Saturday, August 27, 2011

Back To School

When I left Korea, one of the hardest things for me to do was say goodbye to my students. Some of them were naughty so of course, I was relieved to never have to put up with those kids again. But the majority of them were really sweet children. I was so proud to have worked with them because I could see a large improvement in their English skills after just 6 months. But because Lane and I had to move to Qingdao, I had to leave my old job. Since I was over 4 months pregnant when we moved, there was little point in getting a job. I also wasn't sure if I wanted to stay home full-time or go back to work.

Recently, I was left with no choice. I'd have been a fool to turn down that kind of money. I was offered over 3 times what most Chinese people make in one month. How could I say no? Part of me wanted to because I really hate being apart from Raelynn. But the other part of me knew that if my husband went to work full-time, he'd never get paid this kind of money or get my kind of hours. We'd basically never see him for only a few thousand yuan a month. I did the math and realized if I do this now, we can send Raelynn to any school we want, we could move to a bigger home, we could travel back to America and do about 1,000 other things. So, I said yes to the job, even though I felt sick at the thought of letting MIL watch the baby.

To reduce my stress, my husband has been mostly sticking around the house to keep an eye on his mother. He's been applying for part-time tutoring jobs because for a little amount of time, he can make us some nice side cash and still get to be around Raelynn a lot. He's also been making improvements to the house, even more extensive than in my previous postings so stay tuned for an entire new post devoted to all my husband's fantastic home upgrades. It helps knowing he doesn't leave her alone with the baby for long while I am at work. Long enough for her to stupidly put the ugliest pants ever on Raelynn when it's too warm inside the house for her to be cold (these would be the horrible Chinese-style open crotch pants that she bought for her which, even if I didn't mind them, are too large at this time but she keeps pulling them off the shelf with the other large items that I have asked her not to use yet) on top of a cute onesie, pulled way up on her chest like Steve Urkel. This has happened twice. Twice too many times if you ask me. Lane has been warned that if it happens again, a certain pair of hideous pants will be going into the garbage bin.

So, aside from MIL using this as an opportunity to teach Raelynn how to dress as poorly as she does, how was my first week? Glad you asked! To be honest, at first I was a bit upset. The school, which is a Korean school in China, made some changes to things, none of which they mentioned to me during my interview or contract signing. They certainly neglected to mention this information to my friend Genesis who was the one who told me about the job in the first place. I found it more than annoying. I felt cheated. It made the stress of starting a new semester even more amplified. One of those things was the schedule. We are to be at work at 8:30am. We start teaching at 9am. Then, when the children have lunch at 11:50am, we have office hours the rest of the day. They wanted to make us teach another class in the afternoon, but not for OUR kids. Genesis has the six year-olds and I have the seven year-olds. They wanted us to each teach 45 minutes to Pre-K kids each day! Now, the salary might be great but if I was expected to take time from planning for my own kids to deal with children that are four years old, I just couldn't imagine that. None of this was mentioned when I interviewed or signed so I was a bit pissed. Fortunately, they listened to reason when Genesis and I sat down and had a meeting with them.

That meeting was actually hard to do. It was my second day there which was an orientation day. After a small meeting, Genesis showed me some more things around the kindergarten area and then, it was time for a lunch "mixer" as they called it. I have to say that I do like being at a Korean school here since I understand Korean culture. One part of their culture is they are all for one, meaning they like everyone to join in. At times, this is definitely annoying. But when you're getting to know people, it can be really nice. Another part of this is that they enjoy getting together to eat and drink. So this meant they hauled in 2 kegs of beer for this event. Drinking at the school already! Ha! I loved it! This is why the meeting was so hard. They held it AFTER Genesis and I had done our part to drain one of the kegs.

The meeting went well though and I was no longer completely upset about going to work there. But about going to work, there were still some issues about how I would get there each day. Getting to the orientation had proven challenging as in the mornings, it can be quite difficult, if not impossible, to hail a cab. On the first day of orientation, Lane came running down the street to help me after I'd been at it for 30 minutes without an available taxi in sight. The next day, Lane went out and brought a taxi back for me while I snuggled Raelynn some more. But for my first day, I couldn't be late. My husband planned a bus route for me and came along to help me learn the way. In some areas, it is even more challenging to get a taxi, and ours is one of them. His rationale was that if we took the bus closer to my job, we'd have a better time of getting a taxi. Or at very least, be able to get on another bus and keep going that way.

But Lane's plan was a massive fail even he couldn't have expected. The bus was so crowded and there were no taxis anywhere. By the time we got to the stop by school, I was late and I still had to run up the massive hilly street that lead to it. My first day wasn't too horrible, but I wasn't happy about it. I was trying to get to know my students while getting to know my Korean teacher and Chinese teacher for the class, not to mention learning how everything worked there. By the end of the day, I was so happy to go home. The good news was that catching a taxi by the school was very easy. I had nabbed one within a few minutes and was fast on my way home. Once there, I cried my eyes out while I held and fed my baby. And Lane held me and was my rock. He reminded me that I didn't have to do this forever and that if I hated it that much, that he would help me find another school in winter when the semester changes and schools look for teachers. He also had some good news that dared to make my experience much better.

