-up of this darling face? So officially, we will soon never sleep again due to this kid climbing out of everything and trying to eat electrical cords and all that jazz. Oh Raelynn! We love you very much no matter what!

Michael Jackson's Greatest Engrish Hits

Is everyone ready for Christmas? We've been very busy preparing for the big day. It's extra special this year because this is Raelynn's first ever Christmas. We know she won't remember everything (or anything really) but when she looks through the countless photos we've taken thus far in her life and watches the videos that will perhaps be embarrassing to her as a teenager, she'll know that she is the best gift that my husband and I have ever received.

Our small tree would have looked tragic without gifts underneath it. And so began the process of purchasing enough presents to make it look like the kind of Christmas you could be proud of. I'm still wrapping everything since a certain adorable someone has been making bedtime unreasonably difficult lately, but when I'm done, the tree will want for nothing with such an abundance of material goods blossoming beneath. Stuffed animals, toys, books and clothes await our little angel who will most likely delight in shredding the wrapping paper from each one more than the gifts themselves.

And then, there are gifts for Lane and me. There are no surprises. We know exactly what we got each other because we picked our own gifts. A Dolce & Gabana make-up compact waits patiently for me, among other lovely make-up items. For Lane, he has a Chinese-style hackey sack, some underwear (I know, snore, but I can never buy him enough. He is ALWAYS tearing holes in them, presumably from farting too much...) and a 3-disc Michael Jackson CD set.

My husband, like many Asians you'll meet on their native continent, LOVES Michael Jackson's music. You could come to China, not speak a single word of Chinese and just say "Michael Jackson" and they will TOTALLY understand you. Indeed, he was the "King of Pop" for very good reason. Whatever things he did or did not do in his personal life, there is one thing you can't dispute and that was his musical and dance-related talents. He was iconic and always will be until the end of time.

Incidentally, Lane thinks so much of Michael Jackson that one day when we lived in Seoul, he decided to bust a move. Moving forward with his arms extended stupidly in front of him, he proclaimed: "Look Honey, I'm Michael Jackson." He kept dancing around our kitchen and I stared at him, amused and perplexed until I realized he was trying to do the Moonwalk. Only he was moving forward instead of backward. And even if he had begun to propel himself in the proper direction, he looked utterly ridiculous. And they say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Whoever said that did not see my husband dance, that's for sure.

Back to the present, and the Michael Jackson 3-disc CD set for Lane's present. He snatched it up from the shelf at the book store and declared this is what I could get him for Christmas. "Let me see that," I tell him because the cover seems a little off. Take a look, won't you?
I love love LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE that this cover has his name as "MICHAEL JACK SON." I am also equally amused by the BMW logo in the upper left corner. If you look at it more closely though, you will see it actually says "BMH."

But it's the back of the album that wins in the Engrish department. Yes, we struck pure gold when we discovered Michael Jackson's little-known-about greatest Engrish hits. Check out the back:

Let's zoom in on each disc's contents, shall we?

Disc A:
You might be looking at this first disc's list and thinking, "so fucking what?" If so, you obviously aren't the meticulously anally retentive former professional senior copywriter turned English teacher that I am. Or you need glasses. Allow me to point out that track 6 says "UN BREAKABLE." And that track 12 says "MDNEY" which should say "MONEY." If those were too subtle then check out track 14. "She's DUT of My Life." "DUT?" Sigh. I love that Chinese people confuse the "D" and "O" so easily, as you can plainly see from this disc.

Disc B:
"They Don't Care A BOUT Us," or correct English. No, no, no. But I'm glad they don't because if they did, Engrish as we know it would cease to exist. Allow me to point out what caused me to laugh myself into tears in the store: "BEARK Of Dawn." And just when I thought I couldn't possibly make more of a scene, I saw "You ABE Not Alone." Oh. My. God. Can we institute an annual Engrish Awards? Seriously, this might just win.

Disc C:
As funny as Disc B is, I believe Disc C wins it. It totally goes in for the kill. We should have a song called "Privacy," but instead, we have "PAIVACY." Chinese people love to confuse "A" and "R" just as much as "D" and "O." And let's not forget to "GRY." Which should be "CRY." But again, the Chinese person who made this odd bootleggy item (to be fair, all the songs on the disc are indeed Michael Jackson but I can't imagine his camp authorizing the use of them in this fashion) apparently thought they had good English skills. The extra "B" in "BBLOOD on the Dance Floor" is just a careless mistake in my opinion. Beneath that, we have "SPEEGHLESS." Indeed it left me speechless. But not for long because "Wanna Be STRARTIN'SOME THIN" gave me plenty to make fun of.

So, will any of our other presents contain Engrish? Well, we'll just have to wait to see what we unwrap under the tree. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Grandpa Piece

Not one day goes by where I don't miss the ones I love who have left this world behind. Grandpa was one of a kind...a funny kind. He'd be so proud of me zinging his old joke in there like that too.


I'm sure some of you will read the title of this post and think that it implies something shady, like that Grandpa's getting some side action or some let's-not-go-there territory. And if that is what you're hoping this is about, then you're out of luck. For this post is in loving memory of my grandpa on my mom's side, Seymour, who we just called "Grandpa." We called our dad's father "Papa" to distinguish our grandfathers. Papa was a great man too and I think about him often, but something happened recently that got me thinking about Grandpa. I just had to share it with my husband. And now I'm sharing it with you too.

You should also know that Grandma was an outstanding cook. She made the most amazing things from scratch. I don't even know if I could duplicate it. Grandma was known for her kick-ass desserts. They were absolute heaven. Her meals were sensational but we ALL lived for dessert.  Grandma took great pride in presentation. When she'd slice up her decadent chocolate pie, we'd all crowd around, drooling, hoping to be the one to get the first piece.

Unless that piece, which more often than not when it came to the removal of that first piece, flopped out onto the plate like a dead and bloated fish trying to escape out of the chum bucket with one last thrash. Despite that it was from the same pie, because this piece looked like what would actually happen when shit hit the fan, my brother and I would refuse to eat it. We wanted a pretty piece. That's where Grandpa came in. Grandpa didn't mind the messy piece. Because he wound up always getting these wonky-looking slices of cake and pie, we began calling them "The Grandpa Piece."

I had shared this bit of family history with Lane who finds it funny, knowing how his wife and his brother-in-law get along, to imagine us as children behaving this way. Lane is much like Grandpa too in that he'll gladly take something that looks like it hit the floor so I can have the one that looks like it didn't. He's a good sport, just like Grandpa was. Since my husband now knows that he's responsible for eating "The Grandpa Piece," he plays along during these moments. Technically, he should have eaten this whole cake:
Grandma NEVER would have had a cake turn out looking like this. NEVER! Only "The Grandpa Piece" would look like this. But to my credit, my ugly cake tasted beautifully. Grandma would have criticized the way this cake looks. But Grandpa would have been full of praise because, despite being hideous, it was absolutely delicious. They were such opposites I still have no idea how they wound up together. Perhaps their opposing forces canceled each other out and that's what made them work. Or, perhaps it was Grandpa's willingness to eat the ugly, messy pieces in life that did the trick.

The winter holidays have always made me miss family. Ever since they left this world, I miss both sets of grandparents. And of course, I miss my mom. But now that I live on the upside down side of the world, I miss my family. And my friends. For me, a great distraction from those I'm missing is to get cooking. And Christmas time wouldn't be the same without gobs of horribly delicious baked goods. Lane and I have been invited to a Christmas party which we're looking forward to. Immediately, I knew what I'd make. This chocolate lava cake that you can make in your rice cooker. Yes, really! Look at it. It looks amazing! Of course, while I do hope mine will come out looking as lovely as the one you see there, I am more inclined to believe that, given my history, mine will come out looking like the cake I posted above. I will document this endeavor and perhaps we will all be proud of my kitchen prowess. Or, I will have created another giant Grandpa Piece that I hope everyone will be happy to help eat.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Let It Snow!

Unfortunately, it did not snow THIS much. Yet!
 
It seems that the one semester of meteorology I took in college paid off. Last week, I accurately predicted snowfall for Qingdao. The weather report said nothing of the sort. But because I knew it was going to rain and the temperatures were rapidly declining, I turned to Lane and said, "It's going to snow." He didn't think it would. Then, at work, I saw it. Soft, white flutters descending from the sky. I screamed with joy and my students all jumped up and ran to the window, pressing their little noses and hands against the glass.

