Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter 2013

Our international club was invited to an Easter brunch at the Hilton Doubletree Wuxi Lingshan Resort this weekend. We made a weekend of it, by first visiting the nearby Buddha on Saturday and staying the night at the doubletree resort. The resort overlooks Lake Taihu, and just hearing the sound of lapping waves was music to my ears. If you didn't already guess, we miss the ocean. We miss home.

The Easter brunch was fantastic. It's been months since we have had a full spread of "western" food. They had prepared everything from burger sliders, to chicken wings, sushi, steak, a pasta bar and loads of salads. We should have worn our stretchy pants.

Perhaps the best part of the morning was the addition of some newly hatched chicks, ducks and baby bunnies for the kids to pet. Sal wanted to touch the chicks so badly that he literally broke the fence down to get one. That kid of ours is persistent.

There was an Easter egg hunt, which NZ and Sal went on together. He found an egg in a tree and was happy as a clam with AN egg, so we went back to the buffet and stuffed our faces some more while the older kids left no stone unturned. It was a lot of fun to watch the kids go nuts over hunting for eggs. I know that Sal will be running along with them before too long. I'm savoring these days when he still wants his mama and dad to be close by.

Lingshan Buddha

We had the opportunity to get out of town (well, just the city-since technically we were still in Wuxi) for the weekend, so we packed our bags and headed to the Lingshan Buddha which is about an hour drive from here.

Seeing the big Buddha was something I have had on my list of places to see while we are living here. There are a lot of tourist attractions I could care less about, but the Buddha isn't one of them.

Although the entrance to the Buddha was quite crowded, once inside the grounds, there was tons of space to walk freely, which was nicer than what I'm used to. Usually at the tourist attractions, you're part of a herd of disorderly cattle whether you like it or not. We took Sal's new lightweight "travel" stroller that I purchased for an upcoming trip (Osaka--sashimi anyone?) and it was much easier for NZ to haul up the steps than our daily SUV sized stroller. He took the stroller, I manned the boy. There were too many steps to count, but I believe one of my expat friend's daughters counted, and it was in the ballpark of 270 stairs up to the Buddha. That's a lot of stairs to lug a stroller and a 24 pound kid up.

The sun was shining and although the typical Wuxi smog muddled the view, the landscape was beautiful. After months of living in a concrete jungle, to see such an expanse of greenery was a nice change.

Hitching a ride with dad

Touching the Buddha baby for good fortune

Many people hoping for good fortune

A meditating monk

Sal and Nick

The big Buddha

We had a wonderful time, and it is on our list of places to take our visitors. Not only is it a beautiful, mostly uncrowded tourist attraction-- it is also a really good workout!

My legs hate me today!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cookie Monster

A little bragging here.....

My sister, Stephanie over at makes THE best cut out sugar cookies, ever, ever, eeeev-er. I love them. You should check out her blog, and you'll fall in love with all her creativity too. I usually find that pretty cookies taste like cardboard, but hers are far from cardboard. I'd eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I could..

They're awesome.

Even more awesome, is my sister.

I think she misses me as much as I miss her (or she misses her nephew and just pretends to miss me so she can Skype with him), so she sends monthly care packages. Shipping to China is not cheap. Stephanie has become a professional at figuring out just what can be packed to keep the costs down, and all of us over here still happy. Without her, and her willingness and thoughtfulness, we would be hard pressed for some of our creature comforts from home. She knows what customs will allow, and won't allow, and has even figured out how to send cookies!

Check out the cookie she sent Sal (sorry, but NZ and I devoured ours as well as half a dozen mini cookies before I thought to take a picture).

The only other sugary treat he has had was his birthday cake, so you can bet he was bouncing off the walls amongst the rainbows and unicorns when he realized mama was going to let him eat his easter bunny cookie.

This is the picture of happiness. Sent in a box. In the form of a cookie. From auntie Stephanie.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I don't know you

Ahhh, life in China.

It's getting the best of me this week.

More specifically, the culture is getting the best of me.

You see, there's this thing called guanxi.

Guanxi is the way of life over here. The definition is a bit convoluted, but a Cliff's note version is something like this " Guanxi refers to a network of social connections. From these relationships, favors are given, then reciprocated." This sounds good and all, if it's the "I'll pat your back, you pat mine.", but when it comes down to this, as a foreigner, I feel like we get screwed.

