Monday, May 27, 2013

One Year, again.

This morning Michael sent me a text with this image:

Now I know most of you reading this won't understand the significance, so I will draw your attention to the Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie bronze pin on the left. That is a one year pin, given to employees of the Walt Disney Company after their first year of service. The next year pin doesn't come until five years of service. Michael and I had a good laugh over this text, because this is actually Michael's fourth one year pin. Over all, he's got over 15 years of cumulative employment with Disney around the world, but every time the project he's working on ends, he moves on to non-Disney projects outside the company. And then the next time they open a theme park somewhere in the world, they call him back again and he starts from zero, earning his one year pin all over again.

I have a one year pin of my own somewhere in storage in a box somewhere in America. The interesting thing is that all the people I started with on my first day just got their fifteen year pins last year. Two paths diverged in a wood and all that... I was only with the company for three years, leaving when we had Nathan and moving to Japan so Michael could open Tokyo DisneySea. I wouldn't trade the life I've actually had, roaming around the world, for a pin that says I've stayed at the same desk for that same amount of time. But I'm in awe of and salute my friends who have!
Me (as a blonde) in front of Mickey in 1999 for the press event for the opening of Tarzan's Treehouse at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. At least five of the people in the photo are still with the company today. Well, six if you count Mickey Mouse! I couldn't find a close up photo of my name tag on my computer, but I'm sure I'm wearing my one year pin here. 

All Disney employees get a name badge, and depending on which park or line of business, they may have special little additions. In Anaheim they let you put the city (or country) where you were born. Here in Shanghai, where the characters are being introduced to a whole new audience, they asked everyone to put their favorite Disney character on their name tags (mine would be Alice, The Mad Hatter, or the Cheshire Cat of course). Michael and I thought long and hard on what should go in that space. The obvious answer he always gives would be Tigger (from Winnie the Pooh) at corporate events where they do ice breaker games that require a favorite character answer. But we wanted to find something more obscure, more unusual, more quirky. So we actually made a list.

Our family favorite Disney Channel show (which we don't get in Shanghai and didn't get in Macau) is Phineas and Ferb. The writing on this animated show is incredible. It's not stupid, the comedy comes in layers that skim the surface but also go deep, and it highlights creativity and innovation which I can get behind in a major way. Plus, the show always has at least one musical number. What's not to love?

One of the best characters on the show is the bumbling evil villain, Dr. Doofenshmirtz. His plans to destroy the world (or just random and obscure parts of it in the "tri-state area") always fail in hilarious ways. He comes up with new machines (which always end in "-inator") that do crazy things to foil his nemesis, Agent P, whose alter ego is the lovable pet, Perry the Platypus. My favorite crazy contraption is the "Evaporator-inator" which is made completely out of recycled materials. Dr. Doofenshmirtz says about it, "It's both green and evil... I call it greevil!"

Dr. Doofenshmirtz: both green AND evil!

Once we put Dr. Doofenshmirtz on the list, he was the obvious choice. Of course no one in Shanghai has ever heard of the character or the show, so it does make for interesting conversations! It certainly has that quirk Michael was hoping for in a sea of Mickeys and Donalds in his local office!

Congratulations to my awesome husband, on earning yet another one year pin from the Disney company. And congratulations to me and our boys for making it through one more year of this crazy adventure around the globe for the sake of his career. It's been an E-Ticket Ride all the way!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Golden Arches

"But Mom, an ice cream cone is only 3 RMB!" 

In Macau, McD's was somehow a regular part of our life. A meal with the kids every week was normal, whereas in the States we may have gone a couple years without a trip through their drive thru. But my husband worked nights in Macau and was fed dinner at work, and cooking just for kids and yourself is wholly unsatisfactory. So cheeseburgers on the cheap it was. I rarely said no to the ice cream cones, even if we weren't eating anything else there. At roughly thirty cents a cone, it was crazy to pass it up.

In Shanghai, we went four months before we made our first trip to McDonald's, and it was only because it was hot and lunch time and every other dining possibility was packed with people waiting for tables. So I begrudgingly got my hangry children (hangry = hungry + angry) burgers and fries to scarf down. The cost was higher than Macau, just like everything else here. I don't think we've been back since. I'm too busy cooking for the whole family now that my appreciative husband gets home at a reasonable time for dinner.