When it comes to snow, I am as excited, if not more so, than a small child. My friends back home find this odd, since I spent my entire life (prior to the last few years) living in South Florida where it of course never snows. I never actually imagined myself living in a snowy place before. I always enjoyed visiting snow, but I hesitated at the thought of living in it. I had way too many friends who'd bitch about having to shovel snow, dig their cars out of the driveway, scrape ice off the windshield, put snow chains on their tires and all those other snow-dulling activities. Why not just sled to work?

The trick is that, in order to enjoy snow with the wonderment of a small child your whole life, you must live somewhere that you would never, ever drive. Where public transit or taxis can get you to and from your destination du jour. Then you can be like me, squealing away, as though I've suddenly been turned into my younger self just like those old Shredded Wheat commercials.

When I see snow, especially when it is falling, despite knowing HOW the weather phenomenon of snow occurs, I can't help myself from finding it to be so magical and special. It's so graceful as it blows about. Even when snowing heavily, it is almost poetic as it floats from above. To see it makes me giddy and bouncy wherever I am. It feels like Christmas morning and I've gotten the kind of presents I dream about. I smile at everyone I see as I walk along.

It snowed on and off today from lunch time on. I went outside several times to marvel at the falling snow. And when I left for home, it began to snow again. I walked down the hill from school to a big main road and suddenly, the snowfall become quite heavy. But I didn't mind. I was too busy twirling about in it, admiring this perfectly pretty form of precipitation. Moments before, an available taxi had waved me away as if to say he was off duty. But then when the snow began falling hard, he opened the door and called to me, "Zou!" Which meant he'd changed his mind since he was telling me to come to him. When I got in, he told me in Chinese that he would have felt badly leaving me out in the snow like that. But it truly wouldn't have bothered me.

Instead, I enjoyed the rest of the snow in the company of the kind and chatty cabbie who was impressed with the American gal doing her best to speak Chinese. I'm always happy to get a driver like this so I can get more practice speaking Chinese. When I told him how much I loved snow, he put my window down while we were waiting for a light to change. Much to my pleasure, snow blew right into the taxi.

It snowed the whole ride home. I have never run up all 6 flights of stairs here before, but there is a first time for everything. Powered by snow, I bounded up the steps and burst through our door where Lane and Raelynn were waiting for me. "It's snowing! It's snowing!" I cheered. I grabbed Raelynn and brought her to the window, opened it slightly and explained to her curious, angelic little face what snow was as it wafted into our faces.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

This is EXACTLY how I feel when my in-laws come over but they seem more than a little overjoyed to have us in their hovel of a home.


During the week, when I get home from work, all I want to do is enjoy my time with Raelynn. After dealing with screaming Korean kindergarteners all day, nothing brings me greater pleasure than to hold my favorite person in my arms. And of course, I am always more than delighted to see my handsome husband too, if he's home when I get home. The person I don't want to see is MIL with her two long and winding silver chin hairs, in an obvious competition to see which can reach the floor first before she finally figures out that no woman has to live with unwanted facial hair and gnaws them off with her old rat-like false teeth. Yes, I am happiest when my husband gets there first and sends her back to her home of improperly stored food stuffs so that he and Raelynn are all I see and hear when I walk through the door. I treasure my MIL-free weekends and late afternoons/evenings as dearly as my most expensive family heirlooms. But something has recently tarnished these special times for me.

Lane had told me that now that his parents have moved to their other property close by our home (about a 10-minute walk), he would like for us to go to their home one night each week for dinner. I looked up at him incredulously. He promised it would never be during the weekend. Still, I sat there feeling betrayed. His sow of a mother gets to spend all day with my adorable daughter and now I must forfeit another evening of my free time to allow this woman to spend MORE time with my baby?!? AND we have to go to their crusty-ass house and eat things SHE cooks? Gag.

But it was important to Lane. I love my husband very much. He makes so many sacrifices for me to make me happy. I have to compromise too, don't I? Sigh. "Will this make YOU happy?" I ask him because you know I totally don't care if MIL is happy. At. All. "Yes, it will make me very happy," Lane says and I let out a loud, defeated sigh. What can I say except for yes?

So, on Wednesday, a particularly cold and windy day, we bundle up the baby and make our way through the insanely busy intersection at Harbin Road and up the outdoor market street (which I like to call "Chou Lu" which translates to "Smell Road" because it totally reeks of fish guts, rotting vegetables, urine of the feline and canine variety, urine of the human variety, fecal matter of every variety and the stench of garbage in general). If we'd kept walking straight, we'd soon wind up in a nice neighborhood with a clean and civilized shopping mall complete with Starbucks and an adjacent swanky Le Meridien hotel. But we didn't. We turned somewhere in the midst of the vegetable kiosks and weaved our way around apartment buildings that looked even grittier than ours. And just like ours of course, no elevator. Up 5 flights we climbed as the smells of dinner from each apartment we passed swirled into the hallway.

My FIL greeted us boisterously at the door. He's not so bad though I don't like him very much lately after how he's been treating my husband. According to Lane, he's also kind of a dick to MIL too which is upsetting to hear. I can't stand her but it doesn't mean I want anything bad to happen to her. Or him for that matter. All I wish is that Lane, Raelynn and I lived VERY far away from them and only had to see them 2 days out of every year, if that. That would be paradise. Funny how my idea of paradise has shifted from soaking in the sun on a sparkling white sand beach with endless rum runners to not being in the same geographical region as my in-laws. Anyway, as we enter I look around at this property and I thank God that this was not the home they gave us to live in. I'll try to discreetly take photos next time but let's just say that even they deserve a home with a better bathroom than this place. The one and only bathroom has a door that is more like the kind you'd find on a stall in a biker bar bathroom. Actually, it's more like an indoor outhouse, if such an oxymoron exists. The toilet has a bucket of fresh water with a large plastic ladle next to it. If I hadn't lived in China this long, I would not know that this was to use to flush the toilet. Even worse is the sink. There is a large bucket underneath it to catch the water that runs down the drain. That's right. No pipes out. It is one step above MIL's sister's bathroom which I wouldn't have used if I weren't pregnant at the time we were forced to visit her home.

MIL starts bringing out plates of food and gestures for us to sit down while FIL busies himself opening the bottles of Tsingtao beer we've brought along to share. It's at this time that my husband urges me to let his mother hold Raelynn. "But she held her ALL day," I plead. Lane begs me and I, frowning noticeably, hand Raelynn over to MIL who has at least just washed her hands in our presence. Lane insists it's just so I can eat with my hands free. I want to scream but instead, I force a smile and attempt to be gracious about the food that's been served.

If you've read my blog before, you know MIL can't cook worth a damn. She makes about 5 decent dishes. The rest are over-salted and absolutely disgusting. I was pleased to see the old gal had tried something new. She'd whipped up some dish that was quite similar to the Thailand's famed Pad Thai. She also made one of her 5 decent dishes, her steamed whole fish in sauce. The other 3 items were questionable: some weird potato and noodle dish that was far too salty for me; a chicken and pepper dish which I steered clear of due in large part to how peppers tend to cause me great gastrointestinal pain ever since the onset of my mid-30s; and a plate of small conch-like creature in a vinegar and ginger sauce. I didn't want to eat the last dish, not because I don't like seafood, but because when not properly handled or stored, it can give you the runs. Knowing that someone with absolutely no sense on how to correctly handle and store such a food stuff was serving this, I tried to politely refuse it but my husband made me eat it, insisting it was safe.

Meanwhile, MIL had my baby and try as I might to eat more quickly, I kept getting thrown more food or FIL would make an attempt to speak some English to me. Like clockwork, someone knocked on the door. MIL ran up to it like a desperate girl waiting for her hired prom date, with my daughter in her arms. It was a neighbor "returning" a tupperware. Oh sure. Hannibal Lechter would have referred to this as ham-handed in the worst way. It was beyond obvious this woman had come over to gawk at my baby. And MIL held onto her like she was HER baby. She is a horrible braggart. Honestly, she's got balls. As if this wasn't diarrhea-inducing on its own, BOTH Lane and I wound up with the runs from her stupid shellfish dish, thankfully long after we'd returned to our home with a functioning bathroom.

