Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bureaucratic Bullshit

After returning from Shanghai, my husband and I were overjoyed that our beautiful baby girl, Raelynn, was now an official US citizen. My husband quickly rushed off to the Entry/Exit Bureau to deal with her visa so we could take our trip to Korea. But he came back with some lousy news. It's absolute bullshit but I've come to expect this kind of crap from this country. They said they wouldn't acknowledge Raelynn as a US citizen (even with all her paperwork proving it) until she gets a Chinese visa from a Chinese Embassy in the United States. That means if we take her out of this country, she can't come back in without a Chinese visa that she obtained in the states. My husband and I must go to Korea to validate our marriage certificate because in the grand pain-in-the-ass tradition of all things China, they do not recognize us as a married couple. EVERY other country does, but China will not do so until we visit the Chinese Embassy in Seoul.

Why don't we just say 'fuck it' then? We can't. I have to renew my visa and I will keep having to renew it every few months which will certainly add up in costs as opposed to having a special visa that you can get when you are married to a Chinese national. So annoying as all this is, we must get it done so we can deal with the next issue...taking care of our daughter's visa. The good news there is that Raelynn can stay in China without a visa as long as she likes. And we have time to actually plan a trip to America. So we are looking into what it takes to get Xiaolong a visa to the United States for a visit. I can practically hear all my friends and family squeal with delight at this news but I can't tell you WHEN we'll be there so please, just hang in there and I will update you on that soon. There are more pressing issues at the moment.

Like what? Oh, like that, if you've been paying any attention as you've been reading this, we can't take Raelynn with us to Korea. Do you know what that means? My old bat MIL is going to get to watch her. I cried my eyes out.

This incompetent woman who is one step up from special ed will be in charge of my only baby. This woman who we have to remind to wash her hands is going to watch MY baby. She who wrecketh my house with her unsanitary ways and who cannot remember to put the vegetables in the refrigerator will be here to try not to kill my child with her negligence. The same woman who, last week, put Raelynn on the edge of the couch when she went to go to the bathroom, leaving her unattended and dangling over hard tile flooring when she COULD have put the baby on her foam floor play pads, into her crib, into the Baby Bjorn Babysitter Balance chair or, heaven forbid, given me MY baby back to hold. No. My stupid mistake for letting that cow hold her. I was only trying to do what would make my husband happy and look what happened.

My only slender ray of consolation is my husband. Xiaolong absolutely loves Raelynn as much as I do and would do anything to protect her. He promised me everything would be all right and he asked me to trust him. So trust him I must because this is the man who has given me everything I've wanted. He's never made a promise to me and broken it. But I can't help but wonder if he puts too much faith in his seemingly senile mother. I can also take comfort in that my FIL will be here too. Yes, I am allowing them into my home to wreak havoc on our clean and orderly abode. But I'd rather have a mess to clean up after we get back than for them to take Raelynn to their filthy home. I speculate on how filthy their home is since I have never been there myself, but if it is even a fraction of the way they kept this house we live in before we moved into it, then I know I'm doing the right thing.

Where MIL has no sense whatsoever, my FIL is the opposite. Instead of holding the baby and just staring at it like an idiot, he talks to Raelynn and sings her songs. He doesn't scare me so much. But MIL truly frightens the daylights out of me with how brainless she is. My husband allowed me to lay down all the rules for their stay and for taking care of Raelynn which I am hoping they follow. Some of them are:

1) Do not leave the house with Raelynn, even for a walk.
I can just see MIL bragging to everyone about her grandchild. That I don't mind but she's so clueless, she'll let filthy people come up and try to touch the baby. Oh and she'll use the stupid stroller she got us too so she can brag how much she spent on it. Yeah, great gift. No one can carry the damn thing up or down the stairs with a baby by themselves. She is SUCH an idiot.

2) Please do not attempt to give Raelynn a bath in the tub.
I'd rather the baby stink of old milk and farts than to worry that those 2 are drowning her in the tub. MIL would probably shoo her poor sweet husband away and do the bathing herself. But when the phone rings, her stupid ass would run off to answer it, leaving Raelynn alone in the tub. I do not want even the remotest possibility for drowning to occur so I have taken that one off the table. Would YOU let this woman bathe your kid unsupervised? Yeah, I didn't think so. She can use a wet cloth to sponge bathe her instead.