After the ordeal trying to get to work, my husband could not bear for me to endure such a horrible commute to my new job. So, he spent all day making calls until he found a friend of the family who they occasionally hired to move furniture since he has a pickup truck. The friend agreed to drive me to work 5 days a week for 40 yuan a day, which is pretty good. We'd looked into hiring a private car but it was very expensive, even for such a short trip. Xiao Shi came at 7:30am the next day in his rickety farmer's market-style truck. I was just grateful for a steady ride to work. Not knowing when the bus will come or when you can get into a taxi is even more stressful because you could be waiting for a long time. Even though a taxi to work would cost about 26 yuan, to pay Xiao Shi 40 yuan is worth it because he's reliable transportation. He was good too. He bypassed all the congested roads which a taxi would never do, and the bus could never do since it has a route to stick to. On that second day of work, it was my first day riding with Xiao Shi. My husband insisted to come along to make sure he knew how to find the school. That meant that MIL came before I left for work, which was irksome but necessary. Since it is a pickup truck, there is only one passenger seat. Which meant Lane was riding in the back of the truck like the poor migrant working village folk though much cleaner and better dressed. The ride went so well that it was officially decided that Xiao Shi would be my daily lift. It was also decided that leaving at 7:30am got me there a little too early. 7:40am was much better.

And so was my second day. The children began to warm up to me some more and I felt more like I knew what to do with them. Every day, when I get to work at 8:30am, I have until 9am to get ready for class. The kids start coming in around 9am. Sometimes, the bus is late so I might only have 3 children out of my 15 and I ask them to take a book of their choosing and sit down until the others come. I talk to them about how they feel for a few minutes and then give them something to color. At 9:20am, it is snack time. The Chinese teacher comes and brings a snack for them (and for me). While she sets it up, I take them all to the bathroom and to wash their hands. They sing a cute snack time song and then eat. After snack time, I get them started working in our books. Before lunch time, I read them a story and they can write about it or act it out. I can give them playtime too, but since they were a little wild the first few days, I revoked it. By the end of the week, the children were good so I am looking forward to taking them in the big play room or even outside if the weather permits.

When lunch time hits at 11:50am, I take off for my office. I am supposed to eat with the children but as a breastfeeding mom, I must go pump my milk first. When I return to the room, the Chinese and Korean teachers have a tray of food waiting for me. This is one of the perks of my job. Genesis would disagree, but I am a huge fan of Korean food. It's not the best Korean food, mind you, but it's not the worst. There is usually rice and kimchi which I can get by on. Assuming it's horrible, there is a little store in the school where I could buy chips or cookies to hold me over until I went home. All I have to do is eat my food with the children. That doesn't take long and I usually get a chance to get to know Christine, my Korean teacher, and Jiao Laoshi, my Chinese teacher a little better.

By 12:30, I'm back in my office and so is Genesis. Since I'm new, she's been helping me learn where things are and what I'm supposed to do. We chat a bit too as we work on our own tasks. It's my favorite part of the day. We have the room to ourselves except for the occasional visit from one of the Korean or Chinese teachers that might need us or some supplies from our room. There's also the part-time guy who comes to teach the Pre-K class they were going to make us teach who stops in our office to get organized but he's never there more than 10 minutes. At 3pm, we have to return to our rooms to say goodbye to the children. I have to ask them about their day and we go over some things we learned. Then, I call my 3 best kids up to the front and give them hugs. They get to line up first by the door. The rest of the class comes up next to hug Teacher. This is definitely my favorite part of my time with my students. Even if they misbehaved in class and I punished them, they can't wait to get a hug. And I can't wait to give them one. I take them outside with the Korean and Chinese teachers and we put them on their school buses. And then, I am free to go home.

Going back to school is taking some getting used to but it's not all bad. I get to help make a difference in these children's lives while making a difference in my own. It was an exhausting week though I am hopeful that I will adjust to this schedule and be less pooped at the end of each day. Raelynn is also getting used to a new schedule which means that my sleep has been compromised severely. It's only natural that when I'm gone all day, she'll want all of my attention when I'm around. And even though I'm tired, I'm happy to give it to her because my job as her teacher will never be done and is my most important role of all.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

There's A First Time For Everything

Lately, there have been many firsts for us. Raelynn's first big laugh. Signing on for my first full-time teaching job in China (yup, I got the offer). And my parents' first visit to Qingdao, which includes their first time meeting their first grandchild and their first time meeting my husband beyond our chance encounter while crossing the street in Seoul.

We found them with relative ease at the airport. The only other white people in the airport, at least that I noticed, one of them with shiny blond tresses that I could see among the see of black-haired heads, began waving at me. I might be 35 but the little girl in me is still very much alive. "Daddy!" I screamed and darted over to them, Raelynn along for the ride in the carrier and Lane in tow. Their first time to see me with my own family, they seemed to soak in. Raelynn too was quietly checking them out for the first time.