This week, we'll have to go back again. As you may have guessed, I'm not looking forward to this newly developing weekly ritual. I am not going to eat. I'm going to PRETEND to eat. And I'm going to find as kind a way as I can to say in Chinese, "Thanks but I'll be holding my baby now since you have spent enough time with her today," instead of telling her to stand in front of an oncoming bus. Or pushing her in front of one. I'm more inclined to say something of the sort but for my husband's and Raelynn's sake, and so I don't piss off Santa Claus, I'll do my best to be nice.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Great Thanksgiving Blowout

The above photo is from Google's Picasa Web Albums and is for illustration purposes only. Looks like a place I wish I could be though!


Happy Belated Thanksgiving to you all! I hope everyone spent theirs well. Lane took me out for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants here. We brought Raelynn too but to say he took US out to dinner would imply she got to eat. She did not partake of the food there but she did enjoy plenty of milk from the magic milk boobs and she even got to eat some sweet potato before we left home. A good first Thanksgiving for her too, I think!

We didn't have a traditional Thanksgiving feast either. We went to an all-inclusive Japanese restaurant because of the great quality and tons of endless food and booze for a rather cheap price. We'd been invited to a real Thanksgiving dinner by a friend but Lane felt the cost was a bit steep. It was, though I wished we could have gone. Still, we had a good time on our own and got to stuff ourselves with sashimi, lamb chops, oysters, steak and much more.

But whether or not we went out on our own or went to my friend's affair, I missed home. I missed my parents, my brother (who is the closest in distance over in Singapore) and the family dog, Tasha. And I missed Mom's cooking. No one can top her turkey. Or any of her sides. Or her desserts! Oh how I longed to be back home with my family and show my husband and Raelynn what Thanksgiving is all about.

Since I couldn't be with them, I shared some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories of them with my husband. And now, probably to my mom's great chagrin, I will share with you one of the most memorable Thanksgivings ever. Mom, if you're reading this, you know you rock and I love you but enough time has passed that you have to laugh about this now.

It was about 10 years ago. Hell, I think it was longer than that actually. We were in our old house in Plantation, Florida. There were so many family members and friends milling about. We were snacking on cheeses and other tide-me-over items while indulging in lots of alcoholic beverages, playing pool and watching boats go by in the canal. The weather was perfect for a Floridian Thanksgiving.

Mom was busy preparing her 5-star meal of the year. Not that any other meal by her should ever be missed. But Thanksgiving is the meal of all meals. Mom makes some new things each year, but you can count on her to make the juiciest turkey ever, deviled eggs (all others pale in comparison) and her homemade stuffing. My job during this time was the best. I'd offer some prep help but mostly, I got to taste-test everything.

On this particular Thanksgiving, Mom had taken her large Pyrex baking dish of stuffing out of the oven and had set it onto our halogen stove. I'm not sure what she was thinking when she did that. I suspect she was too busy thinking of everything else or it would have occurred to her that this was not a grand idea.

Now, the only reason what I'm about to tell you is so funny is because everyone was outside, thankfully. While outside reveling, we all heard it. KABOOM! We all looked around at each other. "What the fuck was that?!?" I yell. We ran back into the kitchen and there it was. The Pyrex baking dish had exploded and pieces of it and the stuffing it once contained were everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE! At this point, Mom hadn't realized that we were all lucky we were outside. She was in a state of panic because her prized stuffing was completely destroyed, having been blown to smithereens all over our kitchen, breakfast nook and den; and she was desperately trying to whip up another batch in time to go with the rest of her top-notch Thanksgiving offerings. Somehow, she pulled it off and for that, and for no one having been injured in the stuffing blowout, we were all very thankful.

When I think about all the Thanksgivings past, I realize that this one is most epic of all because I have so much more to be thankful for. I have a wonderful family and friends, despite the miles between us. I know I am loved. I have my health. And here, I have a kind and loving husband who would move a mountain a pebble at a time if he thought it would make me happy. But of course, what I am most thankful for is my absolutely precious daughter. I promise I will learn how to make a big turkey dinner by the time you will know how to eat everything on your plate. I love you most of all Raelynn!
Raelynn's first Thanksgiving! Happy Belated Thanksgiving from all of us to all of you!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Doody On The Sidewalk

The above doody was not made or photographed by yours truly. This was an image I found thanks to Google image search.


Once upon a time, my brother introduced me to a spoken-word song by King Missile called "The Sandbox," which is nothing short of hilarious. It is about someone who goes to the sandbox to play and winds up sitting right in a doody that was in the sandbox. Several years ago, I'd introduced it to my dear friend Marni Kaiser Thomas and it was all she could talk about. Disgusting stuff, yes, but damn funny in the fictional sense. But let me ask you this...what if finding a doody in a sandbox became a very real possibility? Would it be funny then?

Now, let's suppose that this fictitious doody in this fictitious sandbox was actually a doody on the sidewalk. And let's further suppose that this doody is not of the canine or feline variety. What then say you?

In China, this is a very real daily occurrence. When walking, you learn that instead of walking with your head up you should be looking down to ensure you're not stepping in someone's excrement. Dog owners should be shamed for not picking up after their pets but even worse are the parents and grandparents of small children who allow them to shit upon the sidewalks.

Today, I had to go to the store by my school to grab pads and chocolate, the winning combination. On my way back, there was a young Chinese boy, the same age as the youngest grade of Korean kindergarteners we have, taking a dump (or rather, leaving a dump, as Beavis and Butthead would have said) right there on the sidewalk. Even though this is not the first time I've seen such disgusting behavior, I can't help but be shocked by it. There were several stores and a cafe not even 100 feet away. Why couldn't his parents (or grandparents, who likely taught him this was okay since Chinese parents let their own parents raise their kids and thus, a nation of socially inept only childs is born) take him to the bathroom instead? He was too old for diapers and old enough to go to a toilet himself. Yet, there he was, crouched down on the sidewalk, much like a dog, crapping away like it was normal.

Dear China, this is NOT normal. And it needs to stop. This is a big city. This was not on some dirt road in the countryside. If you want to be taken seriously as a top runner in this global economy, go use a toilet. And for God's sake, wash your hands afterward!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Welcome Home, New Couch!

Finally, I can declare with confidence that I actually like our home. I still don't like WHERE it is located or that it is a wee bit small, but for now, I can feel at home here until we must move to a larger place. Someday, Raelynn will be bigger and this little place won't lend enough privacy. Terrified of her candidly (and loudly) asking us while out for ice cream or something why Lane and I were making loud noises the night before, we have both agreed that moving to another home is best.

For now though, we'll be staying here while we save up and plan for that phase of our lives. And this is okay with me now because we just bought a new couch. It was delivered on Friday and with its' arrival came the departure of the last burdensome thing from my in-laws...THE WOOD COUCH AND CHAIRS. Remember those?
For fun, I included this above shot first since it's so old. It's fun to go back and look at the atrocities we gradually replaced. It has those gross granny flower pillows from yester-year and this photo was also taken long before we replaced that 70s curtain and the frosted glass panes with the privacy door, truly showing just how much we've changed this home over the last year.

Here is the old wooden couch, sans ugly flower pillows, in a more recent shot. I must stress here that the wooden furniture is quite lovely. However, sitting on it for any length is pure hell. And it takes up so much space. When trollzilla and her husband (MIL and FIL) moved closer to us earlier this month, they said they would take this wood crap for their living room. Fine by us! Lane and I had been wanting to change this setup for a while. Not only was it uncomfortable and consuming too much space, but it also posed a huge threat to Raelynn who has just started crawling. Not wanting to chance having our daughter clunk her cute little head into this monstrosity, we went looking for a new couch.

And we found it. Oh we found it! Do you want to see? OF COURSE you do! Presenting Jennifer and Lane's (and Raelynn's!) living room, 5.0:
Improvement MAJOR, am I right?!? I loooooove this thing. It's very comfortable, we can sit together on it, it won't cause any unnecessary bruising, it doesn't take up the whole house and it looks great. Here it is from different angles:
No more horrid in-law decor! It's all gone. All of it. Now this house just reflects our style.

A closer shot. The fruit basket is new too, incidentally, though we eat so much fruit between us that it never stays very full.

