September 25, 2009

1 in Thailand, 3 in China

This week has seen James off in Thailand.  James is thoroughly enjoying the food, although he has tried (to some extent) not to gloat about it.  I was sure to mention to him that our neighbor brought us two meals worth of jiaozi (meat dumplings) and we been receiving moon cakes in droves.  James is a huge fan of both of these food items.  He will return in two days.  We're looking forward to it!

We are approaching two major events here.  The first is the sixty year anniversary of the People's Republic of China, and the second is the Mid Autumn Festival (Zhong Qiu Jie) two days later.  It is interesting to watch the city prepare for their national holiday.  Every single shop, no matter how closet-sized is sporting a massive flag and hanging brand new red lanterns.  Every light post has anywhere from 6 to 8 red lanterns hanging from it.  The effect is that EVERYWHERE you look, there are flags and lanterns.  Its a lot of red!  Somehow, they even have managed to keep all the shades of red the same.  Its a very bright cherry (and cheery!) red.  Every school you pass on the street usually has students learning patriotic songs and dances in their courtyard and there are usually a lot of people gathered around the fence to watch.  There is a school right next to Ari's called The Beijing Experimental School (yikes! that sounds scary!).  When I drop him off at school, I sometimes see all the students, big and small, lined up in military formation marching to brass band music.

Meanwhile the bus is showing new videos on route to school.  One is an informational video on military marching and another is of a massive choir singing massive songs in front of a massive screen showing Chinese scenery.  The school that we attend is right beside a fairly prominent hotel and theater.  One day as I was leaving class, I suddenly found myself walking through hordes of men wearing bright cherry red suits and women wearing white silk, sequined dresses with glittering earrings and necklaces.  I found them walking toward the theatre, and figured that they must be rehearsing for some choir production.  

The country gets an entire week of holidays in the beginning of October.  

I have also been learning a fair bit of Christmas music on the piano this week.  I'll be playing in church a fair bit for the month of December.  Its really quite fun, even if it is early.  My sister and I used to start playing Christmas music in October (before our parents decided that Dec 1 was the absolute earliest for this).  I'm playing around a fair bit with the type of music, some jazzy, some traditional.  It is obscenely hard to get good music.  Apparently books that are ordered don't usually arrive, which leaves me with downloading off the internet.  There are tons of easy songs available, but finding Intermediate/Advanced music is rare. I have spent hours trying to find good music.  

Well, lazy Saturday that it is, the boys are waiting for their lunch, so...


September 17, 2009

Hospitals, Medicines and More

As we pass a pleasant evening here at home, it seems like a good time to blog about the day's events.  We have classical music playing, the boys are playing dress-up with pillow cases, under the alias of "Sir" and lugging around loads of "cheese" (blankets) that are as big as they are.  I have been playing unproductive games of Spider Solitaire and James is chuckling to himself as he reads his book, periodically letting me in on the joke.

Today we had some overdue business to take care of.  Immunizations.  Because we left Canada rather quickly, we did not get our six month boosters for our various hepatitis shots before we left  (we practically boarded the planes with the needles still dangling from our upper arms).  As such we carried the doses with us on the plane here and have kept them in our refrigerator since then.  The only thing we had to do was find someone qualified to stick the needle in our arms.  But we had no idea where to do this until now.  Because medical things are so technical and hard to translate, we decided to go to the international hospital here in Beijing with English speaking staff.

It was definitely my first time coming face-to-face with having to pay for my medical care.  Although it is embarrassing to admit that fact, lets just call a spade a spade.  It was quite an eye opener to go to the hospital and be told, "Now that the doctor has talked to you for five minutes, you owe us 2000 RMB (~$300)".  I have only experienced this two other times.  When I was 12, I knocked my teeth out ice skating.  The insurance company covered new teeth for within 6 months of the accident, but because of delays (by the insurance company) the claim went through 7 months after the accident.  I remember feeling about 5 minutes of guilt that my parents had to shell out $600 per tooth.  (I won't mention what happened the second time I knocked my teeth out).  The other time was when we had to get Jude to the hospital in an ambulance.  I was very ripped off when a bill for $250 arrived for the 10 minute ride.

