Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Three years waiting for Halloween. I don't get all crazy about it but I do like Halloween. Living in Montana not near anyone, we would have to trick or treat by car. And wear a coat. And my mom didn't bother much with costumes of any caliber (although I have some pics of me very little in very cute bunny and clown suits) since hardly anyone saw us. And she wouldn't drive us into town so we could trick or treat like normal kids.

One year we spent Halloween at my aunt's house in California and my eyes were opened. THIS is what trick or treating was all about. It was heavenly--warm weather, tons of people in the neighborhood, lots of kids running everywhere. I loved every minute of it. So living in Bloomington, which is such a quintessential suburb, was great. We had cul-de-sacs so the kids could run in a pack up and down with the adults standing at the entrance of each road, making the kids think they were completely on their own. They often had to stop at the house to dump their bags and make space for round 2. I can't sew but I can do a mean job with duct tape and a glue gun. Witness my finest creation, made for the last Halloween we celebrated in Minnesota, and the little nuggets the last time they donned the Halloween garb!

We didn't celebrate Halloween in Tanzania. I think it was because a lot of missionaries don't believe in celebrating it, and so many Tanzanians have very strong ideas and beliefs about witchcraft that it just passed us by and we really didn't notice.

But it is a big thing here--including carving pumpkins. I generously let Mark take the lead on that, since he left for Malaysia this morning and was going to miss all the Halloween fun. Isn't that nice of me?

The pumpkins here were short and wide and not gooey on the inside. They made for interesting faces.

And....they're off! The kids were very very very very excited to go. Noah took off with a group of friends, Cameron took his phone and went off with a group, and Ava and I went with her friend Bella and her mom and the dogs. Like the very best mom I am I took only this picture.
A lot of kids tricked and treated. About every 5th house or so had candy, and the kids filled their plastic pumpkins. They got some familiar candy, and some things we'll just have to try to see what they are. Both Ava and Noah had a long week and were really tired going into it anyway, so they were willing to call it a haul pretty quickly, but they had a great time. All of them soundly proclaimed that trick or treating in their Bloomington neighborhood with their friends was the gold standard, but that this was pretty cool, too!
Candy update: Interesting haul. Some kind of cracker with a picture of a shrimp on it...after opening it, it smelled like a long-deceased shrimp. The cat liked them, though. Indeterminate forms of chewy things. Cough drops--not one or two but whole packages of Halls. Green tea flavored. A great flavor for tea, but not cough drops. Or ice cream, toothpaste, or gum. Also, rum ball and port wine cordials, with I think real liquor in them. Also Listerine breath strips. And a package of Costco trail mix. Go figure.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

God Bless America

Not because it is the "land of the free and the home of the brave." Not because "anyone can become President." Not because of the freedoms of speech, religion, or the press.

No, God Bless America because of efficient one-click online shopping.

Many of you remember my trials purchasing our tickets to Egypt last year. This year I am purchasing tickets from modern China. Where I can buy them online. Hooray! Granted, I have to pay a surcharge because I'm using my American credit card, but that's really a small blip on the radar.

I have contacted the hotel, asking them to reserve a room and letting me have 24 hours to get the tickets purchased so I'm sure I have both a place to sleep and seats on a plane before I start paying for things. No problem.

I fill out the handy dandy online ticket booking form. I enter all our names, ages, birthdates, passport numbers, expiry dates, origins of passports, and nationalities. Five times, because someone put the "enter" key too close to the number 3 on my keypad. I enter my credit card information, and my passport number, expiration date, and nationality (again). I press ENTER.

Thank you for submitting your request. WHAT?! No! I didn't submit a request, I ordered tickets. We are trying to protect from unusual and possibly fraudulent credit card activity. As such we require additional verification for cardholders who want to pay with a foreign issued credit card. Please take note of the following terms:

After receiving all 3 parts of documentation as below, eLong will start to process your payment. Your ticket/s will be issued after your credit card payment is confirmed.

1)Completed & signed Authorization Agreement;2)Copies of the front and back of the credit card to be used for the booking (with the cardholder’s signature by hand on the back); 3)Copy of the credit cardholder's valid ID (Passport, ID Card etc.).