Basically, if I don't know you, and you don't know me, we don't owe one another anything. This is evident in the way Chinese use the checkout line at the market, the way they drive with no regard for anyone but their own car and destination, and how many do business. At the market, I often stand in line as we do in the states. Imagine my surprise the first time an old lady cut in front of me! I thought to myself, "how rude. Didn't she see me there?" The answer is yes. She saw me. But she doesn't know me. So she serves her needs first. She saw an opening in line and she took it. Each person for his/herself. Screw the laowai (me) that she doesn't know, and won't do her any favors.

So, yeah-it's crazy living here, not knowing enough of the language to establish better relationships with some locals. I usually patronize the same fruit lady week after week. Well, last week, as Sal and I are walking home from the market, I realize that she had just charged me the equivalent of $10 for what I considered to be $3-4 worth of fruit. I was livid. She took advantage of me. I got home and showed my ayi, and she agreed, I had purchased $3-4 worth ( I didn't tell my ayi how much I paid, as I had just spent a little less than a third of her weekly salary on fruit!). So much for guanxi with the fruit lady. She gouged us big time. The next time I went to the fruit market, I patronized her neighbor. You can bet she saw me, and in turn, yesterday when I went, she gave me a better price on my fruit to try and "keep good guanxi" with me.

My frustration has continued into today, as I sat and waited for a repair man for my washer/dryer machine. I was told yesterday he would come within 24 hours. This morning, I was told he would be here around lunch. He arrived at 10:30. I translated the error code to him (my dryer needs a new heating element) and showed him that the drying component of the machine doesn't get hot. I shit you not, five minutes later, he is trudging through the apartment to find me, toolbox in hand. I called my husbands assistant for translation, and he told her that he had finished his job.

No effin way.

There was no way it was fixed. I told him (with the translators help) I wasn't going to pay him until I had a chance to do a load of laundry (which, btw-takes four hours to wash and dry for anyone who cares). I said he would have to come back to get paid. He and the translator had a heated argument over the phone, to which I was told to pay him now and he would write on my fapiao (receipt) that he would come back free of charge if not fixed.

Reluctantly, I forked over all 30rmb ($5).

He scribbled in mandarin on the fapiao and left.

I threw a load in, and two hours later went to check on the process only to see the error code flashing, and my machine full of wet clothes.

And I know I have gotten off track but stick with me here- this all goes back to guanxi too. He doesn't know me, so why should he care about fixing my machine (other than its his JOB)? Besides, if he fixes it, then we won't need his service anymore and he might not have customers. It seems so ass backwards to me. He wants job security, so he DOESN'T fix it so that I have to call him back and pay again?

Yeah---NO. I don't think so.

So, this my friends, is my experience with being a laowai in China, with very little conversational Mandarin, and absolutely no guanxi with the locals.

Frustrating at best, but a learning experience all the same.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

(Gold)Fish Eggs

Please tell me I'm not the only parent out there who has a child that devours goldfish crackers like they're going out of style?

And when I say "devour", that's a nice way of saying he shoves a small school of fish in his mouth. After a few choking incidents (for the record- number of fish I have extracted with the finger swoop is eleven), I have had to start rationing his fish eating.

A fellow expat who has since returned to the US sent us a care package of Easter themed stuff, including plastic Easter eggs.

One morning, I got the idea to put 3-4 goldfish in each egg and hide them in the living room. As he found them, he could open them and have a mouthful of fish, and I wouldn't have to play fish police all morning.

We've been doing this for the past week, as Easter approaches, and thought I'd share it since I know most toddlers love them some goldfish crackers, and as a parent, it serves two activity AND snack time. Double bonus in our household is the fact that it slows my son down so he actually enjoys them!

Rise and shine

On Monday morning, we woke at precisely 6:00a.m. to the sound of blackcaps blasting off and the melody of nothing other than a marching band.

Rolling over, I groggily announce to NZ " Someone died".

We have become familiar with the eerie sound of the marching band in the wee hours of the morning. In the past six months, I've witnessed/heard three funeral processions take place outside our complex. All starting right as the sun rises.

I haven't asked around about the meaning of these processions, but each one I have witnessed marches through the apartment complex (this week it was at the complex adjacent to ours) complete with a parade (parasols and a Chinese dancing dragon this week), people walking, the casket and its pallbearers and a drumline. They seem to make their way to the Main Street, where busses and a truck to transport the casket are waiting.

Everyone loads up after causing a ruckus of noise at the crack of dawn and takes off for what I presume to be the burial grounds.

I'm not sure I will ever get used to being woken by a death march, as it is truly a unique experience.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Finders keepers

Sal and I took a walk to buy produce this morning. It was sunny out, and he is recovering from pinkeye(s) so I thought a hat was in order. MY favorite hat of his was a splurge purchase our last night in California. I went to Quiksilver and snapped it up without even checking the price, which is totally uncharacteristic of me. I just had to have it for my boy. Anyways, Sal seems to love this hat too, so he's been rocking it lately. He wore it today, and got smiled and waved at even more than normal, because, you know-who can resist a little guy in a trucker hat?

