Sunday, September 30, 2012

中秋节快乐! Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Today is the Mid-Autumn Festival, which celebrates the full harvest moon on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month in China. It is also celebrated in other Asian countries, such as Taiwan and Vietnam. Generally people head home to visit their family and have dinner with them (much like American Thanksgiving). It's a huge holiday here as I mentioned, everyone is off work for the week so they have time to travel to remote parts of China to be with their families.

The full moon was big and orange as it rose in the sky this evening. Incidentally, those two buildings to the left are the landmarks that help me find my neighborhood, as well as the entrance to the nearest Metro station. I call them the Death Star and the Christmas Tree in honor of the ornaments on the top. Wouldn't you?

One way people celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival is to give and share mooncakes. Traditionally, mooncakes are a pastry which contain a very dense filling of lotus-seed paste along with a salted duck egg yolk to symbolize the full moon. Though only about the size of the palm of your hand, each mooncake has about a thousand calories. Nobody eats a full one themselves, they are sliced into wedges and shared with your friends and family.

Tasty Pacific Coffee Mooncakes!
Last year in Macau, we spent the Mid-Autumn Festival at the Galaxy resort with friends, and shared the tiniest slivers of a traditional mooncake among seven people. Not one of us enjoyed it, and the remainder of the box was given to our helper from the Philippines who loved the taste of them. Glad they didn't go to waste, especially since they are expensive, labor intensive products.

This year, Michael was once again the recipient of many mooncakes from business associates and his company. The best ones, however, were the mooncakes from Haagen-Daaz, made with ice cream and a graham cracker-type crust. We also saw them all over town, in Starbucks, in Coldstone, and in every bakery and ice cream shop, made from a wide variety of delicious and non-traditional ingredients. Though I have no photos of the ice cream mooncakes (sorry, they were consumed on the spot!), I made sure to take some of the adorable Disney mooncakes, as well as some very high end Four Seasons mooncakes, gifted to Michael from a client.


These are the mooncakes from the Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai. As you can see, the packaging is quite luxe, which is typical of most mooncakes, but this one is extra fancy. The price was included on an insert. This box of four was 338 RMB, which is about $55 USD.
 Here is the exterior of one of the Four Seasons mooncakes. Typically it would have the Chinese word for "harmony" or "longevity" but this is just a fancy design. This completely covered the palm of my hand. There were four different types of mooncakes included, and I cut each one open for us to sample together.


The first is the most traditional. It has a double egg yolk and white lotus seed paste. This one tasted a bit more savory than the rest, though none could really be classified as "sweet" to a westerner!


This second one is cream custard with salty egg yolk. It was the sweetest of the four, and my son Benjamin ate about half of it.


The third one is made with Tie Guan Yin tea, which is a type of Oolong tea. Today we went to Coldstone Creamery and they had a Tie Guan Yin flavor of ice cream. This mooncake was the most edible in my opinion, even Michael ate a quarter of it!

The final mooncake was made with purple sweet yam. It tasted a bit like unsweetened pumpkin.

I always do my best to remain completely neutral about foods I don't care for so I don't unintentionally negatively influence my kids. I want them to try everything. I figured after last year's sampling of mooncakes on the Galaxy lawn, Nathan and Ben wouldn't want to be anywhere near these. Maybe they forgot, because they were both happy to sample them all.

Next up are the mooncakes Michael got from work. Of course, everything Disney does must be cute and feature Mickey Mouse! The packaging here isn't luxe at all, but it is adorable, and the back side of the packaging featured a little moon you could take through its phases over Mickey and his friends camping. Each box contained two mooncakes.

 
 
They were much smaller than any we've seen elsewhere. But none of the others we've seen had Mickey on them! One was like the others above, the other came in a little pie tin.


The Mickey mooncake had a coconut filling. My boys ate them in one bite! The one in the pie tin had a very western-type pastry with a berry filling. Other than the ice cream mooncakes, this one was my favorite!



