May 29, 2009

A Great Discovery!

The weekend so far has been spent as promised - eating zongzi and also eating jiaozi (dumplings). We've been given piles of both from friends and neighbors. Its actually been somewhat encouraging to know that we have enough Chinese friends who think we are important enough to give and make food for, that we have been given several meals worth.

Yesterday was a great day. I (Jess) have been reunited with my sewing machine and have been putting together a quilt. James and I went yesterday to investigate fabric sellers in the market to find some more pieces for me. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned, using the proxy to access our blog makes it impossible to add pictures, but I sure wish I could put this picture on here. The fabric store is actually a walk in closet sized room off the street with fabric piled solid three feet off the ground and more fabric piled on top of that fabric along the periphery to about 8 feet high. You have to climb that fabric mountain to look for what you want and then you have to somehow dig it out.

Fabric here is insanely cheap! I bought a 2.5 meters of heavy wool to make myself a warm winter coat (because I did not bring one with me) and 1 meter of a beautiful blue brocade to line it with. I have seen both of these fabrics for sale in Canada at over $30/meter. At the very least in Canada I would have paid over $100 for all of this (only 3.5 meters of cloth). Here we paid 80 kwai ~ $17. Light cottons are only 5 kwai/meter ~ less than $1! Since buying made clothing can get pretty pricey, I'm looking forward to making my own clothing. This has been a hobby of mine, but I think I will enjoy it being a little more serious!

Since we can not add pictures on here, I am adding them on Facebook instead. If you send me a friend request I will gladly add you to my list where you can see pictures if you would like. I'm under Jessica Gerbrandt Frey. There are two: one is a blank head and the other is picture. Which one do you think is me?

May 26, 2009

Zongzi for breakfast, Zongzi for lunch...

“In ancient times, there was a man who loved our country so much that he threw himself into the river and drowned. The people were sad, so they threw zongzi into the river after him so that the fish wouldn’t eat his body.” This was the explanation I received from someone on the origins of the upcoming Dragaon Boat Festival. Thankfully, Wikipedia was on hand to fill in a few gaps for me. Apparently this man was a famous poet who was protesting corruption. Not only did the people throw zongzi into the water, but they also apparently steered boats on the surface of the water to scare the fish away from eating him… hence Dragon Boat Racing. But apparently there is some contestability to this story.

Alas, we’ve been told that Dragon Boat Racing is a thing of the past and that the only thing done to celebrate is eat zongzi on a three day weekend. Last week, Aiyi gifted us with some homemade zongzi and then our teacher and her boyfriend also gave us some when they came for supper on Saturday. So it looks like we will be eating zongzi along with the rest of the Han Chinese this weekend.

Zongzi are hardball sized globs of glutinous rice with mystery surprises inside: could be red bean paste, could be dried fruit, could be pork fat… who knows! The whole thing is then wrapped in bamboo leaves. They present an interesting challenge to eat. Peeling off the leaves takes half of the steaming rice with it and then you use your fingers and teeth to eat the sticky mass. Inevitably your fingers get globs of sticky rice on them and then you have to shake them off, and sticky rice gets everywhere. But on the whole, not bad. I apologize that we don't seem to be able to add photos anymore. The proxy access seems to not allow that feature.

In other news, Ari is now writing the whole alphabet by himself. He is very pleased. We are planning a small birthday party for him the weekend before his birthday, with one of our Chinese friends. Since Jude has claimed the stuffed Curious George that we gave Ari for Christmas as his own, we are also planning to get him a new thing to sleep with – potentially a stuffed Woody (Toy Story) we saw for sale.

I also thought you might enjoy an example of how Chinese is sometimes not the most subtle language. I was telling my teacher that when I was pregnant I gained 30lbs (13-14kg). The sentence is Wo you haizi de shihou, wo pang le 13-14 gong jin. Literally translated “I pregnant time, I became fat 13-14kg”. There is no subtle, nice way of saying “I gained weight”, no “I became 13 kgs fat”!

By the way, just in case anyone wanted to hear James tell about the Canadian French and Indian Wars in Chinese, never fear! He did the whole thing in Chinese for his teacher the other day… I’m sure he could reproduce it! If he’s ever in a crunch and really needs to communicate with Chinese people, he’ll always have this wild card!

May 24, 2009

Batman is my Hero, and other Proxies

Greetings from the (remarkably silent) Mainland.