Yes, this place now says "home sweet home" when we walk in instead of "look at all the stuff we got for free from the Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of the poor part of town that got shut down by the grace of God for contaminated food in a country that doesn't care about those sorts of things to even go check it out." Now if you'll excuse me, Lane and I are off to enjoy the couch!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

One Year In China

The above photo is perhaps one of my favorites of strange things I've seen since I've moved here. And now that I've lived here for a year, I can tell you that shit like this is quite normal in China. The half-assed loud speaker (seen in a nearby park) is the ideal representative photo of this country where everyone does a half-assed job.

Today is officially the one year anniversary of the date that I first moved from Seoul to Qingdao. And one year later, I am still dealing with the intensive culture shock that I got from this place. That didn't happen with Korea. True that Korea and its inhabitants could irk me at times, I felt much more at home there. It is as strange as I am. I had it figured out. But I'm still trying to figure out China, slowly but surely at least.

I was 4 months pregnant when we moved here. Perhaps if I hadn't been pregnant, it would have been easier for me. I could have found other foreigners by going to bars and coffeehouses and wandering around town. But in Qingdao where the subway is currently being constructed, your options for getting around are limited to driving yourself (no fucking way could I possibly even attempt to drive amongst these folks as they drive even more frightfully than my disgusting pig of an ex which is saying quite a lot), taking a taxi or hopping on a bus. Our street is a little long which is no problem now but when I was pregnant, it was pure hell because I'd have to majorly pee when I got to the bus stop even though I'd gone before leaving the house. And forget taking a taxi by myself! I only knew a few words and phrases in Chinese (one of them being "shagua" which means "stupid"). Not knowing my way around, not speaking Chinese and no easy bathroom access made my life here as a pregnant foreigner extremely difficult.

Not being able to get around easily means not being able to make friends. My husband was working and I was stuck in our house. I wouldn't have minded relaxing at home but it wasn't at all peaceful. Back then, MIL came over every single day. I had no privacy as this was back in the days of when we just had that stupid vomit-patterned mess of a curtain to separate us from the living room. She was constantly making disgusting messes in our home and kept our kitchen looking like the backyard of the worst trailer in the trailer park until my husband took a good look around and realized I wasn't complaining just to hear myself.

Thankfully, much has changed over this last year. Ten major changes:
1) We've upgraded our home so it looks like ours and not like some dirty migrant workers live here.
2) I never see MIL anymore except for just a few moments each day after I return from work.
3) I'm no longer pregnant and in need of bathrooms often.
4) I know how to take a taxi all by myself in Chinese.
5) I can get around by bus fairly well now too.
6) I discovered restaurants and normal stores that make me feel less out of place.
7) I started teaching again. Because the school is Korean, I feel so much more at home there.
8) We made some great new friends. Even Raelynn has met other babies.
9) They are making a lot of progress on the subway they're building here.
10) Best of all, I am a mommy!

And if those things don't cheer me up, well, I just whip out my camera and capture things like these. Presenting my favorite random China photos:
The 3-wheeled car. I can't imagine ever riding in such a thing, especially in a place where the only time I'd feel safe going anywhere is if I was in a tank. You will never catch me in this death trap. Or on motorcycles. No way. No how!

We saw this one during one of the many times I had to pee while pregnant. This was before I knew where the decent bathrooms in this city were. But even then, when you're pregnant and you have to pee, you will pee anywhere to avoid wetting your pants. Anyway, Lane and I cracked up at this. English might be his third language but he's a smart cookie when it comes to shit like this. I've taught him well.

This lovely shampoo was in our bathroom when we moved into this house. I just always loved the crazy English on the front. It sounds more like a description of what a laxative will do. I think that is why I just couldn't bring myself to use this product.

This was in a bathroom stall I stopped in for another pregnant pee. I was with my friend Andrea who was my first friend I made here. We LOVED this!

Andrea and I also loved this sign we saw in Carrefour. "Thanks for your patronizing." Oh it's perfect! You patronizing bastards! It's just so odd, especially because Carrefour is a French company. You'd think they'd have had a better time translating the English in a more professional way but no.

My friend Genesis (my second friend I made here) will back me up on this when I say this toothpaste, which is pine needle flavored (no joke), tastes EXACTLY how Pinesol smells. E-X-A-C-T-L-Y. Now, imagine being pregnant and getting a mouthful of that. Barf and Pinesol taste are even more disgusting than just barf or just Pinesol. Trust me on that one!

Coffee anyone? With horse dung coffee on the menu, I think I will stick with tea thankyouverymuch.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Egg Tarts: A Second Helping

If you missed the first serving of egg tarts (known as "dan tat" in China) that my husband lovingly made for me as a surprise, go here. It's worth seeing for comparison and background on my fascination with egg tarts and a true testament of my husband's love for me that he would go to so much trouble to make them instead of just going to a bakery.

Again, Lane attempted to make egg tarts. How were they? Oh, well...they were much better than that last batch, but they still need some work. Here's some photos:
As you can see, these look much more like egg tarts should look, but they're still a little off. The crust tasted a bit too doughy. It reminded me of Play-Doh but thankfully tasted better than that. Oddly, his first egg tarts the other day had a better crust. He said he'd added too much butter by mistake so perhaps that's what did the crusts of these in. The filling was rather yellow and bright. I've never seen them shine like the sun, but there you go. And if you are wondering what that white stuff is on top, it is sugar. My husband forgot to add sugar to the filling before baking them. He remembered just before they were finished and just sprinkled it on top. Oh, Lane.

Here is a shot without flash. They are still day-glo yellow!

And now for an interior shot:
Lane gets major points for getting the texture right! I bet if he'd remembered to add the sugar into the mixture beforehand, it would have been just right. He didn't add enough sugar to the tops of some of them and without it, this batch of egg tarts tasted blah. When I added more myself, it tasted sweet enough but he still has a lot of room for improvement. He gets an "A" for effort.

Third batch will be a charm! I hope so at least or else a certain handsome Chinese husband of mine will be going on a run to a bakery soon. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chair Scare

Raelynn sitting in the Baby Bjorn Babysitter Balance chair, without doubt the most wonderfully useful gift any new parent could ever ask for.

For those of you who might have been wondering, "Gee, Jenn's been awfully quiet about MIL lately," this post is for you. Yes, those of you who beg for more MIL are in for a treat. Not me of course. You can take her. Free shipping and handling. She speaks no English, doesn't use any cleaning products when she cleans despite having been shown them dozens of times by her own son and needs reminding to use soap but she does make outstanding dumplings from scratch. If you want her, she is yours. I think even Lane is getting sick of her too.

Anyway, I have been trying not to complain about her too much because I don't want to hurt my husband's feelings. She's a spaz and all but she's his mother and somehow by the grace of God, she managed to raise him into an adult. An adult that ultimately left the country to study abroad in Korea and perhaps this explains why he is so normal and non-country bumpkin-like. Also, since I have been working, I don't have to see MIL except for perhaps 2 minutes a day when I first come home from work. She leaves right after I put down my stuff and rescue my baby from Grandma's smelly clutches. So she is tolerable in small doses. Like for 10 minutes total per week. Anything more would be pushing it and luckily for me (and her) I don't have to see her foot-shaped face (wart and all) early in the morning. There is not enough coffee in the known universe to cope with such a sight.

But this week, I nearly hit the roof. We had a scare with our chair. Our baby chair that is. We have a Baby Bjorn Babysitter Balance chair, which was a very lovely and generous gift from our friend, Cherie. Not that we don't appreciate all the gifts we have received for Raelynn (you all know who you are and we can't thank you enough), but this chair was like a gift for the three of us. Gone are the nights of sore arms and lost sleep. The chair calms her down easily and is a great place to put Raelynn when we're busy around the house. I must admit that I love this chair and I cannot even fathom surviving without it. Neither can Lane. I love this chair like I love egg tarts. Oh yes. I went there.

It was fine when I left for work in the morning. Raelynn had sat in there next to me while I ate my breakfast and all was well. But by the time I'd returned from work, something was wrong. Lane was kind enough to make dinner while I spent time with Raelynn. I read to her and played games with her and her toys until she inevitably got sleepy and began rubbing her little eyes and yawning. I put her in the chair to rock her into a nap and that's when I noticed it. Creak, creak, creak, creak, creak. Like death itself creeping from the depths of hell, this loud creaking noise bellowed from the chair. Raelynn seemed a little confused by the sound but thankfully, was too wiped out from our play time to be bothered. I tried to figure out what was the matter and finally called Lane in for reinforcement. I held Raelynn and we watched her daddy try to fix the chair. I could see annoyance and panic set into my husband's face too. He had concluded the same thing I had: that his ignorant mother had not taken proper care of the chair.

