Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Party Time

Last night, on the eve of Christmas eve, we hosted a Christmas party for our friends, new and old.  It was an evening filled with laughter and food - lots of food!  I think we made enough cookies to feed an entire city block (especially in China, they're not too keen on sweets).  

After everyone arrived, we gathered around for a gift exchange game that the Hubby played growing up.  It is all sorts of craziness.  Dice are passed around (we played with three sets), and every time someone rolls doubles, they get a gift and they get to roll again.  After all the gifts in the middle are opened, we went around the circle to share so everyone could see the goods obtained, and then the Hubby set the timer for 15 minutes during which you could steal someone else's gifts every time you rolled doubles.  It got a little physical. :-) At the end of the 15 minutes, some people had 5 or 6 gifts, some had none.  Everyone without a gift stole from anyone with 2 or more gifts.  The best part?  There's no limit to the amount of times a gift can be stolen!  Oh yeah, it got real. 

There had to be a disclaimer that the baby was NOT part of the gift exchange.  

"What? A whoopee cushion? I want that..."
After the game, we read the Christmas story combining the gospels of Luke and Matthew along with Old Testament prophecy proclaiming the coming of the Messiah.  

And then our friend got out a guitar and led us in some pretty awesome Christmas carols (if I do say so myself).  It was amazing.  Since we do live in China, we also sang Silent Night in Chinese.  There is something special about worshipping God and celebrating Christ's birth in two languages.

It felt like a true celebration of Christmas.  This time of year is hard for us to be away from all our family and friends back home, but we are thankful for the relationships and new traditions we get to make on this side of the ocean.  

We hope you all have a wonderful Christmas celebrating the birth of our Savior!  It is such a meaningful time of year.  May the Lord bless you and may the Light of the season shine in your hearts, your homes and bring you joy throughout the year to come!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hair Salon Adventures

Today, my friend K and I went to get our hair cut.  I have been loooong overdue to have mine cut and I was grateful for the company - on a new adventure, it is always nice to have someone to laugh with.  Because, let's face it, every adventure in China has something crazy to it.  

Instead of boring you all with a step-by-step walk through of our experience, I thought I would share the highlights of the observations and lessons we learned today.  

The hair salon we chose, and not because of the welcome arch
1) I know just enough Chinese to get myself in trouble.  Right after we walked in and established that no one else spoke English (there actually was a few that did, but they were too embarrassed to speak up), we were trying to figure out the price difference in hair cuts (explained next).  I didn't know why one was more expensive than the other, so I pulled out my iPhone and opened the "Say Hi Translate" app.  Supposedly, I can talk to the app in English and can have whoever speak in Chinese and it will translate the conversation back and forth.  That did not happen.  Instead, I told the lady helping us that my phone can translate and can she speak (see, just enough Chinese to get in trouble).  She spoke into the app and...well...I'm not sure what she was trying to say, but the app translated the word "rape".  Shocked, I tried to recover but couldn't.  I was laughing but trying not to.  My friend looked surprised and I think we were both a little confused.  I'm pretty sure that wasn't what she was trying to say.  I had her try again and this time she said "Do you understand Chinese?"  Point taken. 

2) After communicating we wanted hair cuts (and not just a wash, a perm or color), the lady at reception gave us four price points.  15, 30, 68 & 108RMB.  I still don't know the difference.  After the aforementioned fail, we just guessed - I went with the 30RMB cut and K chose the 68RMB one.  During the process of getting our hair cut, I kept watching them cut K's hair and mine and was trying to figure out if they did anything different.  They used no products in my hair.  In Kristan's hair they used a little wax at the very end.  We both got our hair washed, cut and styled...hmmm...what was the additional 38RMB for?  I'm not sure either of us really know.  Our only guess was maybe K's stylist was more experienced, but we really have no proof of that point. 

Mid cut.  Notice the picture is out for easy reference. 
3) We both brought pictures and I think that helped in the overall outcome.  Both of us had men cutting our hair (very typical in China I think, almost every salon I walk past has guys working), mine looked at the picture I brought of Sandra Bullock's 'do about 20 times.  In fact, he combed my hair out and re-parted it for 10 minutes before he even started cutting.  And then he kept asking for the picture and studying it.  I would say that mine did not turn out quite like the photo - but he got the general idea.  Not as many layers as I would like, but still, not a blunt cut and I didn't feel he tried to make it Chinese. K on the other hand, reported that her stylist thinned her hair quite a bit.  She does have thick hair (more so than mine), and thinning is typical in Chinese hair styles, at least from former experiences of mine.  Anyways, the picture helped.  Even if the end result varied. 

4) Discount cards are popular.  As we were leaving to pay, the same lady who helped us when we first walked in met us at the register to pay.  She was trying to convince us to buy a discount card.  The card cost 500RMB and was preloaded with that amount.  Each time you use it, you save 20 to 25% or so.  Anyways, neither of us brought that much cash so we declined.  After I explained to her that maybe next time we'll buy one, she started all over again explaining to K.  It was funny.  

