Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Farewell Shanghai!

I know I'll be posting this a little after I return to the States. But, I'm writing it before and after I leave, so just keep that in mind when you read this final blog for Shanghai Lullaby.

In the last few days here in Shanghai, the kids and I have been busy exploring this big and bustling city in which we have lived the last two years., what a city. As most big cities, this one offers everything a big city person craves...people, lights, commerce, nightlife, food...ENERGY, almost around the clock.

I'm still a small town girl at heart, but it took living in such a dynamic city as this one to truly appreciate why other people, like my husband and oldest son, crave this kind of energy so much. I have to admit that it does grab you. The convenience, the accessibility, the variety...all of it...takes a hold of you and now I see why some people have a hard time ever letting that feeling go.

In the last few days, I drive around the city, looking not just through it, but AT it. And wow...what a city it is! And as I pass certain iconic features of the city, I admit in my heart that after two years, I will kind of miss a few things. So, it's in this last blog that I have to say goodbye...

Written monologue & journal of the last few days:
I wake up feeling more than a little tired, as is the usual these past few weeks due to getting up with my infant. I already hear my two older boys clamoring in the other room, already awake and ready for breakfast. Although, I have them trained and they know not to wake mommy up too early. I sit up, stretch, massaging my achy back. I proceed to take care of baby #3's morning needs, still half asleep. The sun these days seems to rise earlier than a rooster's bright through the slit in the curtains! My infant definitely will not go back to sleep with that kind of light filtering in the room. *sigh*

The boys are making even more noise now and I feel I better hurry out the door to make them be quiet. My friend's husband came home from their home country for a little vacation - FOUR days earlier than when we are supposed to leave.
I'm sorry...but, what an annoying man! Since his arrival, and because I know he doesn't even appreciate it when his own kids make noise, I feel I have to shush my kids every few minutes! He knew our itinerary and that it would be just us girls until at least May 16th! But, in his own man mind, he decides to come back earlier to use up some of his vacation time just for the heck of it. My friend seems to think his main objective for coming at all is a booty call! Grrr...

I shush my kids and proceed to make them breakfast. I go back upstairs to get ready for the day. I have decided to take the boys through the city and take pictures. We all get ready and away we goooo! I took a few pictures...before it started raining! The weather in Shanghai has been absolutely nerve wracking this, then cold, super hot, then downright frigid. And it's mid-May! What's the deal? Annoying. We cut our day short and head back home.

Chilled for a few hours before the LAST gathering of friends to meet up for dinner. We went to a very nice and tasty Chinese food restaurant. Transitioned to the Vue Bar on the Bund and saw a spectacular show of the Pudong skyline. That was fantastic! Afterwards, a few of us head to a foot massage parlor and enjoyed our last moments together. The whole evening was filled with lots of laughs and lots of tears, gifts exchanged. Saying goodbye was really, really hard. Hated it.

Got up to do it all over again. Rain. Picnic cancelled at the park. Took the boys with me to do some last minute errands, came home...and packed. Ugh. What a task!! How many bags do I have now?? Yikes! Seven large bags and three carry ons! How are we going to get to the airport? Ugh.

Visited my chinese, local friend in the hospital...she just had surgery. Need to say goodbye. I bring my two older boys along since they also have a relationship with both my friend and her daughter. This friend and i have been neighbors and friends for the past two years. Her daughter was Ryan's first and bestest friend for two whole years. The fought and played like brother and sister. This might be hard.

We arrived at the hospital and my friend's mother starts crying. She treated my boys like surrogate Grandchildren and she will miss us very much. She only speaks chinese, so my friend has to translate. The mother gives me a great, big bear hug and doesn't let go. We hug for several moments, as I rub her back softly and we rock. Then, I sit down and hug my friend. We talk for several minutes. Our kids are playing together on the empty bed in the room. Her family arrives to's time to say goodbye. My friend's daughter senses "the moment" we have to say goodbye and she starts screaming at her mother and breaks down crying. :-( Chinese parents are a bit harder on their kids than westerners, especially when it comes to feelings. Just as her mom was going to "control" her daughter's behavior with some yelling of her own...I grabbed my friend's hand to catch her attention. She looked at me and I told her right there, with a meaningful glance, that her daughter FEELS we do...and to go easy. That was all it that single moment, my friend also truly understood that this was our "real" goodbye. She started crying...I started crying...her daughter was crying...her mother was crying. My boys were looking at their new presents. Hmphhh.

I went to her daughter and opened my arms. She went into them immediately and I just hugged her for several long moments. Her mother (my friend) couldn't because she was flat on her back from surgery. Then I whispered gently into her ear how much we would miss her. How much we wanted to see her again. I told her I loved her and I felt deep in my heart we would see her again. I asked her to look after her mommy and grandma for me. She nodded her head. I told her that if we didn't leave to go back to America, how was she ever going to get to visit us in America? That seemed to calm her...yeah, that sounded logical to her. Because she really does want to visit America someday.

Shortly after that, and after one more round of hugs, we left. Suffice it to say...I was emotionally drained. That, by far, was the hardest goodbye yet.

