Friday, February 29, 2008

OT: Lesson Learned

This post is entirely off topic as it has little to do about being in China. But I did want to share this story and hopefully it will prevent someone else avoid a hassle. Some of you may know that we were involved in a car accident in July 2007. You can read about the account in a blog entry posted in July.

Long story short, three weeks before departing for China, we were involved in a multi-car accident on I-294 in Illinois while G. was driving a rental car. We had a rental car because the a/c in our car (1996 Tauras) was out and it was going to be a hot (in the 90's) weekend. The Tauras should have been replaced a couple years back, but we decided to hang onto it until leaving for China. Since the Tauras was about twelve years old, I dropped the collision insurance on it a long time ago. That was a mistake. Since we had no collision insurance, our insurance company wouldn't cover the accident claim. And of course, I didn't purchase the optional rental car company insurance, assuming that because I had auto insurance, I'd be OK. The 2007 car was deemed "totaled" and we were billed thousands of dollars to replace the car. OMG!!!! So, after many, many emails and phone calls to Avis, talking with the at-fault driver's insurance company in Illinois, learning more than I ever want to know about the uniqueness of Michigan's no-fault policy, filling out endless forms and retelling our story over and over, our file was closed and paid in full in December. What saved us was having the rental on a VISA card. Thank you VISA! They will pay the claim if all the insurance companies bail on you. A multitude of thanks and gratitude to our dear, dear friend Susan B. who is taking care of our home, mail pick-up, etc. that we were able to get this nightmare resolved. Susan made numerous phone calls, dug up paperwork, and essentially was "me" doing all the legwork. Which brings up another lesson learned: if you are leaving the country, have a smart, reliable person in charge of your "back home life". I'm so glad that I just didn't rely on "some neighbor to pick up the mail".

Bottom line: (at least in Michigan)-If you rent a car, have collision insurance. If you don't have it, buy the rental company's insurance. Save yourself a major headache.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Back to School Week

I love second's all downhill from here! We are ending the first week of semester two. About 80% of the students have returned to campus. The remainder are trickling in due to the backlog of people needing train travel. The effects of the severe winter storms are still being felt.

This term I have a wonderful schedule - no classes on Monday or Friday! Also, I have only two courses - Writing 2 (two sections) and Survey of English-Speaking Countries (three sections). I'm not sad to see the Oral/Speaking class gone (as it was my least favorite), but I will miss the energy and enthusiasm of those first year kids. In the Writing Class, the first half of the semester will be preparing the students for the writing section of the TEM-4 Exam (The English Majors Level 4 Exam) to be given on April 20. All English majors must pass this in order to get their BA degree. In the Survey class, we'll be covering the United Kingdom in the first half and ending with the United States. I'm learning right along with the students and I enjoy the class. But I admit, my favorite language subject to teach is writing.

A sure sign that the students are back: In the university district shops - TP galore on sale! There are also gobs of large plastic bowls (for laundry) and plastic bathroom/shower clogs.

C. and E. also returned to school this week. I think they are glad to be back on a schedule. (Well, Mom and Papi are glad to have the schedule return!) C.'s class will start learning to read. Today the teacher was introducing the tones of the Mandarin language. They'll also continue with single digit addition, science, geography and community concepts. E's class will continue with pre-reading skills, number and math readiness, and science, geography and community concepts. Both classes have art, music. P.E. and English.

This semester, the kids will attend an after-school enrichment class. We chose Origami/Paper Crafts. Chinese kids love this activity and there are books and more books available for all skill levels. The class choices were limited, but it actually worked out for the best. The other choices were English (nah, we'll pass on that), Music/Art (already part of the curriculum), and Dancing (only offered during the school day). So that left Origami, which would have been our first choice anyway. And luckily, it's held on the same day for the 4 year old and the 5 year old groups. This way, both kids will have a class on Thursday, but be in different classrooms. We have a busy and fun semester ahead of us!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Return Visit to the Zoo

Since it was sunny and mild, we headed to the zoo to finish our tour from October. The warm air felt good and the temps at its peak reached nearly 70 degrees this afternoon. A wonderful day to be outside.

This peacock is in a show-off mood:

The aviary is home to many beautiful birds:

This contraption looked a bit scary to us! A quite large amusement park is situated on the zoo grounds. We keep on running into these things. Apparently, the Chinese love to ride!

