Friday, February 27, 2009

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it...Rain Chemicals Down on Our Heads.

I know Minnesota is tired of winter and yet another snowstorm. We had a bit of snow last week, too. Maybe an inch--but it was almost enough to close school. There are no plows, no sand, no salt. What there is are hordes of people who drive, walk, and bike as if nothing has changed. My 3 minute drive from school to home one almost resulted in 4 casualties--an electric cart tried to pass me on the right as I slowed down to turn right. Another couple tried to cross the street. Yet another backed up out of a parking space...all of them behaving as if the streets were dry and I had the ability to stop in time. Which I didn't. Even at 15 miles an hour. It was tense.

Still, it was nice to have that skiff of snow to brighten things up. We've had no precipitation since October 24, so we're in a dry dry drought. Everything is gray and dull--the sky, the buildings, the ground--so it looked so nice to have a little bit of white fluff.

Then I found out why it snowed.

A carpet of snow blanketing the Forbidden City and the ancient halls and courtyards of the Lama Temple has transformed China’s capital into a fairyland. Hundreds have played truant from offices to sneak a peak of the first snowfall of the winter.

But nature has been given a helping hand. The heavy snowfalls over Beijing have principally been induced by meteorological offices to try to mitigate the most severe drought to grip northern China in nearly half a century.

City officials have been blasting chemicals into clouds over northern China to create the first precipitation in more than 100 days. The first flurries fell on the capital on Tuesday. By Tuesday, more than 500 cigarette-sized sticks of silver iodide had been seeded into clouds above Beijing from 28 rocket-launch bases around the city, said the Beijing Weather Modification Command Centre.

But this was still nowhere near enough to alleviate the drought that is threatening wheat harvests in several northern provinces.

Since the Government calculated that the city had gone for more than 100 days without a drop of rain, residents have been complaining to one another about how the snowfalls that were a common occurrence even into the 1980s appeared to have halted, as drought and desertification have marched towards the city from the Gobi desert.

Making the most of the cloud cover and renewed scattered snow, officials decided to “enhance” the fall by artificial seeding again last night. They fired 313 more sticks of silver iodide into the sky. The procedure made the snow a lot heavier, officials said.

Guo Yingchun, a senior engineer with the Hebei provincial meteorological observatory, said: “The snow has brought moisture to the soil and that may end the drought.”

Shades of Big Brother. In my Brave New (Chinese) World, we have a Weather Modification Command Centre. But ICK. Like there's not enough chemimcally crud floating through the air already. I have to think there are consequences somewhere for this. What if that weather that was artificially forced to drop snow here might have naturally dropped it over some other place that needed it--say a FARM somewhere. This can't be good.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Finally, the Oscars.

Name one thing in life that wouldn't be improved by having this man around.

Seriously. Go ahead and try. I dare you.

It's Wednesday night and I'm finally getting to watch the Oscars. I love the Oscars. I love movies and most of pop culture, so it's hard to disappoint me. I liked Hugh's take on the whole thing--he's easy on the eyes, talented, and doesn't seem to feel the need to take himself seriously.

I liked the tributes to each actor by the former winners. At first I missed the film clips, but it felt more personal, and since I figure they all kind of know each other anyway, it was a nice way of "passing the torch", so to speak.

I bet I saw more interviews with Indians than you all did. Seriously. Every single Indian person directly or remotely connected to anything related to the Academy Awards was interviewed. Did you know that the best documentary winner was also an Indian subject?
Wow. Jerry Lewis's MDA telethon has raised over 2 BILLION dollars since he started back in 1966. Wow.

Why do women who date Justin Timberlake think lank greasy hair atop a weirdly constructed dress is hot? I'm talking to YOU, Cameron Diaz and Jessica Biel.

When I saw "Enchanted" I thought Amy Adams had a bit of an edge to her not present in her animated Disney compatriots. Now I think she's just a bit bitchy. She was barely tolerant of the interview I saw (on Star Movies). And her necklace looked kind of like a mosaic I tried to make at camp once. But maybe now that's just me being bitchy.
Good Lord, why does anyone think that Robert Pattinson is handsome? I think he peaked in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." Unless you go for drugged and spacey and unwashed. Go Google a few pictures and you'll see that I'm right.

If you thought that the original song production was representative of a Bollywood extravaganza, guess again. It was like microwave version. Once at a hotel I turned on an Indian channel and saw a dance number of what looked to be something like "West Side Story." I watched for a few minutes, then turned it off. When I turned it on 10 minutes later, it was still. going. on. A good Bollywood number never ends.