My friend asked me to pick my favorite meal and they would cook it. Am I dying? But, of course, my ready answer to them was Raclette Cheese...with a Swiss chocolate finish! :-) So, that's what we got to eat. Ryan had picked out a cake to say his own farewell, but we all agreed it tasted really bad. Ick. Thank goodness we had some Swiss chocolate in the house! This is when all the kids wanted desperately to give my friend her farewell gift...and a thank you for letting us stay! My friend bakes her own bread - a lot. But, she doesn't have a bread box. I asked her about it and she admitted she didn't know why she didn't own a bread box. So, I had purchased one for her that was wooden...simple and plain. With permanent markers, I had each of the kids in the house draw pictures on a side of the box and sign their names and date it. Then, I had all of our mutual friends do the well as myself. It turned out fantastic...a little busy...but definitely a memory of our time together. Inside, was a house tassle for good fortune in the style of the Jiangxi Province artists (blue and white drawings) since she loves those patterns...and a fabric picture frame of my favorite pictures of her and her friends...myself included. :-) More tears...more hugs...

Our final day...the day of our departure. Racing to get every last item packed and the kids ready to go! Race, race, race! Tidying up, making one final breakfast, last shower with the rain shower head, giving items away to our ayi, bundling up the sheets and pillowcases for washing, handing the utility money off to my friend, handing our ayi's salary off to her, handing over our driver's salary. Race, race, race. Good! We are on time! One last thing...printing out the ayi and driver's letter of recommendations! C'MON slooowww computer...think faster!! What!? Can't print? Needs a special program to communicate with my friend's SWISS computer and printer? Aaaaggghh! Ok, switch it off...switch on her computer. Slooowwww. Tapping my feet, wiggling in my chair...sweating slightly. C'MON!! Won't print! Why? I don't know because everything is in German! My friend walks in, reminding me that I should have been on my way several minutes ago. Yeah, yeah! She takes a look at the computer...tells me that the computer I'm on just doesn't print and she doesn't know why. Aaagghhhh!!!!! Oh, never mind then!!

Race out to the have been waiting for a long time. Get the kids out, say their final goodbyes to their friends. Say my final goodbyes to my friend. More tears, more hugs. And off we go to the airport.

Arrive at the airport...NOBODY is in line. Lady tells me everyone else has already gone ahead to the gate. That can't be good. She miscalculates our baggage. To fix the problem, I demand they bring our baggage out for all of us to see. They the eleventh hour. the airline personnel RACES alongside us to get us to the gate. At customs, another airline employee helps and races alongside us. We are all RACING to the gate...them in high heels. How do they do that!? Of course the gate is one of the last on a wing of the airport. Five of us are running...and a stroller! My two little whiners are complaining that their feet hurt as we run and want to slow down! RUUUNNNN, damn you!!! They seem to feel my stress at this point and start to run faster. Employees are waiting at the gate, ready to bag the stroller and car seat. They tell me to hurry...uh, you think?! We race into the airplane and find our seats. An employee is strapping the boys in as the plane starts to roll backwards towards the runway!!! Whew! WAY too close!

And away we goooooooooooo...

heading for home.

And as the plane takes off, I think about the past few days and weeks. I close my eyes and say goodbye.
Goodbye copy markets
Goodbye pearl market
Goodbye cheap things
Goodbye neat things
Goodbye bridges
Goodbye lights
Goodbye buildings
Goodbye Shanghai nights
Goodbye energy
Goodbye museums
Goodbye mosquitoes
Goodbye heat
Goodbye air pollution
Goodbye people who wash their produce in storm drains
Goodbye people who stare into my shopping cart as I grocery shop
Goodbye people who give my kids candy when I'm not looking
Goodbye driver
Goodbye ayi
Goodbye friends :-(
Goodbye morning Tai Chi guy
Goodbye chinese food
Goodbye city life
Goodbye old buildings
Goodbye bad water
Goodbye chinese people who spit on the ground in front of me
Goodbye taxi drivers who pee on the side of the road
Goodbye trick bar
Goodbye Vue Bar
Goodbye squat toilets
Goodbye split pants
Goodbye chinese babies bottoms
Goodbye Pearl Tower
Goodbye Shovel building
Goodbye Bund
Goodbye cheap movies
Goodbye lingering haziness that never seems to go away
Goodbye chinese people who LOVE my kids
Goodbye safe living
Goodbye crazy driving
Goodbye Coffee Bean
Goodbye Bubba's
Goodbye lights on buildings, double decker buses and boats
Goodbye foot massage parlors on every corner
Goodbye Huangpu River
Goodbye Puxi/Pudong
Goodbye Taikang Lu

Goodbye Shanghai...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

2010 World Expo!!

Before Allen had left, we had purchased a few tickets to the of them being a 3-day pass for me. Kids under 1.2 m are both Ryan and Brandon could get in as well.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I took one day to visit the Expo with girlfriends, without kids, and one day WITH kids. That turned out to be a very good plan. The Expo site is gargantuan! There is a lot to see and even with a 3 day pass, you may not get to see everything. You can all probably imagine the immense amount of people visiting the Expo right now. It's insane!