5) Some things are better about Chinese hair salons.  For one, the chair they use to wash your hair is really, really comfortable.  My neck and back didn't hurt at all, which I feel is typical in America.  It was basically a recliner with an extra pad in the sink for your head (so it's resting on something, not dangling over the edge).  They also had lockers we put all our stuff in and got a key to.  So nice!  I didn't have to carry my purse or coat around with me.  Yay!  They even gave us hot water to drink.  

So, what do you think?  Did he get my hair right?  Overall, it was better than I expected.  And I only paid $5!  Whoo-hoo.  Although I guess I could've paid $3.50 if I had bought that card...oh well.  Maybe next time.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Getting into the spirit

One thing about living in China that is hard is missing out on all the holiday festivities I know that are taking place back home.  Christmas music starting to play everywhere, lights going up, people out shopping, advent, trees, nativities, parties, egg nog...ok, I think you get it.  I miss it.  Good thing I have videos like this one to help me get in the spirit.  I haven't stooped to the level of streaming it to the TV yet while putting up our tree...but hey, that's not a bad idea. 

On a side note, how do they do that?  Amazing...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Our new definition of cute

Well, we got the puppy!  We are still recovering from all our friends and colleagues being here last week so we do a lot of watching our cute little puppy play.  And boy is he cute.  His name is still in the works, suggestions accepted!  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Chinglish Monday #4

We saw this sign while looking around at a huge remodeling warehouse.  It was six floors of everything you would ever need to remodel your home/apartment...and take care of smallpox. 

We asked our friends what the sign was trying to say; the English missing in the translation is "painting supplies". Hmmm...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The dog dilemma

Some of you may have seen this picture show up on Instagram or Facebook recently...

We have been saying for a few weeks that we want to get a dog...and then yesterday the opportunity presented itself.  I was waiting with my friend for the Hubby to show up with some other friends so we could all go get lunch.  I had just picked up a package my mom mailed to me (that adventure deserves its own post) and was hanging out in front of a fruit stand.  The owner had this really cute puppy that kept coming over to play.  He was really cute (the puppy - not the fruit stand owner), and kept antagonizing the other dogs walking by, wanting to play with them.  

After standing there awhile and laughing with my friend about the puppy, the fruit stand owner walked over and started asking my friend questions like, "where is your friend from" and "how old is she."  My friend graciously threw in that I was already married. :-)  Not quite sure where the conversation was going (and understanding most of it up to this point), the owner then offered for us to buy the dog if we were interested.  This sort of shocked me, I mean, it was his dog.  Didn't he love his little cute, playful puppy?  I laughed it off and didn't really take it seriously.  It was, after all, well loved by his owner and had lots of people to play with at the fruit stand.  This puppy, unlike others, wasn't in need of "rescuing" from peril. 

The Hubby showed up about five minutes later and I relayed the story to him as a humorous guess-what-happened-while-waiting-for-you aside.  Immediately, he went over to the fruit stand owner to talk about the dog.  I wasn't really in "let's buy a puppy" mode and didn't expect the Hubby to be so adamant about working out the details of a dog sale right there on the street.  Luckily, we had to eat lunch and so told the owner we would come back after discussing it over noodles and fried dumplings. 

Apparently, even though we both have been talking about getting a dog, we aren't on the same page with the whole puppy thing.  I am not too keen on getting a puppy.  Potty training and shoe destruction aren't something I want to be dealing with.  However, the Hubby is thinking that we needed a puppy to train it correctly and teach it to ride on the scooter (yes, that was his argument).  And the puppy is really cute...

After cordially discussing the finer points of puppy parenting, we landed on an agreement.  We'll go back next week (this week we are too busy and won't be home much to train a puppy), and take the puppy to the vet.  If the puppy is healthy and the vet can sort of guess for us what kind of dog it is (how big will it get? personality? etc), we will adopt him.  If the puppy does not pass the test then we will take him back to the original owner.  

So, my question to all of you - based on that adorable picture, what kind of dog do you think it is?  I'm guessing Chihuahua mix?  Would you take it home?  He is really cute...until he poops on your pillow or eats your favorite slipper.  Just sayin'. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012


My sister with Grandma this summer
I feel like the title home fits well with this post as it has multiple meanings for me right now.  Home is here, in China.  I feel like this is our home.  Home is family.  Part of our hearts are always with family in the states wishing we could be closer.  Home is heaven, with Jesus.  A promise made to those who choose to follow and obey.  Home is the life we used to have (familiarity) and the life we now live (reality).  

On Sunday, my Grandma went home to be with Jesus.  She was surrounded by family as she took her final breath.  Family was there all weekend singing to her, encouraging her and spending time by her side.  I am confident that Grandma could not have asked for more and was at peace knowing her family was by her side.  It's a hard reality for us, being so far away, and not being able to jump in the car and join everyone with Grandma.  But yet, we know we are where we need to be. 