As an aside, I don't suppose THEY consider me sending photocopies of my credit card number, signature, and authorization number as well as my passport information ripe for "unauthorized and possibly fraudulent activity."

Once I send all of that, they'll process my tickets. Of course, those seats may not be available.
OOOOOH, instant news flash--they've just called. They DON'T have those seats. Can they tell me what days they do have those seats on a plane. Of course not. I think I may have to redo the whole process and wait to see what might happen. Again.

This is starting to smell a lot like a computerized version of Tanzania.

When countries want to be more developed, all I can say is that there is more to development than economic growth, foreign policy, and political stability. Today it's shopping online.

IF I manage to get the tickets, I'll tell you where we're going!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Book Blast from the Past

I am friends with some great readers. I used to think I was a voracious reader. Then I met Karen. And Calandria. And Ann. Smart, smart people who read so many different books by so many authors in so many genres. One of the biggest frustrations of living overseas is that my friends are reading and talking about great books, which I can't get my hands on.

All of them great readers. But I happen to know that one of my smartest friends harbors a secret desire to be a Harlequin romance novelist. Another reads detective fiction, the kind that I can't figure out why she reads and likes, because I find them predictable--and I'm not high-brow at all and she's so smart.

Then I started thinking about books I've read. Not books that have influenced me. Not books that make any sort of a profound statement. Other than people who write books can write schlock and make a truckload of money. And they know how to paragraph, something Blogger hasn't figured out yet. But (shush, don't tell) they are books I read a LOT back in the day. Books I probably may have hid from my mother. Books that make beach reads look like Shakespeare. Remember these gems?

This still makes banned book lists. It's a lot more tame than it was back when I was in high school. Remember how everyone thought it was about Art Linkletter's daughter? Even though no one really knew who Art Linkletter was? (It wasn't). The descent into to drugs was not so alarming, but remember when she has the flashback and thought her face was melting? That was some "wow." And then she got clean again and makes the decision to start over. And then you get the epilogue that she died--maybe because of another flashback, maybe suicide. Everyone read this.

This is quite possibly one of the best worst series of books. It had everything. Four siblings locked in an attic by the evil grandmother after their mother died. Except she didn't die. She was forced to lock them up by said evil grandmother. Except she wasn't. She wanted to do it so she could get married or something. And she poisoned the young twins with arsenic. And the older siblings got all "Endless Love" together, hormones and being locked up and all. And then when the little twins got really sick, they escaped. And one died. And they all ran away and were found by handsome older doctor. Oldest brother said "thanks" by becoming a doctor, too. Older sister said "thanks" in a whole 'nother way, if you get my drift. And they were still caught up in those "feelings" from the attic. And then Catherine married a ballet star. Because she was good enough to be a prima ballerina after being starved and locked in an attic. But then he got paralyzed.

Subsequent books go downhill from there. If this had been a soap opera, I'd've been hooked. The movie was terrible, worse than the book, though. Why is that?

OMG, Sarah, do you remember this? This was hot in late junior high. Sarah had a pretty strict mother, but somehow she ended up being much more "in the know" about a lot of things. Like this book. We shared a lot of these books together. My other long-time friend...well, she just wasn't ready, I guess. It had drama, and tension, and lots of s*x. I'm pretty sure I learned new vocabulary words. I just remember being astonished that people could actually write stuff like that down. On paper.

Judith Krantz is one of my favorite schlocky authors. Her plots are completely impausible, her characters impossibly beautiful and rich and royal, and she shamelessly namedrops fashion designers, restaurants, hotels, and other chi-chi labels in every sentence she writes. Since I imagine she doesn't actually live this kind of life, her research is amazing.

Remember Princess Daisy and her twin who was handicapped and shut away? And her half-brother tried to attack her and she ran away to New York where she painted pictures of rich people and ponies and sacrified so she could pay for her sister's care? And how she was so beautiful she became a model? And how everything good came to her and not to that nasty half-brother? And how she and Patrick the rich publisher guy fell in love riding a troika at a Russian-themed party?

I could write about meaningful books, powerful books, life-changing books. I bet I've read any of these books 15 times, although not for 20 years or so. But I gotta say, if I saw a Judith Krantz laying around, I'd pounce on it like a cat on a mouse.