The icon of the Expo is the big, red chinese pavillion. If you can get into that building, then you can see smaller representations of all the provinces throughout China. Would loved to have seen that, but it's near impossible to get into that building with all of the chinese people focusing their own attention on it as well. Of course, there are SO many more westerners in town right now. You can see them all over the place, and especially at the markets! But, there was also a TON of chinese people, visiting from other provinces as well. Let's just say, that countryside chinese people who are most likely coming from those provinces...don't have good manners, like the Shanghainese. *ahem*

Even when it was a few of us women who went to the Expo without our kids, they were staring at us. Our kids, as you can imagine, got LOTS of attention. Wooo-weee...we especially got lots of attention at the USA pavillion. Of course, they also thought my Swiss friend's kids were also American. We all look alike you know...

Prior to going to the Expo, the residents had been reading about the activity at the Expo site every day in the paper. We were all a little nervous because of the crowds. I was close to convincing myself not to go, on several occasions. However, I felt we OWED it to ourselves to go after putting up with all of the construction and dust and traffic the last two years! And now, I'm really glad that we did. It was a lot of fun!

The first day, without kids, the girls and I decided to be super casual about it. The theme of the Expo is "cities" and we all agreed that seemed to be a little boring. So, if we could get into any of the pavillions - great! If not, then we would just walk around and look at the pretty buildings. And that's what we did. It was great! We did end up getting into a couple of them in the morning, but as the park filled up throughout the day, we just ended up walking around looking at the outside of each pavillion. It turns out that the inside of any of these buildings would NEVER have been worth a two hour queue!! Some of the queues had shade, some didn't...which is miserable in the heat. Many of the chinese had their little umbrellas out for shade. One of the unfortunate things about the Expo, is that they don't have any cold bottled water available. Everything in the coolers are sugar drinks, which are even worse if you're trying to ward off sun stroke! The only water they had available was drinking fountains out in the sun, with tap water, or bottled water in cases they had near the windows of each store. Really...what are they thinking?! And it's not even summer here yet!

Each pavillion is represented by a different country and the variety of architecture and innovation in creating these unique buildings is absolutely fantastic!! Each one is truly unique and I'm so glad Brandon (especially) got to see what kinds of buildings people can build if they set their minds to it. The theme was "cities", so each building was obligated to center their presentations around that theme. Some had ideas for the future. Some had visions of past, present and future. Some talked about the environment or how people could impact the earth in a better way. Etc, etc, etc. Again, for us, there wasn't ANY building that would have been worth a long queue line, but each building had just that. Some were a 2-3 hour wait just to get inside! I guess for some, this is what they had come to Shanghai to do and they were going to see everything. And again, feeling SOOOOO good that we had a legitimate excuse to bypass these super long lines.

The the day out with the kids, we were sure to visit ALL of the buildings that were represented in our little group of kids. Each of our children had a lot of pride when it came to their own "home" building and each one wanted to show theirs off to their friends. And then we also got to see a few others as well. So, the kids had lots of fun.

Another fun activity for the kids was that you could by a "passport" that looked like a real passport, although it said Shanghai 2010 Expo on the front. Each page inside had the ink and security ribbon on it like in a real passport...and pictures of each pavillion. They were pretty cool. Each pavillion or country had their own stamp. So, the kids spent much of their day getting their passports stamped at each one we visited. I have to say though...the Chinese take everything to the extreme and usually find a way to abuse the system. On the first day, we saw SEVERAL chinese people with something like 40 books in their hand to be stamped! Apparently, one of my friends saw one fully stamped passport from the Expo, selling for over $100 USD on the internet!! Unbeleievable! When we wanted to buy one, they were all sold surprise there, considering that every other [chinese] person had WAY more than one of their own. Of course, when we asked if they would have more the next day, the "standard" answer was, "No. Not for a few days." Uh...what!? Me and my friends LUCKILY have learned to ignore "facts" like that and sure enough, we were able to buy a few the next day with the kids.

USA Pavillion:
Interestingly enough, we met a young woman at the USA building that was there working for the Expo until November. She sounded like she was from CA, so I asked her about it. She grew up in Irvine, Ca....went to University High School...and ended up going to college in Boston, not too far from where my close girlfriend who was with me, lives! Small world. The line for the USA pavillion was INSANELY busy and entirely too crowded! Gobs of people! So, of course, I was very curious to see if that kind of line was worth it for all those people, once they actually got into the building. Turns out, the USA representation was just so-so. They had a good message, but they could have done so much more. The fact that they didn't have a lot of money to put into their building and that they were kind of last minute about it...showed. At least, to me. According to my friends, many people want to say they visited the USA building. For them, it's a sign of status or something. So, there were lots of people there. Also, I thought the mascot of the USA building was kind of lame (although not as lame as the UK) was a buffalo. So, several of the items in the gift shop you are dumped into at the end of the presentation, has buffalo on it. Lame, considering they never once tied buffalo into their presentation! There were just these random buffalo on things. USA had a 4D presentation that talked about how to make certain areas of each city, greener. Not too bad, just not exceptional either. But, like I said, good message. I did like the beginning of the tour. They had large screens and for about 10 minutes, they had people of the streets of some city in the US, try to speak mandarin.
It was funny...and the chinese people got a real kick out of it. They were chuckling throughout the whole thing. But, of course, they got those people to say it right in the end and everyone cheered. Tied into the urban theme for USA, was the chinese American communities as well and how we can all work together to make things better.