And of course it wouldn't be a Chinese festival without fireworks! When we were house hunting in Shanghai, we had three top picks. One was right near Century Park, which we were told has the very best fireworks throughout the year. I do love fireworks (and the ability to see them from the comfort of my own home) but there were other considerations so we didn't choose the flat that overlooked the park. But guess what? It doesn't matter, because our flat here across town from Century Park still has a killer view of the fireworks from our bedroom! The fireworks went on for more than an hour, every minute was just like what you would expect from a grand finale anywhere else in the world. There will be a repeat of the firework extravaganza two other nights this week! This is China!

 
中秋节快乐
Zhōngqiū jié kuàilè!
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

National Day Preparations

October 1 is China's National Day. I wrote about our National Day experience last year while we were living in Macau (click here to read it). Macau is a Special Administrative Region to China, and they certainly celebrate it. If you recall, Macau "celebrated" with some protests, and we celebrated by heading up to the China border with the kids. I wonder if we'll see organized protests here in Mainland China. Doubtful! I've noticed a definite presence of the People's Liberation Army standing at attention on several of the platforms of the larger subway stations in the last few days.

Trying to sneak a shot at the camera-phobic PLA army men.

And there are flags everywhere, hanging from every pole and street sign and tree branch and shop and even the overhead pipes in the subway. At first, I had all these warm and fuzzy feeling about the flags, because after all, America goes similarly flag crazy during its national holiday on July 4, and I thought it was a nice bridge between my current home and my former home. But then I remembered  America flies its flag proudly because the stars and stripes represent freedom and patriotism. Not exactly the same here.

Flags lining both sides of the street in our neighborhood.

Michael has the entire week off, as does everyone else in China. There was a mass exodus of 90% of the expat population as businesses close down for the week. This was the time of our planned trip to the States, but we weren't able to pull it off. Hopefully spring will work better. Instead we'll be hanging out in Shanghai as a family, enjoying the National Day fireworks along the river from our new flat.

If there's one thing China does really well, it's fireworks. Pretty sure there hasn't been a single week in our four months here that we haven't see at least a small display blasting into the night. Good thing I'm a fan. And good thing our dog is Chinese (she was born in Hong Kong, we got her in Macau, brought her into the Mainland). Lucy Rocket doesn't lift an eyelid when the blasts go off, she just snoozes right through it. Not my kids. They come streaming out of their room long after bedtime to see the late night displays, oohing and ahhing alongside their mama.

Fireworks two nights ago in front of the Bund
on the Huangpu River, as seen from my couch.
Also our guestroom view!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Unlimited Creativity

I'm sure I've mentioned here before how I just don't enjoy cooking. I didn't even learn how to cook until college when my cousin Dar realized I wasn't joking about not knowing how to make pasta and took me under her wing. It's no secret that if given the choice to go out to dinner or to stay in and cook dinner, I'm always going to pick the choice that involves someone else doing the meal preparation. I'm not a bad cook (anyone who has ever eaten one of my meals would agree, unless they are really good liars), I just don't enjoy it like many people do. Or at least I didn't. I think things are changing. Ever so slightly anyway.

A few years ago I found out I have a slight allergy to shellfish. By slight, I mean it is not life threatening, it is just very annoying. Within 24 hours I turn bright red and I itch all over for almost a week. No breathing difficulties or stomach issues, thankfully. However, as with any allergen, repeated exposure can make the severity of the reaction increase over time. So I don't push my luck. In America, you can better cope with a food allergy or intolerance because there is some transparency as to the ingredients of any given dish, whether by asking the wait staff, chef, or looking at the list of ingredients on many menus. But I don't live in America. I live in quite possibly the worst place for someone with a shellfish allergy. A place where products like oyster sauce are used to add flavor even in vegetarian dishes. Yikes.

Maybe you can guess where I'm going with this... After a few reactions from dining out in Macau and spending half a week in a Benadryl haze just to keep the itch down to a bearable level, I was less inclined to want to eat out. Couple that with the fact that many of the restaurants in Macau just aren't that delicious (and the ones that are are cost prohibitive) I found myself cooking and eating at home more and more often.

Then there was challenge number two: scarcity of ingredients. When we first moved to Macau, I went into a grocery store called US Mart (no, it didn't really stock just products from the US, but it did have a lot of international goods) and saw a huge display of salsa. It was the entire end cap, top to bottom shelf, nothing but salsa. The part of me that loves spicy Mexican food did a little dance right in the aisle. Macau was a place I could live forever! One month later, all the salsa was gone. And for several months after there was none to find in the US Mart or any other grocery for that matter.

