Friday, December 28, 2012

Recent Favorites

One of my boys is at a friend's house. The other is curled up on the couch devouring the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book which our friend from America was kind enough to bring over (for half the price of buying it here in Shanghai!). Having the afternoon to myself, I thought I'd finish up the half dozen blog posts in the pipeline that are just in need of photos...
 
Ha! Joke's on me, all the photos are stored on an external drive thingy which is currently not talking to my computer, and I can't even open the program to see them! Since my personal IT guy is working at his day job right now and can't help me, all I can do is pull some photos off my phone to share with you. They happen to be some of my favorites from this past week down in Hong Kong, so that works.
 
First up, here is me and my boys outside Hong Kong Disneyland:
 I love, love, love Disneyland. All of them. I especially love the Disneyland Parks during the Christmas season. All the extra decorations, music, snow (it's actually tiny, foamy bubbles, which is the kind of snow I like!), and extra good cheer from guests and cast members alike. We've always gone to Disneyland during the holidays (in whatever country we happen to be in) so this made it really feel like Christmas to me. I ordered my Mickey shirt from Old Navy a month or so ago and had it shipped to my friend who brought it over the from US in time for me to wear it. Love it!
 
This one is my three favorite guys standing in front of Victoria Harbour with Hong Kong Island in the background:
This was our first day in Hong Kong and the chilliest day of the week we were there. But the cool breeze was refreshing, not frigid like the icy wind here in Shanghai, and I was okay with that! Wanna see an almost identical shot from seven and a half years ago when we actually lived in Hong Kong?
Father's Day, 2005. My how they've grown! (I pulled this off my old website).
 
This is one of those photos that I knew I had another photo of and had to take a moment to recreate it.
Nathan, age 12, December 2012:
 
Nathan, age 4 1/2, May 2005 (pulled off my old website):
Both times Nathan said to me, "Why am I doing this?" In the photo where he's 4, you can see the question on his face. But in the photo where he's 12, he's had more experience with me and my crazy photo taking ways, and just goes with it. I love that kid! These stars have the names and handprints of famous Chinese film actors. The older Nat has his hands in Jackie Chan's handprints. The younger Nat is crouched over Tony Leung Chiu Wai's hands.

And finally, a photo of Benjamin that just absolutely slays me:
This is our first morning in Hong Kong. We were staying at the Disneyland Hotel. The boys knew we'd be going to Disneyland, and assumed we'd do it on the first day. Sadly for them, this was not the case. Our first day involved meeting up with ten different friends throughout the day and evening, as well as going to an art exhibit. This did not meet with Benjamin's approval. Especially since getting to where we were going involved taking the hotel bus to the entry area of Disneyland and then riding the Disneyland MTR train (as seen above). Benjamin loves Disneyland as much as I do. He was so unhappy and refused to speak to us when he realized we were passing the park without entering. But I had to take a photo anyway, because just seven months ago when we still lived in Macau, we went to Hong Kong Disneyland one last time and Ben could only reach those Mickey Mouse rings by jumping or standing on his tippiest-toes. Now he can stand flat footed like the rest of us. But I adore the juxtaposition of his incredibly grumpy face with the cheery Mickey window and hand ring. Kills me to see it! This one is going on the wall for sure. I love this kid, too.

And finally, one last photo from my iPhone, taken on the supposed "last day of the world" of the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty's Castle:
As I stood there with my husband and boys and two dear friends from Macau who came over to Hong Kong for the day to join us at Disneyland, my heart swelled with joy and I thought to myself, if this is the last day on earth, this is absolutely the way to go.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Shanghai Christmas!

 
 
I had a pretty spectacular Christmas Eve birthday yesterday despite the fact that temperatures here were below freezing (and definitely not part of my birthday wish list!). We spent the last week in Hong Kong with a quick one day visit back in Macau, and spent every single day hugging old friends. I was willing to spend Christmas in Hong Kong, but the boys wanted to wake up Christmas morning in their own beds at home, not a hotel room, and the fact that they consider Shanghai to be home means we're doing pretty well at getting all of us settled in here.
 
More about today's celebrations coming later! Just wanted to pop on and share our 2012 Christmas card with all of you. The photo was taken at the Shanghai Sculpture Park in Sheshan by our friend Luke who (along with his wife Anni) came to visit us for a week last month. The sculpture is called 'Meteor' by Italian artist Riccardo Cordero. And yes, the artwork at the Park is meant to be explored and is all quite interactive. There's no disrespect in climbing around on it, most pieces were designed to encourage it!
 
I hope wherever you are in this world, your day today was filled with both peace and joy. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pajama Party



Every December for as long as I can remember our friend Miss Amy has thrown a family Christmas Pajama Party on a Sunday afternoon. Everyone comes in their jammies and brings breakfast foods and the kids get to open a gift in a massive crazy moment of joyful noises. (Here's 2008, here's 2009). We missed it last year, and we'll miss it again today. Another challenge of living abroad - missing out on traditions. Tonight we put on our Christmas pajamas and took a photo to send to Miss Amy and our Southern California friends, and then we snuggled up on the couch to watch Singin' in the Rain.

Our nine year old son didn't get the movie at all, and asked us to explain the whole thing to him when it was over. And neither kid understood what was so wrong with Lina Lamont's voice. I think today's cartoons and animated films have inured them to crazy voices that don't necessarily match the character's image. But then again, they also hear many different accents and voices and languages every day, so maybe that has opened their ears to the fact that not everyone sounds the same. Yeah, I'll go with that one.

It will be the middle of our night when our Southern California friends will be eating pancakes and ripping open presents. We'll just have to enjoy the party in our dreams!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Be light

In the last seven months, I've turned on our television three times. The first two times it was just out of curiosity to see what channels we get on our satellite (we get a lot actually, I just never have time or the inclination to flip through and watch anything). The third time was last night.

I'm under the weather and trying my best to get healthy before our upcoming, much needed, long awaited vacation to Hong Kong on Tuesday. Last night friends were having a big Christmas party and since I was fevery, I stayed in bed while Michael took the boys to the party to give me quiet and time to rest. I napped with our lap dog, and then got up and turned on the television, flipping until I got to CNN to watch the coverage 24 hours after the horrific event in Connecticut. I just sat and let the tears fall down my face while listening to stories from the parents of survivors.

One father said his six year old son was evacuated through the hallway where his schoolmate's lifeless body was laying, and he told his dad he'd seen his friend sleeping on the floor. That about did me in. But there were other stories which lifted my spirits, that of teachers who realized something horrible was happening and instead of freaking out, calmly locked the children in and quietly read to them. Another teacher believed this might be the last moment they would all have alive, so she looked at her students and told them how much she loved them so the (possible) last thing they would hear would be a message of love.

