Saturday, May 31, 2008

The New Normal

There are ten American college students on campus studying Chinese for six weeks. (I'm not the only Caucasian face on campus anymore. I was sorta liking my honor of distinction!) I was speaking to two of the young men last week and they were telling me of something they found absolutely incredulous of the Chinese/China. I just shrugged and said "That's China". It reminded me of just how far we have come since we arrived ten months ago. I read somewhere this advice regarding living in a new place: take a picture of the extraordinary before it becomes the ordinary. Here's a sampling of our "ordinary". It's not that we like or agree on everything, but that it's not a shock to the system any more.

  • people and more people everywhere
  • not thinking twice to walk in front of a moving bus to cross the street
  • drivers never yield to pedestrians - just sound the horn!
  • cars, scooters, bikes parked anywhere - on sidewalks, blocking entrances, for example
  • being stared at and kids yelling "helllooo"
  • scooters, bicycles and carts loaded up high with anything imaginable - dozens of boxes of shoes, appliances, furniture, crates of live chickens, etc.
  • sharing a bus ride with said chickens and ducks (dead or alive) and rabbits, pigeons, etc.
  • squat potties and BYOT - bring your own tissue and hold thy nose
  • the kids playing "bus" with a shoe box. They discuss bus routes ("Let's take 98! No, number 111 will get us there faster!") and their "friends" embark and disembark at various stops along the route. Can you imagine this happening in Michigan?!
  • turning on the hot water in the kitchen first, if we want hot water in the bathroom
  • cooking on a two burner stove and only having one pot and one pan
  • being able to read very little and understanding spoken Chinese even less
  • the increased frequency of C. & E. speaking Chinese among themselves
  • eating every meal with chopsticks (Last week we had to reteach E. how to use a fork.)
  • the itsy-bitsy teeny tiny sizes of packaged goods, counter/table heights and the majority of the population
And many, many more! In about three weeks, we will be adjusting to the "new old normal". I think we'll be in constant awe for a bit.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ahhh, Summer

weather has arrived in Kunming. The days are sunny, with a cool breeze and temperatures in the low seventies. And there isn't much variation of the temperatures between day and night. Perfect. Heavier rains occur after midnight and a couple of times a week there may be a brief shower around 4pm. It is said that Kunming has the best weather in China - and I must agree.

These flowering purple bushes are everywhere in Kunming:

Enjoying a splash of color on the way to the dining halls:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Yunnan Nationalities Villages Part 4

The Jinuo's sun square - the ball represents the earth:

A Yao altar:

The classic yin and yang symbol at the Yao village:

The top of Zhuang tower:

While walking home through campus, we saw some friends at the library square. Kite flying is popular among the men. G. checks it out:

Yunnan Nationalities Villages Part 3

Everywhere we go, people want their pictures taken with the kids, like these Na ladies:

A persistent mom insisted on having C. and E. pose with her little girl. That little one is a bit more thrilled about it than our two:

A Christian church in the Miao Village?

Beating a Jinuo drum:

Yunnan Nationalities Villages Part 2

Lunch time! Yunnan's most famous dish is Across the Bridge Noodles. A mixture of vegetables and meats are cooked in a very hot broth with a thin film of oil, then rice noodles are added.

How it comes to the table. Restaurants vary on the ingredients offered.

The server preparing our meal:

Ready to eat:

Enjoying every last drop!

Yunnan Nationalities Villages Part 1

We started our 11th and final month in China by spending the day at the Yunnan Nationalities Villages. Yunnan Province is home to 26 of the 52 ethnic Chinese groups. In a nice outdoor setting one can gather knowledge and appreciation of the various cultures in one place. Here are some of the highlights of the day:

Near the entrance:

Trying out the Munao prayer wheel:

Most beliefs center around balance, harmony and nature:

Sounding the gong at the De'ang temple:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Brave or a bit nuts?? That was my thought

this afternoon as I walked into the university dental clinic:

I have been wanting to have my teeth cleaned since the new year. And today I just couldn't stand it any longer. Normally, I have the procedure done three times a year, but I'm very particular about dentists. I've had extensive dental work from childhood on and have only had two dentists do the work. So it has taken me a while to muster up the courage. Then there are those pesky language and cultural differences...

As you can see, most dentists work in a more open enviroment than in the U.S. No separate waiting or exam rooms here! See that first chair right by the window in the above photo? That's where I was sitting for all to view!

Chinese dentistry (as I've read and now experienced) is a bit dated. It was like being back in the 70's. The whole time I was thinking "please don't undo all the work Dr. L. has done. He's going to kill me when he sees this mouth"! But, everything went smoothly and my teeth look and feel 1000% better. It only cost a bit (ok, a lot!) of anxiety, about 45 minutes of time and the equivalent of $10 USD. Now why was it I waited so long...??

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Back to Normal,

I'm happy to report. The kids returned to school today with a clean bill of health. C. came home at noon and said "When I walked into my classroom today, all the kids started cheering and saying "yeah, Carlos is back!" E. and her friends were glad to be together again too.