Swiss Pavillion:

Ok, if I could have dual citizenship with any other country, I would definitely want to be Swiss. They just have really great and SUPER good quality stuff that comes out of that little country...AND it's pretty! Their building was simple, but the "coolest" at the Expo site. They had a chair lift that took you to the top of the building and flew you over an entire rooftop of rolling hills and green [artificial] grass. You had a great view of the Expo site and you had a chance to rest your feet. They were the only ride in town, so you can imagine how long their queue was all day long. They also had really cool, big screen clips of their country. Right now, the IMAX theaters are showing the "Alps" and I think they took clips of this also. It was really nice!

Singapore Pavillion:
This completed our little group's representation of their home countries. Singapore had a 7 minute movie clip, but I'm not sure what it was about since it was all in Mandarin. However, after the little movie, we got to go to the rooftop and stroll the beautiful garden paradise they had up there with many of Singapore's national flowers...the orchid. Also, the Singapore building had these really great massage chairs that massaged your calves located throughout their queue line - for free!

With the kids, we also saw Belgium...known for their diamonds, chocolates...and Smurfs. Did you know that?? I had no idea that the Smurfs were originally Belgian!
Outside their pavillion, you could buy Belgian fries, waffles and ice cream. Yum!

Another pavillion we got to see was the BIG African pavillion. Because many of the smaller African nations couldn't afford a big building to themselves, they were all in one big pavillion. Each country had a little scene that represented their country. I was walking though Kenya's area and stopped to wait for our friends. As I was waiting, I looked over at a wall close to me and took a second, closer look. There, on Kenya's wall, was a much younger looking Obama and his family! haha

The kids had fun in the African pavillion. Not only did they see a lot of really cool African decoration all in one place and listen to the beats of African drums but they also got to do a little of their own shopping. Each of us moms gave our children a small amount to spend and they had a lot of fun looking around at all the interesting arts and crafts made by the African people. It turns out that each of the kids only spent some of their money at the African pavillion, so they all had a little extra to purchase a Haibao (Expo's mascot) item as well. They were excited.

The UK pavillion was also very cool.The entire building was a cluster of "needles" that came out from the basic structure, making the building look "fuzzy" from afar. The idea behind their pavillion was to encapsulate seeds from around the planet, which were shown at the tips of these needles. The inside part of the building was called the Seed Cathedral. It was a walkway that took you around a small space, where you could see the seeds up close in each needle. Outside, you read that many of the different seeds were real and from different countries around the planet...and others were made up...and then asked you to identify which ones were which. You could see the kids' minds expand with this thought. It was cute.
The "walk" through the UK pavillion ended in a large open space where people could rest and in the kids' and jump and play. This one was a fun one for them.

We ended our day at the Expo taking some great photos in front of the Chinese Pavillion. It was a good day and the Expo was glad we did it! However, at the end of one day, much less two consecutive days of walking, we are certainly glad we are in China...home of the foot massage on every corner!

Final Days in Shanghai

Our final week here in

Talk about busy! The kids are not in school, so I have been letting them choose which activities they are interested in doing each day...whether that is a planned activity, running errands with me, coming with me to meet some friends or staying home and and playing. It turns out that many of the people I know here couldn't all get together on one day, at one particular time. So, I have been saying "goodbye" for several days now, to different friends. I can't EVEN describe to you how hard that has been on my psyche. Saying goodbye once is hard...saying it several times in a row is extremely painful.

I often think about why it feels so much harder this time around to say those goodbyes. Because I know friends I have left in the past have also been difficult...and they weren't any less important to me. So, why is it different this time?? I think it's because of the finality of the situation. These are women I have met from all over the world. The chances and likelihood that I will see any of them in the near or even possibly the distant future is MUCH slimmer than if they were moving to a different state in the U.S.

Yes, yes...of course we have technology on our side. But, we had those things for the use of our family and friends while living here and you all know it just isn't the same. It's a lot more FINAL now...and that seems to be wearing on all of us. And of course, we talk about meeting up someplace in the world every few years...but the probability of that is also slim...and we all know it. It COULD happen, if we all make it happen...but, there are also many obstacles life throws at you.

Also, saying goodbye to people like our teachers, and our doctors or anyone else who has made our lives easier while living here, has proven to be extremely difficult. Even saying goodbye to my ayi and our driver is difficult. Without these people, our lives here could have been even worse and that, in itself, is a very taxing thought. The doctors I have found here, I trust and respect WAY more than some of the ones I have found in the U.S. You don't really think leaving that kind of thing would be hard, since it's their JOB, right? Wrong. It's doubly hard when you have below average comparisons...and those are the ones you are going back to. I have learned not to underestimate how valuable GOOD health care can be. It's worth it's weight in gold...

So, saying goodbye has been tremendously taxing on me. To add to that, the news of my Grandmother's death kind of topped everything off this last week for me. She was the matriarch of our family and she will be missed. Somehow, there also seems to be a painful finality in the death of our family's matriarch. So many of my childhood memories were wrapped up in visiting HER...the fun, the laughter, the food, the festive spirit, the group gatherings...were all possible because she took the time to prepare for them, even if it had been someone else's idea. She did all the work, as most of us women can relate. She made those gatherings possible. So many memories...

She passed away JUST before the boys and I were to see her. My boys were excited about giving her a bracelet, because she had made so many for us. They still talk about visiting Nana when we get there...and I haven't had the heart to tell them the situation since they are going through GOBS of transitional and emotional stuff right now. *sigh*

I'm truly feeling worn down...

