Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Having Trouble Accessing Blogger

I'm having some problems with access to blogger (unreliable VPN, I guess). Anyway, I'm moving my blog to MSN spaces. I hope it works out well and doesn't cause any of you too much difficulty. You can subscribe to an RSS feed there as well to help you keep up to date, or join my network. Thanks for all your cheerful messages. They help me keep my chin up! If there's any trouble with the new site, send me an email.
New blog address:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

We Did It!

A fortune cookieImage via Wikipedia

I’ve been typing all my blogs into Word these days and then copying an pasting them into my blog site. Our VPN seems to have some mysterious time limit that gets reached and then I get dumped off and can’t get on my blog or Facebook for a while.

Did you know that fortune cookies aren’t Chinese? Nope. Don’t have them here. They do have some cookies called “Coconut Pancakes” that are very similar that our kids seem to like.

Last night we ventured out on our own, as a family, to ride the bus into Guangzhou City. We needed to go to a computer place to buy a monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers and web camera/microphone. After much puzzling, and phone calls to figure out which bus to get on, we made it! We also went to a night market which is right by “Silicon Valley Computer City” and got some fruit; partly, because I didn’t get everything needed when I went shopping, and partly because we needed change for the return bus home.

I think this afternoon, I’m going to Clifford Supermarket to buy some butter. We have some bread and a toaster oven, we should make some toast! Also, maybe they have baking soda and baking powder. I’m pretty sure I’ve found flour. We could make cookies or pancakes. I’ll be so glad to get the spices that are somewhere on that slow boat (not complaining too much – better slow than caught in a typhoon) so that we can make our food taste familiar.

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Missed the Bus

Well, we missed the school bus this morning. Couldn’t find the right place to catch it. Hopefully, that will all be cleared up with the kids’ ride home on the bus. We had to call a driver to take them to school instead. At least it is the same driver who took us to the school yesterday. He is fast-ish and pretty safe by Chinese standards. His general driving philosophy seems to be: take as much room for yourself on the road as you can, use your horn plenty to let people know you are there, and don’t dally around. Now I sit here and stew. I wonder how their day is going? Were they horribly late? Will they like their classes?

I guess I’ll get back to the cleaning.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Making Lists

Today is school orientation for my two youngest kids. I have so many questions – How will the bus system work? What classes do my kids have (school starts tomorrow and we don’t know!). Where can I buy school supplies?

We’re making a list of things we need to fix in our house:
* The master bathroom shower floods the floor through some mysterious means whenever it gets used and there is no cold water in the shower only hot and hot. Ouch. Also, the sink is not secured properly and needs to be repaired.
* The kids’ bathroom needs a new shower head – only the hand-held part works. Also the sink in there leaks and needs to be re-secured.
* One of the bedrooms needs a closet rod.
* We need 3 remotes for the A/C. They are either missing or broken
* The stove is wimpy and lights unreliably. It took me 15 minutes to light it yesterday. We will have to replace it.
* The lighting in the kitchen is so dim it’s almost non-existent.
* The kitchen faucet leaks and the sink needs to be sealed so it won’t leak water into the cabinet below.
* The oven that we were given is a very nice toaster oven. Lovely for toast, but not for real baking. We will need to buy what we want ourselves.
* The microwave looked old and rickety (maybe it was just very, very, dirty) so I had the landlord take it away. Brad was not happy about my doing this, but what’s done is done.
* The beds are very hard. I hope we can find some memory foam cushions or something like it to cushion them. It is very difficult to sleep soundly right now – at least for a couple of us.
* There is inadequate counter and cupboard space everywhere and we will have to have some things bought or built to fit.
* We need the landlord to get the rest of his “stored junk” out of the house so we can really use the space. There is a nice room for a pantry/storage by the kitchen but it has some stuff in it. We need it moved out so we can put shelving in there.

I feel like I’m on a permanent camping trip right now, just trying to figure out ways to “make do”. It’s getting old really fast. Hopefully things get better soon.

Now That's Some Good Food!

I've spent my evening catching up on Facebook stuff and emails, so I won't write much tonight. I do want to pass along a link to another blog that is really great. Brad found it. It's a blog about some really delicious Chinese foods. I can hardly wait to look at it more deeply, but right now I'm falling asleep as I type.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Moving In

We are in our house! Yay! We moved in on Friday but the house was so filthy that we had to spend most of the Saturday cleaning before we could unpack anything. The kids cleaned most of the house while I spent most of the day trying to un-disgustify (my own word) the kitchen. Brad went to the store and came home with something called “kitchen cleaner” in a spray bottle. He was assured by the store clerk that it was really good stuff and they were right! It took off the grossest grease and the tea stains and everything that didn’t belong. I’m so GLAD. Apparently, it is very common for the Chinese to just leave places really dirty. You'd think that if you wanted to sell it or rent it out, you'd clean it up, but not so.

