It’s been a fun crazy hectic couple of weeks. My body is getting a serious workout trying to adjust to rapidly changing temperatures and smog levels. Last week the air was disgusting and I came down with some sort of miserable respiratory illness. But then Saturday was sunny, sixty and perfectly clean so I pushed through it and Jess and I stayed outside as much as possible. We got haircuts early in the morning, then went to check out the Wangjing SoHo and ended up taking a four hour walk around the city-lots of cool new sites.
Then we went out to the suburbs where the British International School was hosting this winter fair. There are lots of these types of events coming up but theirs was the first. It was fun. The weather was perfect to be outside, just a little chilly, but hot mulled wine took care of that. They had roasted a whole pig and were selling gingerbread cookies. There was a Christmas tree lighting and all the kids were outside singing carols. I know it’s a bit early for holiday festivities but I still enjoyed it. Mostly because Christmas is not so over-the-top and obnoxious here. You can still find activities if you know where to look but they’re not so in your face. And they don’t start in August. I’m finding I actually prefer to be out of the American madness, although I’ll still be glad to go home and visit.
Monday was the first snowfall of the year, with just a light dusting that blew away before noon, but still pretty. And the air was pristine for three whole days, big plus, although it was freaking cold, under 20 degrees and felt colder. I still took my class outside though. Between the cold and the smog they don’t get outside as much in the winter so I’m taking advantage of any opportunity to get them out the door because they are insane when they are cooped up inside.
Last week, their character trait was Patience (which they all desperately needed a lesson on). Each trait is linked to an animal that represents it; for patience the animal is a butterfly. We made butterflies with toilet paper rolls and then I tied them up in a cocoon and made them be quiet for one full minute. It was quite a challenge.
This week their trait is gratefulness, and we’re learning about the U.S. and Canada in their international cultures class, so I’ve tied everything together and we’re celebrating Thanksgiving. I played them a really old animated cartoon I found on YouTube about how Thanksgiving started and they were totally fascinated by the idea. We made a gratitude tree, writing all the things we were grateful for on the leaves. This is why I love teaching kids:
Rarity put birthday cake, flowers, dogs and cats
Zach said “iPad, mom, dad”-in that order too. We need to get his priorities straight.
Qing: family, shoes, candy (Hey, those are my top three, also!)
Ryan: Bapi (Daddy)
We’ve also been covering the environment in science so today we took all our scrap paper and made recycled paper. To be honest, I did not think it would work. I didn’t have any of the equipment listed in most of the instructions I read. But we threw paper and water in the blender, poured it through a screen improvised from a coat hanger and some old nylon stockings, and voila! Paper. Kids had a blast. Tomorrow when the paper is dry we’re going to use it to make thank you cards for Thanksgiving. Also, apple pie.
I sat down and booked accommodation for my Spain trip-super exciting. I’m splitting my time in Barcelona, a few days near Sagrada Familia and then some time at this converted artist studio in the gothic quarter. Then 5 days in Granada, all Airbnb finds. I kind of want to do a couple days in Madrid too but it depends on transportation. It appears it would be much cheaper to rent a car for two weeks than to buy train tickets all over the place, and I would kind of like to drive. However, my U.S. license expired over a year ago… and since it’s been so long I think I’ll have to retake the driving test…so yeah. I need to call and check on that and see if I can renew it while I’m home before I finalize the rest of my plans.
And finally, I’ve had some technological breakthroughs lately. I finally got my online banking straightened out and also set up a Taobao account. Taobao is like the Chinese version of Amazon.com, but cheaper. I went on a bit of a shopping spree-pretty much everything I’ve been deprived of for the past year is on this site. There are plenty of import stores in Beijing but they don’t have everything. I found the exact jeans that I pay $60 for at Macy’s but on Taobao they’re only 60RMB, or about $8. And some cozy fur-lined boots for $10-just in time for the snow. I also got the DiDi app-like Uber but in Chinese. You can get a cab anywhere, it’s cheaper, you can even do ride shares. Only drawback? All these apps are in Chinese. And the Didi drivers always call to confirm and make sure you are where the GPS says you are. This had made for some awkward conversations this week. So I’ve been buckling down and trying to study. I’ve drafted my friend Cami to help. Every week I come up with a new topic and write down the phrases I want to know. And I learn stuff from my kids too. Fred especially always wants to tell me the Chinese phrases for something I tell him in English. Then they all laugh at my pronunciation. I have picked up the names of lots of countries in Chinese from our international cultures class, which resulted in an incident this evening:
One of the best things about our neighborhood is Jinganshichang, this huge year-round indoor farmers’ market. They have tons of fresh produce, meats, and eggs, even live seafood flown in daily and swimming around in tanks. It’s a great landmark for taxi drivers as well-almost everyone knows this market. And it’s super cheap- I can get a week’s worth of groceries for about $25. I always go to the same vendors and they know me now. The produce lady is really sweet. I think I threw her for a loop this evening though when I went in looking for pumpkins for Thanksgiving decorations. “You fànguō ma?” I asked. She looked confused. “Faguó?” Now the lady next to me looked concerned and looked at the saleslady like “I don’t know what the heck she’s talking about either.” I finally pulled out my translation app. “Oh, nánguā!” Relieved, the vendor pulled out a couple of pumpkins. Only after I got home and was telling Jess about this did I realize that I had asked her first for a rice cooker and then the country of France. We laughed till we cried. One of the many joys of expat life.