Home is here.  In China.  Today I was in a taxi driving across the city and I just kept thinking how normal it all felt.  Even though my heart is heavy and I am sad not to be with family, I feel like I am home.  There is nowhere else we're supposed to be.  This reality does not dampen the heartache of losing those we love in the states.  I think grief definitely looks different when you are half a world away, the feeling of closure isn't a reality for me.  However, I still feel the loss.  The knowledge that Grandma no longer with us and the heartache that brings.  Thankfully, no matter where I would be living, we all have great peace in knowing that Grandma loved Jesus and is now with Him.  She had a homecoming the day we experienced a goodbye.  

This week we also found out that our (former) dog Coco had to be put down.  She got into some medications and it fried her central nervous system leaving her paralyzed.  Her new family did all they could, but there was nothing left to do for her.  Reading this news was heartbreaking in so many ways.  We are sad, we know her new family is incredibly sad and the tragedy of it all is just hard to think about.  Coco was, technically speaking, no longer our dog.  However, we had her for almost three years as part of our lives.  "Home" in the states consisted of her in it.  I think it was even harder for me because over the past several weeks I have been thinking of both Coco and Nala several times, remembering their personalities and the joy of having them be part of our lives.  

Home is in China.  Home is with family.  Home is heaven.  Home is here.  This is our new reality.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Food: What I've been making

**UPDATE 10/15 - Links added in for ones I have!**

**I was going to add links to all these recipes, however our Internet is running super slow and so you are lucky you all got the link for the first one. Boo. Sorry! If it gets better in the next few days I will add the rest of them in. If you have links to any of these recipes, please leave them in the comments! Thanks.**

Yes, I thought it was time for a post about food. With all the changes in what is readily available, I've had to remake my "go to" meal list. Not a bad thing, but definitely time consuming. These days, I've taken to Pinterest to help me find simple dinners & desserts - and it has not disappointed (though I have yet to try most of those). Here's a rundown of the successful & not-so-successful recipes I've attempted...

Cheeseburger Soup. Or otherwise known as the-most-expensive-soup-I've-ever-made. Why? At the time I made this (just over 10 days in), I still hadn't found the best place to buy hamburger and ended up paying almost $10 for one pound. Yikes! Add to that, $5 for 8oz of cheese and $3 celery and you have one expensive recipe. However, I am willing to forgive myself because 1) I was desperate to make something I knew & loved and 2) it turned out excellent. 

Pasta. Seriously the easiest meal to make here. Penne and spaghetti are cheap & I can get a large can of Hunts or Del Monte pasta sauce for around $3. Just throw in some sautéed veggies & hamburger (no longer the expensive kind thankfully) and you have a meal! Sides for this have included garlic sautéed bok choy, bread, steamed asparagus, and corn on the cob. The corn was excellent, but it has since went out of season (I think, because I haven't seen it for a few weeks). However, just yesterday we found asparagus and I know there's no way that is in season here, not sure how that works.

Speaking of veggies, I buy most of mine from the supermarket (because when I'm there on the second milk run for the week it's fast and easy). However, the last few weeks I have started going around the corner to a couple of fruit & veggies stands/trucks that sell great stuff. I had to go to several different places to get exactly what I needed, but it was good produce. 

Let's see...what else...

Stewed tomatoes. Yup, I did stew my own tomatoes. Which is much cheaper than paying $4 a can. I actually have about 25 tomatoes in the fridge waiting to be stewed. I need to get on that!

Pasta casserole. Did I say pasta was easy? Well I used some of the aforementioned stewed tomatoes, some butternut squash (at least I'm pretty sure that's what is was), some onions & mushrooms and made a GIANT casserole that fed us for five days (at least). This was a "go to" in the states, however usually I use zucchini & brussel sprouts. I could not find either, so I swapped for the mushrooms & butternut squash. It worked perfectly. 

Taco salad. So easy. There's an amazing import store in Shanghai called City Shop & they deliver to Nanjing on Fridays. I got a big container of fresh greens from them for $1.50 (like two of the pre washed salads you buy packaged in the states) & found decent tortilla chips at Carrefour.  Add in a jar of salsa from City Shop and taco meat (I brought over my own seasoning) and voila - awesome taco salads. Delish.

Apple cake. It just sounds good. So yummy. I got "green" apples from the market (I don't think they were Granny Smiths, they weren't sour enough) and whipped up a yummy loaf of apple cake. It was so good! I didn't have vegetable oil & the recipe called for applesauce, so I also made applesauce and used it to also substitute for the oil. Making the applesauce was also easy. Just peeled, cored & chopped the apple and cooked it on the stove with some sugar and water and then mashed it up. Simple! Who knew? Although I was a little disappointed mine looked more brown than the yellow I saw in all the pictures of homemade applesauce on Pinterest. The cake was a huge hit with everyone. Even our Chinese friends loved it!

Meatloaf. Yup, another "go to" in the states. This one I only substituted the type of BBQ sauce I use (yes, I put BBQ sauce in my meatloaf). It was a little runny, but tasted excellent. 