How we fit all of us and their luggage into the car we'd hired for their stay is still a mystery to me. We headed for their hotel, the Shangri-La, which is the nicest hotel in this city. They'd enjoyed staying at the Shangri-La in Singapore so much that this was a natural choice for them. And it was a fabulous choice indeed. It was my first time inside the Shangri-La hotel in Qingdao. Immediately upon entering, you're greeted with a lovely, clean scent reminiscent of rose petals. The air conditioning is flowing nicely. The marbled floors are spotless and polished to a shine. The carpeted areas are lush and opulent. I almost forgot I was in Qingdao! Mom and Dad checked in and then went off to freshen up while Lane and I ordered a couple beers in the lobby lounge. We set up camp on a cozy sofa and plopped Raelynn into her bouncy chair next to us. As usual, she was a magnet for curious onlookers. Everyone wanted to look at the baby. Some of them tried to touch the baby. And for the first time, I tried to be nice.

Dad was the first to return from the room. He was excitedly telling us that he'd just learned that the other bar in the hotel had buy one, get one drinks. We scooped up our things and then woke Raelynn as we picked her up out of the chair. As she was blinking her sleepy eyes awake, I handed her to my daddy for the first time. And this is the first picture of them together...

Adorable, isn't it?

Mom found us in the bar and after several rounds of drinks, we made our way to the Chinese restaurant in the hotel, Shang Palace. It's a lovely restaurant with carved marbled walls and wood lattice all about. Stunning place settings and oriental rugs. The food is superb too, just as it was in the Shang Palace in the Singapore Shangri-La. Though it was our second time there, it was now Mom's first time to hold Raelynn.

Indeed, my parents adore animals more than babies and children. But Raelynn is different because she is OURS. She's so incredibly cute though that you just can't resist her. That must be why everyone comes up to us everywhere we go. I mean, just LOOK at this face!
I'll thank you to refrain from comments about car seats. Remember, I am in Asia and the rules are different here. None of the safety belts in the backseats of taxis work so there is no way to attach one when you're riding in one. I've seen countless people driving around on motorcycles with small children and babies in their arms so this is nothing!

Can't. Resist. Cute. Baby. Aughhhh!!!

For the next day, we scooped my parents up from the hotel and carted them off to Polar Ocean World. When planning this trip, my father had requested to go to the zoo. He loves giraffes but there are no giraffes at the Qingdao Zoo. The animals that are there are in terrible condition, mistreated and kept in small cages. My first time there was when we first moved here. Xiaolong felt badly that I had such horrible culture shock coming into his country so he thought perhaps the zoo would cheer me up. Normally, it would have, but when I saw how these animals were being treated, all I could do was cry. Knowing my father would be equally as upset with this, I suggested one of the marine parks here. There is also Underwater World, but we thought that Polar Ocean World would be even more exciting since there are seals, polar bears, whales, sharks, eels and those sorts of sea creatures there.

Unfortunately for us, every other creature in China was also in attendance. We watched with great disgust and amusement as a taxi pulled up in front of us and two young women got out and proceeded to vomit robustly into the nearby bushes. We also watched a small boy whip out his weenie and pee into the same bushes though not at the same time the ladies were puking. Once inside Polar Ocean World, we struggled to stay together, kept people from bumping into the baby or unnecessarily touching her and tried to see something or anything! People were everywhere! We did manage to see two sleeping polar bears, two beluga whales, a very fast sea lion swimming in circles, a walrus trying to resist eating a family of tourists posing with it and the trainer, a pool of swimming seals, many fish in very large floor-to-ceiling tanks and a gift shop which had nothing too remarkable to boast except for ice cold air conditioning. I felt terrible that I'd put us all through that. But the day turned around quickly. As we exited, we thought we saw a place selling cold beer. It was no mirage, thankfully. We plopped down into some chairs around a table with an umbrella and 4 of us clinked glasses while one of us sucked on her fingers. Daddy, being keen on the smells of food announced, "I smell grilled squid." And sure enough, the man that had filled up beer mugs with cold Tsingtao draft beer was grilling small squid. I'm usually nervous eating tent food, but this was fantastic. Daddy raved on and on about our squid snack.
My husband and my father getting along famously. It was perfect!

We had a fantastic time sitting by the sea but it was time for more than a snack and beer. It was lunch time. Off to Din Tai Fung we went. I have a special fondness for this restaurant because we went to the location in Seoul on my first visit there. It was what we had for lunch before we saw the play Nanta. And right after that play was when I first met Xiaolong, so it is very special to me for this reason and also for their Xiaolong. Xiaolong Bao, the soup dumplings, that is.

If it seems like we did a lot of eating, you've got that right. My brother and I learned how to really appreciate good food thanks to our dad. So I wanted to make sure that his first time in Qingdao was filled with tasty tidbits. Though he'd made it clear he would like to enjoy Chinese food while here, he had requested to dine at Da Vinci, the Italian restaurant in the hotel, one night. Soothing lighting welcomed us as we entered a foyer that looked like a fancy library you'd find in someone's home with beautiful heavy wood and one of those rolling ladders. But instead of books, there were hundreds and hundreds of bottles of wine. Oh how I want that wall! The food was so incredible too that it was all we could talk about the next day, until the next meal of course.