I brought with me a shelf of cookbooks plus all my tried-and-true recipes that I've collected since I first learned to cook in college. And every day, I'd pull out a recipe only to find that several of the ingredients were simply not ever available in Macau (molasses!), or they'd been cleared off the shelf not to return for a month or so. If ever I wanted to eat out, it was the days that I would go to three different markets only to come home exhausted and empty handed. Challenging indeed. I think this is when my attitude toward cooking started changing.

Instead of a draining daily task, putting edible, dare I say delicious, food on the table became an adventure. And if there is one thing about me that I hope you've learned from reading my posts, I do love an adventure. Instead of pulling out my recipes, making a shopping list, and then heading to the store, I would go to the store first for inspiration. I know this goes against every recommendation for how to save on groceries or how to plan meals in advance. But groceries in Asia (particularly imports) are expensive, period. And planning meals in advance is a modern western notion. Tiny kitchens, lack of storage space, laughably small refrigerators, and lack of preservatives in baked goods, mean grocery shopping happens frequently, if not daily. I never passed a market in Macau without at least a cruise up and down the aisles (most are tiny mom-and-pop places with two aisles, max) to see if there was anything that jumped out as interesting.

I experimented a lot with all whole foods... nothing prepackaged in a box, nothing from a can, nothing that would be considered convenience food, which let's be honest, made up the basis of my cooking repertoire in the States. But you can't make chicken with Stove Top Stuffing if you can't buy Stove Top Stuffing (or any other brand for that matter). Thankfully I had very few complete disasters, a huge blessing due to the price of groceries!

This leads me to Shanghai. Unlike Macau, China is not duty free. So imported goods are wallet-screaming, jaw-droppingly expensive. As in you might as well eat out every night for the price you're going to pay for imported spicy Italian sausage, two jars of Classico tomato sauce, a pound of mozzarella, and Barilla pasta to make a penne pasta baked casserole (my normal meal for a crowd borrowed from my sister-in-law which in Shanghai costs close to $50 USD using those American brands which are fully available in the giant Costco-sized grocery stores here in Shanghai. Ouch.). Our first month here I was so excited to see Rice-A-Roni, even at $5+ USD a box that I bought a bunch. And then regretted it as soon as I cooked it and realized that I prefer my own made-from-scratch Spanish rice.

Just this week I confessed to Michael that though I still don't "love" to cook, I do find a surprising amount of satisfaction in creatively creating meals under such challenging circumstances. I'm glad we don't have the ability to see the future, because if my 18-year-old ignorant of how to boil water self could've had a glimpse of what I can now do in the kitchen using only "real" foods, she would have fallen over and maybe cracked her head. Or maybe not. Because along with adventure, one of the things I value most in life is creativity. And the ability to shop at Costco and fill my minivan with a huge shopping cart of foods that only require heating to make a complete meal doesn't exactly require creativity. But take that away and confront dried beans, rice, chicken (with head and feet still attached), and an aisle of exotic spices and sauces, and suddenly creativity becomes a survival tactic.

This is my current wallpaper on my phone:


It's well documented that IKEA is my Happy Place (see link above about my cousin Dar teaching me to cook). Part of what appeals to me about them is the idea that you can do so much more with less. You can find storage in unexpected places. You can have quirky and beautiful household goods that serve more than one purpose. It inspires me to do more with what I already have. But I think the quote above is what makes my heart beat a little faster whenever I see the iconic blue building with the yellow letters. They value creativity as much as I do. I like to replace the word space with lots of other words when presented with a challenge. Such as "Limited time creates unlimited creativity." Or money. Or foods you can eat thanks to allergies and sensitivities. Or available ingredients for putting dinner on the table.