What happened was a horrible, horrible thing. I'm so incredibly grateful that in the darkness of this world there are people who bring light. I pray for peace for everyone affected by this senseless tragedy, and pray the rest of us can be light in the dark places.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Do or do not?

I'm going through a year's worth of photos, looking for something specific at the request of two of my sister-in-laws, and I came across this one from May.


It was taken in Chiangmai, Thailand, outside the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, a Theravada Buddhist temple which sits atop Doi Suthep mountain. We left our shoes with the shoe attendant who sat in a large alcove about twenty feet behind where I'm standing under a giant sign that said Leave Your Shoes Here. When we entered, there were piles and piles of shoes under the red sign above. When we came out, there were less as you can see. But it's still funny.

It's been quite a trip to cruise through 2012 in photos. It's been an awesome, amazing, difficult, heartbreaking, magical, change-filled, adventurous year. Looking forward to 2013! 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas in the Classroom

I'm a strong supporter of the arts being taught in school. This little video with Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, Mariah Carey and a bunch of instruments typical of what you'd find in the average classroom (along with some students) made my heart bubble with joy.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

On Comet, on Cupid!

This year Santa's sleigh looks a whole lot like a suitcase, flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong. And Santa looks a whole like like dear friends of ours from seven moves ago when we lived in the city of Benjamin's birth in the San Francisco Bay Area nine years ago! So excited to get a whole bunch of products we've been without for a really long time, along with some new clothes and a few surprises for the boys which we'd said no, absolutely no to when we saw the markup price here in Shanghai.

Photo my friend sent this morning! Hope it doesn't go overweight!
Of course suitcase full of gifts aside, we are excited to see our friends. Our brief time in the San Francisco Bay Area was quite the roller coaster. We'd just moved to America from Tokyo and experienced some of the worst culture shock we've ever encountered. And then we had Benjamin, born with congenital heart disease requiring surgery when he was just days old. My friends were the safety net that kept me walking the high wire of navigating life with a medically fragile child. And look where we are today! The love and encouragement of good friends set us back on a path around the world. It will be good to see these particular friends once again, exploring Hong Kong and Macau together at Christmastime!

In other news, we received our first Christmas card yesterday, along with chocolate advent calendars for the boys from a friend in Macau. I was lamenting the cost of the advent calendars I saw here in Shanghai (well over $10 USD apiece) and she popped some in the mail from our less expensive former home to the south! What a sweet treat for the boys! Thank you friends!

My goal is to get our cards out in the next 48 hours. I send our Christmas cards from a printing company in America which addresses them and includes postage as well. Saves a few hundred dollars in postage. Just need to find a local printing press here in Shanghai for our local friends!

Back to the Christmas card workshop for this elf...



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Be humble

I've done a lot in my short life. Gone a lot of places and seen a lot of things. But every day I'm reminded that there is so much more to see and do. Even with the crazy vast collection of experiences I've amassed, I don't know everything. I'm still learning. I'm a hungry student of the world, insatiably curious.

Today I was involved in a conversation with three people who were absolutely convinced of something which I knew first hand was completely incorrect. First hand, as in I was intimately involved in the creation of this large thing for over a year of my life. When I tossed out the correct information (without mentioning my background with it), they dug in even deeper and got very defensive. It was such a bizarre situation to be in. I wanted to tell them how I knew the correct information, but I also know no one likes to be told they are wrong. So I shrugged it off, as I'm no fan of conflict and this wasn't something worth rising their level of agitation over by any means. What's that saying? You can be happy or you can be right? I wanna be happy.

It's only now, hours after the fact, when my mind is replaying the conversation instead of shutting off for sleep that I realize I have surely been guilty of doing the same thing as this group was today, looking foolish in the process. Most of the time I'm the queen of research, studying something from all angles before forming an opinion or telling someone about it with great confidence. Having an iPhone changed my life because I have all the info I want immediately, wherever I am. I'm certain there have been times where I've assumed too much about something I know just a little about, and I look ridiculous trying to pass myself off as a knowledgable person about something I'm not actually all that knowledgable.

Which brings me around to this blog. It is here to show you life around the world as I experience it, raw and to the best of my ability. I'm no expert in many of the things I write about, but I am an expert at me, and hopefully my writing it down allows you to see life through my eyes. Hopefully you are entertained and keep coming back.

I don't even come close to knowing all the things that I don't know. Like I said at the beginning, every day brings something to show me there is so much out there to see or do which I haven't experienced yet. I'm grateful I have this blog and a place to record the small amount of what I do know, based on personal experience. But please let me stay humble and never trample over the person who is an actual expert in anything I'm trying to say. Because woo boy, I've been there and it's awkward.

Now back to your regularly scheduled Wandering Life blog... Tomorrow brings some toilet humor, China style. Get ready!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Most Popular

I added a little sidebar on the blog which lists my ten most popular posts here on My Wandering Life. I just went back and read them all, wondering what about them makes them the most popular.

If you are new here (welcome!) or read this in a reader or via email (thanks!), feel free to click through to the blog to check them out. My current favorite of the list is this one. I guess I'm a sucker for a good love story, especially my own!

Sticky

On Saturday Michael and I went off to pay our mobile phone bills in person like we do each month (good grief, this is a frustrating way to have to do things! More on bills later). We pay this bill on the second floor of the local grey market (grey market = place to buy semi-legit and knock off electronics that you've heard about plus every little gadget you've never heard of but now can't live without. Bargain hard.) In front of the building there is always a large tented area selling something new each week. Once it was Lee Brand denim (most with cut labels meaning they are seconds/overruns). Another time it was a knock off of Uggs boots. Sometimes it's luggage or tennis shoes. Always a new configuration with new products. This weekend it was a Muslim food fair.

All the food at every booth was served on a long wooden stick. People could dispose of their sticks in one of several boxes placed around the perimeter. I couldn't help but be that anoying person stopping the flow of pedestrian traffic to take a photo. It's not every day you see an urban tumbleweed tall as the people passing by.

 
It's impossible to be bored in Shanghai. There's something new to see each and every moment!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Gifted

I hate to say it, but I've been having one of those weeks. I'm not usually the type to wish a day (or a week in this case) to be over. Every day is a gift, we shouldn't squander our time away, and all similar sayings are ones I take to heart. But this week was the kind of gift you desperately wish to exchange, only to find the store has an adamant policy about receipts (which you must have left in your pocket which went through the laundry), and even regifting isn't an option because it's truly a stinker and you don't dislike anyone enough to lay it at their feet no matter how fancy the wrapping. Yeah, that sounds about right. I'll spare you the details, but just know there was more than once where I quietly locked the door to my bedroom, sat in my picture window looking at my beautiful view, and let tears stream down my face in solitude (the jean ripping incident was the proverbial straw that provoked one of those tearful episodes).
 