It had me steaming mad. I mean COME ON you old bag! Seriously. How hard is it to not fuck everything in sight up? Let's count all the things she's ruined, shall we? My clean kitchen floors. The kitchen counters, which are permanently damaged from her when she and her husband lived in this house years ago thanks to her putting pots and pans from the stove right on top of it while they were hot. And speaking of pots and pans, she can take a perfectly nice set of cookware and ruin it and Lord knows how! Our new pots and pans were still looking good until my husband allowed her to cook in our kitchen again and guess what looks like it's 100 years old? I mean BESIDES my MIL! Our poor pots and pans! The kitchen sink faucet, which is loose because of her. The fresh and clean smell of our house when she is NOT here. The window screens. The kitchen cabinets. She put her stupid step-stool that she uses as a chair (for reasons I cannot compute) when she sits with the baby on one of the foam play pads and punctured it. Oh and she clogged the bathroom sink by putting tea leaves down there. This is just the short list, mind you.

What annoys me most about all this is that she comes into our house and treats everything with such little regard. She doesn't take good care of her things and that's why everything she owns, new or old, looks like it's been left for dead. That's fine in HER house but not in OUR house. And now, our beloved chair! Oh hell no! There was no way I was going to let her mess up our baby chair. Lane said he would tell her she needed to be more careful though I urged him to also tell her I was going to break her face with said chair too. But MIL's luck changed for the better since, after applying some pressure to the base of the chair, the creaking ceased and the chair seems to be just fine. She gets to live, until she breaks something else we care about. As long as she doesn't destroy our chair and our peace and quiet that goes along with it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cooking Fail: Egg Tarts


Let me just start by declaring my full on love for egg tarts. I am totally hooked on these things. Chances are, if you try one, you will be too. Oh GOD they're good! They are everywhere here! Here, they call them "dan tat." Yes, I finally found something to not complain about while in China. China is a place that is not known for desserts. In fact, go buy a Chinese-made bar of chocolate and you'll be sorry. It is like fake chocolate-flavored sawdust. Thank goodness for imported goods! Oh but egg tarts they get right. Boy do they get them right!

As you can see from the photo above, they are like mini custard tarts. Some places will put fruit in the bottom which is also quite tasty. I hadn't met a dan tat I didn't like. Until this weekend that is.

My sweet, wonderful husband had gone to a nearby market and found small tins for our oven that were ideal for baking up these delicious little pastries I've fallen so hard in love with. He gave himself away by leaving those out plus leaving the Western-style cookbook I'd bought for MIL to use open to the page about egg tarts. Remember that? She never, ever even tried to use it. Thankfully, Lane has been keeping it from collecting dust. Most of the recipes he's tried from there have come out rather well. But not this one.

After I'd busted him on his plot to make them (and rewarded him properly with many a smooch), he went to work in the kitchen, clanking around as he labored with love to make one of the things I love, while I watched Raelynn who is now attempting the beginning stages of crawling and must be watched closely before she takes off running.

An hour later, we heard the oven ding and we both ran excitedly over to it. Egg tarts! In our own kitchen! As my husband pulled them out of the oven though, something looked off about them. He placed them on a plate and we sat down at the table together to give them a try. I should have taken a photo of our faces, but here are the egg tarts in question:
These don't look at all like the top photo of professionally-baked dan tat, do they? Except for maybe the crust. Oh yes. Something was horribly wrong here. It wasn't that it was completely disgusting. Only partially. Just like it didn't look like dan tat, it didn't taste like it either. It was more like an overdone egg souffle.

Here is another look from the side so you can see what it looked like after biting into it:
It's SUPPOSED to have a custardy look, feel and taste to it. This looks more like dried out peanut butter cups or something.

Even though I'm a beginner at the Chinese language and can't read many words, I took a look at the recipe my husband used and compared it to ones I'd found online. From the photos, I could see what the problem was. These should be made with just the egg yolks. My husband used whole eggs, which you can see for yourself in his finished egg tarts. You can see the egg whites. That explains part of it. Most other recipes I found called for using heavy whipping cream which I know he didn't use because we didn't have any in our refrigerator. He also confessed he didn't use the sugar even though the recipe he used did call for it. He couldn't offer any explanation to me as to why he did such a thing either.

You might be wondering why then didn't we just go out and buy some egg tarts? Well, in the part of town we live in, there is no bakery on our street or in our neighborhood that sells dan tat. It wasn't early anymore and it was quite rainy. Here, rainy days mean you need good luck to catch a taxi. But today is Sunday, the last day of my weekend. And Sunday is sunny...sunny with a chance of egg tart that is!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Not-So-Itsy Bitsy Spider

Maybe the not-so-itsy bitsy spider just thought this was a nice place to live with the big spider web and other spiders hanging out here and all. Sorry I smashed you to bits. Well, not really. 



Happy Halloween to everyone back home! Here, Halloween is coming to an end. Last week, we celebrated at the school by giving the children a truly unforgettable Halloween party. We would have done so today but were told that the school is used as a church for some Korean families on Saturdays (yes, they do their church services on Saturdays) and the concern was that the children in the church group would tamper with our decorations. Not wanting to come in on Sunday to set everything up, we decided to hold it last Friday.

For 2 weeks, we had all been preparing all our activities and decorating everything in sight. My Korean assistant had made a giant spider web in our classroom. She hung a large spider in the center and I told the kids it liked to eat children that spoke too much Korean. That worked rather well actually. Anyway, we were to have 2 craft projects last week that were Halloweeny in nature. I had them make little ghosts and then we made our own spiders.

Ironically, on the day that I had planned to do our spider-making craft, some of the boys were gathered around by one of the bookcases. I told them to go sit down and write the word of the day. "But Teacherrrrrrrr," whined Ryan, who is always tattling, "there's a spider!" I look all over but I don't see a spider, or anything for that matter. I shoo them back to their seats and class proceeds as normal.

Perhaps 10 minutes go by and then suddenly, I see it. An absolutely enormous fucking spider crawls across the classroom floor. The girls see it and scream, bolting for the door. The boys see it and scream, and then crowd closer to get a better look. I scream while arming myself with bug spray and try to drown it in poisons, while corralling the children out of the way. It creeps under a large piece of furniture on the opposite side of the room and I'm forced to wait for it to emerge again. It doesn't take long. It skulks out of its hiding spot to a chorus of more shrieks. I spray it full-on and it curls up into a ball and presumably dies. All is well in the classroom again. The girls come sit down and as I'm about to continue speaking, the boys begin yelling. I look and see that this horrible creature just won't die and I scream too.

By this time, Christine, the Korean teacher, who has been setting up some Halloween stuff down the hall, has heard all the commotion and has come to see what on earth is happening. She tries to calm the girls down while I, having run out of bug spray, trade up for a broom. I clobber the massive monster to death with the broom while the boys all cheer. The girls have to be coaxed back into the room and it takes some more time to get the children focused again but alas, the spider is dead. It made for a good lead-in to our craft. I told them that the big spider in our web was lonely and it just couldn't wait for us to make it some friends, so it invited one of its own.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Whipped Dessert (With Topping)

Back when I was in high school, which seems like yesterday but in actual time was 20 years ago now, it was so uncool to eat in the cafeteria. We either brought our lunches or drove ourselves to one of the nearby establishments such as McDonald's, Arby's, Taco Bell, a fabulous deli called Peter's Road Deli or my personal favorite, Mr. D's, where you could get a pizza bread and Coke for just $2. My friends and I wouldn't have been caught dead in the cafeteria for lunch. The only time we ever went to the cafeteria was to pick up our yearbooks at the end of the year.

My best friend from high school, Lauren (who is still one of my best friends in this world), and I had Spanish class together. Mr. Parsons. Second period. And during that time, we had the morning announcements. Mr. Parsons, for some unknown reason, would delight in reading the school lunch menu. His favorite item to read off was something called "whipped dessert with topping." He would read the whole menu for the day and then, if whipped dessert were on there, he'd pound on the desk right before announcing gaily, "Whipped dessert, with topping!" Lauren and I found this absolutely hilarious. Moreover, we wondered what the fuck whipped dessert was. One day, in the name of research, we went to the cafeteria just to see what it was. It wasn't anything very impressive but it didn't look all bad either. It was almost like a pudding but not quite, topped with a decorative swirl of whipped cream. Now we could sleep at night knowing what it was.

