- drinking a lovely "evil twin" syrah cab blend with brownsteins in seattle. wassup tc$ #
- downing a cup of megumu-chan’s delightful broccoli soup #
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Lots of people have asked me about Thanksgiving in China. It is not like Christmas or Halloween, where the spirit of American consumerism is so infectious it spreads everywhere. China already has its own harvest festival in early October, when everyone gorges on special goodies (in their case, moon cakes) and gets out of town.
Thanksgiving is a hard holiday to get into as an expat because it is about getting together with family and/or close friends and sharing a feast of traditional dishes usually prepared throughout the day with communal support, and also watching either football, the Twilight Zone Marathon, or newly released Hollywood Blockbusters.
Here in China, I can’t do any of those things. Turkeys are hard to come by. So are Americans. I saw two that were huge and very expensive. The turkeys that is. I don’t think they would even fit in my little Chinese fridge. I thought about skipping the turkey and doing stuffing like my mom makes, but the thought of cooking alone in the kitchen while everyone was at work or school depressed me.
Forest scheduled a business trip to MS HQ and planned it so he could enjoy a REAL Thanksgiving with Grandma Bess and family. This had me seething with jealousy for a good week. Nonetheless, I wanted to create a sense of the holiday for our little family and have a special meal before Papa went away. I thought a duck dinner at a famous Beijing restaurant, Da Dong, would be a neat substitute–but to no avail. The kids turned out to be fried and a little sick. Traffic was horrible and we all had to be up the next morning.
The Forest and Cristina Key philosophy behind celebrating holidays is Going With the Flow and Not Forcing Anything, so I moved on to plan…what was it by then, plan D? We ordered in Chinese food. And the feast included duck, a nice pumpkin dish (the Chinese word translates into "Southern Melon"), great Kung Pao chicken, Chinese BBQ pork and Szechuan green beans. Each of us shared our own words of thanks, prayed for our loved ones, and enjoyed being together.
I hope everyone in the States has a great Thanksgiving too!
This week at the kids’ school, a woman appeared to promote her book and give a talk about "Raising Global Nomads," that is, the challenge of raising kids outside of their own or their parents’ culture. Robin Pascoe gave a funny and energetic talk highlighting common themes in the life of an expat. She said anyone who claims they have never had culture shock after moving overseas is in denial.
2.5 months into our stay in Beijing, and I haven’t felt "culture shock." Expert advice indicates that family members may go through it at different times. Nobody in our family has seemed to have much trouble adjusting.
And then today I burst into tears during my Chinese class.
I went shopping at a mall to eliminate the stress of haggling at the local market place. Then the sales girl confused the hell out of me, explaining something about the prices in Chinese, taking me (all sweaty in my winter coat) through the whole store again to pick more things out. Further review of the receipt indicates that I came out okay, but it was a little crazy.
Before picking up Carlos, I get an email from his teacher saying he had been crying at every little thing. When I saw him I just held him, knowing how he felt. I knew that nobody "kicked him in the stomach" as he claimed. He just gets sick of all the extroverts he is surrounded by day in and out
Caetano won’t eat anything. He won’t do eggs, rice, noodles, sandwiches, cereal, salad, quesadillas, tofu. All the things he used to love he doesn’t want. But tonight after I picked out the good stuff from my Kung Pao Chicken leftovers, he gobbled up all the cashews, mushrooms and green onions in spicy sauce. Okay, I get it. He likes MSG.
What salvaged the day was a visit to the fabulous house of a fabulous woman with adorable kids that Caetano played with after school. She brewed me up some cappuccino and we laughed and all was right in the world.
Basically we all have good and bad days, and we all need friends and good food to get us through the rough spots, not matter what country we are in. It takes time to find those people you can trust to open up to. The boys and I have each other, and we are doing fine. They are just little things, really.
What’s the word in Mandarin for "weirdo"?
I think I could go to the great wall 100 times and not be bored with the experience. This last visit was back to Mutianyu locale, where we went with brother Roberto last month, this time with friend Adam Brownstein in tow who was visiting on a business trip. Adam and Caetano and I went for the long uphill treck this time, while cristina and carlos hung out in the golden fall sunshine on a clear day. Caetano is a real trooper, was game for the physical exertion–until we got to the 80 degree vertical 250+ steps that led up to the end of the restored section. I carried him on my back like a compact rumpsack, was a great workout for my calves/legs, and when we reached the top we had glorious views of the valley below. It’s just a crazy thing to see, as if someone had built a massive wall up to the top of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, and then kept building it all the way to New York! It isn’t all restored of course, and parts of it are a mere shambles/trace in the ground, but seeing the sections near beijing in all of their crazy glory is a real treat, and a great nature outing from the capital. Cristina and I joked when we moved to Beijing (as opposed to Shanghai) that we’d always have the benefit of the great wall to show our guests when they come to visit–we look forward to sharing it with many more of you as you make your planned and unplanned visits to us in the coming years!
