Saturday, November 29, 2008

Magical Moments

Very cool Disney Metro line and station.

Wow, we had an incredible time at Disneyland. The weather was perfect and there were no lines, just walk right on to the rides. It's a smaller park, which is wonderful when you have a little one. It's all new and pristine. They just built It's a Small World and this was our first time to go on that as it was closed the first time we went to Disneyland in California. Abbey loved it so we rode it several times.
We also did her other favorites multiple times. This included Dumbo, Cinderella's Carousel, and the Tea Cups.
Right when we entered the park we met up with Snow White and Cinderella at the castle. Abbey was thrilled to talk with them and they were so kind to her.
We saw several shows, the highlight being the Lion King, which was Broadway caliber. I hadn't realized that the park would be decorated for Christmas, but it was beautiful. There was a giant tree on on Main Street and all the characters and employees were decked out. The parade was "Let It Snow". It was the first day and it was fabulous. It was so amazing to be sitting with Abbey eating gingerbread man cookies, with it "snowing", and watch all the Christmas songs and dances. Afterward they has a special Holiday Ball show with Sleeping Beauty in front of the castle. It didn't officially open until the next day, but they did it as a special event for the media so we got to see the castle light up with twinkly lights. I thought about all we went through that brought us to these special moments. If we hadn't gone through all the hard things, we couldn't have experienced this, and it is so worth it. Having a precious three year old daughter with eyes full of wonder at Disneyland at Christmas is such an incredible gift. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel which is gorgeous. It's right on the ocean and is modeled after the Hotel Del on Coronado Island.
We loved all the special Disney touches. Our bathroom mirror had Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs carved around it and all the amenities matched the theme.
The huge flat screen TV was loaded with Disney in several languages and it was so fun for Abbey to be able to watch Playhouse Disney in English!! She got to take a huge bubble bath, which was a real treat since we only have a shower in China.
The next morning we had a long leisurely breakfast on a little victorian sofa surrounded by gingerbread houses and Christmas tea decorations.
Abbey loved the buffet with imported cheeses and all kinds of nuts, two of her favorite things. I was in heaven with the croissants and coffee.
Princess Mulan came in for a visit and we also went to the playroom and did a craft.
We then headed back to the park and did all the Fantasyland rides again. After that we headed on the subway to meet friends in Hong Kong at a new mall. We were all going to travel home together but I realized I had left our passports back in the safe at Disneyland. We were so tired at that point and I had two doses of migraine med that day and decided we would just go back and stay for another night. We moved over to the Hollywood Style Disney Hotel and spent another cushie night with Playhouse Disney and a bag full of snacks and noodles from 7-11. It really turned out to be a blessing to stay longer and the next day we took the subway back to the new mall and shopped and ate all day. I was able to get several Christmas gifts for Abbey. We spent a chunk of time in a big Barnes and Noble style bookstore called Metro. It had tons of books in English and a craft area that Abbey got to color in for about an hour. It was really fun. I am so thankful to have had this very special time with Abbey, what a huge blessing.

Abbey was running around after the Golden Mickey's show with some of the streamers that fell. I caught a glimpse of her and had a flash forward to a day in the future when she may be holding a bouqet in her hand.She got out in front of the crowd waiting for the parade and put on her own little show, complete with some very funny dancing.

I am doing better with travelling. If I can't manage Abbey's stroller and the suitcase, backpack, and packages, then I have her get out and push the stroller while I manage the other things. She is a really good helper and loves to be out with people and action. I've also learned to use lockers and help desks to leave things so we aren't so burdened down. I was worried how I could even manage before we went on the trip but it really fits in with one of the life lessons I've learned in the past few years. When you are on the path you are supposed to be on you have to just step out, not knowing how you will make it work and then you will find the way. It probably sounds silly, but for me it's just more steps of walking by faith. And when I've really needed help people have given it or I've stopped and yarped and He has made a way for me. And it helps having an extremely cheerful and energetic child. Honestly, she needs nothing to be happy, she just is. And if she is given something like a straw or a napkin to write on, well that's just the icing on the cake for her. She's now ridden on a zillion elevators, escalators, and in tons of taxis, trains, and buses. To get to Disney we took a van and then to come home we took the subway, a bus, and then a taxi. Going through immigration and customs can take some time, but again, we are getting the hang of it now and it gets so much easier and more familiar each time.
We hope that all of you had a great Thanksgiving being truly thankful, as we are. We are now off today for a big turkey dinner. It's an appreciation dinner for donors to the orphanage. We made about 60 cookies today in our little toaster oven that the children can decorate (with the M&M's Kelly sent us : ) tonight at the party.
Love and hugs to our friends and family who we miss so very much,

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


The fountains outside our building.

