June 30, 2009

Happy Canada Day!

As patriotic Canadians, we feel the need to mention that today is the 142 Anniversary of the British North American Act of 1867 which united the four provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. Back in 2003 when I drove past Confederation House, where it was signed, on Prince Edward Island, I felt a strong twinge of Canadian Pride.

It has been very enlightening to view Canada from the outside and to see what others think about it. I used to think that Canada was pretty much the same on a world scale as any other white dominated, developed nation (like the US and most European countries). I suddenly see now that much of what makes Canada famous really is unique. Its rugged outdoor and vast expanses reputation really is deserved. I took it for granted that I interacted with nature everyday and that going camping was as simple as driving a short distance. Wildlife really does abound in Canada and there really are tons of great fishing lakes scattered all over. There are many Canadians who will disagree with me, but they are the ones who generally stay in the cities!

Thats the other thing... I love that Canadian cities are nice and small. I don't think any city will seem big after Beijing (except the ones that actually are bigger like Mumbai, Shanghai and Tokyo). Chinese cities in general are very good at packing a huge number of people into a small space via towering apartment buildings. When you are crowded by buildings, crowded by the throngs of people and vendors on the side walk, crowded on the bus and even crowded on the playground, it doesn't really matter how big the city is... you are just crowded! Canadian cities are wonderfully open and sprawling. 3 Beijings make 1 Canada.

Canada really does have an assortment of cultures. The Chinese people here think that we must be terribly talanted to be able to cook Italian, Greek, American, German, Ukranian, French, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Ethiopian etc. cuisine. It has never stood out to us that in Canada we eat a variety of ethnic foods, but here in China it has become very obvious. Chinese people eat Chinese food... nothing else. Of course this makes sense and there is nothing wrong with that. But it makes us realize that there is, in essence no such thing as Canadian food.

Here is a peak into our favorite parts of Canadian History. James loves the voyageurs. He would love to dress like a Voyageur, have a chance to speak his French fluently and throw himself into canoeing and portaging. A few Christmas' ago, I made him a beaded Voyageur scarf, and in the winter he would not venture outside without tying it snuggly around his waist. I have personally always enjoyed the early exploration and settlement era. Jaques Cartier and Alexander Mackenzie. The settling along the St. Lawrence River. The cunning of Generals Wolfe and Montcalm in the battle at the Plains of Abraham. I have a great picture of me rolling down a hill at the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.

So here's to Canada, a wonderful place to call my home. Happy Canada Day!

June 29, 2009

Ari's Brain Strikes Again!

Just in case we had forgotten that our son is a genius, he has swiftly reminded us in the last few days. The last great strike was around March of 2008 (not yet three) when he asked us what a few countries were on the world map on our wall and a few days later remembered what they were and where. Things led to things, and before we knew it, he knew the names of all the countries in North and South America, 75% of Africa and about 75% of Asia, several strange and remote islands (like Reunion, Mauritious and Svalbard) and a few European countries (European countries are too small of the world map). If only we were able to post videos, I would post a video we have of Ari naming all the countries on the map, and ending by peeing on James' knee (its like we asked him to prove that he was actually still a potty training toddler!)

Well, I suppose that even amazing things like this become normal to your average block headed parent, and in due course James and I have let the knowledge that our son is swift as a lightening bolt lie dormant in our minds. Well, about a week ago, Ari decided that he wanted me to read Richard Scarry's Best Mother Goose Ever to him. This is ofcourse a collection of strange little British poems using big British words, in rhyme and rhythm. There are about 50 in a row, so I read the entire book to him twice and a few others one time. So, tops, he heard them three times (one or two maybe four times). Because I didn't think he would be that interested in them, I read them through without hardly stopping to pause between each of the fifty.

Well, low and behold, on Sunday James and I were relaxing in the living room and Ari and Jude were busily putting Curious George to bed. Ari decided that Curious George needed a bedtime story and what did we hear coming from his room (without skipping a beat)?