Enjoying the sunshine:

Dinner at one of our favorite Chinese fast-food places. We don't know the name (it's on the door and we can't read it :), but we so enjoy the food. The four huge meals, plus the salads and tea pictured here cost less than $8 or 55 Yuan.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Everything but delicious Wisconsin cheese

was in a package from our dear friends Marietta and Terry! All our favorites: snacks for the kids, Nescafe Clasico for G. and reading material (and M&M's) for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I know I go absolutely bonkers over every package, but that's how much it is appreciated and loved. BTW - the M&M's are in a medium size package. What does a large size look like?! I must be getting used to the Chinese micro-sizes!

G. had a soccer game, so my and the kids' plan for this afternoon was to go to the post office, get haircuts, then try out one of C.'s birthday gifts - a badminton set. We did get to the PO, but upon returning to campus, we made a stop at the apartment to open the package. Yes, we have very little willpower!

First things first: Dive into those snacks!

Birthday cards, snacks and animal crackers from Auntie and Uncle! Thanks for thinking of us!

Stopped for an ice cream treat on the way back from the barber - guess the snacks weren't enough... E. had her hair washed and loved it. (I forgot to bring the camera - must've been from the all the excitement:) G. was back from the game (and enjoying a cup of his Clasico coffee), so he and kids went to play badminton and I went in search of bread (@ JustHot) - you can see one of their bags in the photo - it's worth the mile to and from walk.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Birthday Boy

Happy 6th Birthday to our Carlitos! You are a most wonderful son, brother, grandson, godson, nephew, cousin and friend. Here's how Carlos Vincent Luis spent his special day:

Sharing presents with his sister: (E. decided she was a "big" kid too, and chose her outfit today :) Also, tomorrow we are going for the much needed haircuts to be ready for back-to-school Monday.)

Gotta have candles and cake!

Lunch at the restaurant of his choice: Dico's.

Enjoying his gift (a bank) from the Dico's staff. They also announced his name over the P.A. and played the birthday song.

Yesterday at age 5. Can you see the difference?! He told us that when he turned six, he wants to drink tea. That's the first thing he asked for this morning!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Black Dragon Pool Park & Lantern Festival

Today's excursion found us on bus #9 heading to Longquan Mountain. The Black Dragon Pool Park consists of two main areas. The first included two temples, ponds, and reflective gardens. The second had several flower gardens, tea houses, an amusement park and a fishing hole. The temples were Taoist dating back to the Ming Dynasty and earlier. These were dedicated to the gods of nature (the elements and constellations)and there was not a Buddah in sight!

Today is the Lantern Festival or Yuan Xiao Jie. This is celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month and is the last day of the Chinese New Year. It's the first night to see the full moon of the new year. Many people make lanterns to be lit in the parks. People eat Yuanxiao (rice balls with salty or sweet fillings). This day is also the Chinese version of Valentine's Day: going out to dinner, giving flowers and candy. As I'm writing this tonight, the last of the fireworks and firecrackers are going full tilt. Nightly peace is returning.

The pool from above and we didn't see one dragon, let alone a black one!

Many archways graced the grounds:

The gods of lightning (l) and thunder (r):

The gods of wind (l) and rain (r):

A giant Mandarin character:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Golden Temple - cont.

"What's everyone looking at?"

"This." E. trying her luck in dropping a coin into the mouth of a stone fish. She was this close!

A rarity in China: A statue of a woman.

High up the bell tower offered some nice views of the city below:

We climbed many a step to view this serene image:

The Golden Temple

On Monday afternoon we boarded bus #71 to visit a Taoist temple that dates back to 1671, hidden amid a pine forest on Phoenix Song Mountain. The complex also includes a bell tower, gardens and greenhouses. The grounds were so relaxing and the pines smelled so good.

On the mountain: the entrance to the temple. You can see the beginnings of the Spring blossoms.

Gonging of the bell:

The symbol of Kunming - a camellia. They're everywhere in various colors throughout the city.

Cacti in the greenhouse ready to blossom:

"Mountain climbing makes me hungry!"