Our apartment is the 3rd floor on the right, the balcony with all the laundry hanging out to dry. There is continual laundry going with 7 of us living in the apartment. Abbey and I live with our housemate and her daughter on one side, and in the other half of the apartment live two ayi's from the school. one married and one single. Our building is 8 stories. Most apartments in our city go up to 35.

The little bridge we walk across to get to and from school each day. It arcs over a koi pond with lovely water lillies.
The pool wraps around the building that our school is in. It's hard to get it all in so here are two angles. The pool is also inside the building as well.
Most of the townhomes in our complex are european style, which seemed strange to me when we first got here.
I should probably mention that our complex is not typical. This is top of the line, with only a few other places in the city that are comparable. It's a whole different world outside our gates.
This one is more Chinese style, and those are interspersed as well.

There are little bonzai type trees along our walkway.

This is the back side of the building our school is in. It's below the clock tower on the 3rd floor. I take the 3 yr olds out to play on the garden balcony above, or down to the playground area below.

And now for more of our everyday life...
We head out the door each morning at about 8 am. Our commute to work involves walking to the building next to us. We take the elevator up and go to the big shoe shelf and change into our Crocs. As you know, you don't wear your shoes indoors in China and at our school everyone has a pair of Crocs to wear inside. Abbey has tiny pink ones and I have flowery blue ones. I head into a brief meeting with our staff from 8:15 to about 8:30 and Abbey gets to play with a little friend. At 9:00 we have an opening circle with the whole school and then I teach language arts to a group of 7 kindergarteners until 10:00. I then do admin work until 2:30, taking a lunch break from 12:15-1:15. At lunch time I run home and hang up laundry, straighten up the house, eat lunch, and check my email. From 2:30-4:30 I get to teach Abbey's 3 year old class. We have snack, do art work or center time play, and go outside. We come back and have a closing circle with the whole school again and sing our "Good-bye, See Ya Later Alligator" song. I do prep work from 4:30-5:15 and Abbey plays. At 5:15 we head back home. Two days a week my assistant comes home and tutors Abbey with Chinese. It's not really a lesson, but she plays with her for 45 minutes speaking only Chinese. We have an ayi that comes to our home from 4:30-6:30 M-F, so when we come home she is there working. She does loads of ironing for me (what happens when you have no dryer), does basic cleaning, and cooks. She makes stir-fried chicken, rice, and veggies for us all the time. It costs about $3 a day and has so spoiled me that I don't know how I will ever be able to give up having this help. When we first came I felt wrong about paying such an incredibly low price, but that is how things work here and everyone I know has an ayi. After dinner and showers Abbey and I can have some special playtime before she goes to bed around 8. I usually stay up for a little more computer time but often end up going to bed as early as she does. And speaking of bed, I need to go right now. We are leaving early tomorrow to spend Thanksgiving Day at Hong Kong Disneyland!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How Sunday's are Spent

The walkway up to where our Meetings are held in the international school campus.
The "American/International" part of town.

On Sundays we first try to Skype with my mom. We often meet up with our friend Heidi before catching taxi across town 30 minutes for a special gathering. There are about 250-300 people that we meet with and it is a very international group, every ethnicity and language. New people are introduced each week from all over the globe. Abbey joins me with the adults for the first 30 minutes and the time to "sing" together means so much. She and I then head off to her class of about 8-10 2-3 yr. olds. I teach that group once a month and the other times I just stay with her. It isn't a situation I would feel I could leave her alone in at all, fortunately I like having the time with her and it has enabled me to get to know other parents. Today I chatted with a dad from Italy. I've been able to have a play date and a lunch dates with a couple of the other moms and I will be going to another families home tomorrow eve for a small group "get together" if you know what I mean. After class we go to a park in the same complex and I swing Abbey for about 20 minutes. Its her one chance to be on a big swing each week, which she has always loved. After that I take Abbey in the stroller and walk a few blocks to the little imports store to buy special treats like Kraft Mac N Cheese, Sunmaid rasins, parmesan cheese, and Goldfish crackers. These things can cost a fortune, but are worth every penny. The shop (actually there are two right next door) is about the size of a very small 7-11. We then go out to lunch (lately at McDonalds) and then on to Starbucks. Along the pathways are many regular beggars. There are a couple that we always give to that have serious conditions, like no legs (and yet big broad smiles and seem to be beaming). I 've heard that they are all picked up and dropped off by a van each day and that they are fed and have a place to sleep. I don't know if they really get to keep the money or not, but I just can't imagine being in their place. We have had a couple of terrible experiences with beggars that were very heartbreaking and I hated for Abbey's little eyes to see. In Xian one man was trying to crawl like a soldier and people were walking right on top of him him. It was just after I had taught Abbey's class about the Good Samaritan, but we were running to catch a bus and didn't stop to help him. I tearfully later told Abbey that it was wrong that we didn't stop. It was so very sad.
This part of the city is home to most of the foreigners. The international schools are here and you see caucasian people sprinkled all around. The big oil companies have all their employees living in the same complex where our "meetings" are held. It is so good for us to have this one day each week that provides some small comforts. It really feels like coming up for air, and we take big gulps and enjoy every minute. I am glad we don't live there, it wouldn't be like really living in China, a little too many comforts and familiar sites. We came to live in the Chinese culture, and that's definitely right where we are.
Today at the Starbucks we met a gal who was from the neighboring town to Abbey's hometown. She is from an area right between Maoming and Yangjiang (where Abbey's Yangdong is). She was quite taken by Abbey and as we talked she told me that her parents had four daughters and gave the last one up. They gave her to a family in a neighboring town. That family didn't want any communication, so they have never seen her again. I asked her if she felt sad about some of these girls going to America. She said she thought it was wonderful that they would be loved and have a good education. She said that most are probably second or third daughters. I got pretty choked up talking to her. She was lovely. Sometimes it's just so strange to try to think about how all of this works.
On one such Sunday we happened upon an Italian restaurant. I was so excited I didn't really check the prices, and we ended up with an almost $30 lunch. It turns out Abbey's orange juice was about $5. But I have to say, I wasn't sorry about our mistake, because it was at a time when we were still really struggling with the culture shock. It was so delicious and we had a great time together.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Life in China


