“China Days”

There are China Days, and there are “China Days.”

Every expat has them. It’s a day when every possible thing you dislike about living in China happens. Every one of them. If you had a list of pros and cons about living here, you could check off the cons as they keep happening. Last night we tried determining how often we’re allowed to have these god awful, pain in the ass days. Mine aren’t often, but once every few months is about spot-on.

The Guardian recently published an article David Sedaris wrote about his two weeks spent in China earlier this year. We went to see him speak and really enjoyed it. But this article was so negative, so down on China and the Chinese that it upset a lot of people, especially expat Sedaris fans (myself included) living here. The article was severely offensive and inaccurate, and I don’t want to do that here. I’m just hoping to share some VERY rare, funny moments with you.  When I’m feeling frustrated, I remind myself that I live in their country, not the other way around. I wish everyone who visited or criticized China ( or any country for that matter) remembered that. We don’t travel or live abroad to experience the exact same life we know in the US. If that were the case, we would all just stay put and never go anywhere.  We travel to experience the new, to see how the rest of the world lives, and to shake things up a bit!

As my posts are usually really positive, describing how much I love it here, I figure one  negative post would paint a more accurate picture. Yesterday was a god-awful, pain in my ass China day. These so-called China Days also happen less and less the longer I live here. I’m used to the hassle of small things (like insanity of dealing with utilities here, the death-defying driving, crossing the street like you’re actually IN the game Frogger), so it takes a bit more to get me riled up.

It started off at 4am. We have new neighbors upstairs who decided it was time to run like elephants across their hardwood floors, and right above our bedroom. Not so bad, could happen anywhere! But I was up.

When the sun came up at six I made some coffee and sat down at the dining room table. We have a patio off the dining room and there are flowers planted beyond that. A few times a week, workers are hired to weed, fertilize, and apparently, piss on our patio. I looked up from my coffee to see a man, not five feet from our window, facing me, taking a leak. I’ll give him a BIT of credit (am I too nice?), he couldn’t see me.  Our patio is fenced in, or caged in…see?

But he was standing, facing it (the patio), and I was sitting inside eye to eye with….IT.

I opened the window and yelled in my best Chinese “HEY, I LIVE HERE!” And he ran off. Thanks for fertilizing, my friend.

Did I mention how ‘foggy’ it’s been lately? We use the term ‘fog’ for pollution because that’s what the Chinese call it. I’ve never experienced smelly fog, though. This summer has been, according to those who have lived here for many years, one of the worst they’ve seen. There’s an air quality index posted every hour, and it’s been in the “very unhealthy” level for days, occasionally “hazardous.” So not only have I been listening to the new neighbors polish their floors with clogs upstairs and staring into the eye of a ……….well, I can’t really get away either because of the air.

The Mister decided to take me out to dinner last night, to a Chinese restaurant we love. I’ll skip over the time it took to drive 3 miles to drive there. We are greeted warmly by the staff, and are also greeted by an insane amount of cigarettes and cigars despite the ban on indoor smoking. Laws, what laws? They don’t matter if they’re not enforced, right?

Sitting to our left- a table of four men drinking Baijiu (basically bathtub fire water), smoking like chimneys, and one guy even has his shirt off. The door was open so the air wasn’t too bad, but then the man with his shirt off decides he’s gonna hock up a loogie and spit it on the floor.  IN A RESTAURANT.

We promptly got up and moved to a less smoky, less repulsive, non-spitting section of the restaurant, where a group to our left consisted of five twenty-somethings with an adorable Chow puppy. I will take a puppy at the table over a loogie any day.

I had to use the bathroom…..and I mean I really needed to use the bathroom, but I knew what awaited me behind the door- a squatter. A traditional, Chinese squatter. No seat, no toilet paper. Ever walk into a bathroom with two socks and leave with one? Wiped with a receipt? Seriously, you haven’t lived. Thank god for that stack of Starbucks napkins in my purse!  And strong thighs! Some would argue the squatter is MORE hygenic, as your body touches nothing anyone else has touched.  I say, that may be true, just be sure to roll up your jeans first.

We ordered the same thing we always order. A lamb dish with cilantro and cumin, and a spicy cabbage dish we can’t seem to get enough of lately. Of course, because it was a China day the cabbage wasn’t up to par. Eh.

Something happened today, though. The skies cleared.