The next day was one of the best days ever. We went to the Tsingtao Beer Museum, which was my first time but definitely won't be my last. Incidentally, if you are ever going to come here, let me know and I will personally go with you because I loved it that much. It was interesting and there were lots of things to see, plus they give you free samples of beer. It is well worth it to stop in Qingdao just for this experience. After an extensive tour of the brewery, you get let out into a huge room with wooden tables and benches and a bar selling pitchers of Tsingtao draft for cheap. We decided to hang out there for a few pitchers before going off to lunch. We'd been hoping to do our lunch with Lane's parents but somehow there was a misunderstanding about which day. So instead, we would meet with them the following day. My husband, who felt bad about the mistake, suggested the TV Tower. We can see it from our bedroom window actually. At night, it lights up and looks reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. It seemed like a nice activity for us all to do and we could have lunch up at the top.
Mom and Dad look cute together outside of the Tsingtao Beer Museum in front of the statue commemorating 100 years of Tsingtao Beer.

The Tsingtao Beer fountain. No, it wasn't beer in there. It was water. I checked.

Raelynn (who is sound asleep), Lane and I pose in front of what has to be one of the most impressive walls of beer bottles and cans ever.

What a treat that was! In addition to visiting Qingdao for the beer museum,  you absolutely shouldn't miss the TV Tower. Actually, you should do what we did and have lunch up there. For 200 yuan a person, you get to see an amazing view of Qingdao and have a feast that is fit for a king. None of us could believe the amount of food that came to our table. There were self-serve appetizers on a table nearby. As we nibbled on those and took in the impressive view, a royal ton of food started to arrive. Shrimp, sea slug (Mom and I discretely shoved this offering over to our husbands), abalone, sashimi, a tasty dish that my husband said was alligator tongue though his phone's translator can give him some odd translations, lightly fried pork in spicy sauce, something with okra in it that was fantastic and about 5 other things I can't remember. Plus dessert. Plus all the beer and wine you could manage. After all this, we were all so tired but didn't want to miss out on the rest of the tower. Looking at Qingdao from that far up, you don't see the dirt or the things that disgust me about this place (like the piles of garbage or people urinating and/or defecating publicly). It reminded me of Seoul from that far up, and that made me happy.
Qingdao from far above.

Meanwhile, Raelynn was having a hard time being happy. She was tired from being out and about all the time. Normally, she'll just sleep in her carrier. But she really took to my parents. As much as they took to her. She even laughed for them and if they weren't completely smitten at that point, that very much sealed the deal. My mom was a total pro when it came to soothing Raelynn. In fact, dare I say she even seemed happy to jump up from the table at whatever restaurant we were at and go calm the baby down. Like that night when we went to a Japanese restaurant called Teppenyaki in the Darling Harbor area. I'd actually walked by it numerous times and never known the outstanding meals that awaited within. My friend Genesis had recommended it if we felt up for Japanese cuisine. And my parents were both happy to give it a shot. It's an all you can eat type of restaurant and we certainly gave them a run for their money. I could have died happy eating the sashimi there. We enjoyed so many marvelous things from mushrooms wrapped with beef to spicy squid and some incredible oyster dish that was so savory, we ordered more. Oh yes, and all we could drink was included too. I am really not quite sure how much sake we drank but I can tell you it was lots. It was a happy dinner for all of us. Even Raelynn who finally calmed down and went to sleep. She's quite the cranky thing when she wants to sleep. But as closing time fell upon us and they flicked the lights to signal to us and the other remaining patrons that it was time to pay up and go home, they also turned off the A/C. Which of course, caused my diva daughter to wake up and howl. She's definitely just like her mommy.

Our next day's activities were to include some sightseeing and then lunch with Lane's parents. It was important for us to have our parents meet for the first time. We never did have an actual wedding. We just got married at the US Embassy in Seoul. Although we'd love to have a ceremony, we'll be working on doing that in the next year or so. For now, this would have to do. We met at a Chinese restaurant called Hong Kong 97. We'd reserved a table in a private room which we figured would give us more intimacy for talking. Plus, it would be easier to set up Raelynn's chair. I just tried to focus on my parents and tried not to think about how much my MIL annoys me. Even when my FIL got Raelynn to stop fussing and she fell right asleep with her head on his shoulder and MIL couldn't leave well enough alone and just HAD TO take the baby and wake her up like a total moron. I let out an audible sigh and ingested another large beer to calm my nerves. My parents, meanwhile, thought The Qus were very nice. They ARE very nice. I never once said they weren't. More importantly though, I asked for my parents' observations of my MIL's competence and neither one thought there was anything to worry about there. So I, despite not liking MIL very much, will back down a bit. Though I reserve the right to make fun of her here if she does anything like leave pigeon out on my counter for days at a time, store mantou (this plain, doughy bread that has absolutely no flavor) on the ledge outside the kitchen window (which is ultimately eaten by birds, presumably pigeons, which must explain why she feels the need to cook them and leave them on the show the others she will cook them too), using EVERY single tea cup in the tea set in one day when it is just her and my husband having tea, using the rag for the counters on anything but the counters, letting more flies and/or mosquitoes into the house and more things of this nature.
Someday, I am sure Raelynn will appreciate a photo of all of her grandparents together. Grandpa and Grandma and Papa and Hey-You. 

