Making Memories

We haven’t disappeared! We are still here in good ol’ US of A. I have taken a break for awhile from updating the blog because when we are in America there isn’t alot of interesting or funny cultural experiences to share like we have in China. However, I do have lots of photos to share, so enjoy…

 

Visiting Friends

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Fall Fun

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Halloween

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Weddings

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Baking Class

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Adventures in America

We have arrived in America! Actually, we have been here for a couple months now, so I will backtrack a bit…

 

Homecoming

During the last few weeks in China before our trip home, I was anxiously packing, organizing, cleaning and making many, many lists. We had to pay all our fees and rents up front for the following four months, take inventory of things we have in China and what we need to buy in America, say goodbye to all our Banna friends and and prepare our home for our long absence. Instead of leaving our home vacant for four months, we decided to ask a Chinese friend to live in our house while we were away. Our biggest fear was that a water pipe would burst and flood the apartment (which happens quite often), so we thought it would be best to have someone live there who can keep an eye on things. Since we live in a tropical environment, another big problem with leaving a house empty for a long time is mold. Having a house guest there will hopefully keep the mold at a minimum simply by opening and closing windows and turning on the air conditioners. I am still a little nervous about the condition of our apartment when we return. I am the kind of person who likes to have everything in its place, so it will be a real stretch for me to return to our apartment and not find things how I left them.

The flight to America was surprisingly easy. We now have to buy a seat for each of us, so not having children sitting in our laps makes a huge difference. Our flight schedule was set up perfectly, allowing us to have an overnight rest in a hotel before our long international flight. Not to mention, I now take medicine to calm my flight anxiety which allows me to sleep, watch movies, and function like a normal human being on flights.

 

Getting Our Feet Wet

Our first week or so in America is always a little rough. Jet lag with two little kids is truly awful. This time Claire was awake from 1:00am-3:00am every night which made our jet lag even worse because we were unable to fall back asleep after taking care of her. As a result, the first week felt like we were swimming in a fog, which didn’t make adjusting to American life any easier. Despite our best efforts to “play it cool” and “act normal”, there is always a learning curve at the beginning. Here are a few of the the things each of us struggled with this time around:

Jennifer –

  • Not knowing how to use the new chip technology at the store
  • Running errands around town only to find that every store I went to had moved to a different location
  • Being asked by friends/family if my kids like certain foods and not knowing how to respond because they have never actually eaten that particular food before

Cameron –

  • Frequently using his horn while passing other drivers, going through an intersection, being approached by another driver on a side street, etc. (which is good driving etiquette in China, but makes Americans just plain angry)
  • Arriving 30 minutes late to church not realizing they had changed the service times

Claire –

  • Answering her grandparents house phone using the standard Chinese greeting (which, come to find out, is a good way to get soliciters to hang up)
  • Peeing outside in the grass a handful of times when her parents aren’t watching (but neighbors are)
  • Getting mad at TV commercials for coming on during her shows (we only watch DVDs in China)

Chloe –

  • Being scared of everything from garage doors to squirrels

 

What Do You Do All Day?

People often ask us how we spend our days while we are in America. Good Question! Obviously, we do build in a good amount of time for relaxation and play. This is sorely needed due to the fact that overseas living is difficult and there are long periods without any breaks. It is important for us to have time here to decompress and reconnect with friends and family. Some of our fun activities have included taking the kids to go swimming, going to the lake, attending cake-decorating classes, spending time with extended family, going to kids’ swimming lessons and gymnastics lessons, going to the movies, and much more. However, our time home is not all fun and games. For example, I have spent many hours so far buying all the clothes and supplies that we need to take back with us. We also have to catch up on things like doctor’s appointments, renewing passports, attending company trainings and taking care of any personal business that needs to be handled State-side. And more importantly, we spend a lot of time seeing friends who allow us to do what we do in China. This part alone requires a couple months of meeting people for meals every day and going on road trips to visit people on the weekends. Our time in the States is always a delicate balance of work and rest.

 

On a final note, here are some of the memories we have made so far…

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Blowing bubbles with Cic and the cousins

 

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Swinging with Yeye

 

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4th of July parade

 

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Fishing at the lake

 

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Watching the butterflies at the Texas Discovery Gardens

 

 

Watch Out America! Here We Come!

Lately, I am discovering more and more what it means to live in a tropical climate during rainy season. Frizzy hair? Check! Constant sweat? Check! Mold on everything? Check! Bugs? Everywhere! Not even kidding, as I write this, I keep pausing to swat tiny sugar ants off the desk since for some reason they have found something in the study that they want to eat. No matter how hard I try to keep the house clean, the ants have become permanent residents in our home. At least these tiny sugar ants aren’t anything compared to the giant bugs we find outside. It seems that living in a tropical climate also means that the bugs grow to mammoth sizes. See exhibit A…

 

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Thankfully, whenever a freak monster bug comes flying into our house, either my Chinese teacher or our house helper, who both grew up in nearby villages, kill them with their bare hands. That is usually followed up by a discussion over whether or not that particular bug is good to eat (apparently cicadas are a real delicacy). According to them, almost every bug they kill can be eaten. I usually try not to look disgusted as they talk about which bugs are best to consume, but I don’t do a good job of hiding it.