So now it's your turn to come clean. What did you read back whenever...or now? Any beauties to add to this list?

Addition: Oooh, I had forgotten these great standbys: Mr. and Mrs. BoJo Jones (teenage pregnancy and marriage) and The Best Little Girl in the World (anorexia). Both stem from the great tradition of the ABC AfterSchool Special, that repository of health and character education for the latchkey set. Also the Judy Blume hot books, Wifey and Forever. Those didn't leave much of an impression on me. I guess when you're learning at the feet of the great Sidney Sheldon, you've gone beyond Judy Blume.

Gratuitous Brunette x 3--A Fortnight until the Election.

Our ballots are winging their way to America tonight. I sincerely hope I'm playing for the winning team these next 4 years. In anticipation that happening, and because we just finished 3 days of Iowa Basics testing, I'll share with you my trifecta of loveliness.
Holy cats, the guy just turned 40, so odds are he's going to be looking good for quite some time.
And, while I will be spending at least the next 3 years in China, I don't know that I'd want to be here forever. As in, "OMG, if the Republicans win, I'm moving to (or staying in ) China."
But maybe I could seek solace in Australia. Great beaches, the people are loads of fun (they're kind of like Albertans from the Southern hemisphere, a reference which all of you Montanans will understand). And, in addition to kangaroos and koalas, this is what they produce.

Nope. Nuthin' wrong here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sweet Punkin

This summer we got to meet the newest member of the family, little Mazzy. She was very cute and very sweet--she has these round big eyes and a round bald head and gives you the funniest looks!
My brother has taken quite the long way around to domestic life. If you've got younger siblings, you probably know the feeling of looking at your youngers and wondering if they'll ever become grownups--so it was so great to watch my brother single-handedly take care of little baby for a week. He's the kind of dad that is attentive, yet completely laid back so nothing really phases him. He's become very calm and patient over the years. Mazzy's mom is bit of a fashionista--so Mazzy is tricked out in the latest gear at every turn!
I miss being able to see my nieces and nephews more. All of them are so different, but each of them is so great in their own way--just like their families. Both Mark and I are from very small extended families--each of us has a parent with one sibling and a parent whose and only. Both of us have only 2 cousins. I loved that all of our siblings have 2-4 kids (yes, Greg, I'm assuming Mazzy won't be an only!) so that our kids had lots of cousins to be with. Now we've upped and moved, so it's not working quite the way I envisioned!

Monday, October 20, 2008

This Little Gem...

...jumped out at me as I was browsing through a site for Chinese furniture. It is typical of a lot of the English we read here. I loved how some parts had that "well, no DUH" factor, but that the overall tone was so helpful and pleasant!
oops, sorry. You probably thought the "little gem" was this fantastic Tibetan cabinet. It is great, isn't it? A little too bright for me for such a big piece, but maybe as a side table...
No, I'm referring to the text below:

Wood Book Shelf is a decoration in a room. It also can be practical. It is a place that can contain a series of books. Books can improve personal sentiment and strengthen one's self-cultivate. At the same time, reading books is an enjoyment. Bookshelf is the best choice to put all the books you have. Reading is Fundamental. Knowledge is Power. And where to store all that knowledge and power? A BOOKSHELF!

There are series of wood book shelf with different styles and colors in our storeroom. For example, there is a shelf with 4 tiers and 3 drawers bottom, ornaments or accessories can fill in the drawers, from the surface, the shelf is clean and tidy. An organized desk is the sign of an organized mind. I do like to keep my ornaments and accessories hidden away in drawers.

Other styles like 2 tiers top and a little cabinet bottom, so it is appropriate to put something like clothes or other things in it. Making it, of course, less of a bookshelf than a clothes shelf, but a helpful tidbit, nonetheless.

The book shelf is antique furniture, it is easy to feel elegant. See, this is why I'm shopping. I need easy ways to feel elegant. No form-fitting dresses, expensive jewelry, or uncomfortable shoes. Although I wonder if the family collections of Stephen King and Captain Underpants will somehow detract from said elegance...

Gratuitous Brunette. It's 2 Weeks Til V-Day.