Diane Lane, who I sometimes thinks resembles Melissa "Little House on the Prairie" Gilbert, is seriously rocking the aging process. I want to say that I hope I look half that good when I'm her age. But that was a couple years ago and I didn't.

In the event you think is the worst post you've ever read, I prove my opening sentence now.

See, don't you feel better again? I know I do.

I seriously need to find a theme or a message or something for this blog. It's clearly not going to be China in the same way Tanzania was. Frankly, my life is not interesting enough to muse about day-to-day minutiae. I find myself thinking of my blog and then quickly changing the subject. That's not good. I do like my blog and I don't care if it's important (whatever that means, although if it means I can put ads on it and make money, then I care in direct proportion to how much I might make) but it would be nice to be purposeful. And I don't think I am. Being purposeful.


Sunrise, Sunset.

Before you were conceived I wanted you.

Before you were born I loved you.

Before you were here an hour I would die for you.

This is the miracle of life.

Happy Birthday, Ava.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Essence of Noah.

Making the decision to have a child - it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.

Happy birthday, buddy!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Finish every day and be done with it...You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it...serenely, and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Meet TED

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It's an organization that seeks to further a deeper understanding of the world in which we live and draw together the most creative people from all walk of life to impact our future. It's really an extraordinary movement. Speakers at their conferences have included mathematicians, musicians, artists, physicists, computer whizzes, actors, child prodigies, and writers. One of the great things that they've done is put their TEDTalks online here. Since the conference costs something like $6000 for a week, it's a good thing. If you're reading this blog, you know you're frittering away too much on the 'net. Spend some time with TED and make it worth your while. Whatever interests you or you have a passion about, someone's talking about it and how it can change the world.

We are talking a lot about 21st Century Education, a movement in education that is aimed to change the way we look at education, the purpose of education, and the ways in which education works to achieve that purpose. When you think that children who started first grade this year will retire in 2064, it put new light on how we need to look at educating children today for a world that we can't possibly imagine, a world that is so different from the one we lived in when we went to school that comparisons between the two almost can't be made. When I participate in these discussions and learn more, I am so proud to be a teacher. It's an immense responsibility, but I can't imagine anything else I'd rather do. More and more I just have absolutely no patience for people who think that teaching is easy, who think that we spend our days reading stories and sorting gummy bears. I worked once for people who never ceased to amaze me (and these were high-achieving well-educated people) with their patronizing attitudes about how there was "nothing to it" when it came to things like teaching, curriculum planning, etc. In short, all the things that actually happen to make the 45 minutes we spend with your child effective and apparently rather effortless. Believe me, it's not. I don't mind people who have honest critiques of our education system--as with all systems, it is flawed. It is asked to do more than it can handle, with less resources than is allocated. But I just have absolutely no patience with anyone who is flip or disparaging about how important it is and how challenging (and rewarding) teaching is.

I think I've been blessed to be a public school teacher and a homeschooling parent. I learned a lot about different attitudes and approaches to education from homeschooling parents--who homeschooled for more reasons than you can imagine. I think one of the things that good homeschooling families do that school lack is the attention that gets paid to a child's passions and interests and creativity. Homeschooling families sometimes hearken back to more traditional skills, but also generally allow their children to explore their interets, often integrating them with the academic curriculum.

Which brings me to Sir Ken Robinson, one of TED's speakers. Sir Ken believes that education needs to undergo a fundamental paradigm shift in terms of looking toward the future. He strongly believes that schools educate the creativity right out of children. The video clip is about 20 minutes, so use the bathroom and get a snack. If you are passionate about education or your children or your children's futures, take a look--it' funny, lively, and very very good.

And then check out the other TEDTalks via the links above. This should replace your Facebook addiction. At least you'll learn something.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Yanshui Caves--Weirdness Awaits.

Last week over Chinese New Year Mark decided we should venture out to a hiking adventure. We had water. Snacks. Several maps. And we were off. And off. And off. We drove. And drove. And drove. And although the directions seemed so obvious, well, we just couldn't seem to find it. So we did the logical thing--we stopped to ask directions. Over and over. From people who spend their entire lives pedaling from their village to the gas station and back and have no idea where they actually are. So we called the reception desk at school, asking them to translate. Sounds very strange but yes, that is part of their job. After a couple rounds of that, we figured out that the people at whatever stop we made didn't know where anything was--they were just describing the map we were showing them to the receptionist. ACK. I reall really really need to get busy and learn me some Chinese.

Meanwhile, Mark was getting more and more bent out of shape. Normally very easy going and positive, he was getting this weird look in his eye and I thought I could detect a twitch in his jaw. We ended up at one point a big temple and I (carefully) suggested that maybe we should get out and tour that. Oops, wrong! We were not wasting time at a temple, we were going hiking somewhere and that was that.