Today it hit home that I grew up as part of a small percentage of the world's population with "free" medical care.  The only thing that kept me from going to the hospital for "free" care was the availability of transportation.  When we took newborn baby Jude to the hospital for pneumonia / possible meningitis and stayed for three days, there was no bill for us.  But today we had to travel with a wad of cash, and I still had to go back later with another wad.

However, there was something quite nice about going to a place where I speak the "language".  Having studied in a medical subfield, it was really nice to see laboratory charts that had familiar clinical terms like blood albumin, prealbumin, occult blood, etc.  I know what those things are, and that meant I could ask the doctor questions and understand the answers.  When I was in a medical clinic Dazhou, Sichuan, I saw a chart denoting the most common causes for hypertension treated in that clinic.  I was really interested and wanted to know more about it, but the doctor only spoke Chinese.  Even if we were educated in similar areas, we were unable to communicate about them.  

It was also nice to see some medicines with English on them today.  There is something unnerving about giving your children a medicine that only has Chinese characters on it.  Its not that I doubt their legitimacy (well, maybe I do at times), I just don't know how to use them and researching them only produces websites in Chinese characters.  For example, I have a lot of trouble with my left wrist.  It is a recurring problem that is almost arthritic in nature.  For the last week it has been so bad that my arm has been immobile.  So James went to a pharmacy and asked for a medicine for joint pain.  He brought home something called "Dog Skin".  Sure enough it comes in skin-like patches that could be very effective for all we know, but we have no idea how to use it.  We have also found that asking for translations for medical things always produces very unclear answers and a lot of confusion.  Anyway, when I was give a prescription today for an anithistamine for my wrist, I was very happy.  Just two days ago, I told James this was exactly what I needed.  

On a side note, we have used some traditional Chinese medicines that do seem to be quite effective.  For example, the picture I included at the top is a traditional medicine for a sore throat.  It is the pit of the Boat-Fruited Sterculia.  It starts out like the pit of a plum, but when you put it in your drinking water, it expands and fills your cup like a sea sponge.  I tried it, and I thought it did the job quite nicely.  

In three days James will be off to Thailand for a week, where he will be attending an agricultural seminar and meeting with big names in the realm of rice research and visiting rural farms.  He is very excited about it.  This is the first of three one-week trips he will be taking this fall.  Another is to Korea and then to Northern China.  We are certainly not bored! I am very thankful that one of Ari's teachers is our neighbor and friend, and that she has offered to take Ari to school for me in the mornings while James is away.  This saves me the hassle making two trips to Ari's school with Jude.  It's a fair bit of walking so it takes about an hour to go there and back when Jude is along.  Doing that twice a day with my own schooling and other responsibilites would be too much! Keep us in your prayers!


September 08, 2009

Goings On

These weeks find us settling into a new schedule with Ari in school, our schooling and more regular office hours in our MCC volunteer positions. With so many things to juggle, we've been forced into regularity, which is actually quite a good thing.

When we were looking at our options for putting Ari in school, we saw that many kindergartens actually function as a sort of boarding house, even for kids as young as two. They stay all week and go home for the weekend. As such, putting Ari in school for a half day includes breakfast, snack and lunch. We assumed it would be a lot of rice, noodles and vegetables, but since some kids are there for every meal, I suppose they want to add variety. And variety they have!

Here are some free samples:
- five flavor quail eggs
- five flavor bean curd
- congee with red date
- dried small shrimps and purple seaweed with cucumber soup
- chicken liver in "brown sauce"
- calcium congee (the nutritionist in me is very curious as to how much Ca there is per gram of this congee and what chemical form it is in. Of course I shouldn't be surprised since they are many interesting nutritional fortifications here. Like sugar fortified with zinc. I've done a lot of reading on fortification and have never seen that one before)
- peach congee with pine nuts
- bean paste bun

Suddenly it seems like Ari might look chubby for the first time since he was a baby.

In other news, the other night a security guard was so enthralled by the boys that he took his hat of and gave it to them. This is a very typical security guard hat around here. But until we had one in our house we hadn't realized just how 1939 Germany they look. Especially when James wears it!

Speaking of James, we have time for a funny story. James was under the impression for a while that the word for receipt was mai pian. So when he took a taxi recently, he told the driver that he was waiting for "mai pian" before he got out of the taxi. The man looked at him strangely, but James eventually got what he wanted. He got out of the car and thought nothing of it. A week later we were studying together and the word for receipt came up, fa piao. James was confused and told me the story of the taxi and what he had said. I started laughing, because I suddenly remembered that my teacher had told me that mai pian means oatmeal. So James was there calmly telling the taxi driver that he was waiting for him to give him oatmeal before getting out of the car!

This last picture is me trying to look as much like a scary Fraulein as possible. Unfortunately, I don't look all that scary, except for the fact that my eyes look differently sized and I am suffering the effects of my recent cold. Oh well!

September 05, 2009

Paul Bunyan is in China!

That's right! Paul Bunyan is in China... along with Babe, Jesse James (the notorious one, not the obvious Jesse James Frey), and John Henry. For months we stumbled along, reading the same tired Curious George bedtime stories, refusing to go to the Foreign Bookstore and spend ridiculous amounts of money on children's books. But no more! Tall tales have saved the day. Not only do the boys get to hear thrilling tales, their imaginative Papa is having a pretty good time making them up.

Paul Bunyan has only to move a few feet and he's already grown six inches. But that's because he's always eating so much. Consider the story from last week where some lumber jacks made the enormous Paul Bunyan (at 59ft7in tall) a pancake 200ft wide, and they buttered it by skating across the pancake with butter on their feet. Then there was the time that Paul Bunyan learned how to swim in the ocean and found sunken ships filled with candy. After that he ate candy for all of his meals. He also scared a pack of fearsome bears into making themselves into a giant fur coat for him. He fells 200 trees with one swing of his axe, Chipper.

And that John Henry, well he's just strong. The boys can easily visualize just how strong he must be when Papa bares his arm and pretends to flex giant, black, muscles for them. They can imagine a racing steam engine when Papa whistles his piercing whistle. Their eyes widen with terror when bears roar loudly at them. Jesse James was only introduced tonight, and so far he is normal, except for the fact that he has everything under his coat from a 7/8" crescent wrench to a toilet if you happen to need one.

As Papa weaves his tales, Ari and Jude burst into giggles, widen their eyes with terror, and smile about someone getting a hug. Their eyes are filled with awe to think of eating candy for every meal and being allowed to pee out of the top of a tree (James really knows how to play into their boy humor). By the way, at the end of the video the song James is singing says "Craisin Train! Rolling down the track!", because the train is full of Craisins (one of their favorite snacks back in Canada).

It all really makes me think (and not for the first time), how happy I am to be married to James and to have my boys.

I have also been able to be a little more creative with the boys now with the piano that we are "loaning" for the next three years. Ari and I have sat down usually once a day to play and sing songs together. We are doing some Negro Spirituals (Go Down Moses, Swing Lo Sweet Chariot, etc.) some classics (Clementine, Oh Susanna, Yankee Doodle, etc.) some slow beautiful songs (Morning has Broken, The Ash Grove, etc) and more. I have great plans for his song repertoire and he is really enjoying himself. Currently our big project is The Erie Canal. I am taking song suggestions, anything from goofy to poetic ballad. Throw them on me! Especially if you can scan sheet music and email it to me!

Ari was very ripped off the other night when James interrupted our singing of Swing Lo Sweet Chariot by singing, "I looked over Jordan and what did I see? Papa coming forth to brush my teeth! Coming forth to carry my to bed!" and picked him off the piano bench, whisking him away to his bedroom. I laughed quite hard, but Ari failed to see the humor in it!