You know that something's wrong when there are 1.4 billion people in this country, and none of them are blogging. For the past few weeks, whenever we tried to load our blog the little wheel just spun and spun. Eventually a message pops up that tells us "You got blocked, Suckah!"

And then Batman arrived. I'll just leave it at that.

So what's new guys? Truth be told, the fact that we couldn't access our blog couldn't have come at a better time. Life has become, well, normal. Our todays are a lot like our yesterdays, and probably a lot like our tomorrows. This is a good thing, in that we're settled, but perhaps less that interesting to read about. To prove a point, I'll recap the last few weeks of our lives...

I got back from my little trip with a stomach full of brine and about 2 hours of battery life - if I wasn't plugged directly into the wall, I was out. But time cures all ills, even of the gastrointestinal variety, and I'm back on my feet. I finally finished the first Chinese textbook. Jessica finished it weeks ago, and has her teachers convinced that she is ten times smarter than me. I'll show them! The last laugh will be mine!!!

Jessica had the chance to travel to Sichuan, and had a jolly time. She came home with a lot of extremely beautiful pictures of people and places. We'll have to make a trip there as a family at some point. Jess is also happy that we finally bought a voltage adapter for the sewing machine that we lugged with us from Canada.

Actually, the purchase of the converter is a rather humorous story. We went to an electronics store nearby, intending to buy the converter. When we arrived, it suddenly dawned on me that we didn't know any of the key words - sewing machine (or even machine, for that matter), voltage, converter, or electricity. When I talked to the sales clerk, my first sentence was "Sorry, I only speak a little Chinese". This is the most useful sentence I know, but perhaps a little unnecessary. Stumbling and searching for words communicates the same message just as well. What I ended up saying to the sales clerk was, translated literally, "We are Canadian. My wife has a Make-Clothes-Thing (at which point I paused to pantomime using a sewing machine, complete with sound effects) but in Canada we use 110 electricity (here I used a prefix for electrical things, not the actual word for electricity). Do you sell something so that 110 can be 220?" It was a testimony to the man's intelligence that he eventually handed me exactly what I was looking for. And now Jess is happily working on a quilt that she started in Canada (the land of 110).

And the boys? Well, they've continued to grow and grow. Ari is now 41 inches tall, and Jude has cracked the 36 inch mark. They are getting lean (Ari especially - Jude still has a bit of an ursine quality to him) and strong. Other than that, Ari is testing the frontiers of his place in the social order. For example, on Friday he bit Jude five times (3 times hard enough to break the skin). One particularly nasty bite was right on Jude's temple. The strangest part of it is that it looked less like teeth marks and more like Jude had fallen on a bottle cap, because the marks were in a perfect circle. I couldn't help but wonder if Ari had unhinged his jaw like a boa and was really trying to swallow him.

Oh, and what were they fighting about? An umbrella. Really worth it.

May 20, 2009

Trials and Frustrations of the Internet

Hey Everyone this is Dustin writing at the request of James and Jess. Blogspot and other prominent websites are currently unaccessible in China at the moment, whether it is the result of an internet censorship crackdown or a Japanese fishing trawler pulling up the fiber optics again is anyones guess. This is just to let you know that things are going okay for them and they will post again when they are able.

May 05, 2009

Back on the Air

We do realize that the blog was left at a very strange point on the last posting, but our internet shut itself down and we have only  just reestablished connection.

In short, after James got home he promptly came down with some sort of gastroenteritis and was extremely exhausted.  We spent the weekend relaxing.  Things started to look a little better yesterday.  To celebrate our first healthy evening back together as a family, we walked to a Korean pizza place whose slogan is "Love for Women"!  It sounds pretty creepy, but apparently it is supposed to refer to letting Mom have a night off.  This is a picture of our leftover box.
No sooner has James come home than I am leaving.  I will be going with another MCCer to Sichuan Province from May 10-15.  For those of you who do not know the ins and outs of Chinese geography (which was me before coming here) I enclose a map.  I'm not entirely sure what the trip involves yet, but I'll know more when I return!  The day before I leave we will celebrate our 5th anniversary.  

I have found myself in need of a few T-shirts, and I happened to find myself in Walmart on Monday.  As a side note, I generally feel the same disgust for the western corporations that are gradually taking over foreign economies as most people, but they happen to sell the cheapest diapers.  When I was there I saw a huge bin of light cotton T-shirt for 9 yuan each (money jargon - 1 yuan = 1 kwai = 1 RMB).  So I set about digging through to see if there was anything I fancied.  I found that there were two impediments to easy selection.  One was predictable, one was not!