The next time he got out to try to figure out where we were, I turned to the kids and told them that under no condition were they to even make the tiniest squeak about being tired or not wanting to hike. I promised them that if we didn't actually go hiking, I would take them to a hotel because I didn't think we could face Mark's let down!

The blessing we didn't count on was Cameron's friend Zach who came along for the ride. Zach, who is from a military family and just "wouldn't feel comfortable calling you by your first name, Mrs. Hillman." Zach, who sang along to any song on the 'pod. Zach, who several times suggested we just pull the car over and hike from there because hiking was freakin' awesome. Because of his cheerful attitude and sense of humor, we survived the ordeal and actually ended up at the caves.

Like a lot of hikes, this one went up--about 2,000 steps by our count. Like a lot of hikes, it had a cable car. Unlike a lot of hikes, it didn't work. So off we went, accompanied by our own personal guide, the funniest little dog who had the shortest legs. We kept thinking he'd turn back, but no, he kept up and toured the caves and all. He ran back and forth if we lagged behind, and became very upset at one point when Cameron, Zach, and Noah ventured off on an alternate route in the cave. Too funny!

The walk up was cardio-fantastic. The steps wound through a tight crack in the mountain. It was like something from a movie set, right down to the tiny resting platform wedged between the two faces. We climbed and climbed and climbed until we reached the monastery, which was a disappointment. It looked like a row of cheap motel rooms and we didn't actually see any monks. Someone came out and gave us 2 flashlights (both of which quit as soon we stepped into the caves) and pointed the way.

You know what? Caves are great. Kids love them. This was especially interesting because we were all alone. Interesting as in creepy. Creepy because it was dark and there were big Buddha statues in the corners. Lisa, if you're reading this, you know what I mean when I saw I kept feeling that they'd come to life and either follow me or subject me to some kind of otherworldly punishment. Little did I know. The larger statues peered out from the corners, blending in with the rock formations. When photographed, though, they were very colorful. We see so many interesting things, I often wish I had a really good camera, one that could capture the feeling of some of these places better. And, of course, nothing has a sign, so you're left to your own imagination to construct some kind of meaning out of what you're seeing. Maybe not the most educational, but definitely entertaining.

Until...well, then it just got weird. And weirder. And then downright creepy.

I would never claim to be an expert, or even reasonably well-informed about Buddhism, but I do have a general understanding of basic beliefs. And I don't remember reading about this stuff at all.

After passing traditional Buddha statues, we came upon the strangest...diorama, for lack of a better word, I guess. It was a path lined by a large number of statues. Some were Buddhist. But then...there was one that looked very Greek or Roman. And over there was a panel that I swear was Joseph and Mary, possibly sitting on a park bench. And further down I am positive was Omar Shariff from Dr. Zhivago. Mixed in were a couple women apparently worshipping an elephant and several kneeling people whose heads had fallen off. OR SO I THOUGHT.

WARNING: This the weird-slash-disturbing part.

We turned the corner and started down a steep path, apparently into some lower circle of Hell, given the scenes we saw. I kid you not...these are not the most graphic ones. People being roasted and quartered and beheaded. Women gnawing on what distinctly appear to be human limbs while others contemplate heads laying around. Large insects crawling around. And above, just for kicks, nude figures climbing the walls in some desperate attempt to escape. Mark suggested it was some version of Hell, but I didn't think Buddhists believed in heaven or hell. It was very Dante-esque, if you ask me, made all the more disturbing by the fact that the figures were not roughly made. The whole thing gave me the heebie-jeebies. I took one look, turned around, and hit the road. Not because I was offended or anything--I have serious superstitions about stuff like that (too much Stephen King, I guess) and the last place I wanted to be was in a dark cave surrounded by evil figures. Once everyone else caught up, I walked backwards the rest of the way...just to make sure none of those things followed us.

Oh yeah, that's me, hoofing it back down. Still looking behind me.

The good news? Mark was happy because we went hiking. All of us were suitably impressed/entertained/disturbed by the caves. The little dog protected us throughout our adventure. And Mark was cheerful enough to actually return to TGIF for another great American fat-feast, where we were treated to one last horrifying sight.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Temple Fair

Temple fairs are a big part of Chinese New Year. Unfortunately, Ava was sick and didn't attend and so neither did I. ISB has a big celebration--all the Chinese classes danced and there were parades and food and games and demonstrations. Everyone wears their Chinese clothes, so it's very festive, very similar to fairs at actual temples. We were really disappointed to miss it. Noah barely made it through (he was sick all week but felt OK in the morning so we sent him) so I don't know much fun he had, but we did catch his dance on tape. He's so ornery so often about participating in things, but he did a nice job here!

