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.