"Hey Didddle Diddle, the cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon
The little dog laughed to see such sport
And the dish ran away with the spoon!"


"Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers (Ari actually said peckers!)
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?"

James and I stared at each other open mouthed. Not only did he get almost all the words, he even had the right pitch and tempo, raising and lowering his voice at all the appropriate times. When we decided to test him to see how much he knew, we were treated with about 15 others that he knew. Below, I write a few that were my favorites to hear coming out of his mouth.

"One misty, moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather
I chanced to meet an old man, clothed all in leather,
Clothed all in leather, with a cap under his chin,
How do you do and how do you do,
And how do you do again!"

"Hickity, Pickity, my fine hen,
She lays eggs for gentlemen,
Gentlemen come every day,
To see what my fine hen doth lay,
Sometimes nine and sometimes ten,
Hickity Pickity, my fine hen"

"There once were two cats of Kilkenny,
Each thought there was one cat too many;
So they fought and they fit, and they scratched and they bit,
Til excepting their nails and the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats, there weren't any!"

What a memory! I tell you this kid is really showing us his artistic streak these days. He has also taken up coloring in the last few weeks, and he'll spend up to three hours a day carefully staying in the lines. Along with the fact that he's been experiencing growth pains at night time, we are becoming very aware that he truly is both physically and mentally growing and developing interests. He is also starting to respond to humor from instinct instead of copying other people's reaction. If he sees something funny on a movie, he laughs instinctually, and it is very interesting for us to see what kinds of things he finds funny. I don't think he realizes that if we watch a movie, James and I are usually watching him.

It is especially rewarding since this is the first time we've been able to observe these types of developmental changes (as opposed to baby development). I'm sure that all the seasoned parents are smiling because we are being so typical for thinking that our child is a genius. And maybe we do suffer from naivety, but certainly we are, for the most part, just very proud of Ari!

June 25, 2009

Learning to Fly and How to be Rude in China

Our number of flying expeditions having increased exponentially in the last four months, we had plenty of time to think about flying. Or rather, I (Jess) have been thinking about it and reflecting to James. I have come to the startling realization that I am actually part of the crowd that really dislikes flying. I dislike everything about it. Going through thousands of lineups (where some Chinese man is inevitably trying to cut you out of line with his gigantor pile of luggage) in crowded, massive airports. The waiting and the taxiing. The feeling of the plane being tossed around as it takes off. The turbulence and sudden drops where your stomach hits your throat. The dryness of eyes and throat because of all the air vents going. Coming down for landing (especially yesterday in Chengdu where it was so cloudy and smoggy that even though I knew we were descending, I couldn't see the ground until our wheels hit the landing strip). The jolt of hitting the ground and feeling of the powerful, forward motion of the plane resisting its sudden stop.

I shouldn't be too surprised at this revelation, since I uniformly dislike any kind of sport that sends me flying in a forward motion down hills, on ice or on wheels. I love all sports except those.

I'm not complaining, but since we can expect to be flying fairly frequently here, I have to at least learn to pretend that I don't mind it. And so I keep my look of nonchalance as my mind ponders the fact that I am rocketing through the atmosphere in a strange column over land and sea, mountain and valley, through storm or calm. I admit that it does not help to hear about all the crashes and missing planes as of late, or having a Chinese acquaintance that loves to tell me about malfunctioning Chinese transportation and all their ensuing fires and terrible endings.

But I was fairly proud of myself yesterday as I flew to and from Chengdu. Flying always reminds me of how humans are like grass, here one day and gone the next, and that my fragile life is in the hands of this too powerful machine. But strangely enough, thinking of myself as grass is terribly comforting, because it also reminds me that God is eternal and that his power and his glory will continue to exist, regardless of my grass-like existence. On the plane yesterday, I became strangely grateful that this little piece of grass is known and loved by Jesus and knows and loves him in return. My heart still skipped a beat during the turbulence that tossed us to and fro and threw me off balance in the bathroom. But a prevailing calm was also there from the knowledge that I am not as important as I think I am, but at the same time more valuable than I know.