Maybe if I only had a wet market, a frozen meat shop, and a few tiny grocery markets to choose from when I was 18 I would be a far more accomplished cook twenty years later. Sometimes having more than you need can be a stumbling block to creativity, whether it's in the kitchen or in the arts. I'm not sure when it happened, but about six months ago I noticed that I stopped saying, "if only I had...." and just started making brilliant things with what I had. Because what I do have, what I believe everyone has, is unlimited creativity. We just have to live like we believe it. And I'm so grateful to be living this life which shows it to me over and over again in so many ways. Even if at the time it's mighty inconvenient and requires actually spending time in the kitchen!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lost in translation

My mobile phone company seems to send me regular spam (in Chinese of course) it thinks might be of interest to me. Sometimes I run the text through Google Translate to see what it says, most of the time Google Translate doesn't really help. I need a translator to tell me what the English words, arranged in that particular order, actually mean.

This one really has me scratching my head... Thought I'd let you share in the head scratching:

"Shaoshao Integral fun in life! The bones of the dead the bowl plate 6 into groups of 150 points plus 59.9 yuan; Brita water purifier 240 points plus 199 yuan. The second half price is more and more a true discount [HOLA HOLA]"

Don't really want to eat my breakfast cereal in a "bones of the dead" bowl, but maybe I'm in the minority?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

And then there were two...

My poor husband never wants me to suffer by myself, so he's gone and joined me in this nasty sickness. So now we're both fevery and achey and miserable, and more than once I've moaned how much I miss my mom and wish she was here to make everything right.

Sometimes being a mom is less fun than just having a mom, especially when the mom is super sick and doesn't have the energy to protest when her kids are lost in the world of Minecraft all day instead of doing something that involves going outside in the glorious weather that has spread across Shanghai. Oh well. I'll earn my Awesome Mother badge another day.

Today is all about the hot tea in my favorite green mug and alternating Tylenol and Advil every four hours, while at least reminding the children there is bread for sandwiches and cold pizza they can heat up should they require sustenance in the midst of the Minecraft marathon. Much better day for them than me or Michael. Here's to better days!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Some like it hot

Strange days here in Shanghai. China and Japan are standing off over a string of uninhabited rocky islands in the sea between them. People here are setting their Japanese-made cars aflame in the street in protest, and a big marathon sponsored by a Japanese brand has had the title stripped to make it sound more Chinese.

Today air raid drills were held throughout the city, with the loud alarms echoing off the buildings. The official line is that these drills are held regularly, but with the situation in the sea escalating, no one thinks it's a coincidence. I don't feel unsafe. Today there are many other places where Americans are in danger, and my heart is heavy over the recent loss of my fellow citizens abroad.

I have my own inferno swirling. I awoke feeling like I'd been sleeping under a two-ton pickup truck, pain in every joint and a raging fever. So much for long standing plans we had for today. I'm back in bed while Michael took the boys off to play.

While they're out having fun, I'm drifting in and out of feverish dreams, set against the backdrop of the view from my bed. Hello city. Sorry I can't come out and play today.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Speaking of Monkeys...

So I was just joking about leaving my monkey behind in the taxi.

But it could totally happen.

Because I do, in fact, live in a city where you can pick up a monkey or two at the store. Why, here's a couple right now!


The eight year old obsessed with monkeys who still lives inside me is thrilled. Dogs and monkeys get along, right?

More Expat Circle of Life

When we left Macau, we could not bring our stockpile of spices, salsa, dry and canned goods with us into China. Friends came and "shopped" in our kitchen taking it all off our hands so it wouldn't go to waste. The same thing happened when we left America for Macau and had to do something with the contents of our pantry.

This week it was our turn to empty the cupboards of another family leaving Shanghai who cannot bring their foodstuff with them as they move on to their next location. I came home with eight bags stuffed with all sorts of great stuff. As expensive as imported groceries are here, there was no way I'd turn down the offer! Maybe one of these days I'll master the art of using up what I have just in time for our next move. That would take some serious skills.

 
Sorry Lucy, nothing for you.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Whoops

Shoot you guys, I left my monkey in the taxi! Wish I'd seen the helpful sign before I hopped out. Won't the next person who catches a ride be in for a surprise!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

She works hard for the money

When I have opinions about things, they are usually quite strong, and I have no problem expressing them.

I remember raising money to go on a student ambassador trip to the Soviet Union the summer after my freshman year of high school. One night my friend Samantha and I took donations for serving coffee at a debate between two local politicians battling it out for a county seat. The incumbent was a cuddly old grandfather (who would be revealed years later to be a prolific child molester) and his opponent, a cocky, brash, slick man who looked and acted the part of a career politician.