After a long lunch, we picked a time to meet my parents at the hotel later. But when we did, we were in for some bad news. On the way to Qingdao from Shanghai, my parents had run into an obstacle with Shandong Airlines (which is an awful, awful airline and I will be posting about my peeves with them soon). It is known as Air China (or China Air) in other regions of China and around the world but in the Shandong Province, where Qingdao is, it is called Shandong Airlines. For no particular reason, the airline canceled the flight. With no notification. Meaning that thankfully because my parents are of great intelligence, they had checked to make sure their flight would depart on time from Shanghai before they left for the airport. This meant they had to find another flight fast, which they did. They arrived only a couple hours after they were originally supposed to arrive. But on this night, my parents had just found out their flight that would return them back to Shanghai and to their connecting flight to the US was just canceled (again for no reason). They had to make an alteration to their plans to make the connecting flight back. Which meant they needed to leave at 4:40pm the next afternoon instead of in the morning 2 days later.

Now, I know I'm a grown woman with my own family but although I knew that they would have to return home sooner or later, I couldn't help but burst into tears. For the first time, in a long time, I felt like a small child, no bigger than the precious one I was holding in my arms at that very moment. We were having so much fun together. I missed them. I was savoring every single second of being with them just like we had done with each taste of every meal we'd had during their stay. Having my parents here and watching them with Raelynn was sweeter than any decadent dessert I'd gobbled down during their visit. Xiaolong put his arms around me and held me tight while my mom produced a tissue for me out of thin air. I didn't mean to make them feel badly. It wasn't their fault and there was nothing we could do about it. It just sucked and I felt so sad. We had so much more we wanted to show them. Like the beer festival, which I had previously joked was the real reason they'd decided to visit in August. Now there was no time for that and I knew Daddy was disappointed about it too. We only had enough time for a little sightseeing and lunch the next day. Even the promise of the fancy 5-star buffet in the hotel didn't cheer me up. I just wished they could stay longer. Or that we could go home with them.

I dried my tears and tried dearly to focus on enjoying our now shortened time together. We had another nice dinner and in the morning, we went around the city, showing them the beaches where there was a pretty little castle and other sites like May 4th Square. It was all lovely until we were getting ready to head back to the hotel when we had a minor accident. A woman backed into the our driver's car, albeit slowly, but it caused a bit of damage. There was some yelling, though most people speaking Chinese sound like they're yelling anyway. I could see my father getting tense as he looked at the clock. We had noon lunch reservations and we had to leave the hotel at 2pm to get them to the airport on time. But just as we were getting concerned, my husband returned with a taxi he'd flagged down and whisked us back to the hotel where he further helped Daddy calm down by getting his boarding passes printed. It was a nice lunch despite the looming goodbye in the background.
Raelynn and I with Mom and Dad on top of the castle overlooking the sea.

All went smoothly at the airport and Lane, Raelynn and I walked through the security line with my parents up until it was their turn. I gave my parents hugs and kisses and couldn't hold back my tears. Mom cried when she said goodbye to Raelynn which only made me feel more sad to see her go. I don't think she realized how much she would fall for our little angel. Daddy looked teary-eyed too. But the real tear-jerker was seeing my husband cry when he said goodbye to them. We stood to the side and watched them until we couldn't see them anymore. And then as the three of us walked together, back into our normal lives, it occurred to me that for the first time, I was really, truly someone to be proud of.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mmm! I Smell...Pigeon?!?

This photo of a sign in Japan, courtesy of Picasa Web Albums, that depicts a little girl being pooped on by a pigeon strangely sums up my feelings exactly.

Yesterday, my sweet husband went to the store and the market while I dealt with a cute but poopy-pants baby. Upon his return, he beckons me to the kitchen to see everything he's got. He's so proud too, as he shows me the goods.  Black pepper! Oh hooray! I had asked for pepper before but MIL, in an attempt to be useful, got spicy Szechuan pepper instead. It's not bad but it doesn't work with mashed potatoes, for example. He also got sesame seeds which were another pleasant surprise. He shows off a variety of things from vegetables and butter to a brand new tea set, and then he pulls out a package of something and tells me it's "pig-on" (which was his actual pronunciation).

"Pig-on?" I inquire.
"Yes," he says smiling proudly.
"Do you mean 'pigeon?'" I ask him.
"Oh," he answers and I can see him mentally taking notes on the pronunciation. "Yes, that's it. Pigeon." He's careful to say it just like me.
"You brought home pigeon for lunch?!?" is my incredulous response.
"I make for you!" he says with a happy smile and I mentally paw through our refrigerator for a back-up plan.

Who's hungry? Yeah, me neither! Blech!

