Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Survival of the Sickest...

My apologies to those who have been faithfully reading my blog, but with a house full of sicklings I've felt less than energized the past 3 weeks. Thankfully, the women in the house are now much better and the male is on the mend.

I thought I'd share my doctor experience with you. It was my first hospital trip in China. Honestly, I'd be fine if it was also my last.

When my 3 year old woke up with a 102 fever after being sick for over a week, I knew it was time to do that which I had been dreading - figure out how in the world to go to the doctor. There is a small clinic in our city where they speak English, but it's almost an hour away by taxi and I didn't want to have my little ones out in the cold and feeling miserable. So, I called my Chinese friend who has good English, has children, and lives just around the corner. She said she would gladly take us to the hospital she takes her kids to and that it was very near.

I got us ready to go, and tried to psych myself up for what was about to happen, but nothing I was putting in my diaper bag could have classified me as prepared.

In the taxi on the way, my friend called one of her Chinese friends and asked if foreigners can take Chinese medicine. I started to wonder myself. Could there be some physiological difference I was unaware of? Maybe Chinese antibiotics only worked on Chinese people!

My nerves are on high alert when my kids are sick, and both my 3 year old and my 3 month old were not feeling well. Needless to say, when we arrived at the hospital and I saw there was a mob formed around the check-in window, I felt that piece of me that screams for a single file line well up within me. Luckily, my friend is pretty pushy - apparently you have to be to survive in this country. I handed her some cash to pay and retreated to some seats against the wall, ready to wait until they called our name...

There was no name calling. My friend waved for me to follow her down the hall that was only big enough to fit one and a half persons across, and we were meant to go into exam room 1, where there were currently twenty plus people, standing room only. There were two doctors behind a table, and from my estimation, they examined whoever was the pushiest, or whoever coughed the most on everyone else in the room.

I backed out into the hallway for some air, only to look into the room across the hall where there were 20 more children all with IV's. I had heard that China was IV happy, and now I know it firsthand.

My 3 year old whimpered she wanted to go home. I choked back my own whimpers and tried to sound encouraging, but I was ready to break the door down and set off a lysol bomb.

My friend shoved her way forward and sat down in one of the chairs in front of the doctor. She motioned for us to come. We sat and the doctor did the quickest exam I had ever beheld. There was no chit-chat. No reassuring bed-side manners. It was get in, get out. She asked her symptoms, listened to heart, looked at throat, checked for fever, and whisked us out of the chair with a rip of her prescription pad. Back to mob window to pick up the prescribed drugs, and we were on our way.

My little girl was more of a trooper than I was. All in all, we were in the hospital for about thirty minutes. One time in the states, my daughter was sick with the flu and we were in the doctor's office for four hours. Yet something in me feels like it wants that one at a time, take-your-time-diagnosing-me method over the expedient, over-crowded and slightly more disturbing method. I find I crave the familiar, no matter how inefficient, costly, or inconvenient, especially when faced with uncontrollable circumstances. But I'm learning to loosen my grip.

Once home, (and once my friend finished translating all the directions for taking the Chinese medicines into English), my daughter beamed with pride, "I was brave, wasn't I Mama?" I smiled and kissed her and said she was. And my husband smiled and kissed me and said we both were.

Today I am thankful for really fast check-ups, for health, and for friends who will brave mobs of sick people to take me and my kids to the doctor.

Oh, and turns out foreigners can take Chinese medicines just fine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Six Pieces of Candy

Being in a country that doesn't celebrate your holidays can be a bummer. It's funny the things you miss - fall decor, giant pumpkins, Cracker Barrel's three-months-in-advance display of whichever holiday is next (which, I should add, formerly irked me).

Halloween is one of our more obscure holidays, so many of our Chinese friends aren't really sure when or what it is. When we describe it to them, they shake their head knowingly and chime in with "Trick or Treat."

Of course there are no signs that Halloween, or even fall, is here. So we are learning how to make things special around our house for those holidays we still want to celebrate. I loved Halloween growing up. I never cared about my costume that much, but I loved getting candy (or toothbrushes from the dentist in the neighborhood). It was thrilling to be out in the dark, knocking on all the neighbors' houses (and getting to peak into all those houses you had never been in before), running around the neighborhood screaming with your friends. The older we got the more serious the candy procurement became. Roller blades were added to expedite the process. And then we would head home to analyze and trade our spoils. Thinking back on those fond memories made me want to give my daughter something similar.

So, our Halloween this year consisted of carving two small pumpkins our friend found on her side of town and brought to us, dressing up with some things we had around the house, calling our downstairs foreign friends and letting our three-year-old "trick-or-treat" at their two apartments. And you know, it was fun. It wasn't tiring; we weren't out all night battling mosquitoes, traffic, and youngsters on a sugar high; and we didn't get enough candy to last until the next Halloween. She loved it, and consequently, so did we.