How's that for philosophical? We haven't had too many of those on this blog!

In other knews, I learned another valuable lesson recently. I learned that I need to learn how to be rude in a way that is acceptable in China and unacceptable in Canada. When trying to find a taxi yesterday in Chengdu, we waited for at least 15 minutes (an unheard of wait, since you can usually wave your pinky finger and have 10 waiting at a moments notice). When one finally came a strange woman ran forward to try and grab the taxi before we could. My much swifter traveling companion managed to grab the door half a second before she did and I practically threw myself into the taxi before she could do it herself. As we pulled away, I informed the other MCCer that he had received quite a pouty glare from the woman with flashy high heels and sparkling beaded bag. Since we had clearly marked that corner as ours, and were clearly in the right, we had us a little chuckle as we drove away. Would people do this in Canada? Only if they are VERY rude!

The second learning incident was when I took Ari and Jude to the pool the other night. The wading pool and the adult pool are divided by a two foot divider. Ari was in a pool ring, so that I didn't have to worry as much about him, but I had to follow Jude around like a stalker. There was a woman in the adult pool who was so enthralled with Ari that she was trying to convince him to come over the divide into her pool. I had to yell across the pool to instruct Ari not to go. The woman heard me but was practically grabbing him to come over. I literally had to tell her "He is not going with you. He is staying in this pool" and motion to her that I wanted her to leave him alone. This happened three times! On a side note, I was very proud of Ari. He listened very well and turned away from her and ignored her. But I felt like slugging her pretty good for trying to undermine a mother's right to protect her child! Again this would not happen in Canada. I felt very, very rude but I wasn't about to let that happen.

Lessons, lessons, everyday there are more!

June 16, 2009

Some Narnian Friends!


I've made a pretty good friend since we have been here. She wants work on her English, so last week we decided that we would read an English book together and discuss the content. As we were looking at the collection of books we brought with us from Canada, I realized that many of our books would be unsuitable. Until I looked at the Narnia books! Perfect! They are short. They are written for children and for adults. They are famous. They make for very interesting conversations. And they already have two movies!

She read the first chapter and loved it. For eight pages she had 44 questions, but somehow she was still able to understand and enjoy the story. I would call that very gifted! She told me that she was speaking to an American the day after she read chapter one. The guy was complaining about how hot it was. She responded by saying, "Well, that door over there is a wardrobe, and if you walk through that door, you'll be in Narnia where it is always winter!" The guy was very surprised to hear that she knew about Narnia and she was very excited to have proof that it actually is famous!

We will be discussing the first two chapters today. As I reviewed them last night, I suddenly became aware of how much old British WW2 talk and dated turns of phrase there are in that book. Suddenly it makes sense that there are 44 questions. For example, one of the first things Peter says is "We've fallen on our feet and no mistake...", or they say "stop going on!" The only other thing in the room with the wardrobe is a "dead blue-bottle"! Or how about Tumnus, "I've taken service under the White Witch".

One of the reasons I am excited is that I get to introduce someone to Narnia. In Canada and the US everyone just knows about it. Its like I get to remember what it was like to be a kid and have my Mom read them to me for the first time!

We recently bought the boys memberships to the local swimming pool here. It is good because it is one of the only places they interact with kids. Kids their age are all in school already during the day time. They really enjoy going and it is good to see them with other kids. But we don't give Chinese swimming pools any points for family friendliness in terms of rates. Children are charged the same amount as adults and there are no family rates! Doesn't seem very strategic to me!