A week ago on our quick visit to Macau we got breakfast at McD's before catching an early morning Ferry to Hong Kong, and man-oh-man did those Egg McMuffins taste amazing. But not amazing enough for me to go find a McDonalds here in the morning.

Now that the weather is beginning to warm up a bit in Shanghai, we've taken to having an evening stroll along the river once again. A small McD's outpost has been erected, serving only ice cream. I suspect my plans of walking in an effort to burn off the excesses of our cold winter extravagances with food will quickly be thwarted. Because a giant soft serve ice cream cone at .50¢ is still a bargain. Or at least that's what the kids are trying to convince me.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wascally Wabbits

When I've said before that you can find anything on our street if you just wait long enough, I never imagined pets. But today the door-to-door bunny sales lady was out, doing some brisk business with the local kids streaming out of the elementary school on our block. At least I hope these little puff balls are meant for pets... One never knows in China.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Just opened my electric bill for the month and found maybe the most disgusting advertising insert to date. Nice start to a Monday... A spiky-poo-thing jumping on a trampoline. I don't even wanna know...

Edited to add:
So I also posted this on Facebook and my friends erupted with questions about what it was. So I emailed it to one of my local Chinese friends, who got back to me right away, telling me it was a sea cucumber. A very popular ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which has properties that can help with any number of things such as low sperm count to frequent urination, as well as diabetes and being too skinny. I guess I better stay away from them, as my problem has never been being too skinny! You can read more about them here. And now that I know what they are, I can tell you that I have seen them in a dried state quite a bit around Macau and Hong Kong, where pharmacies that specialize in TCM are on every corner, with their wares on display in the window. I'm not sure about the trampoline though. Maybe in addition to everything else they make you want to jump for joy? You can buy 500 grams of it for 7600 RMB (about $1,270 USD) according to the ad.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Share the Hair, 2013

Hello friends! We're back from our week in Macau and Hong Kong, where Michael worked while the boys and I played. It was a strange and interesting week and I'll save the stories for another day.

While we were gone, Mother's Day came and went (happy Mother's Day to you Mom and Carol, and to all you Mamas out there!), and my friend Rory published her annual Mama and Me Share the Hair post on her blog, Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care. This was the third year my oldest son and I participated, and I told Nathan (almost 13) that this would probably be our last year. He was absolutely flabbergasted! In fact, actual tears sprung to his eyes and he said he wanted to do this with me forever. Wow. Alrighty then. It's funny how something that started off as a one-off has become a treasured tradition for my squirrelly boy.

Rory's blog was started specifically to share how she used hair to bond with her adopted newborn daughter, now a kindergartner. It has been fun to bond with Nathan these last three years over our hair. We are unique in the family, having thick, straight, ultra-fast growing hair that doesn't do much other than lay there. Everyone else in my family and my husband's family have waves and curls. So maybe it wasn't a complete surprise when Nathan asked if this year we could please do curls for our matching 'dos.

While Michael took Benjamin off to soccer practice for an hour, I borrowed a friend's curling iron and used a ton of hair spray and styling products and still our "curls" look imaginary. But despite the mediocre results, that hour of bonding with my son was priceless.

Nat has been on what can only be described as a hormonal roller coaster of late, making my head spin with the rapid-fire mood swings. While friends say unhelpful things like "be glad you don't have a girl, it's so much worse," I'm reminded that since conception Nathan has been the most extreme child at every stage of his life. Why would the onset of the teenage years be any different? So really, the hour of playing with our hair was the most precious of Mother's Day gifts... lots of laughter and ridiculousness mixed with incredibly deep conversation about personal hygiene, girls, and puberty. The "curls" were completely gone within two hours, but I will hold on to the memory of that special afternoon together for all time.

Thank you to Rory, for the amazing example you are to other Mamas, and for an experience I'll treasure always. No, I don't have a girl to do traditional mother-daughter things with. And my own mother is the ultimate tomboy while I was a girly-girl through and through, so we never did things like tea parties, shopping, or mani/pedis together. Instead, she and I bridged the gap to find other things to do to bond (which generally had to do with road trips and hours in a car together). And while I'm nowhere near the girly-girl I was before I became mother to two boys, it's so much fun to find something to bridge the gap with my ultimate boy, Nathan.