I went for a long walk this morning through Ritan park and stopped to admire the hundreds of people practicing tai chi. I walked a bit further and there were groups of old men sitting with their song birds, admiring their tunes and playing mahjong and cards.

Couples ballroom danced, some played hackey sack, others practicing martial arts with swords. The sun was peeking out, it was all so peaceful, and I was so happy to BE here.

I stopped at a street cart on the way home for breakfast of a Chinese style bread with an egg cooked in it, slathered with chili sauce and wrapped around some lettuce. It cost 39 cents.

So, there are China Days and there are China Days. They’re both interesting,one’s just a bit less…hygenic. Hasn’t killed me yet. Not even a stomach ache.

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Taobao

There’s a website in China called Taobao. It’s similar to Ebay, except that it’s not only individuals selling items, its manufacturers also. That means amazing things are available to purchase, and usually at significantly lower prices than we’d pay in the US.

The only difficulty is that it’s all in Chinese characters, and while the Mr. and I are getting better and better with our spoken Mandarin, reading it well enough to trust it with our credit card is just…pushing it. Luckily, a Chinese friend who also speaks English helped us out last weekend, and we ordered some amazing things for the baby and the nursery.

What’s fantastic is that not only did we order all of this stuff on a Sunday, but we had to run to the bank to enable a feature on our account. Yup, the bank was open on a Sunday. Nice. And, moments after we placed orders, we got phone calls from the sellers, confirming things like our address, color preferences, delivery options. Impressive. Fast forward to noon on Monday, less than 24 hours after ordering, and 1/2 of the items we ordered were at our door.

There’s always the lingering question with name brand items purchased here…are they real? Are they really good knock-offs?

Case in point I ordered an Ergo baby carrier. Rave reviews about this thing from Moms everywhere, but it costs over $100 USD on Amazon.  Found this badboy on Taobao. 160 rmb. That’s a little over $26 USD. Hmmmmmm. Would it be the same? Would it be a cheap substitute?

It’s exact. Box, instruction manual, everything. EXACT.

Granted, we couldn’t have done this on our own without the help of our awesome friend, but I think we could manage now with a little google translate. And you can order ANYthing on Taobao. Large size shoes (!!), Hershey’s cocoa powder, a sewing machine, furniture, houseplants….it’s all there.

Hide the credit card! Taobao, you are AMAZING.

Sidenote- the Chinese friend of ours brought over 20 bananas for me. “It’s very good for the baby,” she said. As always, so so sweet. But, ummmmm, how does one person (or two, for that matter, the Mr. will help!) eat 20 bananas before they turn brown? I could, if I pushed myself, eat…ohhhhh two a day, but that’s 10 days of bananas. They go bad within about five. I’ve already made banana bread, and banana pudding is next. I just hope I don’t give birth to a gorilla.

The Beijing Beatles

Feeling the need for some live tunes last weekend, we checked out the roster for a cool little joint called VA bar, in the happening hutong ,Wudaoying. Turns out, the “Beijing Beatles” were playing. Sold.

We had our hopes set on an awesome Chinese Beatles knock-off band….perhaps a few giggles.

What we got instead was this:

2 guys from England (Don Lemon and Raul McCarthy), a guy from Australia (Jorge Arrowsmith), and the drummer, Gringo Star, from France. And they were awesome….not just in a hokey, costume-y way, these guys rocked. The lead singer had a fantastic voice, and the rest of the band was insanely good!

Who knew the best Beatles tribute band would be found right here in Beijing?

American Summer Vacation

 

It’s amazing how technology seems to shorten distance and time.

We’d not been back to the US in over 15 months, but it felt as if no time passed when we visited in July for my Brother’s wedding, and a week-long visit with the in-laws. We kept commenting on how email, skype and the ability to call everyone truly makes the distance seem like nothing. I can’t imagine how different things were just a few decades ago, when a letter might take 3 weeks to arrive.

The wedding in Michigan was absolutely fantastic. The bride and groom were glowing, the location couldn’t be beat, and being a part of it meant so much to both of us. We had a glorious week on Lake Huron, complete with boat rides, jumps off of the infamous lighthouse (I skipped this time due to a special little one, but I received my badge of honor a few years ago!), visits with friends, family and lovable dogs. There’s something so special about the Great Lakes…I feel like they’re this hidden gem of the US- a secret summer wonderland that gets overlooked, but has some of the best water sports and summer fun around. We’re talking huge bodies of fresh, clear water with no critters that will sting, bite or kill you. It’s not crowded, not expensive, and did I mention the stars at night?  What more could you want?