This afternoon, since the kids were in school and G. had a tutoring session, I headed over to this place:

One can get a haircut, manicure and pedicure for less than $6 USD. Now, it's things like this, that'll have me yearning for the China days in the upcoming months!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Children's Hospital of Kunming

and this family have been seeing a lot of each other this week! The kids are now showing spots on the palms and soles, but luckily no fever. Other than those physical signs, they are fine - good appetite and high energy.

The procedure is typical and straight forward. Upon entering the hospital, report to the main desk for check-in and get a slip of paper. Then go to a window and pay about $1.00 per patient. Here is E. in the general waiting area. If you look closely, you can see her burn mark high on the cheek near the right eye.

Next, walk over to the in-patient area to watch for your name and number to be posted. Perhaps this is the Chinese version of "15 minutes of fame" ?!

Seeing the doctor: That spot on C.'s cheek is a mosquito bite (it's been raining the last couple of days). Skeeters seem to favor him and he usually ends up with a welt-like bite:( After the doctor visit, step across the hall and pay for the eight prescriptions (mostly mouth rinses ) - about the equivalent of ten dollars.

In line for the hospital pharmacy: Pick up the prescriptions. Yay! All done. Total time-under an hour. Not bad...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

When it rains it pours...

Is it Friday yet??!! To add to our already not-so-good week, E. suffered a scalding on her arms and face today. It was one of those "dumb Mom moments".

We have a water machine that dispenses both hot and cold water for drinking. E. is really fascinated on how it works and is in a "helping" phase, such as wanting to sweep the floor, etc. for us. For the last week or so, I've been letting her fill up my teacup (the "help" part), while keeping a close eye on her, and she has been doing it wonderfully. Somehow today, she filled up the cup, picked it up, swung around and fell. The hot water splashed on her arms and face resulting in a large burn blister high on her cheek near the eye along with a cut. Hopefully, it will heal okay and as the skin regrows, there will be minimal scarring. I remember vividly at E.'s age being scalded by my Dad's coffee one day during dinner. This will probably be the only memory of China she will have!

The kids are doing fine. The medicines seem to be working and their energy levels haven't changed. They do miss school though. Tomorrow a little treat is needed for this group to celebrate the week's end. A bit of Western food for lunch sounds like it will do the trick! Hmmm...KFC or McD's??....

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Well, Rock Our World!

Thank you everyone for your blog comments and emails regarding our safety. We are fine. Thankfully, Kunming was spared. We didn't feel any tremors, which is odd, since reports had as far south as Vietnam (Yunnan Province borders Vietnam) and Thailand experiencing them. Around 2:30 on Monday, I just dropped off C. at school for the afternoon session and was on a bus heading downtown. G. was in the apartment with E. (the "why" is in the next paragraph). Due to the state controlled media, we hadn't heard anything about the quake until we were on the computer later in the evening and read about it on Yahoo! So most of you probably had earlier and more (accurate) information than we did. Sichuan Province is just to the north of us. You may hear the cities of Chengdu and Chongqing mentioned. That is where we traveled to in January. For an idea of distances, my guesstimation is Kunming to Chengdu is similiar to distances between St. Louis and Minneapolis. Not that far away! We have had our share of being close to troubles this year. During February, the big snowstorms were to the east of us, recently the Tibet uprisings and the Myanmar cyclone to our near west and now, the quake to the north. We have six weeks to go and only one direction left!

You also may have been reading about the EV71 (hand, foot & mouth) virus that is hitting the kindergartens and orphanages hard. It is especially hard on children younger than two years old and there has been about thirty deaths and about 30,000 confirmed cases. Well, our kids have a variant of this. The schools have been diligently checking each child's throat, hands and feet for about two weeks now. The government is being more upfront and proactive about the epidemic due to its' debacle regarding SARS a few years back. And of course, with the Olympics starting in less than three months, the government is trying to avoid making another big mess. On Friday, E.'s throat had the spots, and we had to take her to the Children's Hospital. She was given five medications and was to report back today, Tuesday. Well, this morning, C. now sported the spots in the throat area, which meant off we went with two to the hospital. E.'s condition was a lot better, but was not given the ok to return to school. Luckily, both kids have not had any sign of fever or spots on the extremities - very serious, if so. We now will have both kids home for 10 days, giving numerous medications and mouth rinses. Oh joy.

Between the natural disasters, political concerns and now this virus, G. is more than ready to pack it up and head home! Politcal events, rather than disasters or medical related events have more of an affect on me. We really want to enjoy the remaining time in China as much as possible, but for now, let's just say we are counting the days...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kunming Sci & Tech Museum

While most of you were peacefully sleeping the night away, these are some of the things we experienced today:

This gravity room drove me crazy - couldn't even keep my balance. Good thing I never had the dream of doing anything NASA related!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to all you Moms and "just like a Mom" Moms! Enjoy your day! Mother's Day is celebrated in China on the second Sunday of May and it is becoming more popular each year. People send flowers and telephone their mothers. However, the holiday was originally slated to give attention to the poor and rural women of the country. The holiday has not become commercialized (at least not in Kunming). I have not seen one advertisement!

Here's the card E. made during the after school paper craft class. (C.'s class made giant moving paper cockroaches - yuck!) Yes, that youthful looking lady with blonde hair (and including a slight Asian look) on the card is really me!