Orzo with Parmesan & Basil. I think this is the Hubby's favorite side dish. It's just so yummy! I was excited to find that City Shop had orzo & I found a block of Parmesan at an import store. So happy to find Parmesan cheese! 

Cookies. So far I've made no-bake cookies & the amazing Wallace cookie.  No-bake was an easy choice before I had an oven. The Wallace cookie was made possible by a local friend having butterscotch chips at her bakery! Yay! 

So there you have it, a little run down on the yummy foods we have been eating over here. I feel like we hit our stride a few weeks ago making life a little less chaotic and cooking a little more feasible. I'm so thankful for all the helpful friends who have advised where to find things and what to look for.  There are also a few helpful blogs that have aided me so far. 

Oh, and another blessing - we got a free oven! Ok, we're just borrowing it, indefinitely. One of our friends here knew a family that went back home to the states and let her keep their oven "until they return". She doesn't use it (she's Chinese, they don't really bake) and so offered for us to have it. I'm not sure when her friends are coming back, but it sounds like they left awhile ago. The bonus is that it is the biggest size you can get here, almost full sized (one large cookie sheet fits snugly side-to-side). Extra blessing! 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Chinglish Monday #3

I missed last week, but this should make up for it!

Francebeef!  One word or two?  "Beef" isn't even in the characters at the bottom of the circle.  They are the characters for the countries - Germany, Italy, USA & France (not quite in that order).  Where did it come from?  Is France always associated with beef?  Maybe it's a special dish...thoughts?  Conjectures?  

**We did not eat at this restaurant, but not because they had a mistranslated sign...**

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

If I lose my hearing, it won't be from loud music...

It will be from weekly occurrences of very loud, very long fireworks displays, like the one in the video below.  We experienced this display right outside our back gate while waiting for the bus.  It was very, very loud.  The amount of black smoke pouring through the sidewalk from the firecrackers actually had me a bit worried.  It's a little hard to see, but there are lots of flowers also on the sidewalk in the middle of the fireworks.  The people setting these off were opening a new store and fireworks are typically used in the ceremony whenever you buy something new - a new car, new store, new apartment.  I think they are also used frequently at weddings.  I've had it explained to me that fireworks are good luck and help to ward off any "evil spirits".  An interesting cultural perspective!  Although, I would guess that today many people do it because it's fun and awesome to light off fireworks - and any excuse is usually a good one. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Traveling Woes

I wish I had a really awesome picture of a packed subway to go along with this post...oh wait...I do!   Ok, this picture isn't really that bad.  Usually it can be a lot worse - like you can't move your arms there are so many people.  But when it's like that it's hard to take a picture!  Traveling in China doesn't always go the way you plan.  There's too many variables.  The bus being on time, room on the bus, being able to catch a cab when you need to.  The list is endless for things that can go awry when traveling in China.  Take for example, my weekend excursion about two weeks ago.  

My friends and I were going downtown to find a store that sold specialty baking items.  We got on the bus and headed downtown.  It took about 30 minutes on the bus to get there.  We then had to go into the subway station, find the correct exit number (to get us on the right street) and walk about 3 blocks to the store.  Find the entrance to the building, take the elevator and finally arrive.  In total, it probably took us 45-50 mins to get to the store from my apartment, which really isn't bad.

We bought some necessary and fun items and then headed back to the bus stop.  After 20 minutes of walking, we got there and waited for the bus.  And waited for the bus.  And waited for the bus.  Sometimes it can take up to 15 minutes for your bus to come, but this bus normally comes every 10 minutes or so.  After 30 minutes of waiting (yes, we waited that long), my Chinese friend asked someone about the bus.  "Oh didn't you hear?  There is a parade."  Um...okay.  What does that mean?  The Chinese word "parade" can mean many things: lots of people in the street, a demonstration or an actual parade.  It was actually a demonstration.  The entire downtown square was packed with people and the bus couldn't get through.  The funny this is that we walked right past all the people on our way to the bus stop and all of us thought they were all jaywalking in the street!  Seriously, we had that conversation.  Anyways, long story short, we had to walk back to the subway and take it about three stops away from the city center and then caught a bus, taking us an hour and a half to get back home.  

Last night is another great example.  Steven was going to dinner and billards with a friend so I decided to do some grocery shopping.  It is October holiday right now (Mid Autumn Festival) and everyone is either leaving the city to go back home or arriving in the city returning home.  All to say, there are lots of people traveling everywhere.  

I left the apartment around 6:00pm to catch the bus.  I had to literally push the girl in front of me to get on the bus because it was so packed.  At the next stop, the people getting on behind me push me forward as I push people forward.  Let's just say, it got really, really packed!  I arrived at Carrefour, got my shopping done (after finding out they don't have mozzarella cheese anymore - sad day!), and take my three bags out to the curb to catch a taxi back home.  There is no way I'm getting on a bus at this point with all my groceries, so I stand for 10 minutes outside Carrefour trying to get a cab.  I did not see one open cab, not one.  Thinking my luck will be better down at the corner, I lug my groceries down there and wait another 15 minutes before finally getting a taxi.  And it wasn't even raining.  