I awoke early this morning after far too little sleep, realized my mood was already cloudy, and with great determination fought back using two great tools in my blues-kicking arsenal, Bob Dylan and baked goods. Though I've well documented my lack of love for cooking, there is one thing I always look forward to each autumn: making pumpkin bread. My recipe makes two loaves, so my habit is to keep one and pass the second along to a friend or neighbor. Today was the perfect day for heating up the oven and filling the house with the aroma of fall spices, armed with the knowledge I'd be visiting a friend in the evening. Friends bearing delicious gifts are good friends indeed.    
 
The friend I was visiting just moved house and I didn't know exactly how to find her new home. Being the spectacular friend she is (and also one that happens to have a car and driver unlike ourselves), she offered to pick me up at a halfway point easily accessible via the Metro. This, I thought, was the highlight of my pathetic week. One less thing to be overcomplicated and too much to handle. I wasn't originally going to meet her until 7:00 p.m., but she said 4:15 would work best to pick me up. Extra time with my friend before dinner? No complaints here!
 
Pumpkin bread still warm from the oven, she collected me and informed me of a small detour she needed to make. We then pulled up to a spa where she informed me she'd paid for an hour massage with my name on it. She shooed me in the door where a week's worth of tension, frustration, and general blah was methodically and professionally drained away. I was a new woman when she returned to bring me back to her house. She got busy in the kitchen and handed me a plate. As if a massage wasn't enough, she'd gone to the bakery and procured one perfect slice of the only baked good in the world I love more than pumpkin bread: carrot cake. I couldn't help it, tears started flowing again. This time it was happiness spilling down my cheeks.
 
Especially carrot cake. Especially when you're me.
 
There's another saying out there about needing the bad times to make the good times really good. I'll happily proclaim here for all to read that as tough as this week was, I wouldn't trade an icky minute of it for the absolute goodness of having a friend to share my struggles and ease rough times with such a sweet surprise. It makes sailing through future difficulties look like, well, a piece of cake.
 
I don't know what kind of week you had. Maybe you also need a friend to kidnap you for an hour of tension busting followed by baked goods. And if you do, I wish I could be the one to ease you out of this week and into the blessed release of the weekend. What I can do, however, is offer you the closely-guarded gift of my pumpkin bread recipe and a recommendation to crank up some Bob Dylan (or melancholy artist of your choice) and make some for yourself. And if by some chance you just had the best week of your life, then this recipe is still for you. Bake up a couple loaves and share one with someone who could use love in the form of sweet carbohydrates. 
 
 
Heather's Holiday Pumpkin Bread
 
Ingredients:
1 15 ounce can of canned pumpkin (or the equivalent of finely pureed cooked pumpkin)
3 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
3 1/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
 
Directions:
1. In large bowl, beat together pumpkin, sugar, water, oil, and eggs until well mixed.
2. In medium bowl, add flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Stir until combined.
3. Slowly add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, beating until smooth.
4. Grease two loaf pans, evenly divide batter into pans.
5. Bake for 60-65 minutes at 350F/175C until toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool 10-15 minutes in pans. Remove, share, enjoy!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What's in a name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," said Juliet to her Romeo. And she's right of course. But I don't know if there's another name that would sound as sweet. I'm biased, being a Rose myself!

My father named me Heather because we are of Scottish ancestry and because he liked the name. Many other mothers and fathers in the 1970's also liked the name. I was one of four Heathers in my Kindergarten class. Because the other three had all been in the same school in preschool together and there was already a Heather R., I got to go by Heather Ann, my middle name. My mother gave me that name, which is also her middle name. And of course my father gave me my last name, Rose. In the 1970's, an American woman was still 99% likely to take her husband's last name, and therefore my parents very nearly named me Heather Rose Rose, so that when I got married, I could keep the Rose part. Altogether, I have a very floral name, heather being the little purple flowers from Scotland. Ann, if you add an E could be Queen Anne's Lace. And rose of course, the flower that Juliet thought smelled so sweet. In fact, my bridal bouquet was made up of those three flowers.

Me and my name in flowers.

When I married my husband, I was all of 21. And though I loved him to pieces, I had a hard time immediately casting aside the Rose in favor of his Chase. I adore my heritage and the family name, and after all, I did grow up hearing about how my parents almost gave me Rose twice so I could keep it. I wanted to keep it! Michael supported my position, and never once pressured me to change my name. Oddly enough, he has a sister named Heather, who was Heather Chase before marrying a Young (and I regularly get confused for her on Facebook). The year I turned 25 I went in and somewhat altered my name. I didn't drop the Rose, I added a hyphen along with the Chase. Most of the reason for adding it was social pressure. After all, even though I wasn't legally named Chase, everyone we knew called me Heather Chase.

Toward the end of my 25th year, I had my first son. As babies in America don't get a legal name until the birth certificate is filed, his wrist and ankle bands all said "Baby Boy Rose-Chase" because I was registered as Heather Rose-Chase. I had no desire to saddle my first born with the name I had chosen for myself. And friends who had met me after I was married couldn't find me at the hospital, being unaware that I had a Rose in there before the Chase they knew me as. It was the first time I felt somewhat guilty about keeping the Rose at all.

Interestingly enough, applying for visas as an accompanying spouse when we moved to Japan ten weeks after Nathan was born was no problem at all. It would appear that having the same name as your husband is only a weighty issue in America where the divide between conservatism and liberalism grows ever wider and keeping one's name post-nuptuals throws you at the most liberal side of the scale. Which isn't really where I belong, I'm just a girl who really, really likes her name (and for the record I fall all over the place, extremely conservative in some areas, quite liberal in others, and somewhere in the middle for most. I don't fit labels as well as I fit my name).
The Rose Clan crest, motto, and tartan, which my grandfather Ernest Rose brought back from Scotland, which came to me after both my Rose grandparents passed away. This has hung by the door of every home I've ever lived in, traveling all around the world with me. My parents have the same thing hanging by their door, which will go to my brother. My Dad's two sisters each have one as well. I am the only girl on my Dad's side of the family with the last name of Rose, and my brother is the last Rose in our branch of the family tree.

When our oldest hit Kindergarten we'd just moved back to America from Hong Kong, where once again going by a hyphenated name different from my son and husband's was no big deal. But registering Nathan at the neighborhood school in California provided the school staff with plenty of opportunities to bring up the fact that our last names didn't match on all the forms. Maybe it's a safety issue, but I can't tell you how horrible it felt to have that pointed out by everyone who read the forms to enroll him. Because in this day and age of divorce and remarriage, there are plenty of kids whose last name doesn't match that of their parents. Right?

Once again we are abroad, and this time in a culture quite a bit different from the rest when it comes to names. In China, if you meet a Mr. Lao, you should never turn to the lady by his side and say, "And you must be Mrs. Lao." It is guaranteed that his wife is not Mrs. Lao (though hopefully the woman by his side is indeed his wife!). The women of China keep the name of the family they were born into. Keeping the Rose here is a non-issue. Adding the hyphen and the Chase only brings up the occasional question of which name is that of my family and which is that of my husband's.