Our landlord assured us he would get us a “big refrigerator” and he did (at least by China standards). The problem with it was that it was used and dirty and smelled so NASTY. I opened that thing the first time and was very glad I wasn’t pregnant or I never would have been able to clean it. Eeeww. The wonderful thing was the magic “kitchen cleaner” took care of everything, so it’s fine now.

Our “oven” was also delivered. It is a very good quality toaster oven. We have given up trying to communicate what we want, and will just go get our own in a little while.

I figured out what “that smell” is here in China. It is what I call the “China smell” and it is everywhere you go. It is Chinese tea. It stains everything it touches from teeth, to sinks, to clothes, to anything else it contacts – including the air. I’m surprised at how popular it is considering the damage it does. Still, I guess if it’s the only assurance there is of having potable water, I can see how the tradition got started. Me, I’ll stick with bottled water and try to get my house so it doesn’t smell like everywhere else.

I have found some friends who took us shopping for dishes, pans, towels, silverware, and cooking utensils, and showed us where the closest “cheap marketplace” is. Yeah! I might survive this after all (I try to only think of things in small “units” otherwise I start to feel overwhelmed). Also, we were told of a restaurant that sells really good hamburgers (after 10 days of “foreign food” it was like heaven). Their other food is really great too, I hear – can’t wait to try it. The restaurant is run by a Hawaiian woman, and she knows her stuff. I have called this restaurant “my happy place”, but its real name is “The Garden CafĂ©” and it’s beautiful there.

Our two youngest kids will be attending Utahloy International School. It is located in a beautiful place and I hope they will do well there. I think I am at least as nervous as my kids about this school change. We have orientation on Tuesday and school starts on Wednesday. It all feels like it’s happening so fast! School for our 17 year-old will start when our things arrive from the U.S. (remember that “slow boat” – that’s where the school stuff is right now). I hope it all arrives intact.

I have read that the typhoon that hit Taiwan was a big deal and that Shanghi is dealing with it now, but we haven’t had to deal with any of that storm up to now. We’ve had sunny weather for the past 3 days. It made moving in much easier.

Our area (Clifford) has a really great bus system. The buses come by almost every 5 minutes and make getting around quite convenient. If we leave our community, there are buses that will take you just about anywhere you would want to go. Yesterday I learned that the #1 bus will take you to a movie theater where they show the new releases in English with Chinese subtitles, and there is also a night market nearby. Those night markets are amazing. I will have to tell you about them some other time.

I tried a mangosteen for the first time yesterday. Delicious! They look so ugly on the outside, but the inside is amazing. Also, I really like dragon fruit, and the papaya here is divine. I’m so glad that I can prepare food in our own home now, so we can get what we like to eat and not be stuck eating “expensive” fatty pieces of meat at restaurants.

Brad and Meg and Jace bought a chicken at the supermarket yesterday. Meg wouldn’t let Brad buy one at the “wet market” where you choose your live chicken and they butcher it for you, so they went upstairs to the supermarket and bought one. It was a whole chicken, including the head and neck and legs and claws attached. The chickens here are much smaller than in the U.S. I’m told it’s because they don’t give them hormones to make them grow big. Anyway, we ate the chicken today. We cooked it in a stew pot (like a slow cooker only a little hotter and faster) with some vegetables and it was really good).

I will hunt down my camera cable this week and post some photos.

I hear thunder now, so apparently our sunny weather is taking a break for a little while at least.

A Break in the Clouds

08-06-2009 (Written offline)

Just now, I’m sick of hotels, unfamiliar food, and generally feeling displaced. Even when we get our house, we won’t have access to the things we packed until they get here in another five weeks (you’ve heard about the slow boat to/from China – that’s what they are on). Brad has been to work every day these last four days and we’ve been stuck here with nothing to do. We are all going a little stir crazy. Grumpy me. I think I need to go for a run.

School is supposed to start next Wednesday and we are still putting in applications to schools. AISG is not going to work out, they base admissions too heavily on the entrance exam performance; our 13 year-old son has never taken that sort of test before and found it confusing. Our 15 year-old daughter has limited experience with those exams also, add jet-lag into the mix, plus our late application, and I think it was not good. We have talked with another international school which doesn’t require an entrance exam, and they place into grades according to age. This is how it was done in Utah and we were able to help our kids through the transition from homeschool to public school quite well. It took a lot of effort at home, but it did work out. I already know our 15 year-old has the ability to do just fine in whatever school she goes to. She’s already made the transition to “regular” school.