The school I teach at offers only Korean food. There is nothing nearby plus I have to sit and eat with the children so I'm stuck eating what they provide. I love Korean food so you'd think this would be a lovely experience. Somedays, the lunch IS quite tasty, but more often than not, it's not so great. I decided to document a week of my lunch for you fabulous readers so you can see how I am finally losing the rest of the baby weight despite eating cookies from the store to stave off starvation on really disgusting meal days.

Without further ado, here is my analysis of the school lunches from this week...
Monday:
They always give you a massive pile of rice. I can never finish all this rice. There is always some sort of soup too. Most of the time, the soup is good. This one, totally nasty. It had some weird bitter radish and eggs in it. It smelled like old dish water and that's how it seemed to taste too. Not that I habitually drink old dish water but I think you know what I mean. Next to the soup, there is some meat dish which was pretty good, but I couldn't eat the whole thing. See, it's sharing a section with something horrible. That brown jelly thing. See that crap? Do you know what that is? Go on...guess. Give up? It is coagulated cow blood. I am not making this up. Oh it is absolutely one of the most disgusting things ever and it was touching my beef. Ugh! But in the next section, we have some fried dumplings which were rather yummy. Too bad they only gave me 2 of them. Along with them, kimchi. I love kimchi! But this particular style of it tastes horrible. It's something in the sauce that I cannot place. So I couldn't even eat the kimchi shown here. Then we have thinly-sliced radish kimchi-style, which was edible. I was also thankful for the small yogurt.

Tuesday:
Tuesday's soup was troubling. I stirred it and couldn't really figure out what the contents were. It looked like sticks. Is there a stick soup? The smell was off-putting too. I took a sip of the broth and didn't die but there was no way I would live through a bowl of this. Next to that, you'll see some fried-looking thing. That's fish. Which fish, I couldn't say. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. Then, we have an egg with spinach stuffed inside. Now that was actually very tasty. It was the saving grace of this meal, that's for sure. We also have some eggplant thing which was, sadly, very bland. I love eggplant. It broke my heart to see it cooked in such a lifeless way. It's like something MIL would do to the food. If she wasn't home with my baby all day, I would suspect she was working the line in the cafeteria on some days, honestly. You may have also noticed the gross kimchi has been served to us again. The meal is completed with a massive pile of sticky rice and some strange but good fruit thing.

Wednesday:
Now THIS is my idea of a good school lunch! Here we have 감자탕 (kamja tang) or pork bone soup. It has pork spine in it which sounds grosser than it actually is and 감자 (kamja) which means potato. It's really quite a wonderful soup, though Korean restaurants make it better than the school cafeteria. Next, we have fried squid, also another yummy item. The red-sauced item that looks like pasta is actually떡볶이 (tteokbokki). What IS it, you ask? It's a soft rice cake cooked in this fantastically spicy sauce. It's something I grew to love when I lived in Seoul. When I first tried it, I couldn't even begin to handle the spice. That was on one of my first dates with Lane, actually. We had gone walking along the Han River and afterward, we stopped at an outdoor street vendor tent, which was my first experience of the sort in Korea. I liked the flavor but the afterburn of spice caused my eyes to water uncontrollably. Both the vendor and Lane laughed hysterically at me. But over the course of my living there, I soon found that my taste buds had adapted to all the spice around me. This tteokbokki would have only been better if topped with cheese, like at my favorite little spot down the street from our old home in Seoul. Then we have some spinach, tomatoes and rice which were all as normal and refreshing as they look.

Thursday:
Though not as good as Wednesday's lunch, Thursday's lunch was what I would consider a fairly decent lunch. The seawater-tasting kelp soup, however, was not at all edible in my opinion. But the disfigured French fries with ketchup made up for that. As did the wannabe hamburgers that tasted more like meatballs. There was also some spicy vegetable thing that was rather pleasant plus the good kimchi, rice with some chunks of sweet potato and the same strange but good fruit that we had on Tuesday.


Friday:
Regrettably, I have no photo for Friday. That's because we had our Halloween party and things were just crazy busy. And instead of eating our lunch in the classroom, we had to take the children up to the cafeteria. We never do that because of the big kids but on Friday, lunch was held early to ensure they wouldn't get underfoot of the older children. This decision was made because there would have been no time after eating in our classrooms to clean them up before the parents arrived for the party. Friday's lunch was great though, with a spicy curry stew as the main highlight. I wish I hadn't spaced and forgotten to take a picture. I did solve the mystery as to why some days we get the gross kimchi and others we get the good kind. There is a kimchi bar in the cafeteria! It has about 7 different kinds. I guess when we have lunch in our rooms, they just send down whatever they feel like giving us. Oh well. Here's hoping the upcoming week serves us up more meals of the edible kind.

Friday, October 21, 2011

More Misinterpreted Menus

This evening, my husband and I went out to dinner, along with our very adorable but noisy third wheel, Raelynn. Lane is a wonderful husband. He's always so considerate about the things I miss from back home. When we were in Seoul, I'd gotten him to fall in love with various cuisines, one of them being Mexican. But once we moved here, we found that the array of available cuisine was seriously lacking. One thing that is sadly missing from Qingdao is a Mexican restaurant. You CAN find the things you need to make Mexican-style dishes at some of the stores, but you have to hunt around for the ingredients.

Anyway, Lane told me the other day that he found a Mexican restaurant here in Qingdao. I couldn't believe it. It seemed too good to be true. And of course, it was. What my husband found though was a lovely little restaurant with some very good food, even if it wasn't Mexican. This is the closest we will get to Mexican cuisine here, with a few dishes on the menu like "Mexican Fried Shrimp" or "Mexican Meatloaf." Which I had and it was not Mexican by any stretch but it was very tasty.

Before we ordered, we had a great laugh at the menu. Yes, more poorly translated items, served up hot and fresh for you! And here they are:
First up, "Comely Girl Iced Blend." Apparently, this coffee blend is only for pretty girls. Or perhaps it makes you into one. There's a lot of ugly people here. Maybe they should be drinking this one up then.

Where to start here? Oh let's work our way down the list, shall we? I love this "Matcha Smilar to Ice Piece" item. I mean it is all sorts of WTF now isn't it? "Sweat Honeydew"cracks me up too because my husband also confuses "sweet" and "sweat" when he's writing. He once texted me that he couldn't wait to give me a sweaty kiss and I about split my sides laughing while on the subway in Seoul.

What had originally caught my attention on this page though was the "Aegean Sea Taste Ice Cream." I can't even begin to imagine what that flavor would taste like. If I had to venture a guess, perhaps salt, shrimp (complete with their spooky shrimp heads still intact), seaweed and krill. I also looooooove that they have something called "Colorful Ice Cream." Because, you know, when I go out for ice cream, I want it to be colorful. Fuck what it tastes like!

And here we have the pièce de résistance. No, it's not the "Bacon Muffin." You all have that shit in Denny's now or something like that, right? No, no, no. This is so much better. Look below that. "Meat Floss Wuffin." Take a moment to digest that, and pardon the pun while you're at it. What in the world is meat floss? Just so you know, Lane didn't know either. The frosting on the cake though (or in this case, muffin) is "Wuffin." How fucking funny is that? Oh sometimes I do soooooo love living here! 


On that note, I'm off to spend time with Lane while Raelynn is sound asleep. Maybe we'll eat some wuffins or something.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Kindergarten Klepto

They only LOOK innocent. Who knew that kindergarteners could be capable of such meticulous thievery???
 

This week, a scandal rocked the noisy playground that is my kindergarten world. Some greedy little bastard was stealing the play money from other classmates. Yes, the very same play money I lovingly printed which was then even more lovingly laminated and cut out by my wonderfully helpful Chinese assistant. The same money that my students are rewarded with for doing their homework, and consequently lose should they speak Korean during English lessons.