A small bit of background: throughout middle school I participated in Toastmasters, the public speaking group that meets to give speeches and help you improve, as well as how to give and receive constructive criticism. I never played a sport, so I have no trophies of golden girls with baseball bats or soccer balls. But what I do have is a box of ribbons and medals, and even a gavel, from winning many a speech and debate contest against both peers and adults who were shakers and movers in their fields. I loved (and still do love) the art of giving a good speech.

So when the cocky young guy got up to speak, I cringed at all the weaknesses in his presentation. Everything he did went against everything I'd been taught about making a powerful point. He had a certain amount of charisma, but he buried it in distracting people from his message with his terrible presentation style.

After all the political hot air was expelled, the politicians themselves made their way to our coffee stand to support our fundraising efforts. The incumbent gave us twenty bucks and shoulder pats, the slick young fella gave us a dollar and then asked our opinion on his speech.

Friends, the man got more than a dollar's worth of advice from me that night. I could see his face change from anticipating lots of praise from the two pretty high school students in the back, to confusion over the unexpected critique, to earnest interest in what I had to say, even jotting down notes on the distracting handout he gave everyone at the start of his speech. My mother, sitting nearby, was completely flummoxed by my confidence (on looking back, so am I), and lavished me with praise on the ride home for not just telling the man what he wanted to hear.

That night was a turning point for me. I realized my thoughts had value to someone other than me. I also learned that youth doesn't disqualify you from being able to share knowledge, especially if your background and experience gives you something to say in that area.

I don't have an opinion on everything. I like to know a great deal about a subject before opening my mouth. And I tend to wait to be asked rather than just spouting off, because there's a fine line between giving your honest opinion and being a bossy know-it-all. Since that day twenty-something years ago, I've learned it's even sweeter when you get paid for your opinion.

Today I was paid to visit two model homes in Shanghai and give my opinion on layout, paint color, lighting fixtures, and whether an elevator in a four story home was needed or a waste of space and energy. My biggest complaints were the wall to wall cream-colored carpet in this horribly humid climate (hello mold!) and the bizarre arrangement of bathrooms (in the kitchen! No shower or tub in the bathroom on the floor filled with bedrooms! Lack of a powder room on the ground floor!), along with their chest-high sinks (sure, westerners are tall, but their offspring start out much shorter).

A friend of a friend was rounding up expat housewives to go on this little field trip. I was more than happy to meet new friends and see the inside of new construction in the ever-growing Shanghai. My happiness grew when I found out I'd be making ~$100 to express my honest opinion of what I saw!

Will the changes be implemented? Who knows. Drywall wasn't yet up in any of the other houses still under construction, so maybe. The funny thing was the ten ladies who participated with me all had the same exact opinion on everything. The building reps seemed to take us seriously, taking our notes (and our photo) as we went through the two houses. Only time will tell.

Here's a free opinion for you - big as they were, I don't want to live in either one of them. Give me my sprawling single-story flat on the 38th floor over a compartmentalized and boxy four story townhouse (even with its own tiny elevator) any day. I didn't mention it to them though. They didn't ask my opinion on anything but the two houses they showed me!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I'm holding out for a hero

Found this, well, let's call it what it is, bucket, at the local movie theatre. For 30 RMB ($5 USD) you can have it filled with Coke. If you're a reader from the States, this may not be too big a deal since you've seen something close to this size in a Super Big Gulp at the gas station. But if you're like me, reading this in Asia, you probably had the same reaction I did, which means your eyes are bugging and you wonder who could possibly finish such a great big drink!

Cups here are very small, a large from McD's is closer to a small in the US (so it goes with clothing sizes as well). I've been Coke-free for over two years now, so the thought of drinking that much sugary sweet beverage makes me want to vomit. I was thinking this was for a giant, but evidently only heroes need plunk down their cash for a bucket of Coke. I guess I'm just not hero material. Thankfully.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Where's my ham?

Because I found Green Eggs!



I did not eat them with a goat or on a boat, but I did use them to make a pink cake. Green eggs and cake. Not as Seussian as green eggs and ham. But only because I think perhaps Sam I Am could get just about anyone, anywhere, to eat cake. Not much of a book there.