Everyday is an adventure (really, it is), and traveling in China makes for the perfect opportunity for something to go wrong and the adventure to ensue.  Oh, and I've learned that you should always give yourself at least 15 minutes more time to get somewhere than you think it will take.  Chances are you will need that extra 15 minutes, even if Google maps says otherwise. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Happy Birthday Shenanigans

Today is the Hubby's birthday.  He didn't really ask for anything [yet] this year.  I think we are still trying to survive the move.  Although he did say he wanted a pair of "slip on type" shoes since you take your shoes off before entering someone's home in China and he's getting weary of tying and un-tying his shoes.  After sending him about 15 links to shoes on Amazon, he asked me to stop.  I was just trying to be helpful!  So, instead I splurged and spent $9.82 on a box of Kellogg's Raisin Bran for him.  He was excited (and then a little shocked when he found out how much it was).  Taobao is amazing!  (I am not adept enough to order on Taobao on my own quite yet, however I have some awesome friends who help me.)  For those of you who do not live in China, Taobao is like Amazon and Ebay rolled into one.  You can order almost anything at competitive prices and have it delivered to your home.  

Tonight, we went out to Papa John's and Dairy Queen.  Quite the treat!  I think this weekend we may plan a hiking excursion up Purple Mountain to commemorate the Hubby turning the big 2-9.  He has simple requests and though I tend to want to throw a party, I can live with simple right now.

This morning the girls on our staff got him a cake complete with a fiery candle.  Seriously - it was crazy (check out the video below).  It did take us a good minute to figure out how to light the candle.  It had this "lighter" that looked more like weird.  And then the candle started playing the birthday song after being lit and continued to play for over 2 hours.  Finally, the Hubby disabled said candle by pulling it apart until he found the battery.  Oh, China!  You never cease to amaze.

Happy Birthday to my amazing husband.  I love you so much and am truly blessed to be your wife!

**I apologize in advance for the first 1:30 of this video not being too exciting...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chinglish Monday #2

This Chinglish translation makes me a little nervous to be buying cotton balls.  It was one of those "double take" moments.  

The print is a little small to read (but I wanted you to be able to see it really is cotton balls), so if you can't see it well the package says "tampons".  Um...yeah...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Chinglish Monday

I've decided to establish a norm here on the blog and take a moment to share a bit of "Chinglish" with you each Monday.  What is Chinglish?  Well, technically it is a combination of Chinese and English, but for us, it is poor translations (or really funny ones!) that we see everyday.  Here is our first edition, seen on the subway.

Apparently, only they are allowed to say and/or do that. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What we have been up to...

I can think of a million to things to write about...but that would take me a very long time!  And I'm sure you all don't want to read through a book.  So I will give it to you in pictures, because, as we all know, each one is worth a thousand words.  

Let's see, what have we done so far...

Shopping, lots and lots of shopping.  This is how to get to the grocery going down!  The Hubby wanted to take this picture of the man pushing all the carts on the moving ramp (like an escalator, but flat).  One of his favorite things about China are their shopping carts (I know, weird), they spin on all four wheels and are magnetic so they "stick" to the ramps!  Since it is so crowded here, many of the stores are below ground.  This one, Carrefour, has some import stuff like pasta, pasta sauce and cornflakes!  Carrefour also has butter, cheese and milk that the Hubby approves of (he's kind of a milk snob).  

We got an electric scooter.  The picture above is actually what happened while we were getting our scooter.  Our friend was helping us and the local TV station came over to interview her on why her foreign friends were buying the scooter, how much it was, how fast it could go and if she would buy a similar scooter.  My favorite part was that she had just started eating a cracker, and so her mouth was full the entire interview!  It was an adventure.

We did end up buying that electric scooter.  It can go 70km on one charge & will get up to speeds of 25mph!  Yup, she's a thing of beauty.  And the Hubby loves driving her around town.  Every chance he gets, "do we need to take the scooter?"  To our friends, "can I give you a ride home on our scooter?"  I have yet to drive it.  Lessons will come & I'm sure a very entertaining blog post will follow.

Coffee flavored Pocky & Chinese coffee.  Enough said.  This is truly the breakfast of champions.

And I got a coffee maker!!!  Hallelujah!  In China, there are several websites you can order from and they deliver (like ebay, but cooler).  There's a local store online that delivered this baby to my door for 230RMB.  Sweet.  And my dear friend who we inherited our apartment from was kind enough to leave a coffee grinder.  So thankful!  You may all start sending me coffee.  Seriously, I can't afford to buy coffee in China.

We went shopping at Ikea and bought this awesome table & 6 chairs...

And this couch!  It's nice to have something to actually sit on at home. :-)  I also just discovered that Ikea has an iPad app with their store catalogue on it - watch out!  

