Thursday, June 26, 2008

Last Minute Leaving Things

Ok, I have to make a list of things to do tomorrow, last minute. So I figured I'd make the list here, just for kicks, then the world can know what kind of last minute things are to be done upon leaving a country. This is really for me too though, so I don't forget anything.
- ask Laura if she can take Ax's computer until he can come pick it up
- send Ax a message with Laura's number and where to pick it up (sorry I won't get to see him!)
- go to ATM and make double sure there's no money in my account
- post office to ship a few boxes
- eat the last two cherry popsicles and defrost fridge.
- give Grace bike lock key :(
- give bags of food & clothes to garbage lady
2pm meet landlord and electric meter guy, settle last two money things
2:30-3pm - LEAVE for airport!!!
Oh, TAKE MORE PICTURES!!! (of Grace & Laura maybe)

This lady owns the little shop you see and sells cigarettes, drinks, ice cream, phone cards, etc. I often bought gallons of water from her, and sometimes an ice cream when the mood struck. She was both embarrassed and flattered I wanted to take a picture to remember her.

This is a horrible picture of me so I made it small, haha. That guy is my favorite of the doorguards. He's always so peaceful and smiley. See that basket? I gave it to him with candy in it. I MADE that basket in high school in Mrs. Hasselman's class. I soaked the strips of woody stuff and weaved it myself. I have no idea why I brought it to China, I was always attached to it for some reason, but I think it's time to let it go. I'm glad I thought to give it to him. He's a good person to have such a thing. Weird, I know.
:) And he has my kid's dumbbells.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ugh! So busy.
Today I shipped a box of books to NJ. It's expensive, so I chose the 2-3 month option. I also stuck some DVD's and little things in there, so it'll be like a surprise when it comes.
I have to ship more tomorrow. Some things can wait; winter jacket, some books & dvds, my chinese Lipton joke mug, some little gifts for family I picked up, haha... they'll be forced to wait for them until Christmas! Also some gum. I don't normally chew gum, but there are odd flavors here, like cantaloupe. And there's an herbal gum I really like, so I bought 3-4 containers of it (40pieces each). Fine, I'll take a picture. Then you can tell me I'm a fool and they have it there.

You can try it very soon. I'm bringing back one right away, and packing 3. I checked the expiration dates, we're good.

I've also been taking pictures of nothing in particular; just roads I often go down, snapshots from along my usual routes.

So many little things I'll miss. Like individual packets of soymilk powder and cereal drinks (sound SO exciting I know, but they're really tasty and handy).

And cheap GOOD chinese food. Gongbao tofu goodbye! I have a recipe, but my one first attempt was a miserable failure.

- Little spiral disks, you eat them, they have a wisp of a hint of cinnamon and hot pepper.
- Tongyi hongcha! (my favorite iced tea)
- So many other drinks; not just 20 different kinds of soda in the refrigerator section of a convenience store, but just a few sodas, and other things like juices, rice milk, different kinds of milk tea, soymilk (dark and light)...

I've wanted to write a lot lately but I've been busy. Today it took me 15minutes to buy a gallon of water (excuse me, 4 liters), because I ended up chatting with the lady who owns the store and some older guy with his front teeth missing and gold other teeth... he's a doctor. He was kinda clever and amusing and wise actually, and he gave me his card.
When I got home, I found my son grumbling and cursing and rubbing his head because a huge piece of moulding that's been hanging finally fell. At the wrong time, wrong place. On his head. Spilled his yogurt too.

That's all for now.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

LEAVING CHINA, and speaking chinese

Ok, it's been a while. I've thought about writing but I've been a bit busy and frazzled. I've been trying to get my visa extended but no dice. The only way would be complicated and too expensive, so I've got to go back to .... (I hesitate to call it home because every day when I say "home" I mean the apartment I'm in now, so this is also my home).... america? The US? "the states"? The United States of America. You get the idea.