You'll have to excuse "Flat Cheyenne" in the corner there. We're doing the "Flat Stanley" project for a friend's niece--I guess somewhere they diversified!

I love red, and all the celebrations here use a LOT of red. It looks so festive, especially against the gray winter. At night there are red lanterns everywhere and the glow is so pretty! Chinese do love to celebrate and love to celebrate in groups, the more, the merrier. Whenever we go out, we always see people playing games, chatting, exercising, but always in groups. I imagine I would look very strange if I went into a restaurant by myself! People would wonder what was wrong with me.

It's hard to see, but this man is blowing spun sugar into delicate animal forms. They're a beautiful gold color, often decorated with some kind of red "ink." Unfortunately, the fact that someone is blowing their breath into them to create them renders them pretty much inedible. Too bad, because we snipped off a very small bit and it tastes heavenly, like burnt sugar.

Next weekend is the Lantern Festival. Chinese New Year can extend for 40 days, although the bulk of the festivities are done in a week. We still go to bed listening to fireworks, though, which are still for sale, so clearly the fun's not done!

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Odds of Me Seeing This...

I can only hope that I can see this kind of stuff when I'm out and about in China. I mean, all I ever see are normal Chinese. Of course, maybe this passes for normal over in Mongolia, in which case, cool.

From Cellar to Stellar

Let's recap my week...

Last Thursday my tooth broke in half and FELL OUT.

Saturday I had a 60 minute root canal, which was only part 1. Characteristically I cried the rest of the day (the anesthetic does something to me). Uncharacteristically it hurt like a you-know-what on and off all week. I took a day off Tuesday.

Sunday kitten Mao got out somehow. He's been eyeballing the door a lot and sneaking toward it but squeaked out at some point. He's only 4-5 months old and with all the dogs, cars, and cats...

Wednesday Noah decided to have a fever. Since it was going so well, he decided to keep it up Thursday, too. I sent him to school for 90 minutes to finish the school-wide testing. Sent him to school today because he really didn't look too bad. Big mistake. No sign of Mao.

Ava couldn't let Noah hog all the attention so she upped him by throwing up a LOT of stuff Thursday night. Still no kitten.

Had to stay home today with not-so-barfing child. Missed out on one of the very biggest school events, Temple Fair (pics over the weekend, like I care anymore). Spent 2 hours at the dentist finishing the root canal and getting a temporary crown. Can't wait to get back there again in 2 weeks for the real thing. As anesthetic wears off (and crying subsides) I realize this one hurts more than the first one. Damn.

And then, curled up on the couch, I heard it. A very persistent noisy "helLO I AM HERE" sound from out on the street. Mark swung open the door and in scooted MAO! I can't believe he actually came back. I really thought he was a goner (as did the kids who were picking out Mao the 2nd). He was just frantic, crawling all over us and telling us all about his troubles (he's a very talkative cat). We wanted to hug him a lot, but honestly, he smells of the very essence of China...dust, oil, smoke, grease. His white bits are completely gray and I can't imagine tomorrow scene when I bathe him because he really does need it. Unless I take him to a groomer...hmmm.

But a really crummy week has a wonderful wonderful ending.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Mother's Work is Never Done.

This is priceless. If you can count quickly enough (and high enough), how many of these gems have come out of your own mouth? I'm pretty sure I uttered at least half of them just this week!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Wear a Mouth Guard, Because You Never Know.

Who'd a thought? Serving Jello = Root Canal.

Well, I suppose there must have been something else tooth had been hurting for a week or so when I chewed and I was realizing that I wasn't going to make it back to the States. But I hate hate hate dentists and I'm always so tense that I was trying to ignore the truth.

So I stand up to give Ava another helping of Jello and there's something in my tooth. Wait, not in my tooth, exactly. More like the absence of 1/2 of a molar. No idea why it decided to take a walk right then and there. I actually hunted around for it, thinking I would have it reattached or something, like severed finger. I couldn't find it, which was weird, too? Where did it go?

My friend goes to a Canadian dentist who recommended an American dentist, so I really lucked out. He was very careful, and very liberal with the anesthetic. I really liked him and since we'll be spending a lot of time together over the next few weeks, that's a good thing.

Saturday--part one of the root canal. They did whatever they did and packed it and put some kind of patch on it (1 hour). Now my jaw hurts and I have a perpetual headache. Next Friday--finish the root canal and get a temporary crown (2 hours). Three weeks later--a final crown.


Thank goodness that's all there is to this story--there are times in life when you just do. not. need. drama.