To see this year's entry, go here. For the first year, go here. And for the second year, go here. Here's a couple of outtakes on the iPhone. By the time Michael got home to take the official photo about 15 minutes later, we were half as curly!

Two days after this, Nathan wanted to chop off his long locks. I think having the Shanghai taxi drivers tell me what I beautiful daughter I have was getting on his nerves. And since hair is not a battle I'm ever going to fight with my kids, I took him in for a "short" hair cut.
He loves it, and has taken to carrying a comb in his pocket so he can pull it out every five minutes to smooth every strand into place in the reflection of anything shiny we pass. After a lifetime of not caring a bit what he looks like, he is obsessively asking if his hair looks okay several times an hour, showing honest distress if I pause even slightly in giving it praise. Oh yes, the teenage years are going to be fun.

Friday, May 10, 2013

String of thoughts

Yesterday I visited the dermatologist at the local hospital to get a painful little something removed from the back of my leg. My pale, sensitive skin + Shanghai's weird air/water/pollution don't mix well (same goes for my sinuses I guess). I brought some reading material, a very old but new-to-me book.
I think perhaps it wasn't the best book to be reading in a hospital setting. But I will say this, my entire bill at the local Chinese hospital, including seeing the specialist, lab work, and two prescriptions, came to 34.8 RMB, which is less than $6 USD. If I'd gone to the international expat clinic which occupies the same building, ten floors higher, but utilizes the exact same doctors for the most part, the bill would have been at least twenty times higher. It's nice to know I have that option, but I'll save it for something more serious. Or not. I'm getting used to the Chinese way of treating maladies.
As I was leaving, I passed the Jaundice Clinic and the Liver Disease Clinic. It made me so grateful that my only ailment at that moment was a little throbbing on the back of my now-bandaged leg. Things can always be worse (as the Michael Crichton book pointed out to me repeatedly).


And because evidently the theme today is health care, I had to share this flier I got today from a different expat medical clinic here in Shanghai (which we went to exactly once, the bill was quite high). I know, I know, women's health is important and testing is vitally important (my MIL is a breast cancer survivor), but I have to say their idea and my idea of the best gift for Mother's Day are vastly different. But maybe you've always wanted a stool sample or a chlamydia test instead of breakfast in bed and a hand-made card on Mother's Day? If so, it's a bargain price at roughly $800 USD right now! Celebrate!

And speaking of things that can be bad for your health... While we were in America in February, I ordered a ten pound box of Tangerine Jelly Belly candies directly from the company. This is my favorite candy ever. Seriously. I wondered how long I could make them last. The answer was 79 days. Or forever if I never eat those last seven jelly beans. We are leaving for a trip to Macau and Hong Kong tomorrow, to tag along on a business trip for Michael. I know all the places I can stock up on them while we're there, which is a good thing as I've not yet found them in Shanghai. Yes, you can buy a mixed flavor package of Jelly Belly candies here, but the only flavor I'm interested in is Tangerine. So I have to find a candy shop which sells the flavors individually.

And finally, some Benjamin to round out the post. Ben loves Snoopy from the Peanuts. His favorite musical is You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. He also loves to dance. He's shy about it, but he will seriously put some music on his iTouch, put his earphones in, shut himself in his bedroom, and then dance all by himself until he is dripping with sweat. I have looked into dance classes for him, but they are either prohibitively expensive here, or they are filled with little ballerina girls in tutus, which he balks at. Last week we went to Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing shop a bit like Old Navy, to stock up on clothes for the boys who insist on growing. Ben found a tee that was so Ben that he wouldn't even put it in the basket for fear I'd put it back instead of buying it for him. He clutched it to his chest and wanted to change into it the moment the register transaction was complete. I would have bought it for him at twice the price.

And just a quick note to follow up on my Failure post. I will indeed be posting photos of the big project which pulled me down the rabbit hole away from my other responsibilities as I said I would. I personally did not take photos, but there was a professional photographer there and I've still not received the images back (so be patient, Dad!). You'll see them when I see them!

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