3) Please practice sanitary hygiene.
It is sad I actually have to include this on there. This listing includes but is not limited to washing hands especially after using the toilet and after handling dirty vegetables and raw meat. It also demands that soap be used. Yes, I had to tell them that it's not washing your hands if you don't use soap!

Among other things, I have asked them to pick up after themselves and leave our home in the same condition as the day we left, meaning CLEAN!!! I was not surprised today when MIL showed up to cook us lunch and totally demolished our spotless kitchen. Annoyed, but not surprised. As long as she stays far from the husband paid someone to come clean our windows and they look incredible. He also went through all the cabinets and weeded out useless stuff his mother had been keeping there for over a decade. Now the kitchen looks even more incredible than when I clean it. Well, at least it did before she showed up to make one of her craptastic lunches. Bleh.

I also gave them detailed instructions on sterilizing bottles, on thawing breast milk correctly and on Raelynn's routine because I can just see them fucking that up and my kid not going to sleep when I put her down for bed the first night I'm home. I can also see them using up all the breast milk I leave in an hour so I should get back to pumping now.

And as I pump, I try not to think about this milk-curdling issue. I swear my milk goes sour as soon as I hear her voice. Ugh. It should speak volumes to everyone that all I have wanted to do was go back to Korea and now that I have a chance to, I don't want to go. I don't want to leave my baby because I love her. Even if I had someone I deemed competent enough to handle this task, I hate that I have to be apart from my sweet little girl. But I don't have someone competent. I have an invalid and one semi-normal person to care for the most precious thing I have. I pray that our trip, which should last no longer than a week, goes smoothly and that upon our return, my little angel is alive and unscathed, all the while thinking that this is a ridiculous steaming pile of bureaucratic bullshit.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Where In The World Is Samara Amchin? (UPDATED)

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to handle when you move to the other side of the world is when you get bad news from back home. And several days ago, that's just what happened to me. I found out that one of my very dearest friends, Samara Deva Amchin, has vanished without a trace. No one has seen or heard from her since March 14, 2011.

Samara is a beautiful woman, as you can see, and inside, she is just as stunning. She's one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met in my life. She's so friendly and instantly likeable. And she has so much energy. Despite this though, she has battled depression and anxiety issues for a number of years and everyone is quite concerned about her safety.

I had first become quite worried about Samara a bit before her disappearance. She had taken up with a new guy and moved to Louisiana with him. Not long after that, she made some disturbing posts on her Facebook page which frightened me. I emailed her several times hoping she would call my phone here or at least email me back with her phone number but no such luck. The last time I heard from her, she sent me a very short but upbeat email on my Facebook on March 13th.

Just days ago, one of Samara's sisters emailed me on Facebook because she had declared Samara a missing person and was trying to see if maybe she might have contacted any of her friends. And thus, I learned that someone I love dearly is nowhere to be found.

For the full story about Samara's disappearance, please visit,0,6827278.story. If you've seen her, please let me know or contact the authorities with your tips. It is my hope that maybe she will see this or someone who knows where she is will tell her that her family and friends are looking for her and we want to make sure she's ok. It is widely believed she disappeared on her own accord but everyone wants to find her safe and sound. Please also pass this information along.

Samara Deva Amchin is 5’5” with long, straight brown hair and brown eyes. Her approximate weight is 110 lbs. She has ear and navel piercings, and may still have a tongue piercing. She has scars on her right ankle and left foot from a car accident in high school. She has no criminal history. Samara was last seen on March 14, 2011 in Tamarac, FL, driving away from an old roommate’s home with all of her possessions. She drives a white 1998 4-door Oldsmobile Intrigue with the tag number 607TIC. If you have any information, please contact Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-8477. 

And in case Samara is out there reading this, please call your sister Dara, or one of your other family members. Call one of your friends or even call the media or police yourself and just tell us you are alive and well. You're an amazing person and we love you very much. This world is a better place with you in it and we all can't wait to see your smiling face again. In China, it is already June 19th, your 36th birthday. Happy Birthday to you! You always remember my birthday, just 9 days after yours. This year, all I want is to spend my day with my new baby daughter and to find out that you're alright. I hope you'll make my birthday a great one because that's how you roll. I love you Princess Samara!
Samara is on the left in the above photo.