I've grown to love all of my names, especially because what got added on is shared not just with my husband but with my two sons, and hopefully with any children they may have, waaaaaay down the line.

In closing, I'll leave you with a link to a galaxy 300 million light-years away from Earth, seen from the Huble Space Telescope. My husband, who loves me by any name, tweeted tonight that it was named after me, Galaxy Rose. I don't know how it smells, but it sure is pretty!



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winterizing

Besides small (or non-existent) ovens and teeny-tiny refrigerators, another thing that many flats in Asia are lacking is closet space. Michael moved to Macau ahead of us and picked out our flat there before the boys and I arrived. One thing it had in abundance was storage space. Every single room had wall to wall (sometimes two walls) of floor to ceiling built in closets and cupboards and drawers. There was so much storage that about half the available space was completely empty! None of our previous homes have ever had storage like that, not even in America where we had a garage!

Flash forward to our current flat, which has almost no built in storage. Each room has a wardrobe, and small ones at that. We had to run out to our handy second-largest-in-the-world IKEA to buy extra dressers, shelves, sideboards, cupboards, cubbies, and anything else we could use to find homes for all our stuff. And after six months, we're still not completely unpacked. A record for us for sure!

One thing we immediately had to do was to gather all our winter clothing and stuff it into oversized vinyl bags which fit under our bed. And now that the temperatures have dropped, I've been pulling out all those fuzzy sweaters and flannel pajamas. Which meant it was time to pull out all the shorts and tees and put them into the vinyl bags to be shoved under the beds.

In many books and stories and blogs I've read about doing this exact thing, packing away the summer things to make space for winter. Coming from Southern California, this was never necessary. At least not for us, as we don't ski or snowboard or otherwise regularly spend time in particularly cold places.

 
I am getting that feeling of starting to hate everything in my closet (or under the bed, as it is). Part of it is that I've added almost zero new pieces to my wardrobe in nearly two years. My curves do not mix well with the tiny clothes that fit the more narrow frame of my Asian sisters. And the clothing in the stores specifically stocking goods with Western bodies in mind charge a premium I'm not willing to pay. In Macau we did order a few times from Old Navy, going in with a few other families to spread out the exorbitant shipping cost. But here in China you have to pay duty on anything that comes in, which means I might as well just shop at the local store's prices and be grateful. And take heart in the fact that though I'm sick of my current clothing choices, no one here in Shanghai has seen any of it.

Word on the street is that after ages and ages of waiting, there will be a sewing machine under the tree (or perhaps next to my birthday cake) for me next month. Considering one of the things currently taking up space in this house is the boxes and boxes of fabric and patterns that I shipped from the U.S. to Macau and then up here to Shanghai, I foresee a whole new me-made wardrobe coming very soon! Which is a very good thing as this morning my favorite pair of well worn 10+ year old jeans finally gave up the ghost and ripped in a non-repairable place. Sigh. The one item of clothing I don't think I could have ever become sick of, like an old and beloved best friend. Guess it's time to go find a new best friend. Sadness.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Tree is Trimmed

...as is this post, which I worked on for awhile and then my unfamiliarity with the latest Blogger app update proved too much and I watched the whole thing disappear before my eyes. It is late, so I won't try to rewrite it, but I will say our house is dressed up in its Christmas Party Best, while Michael and I were also sporting some pretty awesome duds for our day of holiday decorating and turkey consuming.

Lucy Rocket is still new to the whole idea of Christmas, as evidenced by the number of times we had to ask her to get the tree out of her mouth. Filling her bowl with turkey certainly helped!

Off to bed now, so I can have sweet dreams of sugarplums and (faux) snowflakes!



Friday, November 23, 2012

Talkin' Turkey

So yes, I'm an American, and Thanksgiving is my uniquely American holiday which celebrates thankfulness through the act of stuffing ourselves with way too much food while watching parades and football. Strangely enough, it has never been my favorite holiday. I feel so unpatriotic stating that, but it's the truth.

I'm not opposed to a day that celebrates gratitude and thankfulness. In fact, I recently ran one of those little programs on Facebook which tell you the words you use most in your status updates, and my top two were grateful and love. And I know myself very well and I have a way of letting my mind wander down negative roads, thinking about grass being greener on the other side, so I practice stopping the negativity by thinking (and evidently posting on Facebook) about all I have to be grateful for (try it, it makes a world of difference). So no, I'll never be against thankfulness. But there has never really been space in any of the family gatherings I've been to over the years to go around and say what we're thankful for. Not that I haven't tried to start it up many times over the years. We did successfully use the going-around-the-table thing as a way to tell the family we were expecting Benjamin, with comedic results (read about that here), but that was it.

As a kid we would trade off sides of the family to celebrate with. One year we'd do Thanksgiving with the Rose family and Christmas with the Rayners, and then the following year we'd switch. We ourselves never actually hosted that I can remember, both sides of the family complaining that our distance was just too great. I actually used to dread Thanksgiving... we'd have to get dressed up and be on our absolute best behavior and travel for hours in the car to see aunts and uncles and cousins who we only saw once a year. My first cousins are all either ten years older than me or ten years younger. So my brother and I (twelve months and one week apart) were lost in the middle. And unlike Christmas where everyone gets something to play with and then the adults delight in the childlike behavior that ensues, Thanksgiving was about sitting still and quiet and listening to the same stories told every year while football blasts away loudly on the television. Not being into sports at all, I'd bring a stack of books and sit in a corner and try not to make a nuisance of myself.

Once I went away to college, my parents started hosting Thanksgiving for just our immediate family so I could come home to them. After I got married, I hosted Thanksgiving exactly one time. I'd spent the previous several years as a vegetarian, and getting up at six a.m. to stick my hand in the carcass of a dead bird had me stifling shrieks. I vowed that would be my last bird (and it was, up until about a year ago). I also vowed that I would happily accept any invites that came our way for Thanksgiving, and I would be the great guest who brings a load of sides and helps with the dishes. This has led to many wonderful times sharing a meal with all sorts of people. Last year we spent an amazing Thanksgiving in the Philippines with American friends we knew from back in Hong Kong. Another year we spent it backstage at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, where Michael was working and I brought in a stack of pies to celebrate potluck style with the cast and crew who were all far from family themselves. And there have been plenty of times celebrating with Michael's parents or my parents or my extended Rose family. Working in the entertainment industry means you work so others can play, so we had many years of someone bringing over a plate for us to heat later.

There aren't all that many traditions I hold onto fiercely. I think our nomadic lifestyle prohibits us from doing everything like we've "always done it." Instead, we make up new traditions and hold loosely to others. We make a big deal out of birthdays and always get ice cream when it rains. I kind of hope both of my boys marry into families with loads of traditions going back several generations so they can see what that lifestyle is like. Or maybe not. Because I also hope they can be like we are, forging new traditions and discarding others but holding onto what is important, gratitude for the things we have, and love for the people we get to share life with.