Well, for a long time I've been wanting to start writing about our everyday life here in China. Many things that seemed strange at first now seem normal. It's interesting how all the little things you do each day, and the way that you do them, seem really big when they get turned upside down. The first few months here didn't feel like being in a foreign country, it really felt like being on another planet, not even on the same globe anymore. I've had the opportunity to travel and see a lot of the world, but nothing even remotely prepared me for the changes in coming here. We are doing so much better now and I'd love to give you a taste of our lives, as well as record things for our own memories. This will have to be an on going process between events and trips. I will just write what I can when I can and hopefully you will begin to get a feel for what our lives are like as I share in bits and pieces. I'll start with this weekend.
When we first got here it was unbelievably hot (and of course humid). There's no adequate way to describe just how hot it has been. We have little portable air conditioners mounted on the wall in our living room and bedrooms. You use remote controls to turn them on. We kept them on any time we were home and all night as we slept. About a week ago we were able to sleep for the first time without them. It has been so nice to be able to walk in the bathroom and hallway and not have it be just stifling, as it has been. A wind blew in last week as we were in Hong Kong and it is suddenly fall. We made a big trip to Wal Mart to prepare for what's ahead. We bought a heater (and will be buying more), tights, socks, slippers, etc. Since we only brough a few clothes with us we will need to do a lot of shopping. Wal Mart is wild here. I'll throw in a few photos from the meat department.
Those are piles of meat, the big black chunks are really hard for me to figure out or think about.
I think we'll pass on the squid today.
A friend showed me what the dog meat packs look like. There is a little golden retriever on the front of the package. I am sorry, but it is true.
There are sales people everywhere and they are on every aisle to assist you. They demo products like hair dryers, blenders, etc. We bought a DVD player and I had to stop them from taking it all out of the packaging, they wanted to set it up right there for me. DVD's are $2, these are the "real" ones. On the other hand things like mascara from Maybelline or Loreal are $10. As my cart filled to the overflowing I had to walk by faith, having no idea how to get home. Abbey is always awesome when we are out and about, and she makes everything fun. She has now overcome her issues with squatty potties, which makes being at places like WM a lot easier for me. After the checkout we then have to go through another process of getting a fa piao reciept to help with our taxes, and that always takes more time. When we got outside there were no taxi's anywhere. I tried to call a driver, but no luck. They do not let you go very far with their carts so when I reached the line an employee came to intervene. I somehow acted out flagging a taxi and she helped me get to another street corner and waited with us until we finally caught one. When we got to our apt. complex we did our new trick, which I wish I would have known about when we first arrived. Near the gates to our complex a shopping cart is tucked away. You can bring this out to the taxi and then the guards help me drag it all to our building and up to our apt. It's SO nice! My assistant at school lives in an apt on the ninth floor and there are no elevators, the silver lining is that she stays very skinny. Anyway, I always feel a great sense of accomplishment when we finish our shopping on Saturdays, it is just so different than driving your own car to Target and being able to read labels and converse with anyone you need to. But what a fun adventure, and I think it's all so great for us to experience. Oh, and everyone staring at us doesn't bother me, you can't imagine how I stick out in a place like other foreigners anywhere. They are also in awe of Abbey speaking to me in English. We are quite the entertainment.