In other news, we've had many people ask how the rising tensions in a certain neighboring country will impact us in our work here. The truth is we do not know, but we certainly appreciate your keeping us in your prayers. We continue to become more involved in our volunteering and of course in our studies. I will be taking a day trip to Chengdu (in Sichuan again) next week and James will be taking a day trip to Inner Mongolia in the near future. Its also looking like I may be heading to Cambodia for a few days in July. If this is the case, James and I are finding it very ironic that my first trip to Cambodia will be without him, since my main connection to Cambodia has been that James lived there. But someday we will go together! James consoles himself by saying that he doesn't want his first trip back to be only for a few days. One of the reasons I love him... he's not a naturally jealous person!

Farewell from the Mainland!

June 09, 2009

Words Truly Have Meaning in Chinese

In Chinese:

The word for sad is "shang xin" (both first tone) meaning "hurt heart"

The word for joyful is "kai xin" (both first tone) meaning "open heart"

The word for violin means "small thing you pick up and play"

The word for tomato is "xihongshi" (first, second, fourth tones) meaning "western red thing"

The phrase for one finger typing is "yi zhi chan" (first, third, fourth tones) meaning "One finger kung fu"!

The word for fast food is "la ji" (both first tone) meaning "garbage"!

To get married is "jie hun" (second and first tones) - hun means dizzy or confused, jie means connect... marriage is the connection two dizzy and confused people!

To do something immediately is to do it "mashang", or "on a horse". (I've been told that this can't be translated too literally.)

Ari turned four on the eighth of June. We had great plans, but all of them were foiled so we had to improvise the whole way. First we planned to go to the water park, but it rained for three days in a row on the weekend (in Beijing, this is very rare). So instead we went for a boat ride on a huge pond with canalways and giant edifaces along the edge. Then James was going to buy a cake (since we didn't have the ingredients to make something fun), but he only only had 35RMB on him (~$6) at the bakery, so instead we got four chocolate covered donuts. Then both options A and B for his birthday present disappeared into thin air (literally, one of the stores just disappeared with a big hole in its place).

But he enjoyed his donut and there were some other gifts to open (puppets from Grandma Barclay, face paints from our MCC reps, a hand made card from one of our teachers). And since we didn't have any candles, Ari got to blow out a lighter. Now that's classy.

All in all it was good. Yesterday I found a present, a stuffed Bugs Bunny, who already apparently needs mending since he's losing his inerds through a hole in his neck. If he had a jugular, he'd be dead. Might explain why the sales lady was so eager to sell him to me at a discount. Oh well, I have a sewing machine!

June 04, 2009


Greetings from the Mainland!

Our house has a side room that would be altogether functionless if not for the plant kingdom. It's about 6x4 feet with a big window on the east side. The rather unusual feature to the room is that it open into the bedroom through a rather spacious hole, but unless you feel like slithering over the desk to get there, it's not very convenient. I've decided to transform this room into a plant room. It's more or less my only opportunity to feel as though I'm connecting on some level with soil here in dusty Beijing.

And in my little chamber of greenery, I'm growing a number of fun plants. I started some basil a few weeks ago, and it's already in the 3rd leaf stage. I planted mint at the same time, but the seeds are so small that it should be no surprise that the plants are still incredibly small. Next I planted a variety of eggplant called "Ethiopian". According to the picture on the package, it's red and about the size of a golf ball.

Then I threw some strawberry seeds into the soil. I know that strawberries are normally grown through "vegetative propagation", or runners. But I have no runners (just sneakers), so I'm giving the seeds a whirl. Of the several dozen seeds I planted, only 4 came up. Of these, 3 have withered and died, but one lone plant perseveres. If it lives, it will become my clone factory!

The last seeds to see the inside of a pot were some flower seeds called something like Seafoam Spray or Salty Foam. I threw away the package already, so I don't know. But they looked nice, and I thought I might as well grow a flower. I'm normally the 'veggie' type, but with this small space to work with, I think I'll go with a few flowers.

Maybe I'll have to try making a salad out of all the 'produce'. A mint, basil, eggplant, strawberry, seafoam salad!

June 03, 2009

Chinese Under Pressure Makes for Embarrassing Errors!