But don't fear, Thanksgiving evangelists! Even though we're in China we're not completely left out of a somewhat slightly traditional holiday-like experience, though not on the same day as everyone back in America. Yesterday (the actual American Thanksgiving), Michael worked very late to prepare for a business trip today. I took Nathan to IKEA for a few things, and then got stuck waiting for nearly an hour in the pouring rain for a taxi home. I beat Michael home by only 30 minutes and called in an order at a local Cantonese restaurant for some Hong Kong/Macau style comfort food. Right as Michael walked through the door, the restaurant called to say they'd run out everything we ordered! Which would have been okay except for the fact that our own cupboards were nearly bare. So, we improvised and baked up a potato in the rarely used microwave, fried all the remaining bacon in our house, and made a huge omelet for dinner. We were all very thankful we didn't have to go out into the pouring rain to find dinner!

Michael returns from his business trip late Saturday night, so on Sunday we'll be cooking up a turkey and pulling out the Christmas tree, decking the halls, and making lots of merry. We'll call that our Thanksgiving just so we don't feel we're completely depriving the children. I could have done without a turkey at all (see paragraph about shrieking over touching dead bird), but the online grocery where I do a lot of shopping had a deal I couldn't pass up. It was only 74 RMB ($12 USD)! I thought that was a great price and I figured we'd get a lot of mileage out of $12 worth of turkey. However, when the turkey was delivered, I was in for a shock... the 74 RMB was actually per kilogram. And friends, I think they saved the biggest bird they had for me because I had to shell out almost $100 USD for that frozen, imported turkey. I'm so thankful I had the cash on hand to pay for it!


I just hope I don't mess it up. That price tag puts a lot of pressure on me to get it right, and it's not like I have all that much experience. Thankful to know I have a husband and at least one child who will eat anything that is put before them! Got any tips? Leave them in the comments! One other thing I'm thankful for is my huge-by-Asian-standards refrigerator and the fact that I have an oven at all! Both are somewhat rare here in a culture that doesn't bake, shops daily for fresh veg, and cooks most meals over a stove top.

Happy Thanksgiving to my family and friends around the world! I'm so thankful for all of you who come here and read this little blog, even the posts like this one which go on and on and on... Have a great rest of the week!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Maytag Delivery Man


This is not even close to the weirdest thing I've seen on the back of a bike (that would go to the guy who had about 50 tiny cages filled with live, loudly clucking chickens lashed together towering above his head and probably 20-30 dead geese hanging by their feet from the bottom row of cages), but it is typical of what I see every single day here in Shanghai. In fact, there isn't much I haven't seen lashed to a bike!

I feel bad for the guy who delivers the giant 5-gallon bottles of water for the water dispensers. He pedals a trike with a trailer along with 20+ bottles of water, delivering them and picking up the empties. My thighs complain when riding the stationary bike on the lowest setting. The water guy must have thighs of steel.

One of these days I'm just going to go sit on the curb with my camera for an hour and take a photo of everything that comes by on the back of a bike. Amazing and entertaining.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Fuyou Lu Christmas

Today I went with four other gals to the Fuyou Road Small Commodities Market. I've been there a handful of times over the past six months. They have four floors of literally any small thing you could think of in bulk. Buttons? Stickers? Hair bands? Miles of silver and gold chain? Socks? Decorations? They have all that and so much more. I was told that come November, the Market would explode with Christmas. I was told correctly!

Christmas is spilling out of the building into the street! I totally need that chartreuse tree peeking out there, don't I?
It's a crazy place anyway, but toss in the traditional holiday decorations from every country in the world (all made in China of course) and it brings a whole new meaning to decking the halls. I love Christmas. It's my favorite holiday by far. Although if you count my Christmas Eve birthday as a holiday, then maybe they would tie, because I love birthdays too. I love decorating for Christmas and add to our arsenal of magic making supplies each year. Though two years ago I went through and seriously culled a good part of our collection as well. Out with some of the old to make room for the new!

I saw every kind of decoration today, from the cheap and tacky to the more classy. They were all jumbled together though, which made sifting through it all a bit of a task. The ladies I was with had a specific list of things they needed. I was more along for the ride, though I certainly didn't come home empty handed.

If Christmas got a tummy ache and threw up, it would look like this.
 The key to all the markets, whether home goods, fabric, or even food, is to bargain, bargain, bargain. I hate bargaining. Just give me a fair price and wrap it up while I hand you the cash. But no, you have to work for what you want. It's part of the process. Today we found ourselves bargaining down crazy amounts and walking away with really good deals. I got two ten foot long pine garlands for 15 RMB, which is about $2.50 USD. Somewhere in the middle of walking away from something because they were asking 4 RMB (.70 cents USD) and I was only willing to pay 2 RMB (.35 cents USD), I had two thoughts. First, how much does it cost them to manufacture these items? And second, in America I would have found the identical product in Target or Michael's for $5-10 USD, which suddenly looked like highway robbery. Some things are crazy expensive here (imported groceries, electronics, clothing that fits an American frame vs. a tiny Asian one). And some things are dirt cheap. But evidently not cheap enough if I was willing to walk away over .35 cents!

My friends are standing in front of stockings on the wall which would sell in America for $15+.
We got an armful for less than $1 apiece.

We managed to get a 6 foot Christmas tree and 20 strands of LED Christmas lights for 140 RMB. A whopping $23 USD. Happy Christmas Dance shall now commence!
But I guess the difference in shopping for Christmas decorations on Fuyou Road instead of at Target or Macy's or Michael's in America is the old adage of getting what you paid for. The product may be identical to what you just picked up this weekend at the mall, grumbling as you were over the Christmas music blasting through the store before Thanksgiving, but it came in appealing packaging, attractively displayed on a non-rusty shelf. In a nice store with wide aisles and heating (or air conditioning). With a lovely (or grumpy, it happens) salesperson who gets at least the current US minimum wage of $7.25 USD per hour. With bathrooms that aren't just a hole in the ground surrounded by cardboard, where bringing your own toilet paper is a necessity. And actual Christmas music instead of the chorus of men coughing and hawking and spitting and women shouting at the top of their lungs while someone yells at you to get out of the way of the oversized cart they are trying to push down an impossibly tiny aisle.

Good grief. When I lay it out like that, I'm so glad I walked away from paying that extra .35 cents. But now that I've seen what they've got, I'm so going back in. Making up my list, checking it twice, and pushing my way into the masses to bargain aggressively and emerge victoriously with everything necessary to transform our Shanghai flat into the winter wonderland it is crying out to be!