Only I didn't need one. He whipped up some pork chops which were awesome, despite he served them with a side of ketchup. Also on the menu, a potato pancake-like creation which won my praises as well. And then, there was this soup. It had potatoes and onions in it and what he claimed was "pigeon." Though it looked like something familiar, I couldn't place it. And it smelled familiar too. Do I smell pigeon? He spent a great deal of time making this lunch for me, so despite being terrified of eating the rat of birds, I took a teensy bite. And to be quite honest, his soup turned out wonderfully. He'd used the cookbook I'd bought for his mom that she never uses so it was nice to see it put into action. He proudly showed me the recipe he used too, and even though I cannot read Chinese, thanks to the photos in the cookbook, I finally figured out that what he thought was pigeon was actually BACON. Oh yes. MUCH better than pigeon.

The next day, I wasn't so lucky with lunch though. Lane thawed out what he THOUGHT was some pork. I should interject here to explain that when we moved into this house his parents gave us, we inherited even more than ugly artwork and filth-encrusted items. We also got a freezer full of unidentifiable meats, some that have likely been frozen for years. Oh. Joy! I have been begging my husband since we moved in to either toss this crap, particularly the items that are freezer-burned at least. Or to label them with what they are and the date they went in so we can efficiently use them. I've had this happen to me on many occasions. I take out what I think is pork and I wind up with a bag of chicken heads and feet. Which is just what he thawed out, thinking he'd be preparing pork. Wrong. Wrong. Oh so wrong! He decided not to waste it and prepared it though. Meanwhile, I'm seething because I asked that old troll to take her bag of heads, tails, feet and Lord knows what else out of our freezer. But she never did because, surprise, surprise, she's a senile slob. As my husband took a phone call, he asked me to go stir the pot of chicken. When I did, I saw a black claw-like foot emerge and I quickly retreated from the kitchen in fear. Like when Roy Scheider's character in Jaws comes back and says the famous line, "We're gonna need a bigger boat." Suddenly, I wasn't hungry anymore. Perhaps pigeon would have been better. Unless MIL made it...remember this?
Oh barf! She is just SO gross.

In any event, I stuck to the tomato soup and salad that he made, which was free of nasty chicken parts and full of good taste. And later, I showed him what true love is by making him chicken fricasse.
It was so incredibly delicious that my husband asked me to make it again. And soon. I had to wipe the smile off my face when, while we were eating the leftovers for lunch, he served some to MIL and told her how fabulous it was. Take notes, MIL. THAT is how you cook a bird. But please, please, please...NO MORE PIGEONS. Bacon, however, is more than welcome in this house anytime.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Kitchen Gods Must Be Crazy

The other day, I was busy cooking dinner in our kitchen. This is nothing new. I spend a great deal of time in there and quite happily do so in order to make us food that doesn't suck (like MIL does). But on this day, it was much more enjoyable because my husband was home keeping Raelynn occupied. When it's just Raelynn and me, it takes me 100 times as long thanks to her whining, crying and fussing. I put her in there with me in her little chair and she coos and seems entertained by my running commentary on what I'm doing. But then, perhaps due to having food-envy (which I've coined as my original term to define what it is when I make or eat food in her presence and she just has a spaz until I feed her again...even if she just ate), I've got to cease and desist and handle my precious daughter.

Yes, this day in the kitchen was enjoyable indeed. I could get everything finished within an hour. But as I put everything on plates and began the procedure of schlepping it all to the table, I felt something. Like I was being watched. I looked up, and to my great amusement, as I gazed into the kitchen window of the people next door, I noticed a Chinese woman gaping back at me. It absolutely amazes me that these folks have never seen a white person. Don't they watch TV? Or maybe they just thought we were made up like gnomes and minotaurs. She was a little older, perhaps MIL's age, so maybe she believes in the Kitchen God. If she does, she most certainly is praying to him right now.

Here is a look at their kitchen from our kitchen window:

And here's a more zoomed-in view:

Look at this mess (or 'disorder' as Lane calls it)! It's like MIL and her should TOTALLY be best friends. Our kitchen was like this when we first moved in here, though based only on what I can see here, the neighbor's kitchen isn't quite as bad. FROM THIS VIEW at least. I'm willing to bet this woman keeps her vegetables on the counters and stores cooked fish in the cabinets instead of the refrigerator. I feel like flies would be right at home in there, am I right? She also has the obligatory giant bottle of soy sauce, along with all the same lame sauces all Chinese people cook with, and that oil you see is peanut oil. Because they just have to cook with the most horribly fatty one of all. MIL kept using it despite my protests until I tossed it out. Bwahahaha! Anyway, I am now convinced that keeping your home in a disgusting, slovenly state is a Chinese tradition of some sort. And if it is, it is the one that I would like stricken from the heritage, please.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, no, I didn't flick her off. I pretended not to notice her, eyes widened, mouth agape, gawking at the sight of a white girl in this neighborhood. I pitied her too much to retort with a lewd gesture though as I brought dinner out to our table, I had a great big urge to go back and wave big and make funny faces at her. Sadly, she'd left the kitchen, probably making an offering to the Kitchen God in hopes of keeping him from going crazy again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

If you've read my blog before, then you know that despite how much I love my husband, I miss America and all my family and friends there. China is a bit difficult of a place to love, but it is my home for now and I've got to try to make the best of it while I'm here. One bone picked from my entire skeleton of contention has been our home. It was a gift from my in-laws to "Lane" and me, and though I know you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, I felt like it wasn't really our home since it was still chock full of their craptacular decorations. From wall hangings to dishes, this place was overrun with poor decor. Plus, the constant invasion of my privacy (both before and after Raelynn's birth) has worn on my nerves.