It actually all began last week during our monthly assembly which happened to be about good behavior (like keeping your hands to yourself and what not to do like kicking, hitting, pushing and all the shit that makes being a kid fun) which went in one ear and out the other with these kids since, for one thing, none of them can keep their hands to themselves. The kindergarten director told all the kindergarteners (my class plus the other 2 kindergarten classes) that the student who speaks the least Korean from each class will get to attend an ice cream party. Each of our kindergarten classes has a reward system and mine happens to be play money. So for my class, the student with the most money saved would get to enjoy ice cream while the rest of them would get to stay in the classroom for a lesson (which will hopefully be Chinese or Korean time so I can get some ice cream too). It sounded like a good idea at the time, but it created a horrible green-eyed monster, at least in my own classroom.

Soon after, I noticed Harry, who had spoken so much Korean in class the week before that he had to do a writing assignment to EARN money because he'd been fined so much, had a huge stack of money. I immediately suspected he'd pilfered my money bank but everything was accounted for. So I tried to figure out who he'd stolen it from. But no one was complaining. YET.

Harry isn't the brightest kid. He can barely read in English and the only reason he is in my class is because his complainy yeti of a mom thought he was too tall to be in with the other children his age. So that makes him the runt of my class. He moved from my friend Genesis' class to mine in the first week. Despite his deficiencies in kindergarten, this kid will probably (and frighteningly) make a great thief because he had started by taking small amounts of money from the others.

I confronted him about this but he lied right to my face. I put on my best serious face while suppressing the urge to sing "liar liar pants on fire" and announced to the class that we are constantly being recorded by the camera (which is no lie) and that if I went back through the footage (which I don't think actually exists...I think the camera is just there so you can view our classes as they happen and that none of it is actually cataloged and saved), I would be very sad if I saw anyone taking money from anyone else. Harry suddenly looked pale and squirmed in his seat. Still, I needed proof, and I couldn't prove a damn thing.

Then, my other children began to complain. I'd count their money one day and the next, there was a big discrepancy in the amount. And Harry's pile of money kept growing. Now I was furious. I look at my good students like Clare, Janny, Ron and Esther and it pisses me off that these children who actually would deserve an ice cream party wouldn't get one because some little goober stole their money. I suddenly remembered how Harry had hung back when I took everyone to the bathroom. So that's how the little creep did it!

Outrage spread among the students and so I made an instant decision for the greater good of my children. I announced that everyone was to turn in ALL their money and that we would be starting over from scratch. I told them they would each get $50 in play money. Harry looked even more defeated but he didn't protest. I knew he wouldn't because he didn't earn it like the other children had. After I passed out their new allowances, I talked to them some more about keeping their play money in a safe place and how taking things that don't belong to us is wrong.

I smiled the whole rest of the day. I was able to thwart Harry's plan to illegitimately attend the ice cream party and make it fair for the rest of the children who were all playing by the rules. I was so proud. Until class time this morning that is.

I don't actually start teaching until 9am although I am supposed to be at school by 8:30am. I use my mornings wisely and get everything organized for the day's lesson. Making copies, putting up the word of the day, gathering the books I need, etc. I have 3 students who usually arrive before 9am. Wendy and Esther are both very good, sweet little girls. Brian is my slow one who never listens. He does his homework well but I suspect it is because his parents tell him all the answers. This morning, long before Harry had arrived, I found a large pile of play money on Harry's desk. I asked Wendy, Esther and Brian what all that money was doing there and Brian told me it was Harry's money.

"Harry isn't even here yet, Brian. Where did this money come from?" I quiz him. But Brian turns away and tells me he doesn't know. So I take the money to my desk and wait. A few minutes later, the rest of my students arrive. And as they put their bags away and get out their materials, I have more complaints of missing money. I know how much each child should have since reissuing the money yesterday so I give the money back to each person who had their money stolen.

When Harry gets in, he tells me he is missing his money. I know he had $45 left from yesterday after I handed out the dough, so that is what I give him. But before we can even get to snack time, Ron comes to me telling me that his money, which had been on his desk before we went to the bathroom, was now gone. I go through everyone's money pile and all is in order until I get to Harry. Harry had the $45 PLUS what he'd taken from Ron! I couldn't even believe the balls on this kid! Taking money AFTER I lectured the whole class about it. And then, I found out he wasn't working alone.

Yes, slow-witted Brian might not be so slow after all. He was in on it too. It was then I recalled hearing Harry and Brian talking in Korean before class officially began. Although I only took and passed beginner-level Korean, I had heard them talk about the ice cream party. I was only half-listening though. Perhaps if I'd paid more attention, I would have caught on to their diabolical scheme. It was during our math lesson that I busted Brian for his involvement in the scandal. He'd gone from having a small amount of money on his desk to a large sum while my back was turned.

It all made sense now. Brian would steal the money early in the morning when the Korean teacher and I weren't in the room and while Wendy and Esther were busy working on their word of the day like the good little girls they are. At first, he'd snag a small amount from each person. Then he'd stash it where only he and Harry would find it. Harry himself would hang back when I took the class to the bathrooms. He made quite a show of "helping" straighten the tables and chairs so as not to arouse suspicion. Pretty clever I must say because I thought he just wanted to help. But it finally caught up with them. Harry flashed his stolen riches while Brian played low-key. The plan was to split the dirty money right before I would count it to determine our winner.

Thanks to my keen detective work, Brian and Harry have been banned from the ice cream party. I know it will probably sound mean, and maybe it is a little, but I told them both that they could try to steal all the money in the room and it wouldn't matter because they are not allowed to attend the ice cream party. I used the words "NEVER EVER" when telling them that they couldn't attend and that they'd lost their chance to win this month. The rest of the class breathed a collective sigh of relief. The kindergarten klepto and his not-so-trusty sidekick are now kaput, and that is the cherry on top of my day for sure.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Family Feud

My thoughts EXACTLY.

When I was a child and home sick from school, or even as an adult hopped up on cold meds and camped out with green Gatorade on my couch far from the office, I would always adoringly watch The Price Is Right and Family Feud. I've always loved game shows. I've always enjoyed yelling at the TV, much like I do when watching sports. In a way it IS a sporting event. Only the prizes are much shinier. Oooh. Ahhh! Interestingly enough, my dear long-time friend, William Calonge, and his beautiful wife, Caitlin, will be appearing on a new episode of Family Feud on October 20th which I hope I will be able to catch online somehow. For now, I can easily catch a live version of The Feud right here in my living room.

As I mentioned in my last post, this week was a Chinese holiday. I had off from work and we'd been filling our time shopping, going to the park, meeting friends and feasting at buffets with ill-mannered patrons. But what I neglected to mention was that this Chinese holiday technically ends on Friday. Which means on Saturday (today for me), people have to get back to work to make up for the time off. What the what? Yup. I had forgotten about this simply because it doesn't affect me. I work at a Korean school in China. Koreans like their weekends. Thus, our school was not forcing the children (or teachers) to come in over the weekend to make up for the Chinese holiday. My friend Andrea was not so lucky since she teaches at a Chinese university. She was beyond annoyed to find out she had to go teach today. What we both found completely absurd about this whole thing was that people would go to work on Saturday and Sunday instead of having off Monday through Wednesday and then working Thursday and Friday, then having the weekend off like normal. But China, as I have learned all too well, is not a normal place.

I should have realized that MIL would have thought I'd be like the other sheep and have to follow the flock to work on a Saturday. But I was too busy enjoying my time alone with my daughter without her grandma's snaggle-toothed face lurking around my house, speaking loud enough to wake dead ancestors from a million moons ago with her grating village voice. It just so happened that, for whatever reason, Raelynn woke up at 3am this morning and wanted to play despite being very sleepy. I sat up for 2 hours until I finally succeeded in getting her (and myself) to go back to sleep. For this reason, my husband left me alone until after 8am, taking Raelynn into the other room to give me some peace.

But that peace soon shattered into a million shards of biting anger. He came back and woke me with the news that his mother was here. I could hear her clunking around in our kitchen and I just wanted to scream. Why the fuck was that old cow in my house today? She couldn't give me one week alone with my daughter who she gets to see more than I do so I can work to support our family? Fuck. My blood boiled. I dug my nails into the mattress to keep from screaming obscenities. My husband angrily told me to keep calm and I did try to remember that I married him, not her, and that my father said I needed to try to be kind to this woman if I wanted to make my husband happy. But damn her! I wished so hard we could move far away and never have to see her again.