I tried showing Olympic tickets, doesn't matter. There are too many people, and too many foreigners in Beijing for the government's comfort. It's a shame. Why am I here? Because I like it here. I don't like everything about China of course, but I'm one of the people who's here because I'm curious about it and want to know what it's like to live here. I'm learning chinese, I like learning about the history, culture, etc. There are foreigners who've been here YEARS and can't speak chinese and don't want to and are just counting the days until they go home. They don't like the food, the people, the manners & habits. They're living in their own little bubble trying to pretend it's not china.... THEY should leave, not me.
I've been eating out a lot lately. Tomorrow I'll go to an Indian buffet with a friend and his girlfriend, and I'll give them a gift certificate to a restaurant I won't be able to use. I have a lot of stuff to get rid of.
I sold my bike to Grace (woman whose job it was to help me get settled at first but even after I left that job we remained friends)... she gave me 50kuai today and said keep using the bike til I leave, just give it to her the last day or whenever. That was good. I have a girl coming over friday to look through my books and kitchenware.

Had my longest chat ever with the doorguard and elevator lady (see earthquake post in May for their pictures). It felt good. My chinese isn't great, but when I'm familiar with the topic and they're patient and don't mind repeating, I can hold up my end up well enough to survive a little chat. Makes me feel good. I learned another language. A completely-opposite-from-english language. I hated languages in school but now when I look at french or spanish I think, "Wow, that looks so easy, the people learning that are so lucky."

I have to find people wherever I'll live who speak chinese and are willing to. I have an idea. In the US, there's a phenomenon of middle aged chinese people settling down then bringing their parents to america later. These older chinese parents may not speak english or even want to. So maybe I can hang out with them. Take them shopping or to a park and chat, or help them with english if they want, 50/50. Maybe.

That's going to be one of the worst parts, I think. Not hearing chinese, no chance to use it. I'm dreading that.

Monday, June 9, 2008

"Bayjingle Bells" and Mahjong With the Boys

Well, I finally learned how to play mahjong, which I will henceforth call majiang, because that's how you really spell it and say it. And while we're at it, you know that sound you make that's the S in "usual, asia, pleasure" or the J in how you usually say "Beijing, mahjong" in English? Well, I don't know why you all say it that way for Beijing and majiang. The Chinese pronunciation is a J, like in "jingle bells", just like it looks. Probably some French person started saying it that other way and it stuck. So really Beijing is [bay jing] with a J as in Jingle Bells. Remember that. Bayjingle bells.
And majiang has that same J.

So a new friend Alex (who makes rc flying things) and an older friend John (who's also from NJ) and my neighbor friend Wang Hao James Bond (with whom I mutually found a ten kuai note on the ground so in order to solve the problem of who should keep it we bought 10kuai's worth of apples and split them) all came over tonight for the Dragon Boat Festival and they taught me to play majiang. Actually we did nothing Dragon Boat related at all, except made one weak attempt at buying zong4zi, a glutinous rice food wrapped in leaves with any of several fillings inside. But the market near me was all out. So we bought cookies and cherries and soda and iced tea and water. And I already had almonds and cashews waiting. We all barely ate anything so I sent them home with some.

How to Play Majiang
It's like playing poker with dominoes. You mix them all up, then arrange them in certain rows. Then you roll dice to see where you start picking the tiles from. You take 13 tiles. On each turn you draw (from the row or the one the last guy threw away) and discard one. You have to make sets of sequences or same tiles, like poker. Not hard to learn really, but it wasn't an all-chinese-speaking night after all. Too difficult to do while learning a new game. Too many new words. But now that I know the words for all the tiles, and some words like draw and discard and "wake up idiot, it's your turn" and "Check" (I only need one more to win, so watch out, suckers), etc... I think maybe I can handle it in Chinese next time.

It was fun. Not the usual stereotypical smoky drinking-gambling-all-night version of the game, just a calm, mild, learning evening. John spilled soda everywhere. I just thought I'd mention that in case he ever reads it. It's ok John, mei shi, bu shi wode sheet, shi fangdongde. Check out my washing machine 2 posts ago, no problem!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Products I feel like mentioning (and the Koran)

Product #1: Plug-in mosquito repellent. Mosquitoes buzz near my ear every night within 5-10 minutes before or after I fall asleep. I have gotten up too many times at 3am, put my glasses on, waited a moment for my eyes to adjust to the glaring light, and went mosquito hunting. They've really disrupted my sleep. This thing better work; I bought the big package with 72 inserts, each good for 12 hours. The girl in the store took the thing out of the box and demonstrated that you put a little flat thing into the plug-in warming device, then plug it into the wall. And I actually thanked her for her help. In China you are NEVER at a loss finding a salesperson in a store to help you. There's practically one in every aisle, bugging everyone, ready to demonstrate mops and food processors and cell phones and ...

