Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in Beijing- Part 1

Nathaniel and I went up to Beijing on the one and only day that Renqiu has gotten any snow-Thursday, December 23. We left before the time I had planned, but I didn't notice the half inch of snow till we were walking down the stairs. When we got to the street and there was not a cart or taxi to be found for well over 20 minutes.

I had allowed for an hour to get to the train station. Our train was to leave at 8:23 and at 7:45 we got into a cart. I prayed that we would get there safely as we have been avoiding carts because of all the accidents we have seen recently. They are not the safest mode of transportation. Secondly I prayed that the train would be a little late. It's not often on time so I wasn't really worried that we would miss it. And we didn't.

We got to the station at 8:10 and the doors to the platform were still locked with a crowd of people standing around. I went up to the person I deemed most able to speak English, should they not understand my Chinese, and asked (while showing my ticket) if my train had left. The young man looked at his ticket which was for the same train and told me "no" in English. He started talking to us and we found out that he works in Dubai and is quite fluent in English, having to speak it at work.

The train finally arrived, about twenty minutes late and he got permission for us to go to the car that he was in which is also more spacious (he had a ticket for the sleeping car where there are bunk beds, three high, and not as crowded) and we chatted for a good portion of the trip to Beijing.

Once in Beijing we got in a super short line (only 3 people ahead of us, unlike 58 on our trip in October) and got return tickets for Sunday. Then we found the bathrooms and I managed to keep our stuff safe while we went about our business in there. Then to the bus which takes an hour to get up to the north west side of the city where my friends live. As usual, Nathaniel fell asleep. He woke up in the process of trying to get off of the bus and me putting the backpack on. He refused to walk for any portion of the 15 minute walk to Teri's house. To say I was exhausted would be an understatement!

We ordered McDonald's for lunch (they have delivery via bicycle for 8 yuan extra!) and after a short rest went to Wal-Mart to pick up some stuff while Teri taught her last class before Christmas. Nathaniel loved riding up and down the escalators in the shopping cart (the store has three levels) and I was again amazed at how much Chinese and American Wal-Marts smell the same! We then took a subway to meet Teri and then a taxi to a small Italian restaurant. After dinner we went grocery shopping at Jenny Lou's a store catering to foreigners. Some cheeses were discounted, so I stocked up! On our way back to Teri's we went past some amazing light displays. Well, amazing for China considering they don't generally celebrate Christmas. But we were in a part of Beijing where there are lots of foreigners (and most of the embassies) and Chinese who have lived abroad, so it's a bit different than the other parts of the city.

On Friday we spent the morning at IKEA with several friends who were both buying lots of stuff for their houses. We were there for four hours and while on our way to check out, Nathaniel fell asleep. After we got home and he woke up, I took him to a local park where he played for just 10 minutes before he asked to use the bathroom. When we finally found a bathroom, it was too late. Of course there were no taxis to be found, the subway seemed too far to walk to. We waited, asked people where we might find a taxi, and saw two who refused to take us because "I am waiting for someone who will be here in just a minute." Ten minutes later they were still there. I finally got smart and started walking towards Teri's and ended up walking the whole way. Oh, in the middle of this, the IKEA delivery guys called wanting to deliver the furniture and I was supposed to let them in. Luckily they got lost and I was there long before they were. Teri was exhausted when she got back, Nathaniel was crabby and because of the taxi shortage, we decided to stay home from the Christmas Eve service. We wanted to order pizza but they refused to talk to us, then tried KFC and placed our order but then they said it would be delivered at 10:30 pm...three hours later! McDonald's was able to deliver in 15 minutes so that's what we ate.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

September-November 2010

Somewhere around Nathaniel's birthday,Santiago got sick with a bad cold and spent most of his non-working hours in bed reading on his iPad. Most of the extended family were out of town, so Granny, Gramps, Older Sister, and the three of us had lunch at the hospital restaurant. I made a cake from a Betty Crocker mix that I bought in Beijing. I really didn't want to eat Chinese cake and they don't seem to like my baking, so I figured a mix was the next best thing. Older Sis loved it! I decorated the top with M&M's to look like a truck. Nathaniel really liked that part. He LOVES chocolate. I'm not sure that I bought him a gift, probably not, but he got some money from relatives. He gets lots of toys from his older cousin and other random people. I'm thinking we soon need to go through them and find some to donate to the orphanage.

A week later, Granny's mom became very ill, so Granny returned to her hometown to take care of her. She was away for about three weeks and I think Nathaniel lost a bit of weight in that time! Gramps doesn't care for my cooking, so he'd watch Nathaniel while I cooked, then go home and cook his own food. i resumed teaching weekend lessons and though i had expected about 35 students, ended up with more than 60. a class of 17 chinese elementary kids is quite a handful.

