December 22, 2016

I’m not entirely sure what happened to December. It seems to have evaporated. Yesterday was Thanksgiving right? Anyway, I don’t care because I will be home in KC in less than 36 hours! It’s going to be a long 36 hours though, since I have to work Friday and I’m going straight to the airport after our Christmas party. I’ve been dying to see my family and friends and dogs, but I must say at this point I’m kind of more excited about being able to breathe some fresh air. Beijing has gotten disgusting this week.

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img_20161208_164641img_20161208_164657The last few weeks have been insanely busy with homework and projects, present shopping, lesson planning, party planning, and general festivities. I’ve had so much fun with my kids. We took a field trip to this huge indoor flower market and picked out a live tree for our classroom. We decorated the school together, made calendars and coffee mugs to give as presents, read some Christmas stories. It was awesome to get to do all my favorite things with them. Today we made cookies to share at our party tomorrow and watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They loved it!

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dsc02491 dsc02497Sunday I had tickets to see the Russian Royal Ballet performing Swan Lake, which I have always wanted to see, and it was incredible! The Beijing Exhibition Theater is beautiful too, I hadn’t been in that area before.

img_20161218_201527That’s all I have time for at the moment. I still have to finish some homework, clean the house, pack my bags and get ready for our party tomorrow so it’s about to be a long night. Hopefully I’ll see some of you soon! (And if you could cross your fingers that my flight doesn’t get grounded due to smog, that would be great…)

 

November 27,2016

Just some pictures to share. The Atelier, a big art school, was hosting a class on making advent calendars for the holidays. They were full last weekend but the lady offered to host another class this weekend, even though Jess and I were the only ones there. They were all really nice and we had a blast cutting and painting and hot-glueing. Our calendars turned out cute too!

When we got home I made a batch of homemade hot cocoa to drink while binge watching the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix. There better be a 5th episode forthcoming is all I can say. I had a bad reaction to the ending. There was some screaming. Think I scared Jess at first and she came running out of her room. Then she started laughing at me. It was an emotional evening.

Otherwise I had an extremely lazy Sunday. I did make a batch of apple butter though. Jess made some apple cider to take to a get-together and there were four quarts of mushy cooked apples left after she strained out the juice. So I decided to experiment with them. I always heard apple butter is a pain to make but now I think what people meant is that is extremely simple, but painful. Because basically all you do is let the apple boil for hours on end. The problem came when I tried to stir all the stuff sticking to the bottom of the pot and got splattered repeatedly with thousand-degree fruit pulp. I have a blister on my right hand that Jess compared to a small planet. (This in addition to my stab wound from slicing apples for pie on Thursday and the glue gun burns from yesterday. Not to mention the lingering cough from this week’s smog attack. I’m kind of a mess right now.) On the upside we now have four pints of delicious homemade apple butter and I have to say…it was worth the third degree burns, if I do say so myself. Especially since it’s one of the few things I have not been able to find anywhere in Beijing. Then Jess got the idea to start selling cider and apple butter on WeChat and put out an ad, so we’ll see how that goes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone is having a great holiday.  I had to work all day but it was pretty relaxing. I don’t often let my kids just watch movies but this morning we finished watching the Thanksgiving cartoon from yesterday while they colored turkeys. Then we squeezed in some reading/sight word practice before baking a big apple pie, which was a really big, fun mess. I let them mix up the pie crust and roll it out, then they helped to peel the apples. It was a good thing I bought too many apples because these guys were swiping and eating apple slices as fast as I could chop them. Then we had lunch and some free quiet time, a little bit of math, and made thank you cards with the recycled paper we made yesterday. Then they got to eat their pie for snack time. That pie got demolished. We had leftover pie crust and apples so we had made half a dozen apple turnovers as well-all gone. That’s Zach with his head in the pie tin trying to scrape all the caramelized pie crust off the bottom. I think it’s safe to say apple pie-or pínguo pài– is a big hit.