Sam I Am: Would you like...
Other person: (Munch, munch, munch.) Mmm, good cake. More, please.
THE END

Monday, September 3, 2012

This is China, Birthday Edition

Last week I brought up the subject of birthday gifts with Michael. The only thing he requested was to sleep in on his birthday. I don't blame him. He always leaves the office at 6:00 p.m., getting home by 7:00. But every day it seems he's going in earlier and earlier. Most days he's up at 5:00 a.m. That would kill me. Most days I'm just finally falling asleep at 5:00 a.m. Grrr, stupid insomnia...

Anyway, sleeping in was about the easiest thing to accomplish. The normal daily routine is Michael leaves, kids get up and go downstairs to walk the dog, feed themselves breakfast, and quietly occupy themselves until Mom groggily emerges from the bedroom around 9:00 a.m., reminding them to really-for-real-this-time brush their teeth and put on deodorant because holy cow, tweenage boy B.O. can knock even a tough girl like me right over. I don't want to know what the smell might do to the population at large (you're welcome, Shanghai). I figured I could reasonably buy Michael the ability to sleep in until at least 10:00 a.m. He certainly deserves it.

Last night we stayed up late celebrating with friends. Michael fell asleep around 1:00 a.m. I know I was up blogging at 2:30 a.m. based on this morning's un-funny-to-Michael post. And I was texting my Dad around 3:00 a.m per the log in my phone. Not sure when I actually fell asleep, but I know exactly when I woke up. Just after 8:00 a.m., when our oldest son opened our bedroom door, holding a frantically barking Lucy Rocket, telling us there were men at the door who wouldn't go away no matter what he told them. Michael jumped out of bed to investigate while I rolled out of bed and practically crawled to the bathroom, using only my sense of touch because my eyes weren't ready to open.

When I joined Michael at the door, I found a crew of men in jumpsuits, cigarettes hanging from their lips, cloud of smelly smoke above their heads filling our entry. I asked Michael what was up, he shrugged and said they had buckets. I looked at what appeared to be the leader of the jumpsuit gang, and asked him what the deal was. He rambled off about three minutes of rapid Chinese, while I made grunting noises and nodded as if I understood. I told Michael my guess was they were here to repair the typhoon damage. Sure enough, they poked around in the boys' room, then the office, and finally our bedroom. I flung open the bedroom curtains, to find this sight:


Yeah, that's a guy on a wooden plank attached to a rope outside my bedroom window. Which just happens to be ON THE 38TH FLOOR.

8:30 a.m. is too early in the morning for me to have a coherent conversation in English, even if I manage to get in eight hours of sleep. 8:30 a.m. is certainly too early to try and comprehend Chinese. It's also too early in the morning to see a guy this far off the ground hanging outside my window. I'm going to go further and say there is really no good time of day for me to see a guy this far off the ground handing outside my window.

We were basically held hostage in our home by this crew, busy putting sealant on the outside of the window frame to stop future heavy rain and wind from making their way indoors. Which is a good thing. I don't want a repeat of the flood. But I wasn't about to leave them here alone so we could carry through with our plan of taking Michael out for another steak lunch to complete his beefy birthday weekend. We managed to get showered, dressed, eat French toast, and sit around until 2:00 p.m. when our trusted ayi (housekeeper) walked through the door. We left her in charge of making sure they didn't smoke or steal or die from a 38-story fall.

Instead of steak, we went out for Mexican at Cantina Agave. We're such regulars that the waitresses know our order without us actually having to give it. I did mention to our usual waitress that it was Michael's birthday.

Michael doing the "China pose" at Cantina Agave.

The street Cantina Agave is on is filled with restaurants. It's a child's dream because every one of them has a big playground jungle gym on their front lawns. As soon as our boys were done eating, they shot outside to play with all the other children. Michael and I finished eating as the dining room began to fill up. I excused myself and went to the ladies room, where the piped in mariachi music was uncomfortably loud. Just when I thought I couldn't take it any longer, the music stopped. Whew! A moment later, it started back up, playing a full orchestra version of Happy Birthday. Oh no! I groaned and hurried out as fast as I could, to find Michael sitting all by himself, nervous smile on his face, a plate of flan in front of him, and the smell of burnt matches filling the air.