The predictable one was that all of the T-shirts had strange, nonsensical English written on them.  I have figured out why there is an epidemic of Chinese girls wearing cutesy shirts with really strange English written on them.  They are the cheapest ones available!  I passed over "The Rooster Soft", "I feel tingles when I touch your heart", "Find Everything You Need" (I'm a one-stop shop!), "Goober Growing Maze Export", "Pistaa!" and more.  I realize most people can't read these shirts (which is why you see them everywhere) but I can.  I've also come to the conclusion that Walmart is playing some kind cruel joke, since their merchandizers back in New York are clearly able to read English.  

The surprising impediment was that almost all the shirts were XXXL, or XXL!  Not only is Walmart playing a cruel joke, they are also experiencing country confusion.  I haven't seen a single Chinese person with a BMI over 30!  There are a few with love handles, but nowhere near an XXXL!  I thought that maybe this is why the T-shirts were so cheap, so out of curiosity I looked at the sizes of other clothes.  Once again, the same thing!  The smallest I could find were a few Mediums.  I earned the strange distinction of shopping in the little girls department in China.  But even there things were far too frilly for my tastes!

May 02, 2009

Waiting Comes to an End and a Few Boring Jobs

The morning has come with beautiful warm sunshine and clear skies to Beijing. I just received a text message from James that his plane has landed. I promptly cried tears of joy and relief. He has a debriefing meeting before coming home, but he's in Beijing and suddenly feels so much closer.

It got pretty hard toward the end. All the construction noise, the boys scared all the time, my eye, the chaos, feeling terribly lonely, having insomnia and taking sleeping pills the last two nights... It was even harder not to give up when the end was so near. So I made a list of all the lessons I've learned these last 12 days.

1) My protection lies in God, not in James.
2) I really learned to enjoy the boys' company. I knew that losing patience and being selfish was not an option unless I wanted to lose my sanity. In that mindset I found myself enjoying their presence, taking solace from their hugs and kisses instead of just looking forward to bed time and nap time.
3) Walking through loneliness makes me more aware of God's presence and interest in my life.
4) When I kept my mind on what is true, and not on my fears, I was able to really enjoy myself

This passage kept me going: Ephesians 3:16-20
"I pray that from God's glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit. And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love... Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more more than we would ever dare to ask or hope."

That said, here are some interesting shots of the boys' and my last evening alone. We discovered that the droopy willow trees make perfect "fishing rods". Just the right flexibility and length. This has provided them with a way to play at the pond in our complex and I got some pictures of Ari looking very Huck Finn-ish. I am happy that they have not yet realized the other potential for these rods... as whips!

We also spotted the strangest looking three wheeled vehicle I have ever seen. Perhaps even stranger than the (bike? tryke? in training for unicyle?) was seeing the 10 year old boy riding it.  

We got back to our gate in time to witness the changing of the guard. Our complex probably has close to 30 buildings and there are probably close to 20 gates. Each gate has a guard stationed at it. We first saw the changing of the guard on Jude's birthday when we almost collided with uniformed guards marching in formation with a leader shouting orders. When they reached a gated the new guard would step forward from the group. The new guard and the old guard would salute each other and their commanding officer and they would all spin, military style, to march to the next gate. It all looks very commanding and formidable until you realize from watching them that they have very boring jobs. I suppose the "Changing of the Guard" gives them a tiny bit of ceremony and excitement.

There are two other jobs we've seen widely around that look even more boring than the guard (even though I know there is more). One is the people who walk around with a broom and a dustpan and sweep the streets and sidewalks. Trust me, there is NO GARBAGE lying around in Beijing (at least the parts I've seen). I see at least 4 or 5 of these individuals walking through our courtyard a day wearing fluorescent green uniforms. The other day I saw a man leap out into busy traffic with his broom and dustpan to sweep up a piece of garbage that I couldn't even see! He barely missed being hit!

And finally, there is the bus crew. Its one thing to drive the bus, but its another to be the unfortunate individual who sits, yelling out the next stop and telling people to get off the bus. Especially when there is an automated system that saying the exact same thing, word for word. I rode a bus the other day, where this person must have been trying to create excitement for herself. She was yelling at the top of her lungs and talking so fast that I could hear her gasping for breath. Simultaneously she was physically pushing all the standing passengers, of whom I was unfortunately a part. I practically had to sit on some strange man's lap on the crowed bus to get out of her reach.

That's all for now, but you can feel relieved that the next post will probably be written by James!