One of the days this week, some friends and I did a "non kid" Expo day. The primary purpose of this was to scope out the Expo for the day we intended to bring the kids, which was the very next day. At the end of the day, *apparently* Ryan got his foot run over by a car while I was away. Unfortunately, I didn't know anything about it until I got home. I entered the house after a very long, HOT and tiring day and walked into mayhem as all the kids began to try and relate to me what had happened. I looked at Ryan's toes and the skin was peeled off of a few of them. When I went to touch his bones, he said it hurt. So, I had to take him to see the doctor. However, by this time, his "usual" doctor had already transitioned from the INexpensive hospital to the EXpensive hospital. And after all that, it turns out that he LUCKILY doesn't have any broken bones or fractures. Just his skin was peeled off. "Whew"...I guess?

How did he get his foot run over??? Well, as I could gather from the ayis (we had two here that day) and the kids, Ryan was running after the bigger boys who went somewhere in the compound we had told them NOT to go...places with cars! The ayi was chasing after them, but further back because the boys had been running. This is where it gets a bit fuzzy...but apparently Ryan was told to get out of the road as a car was seen coming, but he just stepped back to the curb, instead of stepping up onto the sidewalk. And the shitty driver of the car didn't slow down even with Ryan in the curb area...and ran over his foot. LUCKY for Ryan and me and everyone!!!

This incident epitomizes why I'm so nervy about living in China with the kids. Crap like that. China is actually one of the safest places to far as intentional harm. It just doesn't happen here. And expat kids aren't kidnapped or at least, not very often, because they look so different and couldn't be disguised that well. But, GOD FORBID, a kid runs into the street for any random reason. When/if that happens, it could be over for the kid. No joke. My parenting style has changed from one of somewhat relaxed to nervousness, constantly barking orders to my kids so they don't do stuff like that. Kids just don't have the ability to think about stuff like that. No matter how many times you tell them rationally...they get an impulse and could jump on it.

Anyway...Ryan turned out to be ok - this time. And I'm thankful for that. Knowing that he truly was ok, the side benefit to that little episode was that Ryan had a legitimate excuse not to walk around the Expo the next day...and we could bypass several super long queues into the pavilions. ;-)

Trust me when I say...ALL of us were happy about that and most of all, the kids.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Brandon's last day(s)...

Well, if I thought Ryan's last day at school was's only because I hadn't anticipated Brandon's last day being SO MUCH harder. I kept trying to talk to Brandon about his last day coming up and asked him if he would like to celebrate with a cake in his class. Of course, the answer was 'yes.'

So, when I picked him up on his last day of school, he came down the stairs with a big smile on his face. Whew, I thought, his last day went well and he seems to be ok. I asked him about his day and he told me all about it...playing with his friends, eating the cake...pretty much being the center of attention all day long. He received little cards from all of his classmates, telling him their feelings about him leaving.

I read those in the car...OMG! Kids this age don't have the emotional inhibitions that they will eventually develop as older kids and reading the cards got me very teary eyed. Brandon said he had not read them yet, but wanted to read them before bed when he had more time.

His seemingly good last day at school could have also been 'good' because him and his closest friends were anticipating Brandon's 'farewell' party the next day. He had missed several IMPORTANT school events that coincided and happened all in a row, during the recent trip to Guilin we took. He had been quite upset about it and my friend (whose house I'm staying) suggested a farewell party - just for him and his friends. I thought that was pretty extraordinary of her to offer her house up and we went ahead and planned one for Brandon. Brandon got to help with the planning of it, so he could really get excited about it.

So, the day after his last day at BISS, all his closest little friends came over for a football/disco party...with pizza and soda. There were about 10 kids there, including the little siblings we had already here at the house. They played football/soccer at the clubhouse for a while and played on the outdoor play structure. Then, we came to the house...they ate and drank to their hearts' content...and then we turned down the lights and they danced the night away to loud music.

One of the parents came about 1/2 hour before the party ended and did a very special send off for Brandon. She had all the kids sign and say something nice to Brandon on a chinese "wishing light" or paper lantern. Then, when it was dark outside, they lit the wax base and the lantern filled with hot air. After a few minutes, it lifted off into the night air and could be seen floating away for a very long time. The kids were SOOOOOO excited about this activity! Their little imaginations flew right along with the lantern and they talked, excitedly, about how the lantern was going to fly all the way to America and maybe Brandon's Grandma and Grandpa would see it. I suggested that his Auntie and Uncle might also see it. His eyes were all lit up with these suggestions. One of his friends exclaimed that he may even see it outside the window of the airplane! They asked if it would go into space...and the dad said, "Yep." They all exclaimed over that thought and another friend asked what the aliens would think if they saw it floating in space. It was soooooooo cute!!! And Brandon LOVED the did all the little kids. They watched the lantern for a very long time.

What I hadn't expected...and neither did Brandon...was the gifts for Brandon that came with the kids for the party. While I can certainly appreciate the thought...the parents may have forgotten that I'm living out of suitcases right now!! Ugh! One of the presents was a brand new, shiny soccer ball. After the lantern activity, they had a "ball" (pun intended here) kicking that around well into the evening.