We had to pay a small fee (like $1), to get our mailbox lock changed so we could use it (we didn't have a key).  We opened the mailbox to find six years worth of mail!!  No, I'm not kidding.  Our friend who lived here before just used to grab her stuff off the top and pull it through the small slot.  Too funny!  Anyone want a newspaper from 2006? 

Last night we had our first volunteer meeting for the leadership forum we partner in running.  There were several options for snacks to serve to the students.  We ended up getting Oreos, crackers and chips.  The flavors of chips here are, well, different.  If you can't read the picture well, the two flavors listed above are Mexican Tomato Chicken Flavor and Italian Red Meat Flavor.  I think we ended up getting the Mexican flavored chips and, no, I didn't try them.

Today, the weather was gorgeous and I ventured out with some friends to find a baking shop.  This is at a plaza near downtown.  Blue skies!  What an awesome day.  Thankful for great weather and great friends to share an outing with.  Tonight we are off to meet up with some other friends to [finally] see the new Batman movie.  Yay! 

So there you have it.  A little update in photos of our time here so far.  What have all you been up to?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

When it all hits the fan, the blades come down

I'm sure you are all curious as to how things are progressing with our neighbors.  Well, they sure are progressing!  Apparently, the neighbors upstairs are so unhappy that they have started spreading malicious rumors about our landlord.  In America, this might happen and we would argue against such rumors.  Since the US is a justice-based culture, rumors that aren't true are argued and proven to be not true.  In China, it's a different ball game.  China is a shame-based culture and the concept of "saving face" runs deep in Chinese culture and defines many of their relationships.  Thus, in China, malicious rumors cannot be met be argument alone.  The person "losing face" (in this case, our landlord) must do what one can to stop the rumors and appease the opposite party.  I do not fully understand the concept of face, but we have decided that this value has prompted the following actions of our landlord.  
The Hubby taking down the fan blades.

On Thursday (two days after this previous post), our landlord came back with her mom and requested that we take the blades off our fans.  The neighbor called our landlord and told her that he can still hear the noise and believed that we were still using the fans (even though we weren't).  He requested that we have the blades removed rendering the fans ineffective.  Our landlord also informed us that she will replace our kong tiao (air conditioning unit) with a brand new one.  The Hubby and I didn't really think either of these actions were necessary, but in light of the recent rumors our landlord had no choice.  She had to save her reputation.  Thursday, our kong tiao was removed and this morning (Saturday) we had a new one installed.  After setting up the new kong tiao (which is totally awesome by the way), I thanked our landlord.  She responded, "Thank my mom."  Whoa!  Her mom bought our new kong tiao in an effort to help her daughter.  Wow.  How much was the new kong tiao?  About $700.  No cheap endeavor.

All that said, we are now waiting to see what happens next.  Do we get to put the blades back on our ceiling fans?  Will the new kong tiao appease the neighbors and help our landlord gain her reputation back?  I sure hope so.  She is absolutely the sweetest lady and I would hate to see her lose more face over this incident (especially since it is over something ridiculous).  

In other news, the coolest thunderstorm rolled through tonight lighting up the sky with bright flashes of lightening and loud thunder.  I wonder if our neighbor is hoping we lose power...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Neighborly Relations

At the Seattle airport ready to check in!
This was going to be a post about our travel to Nanjing, the flight we missed in Beijing because we were delayed out of Seattle and how we finally made it to our apartment at 2:00am.  However, I have a much better tale to tell.  One of a mystery power outage and crazy neighbors who we always seem to live next to!

Right now, our landlord is in our apartment and has just called the police.  Why has she called the police?  Because our neighbors upstairs just now turned off the power to our apartment in protest.  This morning we also lost power around 6:00am.  We were both awake (I was trying to go back to sleep) and the power went off.  Two cold showers later and around 7:30 or 8:00 someone turned it back on (only after us calling our friend to call the landlord).  The hubby investigated the power outage and noticed it was only our apartment that didn’t have power.  After it came back on, we figured it all got worked out.  Apparently, it was our neighbor who turned it off this morning as well and no, nothing is resolved.

What I haven’t told you yet is that yesterday our upstairs neighbor came down while the landlord was here signing our lease to complain that the ceiling fan in the living room was creating too much noise and bothering her husband (who has cancer).  Follow that up with over an hour of the landlord, association president and neighbor going up and down the stairs, turning on ceiling fans, turning them off, etc. trying to figure out where the noise is coming from.  We thought the issue got resolved and it was not conclusive that the noise heard upstairs was coming from our apartment.  So far, everyone who heard the “noise” such as our landlord, the association president and others have said that it is a normal noise and couldn’t be caused by the fans in the living room or bedroom or the air conditioners.   Our friend, Angelina, who stayed in our apartment for a few weeks this summer said it doesn’t matter if we turn everything off, the neighbor will still say it is caused by us.   She even accused Angelina of lying, saying that Angelina would turn off the ceiling fan and air conditioner when she heard the neighbor at the door coming to complain of the noise. 