Santiago told suggested I take Nathaniel to Beijing to spend a few days with a friend. He was still getting an IV twice a day so he planned to stay home-- until I had packed the bags and was carrying Nathaniel out to the street to get a taxi! He told me that he had actually finished the IV the day before (though he hadn't realized it til he went to the hospital and the nurses told him!) and didn't need to start taking more Chinese herbs for a few days. I quickly ran back home, packed a few things for him, he managed to actually get a ticket (this was during the seven day National Holiday when millions of people travel, plus it was the last chance people had to go to the big Expo in Shanghai). A kind man on the train let me sit in his seat and hold Nathaniel. Santiago stood next to us the whole way. We had a fun 2 days in Beijing. We went to Ikea, I had a $5 Dr.Pepper, Nathaniel got to play at a park without shoes. He saw two kids take off their shoes and socks and eagerly copied them. My friend and I decided that they must have lived abroad before as their mother even encouraged them and helped them roll up thier pants. Not your typical Chinese mommy. It was nice to be away but we were glad to get home to our own place. In Beijing they have more "western" style beds which Nathaniel and Satnaigo aren't used to and we were in a tiny house where two adults and a cat live, plus they didn't have electricity so were running several extension cords from the neighbors home to thiers to have just enough to heat the shower, cook and see in the evenings. Not exactly child proof and a little much for a curious two year old!

The rather uneventful month ended with Nathaniel getting 2 stitches in his chin after he fell off a stool while Santiago was getting him a tissue. I was teaching when this happened so didn't have to witness all the tears and screaming, but over the following two weeks I did take him to the hospital twice. Once they tried to remove the stitches after five days. He screamed the whole time and then the doctors decided it was too early. Two days later, we went back and the stitches were removed. Nathaniel got more than his fair share of chocolate. Both daddy and his aunt bought him a box of mini chocolate bars! Yes, he's a very spoiled little boy!

June-August 2010

It was about half way through the month when I realized that I had been sleeping all through the night, thus Nathaniel was too. Of course, at one and a half, he should be. But he actually hadn't slept all night since he was 5 months old and wearing diapers. After he quit using diapers, he'd wake up to go potty. So even after he quit nursing at night, he would still wake me once or twice to pee. It just became so natural, I never thought much of it until it ended! Although it was a lot of work in the beginning (and just plain weird...I mean, teaching a seven week old to pee in the toilet? My cousins don't do that with their kids!), I don't regret potty training him. It's made life much easier (no handwashing diapers) and cheaper (no buying disposables for night time).

I spent 15 days giving lessons, six hours a day. Exhausting. Then just as they were about finished, I found out that I couldn't get a new work visa because I've been working here for five years. There's a national policy that limits foreigners to working five years, but it's never been enforced until now. In May I heard of a lady, in our province, who was told she couldn't work any longer due to this. But on the email list I belong to, no one had known this policy to be enforced. And then I became the second one (at least) to be told I can't work anymore. So for the next two years I can't work here. At least in this province. I have four friends in other provinces who have been here just as long or longer and are still teaching. Strange. But I'm so happy to be staying home now. I have wanted to ever since Nathaniel was born, but for various reasons, one of which was the visa, I didn't. Now we know it's pretty easy to get a "visiting family" tourist visa (before the school took care of obtaining it). Since the only benefit to my job was my salary, it's not a huge deal otherwise.

I had planned to have the month free but after several phone calls begging me to teach, and since I would no longer have a regular income, I spent ten days tutoring two girls who had just finished highschool. They barely knew each other, were as different as night and day. One was an only child from the city that was sent to preschool at one year old. The other is the third of four children from a village. I learned a lot from them and hopefully helped them, but two hours a day with just the two of them was pretty boring. Near the end of the month I went up to Beijing to meet a friend who brought our iPad to us from Wisconsin. I also had a chance to meet the friend of a friend who is married to a Chinese man. We had only briefly talked (about visa issues) and emailed a few times, but we talked for 3 hours at Starbucks and then for another two hours over dinner and shopping. It was such a nice day away from the usual routine and all the hours I'd spent teaching English to little kids!

March-May 2010


The school extended the winter holiday without bothering to tell me until I called two days before classes were supposed to begin and I found out that I could have spent another week in the US. I spent a few weeks in March and April tutoring a girl who planned to go to study in Ireland. I am always confused about why students wait till just a month or two the exam/leaving for a foreign country to begin studying and expect dramatic results. (Just in the last month I've had three students want to study for their remaining 10-20 days before leaving for various countries where they will be educated in English!) She didn't pass her English exam so I don't think she made it to Ireland.