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After snack we played outside for a while and then watched a Berenstein Bears Thanksgiving cartoon. (I introduced them to the Berenstein Bears a while ago and they love the books and TV shows. I’m excited because they were some of my favorite books as a kid.)

After work I met Jess at this upscale hotel-EAST-for dinner. One of their restaurants had a huge Thanksgiving buffet. And when I say huge I mean a counter about half the length of a football field filled with food. Tons of appetizers and salads, a bar full of different cheeses, pumpkin soup and seafood chowder, turkey, duck, ham, prime rib, tons of vegetables and sides, and drinks. Oh and desserts. It was delicious.

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So, in spite of not being home with my family, it was an awesome holiday!

Greetings all,

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

November 12, 2016

*Note: I’m taking an extended hiatus from Facebook. My blog post are automatically published there from WordPress, however, I won’t see any comments. So if you have any comments you want me to see post them here on my blog page directly.

For the record, I’m still unbelievably mad and sad and sick and worried. This whole week has sucked actually. But I can’t discuss it anymore so I’m just focusing on today for now. Today was a good day (in spite of the smog). It was warm, mid fifties, I managed to get up early, make pancakes, tackle some errands (even got through the bank in record time with minimal hassle-no small feat here), and go wander around the Chaowai district, exploring and window-shopping.

Last week, when the temperature dropped, the powers that be decided to switch on the government-controlled heating early, on Nov. 12. That sounded like a great idea at the time but now it’s warmer outside and the additional heat from the radiator is making our apartment feel like some tropical getaway. We had to dig out summer clothes to sleep in and pull out the fans we just put away. It doesn’t really feel like mid-November but I’m sure that will change in a week or so.

Tonight Jess and I set out to find this pizza place that was supposed to be good. It took us about an hour of walking around, trying to match barely marked alleys with Google Map’s version of things. It was in a quiet hutong neighborhood we hadn’t been down before and we stumbled on some interesting places before finally finding the bar-Mao Mao Chang’s in Ban Chang hutong if anyone out there is interested. The drinks were great though and the pizza more than lived up to its reputation so it was definitely worth the trip. We ordered their dessert pizza on a whim. I’m not usually a big fan of dessert pizzas but this was amazing-just thin crust covered in dark chocolate and orange slices, served with homemade rum raisin ice cream.

I wanted to share the two encounters that stand out most in my head right now though, both with cab drivers I had today. Beijing taxi drivers aren’t known as particularly friendly, even with locals, but occasionally you get a really nice one. First, the cab driver I had on the way home from shopping today. He was fidgeting with the meter for most of the ride but it would not work at all. When we got home I tried to ask how much (usually if there’s a problem they’ll kind of ballpark it) but he kept waving me off, telling me don’t worry about it, it’s broken. I thought that was really sweet, but finally did get him to accept 20 kuai, which was still less than I normally pay from that area in Saturday afternoon traffic.

Then on the way home from dinner the driver Jess and I had was pretty young and really friendly. We sat in traffic for a while and he kept attempting conversation, asking where we were from and pointing out the license plate ahead of us that in a funny coincidence was “Yo, yo, yo, yo” (One, one, one, one). Another car was “Liu, liu, liu, liu”, or six, six, six, six. Then he got super excited about a noise behind us and started talking about a beautiful car. Turns out there was a Lamborghini behind us. Our driver actually pulled out of the way at the light to let the car pass and pulled out his phone to take a video of the car revving its engine and speeding past us. He was practically cheering it on with the only English he knew, “Okay, okay, okay!” It was hilarious, he was just so excited and enthusiastic over this sports car, posting his video and rematching it.  It’s nice to see someone who genuinely enjoys their profession sometimes.

I’m excited for all the upcoming holiday events. Last year I my job had me working nights and weekends and I missed almost everything, so this year I sat down and started planning way ahead of time. There are lots of plays, ballets, and pop-up holiday bazaars and markets in Beijing during November and December, the tree-lighting ceremony, and many of the big hotels do Thanksgiving dinners for expats. I’m sure I won’t do half the things in my calendar but I like having things to look forward to.