On Samara's 36th birthday, June 19th, she contacted her old roommate in Tamarac, FL via cell phone. Her sister, Dara, called that number and left a voicemail message. It has not yet been returned. The case is still open until it can be confirmed that it indeed was Samara who made that call. Stay tuned! 
I meant to do this before I left on my trip for Seoul, but Samara is found and is alive and well. She is no longer considered a missing person although she refuses to speak to her family for whatever reason. We're very happy and relieved that she is alive, however, it's very sad that she won't speak to the people who love her the most. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Giving Some Food For Thought To The Ol' MIL

Though it is excruciatingly difficult, I am working tirelessly on trying to be nicer to my MIL. I suppose I should count my blessings that she's a nice person and not some horribly appalling bitch, but somehow she still irks me to no end. Only because I love my husband so completely am I attempting this feat. Maybe this whole thing would be easier if she was a monster. Maybe not. But either way, I am stuck fake-smiling my way through her visits and trying to resist the urge to club her when she holds her arms out like a mildly touched in the head person when she wants to hold my baby. I try counting to 10 though it's a strain. Maybe I should try drinking 10 shots of something alcoholic instead.

Anyway, in my effort to be nice to MIL, one thing I'm doing is problem-solving instead of problem-making. How, you ask? Well, instead of complaining that freshly dead road kill smells better than whatever she cooked, I just cook something else myself. And of course, she needs to feel useful and helpful, so I've created a solution for those moments too. I bought her a cookbook.

Here it is, though since I cannot read many words in Chinese, or write them for that matter, I sadly cannot credit the author of this cookbook. I think it is MIL's first cookbook because I have not seen a single one in this house leftover from when she and my FIL lived here. I'm not surprised either. But I won't make fun here. There once was a time I couldn't cook. As a child, I charred a microwave breakfast beyond recognition. And my college friends can tell you about how I asked if paper plates were microwavable (hey, I was attempting not to burn down another microwave...and if you are wondering, yes, they ARE microwavable). My mom will gladly poke fun at my past cooking retardation as well. Tired of being so inept at food preparation, I better prepared myself by reading cookbooks and trying recipes I’d find online. Today, I’m certainly not my mother’s caliber but even she would be proud of my kitchen creations of late.

This cookbook, as you can see by the 2 English words on the cover (though blurry, sorry for the lousy photos in this post), is Western-style. My husband helped pick this one out though I would have been happy to buy her one about Chinese food. This one we both liked best because it gave a range of nutritious and interesting recipes along with step-by-step instructions plus photos of everything. It seems pretty fool-proof as long as you can read and follow directions in Chinese. I know she can READ Chinese. But can she follow directions? We shall soon see as we gave her this book today.
But before we did that, I snapped some more photos of the inside because it was quite hilarious. Everything is in Chinese except the title of the dishes are also in English. Most things look and sound tasty, though you can tell this is totally written by a Chinese person with a bit of a fondness for the US. Why? Well, let’s see…

First, here are some normal things…
Chocolate cake. Mmm! That does look good! I can’t read what it says but here’s hoping it would turn out as sweet and tasty as I dream it to be.

Black Pepper Beef with Vanilla Sauce. Another winner! And on the opposite page, a t-bone steak (with balsamic sauce, if I am reading the blur correctly). Still sounds nice and pleasantly normal, right?

And now, for the abnormal…Cooking Small Squid with Fried Cabbage and Hollandaise Sauce. Um. Yeah. Dear cookbook author, that’s not at all something served in the Western world as I know it. I’ve never once seen squid served in this fashion in the United States. While I like squid and I like hollandaise sauce, I am a bit perplexed by this entry. Watch, I bet MIL will whip this one up first. Sigh. At least it will be better than just about everything else she’s ever made.

YAY! Pizza! Right? Oyster Pepper Pizza and Italian Cod Pizza that is. Oh, how wrong. Again, dear author, Americans like cheese and pepperoni on their pizzas. Sausage. Ham and pineapple. Mushrooms. Tomatoes. Onions. Artichokes. Spinach. Anchovies. Olives. These kinds of things. Americans tend to refrain from putting sea life on their pizzas. I bet she’ll make this too and think she’s making my favorite kind of pizza. Eek.