An obvious choice. He actually looks kind of presidential. Besides, he used to play a doctor. And I'm coming down with a wretched sore throat and cough. And so I'd probably let him work his magic (whatever that may be) on me if he happened to be in my neighborhood.

In fact, he looks so nice and I'm feeling so bad, that I'll give you a free 2nd helping. No extra charge.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Own Chinglish. Probably.

What I wrote in English (because she can actually take it to another English-speaking ayi or to the compound office to get it translated):
"We have a new kitten and he is in the pantry. Peter is curious and may try to hurt him. He will also eat the cat food. Please keep kitten in the pantry if Peter is out and you can't watch them. Thank you!"
Yes, I can write (read: copy words from a book) in Chinese. Once in awhile I have a go at it--but my word choice is largely dictated by the number of strokes it takes to write a character. But here's what I wrote:
"We have a small cat. The dog will eat the cat food. The dog might bite the cat. The cat is in the kitchen room. Keep door closed if dog is out."
Note that I didn't say please and thank you. That's not cultural. That's because those words are really hard to write.
Of course, who knows what I really wrote? I bet ayi has a good laugh tomorrow.
AND, my lack of paragraphs is not cultural. I am fully aware of how to write in proper paragraphs. As opposed to Blogger.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tiananmen, Chinglish, and Culinary Delights. All in One Day!

At the risk going all Fodor's on you, I won't write volumes (or even paragraphs) about Tiananmen Square. It is the place where Mao Zedong proclaimed the formation of the People's Republic of China in 1949. On the north side is the Gate of Heavenly Peace, with Chairman Mao looking down on the people ("tiananmen" literally means "gate of heavenly peace"). On the south side is Qiamen Gate, the
Gate of China". The Qiamen Gate was built in the 1400's, but, like many other things in China, was rebuilt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the center of the square is the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao, where his body is on display during the week (note to self to visit again on a weekday next time).

Much of the square bears the strong imprint of Communism--heavy square architecture and statues clearly showing the onward struggle and the people's progress. Very little of the designs or architecture that you see in pre-revolutionary palaces is visible here. But it does convey a strong sense of the strength of the government. When you walk around the malls and go to and from work and see the growth and development going on, you can forget how different China is from the United States in its political structure. Being here was a visible reminder that we are in a very different country--as if being surrounded by several million Chinese weren't enough! I'm finding it very interesting to see how China is building such a capitalist economy with such mammoth growth and at the same time maintaining Communism as a political ideology. It seems that both systems would be at odds with each other--however, China seems to be making it work. There's honestly been very little about the way things are done here that has been really frustrating. It is definitely more organized than Tanzania, so if people tell us stories about bureaucracy, we can always find a story to top them!

I've mentioned this before...Beijing, for all of its crowds and pollution, has a lot of green spaces. Not huge expanses, but lots of little spaces and places to relax. Beijingers take advantage, too--there are always people sitting and chatting, playing games, or exercising. This one was funny, though--apparently someone felt that this particular area was lacking in foliage and enhanced the view with a "fark". As in, "faux park."
Look deep into the forest. Smell the fresh grass. Listen to the cheerful birds sing as they flit through the trees. See the leaves as they wave in the gentle breeze. Peaceful, no? It's OK, Ava. Turn around and run through the grass! After several hours of pounding the pavement, it will feel heavenly. No? Ok, then.

Chinglish is what you call very badly translated phrases and signs. China has improved vastly in this area, but there are gems all around--such as "I like your face. Do not make me to cry by to not step on my face." Which makes perfect sense when it's on a sign stuck in the grass accompanied by a footprint with a red circle and slash through it. Don't step on the grass, silly! I'm taking my driver's test next week and I haven't
come across this while studying. Maybe it's just so obvious that while there are lanes for cars and lanes for bikes, there's just no room for exploding vehicles.

Or this one, which is splashed everywhere across town. I believe the actual slogan is "Nothing is Impossible."

Being hungry, we headed for Wangfunjing Snack Street. Wangfunjing is one of the high-end shopping streets in town. Snack Street looks like a kitsch-y tourist trap, like what they'd expect tourists might want. Maybe it's what Chinese tourists would want--I keep assuming that everyone I see walking around is Chinese. As in Beijinger, when it's kind of obvious that many of the people we see are Chinese tourists. We certainly liked it! It's filled with street foods, mostly served on a stick. Hel-LO Minnesota Fair connection!