Our neighbor (left) standing guard as the association president (not seen) checks out the ceiling fan in the bedroom
Fast forward to the present, and now we have the police, our landlord and the neighbors arguing very loudly in the stairwell.   The police told our neighbor that he has no right to turn off our power for any reason.  The neighbor shot back that he would turn off the power every day until this issue is resolved.  Ai-ya!  Meanwhile, the hubby is loving every minute of this and is actually recording the argument from the landing. 

So, we traded one crazy neighbor for another.  In America, we had a trying relationship with our neighbor.  She was an elderly lady who lived alone and complained about us to the association a lot (we owned a condo and had a shared wall with her).  We had many arguments with her over her things in the yard, our dogs, noise and everything else in between.  It was a learning experience.  In fact, we are still dealing with her as now we have tenants in our condo and she has been pestering them as well.  As I’m typing this, the hubby just turned to me and said, “Maybe our situation with our neighbor in the states was really preparing us for this.”  A good perspective check for us.  How are we to love our neighbors in this situation when we can’t even speak the language?  We want to be good neighbors.  What does that look like in this situation? 

The police have now left and our landlord asked us to not use the ceiling fans for a week and see what happens.  Our first 36 hours in country and we have already had the police stop by!  And our neighbor lady just knocked on the door again saying she can still hear the noise.  I guess this drama is far from over. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The process of packing

All 7 of our checked bags - ready to roll!
Yes, packing is a process.  And today we pushed through that process of trying to fit everything we own into suitcases, rolling duffel bags and backpacks to bring with us to China.  And I realized just how glad I was that four bags are already there (when we went in April, we fortunately had the foresight to bring extra bags with us and leave them, best idea ever). We're not quite done - still have several carry ons to pack and a bag that a friend will bring us in November, but we're getting there.  Going to live overseas warrants a hard look at what you will bring.  Many things we can get in China, some we can't and some things even if we can get them are expensive to replace.  All this has to be carefully considered when choosing which items to bring and which to leave behind.  

Here are a few things that made their way into our luggage:
- Spices (taco seasoning, Johnny's and cinnamon just to name a few)
- High quality kitchen utensils (silverware, good spatulas)
- A few fun, decorative things that make us feel at home
- Flashlights
- Sound bar and subwoofer for a TV (one of those things that would be more expensive to replace)
- Computer & monitor
- Medicine including Dayquil, Nyquil, sudafed, benadryl, mucinex...basically, we are now a walking pharmacy!
- Frying pans
- KitchenAid stand mixer (not coming until November)
- Lots of thank you cards & blank note cards
- Photos of our friends including year's past Christmas cards to hang up during the holidays
- Coffee
- Bike locks (Kryptonite's 10 out of 10, highest quality lock - the New York Fahgettaboudit Mini)
- Helmets (for a gas powered scooter)
- Sharpies
- Electronics, a lot of electronics
- A few books (we brought one whole 50 lb bag of books in April so most of ours are already over there)
- A quilt my sister made us
- Down comforter and cover
- Pillows (yes, the Hubby can't go anywhere without his own pillows!)
And lots of clothes, shoes, jackets, sweaters and such.  Not to mention only three bags are almost 70lbs, the other four are right below 50lbs.  Um, that's a lot of stuff!

Let's just say our bags are packed and we're [almost] ready to go!   

Monday, August 20, 2012

We have plane tickets!

Yes, we finally were able to buy plane tickets after securing the paperwork for the Hubby's visa.  September 1st is the day.  Everyone keeps asking if we are ready.  Are we packed?  Um, not quite...but we have two bags packed!  We also have a long list of stuff left to buy.  But on the emotional side we are ready.  When you decide two years ago that you want to move your life overseas, when the time finally comes you are ready.  We are ready to move in and get settled, ready to get back to a semblance of a schedule in our daily lives and ready to explore and have adventures.  

September 1st - here we come!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I Heart Faces - Pet Faces Photo Challenge

I have been wanting to post about our short-lived phase as bunny pet owners for awhile now and finally have the motivation to do so!  I Heart Faces is having their Pet Faces Photo Challenge this month and I'm all in because this little guy is so stinkin' cute.  I haven't entered one of their contests for awhile because in the process of transitioning to China, well, we just don't take as many pictures as we used to!  However, a few weeks ago we got to have this little guy around for a few days and I snagged a quick photo shoot.  Hop on over to I Heart Faces (pun completely intended) for more great entries and scroll below for the full scoop on how we ended up with this little hopper. 

How did that little guy hop into our lives?  Well, we currently live with my parents (as we transition) and they live in the middle of a vineyard.  Lots of bunnies live in this vineyard - cute little cottontails!  My family has three dogs, one of which loves to find things that move and eat them (yes, I said that correctly).  The Hubby & I were, fortunately, outside when she brought a tiny little bunny into the yard.  She was trying to play with it, but as the bunny didn't even have its eyes open yet it was useless at entertaining her.  Once we realized what she had, we nabbed him.  And thus became the beginning of our short-term stint as bunny raisers (or, more correctly, my sister's stint as bunny mama).