Now I'm pleased to announce that we've been making it a home of our own. That means out with the in-laws and in with things that make this house outstanding and truly our own home. While there's still plenty of things left to fix, I finally feel like our home doesn't look like some cheap, tacky Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of town with discount wonton soup. Step right up and take the grand tour! Follow me, please...
First up on the tour, we removed the large piece of lighter wood furniture that had originally housed the TV and moved the darker, smaller piece there. Yes, the light wood furnishing is gone. I didn't hate it but it took up A LOT of space. The vase to the left of the TV was actually here before. It was one of the few things I did like. The shade to the right of the TV is new as we picked it up in Korea. But the main attraction here, folks, is the artwork above the TV. Let's go in for a closer look, shall we?

It's some sort of farm scene, complete with cows. "Lane" picked this out as a surprise. Not what I was expecting but at least it's much, much, MUCH better than the framed flower needlepoint that had been up there before. I'm actually warming up to this. Besides, HE likes it and it's OUR house, not MY house so he should get a say in what goes up on the walls. I'll say something else nice...I like the frame too.

Next, we have this really pretty shadow-box art. I was so happy when he pulled this one out. Great job, Honey!

This doesn't suck either. The frame matches the larger farm piece too. I rather like it, actually. It's so much nicer than anything MIL has ever picked out. The poor thing just has bad taste in everything. I'm relieved that she no longer has jurisdiction over how our house should look. Hooray!

Here is a different angle of the living room so you can see the wood furniture better.

In our bedroom, my husband added this awesome lamp. I love it! It's kind of feminine without being overly girly. The fringes make it fun too, though if I think about it too much, it vaguely reminds me of that leg lamp from the movie A Christmas Story. Oh well. I still adore it!

Here's a closer look at the lamp. There's just one thing that sucks about husband only bought one! And this is on HIS side of the bed! "Lane!" How could you??? We should have matching bedside lamps. I'm still stuck with the 1960s-version-of-what-the-future-looks-like-lamp on my side, which is shown in the pictures further down in this post.

These Korean masks are over our bed now. The smaller one was in our living room before. Then as we were organizing some things, I found the longer piece. I felt they'd make a lovely addition to the bedroom. Incidentally, these replace that horrible framed ship artwork that was above the bed. We did away with the flower tea party one as well but just kept the wall blank where it was. Hopefully that ugly ship picture has found its way to a sea shanty somewhere in hell.

Here's the Korean art from a wider angle. You can see that dreadful bedside lamp that I referred to above that is still on my side of the bed. But wait...something is missing! Can you tell what it is?

Glory, glory hallelujah! That 70s style curtain that looked like it partitioned off beds in a psych ward is GONE! So are the frosted glass panels that didn't shut all the way. Take a look and refresh your memory...
The grandma-style comforter is also long gone too. I almost forgot about that, or perhaps I tried to block that vile pattern out of the corners of my mind.

Yes, there is something much prettier and much more efficient providing us privacy in our room...

It's these beautiful sliding doors! And they rock! I love them!

Here they are closed for the full effect. I think the picture of the waterfalls is really pretty and adds a nice element of Asian class. My husband did a fantastic job picking these out. Happy wife, happy life!

Here it is with both doors closed from behind. We moved the fish to face this way instead so they weren't constantly blocked with one of the doors. This was a simple solution to a major problem. We really like the built-in shelves there in the lighter wood, but we just don't like them THERE. It was so stupid for my in-laws to ever design this home in such a way with no real wall separating the living room and master bedroom. But to remove that thing would cost a fortune. There's also a radiator in there so it would be a huge pain to completely tear apart. Thank you again, Honey. Honestly, it is pure bliss to slam these shut when MIL is here. I can't see or hear her and for that, I am sooooooo thankful!

So, I know this might just look like a sink to all of you. And well, it IS just a sink. But now, it is a very special sink. The other night while we were cooking, we noticed water all over the floor. I noticed water all over the kitchen floor the night before too, but I thought I'd spilled it out of the big pot I'd been cleaning. Turns out, the pipes under the kitchen sink were leaking. What else is new in this crap shack? It is always something with old pipes, light switches and anything else built into the walls. I should point out this place is only 10 years old, but just like my in-laws, it seems more like 100 years old. Anyway, my husband called a repairman right away and before I knew it, he'd fixed the pipes. AND, he installed food traps in the sink. Over here, no one has garbage disposals, which is one of the things I miss most about living in America. In our kitchen, I was constantly complaining about how the sink would get stopped up because SOMEBODY (coughMILcoughcoughcough) would just shove food down the small grated openings in the sink. I'd have to use a chopstick to poke everything that had fallen through down the rest of the pipe, which was just nasty. These make it so much easier to catch the food and toss it out properly in the garbage. I would of course prefer a garbage disposal but over here, this is the best we'll get. My nice chopsticks are rejoicing since all they have to worry about now is if MIL will use them in the wok and burn them again (which is a huge peeve of mine...use the fucking spatula! Sheesh!).