Product #2: Triple-ply toilet paper. No they won't demonstrate that, but I just wanted to say that it's all 3-ply. That's just how nutty it is over here on the other side of the planet.

Product #3: Milk in bags. At first I thought they were odd. Now I think they're quite handy. Wait, let me take a picture for those of you who don't know what I mean.

I know what you're thinking. "Why does she have a Koran?" I just noticed that after posting it and I'm not going to take all my milk back out of the fridge and pose it again just to avoid the question some of my loving Christian family or friends will be wondering. My answer is... Why not? It's a book. I read about half of it because I wanted to know more about my Uyghur friends and see for myself if it says to have a lot of wives and go around killing everyone. I feel I understand their religion pretty well now. I'd be glad to discuss it if you like, in a nice friendly way.

Allah is with those who restrain themselves.
Quran, 16.128

Yep, that's what it says. Now you know. Well, I know. You still may not, actually. Depends on how much you wanna trust your source.

Islam is to terrorists as Christianity is to the KKK.

I said that.

SO ANYWAY, the BAGS of MILK!!!!!
The can is Lulu, an almond drink. It's REALLY good.
The cup thing is "black soymilk" from 7-11. Also really good.
The bags, from left, are chocolate milk, walnut milk, regular milk, chocolate milk, and soymilk with wheat powder.

They also have peanut milk, "breakfast milk", which has egg and wheat powder and sugar and is a little thicker. And soymilk, also in several varieties. I don't even like regular plain milk. I drink the chocolate or soy milk.

Why do I like the bags?
1. They're small and convenient and don't need to be refrigerated. You can toss one in your bag and later, at any time, tear off the corner with your teeth and have chocolate milk.
2. The expiration date is like 6 weeks from now. No pressure.

I guess 'juice boxes' are the same, but I just never used them in that way. Everyone refrigerates everything in the US. I have come to not mind at all if all my drinks are room temperature, even chocolate milk.

I thought maybe the packaging is wasteful, but I think a bunch of little thin bags isn't too different from a big thick plastic gallon jug. And they get recycled.

Go look at more products, some with amusing labels or comments from me, in my album "FOOD and random products".

Thursday, June 5, 2008

If you think your washing machine's bad....

Yeah, yeah, I know, at least I have one.

Ok, this is my hundred year old washing machine. Note the children of color hugging in their underwear. They must be happy that their only outfits are being washed.

See how it has two sections? Let me explain. The left half is where you put the clothes, and you turn on the water faucet at the sink (kitchen sink, you hook a hose to the faucet.) ... and you have to turn it off when it gets however high you want it.
- Then you turn the timer and it'll swoosh (strong word) for however long you said. Extra dirty things need extra swooshes with a giant spoon.
- Then you turn a dial and the water drains out. Sometimes a little goes on the floor, but it's old. That might happen to me someday, so I'm forgiving.
- Then you turn on the faucet again (don't forget to close the drain) and repeat for rinsing.
- Then when you've done all that to your satisfaction... you heave the wet dripping clothes over to the right side, which spins it dry. If it clunks around and doesn't spin, you shift the clothes a bit and try again. And again. And again.

Well, today while it was spinning the kitchen started smelling like burning rubber or electrical-something. It was obviously broken. Luckily I had a backup. Yes, you heard me. I had a BACKUP. How many of you can say THAT? Ha.

Really. There's been a brand new washer on my little indoor "balcony" all along...

..... enter new washer, which my son proudly hooked up. I think the landlord never used it because it wouldn't fit through the sliding kitchen door, which was stuck slightly closed. A few people have tried and failed to open it all the way, even my son and the landlord. But TONIGHT... oh, tonight was different. He carried that darn washer from balcony, through my bedroom into the hall, and carried the old one from kitchen, through the hall, through my bedroom and onto the balcony, so he MADE THE DOOR OPEN. He shoved harder than ever and it opened just enough to get the washer through.

See the chinese writing? I bet most of you don't know what it all says, huh? Neither do I. One of them says "water level", and one says "stop" and there's the obvious big red power dot. I've got a test load going now, to learn what it does with this particular combination of little red lights. Check out all those bumps and spinny things inside.