So, all in all, the party went very well. All the kids had LOTS of fun! However, at some point, it was time to say 'goodbye.' :-( As each child left, Brandon said an individual goodbye, took pictures with his friend and gave them a hug...and eventually watched each one of them walk out of his little life, forever.

That's when it hit a ton of bricks. Grief. Plain and a way I hadn't seen him express in a very long time. He cried (sobbed, really) for about one and half hours, consistently, until he fell asleep exhausted. He told me he doesn't want to leave China...he didn't want to leave his school...that he will miss his friends. He asked why he couldn't stay at his school until the end, like the other children. He wanted to know why we had to leave China. He asked specifically about Allen's new job and why he had to leave. He told me he didn't want to move to a place that had only rocks in the yard and that it was harder to play soccer. He wants GRASS! Hmmm...all tough questions and concerns. Again, it may have been helpful to have Allen help explain some of this as well. But, he just had me and I hope that what little comfort I could (or at least tried to) give him, sustains him until his little life can "normalize" once again.

Ryan is also "acting up" more often now. He is hitting and pushing and taking toys away from his little friends more often. Both the boys are showing signs of stress, which tells me it's good that we will be finally moving on soon.

On a side note...

Brandon's farewell party was really the first chance I had to see him interact with all of his friends from school. It was really neat to see him enjoy their company so much. I also got to see him with his little girlfriend, Karen. It was soooo sweet how he included her in EVERYTHING! He wouldn't run faster than her if she lagged behind. He suggested she play in all the boy games with him. He shared his seat with her to eat pizza. You could see that they had an "understanding" between each other. If the other boys were doing something that looked like fun to him, he wouldn't engage in the activity until she agreed to join in too. It was WAY cute! Also, Brandon seemed pretty popular with his friends. He never looked unsure of himself. He guided their activities and tried to "resolve" conflict between some of them. It was neat to see.

The cards his friends wrote just about broke my heart. They all said goodbye in their own little ways, drawing pictures and writing their feelings. There were soooo many little girls who expressed their love for him and that he was their very bestest friend...who I had never heard of before. He had never even mentioned them to me. No wonder why Brandon doesn't want to leave! haha If he's anything...he's definitely smart. ;-)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A couple of "FIRSTS"

Well, we are staying busy in the last couple of weeks here in Shanghai. In a matter of two days, there have been a couple of "firsts" for us.

Yesterday, my Swiss friend and I learned how to play Mahjong. How fun! We had two experienced players who were kind enough to sit down with us and play - slowly - until we picked it up. Both, my friend and I, have been wanting to learn how to play for TWO least! For the chinese, they learn how to play growing up, watching their elders play. For us westerners, finding an experienced teacher to "put up" with playing so slowly is hard to find. So, we count ourselves very fortunate that something was arranged before we left China for good.

Mahjong is the grease in chinese keeps life interesting and fun for many of them. I can see's addicting! It was a lot of fun and the game reminds me something of the card game, Rummy. Of course, Mahjong is a SERIOUS "business" over here. However, the regular stores don't sell Mahjong sets because it can be viewed as a gambling game and the retail stores aren't allowed to sell it, since gambling is officially illegal. However, EVERYONE along the entire asian seaboard plays Mahjong. They have several different types of sets and tables to facilitate a person's Mahjong needs. Usually when you see tables in China, they are either round or square, so that Mahjong can be played with family and friends during any kind of get-together. They have travelling Mahjong sets, for the Mahjong mobile person. They have different sizes, from the box it comes in to the size of the tiles. I have learned that the most expensive Mahjong sets are made out of bamboo because the bamboo "tokens" or tiles have to be made by hand. The other sets are anything from ivory to plastic...and all done by machine.

I'm so happy to have learned the game from someone who plays regularly. There are many rules and even pronunciations that a person like me need help with throughout the game. If I had to have read any type of booklet of instructions, I never would have taken the time to can be confusing!

Another first in the family is Brandon! He can now ride a TWO wheel bicycle on his more training wheels! Of course, he's still a bit wobbly...but he learned how do it in one afternoon and now feels very proud of himself that he can race with his more experienced friend. He has a competitive nature, so the fact that his friend (and little sister) could ride without training wheels, got him thirsty to master it himself. I'm very proud of him.

Both Brandon and myself wish his Dad could have been the one to push him down the lane. He kept asking me to tell his dad about each step he accomplished throughout the afternoon. It was a "first" Allen would have liked to have been here for as well...I imagine.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Ryan's Photo Shoot

As before with Brandon, about 1.5 years ago, the same photographer decided to use Ryan for a modeling job. The clothing line, les enfant, is a pretty big clothing label over here. Brandon had modeled for Baby Disney and now Ryan for les enfant. This time, it was Ryan's turn to strut his stuff before the camera for a real paying modeling job! ;-)

I had asked Ryan if this was something he wanted to do and because he had been there when Brandon had done it, he was all for it. Brandon had been able to use the money he had earned for a toy that he liked. Ryan was excited about the prospect of earning his own money. So, once again, I talked to him about this being a job and that he had to do what the photographer instructed. I asked him if he thought he could or wanted to do that. He definitely was up for it.