In the meantime, it's not possible yet, so I must get up and dressed and tolerate her ruining my second-to-last day off. Lane assures me she'll go soon (which she did, and I was able to enjoy a lovely day with my husband and daughter). She just wants to see the baby. "She sees her all week while I work," I snarl. I must seem like such a bitch but I honestly can't take it. I did not carry this beautiful child into the world so this woman could act like she's her own or teach her how to lack good hygiene and manners or dress like a blind Sunday school teacher. Nofuckingway. I'm not having it. He then tells me the thing that nearly made me go for blood: "She just wants to make sure the baby is ok." Ok? Ofuckingk??? How would she NOT be ok? She has us for parents, not them! I explain this to my husband and let him know that I hope something was translated incorrectly because I'd hate to be insulted in my own home by 2 people whose lack of education and common sense and disregard for safety is beyond terrifying. The people that were going to give a child under 6 months a grape to eat. The people that overheat the baby in summer. The people you have to remind to wash their hands with soap. The people that, despite being shown where all the blankets are, use TOWELS to wrap the baby to keep her warm. The people who put loose towels on top of the baby and leave her unattended so she has more of a chance of suffocating. I am forced to leave my sweet baby with these complete morons and THEY want to see if she is ok?

As Raelynn plays with her grandma, I seclude myself in the bedroom to get dressed. And that's when my husband reveals something to me. His dad picked a fight with him this week. He's been picking many fights with his son lately and where I once felt FIL was more cool than MIL, I'm now changing my mind on that. He criticizes my husband constantly, even more so than MIL does and I'm getting more than a little pissed off by the horrible things my husband is told by him. In one argument, he told Lane that real men don't hold babies and don't stay home with them. Um, so why do I see all kinds of manly Chinese men all over this city happily carrying their children around? In another, he and his wife both called my husband terrible things for not having a full-time job right now. Because his mother would have been offended and shamed if we didn't ask her to watch the baby, we have to wait for her to get here every morning. It's an hour and a half commute for her but soon, they will be moving right around the corner (oh joy). Still, she can't get here before 8am which means my husband has to stick around if he wants me to pull in the kind of money I'm making. Still, it's OUR fault for not letting them stay in our house, where there is no room for them to stay - even if I liked them. Which I don't. At all.

Lane thankfully listened to me and started tuning his dad's comments out. The last thing FIL had fought with my husband about was that he said we should hire a nanny instead because watching Raelynn is hard for his wife. Well, I had said I'd pay for a nanny - hell, I WANTED A NANNY - but everyone flipped the fuck out because that old zombie goatface with rat teeth wanted to spend time with her grandchild. My husband was really upset about the argument and to try to be nice to his mother, he INVITED her to come so his father wouldn't have something to bitch about since FIL is now constantly guilting my husband into thinking that he's a bad son. All this on one of my days off. A day when this woman is not supposed to be in my space. He said this as he was vacuuming our room, which I suspect was so he could cover up the scream he knew I'd make when he told me this. And boy did I scream, especially when he told me he knew YESTERDAY that she would be coming!

I felt so betrayed, yet I understood my husband's need to stick it to his father and to make his useless mother feel as though she's contributing in some way. Of course, I didn't just roll over on this one, but I've got my husband's back. He's a smart man and a good man. And he's a better son than these 2 country bumpkins deserve. I let Lane know that if something like this should happen again, he needs to tell me first. Not when I'm first waking up. But hell. I'm working this job so we can afford to send Raelynn to an international school when she's old enough. So that we can move to a bigger apartment. So that we can visit the states and eventually live there. So that we can give our daughter the very best in life. They can feud with us all they like but we will not lose this battle. Survey says: Shut The Fuck Up.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Buffoon At The Buffet

Our little family celebrates a wonderful week off. As we clink our glasses, I hope the free beer keeps coming to help erase the  memory of what I just saw. Keep reading to find out what that was.

Thanks to yet another Chinese holiday, which is definitely the plus-side of living here, I've had off work all week long. It's been absolutely fantastic. This whole week, I have savored every second of time with Lane and the baby. And no MIL! Lane had told her not to come this week so I could spend all my time with Raelynn without interruption or annoyance.

It's not always easy in these parts to get out and do things with a baby that will be turning 6 months old next week (can you even believe it?!?). Our activities are limited to brief trips to restaurants, shopping malls and parks, and those sort of things. Still, we can't always sit in the house. Raelynn needs to see the world outside these walls and it's up to us to show her. Even Lane won't allow his mother to take Raelynn out anywhere. Because he knows as well as I do that she won't even think of stopping other village people like her from touching the baby with their filthy fingers.

Lane had offered to take us on a trip, but I know him. No matter how much money we could possibly get coming in, he never thinks it is enough and he complains that we must save more. I love my husband dearly, but I'm not a fan of the "save money" speech. So I told him that I'd rather us stay here in Qingdao for the holiday, even though it would have been awesome to go check out Beijing or another city. I figured we've got plenty of time for that. Besides, taking Raelynn on a trip is a trip in itself. We already took her to Shanghai and that was before she could roll over. Now we're on high alert, waiting for her to begin crawling. Until she does, we're plenty busy keeping her from rolling off of things and stopping her from eating socks, toys, blankets, chairs and anything that isn't nailed down.

And so, we filled our week off with drinking beer by the sea, eating squid on a stick, shopping, playing in the park, sleeping in until 7am instead of 6am, going to coffeehouses, meeting a friend for lunch and dining out at restaurants instead of cooking at home. One such restaurant was the buffet restaurant in the Grand Regency hotel. It's a nice hotel. My brother stayed there when Raelynn was first born. But it is not as nice as the Shangri-La. Nothing is. I am a fan of buffets. That is, until I think about all the other buffoons dining there. People who don't wash their hands after using the toilets. People who have a cold or the flu touching the same serving utensils as me. People I don't know touching food I'm about to consume. This bothered me a great deal in America if I thought about it too much.

Now, I began to think about it too much HERE. Oh. Dear. GOD! Can I bring my own utensils? Not wanting to spoil the night or upset my husband since the cost wasn't cheap, I scanned the offerings for things that would be less likely to have been defiled with germs by the general masses. True that the price of the buffet would keep out dirty folks like the sort we'd see at the market, just as in America, however, a higher price doesn't mean that people will wash their hands. I was relieved to see that a sashimi station was set up with an employee wearing sanitary plastic gloves slicing the fish right in the open. Score for me since I adore sashimi. Then I turned my attention to the other large tables surrounding the dining area. Some things seemed safe and others made me a little afraid.

But nothing could prepare me for the scary soup encounter. As I started heading back to our table, I noticed 4 cauldrons of soup. I moved closer to read the labels and see if perhaps it was something I'd deem delicious. Before I could even read those labels though, all the soup was ruined for me. What I saw was so alarming and may have just frightened me away from buffets forever. I saw a very hideous middle-aged Chinese man, likely drunk, TASTING the soup with the SERVING SPOON! Let me repeat: he was using the serving spoon that everyone is to use to ladle soup into their bowls to taste the soup!!! Oh wo de tian ne (that's "oh my God" in Chinese)!

Quickly, I retreated to the table where Lane was having a time of trying to get Raelynn to sit still. I gladly took our fussy-faced date from him and recounted the horrifying tale of the man sipping from the soup serving spoon. For the rest of our meal, my husband was kind enough to bring back food for me. Plying me with free beer, it was better this way, lest I see some other atrocity. I stuck with the sashimi, eating an amount that would certainly justify the cost of the buffet. The desserts were also safe too. Chinese people eat very strange things for dessert. They have cakes filled with red bean paste and other chalky items. It's not bad, but, well, it's not like they are known for desserts, now are they? Look at Chinese restaurants in the states. What kind of dessert do you get there? Fortune cookies, which I have yet to actually see here in China, and ice cream. That's how it is in Chinese restaurants in China too. There was a big ice cream freezer and all the Chinese patrons were constantly surrounding it. Even my husband went for the ice cream (which was sorely disappointing, he'd been sad to say, after taking a taste of each flavor). I went for the Western-style desserts which were in abundance because people here think we're crazy for liking these things. They think it's too sweet. I say MORE FOR ME. That's right. Take your weird, tasteless rice crap and shove it. I'll take my chocolate cake with a side of chocolate pie and cream puffs and then top it all off with liquid deliciousness in the form of chocolate from a chocolate fountain. And then, I'll go back for seconds. And thirds. And you know what? Maybe, just maybe, next time I will stick my hands in the chocolate fountain, or better yet, just open my mouth and shove my face in there. Hey, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.