Congrats to the Bride and Groom. We couldn’t be happier for you!

After the  wedding festivities, we headed to Maine, where we met up with my in-laws in Boothbay Harbor. It was the first time to Maine for both of us, and I’m pretty sure I could live there. WOW, it’s stunning. The houses, waterfront, nature, lobster, adorable accents and CHOWDA are just so…charming. We rented a cottage for the week, which sat on a small, warm lake that was perfect for swimming. We visited the HUGE LL Bean store in Freeport, shopped for the baby, went on an unsuccessful, yet fun whale watching adventure,fished for mackerel and the Mr. showed off his campfire-making skills each night.

Dear Maine- you’re another well-kept secret in the USA!  P.S.- damn your delicious, calorie-filled whoopie pies!

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Whoopie-Pies-107615

Special thank you to BOTH families and all of our friends for the surprise baby showers and thoughtful gifts! It meant so much to us.

Things feel different now, but I guess that’s to be expected. While being in the USA and spending time with friends and family means so much to us, we were excited to be back home in Beijing. And yep, it absolutely feels like home now.

You’d think touching down in a hot and sticky, 99 percent humidity with an insane crush of people in an hour-long taxi line might put us off, but nope.

Sure, I sometimes wish I could just drive to the local Whole Foods, understand conversations, and not have to worry about whether or not our electricity (especially our a/c) will last throughout the night before I can spend a few hours figuring out how to add more, but….

We were giggling like kids yesterday while we ate our street cart breakfast, visited the farmer’s market, and stopped by the flower market, snickering at the guys in their ‘Beijing Bikinis’ before getting a much-needed foot massage.

There’s just something about being here, right now, that is so special.

Expecting in the Middle Kingdom

As you all know by now, we’re expecting our first baby in November. We’re beyond excited, and can’t wait to meet this little person who has started kicking and punching me with a vengeance!

Being pregnant in Beijing is unique. There are some specific Chinese customs and traditions regarding pregnancy that are just wild, and I thought it would be fun to share these with you. I’ve also had some really funny experiences already, now that it’s obvious to others that I’m pregnant.

I want to point out that children are CHERISHED in China. While some of these traditions are going to sound really bizarre and crazy, in the end, this is going to be an absolutely wonderful place to have a baby. Children here are fawned over, cooed at, played with, showered with attention and just plain adored. Foreign babies get even more attention. Despite many expats horror stories “they took photos of my child without asking!” I am going to try to remember that its out of serious adoration that the Chinese say and do things we, in the West, just don’t find normal. And with that…on to the crazy!

Shall we start with conception?

To conceive a baby of the desired sex, tradition tells couples to eat specific foods seven days before conception. If they want a boy, they should eat tofu, mushrooms, carrots and lettuce. For a girl, the diet is pickles, meat and fish.

Rubbing the belly too much will lead to a spoiled child.

A baby who kicks a lot will grow up to be naughty.

In China, pregnant woman do not drink cold beverages. EVER.  I have already been scolded for drinking ice water. “It will hurt baby!!!” Ummmmmm, I don’t think so.

After a woman gives birth in China, she does not shower, brush her teeth, wash her hair, or any other part of her body…..FOR ONE MONTH. I’ve asked about the medical significance of the impending tooth decay and stench, however the only answer I’ve ever received is “Chinese women are very weak after having a baby.”  Okay.

After giving birth, Chinese women cannot sit in air conditioning or by an open window or fan for at least a month. This will cause health problems later in life.

Pregnant women should not attend funerals or weddings, as the emotion involved could cause her to miscarry.

Mothers-to-be should not use scissors, needles or knives in their own shadow because the sharp objects could hurt the baby. Personally, I think this one was invented by a husband, fearing for his safety after he looked at his pregnant wife the wrong way. Sorry, Honey!!!

Some of my pregnant friends have been told by taxi drivers that they will not turn on the air conditioning for them. Again, this cold thing and pregnancy in China- it’s seriously considered horrible. Mind you, it’s 95 and humid here. My friend told the taxi driver she might die if he didn’t turn on the air, so either way the baby would be harmed.

Today, I was at the market, bargaining with a tailor. It was getting heated, and the tailor told me “please don’t get angry, please…you are pregnant, it is not good for the baby.” He still didn’t come down on his price.  Nice try, buddy. Ummm, can I use your scissors for a minute?!