P.S. In Mandarin Chinese, the word for road is lu. My ability to speak coherent English is eroding and blending with the small amount of Mandarin I've absorbed to the point where I messaged a friend in the States that the place they were looking for in California was "on Sepulveda Lu and Hawthorne Lu." They replied "Is that like Skip to my Lu?" And I, completely confused, not realizing what I'd messaged, said, "You can skip if you want, but driving is preferred if you want to get there some time this week." Awesome. But at least that explains why the name of this post is A Fuyou Lu Christmas. I know you were wondering and thought I'd answer before you asked. Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Shanghai Falling

It's been so incredibly cold here over the last couple of weeks. If we go out after dark, it's so cold my teeth hurt and my eyes sting. This does not bode well for the coming winter if it's only November and too cold for my taste. I told Michael our next move needs to be somewhere warm year-round, like the Philippines or Thailand! He threw in "Or Turkey?" Um, no. After a quick check, it snows heavily from November to April and gets well below freezing in winter. It doesn't snow in Shanghai though, so I will cling to that silver lining. Winter in Macau was short. I don't think that will be the case here. After all, we moved here in May and it felt quite chilly for the whole first month.

It doesn't feel like there has really been a fall season here. It went from a few weeks of tolerable tee shirt weather straight to jackets. Not much transitional sweater-but-no-jacket weather. And, as directed by the guards at our complex, I finally put away the flip-flops and pulled on my other favorite choice of footwear, my tartan Doc Marten boots. Of course I adore them to pieces, but it's no fun unlacing and lacing up boots to take them on and off when going in and out of homes here. I may have to find a second-favorite type of winter footwear option that is easier to remove.

The leaves here didn't really change color. A few of them started to, and then a week ago we had a rain storm and a wind storm, and in the morning many trees which typically change color in fall were stripped bare. I still come across the occasional huge leaf on the sidewalk, like this one, which makes my US size 9 feet look absolutely tiny!

My Aussie friends are writing about how they are having lovely spring weather after a long winter, just as we are entering winter here in this hemisphere. Hmmm, maybe we can find some way to spend half the year here and half the year there, and avoid the cold altogether? I'll ponder that a bit while I go dig out the rest of the winter clothes from beneath the bed, swapping them for the tank tops and capri pants currently taking up space in my drawers. Because bare arms and ankles are so last season...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Birthday Abroad

We're halfway through our second loop around the calendar of birthdays spent abroad. I love birthdays and will do anything I can to make them special. Ben had his first Shanghai birthday right after we moved here, so he had no friends yet to celebrate with. If you recall, we did actually run into the one person that he did know, so it was still pretty nice for him. The Krispy Kreme Doughnuts we'd been deprived of for over a year helped too!

Today is my firstborn's 12th birthday. Nathan is the one who changed my name from Heather to Mama. He's a pretty special kid. We celebrated with a weekend of fun. Yesterday we invited half a dozen boys to go to a local Laser Tag place. We rented a van and driver for the day so we could go collect all the kids, take them out to the place, and then bring them back for pizza and cake before taking them all back home again. I miss having my own car. The boys had a blast!

In every photo, all the boys are trying to look tough while Nathan smiles. He knows his smile is his secret weapon!
Thanks for "tagging" along... heh heh

 

After laser tag but before pizza, I caught a photo of the boys in their natural state. Which is to say attached to a game-playing device (in this photo there's a Wii, a DSi, a GameBoy, an iPhone and two iTouches).

I was all ready to order a cake from one of the many bakeries on our street. But Nathan had other plans. He requested a "mom-made lemon cake." I joked with my friends, asking if they knew any moms who wanted to make it! But it's not often Nathan asks for something, so I took it seriously and tried out a couple recipes before settling on a winner (thank you Barefoot Contessa!). It was just what he wanted and I was happy to oblige. I ended up making him two cakes, one for his birthday party yesterday, and one for today, his actual birthday, which we enjoyed over at a friend's house with a gathering of a few families we know from our neighborhood. Lucky boy getting two cakes! Tired Mama baking two cakes (actually, a total of four if you count the samples...).

Cake the first (or #3)
 
Cake the second (or #4)
We ended today with a viewing of Disney's latest animated film, Wreck-It Ralph. Seeing it in 3-D in the theater set us back $75 USD for tickets alone. The pirated DVD is already on the corner for less than $1 USD. It's no wonder that whenever we go to the theater it's nearly empty!
The movie was in English with Chinese subtitles.
For the record, I cried at the end. Very well written!

And finally, one more photo I took of Nathan this morning in his new birthday shirt a friend just brought over from the States. Nat's the one who held out his hand and said, "hey Mom, after you take the photo, can you Photoshop in a big 12?"


Why yes, son. Yes I can. And happy birthday to you, Nathan!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guarded

The apartment complexes in Shanghai are like little suburbs in the sky. Instead of a sprawling neighborhood, they just go straight up in the air. For instance, our complex takes up an entire block with eight buildings, and each building has between 30 and 42 floors, with two to three flats per floor. That's a lot of people living in a single city block!

Our complex has two entrances, both are heavily guarded. Each building also has a guard around the clock who sits at a desk in the lobby. When we moved in, all the guards were pretty grim faced. That's their job, I suppose. I mean, they aren't there to serve as ambassadors for unauthorized people to go strolling around the grounds. I, however, am an ambassador. An ambassador of the expat community. So I've made it my job to make sure to pause, look every single guard in the eye, smile a dazzling smile and give each of them a cheery ni hao (hello) each time I pass one of them.

At first, the guards would just grunt at me. But after a month of persistence (or typical Heather-style stubbornness), I broke their gruff demeanor and now I get a huge smile, a cheery ni hao back, and many times, a salute! I cannot tell you how much this lifts my day, especially when the person walking in or out of the gate behind me gets the standard grim-faced grunt.

I knew I'd made a big impression on the guards when last week a friend of ours from Macau (we've had a lot of guests from Macau in the last two weeks! Hooray!) was in town and wanted to stop by to take me to lunch. She had my address but not my building or apartment number. When she approached the guards at the entrance of the complex, she explained her predicament (in Chinese) and told them her friend had red hair. She says they lit up like Christmas trees and pointed her to my building. She told the lobby guard the same thing, and he actually escorted her to the lift and punched in the code for my floor. I think it helps that my hair is really, really red right now. See here:


So I stand out just a wee bit more than the average expat in Shanghai, and certainly more than anyone else in my complex. Although I hope it isn't just the red hair but the friendliness I try to convey that makes me memorable! I know they care, because today I went out to the corner to meet a friend for coffee. I was all nice and bundled up against the 53F/12c chill except for my feet, which were in my usual flip-flops (You can take the girl out of Southern California, but you can't take the Southern California out of the girl). Did I get scolded by every single one of my guards? Yes. Yes, I did. Nice to know they guard our safety right along with my health and well being!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Macau Fringe Festival presents Anni Ha

Hello readers in Macau!