Making friends with our little oven and the electric kettle is our new rice cooker contraption. We had this old, clunky awful thing before that would shoot out steam and water everywhere. It was very difficult to use and it took up so much space on the counter. This is China though and with a Chinese husband in the house, I simply must have an easy way to make rice for our meals. I love this thing. You probably can't tell, but the buttons are in Chinese AND Korean. So if I forget what button to push, I can at least read the Korean and figure it out. Plus, it's sleek and stylish. Win-win!

This is not sleek. Or stylish for that matter. But it works! It's our new, used washing machine. When I documented how my MIL makes a mess of our home, there was a photo of our old washing machine in there. Let me just tell you how much I despised the old machine. For starters, it was literally one step above scrubbing everything by hand. You had to manually add water to it, manually drain it and manually spin it. Oh yes. It was horrible. And on top of that fresh hell, it would tangle all the clothes into one massive wet knot that was oh-so-fun to undo. It also had a penchant for tearing your clothes to shreds which is why I never put anything I liked into it and would just hand wash anything that wasn't an old t-shirt that I'd wear to sleep or while lounging around the house. After it ripped the entire strip of fabric where all the belt loops are off of a fairly new pair of my husband's slacks, it went to die quietly somewhere. Just kidding! Knowing this country, someone probably picked it up and is having it wreak havoc on their wardrobe as I type this. This washing machine pictured above was actually in my in-laws other rental property. I was so annoyed that no one brought this one over sooner.

But as I mentioned before, we're still in the process of fixing up and removing the ugliness that once was. This flower curtain is a prime example of said ugliness. The pink curtains cover the 2 large main windows in our bedroom. Just like the vase by the TV, the pink curtains are one of a few things in this house that I actually like. For whatever reason though, my in-laws never used a curtain to cover this side window which, without covering, causes our room to become unbearably hot. "Lane" and I had decided to do something about it but before we even had a chance, MIL ran out and bought this barfy curtain which feels like it was made from a burlap potato sack or something. It doesn't match, which is like her trademark at this point, as are the stupid flowers, making me feel like I am permanently trapped in hell's waiting room.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lost In Translation

Forgive me for not posting sooner. It's been really hectic over here with redecorating our house (yes, that means we're giving all the in-law interior designs the old heave-ho, which I will devote a whole new post to with photos as soon as possible) and planning for my family's visit in 10 days (which will warrant at least one whole post to itself and quite possibly more as I document my parents' first ever interaction with their first ever grandchild). Add to that one very cute but demanding baby, Chinese lessons and interviewing for teaching positions. That equals one very busy me indeed.

Lately, I've really been trying to step up my game on my Chinese lessons though now that Raelynn is on a bit more of a routine. Plus, MIL misunderstood my meaning the other day and became upset and left in a huff. I know, I know. You probably think I was happy to see her go. I would have been if I hadn't accidentally offended her somehow. It seriously wasn't my intention but in any event, now that all is well again in the Qu family, I'm working hard to build my vocabulary and grammar faster so that we don't have any more misunderstandings. I might not like her and I especially might not like her watching my child, but she's free daycare and she loves the baby. If I get hired for this job (we'll hear in a few days whether or not I get the high-paying teaching gig), we need her to keep an eye on Raelynn.

Besides, I might just wind up on the 301 bus, which has this 'friendly' sign up:
Yes, it says "Please speak mandarin chinese" (and they didn't even capitalize "mandarin" or "chinese" which was irritating on a whole different level). I love this! I asked my husband about it but he wasn't certain why they would post a sign like this. For one, if you can read the English, it is quite likely that you don't know Mandarin Chinese. Or you're like me and don't know enough of it to solely speak the language. For another, if you can read the Chinese characters, does that mean that people from Hong Kong, who use the Cantonese dialect, should just keep their mouths shut? I'd also like to point out that as we got on the 301 bus, my husband was speaking to one of our Korean friends in, you guessed it, Korean. Oh we're such rebels you know. It was nice of the lady collecting the bus fare not to kick us off.

It reminds me of the whole hullabaloo that went on in the states a few years back (well, more like 5 years ago) at that famous cheese steak spot in Philly. The owner had put up a sign that said "This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING Please 'SPEAK ENGLISH.'" It was later ruled that he didn't violate any ordinances by posting this sign. In China where disorder is always served up fresh each day and laws don't really exist, no one cares if we as foreigners are offended. No one cares about our human rights or whether we understand or not. America isn't the only country with a diversely growing population, but in America, people are desperate not to offend anyone for fear of litigation. Here, you are forced to learn the language or forever be left open for interpretation. Which basically means speak Chinese or DIE...on the 301 bus at least.