Chloe turned two a few days ago. I feel a little bad because we only got her one toy, but I think I have reached the end of the Chinese internet as far as buying imported toys goes. I don’t bother to buy any Chinese-branded toys since they fall apart the moment the kids start playing with them. I figure we can get away with it since she is only two and she will be getting lots of toys from her grandparents soon.

 

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Birthday Girl!

 

We had a birthday party for Chloe in the gym/playroom at Claire’s preschool because the principal was nice enough to let us use it on a Saturday morning. We hired two of Claire’s gym teachers who are super fun and creative to do some games with the kids. They had never done a birthday party before, especially an American-style one, so they were a little confused when Cameron first talked to them about leading games at Chloe’s birthday party. At first they thought we were asking them to come up with games for just Chloe and were unsure (although still willing) of how to entertain just one child. When Cameron assured them it would be a group of children, they were relieved. The only problem was that we forgot to communicate to them that the parents were just planning to relax and watch, so all the activities that the gym teachers planned involved the parents. And by “involved”, I mean the parents were sweating their brains out lifting kids in the air so that they could fly like airplanes, pretending to be a railroad track by laying on the ground while kids stepped on their back, playing potato sack races by hopping around carrying kids in their arms, and holding a giant net up while kids bounced around in the middle. I know parental involvement is a positive thing, but honestly I was just hoping to pay someone else to do the work for me!

 

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Did I sign up for this?

 

In other news, we are heading home to America in one week! It it time for us to take a break, see family, and tend to some business. We are mostly excited, but also a little nervous too as we attempt to step back into American society. Especially after the last year of living in a remote mountain town in southern China, I honestly feel like we are a pack of wild animals returning to civilization. Here are just a few of the things that concern me…

–       Claire will not hesitate to pee outside. We will be playing outside and in a split second, she will have her pants around her knees, squatting to pee wherever she was standing. I can only imagine what kinds of looks we will get when this happens on a playground in America.

–       We have completely let ourselves go. I rarely do anything to the girls’ hair except for brush it. Since I haven’t been clothes shopping in several years, I am down to faded tshirts and just a few actual outfits. I am not naming names, but someone in our family has holes in most of his underwear. We are going to need some serious retail therapy before we get ourselves in a more presentable condition.

–       We have picked up some socially unacceptable habits. We talk about people right in front of their face (since here in China they can’t understand English). When we go out to eat, our children are usually running around the restaurant before and after the meal. Our kids walk up to complete strangers to beg for food or to take toys right out of their hand (because they know Chinese people think foreign kids are adorable and will give them anything they want). The kids address every adult they meet as “auntie” or uncle.” We have picked up so many strange habits, we don’t even know what is strange anymore!

–       We have no easy way of conversing with Americans because our life and our work here is completely not normal. When we meet people in America, it is so hard to answer basic questions like “What do you do?” or “Where do you live?” Sometimes I find myself making up answers just to avoid trying to explain to people what we actually do.

So, if you run into us somewhere and Claire is off peeing in the grass, Chloe is calling you “auntie” and rummaging through your purse to see what goodie you will give her, and we talk about strange things like driving “tuk-tuks” and eating corn for breakfast, then just smile and pretend that everything is normal.

 

 

The Lastest Happenings

It has been awhile since I last wrote anything, but truthfully, not much has been happening around here lately. It has been so hot outside that we have been spending a lot of time either inside in the air conditioning or at the pool. Our seasons are a little strange here because April and May are the hottest months with temperatures above 100. Then, the rains come in June and July and cool things off. We are fortunate that the rains started this week because the high heat and lack of rain was causing a severe drought in this region of Asia. I think our city was trying to conserve water because during May they were shutting everyone’s water off during random parts of the day. My Chinese teacher even said that the government was making it rain to help the farmers in this area. I didn’t believe her, but after a brief internet search, she may be right. It is called “cloud seeding.” Either ground generators or planes can disperse a variety of substances such as silver iodine in the air which causes rain to fall. That was news to my born-in-the big-city ears.

 

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Lately, I have continued helping our house helper, Sarah, with her baking business. Recently, someone asked her to make a cake with a dragon on top, and I reluctantly agreed to help her with it. I had serious doubts it would turn out right, but I was pleasantly surprised by the end result.

 

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Even though I don’t mind teaching Sarah Western baking skills, the differences in Western and Chinese cooking styles definitely present a challenge. In Western baking, recipes need to be followed rather precisely. When a recipe says to put in a cup of flour, it is important to measure carefully to ensure that the proper amount is added. In contrast, no Chinese person I know has ever looked at a recipe to cook a Chinese dish. They simply chop vegetables and meat and throw it in the wok with whatever seasonings they think might taste good. Sarah sometimes reverts back to this extremely flexible way of cooking when she is baking Western goods. For example, the other day she was making buttercream icing for the dragon cake, but she didn’t have any butter or Crisco on hand (the two main ingredients in buttercream icing). Therefore, she improvised and made icing out of only milk and powdered sugar. She tried to persuade me that it might be possible to make the dragon out of this strange, rubbery, icing she had made, but I convinced her it was best to just use the butter and Crisco in my cabinet and make the icing again. I am sure she thinks it is odd that I am so rigid with my baking.