May I quickly draw your attention to an event about to take place in your area? The Macau Fringe Festival takes place at various locations throughout the city during the month of November. You can see the full line-up here. But what I really want to draw your attention to is one particular act, called The Other Ex-Pat. This is a one woman show put on by the incredibly talented Aussie actress Anni Ha.

Anni, like myself, is living abroad because of her husband's job. They were newlyweds when they moved to Macau, and Anni has really dug into the expat community. One story she heard over and over again was that of the accompanying spouse and the search for an identity in this role. Many accompanying spouses have left full-fledged careers behind, putting their partner's trajectory above their own, resulting in a transitional period of figuring out just who they are in a new country, with new friends, new expectations, and new challenges. This story, heard over and over again, coupled with Anni's own experience, was the inspiration for writing The Other Ex-Pat.


From the website description:
Leah is an engineer, or at least she was until her husband’s work moved them to Macau and she couldn’t find a job. As time went on every label –engineer, career woman, social butterfly – was stripped away and the question “who am I?” became unavoidable. With no external labels to define her, she had to look beyond the labels and begin to know the person underneath. Now, after he is unexpectedly dismissed and they are forced to move again, she sorts through the mess of packing to try to define the woman she has become through the lessons learnt in Macau and to somehow bring that real person into the new journey.
 
There are two performances, Friday November 16th and Wednesday November 21st, both at 7:30 PM at the The Oriental Club, 568 Avenida Olimpica, Edf Ind. Va Nam, 2/F, Taipa (a block over from Cuppa Coffee). For tickets and information, please go to the website here.
 
I'm personally very sad that we won't be in Macau ourselves to see it. However, we may be the luckiest people in the world as Anni and her husband Luke are actually coming to stay with us in Shanghai this week, and Anni has promised us a sneak peak from the comfort of our very own living room! Don't be jealous! But if you are in Macau the week of the 16th, do go support Anni and accompanying spouses the world over!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Growing like weeds

This is mainly for the grandparents, who haven't seen their grandsons in sixteen months, and won't see them for at least another four months.

My sons are growing like crazy. My oldest, Nathan, turns twelve in three weeks. Tonight I was walking next to him and he allowed me to put my arm across his shoulders. My arm was uncomfortably high. I think he's now taller than both his grandmothers. Sorry Mom, now Ben is the only one in the family shorter than you. For now.

Last week I made Nathan try on all his pants as the weather is cooling off and I wanted to see what still fit from last winter. The answer? Three pairs of jeans. He's like my Dad though, always hot, and will happily wear shorts and a tee even in the chilliest weather. I also went through his shirts and found almost all of them are too tight across the chest and armpits. He's been wearing the same four shirts every week and I'm about ready to burn them because I'm sick of seeing them! So tonight I broke down and took both boys clothes shopping.

I miss Macau and Hong Kong and their myriad of inexpensive clothes shopping options. For that matter, I miss America and Old Navy! I found Nathan half a dozen new shirts at H&M. He picked them out, so he better wear them!

Benjamin, who turned nine this summer, is also shooting up. He also had only three pairs of jeans that weren't capri length or sporting holes in the knees. So while I helped Nathan in the men's department, impatient Ben did his own shopping in the boys section. He picked out brightly colored skinny jeans and a polyester track suit jacket which he said was very "hipster Tron."

Ben is obsessed with exercise, doing sit-ups and push-ups and jumping jacks every day. His goal is to be able to do 100 sit-ups. He doesn't quite have six-pack abs, but he does have at least a four pack. And the skinny jeans that were long enough to reach his ankles were not quite skinny enough for his waist. He's the only one of us who might be able to fit the clothes in the non-American stores here in Shanghai. He must get his slenderness from the Chase side of the family, us Roses are of much heartier stock.

Both boys are quite opinionated on what they like to wear. Nathan is motivated strictly by comfort and the colors black or grey. Benjamin has a bold and quirky sense of color combining and a very strong idea about what looks good with what and only wants to look (his idea of) cool. 99% of the time he has free reign to wear what he likes and express himself freely.

There is more shopping to be done. Nathan still needs more pants, but It will have to wait. It's honestly been six months since I've been clothes shopping, or even just window shopping. It's overwhelming for me, out of practice as I am. I can't imagine it's any better for them. I did pick up some things for myself, three black v-neck sweaters from three different stores. I have six other black sweaters, which is all I generally wear in the fall and winter. I guess I shouldn't come down too hard on Nathan wearing only those four shirts, huh?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

It's a wonderful life

Hey you readers for whom my vivid description of humiliation at the hands of a faux Sharpie wasn't enough, demanding photos to make my humiliation complete which will live on the Internet forever... I say too bad for you! No photos exist. At least on my devices anyway. You could always check Weibo, China's version of Twitter because surely someone I passed snapped a pic surreptitiously.

After reading yesterday's post, my Dad reminded me of a photo I have of the very last day my firstborn ever took a nap. Though evidence suggests he wasn't napping so much as taking a huge thick permanent marker to every surface of the room and then stripped off his clothes and decorated himself all over. We were about seven days away from moving from Los Angeles to Hong Kong at the time, and it was not a fun conversation to have with the landlady describing how the world's shortest graffiti artist had struck the neighborhood but only got just the one room. And himself. I can't post that pic due to nudity but let's just say we knew that boy was an artist from an early age!

You win some, you lose some. Today was a winner. No markers involved, just a huge amount of wild animals. And because you haven't seen me hanging out with a wild baby animal in a few months, I thought I'd toss up my now-Sharpie-free mug making friends with a little kangaroo friend this morning. I so frequently get to have these amazing experiences that would absolutely never happen in America. My kids tend to become blasé about things because they get a virtual parade of nonstop amazing things. But I never stop waking up with a sense of wonder that this is my really, real actual life.

I'll post more about the place we visited today, never fear. Now say hello to my little friend!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

China Post

This week I made my way over to the nearest post office (which happens to be in the tallest building in China) so I could mail off 38 handwritten postcards and two packages for a cousin and a friend's wife. Seems easy enough, right? Maybe I'm doing it wrong.

I was the only customer and sat down at the counter, packages in front of me. I hadn't yet sealed them, which is a good thing. The postal worker told me she had to inspect everything, pulling everything out of the carefully packed, tight-fitting padded envelopes. I'd wrapped everything just so in packing paper and sealed it with cellophane tape, which she tore right through like a toddler on Christmas morning.

Everything in each package was carefully examined and she asked me about every single item. I know there are many, many things you are not allowed to mail out of China. You can rest easy tonight knowing this lady did an extremely thorough job making sure I wasn't trying to sneak anything out. I tried to at least fold the paper back around one of the package's contents so nothing would get smashed in transit, but it looked frightful. As if perhaps wrapped by a toddler trying to cover up the fact they already tore open their Christmas gifts before everyone got up.