We came home and tried all six pieces of candy, lit our jack-o-lanterns, and just had fun watching our mix-matched butterfly, fairy princess enjoy life.

There is another perk I should mention. Living in a foreign country actually means you get a whole new set of holidays to incorporate into your life. We've essentially doubled our holiday celebrations. Of course, the new ones don't feel as important to us as the old, but maybe to our daughters they will be of equal value - good times with Mom, Dad, and friends.

Today I'm grateful for the opportunity to create a holiday for my girls - one that wouldn't usually happen on our side of the world. It makes an old tradition feel really special. And I'm also grateful for the new holidays that life abroad affords.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Wrong Side of the Road

I remember one of my teachers correcting me when I said that people drive on the "wrong" side of the road in Europe. And I'm grateful for her correction - it was a good lesson. Different doesn't equal wrong. But I confess that when something in this country is not done my way, I feel it is in fact being done the wrong way. And it happens a lot.

For example, washing dishes. My Chinese friends wash their dishes with little or no soap in cold water and then put them away dripping wet without first letting them dry. I find this practice... difficult to swallow. Especially since the water is unsafe to drink and I have just eaten off of said plate.

Another example is the lack of diaper usage. Chinese parents dress their children in split pants. It might be negative 100 outside, but there are bare bottoms out in the cold. Many Chinese feel that diapers are unsanitary (probably because anytime you see a diaper on a Chinese baby it is full enough to drag the ground). With split pants the kids just go wherever and whenever they need to, and the parents clean it up. Our family has yet to adopt this practice.

Anytime I go shopping and there is a blob of people at the register where there should be a queue, something within me wants to take each person by the hand and arrange them in a straight, single-file line. And if anyone tries to skip ahead, pushes, or shoves they will be immediately sent to the back of the line!

There are probably 30 more examples of how the Chinese way sometimes frustrates me to the point that I feel like yelling, "Just do it the right way!" But what I mean of course, is just do it my way.

Here, I am the foreigner - I am the one with the strange customs. Not my friends. I am the one driving on the wrong side of the road. So I have to bear this in mind when 5 different people stop me on the street to let me know I have not dressed my daughter correctly, or that diapers are not sanitary, or that using soap is not a very healthy way to wash the dishes. They are always polite about it, just a gentle acknowledgement of my car on the wrong side of the street. But I have realized they are actually loving me when they tell me these things, trying to save me from a head-on cultural collision, and I want to remember that.

Today I am grateful for friends who keep me in line, even if the lines are different from the ones I'd previously drawn.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bedtime Shenanigans

In our house we try to have a bedtime routine. Take a bath, brush your teeth, read 2 books, say prayers, and goodnight. It looks flawless on paper. However, my 3-year-old has her own ideas about how the bedtime routine should go.

"I'll take 3 hops, 4 skips, and 2 twirls. Then I'll put on my pajama shirt. Then I'll climb in bed and back out, do a forward roll, and put on my pants. Then I'll do 3 hops to the bathroom and brush my teeth. First my turn, then your turn. Then..."

I may have created a monster. My daughter is more in love with making plans than I am. Sometimes I even have to write her a list that we can check off, and she makes sure I include each step so there are more checkable items to which we must adhere. I'm all for structure and routine, but I feel things are getting away from the adults in this house!

Lately its the post-goodnight routine that is taking its toll on the over 30 crowd. (Only over by a few months I'd like to add). We say goodnight and close the door, tiptoe to the couch and wait. We know it's coming.

"Daaaaaaaddyyyyyyyyy! I need to go potttttttyyyyyy!"

There's something within me that just feels wrong about telling her she can't go potty, but I know not a drop of pee is going to come out when we get to the toilet.

So, we wise up and add "go potty" to the pre-bedtime list. Now we've got this parenting thing down... until the next night.

"Mooooooooommyyyyyyyyyy! I need a driiiiiiiiiiinnnnnkkkkkkkkkkkk!"

Rats. Didn't see that one coming. Also added to pre-bedtime routine.

Within the course of 2 weeks, my daughter successfully added 5 new line items to the bedtime routine, including singing a lullaby, rubbing her back, making pooh bear talk, reading pooh a story, and laying down with her. And after all of these shenanigans, the grown-ups trod wearily to bed. Finally, we have won. We will now accept our post-graduate degrees in parenting. We are not letting her manipulate us with bedtime. We have successfully headed her off at the pass, creating a routine that will not bend! Parenting magazines, feel free to use us as your feature article.

"Daaaaaaaddyyyyyyyy! I need a tissue!"

I never did like routines and tight schedules. Today I am grateful for flexibility and for a three-year-old mastermind who makes me laugh.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ma Ingalls

One of my favorite TV shows of all time is Little House on the Prairie. I cry EVERY episode. I own 5 seasons, which is a happy thing for me since we have no English TV stations.

My favorite character is Caroline Ingalls. She's the Ma that seems to always get it right. And she can do everything. Cook. Bear children without aid of a doctor. Thresh wheat. Plow the field. Drive the team. Teach the children. Start a business when Charles has no work... and the list goes on.