Although I don't remember seeing these babies on the menu along with Pronto Pups. I didn't even bother to take a picture of the tripe, squid tentacles, or hearts of something. In light of these tidbits, that would just be boring. Near as we could tell, the ones on the left are cicadas, the middle bunch is some kind of cocoon and on the right you have your scorpions. If seafood is more your style, you can go for the little seahorses. Note: the scorpions on these sticks are still alive. I suppose you know that's how they're fresh. Because, you know, you're not supposed to eat market or street food unless you know it's been prepared and handled in a sanitary manner.

And don't pretend you don't know what's coming. This is me, for crying out loud. Or, more particularly, us. We loved Fear Factor. If you thought we'd just walk past this kind of stuff without stopping, you'd have another think coming. So don't say I didn't warn you.

I suppose there are those who would claim that I didn't eat anything and just hid behind the camera. Those folks would be wrong. Mark was the only one who actually bit into one, but Cameron and I both ate the legs and stingers (the crunchy parts). They basted the buggers with something like buffalo wing sauce and then fried 'em on the grill. The little crunchy parts were...not too bad.

If you need a palate/eyeball/mind cleanser, you can take heart. They do have other yummy things.
One of our favorites is candied fruit on a stick. You can get grapes, plums, oranges, pineapple, watermelon, or what they call cherries but look and taste more like a crab apple. They kebob them and dip them into hot sugar syrup which immediately hardened. A skewer is less than $1 and delicious! Rats, that's right--no eating fresh unpeeled or questionably washed or handled
fruit. Oh, well...if that wasn't enough to purge your thoughts of scorpion-crunching, my friend Calandria has a lovely blog entry on her cranberry/walnut/apple pie, and it's probably something that would go over better at Thanksgiving than what we ate.

Finally, a noodle shop. Don't ask about how I'm pretty sure that big pile of used chopsticks inthe corner was (hopefully) well washed and then inserted carefully into little plastic sleeves so they looked sterile. The pork noodles (mixed yet again with fresh veggies) were hot and filling, and the dumplings were heavenly!

Add to all of that a heavenly fall day, with blue skies--what more could you ask for?!

International Day

International Day is probably the biggest fete of the year. Kids and teachers wear costumes from the country they consider themselves from (for many, it's hard to pinpoint just one country) or from a country they feel attached to and parade through the school. The afternoon had booths from so many different countries (Canada, Switzerland, Thailand, Rwanda, Iran, Singapore, the US, to name a few) as well as music and performances from many of the cultures. The evening was a potluck with foods from all the countries. Mark made an appearance and reckoned about 2,000 people were there!
We found out we were woefully unprepared to be American--nothing at all! Noah went Tanzanian, and Ava wore an "American Cutie" t-shirt but we definitely have to get better prepared for next year. I did manage to find my Levis and my cowboy boots, so I guess that's something, but we don't have anything as colorful and spectacular as so many other countries, especially the Asian ones!
The prettiest costumes by far were the Korean girls in traditional wedding dresses. They are so beautiful! One family came with the girls, their mother, and their grandmother all dressed up! I don't know that I want to visit Korea, but I'd love to have one of these dresses! The boys tended more towad tae-kwon-do outfits, but some did have on silk outfits to match the girls.

Chairman Mao

He's not only the great leader of China. He's also the newest member of our family. "Mao" also means "cat" in least it does if you can get the tone right. The spelling for what a cat says is "miao" which sounds like "mao" instead of our "mee-yow."

He's about 6 weeks old. Mark and I were coming out of Starbucks this morning talking about how Cameron needed to call about a kitten ad if he really wanted one. A woman behind us said, "I have 2 kittens that we've b een taking care of--we found them abandoned." So this one came home with us. He's very cuddly, and right now very noisy. Lots of "miao-ing"-- I suppose he's a bit lonesome right now. He's caught on to the litter box right away--something that Peter is still working on!

Speaking of poor Peter...we can't decide if Peter wants to play with him or eat him. Peter is very interested, though. In the way that stalkers are interested in their target. I think that once Mao is a bit older and Peter is a bit calmer they'll get on just fine.