Nothing much happened in April. Well there was the Tomb Sweeping Festival but since we don't celebrate it, the only impression I have of it is that it messed up our work schedules for a week. Gotta love the holiday schedules here.

Oh, our house buying saga began when our neighbor (there are three houses on each floor, we are in on the west side, this neighbor is the one in the middle house) decided they would sell their house and offered it to us for 200,000. We wanted it so that we could take out a wall and have a larger house. Their asking price was pretty high considering the house is about ten years old and so many new houses are being built for just a little more than that. We got them down to 190.000 and later the wife said she'd ask her husband if she could accept 180,000. (She was the one in charge of selling the house it seems.) She later came back and told us that her friends told her she should charge 220-230,000 for the house. Santiago told her to forget it.

A few months later they moved out and workers came in to renovate it. My father-in-law met the new owner one day and found out that they'd paid 220,000 for it. So now we have new neighbors. A young couple, not sure if they are married or not, not friendly and they can be quite noisy when their friends come over (and recently they've been fighting, a lot. So much that one night I was up til midnight cause it was that bad!). The other family had a 14 year old and the husband was only home once or twice a year, so it was pretty quiet, except for the girls daily piano practice session.

Santiago and I had five days off due to International Labor Day, the third longest vacation of the year. Tour agencys put together various outings and we considered going on the one to the Beijing Zoo, but but we decided not to since there is little flexibility with a group and if we were to go on our own it would be super crowded because everyone travels.

About a week after the holiday we went up to the zoo for the day. We took the train up with the stroller, only to find that they do rent strollers at the zoo, but upon seeing babies with uncovered bottoms being taken out of them and thier less than sanitary washing process, all the hassle of taking the stroller seemed worth it. Nathaniel was a little more impressed with the zoo than on our previous trip there last November. Even though there were many other foreigners there he got tons of attention. There is a Dairy Queen nearby so we had blizzards too! That was quite possibly my favorite part of the day :)

January-February 2010

The first half of the month was spent anxiously awaiting for Nathaniel's exit visa to arrive. Then when it finally did, we were suprised to see that there was a fee on it but we'd never been asked to pay. I was busy packing and finishing giving exams to my 200 some students. I had to give exams earlier than the Chinese teachers, but then I have to wait and wait until they open the website to input scores. Why it can't always be open and have the teachers able to input scores throughout the term, I'll never understand.


In February the three of us went to Wisconsin. Santiago was there for 12 days, Nathaniel and I stayed for 24. We had a great time visiting some family and friends, but we mostly stayed put and hung out with my parents and siblings.

Santiago and I did go out to New York and tried to get to DC but got stuck in NYC due to snow storms. Nathaniel got to visit his first farm, library, Pizza Hut, chili dump and so many other things. Oh, and his first car seat experience. That did not go over well the first two days. He screamed from Chicago to Marengo where we stopped at McDonald's for a quick bite to eat and bathroom break (he wasn't keen on the airplane toilets, either). Then back in the carseat he screamed for another 20 minutes until he fell asleep. The second day I had to renew my liscense, deposit our money in the bank, make an eye appointment and a few other things. Each time I drug him into the store with me, explaining the car seat to him. By the fourth stop he was cool with it and never made a fuss again. He did tend to fall asleep on longer trips.

My brother took us to Chicago via Amtrack, complaining the whole way about how terrible the train was. We just laughed at him and told him as long as we could sit, no one was smoking, there was no garbage anywhere, we thought it was just wonderful. We had to go to the Chinese consulate to get a visa for Nathaniel but after much confusion and headache, we could only get him some Chinese document to let him travel. We hadn't gotten a paper from the local police saying that he gave up his citizenship (never mind that he has an American passport and SSN already!), so they still consider him Chinese. Then went to Navy Pier and to the IMAX to see Avatar.

Spent one Sunday afternoon with lots of friends who were able to stop by and visit with us for awhile. That was one of Nathaniel's few days ever without a nap and he did really well. Of course he fell asleep on the way home and slept all through the night!

Nathaniel was not too happy to be left with my parents while Santiago and I went to NY, but he survived. We stayed with a 60 year old through He was a neat guy with tons of knowledge that he was all too willing to share with us. But he saved us lots of time and money during our time in the big city. We went up in the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, China Town and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The flights went way better than I hoped to imagine, especially coming back by myself with a toddler, three carry on bags, two checked suitcases and a stroller. Yes, I take full advantage of suitcase weight limits...gotta have cheese, bbq sauce and deoderant!

Merry Christmas!