Someone from church just called to tell me she has a car and would love to take me shopping for some of the things that we will need in order to get a home set up. That was really a nice ray of hope in a dreary day. We can make it through this and I know the Lord is mindful of us.

It’s finally stopped raining now. I even see some blue sky at the moment.

The China Diet

I’m not sure how I will post photos onto Facebook or this blog when using a proxy server. (Yikes!!! It is still storming as I write – using battery power – and it is one impressive display just now, though not as bad as our camping trip in Omaha, Nebraska was years ago. You sure have to respect Mother Nature). I think I will probably set up a Picassa or Flickr account (hope I don’t have to proxy that too) for you to view photos. I’ll let you know.

Snack food from the U.S. is easily available here in the Clifford/Panyu area. The “difficulty” for me is that I don’t eat refined sugar. Without the “health food” options that I had available locally in the U.S., I have much less snacking going on. I eat some crackers or fruit occasionally, but most of it is unfamiliar, so it doesn’t have much “comfort food” value. I have no scale, but I know I haven’t gained any weight since moving here, and I may have lost a little, all while lounging around in hotels. For all of us though, the food is unfamiliar, so we tend to stop eating when we are satisfied rather than full at mealtime. It should be interesting to see what happens with all our weights.

I have curly hair now, which has surprised my children and Brad. I don’t even try to make it straight – why fight a losing battle? I just try to keep it from being frizzy. I will try to get some photos up soon somehow, and you can see.

We went to have photos for our Clifford I.D. cards taken last night. They took the photos and then Photo-shopped them! They removed pimples, and other skin blemishes. This was strange to us, but we sure liked the pictures!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stormy Weather

I didn't think it was possible to rain harder than it did yesterday, but somehow it is. With thunder and lightning today. Whoowee! We may just huddle in the hotel today...

I was watching CNN this morning and experienced the censored version of the news. They stopped a report about the Uighur woman "behind the attacks" in Northern China (I think it was about the documentary showing of her life happening the Australian Film Festival), and they stopped a report about Google video developments (haven't found that story on the internet yet so I don't know what it is). It all feels rather "Big Brother-ish" just now.

gotta go - the storm is close and I don't want my computer to get fried.

That's a Lotta Water!

Today it poured buckets of rain all morning long. There was no thunder, but it set off a car alarm near our hotel. When it seemed to be letting up, we went to the shopping area and bought umbrellas. It seemed like a good time to take care of that. Sure thing, it pretty much stopped raining for the day.

We got a bank account set up today with the help of someone from Brad’s work and the bank manager. I now have a “magic card” for shopping (debit). It’s a lot easier than trying to figure out the cash, but I think money will spend too quickly that way, so I’d better get the hang of this money thing ASAP. Also, I need to get a battery operated calculator. My solar one in my purse won’t work under the store lights.

We hope to hear from the school soon about the admissions status for our kids. It will be nice to have that cleared up – since school starts in one week (yikes).

We will move into our apartment tomorrow or the next day. It will be so nice to have a place to call home. What a relief that will be. We may not have internet access for a few days though. I don’t know how long it will take to get that connected.

One interesting thing here: You do not tip service people here. Bellboys, restaurant servers, etc., will look at you like you are crazy if you try.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Foggy Day

I woke up today and thought of Carl Sandburg's poem when I looked out the window.


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

The main difficulty just now is that the fog is not moving on. There is no breeze and the humidity seems to be rising, so that it is getting denser (is that a word?).

The weather here with all the humidity is lovely for the softness of my hair, but it has awakened all the unruly curls I enjoyed forgetting that I had. I either have to find a way to make the curls less frizzy, or some really good hairspray. At any rate, just now, a hair dryer is kind of a pointless tool since I mainly used it to straighten the curls.

We rode the taxi into the city yesterday to go to church. $25 U.S. each way!* That certainly can't continue. Next week someone will show us how to take the bus. It was a nice meeting. People were very friendly and it was nice to be able to understand what people were saying and have them understand us. Apparently the attendance is down right now but will pick up when school starts and people come back from vacation. Our girls will double the size of the Young Women's group. I'm just glad to hear that there are some other youth for them to make friends with. Most of them also live here in Clifford. In the Young Men's group, three of the boys' names start with "J" and only one person's doesn't. It's pretty funny.