Monday, February 18, 2008

Kunming City Museum

Sorry to not have posted earlier, but Blogger has been giving me problems lately. Since we returned from our travels, we have been laying low. The kids had a cold/bronchial thing for a couple of weeks (another trip to the clinic, but was given some fantastic Chinese herbal cough syrup), then the weather turned colder with rain, which made us lazy on getting out and about. We've been quite spoiled by the blue skies and sunshine of December and January, so the rain must mean Spring is coming soon.

On Sunday we ventured to the Kunming City Museum and learned many things about our adopted hometown. Kunming has a long history, but it really came into being (and had a name change) around 1400 A.D at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, hence the "Ming" in Kunming.

The pride and joy of the museum - an early Ming era pillar:

Kunming/Yunnan Province was known for its bronze wares. 1400 of the 1600 known bronze drums like this one has been discovered in Yunnan.

C. thought this Yunnanasaurus was cool, unlike his sister, who, when walked into the exhibit room, took one look and bolted towards the exit!

Examples of Ming era Kunming pottery:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Know of a car for sale?

We'll be home in 19 weeks, so I might as well start (who am I kidding?!)- continue obsessing on planning for our return. We are in need of a car. First thought is to buy a budget car (under 3K). This car would eventually be our second car (lucky G.) and will be the primary car for a month or two. Not fussy on make, model or year as long it's in good shape and runs well. The second option is to go ahead and purchase our main car. We're thinking a 2004-2006 Focus wagon, Vibe or something similiar and possibly considering a (gasp!) minivan. Please spread the word. If you know someone who is interested in selling a car late June, please let us know. Thanks!

Some family news: G.'s youngest sister Isabel and husband Hugo, along with their sons Hugito and Joaquin announced the arrival of Vicente Alfredo, born January 14, 2008 in Antofagasta, Chile. He is Abuelita Rosa's 25th grandchild. Welcome Vicho!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

All my fears about living in China

have never materialized! This is what was keeping me up nights about a year ago (in no particular order).

Bugs, bugs and more bugs: After learning that we'd be in Kunming, close to Vietnam (which conjured up images of jungles), I imagined sharing our humble home with the creep-y and crawl-y variety. We've only seen one bug in the apartment and much to our relief, we have screens on all the windows.

Filth, filth and more filth: Much to our surprize, China, in general, is fairly clean. Public areas are not as clean as we would like, but it's not too bad. People regularly use public wastebaskets and streets, stores and the like are constantly being swept out. There are armies of sweepers everywhere, unlike the U.S., where a machine does the job. I have found (though G. will vehemently disagree (!)) that the public spaces in China are much cleaner than those in Latin America.

The kids wouldn't adjust: And just who loves school, life in general and speaks/understands Mandarin? Now, that was a waste of a worry!

I'd hate my job: The job is wonderful! I have great students, a fantastic schedule and complete autonomy. My only "complaint" is that it isn't that much of challenge. G. is now teaching English to 5 people, involved in soccer and loves exploring the mysteries of the Chinese language, customs and culture.

Living on campus would be suffocating: Living on campus has been the best thing about being in Kunming. It's quiet, pretty, private and a 10 minute walking commute. The apartment is decent, we enjoy having the dining halls available for meals, and the kids' school is on campus. We love being part of the university community.

The language barrier will do us in: Learning Mandarin is certainly a challenge, but we're making progress. Looking back to August, it's amazing what we now can say and read! People bend over backwards to help us understand. Also, several students, colleagues and neighbors have come to our "limguistic rescue".

Now off to dreamland...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

New Year Eve Fun

The Camellia Hotel hosted an activity evening to ring in the new year.

This talented artist only charges about 70 cents for one of his colorful flour creations:

The kids loved the "grab a marble with chopsticks" game:

Making dumplings is serious business for these two:

C. showing off his dumpling design skills:

Time to eat all that hardwork! Having dumplings on new year's eve is a tradition we can do and enjoy. Gong Xi Fa Cai everyone!

Adios Pig, Hello Rat!

The Chinese New Year (on February 7 this year) is like Halloween (lots of sweets), Thanksgiving (families travel near and far), Christmas (gift giving) and Fourth of July (mega fireworks) combined.

Bye-bye Piggy. Many pig images were in the trash today:

Welcome Mr. Rat (or Mr. Mouse):

New Year greetings by this friendly crew:

Need a new year wish to hang on your door, wall, rearview mirror?

Sugarcane is a popular treat: