November 26, 2009

One Tragedy and 3 Positive Updates


It all started when Ari came home from school humming a deadly tune.

"There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o! B-I-N-G-O! B-I-N-G-O! B-I-N-G-O! And Bingo was his name-o!"

There are no words to describe how much I hate this song.  Of all the thousands of songs Ari could sing, and that he could learn in a Chinese school, it had to be that one.  Why not "Oh Susanna!" or "Old McDonald" or "The Farmer in the Dell"?  I'm not necessarily fond of those songs, but at least I can ignore them.  Bingo, on the other hand, has a penetrating tune that snuggles itself deep into the long-term memory part of my brain.  This is the only song that has the ability to stay in my head for a week at a time and has been since I was about 13 years old.  It plays over and over.  I find myself tapping my feet to it, making up high piccolo lines, involuntarily tapping my teeth to the new drumbeat I have added to it (leading to headaches), writing alternative harmony lines for mandolins etc.  All of this is entirely involuntary, and half of the irritation is that I keep on suddenly realizing what I am doing and trying to stop.  Night time may or may not offer a brief reprieve.

I can imagine what a bad parent I must seem like when Ari goes to school and tells his teachers that his mom "hates that song" and has forbidden him to sing it around her.  But this is truly a matter of maintaining sanity.  I have told him that he is welcome to sing any other song he wants.  The interesting thing is that telling him this brings out his debating skills, in which I feel like I am at a disadvantage.  He doesn't understand how I can hate a song that he loves, and thinks it is a bad reason to not sing a song.  I suppose he has heard us tell him enough times that "Because" is not a good answer.  

It seems that his school seems to love teaching him repetitive children's songs.  For example, Ari recently learned "The Wheels on the Bus" and has logically decided that the best time to sing this song is when we are riding the bus.  The first time was a tired Sunday afternoon on the way home from church.  I don't know if every family is like this, but our family is inevitably tired and cranky on the way home from church.  Ari started to sing the song.  James and I exchanged tired expressions, but by mutual silent agreement, decided not to shush him.  So verse 2 came and then verse 3 ("the babies on the bus go wah wah wah").  James and I found ourselves starting to open our mouths to ask him to be a little quieter, but then verse 4 started. "The parents on the bus go shush, shush, shush!".  It seemed a little too appropriate.  When whole song had gone through one time, we felt justified in telling him that once was probably enough.  

Positive Update #1

Ari's teacher and her husband are coming over for supper tomorrow evening.  If you will recall, there was a whole blog entry in October about the somewhat confusing circumstances we found ourselves in with her.  We are making Thai food for them.  I think it will be a lot of fun.

Positive Update #2

I have discovered that by far the best place to be on the crowded bus is crammed against the door on the bottom step.  There is less shoving, because people know you are at the end of the line.  Also if you turn toward the glass you can breath without having some woman's fur hood going between your lips (today's experience).  The door is also guaranteed to open every stop which brings fresh air sweeping into the bus.  Everyone getting on the bus instantly tries to plunge into the depths of people so that means they don't try to usurp your spot.  And finally, you get a full length view of the streets as the bus drives (which is kind of fun), and everyone in traffic gets a full length view of the foreigner squished against the glass.  Its a win-win situation!  I have also tried praying on the bus, which takes my mind off of my momentary discomfort.  This combination has made me a much happier bus rider. 

Positive Update #3

Both boys have completely weaned themselves of their dependence on diapers (and that includes night time).  We didn't push it, it just happened.  We still put one on Jude at night, just in case, but morning after morning it is 100% dry.  Sweet freedom!

November 25, 2009

Hurry for Tacky Christmas!

As I bussed home the other day, I was shocked to see six little on-the-sidewalk Christmas shops.  Christmas is not celebrated in China, although apparently, it has become popular among young people who have money to celebrate it.  They are aware of many of the popular traditions of Christmas from seeing it in movies.  The  unexpected discovery of any Christmas paraphernalia, warmed my heart and I secretly made plans to return after class two days later.  

Yesterday, I went with a friend.  It was a very fun time!  She has never celebrated Christmas before, so we strolled arm in arm, browsing the Christmas wares and giggling.  She asked me what different things were and asked if this was the kind of stuff you would find in most North American homes.  Sadly, I had to say... no!  How do you explain the difference between the more stately, Victorian turns that Christmas in North America have taken, and the Christmases of 20 years ago to someone who has never seen it?  The people here love things that shine, sparkle and flash.  Thus, it makes sense that the Christmas things they stock would be a brilliant display of garlands, hard-to-look-at flashing lights, shimmering trees, immense shining wreathes, and huge Santa Clauses!  I took the pictures at the top with my phone in bad lighting, but it certainly illustrates my point.

Fortunately for them, I grew up on tacky Christmases!  We hung the shining garland from the door frames.  Anything that sparkled was definitely hung.  Red and green were great, but gold was better!   Therefore, I thoroughly enjoyed my walk through Santa's shop and had my picture taken with a brilliantly lit Frosty the Snowman.  What a great time!

We are making our own ornaments with the boys this year.  Its a childhood classic (for me anyway).  Make the ornament out of a tasteless dough, bake them and paint them.  We have some Chinese friends coming over on Sunday to help us.  We'll probably invest in a tree and some lights, but not much else.  

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

November 17, 2009

Strange Things Recently said by Freys

The other night at supper I found myself saying to Jude, "Jude if you want your bread and water, you have to finish your food!"
EXPLANATION: The boys love bread more than anything and if we give it to them with their supper they only eat the bread.  Water gets played with and distracts from eating.  Thus, they come as a bit of an after supper treat.

Not 5 minutes ago I heard Ari yelling through a paper tube "Now proclaiming the Republic of South America!" and then cheering.  I have no idea where he heard anything like that, but a mental image flashed through my head of him as an angry peasant in the French Revolution or Ari-turned-Pancho-Villa.

Thanks to Google images, I can share my mental images with you all.

November 11, 2009

The Bus: Don't be Surprised When...

I realize this topic might be getting old, but having to deal with it everyday, both the humorous and the frustrating stories are daily mounting.

Don't be surprised when... You are standing at the bus stop and see man trying to get on the bus by taking a running start, throwing himself onto the single toe-hold on the bottom step and bouncing off the solid wall of people.  Then don't be surprised when, after he has tried to do this a few times, two people try to hold him in from the outside the bus and two people try to hold him in from the inside of the bus.  At this point at least five people yell "Close the door, close the door!" and try to get their hands out of the way in time for the door to close.  It reminded me a bit of trying to close a suitcase that is far too full, and having to coordinate holding the clothes and closing the lid without pinching fingers.  I had to wonder what would happen at the next stop when the door opened again.

Don't be surprised when... As you are trying to squeeze off the bus before the driver starts driving again, you hear the person you are squishing past make the sound of someone who has just landed on their lungs from a height.  Then you might hear a breathless "Kuai yidianr ba!" ("Hurry up will ya!").

Don't be surprised when... You hear the man standing next to you on the crowded bus starts snoring in your ear.  You might be curious to look at see if he really is sleeping standing up, but his face is a little too close to yours.  However, when the driver slams on the breaks you hear him making the noise of one who is startled awake.  

Don't be surprised when... You feel something wet brush over your lips.

Don't be surprised when... You get stuffed into a very uncomfortable position with a stranger.  You might perhaps end up with your chin over someone's shoulder (because of pressure from behind) in a sort of "spoon" position.  It reminds me of our MCC orientation. We were given a scenario of riding a crowded bus, and feeling someone's hand in a questionable place and asked if we would think it was sexual harassment.  At the time I said a definitive yes, but now that I have been put in countless similar compromising positions, many times as the "aggressor", I wonder how many people in China feel that they have been sexually harassed by some strange blond foreign girl.

Don't be surprised when... You want to get off the bus, but the passengers getting on the bus have the unstoppable energy of a horde of Spaniards during the Running of the Bulls.  Better luck next stop.

Don't be surprised when... You see someone vomiting into a clear bag.

Don't be surprised when... This causes others to follow suit.

Don't be surprised when... You realize that it is not always the best thing to have firm footing and a good handhold.  This is the recipe for becoming the only support for about five other people who don't have firm footing and a good handhold.  There are times when the best thing to do is flow like water.

It is at times like this that we remind ourselves that riding the bus costs less than $0.08.  I caught an unexpected glimpse of my face in the bus window today and realized that the rest of the people must think they are riding the bus with an Iron Maiden.  I suppose the best summary of my face would be (in Pa Ingalls' words) "Keep a stiff upper lip!".

November 01, 2009

When Snow Rocks Beijing

November 1 brought some of the heaviest (and I actually mean weight) wettest snow we have ever seen.  When James made a snowman, it took him two rolls of a snowball to get a basketball sized head.  We spent the day trudging through it to get to church and go for lunch with our MCC visitor, Laura.  By the time we got home our pants were soaked up to the knee, our jackets were soaked, feet frozen through.  The heat will not be turned on for another two weeks yet, so we have to wear long underwear at all times now.  The snow was so heavy that we saw tree branches a good six inches thick breaking in half (picture).  

However, it was also very beautiful.  The threes have not lost their leaves yet, so peaking out from under the snow was brilliant red, gold, orange and green leaves (picture).  Some trees still had fully opened flowers on them and brilliant red berries (picture).  The bamboo patches were amazing crisscrosses of sparkling snow.  Miserably wet and cold as we were, we even stopped to pose for a family photo (picture).  Coming home to hot coffee, dry socks and blankets was a wonderful feeling.  James and I felt the distinct lack of a woodstove.  That cheery glow, sparking sound and homey smell was all that was missing from a day that felt distinctly Canadian to us.  I couldn't resist the urge to make bread, just so that the smell of it would fill the house.

Needless to say, after having been told that Beijing gets snow maybe twice per winter and that it melts right away, we were a little surprised.  Even in Canada, this would have been unexpectedly big for a first snow.

More pictures to follow.

Beijing Under Snow Pics

Supplement to last post