I can hardly wait to get into a home and be able to start taking Mandarin lessons. I feel like such a dullard not being able to speak the language here.

The school admissions test is out of the way and we just await word of whether or not they are accepted. They seem to be highly motivated to accept Western-looking, native English-speaking students, since it is highly ironic for the "American" international school to have predominantly Korean passport holders and Asian-looking students. I know if they go there, my kids will be pushed academically, which I think will be very good for them. In the U.S., a good education is taken for granted and many have the attitude that it should be made easy and handed to them. Here, people work very hard for the opportunity of good schooling and take it seriously because they know that they will need the knowledge in order to have a successful future. All you have to do is walk outside a few blocks and you have ready testimony to what life is like without education. Still, this school is American in style rather than the Chinese "eat-sleep-and-breathe-your-studies" type of school. Many families want this school, just because they know it allows them the best chance to have an education plus some family time.

I'm so grateful for the chance to get on here and post. Sometimes you don't even realize all the freedoms you have, until someone comes along and limits them or takes them away.

*Correction: The taxi to church was $25 U.S. round trip not each way. I misunderstood Brad when he told me.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hooray! I'm On! (for now)...

Well, the Great Firewall is big, and great, but not completely impervious. Years ago I married a computer geek and not regretted it for a minute. :-)

It is very humid here compared to the dry climate we're used to. We got off the plane and felt like we were breathing under water and had a serious case of insta-sweat. By the time we went to bed that first night, our clothes were quite wet. Whew!

We wandered through a night market in Hong Kong that first evening. It was like a giant street festival or the farmer's markets in the U.S. EVERYTHING was for sale. Part of me wishes I had bought one of the nice purses I saw, but we had too much luggage to deal with to be adding more stuff to it. Guess I'll just have to go back one of these days or find a local equivalent.

It's interesting, I was cautioned not to carry a purse in Guangzhou because of the risk of theft, but I look around and everyone carries a purse - the men even more than the women. It's a sight that takes a little getting used to. In Spain they call them "bolsas" and there is no gender attachment to who carries them there either. I wonder why we have such rigid "rules" about it in the U.S.?

The sun is setting here right now. It is very red due to all the pollution, but it's beautiful. Still, I have been paying attention to the infamous pollution levels and at least here on the outskirts of the main city, it's generally not so horrid. In the city where the factories are is another matter altogether... Today was the worst pollution day since we came here - like a bad inversion day in Utah. The sky was white today, but the past days they have been blue with some clouds. I think the daily rainstorms help clear the air. I wonder what the acid content of the rain is here?

It is interesting to me to see that in the homes, each room has a separate air-conditioning unit rather than central air. Here at the hotel, people seem to appreciate the cool A/C, but don't hesitate to leave outside doors open.

When we go to the restaurants, if they happen to give us "napkins", they are always the equivalent of pocket facial tissue. Most of the time however, there is nothing in the way of napkins at the table. Also, public restrooms, if you dare to use them, have no tissue so you'd better carry your own supply.

The company has a driver who's sole job is to drive "the bosses" around where they need to go. He has been carting us places all week. It's nice not to have to worry about finding our way around or driving here. It's been a strange concept for the kids to think about a man's only work being to drive people places. They understand taxi drivers, but to pay a driver a constant wage just so he's available whenever you want him, sounds rather "high-brow" and "chauffeur-like". I guess it is, but I would never, ever, want to do the driving here.

It's an interesting thing about the drivers here. There is zero concern about letting engines idle while waiting for someone even as long as an hour. This ensures that the drivers have an air-conditioned environment to wait in. Of course, it also contributes to all the pollution. If the Chinese government really want's to clear the air here, they have a lot of work to do beyond making the factory standards more stringent. They have two or three billion people to educate about personal environmental impact. I consider myself a global warming skeptic, but come on, people, unless you're a fish, do you really want to poop in the water you live in (so to speak)? In fairness, they are making some progress here with anti-pollution, but the factory growth is hard to keep up with and people seem very willing to accept the status-quo.

We've been eating at restaurants since we came and have concluded that our favorite food in China so far is..... Korean. It's the only place to easily get regular rice and veggies, except at a Mongolian hot-pot type of place, where you cook it at your table as you eat it, which gets a little complicated. At the Korean restaurant, we can order stone-bowl Bi Bim Bop, with rice, veggies and an egg, served in a VERY HOT stone or cast-iron bowl. Simple and YUM. :-)

Gotta run. It's time to hunt up another meal. Maybe we'll do Korean again...