He scored a banana--the usual-- from the fruit lady, and on our way home, we would stop every block or so for another bite. On one of our last banana bite stops, there was a little boy riding a tricycle in front of his home. His home was the ruins of an old apartment complex. His home had missing walls, windows and trash piles abound. I looked down at my son in his American clothing, eating his free banana in his snazzy stroller and I started to reflect on how much we have, the difference in living conditions even though we live just half a mile away, and how different my son's life is to that of this little boy that I am watching. I felt guilty for living so well.

We continued our walk, and stopped at the corner before crossing the street for a McDonald's chicken nugget treat. I looked down and almost cried. My son's hat was gone. Missing in action. Not on his head. G-o-n-e.

I backtracked my steps, knowing that it was last on while we took pictures of the little boy. I looked under cars, at curbsides, at kids walking by-no where to be found.

THE hat was gone.

We got our lunch, headed towards home, and I couldn't stop thinking about that hat. The loss of this silly material item was really bothering me...and then I felt bad...just minutes earlier I was feeling like we had to much, and here I was already thinking about ordering one from home as soon as I got home.

I bounce between these two thought processes daily. One-wanting to be more humble and minimal, and the other, so stuck in my American ways that I have trouble breaking free from placing importance on material items.

Perhaps one day Sal and I will pass some lucky little Chinese baby in a quiksilver hat. Instead of re-claiming it as ours, I think I will just smile because I know that baby probably needed it more.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Need I say anymore?

Not me. The boy.

And no, nobody farted on his pillow.

I suppose it's just a side effect of having playgroup with many kids-either that or he went down the slide after a kid wearing split pants (i joke, i joke). So, if anyone needs me, I will be sanitizing the shit out of everything washable for the next few days. Antibiotic drops will be started tonight, and I hope NZ and I can keep from getting it too!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Where did my baby go?

Snack time at the park in his new shoes
I blinked and we've got a full fledged toddler in tow. (Tantrums included at no extra charge). He is a little spitfire with a laugh/cackle that will make even the grouchiest of people smile. He cracks himself up all the time. Thankfully he has moved past laughing at others while they cry to laughing as he throws blocks/sand/food and while playing peek-a-boo.

Cowboy boots and Camo- Grandpa Jet would be proud
Although he walks unassisted a few times a day, his preferred method of transportation is the one-legged-knee-scoot. He has the bruises to prove it. I dressed him in shorts on our first warm day of the month and was shocked to see just how bruised his shins are (from crossing the threshold of our sliding glass door with the knee-scoot). If I were a betting woman, he will prefer walking over scooting within the next week or so.

"mama, I wasn done talkin to you! Come back here!"
Other news...We've got a molar!....and two more on the way, plus upper canines. He's a drooling mess. NZ and Sal like to wrestle in the evenings and Sal usually wins because he stands over his dad's face and drools like a St Bernard right into his eye. Gross, but funny. With the new molar, Sal has now graduated to peeled apples (rather than peeled and soft cooked), cucumber and raw carrots. He's been grubbing on Greek salad all month.

"ditch the book dad, how bout we wrestle?"
This past month we have been lucky enough to have some sunny days. Sal and I still take a walk (almost) daily. On our way home, we usually walk past the playground in our complex. He gets really excited when he sees it, and yells "DUU-duuuude!" Unable to resist his enthusiasm, we stop for a bit so he can master the slide and play in the sand.

I've started calling him "bubba" and have noticed that he copies the syllables. He does this with a lot of words. He doesn't say the word, per say, but he does make his own sounds with the matching amount of syllables. "Dada" is still his favorite word, although "dude" is right behind. "Mama" has gotten some play as well as "zuhjuh" which sounds a lot like he's trying to say "Zaijian", or goodbye, in mandarin.

Look at all dem teeth! And that smile. Happy boy.

I love his chatter. It never gets old.

Sometimes he even talks himself to sleep...and when he sleeps, I am reminded that he is in fact, still my baby.

What was a napless day, turned out otherwise. Thank Goodness.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A horrific picture

Did I get your attention?

Imagine the horror of the Chinese grandmas when we passed them with all ten toes exposed, and the baby feeding himself a whole graham cracker sheet. Despite the warmer weather, jackets and mittens are still the standard attire in Wuxi this week.

I on the other hand, am welcoming the warmer weather and wiggly toes!