The sad fact is wild bunnies do not do well in captivity.  Unfortunately, we were unable to find someone who knew enough about how to take care of a wild bunny to take him.  We got goat's milk You think he's cute in the picture?  You should've seen him eat, man was he adorable!  And after he was able to open his eyes he would hop around, lose his balance, hop some was awesome.    Hindsight is always 20/20, and had we done more research when we first got him we would've done things differently.  He only lasted five days.  After reading online, my sister learned that almost all wild bunnies die in the care of people within two days.  Their immune systems can't handle the germs and the stress of not having mom around adds up to the lack of success in captivity.  The best case scenario would've been to find a wild animal rescue and rehabilitation center who could take him in.  However, the only ones in our area just take birds. 

So there you go.  I keep telling myself that letting the dog leave him in the yard out of disinterest (or worse, eat him), would've been worse.  Dogs will be dogs and they like to chase things and eat mice and gophers, but we couldn't let her eat a baby bunny!  

Transition Post Part I: Leaving Pets Behind

One of the hardest decisions we have made to date is whether or not to bring our dog, Coco.  We actually had two dogs, a Golden Retriever named Nala & Coco, a black lab mix.  We didn't consider it an option to us to bring both, and out of the two Nala had more health concerns and loved people a little too much for your typical Chinese.  We love our dogs, but we didn't want our Chinese friends to not want to come visit because our dog would maul them with love at the door (which is Nala's forte).  We easily found a great home for Nala and we know she is happy and healthy and with the perfect family.

Coco is a different story.  At first (back in January), we thought we would bring her.  Many people who move overseas bring their pets.  Since it's not uncommon, we figured it would be possible and didn't really look into the different options or cost.  In March we started doing some research.  Apparently, many people who bring their pets with them when they move overseas pay a lot of money for it.  To bring a pet yourself actually doesn't cost that much.  However, you have to fly with an airline that will allow you to bring your pet as "checked luggage", which has restrictions on what time of year you can travel.  Also, in China, when you land at the airport, you have to take your pet through customs and transfer them to a quarantine facility.  From what we read it's doable, but definitely a hassle.  Basically, you have to really know what you are doing.  Also, we are looking to fly in the summer which rules out most airlines for bringing your pet as checked baggage - it's just too hot.

Coco just being herself - a little weird
So, we started looking into other options.  The option that seems to be the most widely used is to hire a pet travel company which specializes in transporting pets around the world.  Sounds awesome, right?  They tell you what paperwork you need, how to prepare your pet for travel, take them to the airport, put them on a special "cargo" plane, have their representatives meet your pet at each layover and the final destination, take your pet through customs & the quarantine process and basically deliver them to your door in your new home.  The catch?  It's expensive.  We're talking $5,000 expensive.  Yikes!  We do not have that kind of money to bring our dog with us.  We definitely weren't planning on it and hadn't budgeted for it, plus that's a little steep for us to justify bringing her.  Don't get me wrong, we totally respect people who pay that.  But I'm going to go out on a limb and assume most people are maybe working for a company who pays it for them (as a moving expense) or they were better prepared than us and actually budgeted for the cost.

In light of the $5,000, hassle-free price tag, we processed through all our options.  One that we did consider was an option at about $3,000 where we still use a company for once we land in China but we put her on a cargo flight ourselves (kind of an in-between the other two).  However, we just didn't see it fitting well with our timing or our budget.  All in all, in the end we decided that as much as we love Coco, it just wasn't going to work out to bring her.  It was really sad to come to the realization that Coco wouldn't be coming with us.  We had really hoped to bring her, to take a piece of home with us.  It was a hard call, but a necessary one.

Nala with her favorite toy - a tennis ball
Fast forward past our road trip and we came back home thinking that we possibly had a new home for her.  My aunt & uncle had been watching her and she was livin' life on the farm chasing things and playing outside, basically every dog's dream...however, this wasn't exactly Coco's dream.  As much as she loves to be outdoors, she loves to be indoors even more and it wasn't fitting with her new "farm dog" lifestyle. So, back to square one!  It was really stressing me out to have her back with us at my parents' house.  They already have three dogs & adding Coco to the mix was just a little bit too much.  One desperate email later and the clouds parted, angels sang and the perfect home was found!  A family adopted her who had been looking for a dog for a few months now.  It is the perfect fit as she gets to be indoors most of the day, go for walks and play outside with their six year old son.  I'm also pretty sure she sleeps on the bed. :-)  

The silver lining of saying goodbye to our pets is knowing they have great homes.  There are many things about transitioning to life overseas that makes leaving hard.  Selling all our worldly things was, in part, freeing.  Having to adopt out our two dogs we had for several years, not so much.  Knowing that they are each in a family who loves them and is spoiling them rotten as I type this is a blessing.  And the Hubby?  He's already talking about what kind of dog he would like to adopt in China.  I say, let's give ourselves a few months before jumping back on the pet-ownership wagon.  But those adorable little fluff balls in the pet market?  They are really cute...