It seems that if someone wants to hear me humiliate myself in Chinese they just need to surprise me. Particularly on the bus or in the market.

Scenerio 1
Someone on the bus stomps on my toe and says "Duibuqi!" (I'm sorry).
My response: "Bukeqi" (You're welcome)

Scenerio 2
I stomp on someone else's foot on the bus and say "Xie xie" (Thank you!)

Scenerio 3
I accidently hit someone from behind at the market with the stroller when she stops abruptly in front of me. She turns to shoot fire at me with her eyes and I fumble around saying "Meguanxi" (Oh that's alright! Don't worry about it! I forgive you etc")

In all three scenerios I had to stifle my laughter and quickly leave with a red face. It reminds me of a time back in Winnipeg when James and I were riding the bus to the University. The bus driver lurched, and as I tried to catch my balance I stepped on someone's toe (I realize that I am making myself seem very awkward on my feet). The guy screamed in pain as though I were wearing baseball cleats. I tried to apologize but it was our stop and we had to get off the bus (At least I didn't say "thank you" to him!). As we got off the bus we heard him say "It had to be THAT toe!"

One more speaking mistake. I was reading a sentence in my book that said "That woman has recently become fat, she should eat less" (Yes, this is becoming a theme in our textbook). Instead I ended up saying, "That woman has recently become fat, she should eat her hand". Less is shao (third tone) and hand is shou (also third tone). My teacher and I had a good laugh and I pantomimed gnawing desperately on my hand.

June 01, 2009

Horse Horse Tiger Tiger

This week has marked the beginning of both of us making up for our lost study time when traveling. Our visa is conditional upon 10 hours of school per week, so when we miss it, we have to make it up. James is spending the month of June doing four hours a day, and I am spending two weeks doing three per day. We seem to be making quite the impression at the school. There are forty teachers there and every time we change our schedules, we get new ones. The more teachers teach us, the more feedback we here about ourselves being spread around the school. A line we are hearing a lot is "Wo tingshuo ni.... (I heard that you...) from teachers we know and teachers we don't know.

"I heard that you play piano". "I've heard that you and your husband sing silly made-up songs together". "I've heard that you have two children and that you're only 25". "I heard that James' wife was very pretty, but I didn't know that you are his wife!" (All of this in Chinese of course).

Yesterday I found myself in a conversation where all of my facial features were being analyzed. "Your eyes are so big and blue. Mine are not! The bridge of your nose is so tall! Mine is flat! Your skin is so white!" I interrupted with "Keshi ni hen piao liang" (But you are so beautiful!)

White skin is a trait that is to be aspired to here. There is a huge market for whitening creams and they are shocked to hear that in North America people want their skin to be dark. You can imagine that I was surprised to hear for the first time, "Your skin is so white! So beautiful!". I wasn't sure if I should take offense or be complimented on what James and I refer to as our winter color. Not knowing what to say to most of this, I just say, "Oh! Um, thank you".

But yesterday I learned that yet another subtlety to Chinese culture is that when you are complimented you must instantly come back and say "No no, it is not so!". To say thank you means that you agree with them and that you are a very proud person. I've certainly heard of this concept before, but what I did not know is that the best response is...ma ma hu hu (Horse Horse Tiger Tiger!). This strikes me as such a funny response that I have decided that I'm going to use it all the time!

For example, if I hear "Your children are so smart!" I'll just say "Horse Horse Tiger Tiger!" (Oh those children? They're just horses and tigers!)

Or "You make the most elegant hors d'oeuvres!", I'll respond with "Horse Horse Tiger Tiger!" (after all, horse and tigers make the best hors d'oeuvres!)

I know it probably sounds like I'm making fun of it, but the truth is that English has plenty of its own strange phrases. For example, James once tried to explain to a non English speaker the phrase "Put your nose to the grindstone". Only after seeing the girl's extreme confusion did we realize just how pointlessly painful that expression sounds!