But despite these few oddities, this cookbook does have plenty of tasty-looking dishes that look (from the photos at least) very simple to prepare. It’s got potential to be a tool she can use to do something different for a change instead of preparing the same lame and uninspired meals she’s made her whole life. So let the betting begin…do you think MIL can follow directions and make some of these new dishes? Or will she royally botch it? You know what I think, but I promised my husband I’d be nice, so…go MIL!

Monday, June 13, 2011

There's Something About Shanghai

Pictured above, the incredible Shanghai skyline.

Shhh...don't tell Seoul, but I think I've got a bit of a crush on Shanghai. Seoul is still my number one, but with my second trip to Shanghai, my heart swooned and I found myself wishing that our 3-week stay would become a permanent move. 

The purpose of our trip was to get Raelynn her US citizenship. We brought all the required paperwork (after checking about 100 times to make sure we had every possible item) to our bright and early morning appointment at 8:15 on May 24th. Chinese nationals were piled into a massive line, eyeing my husband jealously as we were let right in to take care of our business. I was absolutely amazed at just how many people wanted to go to America, though not at all surprised. After our interview there, we were told that Raelynn's passport would take up to 10 business days to come out. We'd have to wait for an email from the consulate. The consulate is closed on weekends and on holidays for both America and China. Just our luck that there was one American holiday and one Chinese holiday during our wait.

But we made the most of it while trying to be helpful to our very generous host who spoiled little Raelynn rotten with incredibly lovely gifts (thanks again, Cherie!). Our first trip to Shanghai several months ago was like a mini-honeymoon. We still have yet to have a wedding ceremony and a real honeymoon but nevermind that. It was our last trip for the 2 of us before our beautiful Raelynn came into our lives. During that trip, Xiaolong took me to the Shanghai Zoo because, for one thing, he knows how much I love animals, and for another, I’d never seen pandas before. That trip was during the Chinese New Year so everyone had off work. And EVERYONE had the same idea as us to go to the zoo. There were so many people there (and everywhere else too for that matter), making it much more difficult for us to enjoy. But not this time. We went on a weekday and we practically had the place to ourselves. It was the perfect day. 

Raelynn and I stand in front of the Shanghai Zoo entrance.

Shanghai is an incredible city. I feel quite lucky to have visited there twice when so many people around the world might never have a chance to go even just once. It is quite the metropolis, filled with stunning architectural feats. And tucked in between massive skyscrapers, you find little Chinese temples and side streets full of vendors selling little trinkets or tasty treats. It’s an intricate blend of sophistication and tradition. If only Qingdao could be this modern and tantalizing! It’s not like Qingdao is a total dump. They call it “The Sailing City” because during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the sailing sports took place here. There are parts of Qingdao that are quite lovely, but it still has a lot of growing to do. I get hopeful when I see new buildings going up, flowers being planted, subway stations being constructed and clean malls filled with Western-style bathrooms, elegant dining and pricey stores like Prada, Cartier and Gucci. But if you know me at all, you know I can be a bit impatient at times. Like now, obviously. And right now, I want to wave a magic wand and turn this place into everything it could and should be.
Below, a couple shots I took of Shanghai on our first visit...

Back to reality, as I sit here and type this, alternating between watching my adorable daughter sleep peacefully and looking out the window at the city of huge potential below me (all the while counting to 10 while MIL putters around my kitchen). We created wonderful memories on this trip with so many firsts for Raelynn besides the plane ride and the zoo. We rode the subway. We went to the Shanghai Museum. We ate Xiaolong Bao (yes, spelled like my husband's name but his name means 'morning dragon'), the kind of dumplings Shanghai is known for, filled with soup and a flavorful meat mixture:

 And we walked around taking in as much of Shanghai as we could so we could always have a piece of it in our hearts. 
Our little family, posing in the hot Shanghai summer sun with the famous skyscape behind us.

For me, it was also a much-needed break from certain stressors (coughMILcough) which will hopefully enable me to attempt to be nice for my husband’s sake. But most importantly of all, we got what we came for. Our little Raelynn got her US passport and is now an official US citizen. Congratulations, my precious baby. Daddy and I always want you to have the best of everything in this world and that starts with having the best choices available to you. This is the best gift we can possibly ever give you, though when you’re 16, I bet you’ll think the best gift we could give you would be a new car. Hell, maybe she deserves it for us posting her passport photo:

Have you ever seen anything so adorable and hilarious all at once? This photo will always make me smile and warm my heart.