Bring on Spring!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I dip, you dip, we dip

I couldn't help but bust out with a little Freak Nasty lyrics when Mrs. Georgia proposed having a "dip" party.

"I put my hand upon your hip
When I dip, you dip, we dip
You put your hand upon my hip
When you dip, I dip, we dip"

She throws all sorts of fun parties for those of us who aren't slaving away at a 9-5 job. Some parties hosted have included a baby shower, a cookie exchange, a Pinterest inspired potluck, a brunch and now, "da dip" part-ay.

It's a lot of fun, and it is one of the "pros" of living here. Living in our apartment complex is like living in the college dorms. There are many stay at home wives and moms around during the day..and one might think we get bored but the truth is anything but. I actually feel bad for the guys and girls who do work the 9-5's and often miss out on the fun. There is ALwAYS something going on, and its not unusual for our husbands to come home to stories of what fun we had that day.

Rubbing it in..does it get any crueler?

Anyways, here's an example of what NZ will be hearing about tonight. If he's lucky his loves will bring home leftovers.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


It's been that kind of morning.

The kind of morning in which all you can do is sigh. And sigh some more.

And more.

Started off with a teething (at least four teeth, maybe five) boy crying from the time he woke up, all the way through breakfast until his dad left for work. I could not put him down to clean our juicer (which, by the way, fresh carrot,spinach,apple juice roooooocks), so I pulled out a bottle of milk for Sal. I look into the living room where our ONLY carpeted surface is, and he has drained his bottle onto it. Sour milk, anyone?

So, I pull out new toy that I had just finished telling NZ I was going to hide and save for him (no willpower here) to use as redirection. It's a super cool latch board with six kinds of locks and closing mechanisms from Melissa and Doug. Since Sal likes opening doors, and cabinet locks, why not make him a professional locksmith by the age of 2? There are no child labor laws in China, right?

About time he makes some money (I kid, I kid).

He was amused for a short while by the latch board, so I cleaned up the spilled milk and then B-lined it to the bathroom to try and brush my teeth, put on deodorant and make myself somewhat "sweats dressy" before his attention waned and he needed his mama to "hold-me-right-now-not-later-all-day-even-though-I-weigh-24-lbs" fusspot.

**insert:LOUD crack**

I ran out to the living room.

The first grin of the morning. Oh no, why is he smiling...and what is my iPad doing on the floor, upside down next to his new latch board?? I really want to turn my iPad over? Think positive....maybe it's just scratched?

I flip it over and my heart sinks.

iPad meet latch board.

Latch board just kicked your ass.

Cracked screen.

All of this by 8:15am

I'm happy to report, our day has gotten better. We took a nice long walk and bought Sal some new shoes, priced iPad repair at the fake "official apple" store and ate lunch....

Nap time has finally arrived.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fresh Eggs

Last week, our ayi returned from a week off for the New Year. She had gone home to her village to see her children and family. She hails from a small village in the Anhui province, a few hours from here. From what I understand, she does not get to see her family very frequently because she has to work.
We missed her while she was away.
She has become such a part of our day to day lives.
When she returned last Monday, she came bearing gifts.
She handed me a shoe box.
Shoes? Oh this ought to be good.

Inside the shoebox, I was surprised to find about 2 dozen farm fresh eggs padded with hay.
What a treat!
Do I really have to share?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Roll with it

Stroller. Carseat. Backpack.Child.
I've said time and time again, that the biggest challenge for me, living in China, is not having a car of our own. Not that I would want to drive here--like, ev-er. I love my life too much to get behind the wheel and tackle Chinese drivers. It's like bumper cars. Each man for himself. Stop signs are just suggestions.

We have been  militant  vigilant about using a carseat for our son, even though the norm here is anything but. It took some creative thinking the first time I had to wheel Sal, his stroller and carseat down to meet our driver. I've tried many configurations, from carrying the carseat while pushing the stroller with Sal in it, to carrying Sal with the seat on the stroller.

A few weeks ago, my driver took the seat out of the car for me with Sal still buckled in and set it on the stroller cross bar. Not the safest, but genius for getting him upstairs with all his paraphenalia and my shopping bags. It's our new method of transportation for the walk from the car to the elevator.

I'm starting to think I should design a snap and go type stroller frame for urbanites. I can not be the ONLY carseat toting parent in the world, living in a city that uses modes of transportation other than my own car. I know the Orbit system exists, but honestly, $1000 plus for a stroller? No thanks. Combi also makes a smaller convertible seat with a 35lb limit which fits in their flash frame, but I want to design something more universal. With tires. And a cup holder. And a sunshade.

Until then, balancing Sal and his seat on my ramshackled chinese stroller will have to suffice.