Yes, I know it's a bit early, but if the VPN decides not to work for the next week or so, I won't be able to post on here. Plus we are going up to Beijing for Christmas and I won't have my computer. On the agenda for our trip to the big city is to add more pages to my passport (did you know that it costs $82 to do this??!!?? They add a tiny booklet of 26 pages to your passport. The good thing is that it's done in an hour and not 6-8 weeks for those who have it done in the USA.) Also buying cheese and cocoa powder, celebrating a friend's birthday on the 24th, and maybe visiting with another friend if she's around. I'll take Nathaniel up a few days early and Santiago will come up on the 24th. Then Christmas on the 25th! I haven't had an "American" Christmas since 2005, so this is very exciting.

I added some new photos to Snapfish for those of you who want to see them. Nathaniel's aunt and her son came for a few days last week and we celebrated my birthday one evening.

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Dots Brown Sky 5x7 folded card
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View the entire collection of cards.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nathaniel's New Look

I don't have photo just yet, but Nathaniel is now sporting a gauze bandage over his chin! On Sunday morning while I was teaching and he was at home playing, he fell while trying to climb off of a stool. We aren't sure what exactly he cut his chin on, though one of our plastic wash bowls is cracked badly, but he had to get 3 stitches and 4 shots. Luckily he was able to be treated at Santiago's hospital so the cost was minimal, but Nathaniel has a strong feeling to the doctor who treated him. "Bad aunt!" he says when you ask him who helped to make him better. Poor kid! But he's doing well and the stitches should come out early next week.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Okay so these two photos just took over ten minutes to may be sparse unless I can get my trusty assistant to upload them from the USA (that's you Mom!).
So the one picture is my new bookshelf. I've been wanting one for the last three years and finally we bought one. Spent about 2 hours looking around a giant furniture store to find it. Ironically it was the first one and the cheapest one we saw. It's nearly full now, I have a lot of books. Poor Santiago doesn't know how many are still at my moms! Nathaniel keeps his toys in one of the cupboards and I use one for fabric. Let's see how long I can limit my stash to that space.
And the second photo is obviously Nathaniel, playing in an old box while I was cleaning one day. He also loves to play in a large red pail that we have and Santiago will pick him up and swing him in it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Wow, I can't believe that it's November already. Eleven more days til the heat gets turned on and Santiago won't be freezing all the time. Maybe. The last two days were pretty warm, upper 60s and sunny. Of course I didn't get to enjoy it as I was stuck inside teaching for 11 hours over the weekend. The good side is that I don't work again until next weekend and there's supposed to be a few more sunny days this week.

Nathaniel loves playing outside and can be bribed to do most anything by promising to take him outside and find some "ge ge"(big brother) and "jie jie"(big sister) to play with. He prefers to play with older kids but last week we went to KFC one evening and he was playing in the play area and started helping a 18 month old boy. The boy was at the bottom of the slide and Nathaniel wanted to go down, but waited til the boy had moved. After he was down, he pointed towards the steps, showing the boy where he should go to climb up. Then he took the boy by the hand and led him to the steps and helped him climb up! The boy took a liking to Nathaniel and continued to follow him around.

He also loves to read books, and will try to stall bedtime by grabbing a few more books from our brand new bookshelf. Of course I give in since I want him to be a reader. Is that a bad thing or not?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Due to the VPN making the connection super slow (well, things are going from China to Minnesota and back!) and I can't get the photos up now. But there are some on Snapfish, so you can check them out there.

Hi Again

This site is still blocked here, but thanks to my friend Ted who hooked us up to his VPN connection, we can get on some of the blocked sites. Something must be wrong with our computer/connection since I can seldom get on Facebook (last time was early July), YouTube and some others, but it's nice to be able to get to some things that I hadn't been able to access for a year.
Here are some photos from Nathaniel's birthday. The cake is a Betty Crocker mix and frosting from Beijing. I'm tired of eating Chinese birthday cakes for every birthday that is celebrated (about four a year) and since someone else ordered Nathaniel's cake last year, I wanted to do it. I went to Beijing in August to meet some friends and do some grocery shopping so added a mix to my list. I do have my trusty Rock County 4-H cookbook but I figured a cake from a mix would appeal to the rest of the family more. Granny doesn't eat cake since it has milk in it and the whipped cream (she doesn't drink milk) so she didn't eat it. Only the three of us, Granny and Gramps and Santiago's older sister were around for Nathaniel's birthday. I had begun teaching private lessons that day so we decided to eat at the hospital restaurant for lunch. The food was good and the cake was a hit with Nathaniel and his aunt. He liked the truck made of M&M's best! In true Chinese fashion, I put a layer of jam between the layers rather than frosting. All their cakes have some flavor of jam in them. Recently blueberry has become the favorite (though they don't have real blueberries here). I used strawberry. It was pretty tasty and we ate about half of it at lunch.