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.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Amazing Race in Shanghai

My email, Facebook, and iPhone have exploded today with friends and family telling me they watch the Amazing Race and that the new season started out in Shanghai, filming right on our doorstep. Coming from Los Angeles, we're totally used to living on a "film set" but we've not seen much filming here in China. We figured we better watch it and see our city on screen. Okay, computer monitor. And yes, they were pretty much right on our doorstep!

We live across the Huangpu River from the Bund, which is where half the episode takes place. We pick up a ferry on our side of the river downstairs and it takes us across, dropping us right in front of the Bund Signal Tower, which is the final destination for the contestants. In several shots, you can actually see our building.


Want to watch it yourself? Go to the CBS Amazing Race website and watch the first episode, called "Double your money." And no, we've not yet sampled the delicacy featured.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Chopsticks

Two years ago my youngest son could only use chopsticks to lay down a beat on the table, the chair, his brother, or whatever else was in reach. After a year of cruelly denying him a fork while eating out, he's now a master of getting food from plate to mouth using only sticks. Though he can still tap out a hot rhythm when he's done eating.

I remember living in Japan with baby Nathan. I'd see all these tiny Japanese toddlers eating with chopsticks and I'd praise them in amazement while their parents would be watching Nathan expertly wielding a fork, producing awe on their faces! Nathan finally picked up the chopstick ability at age three in Hong Kong. I'm glad I forced Ben to learn last year - unless you bring your own, there are many places which don't offer a knife or fork. Now if I can just keep them both from mastering the art of slurping food loudly and belching from deep within as a sign of appreciation...