I'd not yet addressed the packages, not knowing if I needed to use a special form or not. She gave me a permanent marker and I got to it. She typed up some forms which I had to fill out in triplicate (six forms total) plus two customs declarations. In between forms, I kept putting my hand to my forehead, resting it on my cheek, and rubbing my right eyebrow. I finally finished and she gave me the grand total for the stamps and packages. I reached into my bag for my wallet and noticed my hands were covered in splotches of black ink. The permanent marker I'd been using had sprung a leak. How had I missed this while it was happening? Chalk it up to being somewhat nervous over the thorough inspection. I had nothing close to contraband, but she made me feel like just mailing something was an offense.

I paid and left the post office, walking the few blocks home. I rubbed absentmindedly at the ink on my hands and decided to stop in at a tiny local grocery on the way. I passed many people as I went, workers from a construction project on lunch breaks, the line of scrap recyclers smoking and sitting near their scales, a tour group following a man with a flag on a stick. They all openly stared at me, which is not completely unusual. Our part of Shanghai has less non-Asian expats than others so we do tend to stick out a bit more. As usual, I actively ignored the staring.

I got to the local market and caught sight of my reflection in the glass. I stopped short, shocked to see thick black streaks all over my face. My right eyebrow was especially horrific, it looked like a child had finger painted it on while the left one was totally untouched. I wanted to shrivel into the sidewalk and disappear.

I skipped the market, hurried home and scrubbed my face like with a ferocity it had never before experienced. I used two types of facial cleansers and a facial scrub and got most of it off. My eyebrow was the most stubborn part. They are practically transparent, no pigment at all. That black ink wanted to hang on. I briefly considered just coloring in the other eyebrow to give a more balanced look, but thankfully I've not yet completely lost my mind. I finally got 95% of it out by rubbing in an oil based lotion and then carefully using dish soap to clean it off. Hooray for household cleaning products!

After I was all scrubbed and pink and shiny, I thought of the postal worker and how she spoke very good English but didn't bother to tell me about the Ode to Dalmatians artwork on my face. She was either too polite to say something, or simply too excited to have some entertainment breaking up the long dull day it must be for a postal worker. Yeah, let's go with the second one because I'm happy to entertain.

Later I went down to walk the dog and saw our China Post mailman and his mode of transport, and I felt a little bad I didn't have a way to entertain him as well. He looked like he needed it. Sorry Mr. Mailman, my right eyebrow was taking the afternoon off from providing comic relief to the masses. But check back soon, I'm certain I'll have all new ways to make a fool of myself before you know it!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Videos of Shanghai

I found a couple videos that feature Shanghai plus some places in China beyond our city. Thought I'd share.

The first is from Canadian videographer and time-lapse photographer Ryan Emond. I love that we've been to so many of the places in his short film. We used to go to Hong Kong every month while living in Macau. We've been in Shanghai for just shy of five months. I didn't realize how much I missed Hong Kong until seeing it on screen! I certainly miss hearing the English language being spoken around town... We'll be down there again starting the day after Christmas to visit some American friends from seven moves ago (San Francisco Bay Area) who'll be in town for the holiday, plus our old pals Mickey and Minnie. Here's Ryan's film:


Moments In China from Ryan Emond on Vimeo.



The second short film is by travel video blogger Alex Lop. His video features Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. The Shanghai portion was primarily filmed along the Huangpu River right out in front of our flat. In fact, as I type this, I see several of the tour boats featured cruising up and down the river. Here is Alex's film:


9 Days in China from Alex Lop on Vimeo.


China has so many beautiful places worth checking out. Come visit us and we can check them out together!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Firecracker

Early this morning I was waiting on the street in front of our complex for a man in a blue taxi wearing a blue and white striped shirt to pull up and deliver me ten perfectly ripe avocados. I'm not a morning person, but I will get out of bed for my favorite food on earth, especially when a new friend calls to say she scored a deal for a dollar apiece. Considering they are usually in the five dollar range, I did virtual back flips to get in on the bounty.

While waiting, I got to see many things I normally do not. Such as a long line of taxis parked at the curb, waiting for the morning commuters to come out. And something that I usually only hear from my flat, 38 stories above the street.

A van exiting our complex pulled to a halt at the driveway. Out popped a man who placed a colorful box on the ground. He then lit it on fire and ran back to the van. I was already taking a photo of something else, so I caught him in the act.



And then stupidly, I remained standing where I was, camera ready for whatever else was about to happen. I got a photo of the smoke and then quickly put my hands to my ears to block the sound of the explosions coming out of the box. As the last boom of the box issued forth, the van drove over it and into the street, the driver confident that his small but loud act had frightened away any evil spirits haunting him on his path to happiness.



I'm just glad it didn't frighten the very next car away, which happened to be a blue taxi carrying a man with a blue and white striped shirt carrying the precious cargo of my ten perfectly ripe avocados.



Because I totally would have hunted down, and then haunted, that van driver for all my remaining days in Shanghai.

Also, happy birthday to my friend Lori. Perhaps China was celebrating her birthday with a big bang.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Vote!




 
Are you an American living abroad? Have you registered to vote in the upcoming presidential election? Depending on your "home" state, it's not too late. I found a website that made the whole process pretty easy-peasy at www.VoteFromAbroad.org.

My birthday is in December and I missed voting in the 1992 Presidential election by a few weeks and had to wait another four years to cast my first vote for a president. Since turning 18, I've voted in every single election while I was living in America, including the little city elections with only one or two things on the ballot. I spent a summer in the former Soviet Union when I was 15 and it greatly affected the way I feel about exercising my right to vote. We've never voted from abroad before, as there were no federal elections during any of our previous international relocations. This will be our first time.

Frankly, I'm not overwhelmed with excitement about this election. I dragged my feet for many months on actually registering to vote abroad. My only exposure to anything in American politics right now is on Facebook. My friends are very diverse, covering every conceivable part of the political spectrum, and many of them are very passionate about their particular candidates and issues and continually post their viewpoints. Though I haven't seen a single television ad for either political party, I'm still suffering from pre-election fatigue.



I'm surprised at my lack of enthusiasm. I confess there is a lot going on in my life right now pulling all my waking thoughts towards a few struggling loved ones back in the States and my inability to do anything helpful for them in a time of need. And I'm patriotic to a fault, but I suppose being exposed to more world news and less American-specific news means many issues currently dividing Americans aren't taking up as much space in my heart or mind right now. But I'm far from being the minority in this absence of excitement. I found this article on the Salon.com website that says American expats have the lowest voter turnout, voting far less frequently than even teenagers and high-school dropouts. I'll have to ponder this some more, and see if my enthusiasm increases as we get closer to November 6th.

So are you an American living abroad? What are your thoughts about voting while overseas? Are you excited about it or ambivalent? I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Please comment.