I picked up Caetano the other day from school and while I was waiting for his class to come out i was perusing the pictures and stories on the wall. There was a recent project where the kids had made these cute clay drawings that they they painted, and they each told a short story about their creation that the teachers wrote up and placed next to the work with a picture. The contrast between the boy and girl stories was striking. See if you can guess which of these stories was written by girls (2 of them) and which was Caetano’s.
My picture is a Pegasus pony playing in the grass. It is eating grass. She is paying with her friends. Her mummy says she needs to eat dinner and she ate all her dinner and then she had a sleep-over. She had lunch there and dinner there and breakfast there and she payer with her friend. They played hide and seek outside.
This is me sitting in my chair outside having a rest. And I saw two suns and I saw three flowers. And I saw a pink flower and an orange flower and a red flower and a blue sky and also green grass with my name.
It is going to steal the treasure from Treasure Island. But there is an octopus in the water comes and grabs the ship. He cuts off his arm and then they steal the treasure. Then a shark and alligator comes back and then they chop off the alligator’s mouth. Then they come and kill the shark and then on the way back a flying saucer comes and then it drops a bomb. And then it moves out of the way and explodes another shark. Then they go to the island and they look around for an angler fish. Then the angler fish comes out of the water and suddenly and then they panic. They go back to the shore.
What do people here think of George Bush? Nobody cares. They are not following the election either. China’s got their own stuff going on.
There are a LOT of barber shops in Beijing, but some people go to the guy who’s got a chair set up in the public park.
Taro ice cream is DELICIOUS.
A head and shoulder massage at a spa may include ear wax removal using candles, and it’s very soothing.
Many many blog sites are blocked in China, including Wikipedia. I can’t even see our own blog unless we use Forest’s MS corporate laptop which gets through firewalls.
The olympics are a VERY VERY VERY big deal here.
We pay for our utilities using a pre-paid debit card that goes into the meter.
Some public bathrooms have squat toilets, with the hole in the ground. Some of those have automatic flush, so it’s not like it’s an old fashioned thing.
Chinese people are totally sassy, and when they tell each other off, I love them even more.
Yes, we celebrated Halloween. I kicked off the true pagan holiday season by shopping at a toy flea market with my friend, Pei, who happens to be a good haggler. Her secret weapon to getting low prices is being Chinese and a native speaker of Mandarin. She has a guy whose gives good prices on costumes, and he invited us to go into his storeroom of spooky fun goodies. I got two ghost costumes, two pairs of scary hand gloves, some rubber bats, neat paper calavera streamers, a big spider web and some miscellany cheap toys all for about $17!! If I had gone by myself, it would have cost a lot more or taken a lot longer to get a better deal.
This is how Halloween works here in Beijing: anyone who lives in an apartment complex or villa compound with a least a couple of North Americans enthusiastically embraces the spirit of spookiness and decorates their doorsteps, dons a disguise and goes crazy for candy.
At the mega-market where I shop on occasion there was a mad rush by Chinese on the pre-packaged bags of candy. I don’t know if they were all shopping for trick or treaters. Maybe so?
On Saturday we went to a party at Pei & Doug’s apartment complex to celebrate with her family, including Tyler (6) and Kaidan (4), Carlos and Caetano’s Asian counterparts in kiddie chaos. Tyler and Carlos used to eat in the same San Francisco sandboxes when they were babies, and Pei brought me homemade chicken soup right after Caetano was born, so those guys go waaay back. The boys played blindman’s bluff in the hallways and had a blast.
Wednesday night, C & C got spooky again as spidey and a scary ghost and we went to the Lane Bridge Villa clubhouse for another party. There were pinatas and food (which I had to elbow old chinese people out of the way for). Then big groups of kids went house to house on the quest for sugar.
I ran home to give out treats. In the past few years, I have been stuck with at least one bag of mini-snickers all to myself but not this halloween! I gave away SO MUCH candy. Everyone who lives here has a family, because why would you live in the boondocks for anything other than schools and space to ride bikes? The funny thing is, probably EVERY kid regardless of home country or cultural background came to my house for candy. Didn’t even matter if they had no costume or didn’t speak enough English to say "trick or treat." French, German, Indian, Chinese, Dutch. All kids love costumes and candy.
I asked this cool Chinese woman whose kids are in the school if they had gone trick or treating. She said no, they are Christians. I would have respected her more if she said "we are lazy and couldn’t get it together" or even "we hate American Imperialism and see Halloween as another evil capitalist ploy: candy is the opiate of the young people."
Oh, in case you are wondering, there was very little American candy. Lots of hilarious gummy things like fake teeth, trolls, mini-burgers and trippy Chinese hard candy in flavors like corn, milk and pomegranate!