Before I go on, please know that Michael is very low key about his birthday. He hates it when we go out to eat and the waitstaff brings out cake and sings. I am very much the opposite. You cannot make too big a deal out of my birthday. So it's hard for me to restrain myself when it comes to celebrating Michael. And I knew as soon as I told our waitress about the birthday boy that there was a possibility that flan and singing might happen. But this is China. Maybe it wouldn't.

I sat down and started laughing hysterically. Michael joined me. We laughed until tears were rolling. He said that the entire restaurant staff came out to sing to him. The candle they lit for him was like a firework, spewing sparkling flames twenty inches in the air, making a loud sizzling noise. He said everyone in the place joined in with the singing and wished him a happy birthday. He noticed that two of the tables were actually filled with people we know. Everything that happened from the moment I left the table was straight out of my husband's nightmare. And the worst part, the part that keeps me laughing even now, was that he had to endure it all by himself! Michael never panics, and he is a very good sport, so despite any horror that was boiling up inside, I can just imagine him shrugging as the curious crowd in the Cantina joined in to sing while wondering why the poor guy was forced to celebrate alone.

We ended the evening back at the house with a family movie and strawberry cake. Oh my goodness, I do love this long-suffering man like crazy.

Happy birthday Michael!
My friend Rachel wished Michael a happy birthday on Facebook, making sure to add that her wish included his day would have no "This is China" moments. Sorry Rachel. China wanted to wish Michael a happy birthday too, and evidently only knows one way of going about it - making sure, for better or for worse, this is a day that will never be forgotten!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Birthday Boy

Happy birthday to my husband, who is getting the gift of seeing lots of movies in the theater, eating lots of expensive, imported steak, and the new iPad, which he'll have to wait to open until our next friend from the States arrives because the price in China is quite a bit higher than the price in the USA. Which is ironic as it is made here, sent to America, and then imported back to China at double the cost, months after the rest of the world is already growing bored of it.

In related news, we had to buy a printer today to replace the one we brought from the States. I need to use the scanner regularly, and the scanning function decided to cease. We've been shopping around, bargaining with all our might (nothing really has a fixed price in China), and found the cheapest option on the model we wanted was still over twice the American listed manufacturer's suggested retail price. It was painful to spend the money. But while our friends can bring us an iPad in their carry on, a giant printer/copier/scanner is a little more tough to manage.

So happy birthday to Michael! Continue to enjoy your old iPad for another month! I wanted to write him a little poem, but then I saw this tee shirt and felt it said everything I wanted to say, only better. Better, meaning in a funnier manner. It's so deep. I think. It's hard to tell.
 
***Edited to add: Poor Michael just asked me to please explain the tee shirt, and what exactly it means. As far as I can tell it doesn't mean anything. I just thought it was funny, in the way that only that special blend of Chinese and English combined in a semi-random manner can be funny. And it has the word "age" in it, so I thought it was appropriate. If you read it dramatically with lots of pauses, it sounds like it could be a pharmaceutical commercial with lots of soft focus and two people riding bikes along a lake... It was after 2:00 a.m., maybe I need to do less blogging in the middle of the night? I'll write you a real poem, Michael.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

My Country 'Tis of Thee

The latest Batman movie finally made it to China! As an early birthday gift to my husband, I took Michael to see it last night. Boy do I ever miss Macau where films open 1-3 weeks before the rest of the world!

Halfway through the film, there's a scene that takes place at a football game. The crowd rises to their feet as a little boy sings America's national anthem. I started to rise to my feet as well, an unbreakable habit since spending the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school in what was then the USSR.

I ended up staying uncomfortably in my seat, but I couldn't hold back the tears after hearing the Star Spangled Banner for the first time in over a year. The song finished and the screen erupted with typical action film explosions, quickly ending my emotional, patriotic moment and sucking me back into the latest crisis to face Gotham City.

Living in China, I completely missed joining in with my fellow Americans who tuned in to the Olympics, watching our flag fly while our athletes clutched their gold medals. But that's okay, because I've got the wholly fictional Batman to keep my sense of national pride intact. I'll take it where I can get it.