Though I have threshed no wheat in my lifetime, I have felt a little closer to Ma since living in China. At least in the cooking department. The conveniences I once took for granted were very apparent upon our arrival.

"Where's the canned food section? Frozen food section? Just add water section?"

Wherever they are, they are not in China.

And so began my journey to being a bit more like Ma. If we make it, we make it from scratch. Before this year I never knew I could bake cookies without breaking them off of a premade batch prepared by those lovely people at Tollhouse. I never knew I could bake bread. I never knew I could make a casserole without a can of Campbell's condensed cream of mushroom soup. But it turns out it's possible! 

While it does take a whole lot longer to cook than it used to, and while I do miss those break and bake cookies, I also feel a kind of cosmic connection to my female ancestors. I become my great-grandmother making  cornbread in an iron skillet and rolling dumplings out with a glass bottle. And I am Ma Ingalls baking a fresh loaf of bread to present to my husband who has worked all day in the fields. These are feelings I don't experience just opening a box or a can.

Today I am grateful for inconvenience.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Noise Upstairs

The joys of apartment life. No mortgage. If something major breaks, the landlord fixes it. No HOA fees. And sometimes you get sweet amenities. One of which should be noise cancelling headphones.

The floors are made of tile in our current apartment. I'm not sure what our upstairs neighbors are doing that makes so much noise, but as I lay awake each night listening to the sounds they create that drill holes into my cerebral cortex, I imagine different scenarios. One is that they are assembling some sort of exercise machine that has lots of bars and requires lots of hammering, and then, not satisfied with their design at midnight, they choose to disassemble the aparatus until the wee hours. Reconstruction commences at approximately 5:30 a.m. Never too early to get started on a healthier you!

Actually, I don't know our upstairs neighbors, but I've seen them a few times. And we smile cordially as I walk by with my two girls and they walk by with their two young boys who obviously drink caffeine all day. And I wish I knew how to say, "Hi. It's nice to meet you. I live below you. Could you try not to play mahjong quite so loudly at 11:30 p.m.? Have a nice day." I've got the "hi" part down. And that's pretty much the extent of my Chinese.

So lately I spend my hours of imposed insomnia devising plans for how to stop the noise without words. One involves buying felt pads that go under chairs and stools, putting them in a bag and asking one of my students to write a note issuing a school-wide decree that everyone must use these pads to preserve the floors. It could happen.

I've also thought of buying them a mahjong table, the kind that has lots of padding and felt so you don't here the tiles shuffle and bang.

Wall-to-wall carpeting comes to mind.

But the truth is, I am really thankful for our apartment, and thankful that each day it is feeling more and more like home to me. And for that feeling I'm willing to put up with some noise. (I also bought ear plugs).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

7 years and Counting...

Today marks 7 mostly blissful years of marriage! We even had the chance to go on a date, which is, in our present situation, nothing short of miraculous.

We packed up our girls and got out the door at about 10am. It only took us about 8 minutes to hail a cab (it can be a much longer wait on the weekend). We took an hour-long taxi ride across town to our friends' house, I fed the baby and the clock started ticking. We ran out the door, caught another cab, and after a short ride we sat down to eat at our favorite restarant in town - Indian food! 

I should point out that I wasn't much of an Indian food fan before we moved to China, but now that we're here I find that I'm grateful for a change of pace in the cuisine department. We feasted on naan and curries, and our feast was much cheaper than it would have been back home. Our tab for anniverary dinner at our favorite restaurant in West Palm (Leila's) usually ran us about $100... and that was just splitting an appetizer, two drinks and dessert! Here we got about twice as much food for $30. I think that even makes it taste better.

After two precious hours of dining and telling each other sweet nothings (and a phone call to check on the girls), we picked up our bundles of joy and headed home. This was our first date in China with 2 kids, and I'd say it was a great success. I'm not sure when the next one will be, but I am grateful for two hours alone with my husband. I'm grateful for the friends that helped make it possible. And I'm grateful for two sweet girls who miss me when I'm away.

(I'm also grateful for that Indian family who moved to China and opened a restaurant). :)

Saturday, October 22, 2011


The aim of this blog is survival.

Surviving life in a foreign country, surviving life with two babies, surviving... with great hopes of one day thriving. Hopefully these survival tales will take on a more thriving character as we go along, but of utmost importance is that I learn to love the journey getting there.

Last year I managed a pregnancy and raised a 2-year-old in China. I survived, but looking back I'm not sure how often I was grateful. I'm hoping to do less complaining this year, because there are a hundred ways that living in China is a blessing to me and to my family. I feel that God brought us here. And not to simply leave us and see what would happen, but to be with us and lead us to a place of closeness with Him. A place of thriving.

So, more acurately, the aim of this blog is to remind me to love my journey through life. I hope it will inspire you to love yours as well.