E. loves to practice writing "Chinese". This is her Mother's Day letter to me. It is so fascinating to see how the kids take in the language. To E., Chinese characters are the visual imprint she sees in her daily world and the one that her teacher uses at school. Actually, her last "character" in blue looks similiar to the character for "woman"! She also prefers to "read" her Chinese books over the English and Spanish ones we have. I guess for now the only use she has for the Roman alphabet is to print her name!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Why we are NOT returning for an additional year

Several people have been asking if we will be returning to China for an additional year and if we are not, why? There is no one single or simple answer. We've thought about it, weighed the pros and cons and decided to not return. Most of the decision had to do with the reasons of why we came in the first place.

Language exposure for the kids: This is the number one reason why we are in China. And to a great extent, the goal has been accomplished. The kids love their school, understand and speak basic Mandarin and C. is learning to read and write. If we stayed, C. would be in a Chinese school first grade classroom in September. First graders learn to read and write close to 600 characters. The process is sheer memorization, with countless hours of copying characters. C. would be at a disadvantage because, unlike his native language classmates, he would also need to learn the vocabulary along with the characters. And as his non-fluent Chinese speaking parents, we are of no help. It would necessitate in hiring a tutor so he would at least have a shot at keeping up with his classmates. We just can't justify doing this to the poor kid! Also, E. and C. would be in separate schools (E. would stay at the Kindergarten), which means different schedules, etc. As much as we would love the kids to be completely fluent in the language, we can't have it (done here) without their English and Spanish skills suffering greatly. Our plan, once we're home, is to maintain and improve as much as possible the language skills they already have, via a tutor.

Workng/teaching/living: I have a nice job and am enjoying it. But to do it for another year? No thanks. Mainly, it's not that challenging and I really don't need more experience. I was offered an opportunity in another city if I wanted to stay in China to experience something different. But that has risks. What if the assignment and living conditions are worse? Our apartment is doable, but I really don't want to "camp" for another year. We do like KMUST and Kunming. It is exciting to explore a new city, but it's also nice to return to the familiar. During a second year, a person can be involved in daily life a little bit different than what is possible during the intial year. Kunming has been a good match for us. A negative has been that we haven't been able to do a lot of traveling within China. We are located in the west and many of the popular travel destinations are on the east coast. So everything is a plane ride (and the price of four tickets add up) away. Even within Yunnan Province, distances are great between places.

Other concerns: With the Olympics fast approaching, there has been an increase in anti-Western sentiments. We are in no imminent danger, but there is a distinct change in the air. Along with that, there is now a potentially harmful virus making its rounds throughout the Kindergartens and orphanages. These are two things we can gladly do without.

All in all, living in China has been a positive experience, one we're glad we took the chance to do so. I often think that if I was 20 or 30 years younger and childless, I'd stay on in a heartbeat! There are things we will miss and things we won't. China gets into one's heart and under one's skin. We are better world citizens because of it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cash is King

Payment for our airline tickets were due. Since China is almost an all cash economy and there is a daily limit of withdrawals (varies between $250 - $500 per day) from foreign accounts, stops over several days to this ATM was necessary.

Here's the loot: a little more than 18,000 Yuan. That's about $2700 for three tickets from Kunming to Detroit. I think $900 per ticket is a good deal considering the vast distance and all the talk about rising prices. (My ticket is paid for by the university.) The Chinese currency is the Renmimbi (RMB), called Yuan or the slang term Kwai. The one-hundred note (about $14) is the largest denomination. And yes, the good ol' Chairman's mug is on every single one.

A side view showing the thickness. Imagine having almost three thousand dollars in tens and twenties!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Long, Lazy Labor Day Holiday

Thursday, May 1, was International Labor Day, which resulted for us having a three day holiday. The Chinese observe holiday "days off" by including "days on". We had Thursday, Friday and Saturday off, but Sunday was a make up day for Friday. This semester, I don't have Friday classes, so my schedule wasn't affected. However, the kids did have school Sunday to make up for the missed Friday.

We're starting our tenth month in China and are finally catching on that holidays equal crowds. Thus, we had a laid back weekend. We did go downtown on Thursday and there were some dancing and musical acts performing (we did miss an earlier parade). In spite of being taller than 98% of the population, we couldn't see a thing! We also didn't venture out much because, along with the crowds in general, we weren't in the mood to fight the bus crowds and deal with figuring how to navigate a route. The kids had a school fieldtrip to a planetarium on Wednesday, so they were content on not hoofing it somewhere new. But here's a couple things we did do:

Ice cream at Salvador's makes these kids giddy, while...:

the big kids enjoyed the (almost gone) chips, salsa and beer number 3:

Story time! Many of the Western restaurants have dozens of books available for use left by long gone travelers. I know I have been whining about the lack of reading material in English, but there really is plenty to read, although none I have seen is to my literature liking. And I just can't read anything, for the sake of reading something.

Saturday, G. played soccer with a group of Brazilians at a complex way out by Dian Chi lake:

Enjoying their own version of Skins (E.) and Shirts (C.):