So, we made our way to the studio and Ryan got his turn under the bright lights and in front of the camera. He did ok and they got a few decent shots. If he wasn't hamming it up TOO much, he acted shy. The photographer got a run for his money with him, I think. haha

After a couple of hours, Ryan got officially paid for his work. He was sooooo excited! His little face lit up and he carefully opened the envelope and pulled up out all of the 100 RMB bills! He said, " much money!" It was so cute!

UNlike with Brandon, I decided to give Ryan some better tools of how he could and should spend his money. Brandon had ended up spending his entire amount on a plastic toy at Toyr-R-Us that broke eventually. Brandon asked where his toy was and I mentioned that his had broken. So begins our first lesson for Ryan. I explained that it would be wise to think more carefully about what kinds of toys and things Ryan should spend his money on...he didn't want to spend it on toys that would break too quickly. And once he spent his money on the toy, he should think about taking good care of that toy, so he has it for a long time.

The entire next day were additional lessons on good financial sense. To my amazement, the boys were soaking it up! We learned about quality of toys. We learned about the difference between spending money on one big thing or several little things. We talked about thinking about saving some of the money in case we need/want some for later. We talked about giving to others who didn't have money like we did.

We talked about wise investments. We were at at a grocery store and Ryan really wanted a scooter. I asked him if it was smarter to use his money on something he could take with us to Hawaii, thus keeping it for a longer time...or if he thought he should spend his money on something like a scooter that he could only use for two more weeks. He thought about it and after pushing around the scooter for awhile, he changed his mind and decided on a toy that he could fit inside our suitcases. Wise choice, I told him. He thought so too.

We talked about the numbers on the price tags and which ones would use up more of his money and which ones would use less of it, thus giving him more money to spend later. Each time he bought something with his money, I made sure he pulled out the bills and handed them to the cashier. He was very excited to get the change back and carefully put the change inside the envelope. After each transaction, he would glance inside the envelope and excitedly tell me he has more money...which was a good reinforcement for our "savings" lesson.

So, Ryan is very happy, having earned some of his very own money. Next week...who knows...maybe we'll talk about stock options and savings plans. But, another good thing about taking a little extra time with Ryan this time around, is that Brandon is standing there next to him, getting the lessons too. And, even better, Brandon knows the "burn" of having spent his money all at once, on a crappy toy that didn't last very long. Immediately, I heard Brandon in the aisles of the store, telling his little brother his opinion about the quality of each toy Ryan looked at and whether he thought it was a good idea or not. ;-)

Now, when the boys are running around and Ryan see something he likes, I have asked him, "Do you have money?" and he excitedly tells me, "Yes, Mommy!! I do have money!" And depending on what he is looking at, our lessons start all over again. haha

Friday, April 30, 2010


We got back from a fun, but exhausting trip to Guilin and Yangshuo. Really...travelling with a baby in China is NOT recommended. I'm exhausted, even after a few days from returning home...AND that's WITH the ayi's help!!

Of course, I'm really happy that I was able to go. I'm also happy that I have pictures with Jaiden from the country he was born in...other than Shanghai. But, let me repeat is NOT recommended to go travelling with an infant in China, IF you intend to take the baby and all the baby "stuff" with you to any of the attractions. China is SOOOOO baby unfriendly.

It doesn't seem to matter where you go in can GUARANTEE that there will be about 1,000 steps to climb. Luckily, I borrowed an Ergo carrier from a friend since mine was packed, which turned out to be a life saver every time we stepped out the door of our hotel. But, unfortunately, Jaiden isn't quite used to the baby carrier thing and he would have none of it, about half the time. *sigh*

We took a flight to Guilin and spent one day in there looking around. We saw some caves that had some pretty cool light displays and even one light show in one big chamber. There was water in the cave, thus this particular cave was still a "living" cave. The Karst Formations in this area of China, making the region famous, were caused by a receding glacier several million years ago. When the ice melted and receded, the softer layers of soil were eroded, leaving behind the harder, more resistant rock. In this case...limestone and marble...and lots of it. Caves are usually found in limestone formations. So, there are many caves in this area. In fact, there is a TON of limestone throughout China. I've never been anywhere that had so much limestone. It boggles the mind, really. The cave we visited was called Reed Flute Cave. One of the mommies bought all of the kids reed flutes (whistles, pretty much) that a vendor was selling...and I was "thanking" her (I'm being sarcastic) for days. We had 8 children and one baby...and all the kids had these reed flutes. You can all imagine the amount of noise this created throughout our trip. Ugh.

We then headed to what is called Elephant Trunk Hill. It's another formation that looks like a very big elephant dipping his trunk into the water. It was pretty cool. Some of the kids got to dress up like one of the minority peoples from the area. We took pictures of them...they were so cute.

This area of China is occupied by several "minority" people or tribes. These smaller groups of people can be compared to the Native American tribes or groups in America today. Some of the rules that apply for the majority group of Chinese people, do not apply to the minority the one child rule, for instance. These minorities spend their time making beautifully woven blankets, shawls, and other stuff with their beautiful colors intertwined into their product. Some of the blankets take over 4 days to weave with two different people working on it at the same time. Some of the product have flaws, but that is what makes the product unique and cool in my opinion. Knowing that someone did them by hand is special...especially in a country FULL of factory made products. The cotton they grow themselves and use for the blankets and shawls is some of the softest cotton I've felt. The products are truly extraordinary. Each minority group has different characteristics that make them unique, anything from their clothing to their habits or rituals. It was fascinating to learn more about them during this trip.

After Guilin, we boarded a boat that took us on a 5-hour ride along the Li River, headed towards Yangshuo. The weather was good and the scenery was fantastic! All the kids enjoyed being on the boat, as did the mommies. When we reached Yangshuo, we were greeted to a gorgeous view of the Karst Formations from our own hotel and resort. The hotel was amazing and I was thanking the girls every day for including me on such a fantastic stay in such a beautiful place. We could have just stayed at the hotel and been content.

However, we did end up getting away from the hotel long enough to take the kids on a fun bamboo raft trip down the YuLong River. Two of us took the two older boys in the group, mine included, and the rest of the women took all the younger kids on a slightly different and more kid friendly trip. My Swiss friend and I had the older boys and we thoroughly enjoyed some on-on-one mommy/son time with our boys. Again, the scenery was stunning, the river was quiet and the boys each had a water gun to play with. ;-) A perfect excursion. The weather was truly amazing that day...sunny, clear and just slightly cool...a perfect spring day. We took some amazing photos along the way and got to see the quieter life of the people living in Yangshuo. The river was located in a serene valley surrounded by the famous Karst Formations. The banks of the river were lined with various fields and farms, where you could glimpse a farmer with his sturdy ox, working the land. Almost everyone in the area wears a chinaman's hat! It was also a wonderful glimpse into the rural and "old" life of China. The images I saw from the river will be imprinted in my mind for many years.

The bamboo raft is a simple vessel of several bamboo stalks tied together. They have strapped two bamboo chairs onto it and bring along an umbrella. The man slowly pushes the raft along the river by using a long stick he pushes into the bottom of the river. The entire trip was serene and peaceful and took about 3 hours. Both my friend, myself and both of our kids counted the experience as one of our "favorites" for the trip.

The men manning the rafts took us over several small waterfalls along the way. However, the last "waterfall" was actually a man made concrete wall that the water poured over. So, there was a thin layer of water continuously running over the edge of this concrete wall. The wall was about 8 feet in width. The drop was steeper than the rest of them...about 4 feet or so. So, the bamboo raft, with it's rigid, straight structure, hit the bottom of the waterfall pretty end first, then the second half. My friend's raft went over first and as I sat and watched them go first, I saw them tip at a dangerous angle. My friend had to grab the umbrella and her foot went straight into the water, trying to gain leverage. I thought, "Uh-oh" and held onto Brandon tightly as we took our turn over the edge. Well, it turns out I didn't have much to worry about since as the first 4-5 feet of our bamboo raft hit air, the rest of it, stopped. Yep, we got stuck.

I highly suspect that it wasn't Brandon's half of the raft that got us stuck. haha The guy tried and tried to angle the raft to get us over, but nope, we weren't going anywhere. So, my friend's raft guy had to tie their raft to the bank and come rescue us. It took two of them to finally tip the front over the edge! I was laughing the whole time! And luckily, our raft hit the bottom at the right angle and we were never in danger of tipping.

After that last exciting episode, it was only a few more minutes and the men dropped us off right at our hotel's doorstep, via the river. It was so cool. What a fun and memorable trip!!

One of the nights in Yangshuo, we saw a fantastic night show, called the Impression on Sanjie Liu, storytelling about all of the minority groups in the area. While the entire show was in Chinese, you could get a feel for the story line. The creator of this show is also the guy who choreographed the opening for the Olympics. He is pretty famous over here and this show is just one of his achievements. All of the people singing, dancing, etc in the show were not actors. They were the "real" minorities. So, each group that was highlighted in the show were wearing all of their traditional costumes. Even not being able to understand everything, it really was a fantastic show and I'm glad we got to see it. Again, the weather was gorgeous and the show was highlighted by a full moon as well. The show was performed in a "natural" theater, with the Karst Formations and the Li River as the backdrop and stage. It was incredible! I was glad to have my chinese speaking friends along. They ended up giving us some important details about the show...which was nice.

Then, it was time to head back to Guilin and head home. We hired a bus to take us the two hours to the Guilin airport, but stopped along the way to visit and learn more about the minority groups in the area. We learned a lot about the Miao and Zhuang peoples. I always enjoy stuff like that. This time, I particularly enjoyed learning about the "original" tribes. THAT is the kind of stuff I want to know! What did the ORIGINAL people here in China look like and how did they live? According to my local friend, there is an "original" group in every major region of the country. So, I guess we saw just one of the "originals." But, it was still cool to see. Of course, the people we saw may have had the "original" blood in them, but they aren't totally naked anymore. In fact, the government made them wear really cheesy leopard print cavemen outfits. But, it was cool to see the huts, statues, weapons and dancing. These chinese people are MUCH darker skinned. According to the guide in the park we were at, the original or minority peoples of China are known to be the most beautiful chinese people. Since I wanted to know...I found out that they used to be very strict about not allowing their children to marry outside the tribe. However, in today's day and age, it happens all of the time.

So, all in all, it was a pretty good trip. Hard with the baby...but SO glad to have done it. It was a fun and memorable experience with my close friends here in China.

As we return to Shanghai, the clock begins to chime, as our final days here in Shanghai draw to a close.