So far this washer's even more of a pain than the old one, because it wants the water to turn on/off/on/off/on/off all fancy-like, which means *I* have to get up and go turn the water faucet on/off/on/off/on/off or it just sits there doing nothing, waiting. Ugh.

Ok, I can hear it coming, from my wise elders, don't even think about it!

"Back in my day we had to carry our laundry on our BACKS, uphill both ways, for 10 miles in the snow, and beat it with sticks in a river after we broke away some ice to make a spot!!" Yeah, well at least I'd get exercise. This way I just have to be nearby for 45 minutes doing something that can be interrupted at the washer's beck and call.

More washer pics in my Picasa album, "My Apartment"... and maybe you'll get lucky enough to see other appliances as well.... like the inside of my fridge, food included!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My XXL caffeine-free underwear

In Chinese underwear, I’m XXL.

I should be embarrassed to announce that to the world, but they’re NOT THAT BIG. In the US I'd probably be "medium", but I'm in China where it seems about 85% of females are my size or smaller. But there are a LOT of Chinese girls/women with larger rear ends than I have even if they're shorter, so I don't really get it.

But more importantly, I want to share with you the design on these undies. I’ve learned to not make fun of bad translations and odd words until I look them up; it may be a British way to say it; or a word from another language. I have to keep an open mind lest I look like a fool for laughing at something that makes perfect sense to a Greek person…

...or an old caffeine-sensitive person....

"At today high prices its amazng th mone you save - switching from cofee to postum!"

I looked up "postum", thinking it might be latin, or nonsense. It's not; it's this:

It's a naturally caffeine free hot beverage from Kraft that was around for 112 years but miraculously avoided TV, magazines, radio, the kitchens of everyone I've ever known, and my ears. Did you ever hear of it? Well, it stopped being manufactured last fall, sorry to disappoint all the Postum fans; though they probably heard this news last fall while the majority of us were still ignorant and "Pre-Postum".

Hmm. You learn something new everyday. So now, about making fun of those underwear..... ah what the heck, I still can. Why would they put an ad for Postum on underwear? To remind you what to drink when you wake up after sleeping in your underwear? And what's that other gibberish? Is it another language? Random letters strewn together? And my butt's not THAT big; in fact I've lost about 10lbs here in China. I can even wear white baggy pants without feeling self-conscious. I have a pair; they're "capri-length" and have white embroidered snowflake-flowers on them.

Yes, I bought those underwear.
How could I not?
Look at them.

I'll wear it with my shirt that says "panda is a lot of booms of person from 1972... friend - rough".

(ooh, and with the snowflake-flower pants! Just wait til I come back; I'm going to be SO fashionable!)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Brazilian (and other) undiscovered tribes

Here's a link to the recently publicized but still uncontacted tribe in Brazil:

AP: Brazil says uncontacted Amazon tribe threatened

There are a few pictures too. I brought up the topic in an English Corner (a "class" with no particular topic, just free talk or play games or whatever) and decided to put the students into groups of 3 (5 groups) and have them discuss what their team would do if they were in charge of deciding if the tribe should be contacted or not; how much; in what ways; etc...

Here are some answers. The students are all adults. Some answers are serious; some got a little funny.

- impose VERY STRICT laws that no one can go near them or affect them in any way, and be sure to harshly punish anyone who does

- choose an area around them to "rope off" as a protected area and protect them... like pandas (laughter ensued)

- Yes, and we can build a high-up train car around their huts so we can all go sightseeing and watch them in their daily lives (more laughter)

- divide them into two groups. One group: leave them be. The other group: we study and do research on them. (a few gasps of horror, "that's like they're not humans!")

- only contact them enough to ask what they want; they should have free choice

- don't publish pictures like they did; don't put them on TV; the gov't should protect them by NOT telling everyone they're there, maybe even lying about their location when asked. This way no individual curious people/groups will bother them

- watch them from afar by camera to study them

- no, no, they should have the right to privacy!

- the scientists should stay in their labs!

--- it seemed ALL were in favor of protecting them so that they could continue their way of life OR choose for themselves. Many said that "culture" is disappearing in so many ways nowadays, we should try to protect people's cultures whenever we have the chance, keeping variety in the world.