In recent weeks I have also continued with my Chinese lessons. This year I noticed a big improvement in my fluency. I used to be very embarrassed to speak because I talked so slow as I thought about each word I wanted to say. Now, I just start talking and only pause occasionally to think of a word. My next goal is to reach a more advanced level of vocabulary so I can start talking to Chinese people about deeper issues. My Chinese teacher comes to our house twice a week to teach me Chinese, and it has been such a blessing. She is a funny lady who is so patient and doesn’t mind Chloe crawling all over me while we study together. Randomly, my teacher has recently started bringing Chloe entire husks of corn to eat for breakfast. Steamed corn-on-the-cob is a very common breakfast food here, but something I am definitely not used to feeding my toddler for breakfast. I end up spending a good thirty minutes of our class picking up bits of corn off the floor and chasing Chloe while she runs around with a husk of corn in her hand.

 

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Chloe munching on corn.

 

This past weekend we all made a short trip to our old city of Tianjin. Cameron needed to go for some meetings, and we decided it would be fun for all of us to go see the place we lived for three years when we first came to China. On our flight to Tianjin, it seemed that we received even more attention from local people than we usually do. I wasn’t too bothered, but this one woman on the plane was pushing my limits. Before we could even sit down, she was leaning over our seats taking pictures of the kids with her phone. She then spent the entire flight staring at us with a huge smile on her face (see picture below if you don’t believe me). At one point, Cameron got up to go to the bathroom and she immediately hopped up and sat right next to me in his seat. She wanted to hold Chloe, but naturally Chloe got upset when she tried. I told myself not to get too annoyed with this lady because I knew that if we needed anything during the flight, she would be the first one to try to help. Besides, I would much rather have her riding next to me than some mean person who gets annoyed at small children.

 

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Is this not awkward?

 

Being in Tianjin was a lot of fun. It brought back many memories of first coming to China, riding our bikes to class every day, hanging out with tons of local and foreign friends, and feeling like everything was a big adventure! We got to see our old house helper and spend some time with her. She was so excited to see Claire who she had grown extremely fond of during her time working for us. While we were there, I couldn’t help but notice the extreme differences in Tianjin and Banna. Tianjin is huge with a population of 15.5 million people compared to Banna with 500,000. There is a ton of wealthy people in Tianjin and everything is so much more expensive! Also Banna is very much a foreign world compared to Tianjin. Banna is full of diversity and people from every different minority group one can think of. I have a hard time understanding how two such different places are part of the same country!

 

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Claire and Ayi.

 

We just got back from Tianjin yesterday and are taking a day to catch up. Sadly, our electricity was turned off while we were gone because we still don’t understand how to pay our bill. We lost some food in our refrigerator and freezer, so we are trying to sort through and throw things away. It doesn’t matter how long we live here, we are still reminded that we are the lost foreigners who don’t know how to pay a utility bill!

 

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Claire and Cameron at the Tianjin zoo.

Water Fight!

A few weeks ago I put on my hosting hat for a few days while we had a guest staying with us. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself to be gifted at hosting, I enjoy playing host when people come to visit. Hosting in China is definitely not for the faint of heart. Whenever guests come, I usually spend the week prior planning what we will eat, buying food, and preparing any food that can be frozen ahead of time. During their stay, I have to make sure that everything I need for the upcoming meal is ready to go. That usually means transferring things like bacon or dairy products from the deep freeze to the refridgerator and preparing those time-consuming, from-scratch ingredients like bread crumbs, sausage, bread, etc. Even though a lot of time is put into meals, planning ahead can alleviate some of the stress and work. It sounds like having guests would not be worth the trouble, but it is nice to have people in our home who love us and care for us. It is definitely rewarding in the end!

The reason our guest was in town was to help Cameron meet with some new friends. This isn’t the forum to tell this story, so you will have to read between the lines, but it is too cool not to share. We weren’t sure who was going to show up, but we were very touched by the people who came. Some of them had never left their village in their entire life. Some traveled many hours by bus and train to get here. Some had almost no money and spent what little they had to attend. There were three people in particular who came with a small sack of personal items, no extra clothes besides the ones they were wearing, and a rice cooker. Of the people who came to visit, there were eight different ethnic minority groups represented. Thankfully, they all understood standard Chinese, but a lot of them couldn’t read. Despite the obvious challenges, it ended up being an amazing time. We were blessed by them being here!

After this week-long activity ended and our guests had left, the famous Water Splashing festival began in our town. This festival is a traditional festival of the local Dai minority; however, it has now become a well-loved celebration among all the people who live in Yunnan as well as many tourists who arrive to participate in the holiday. Every year our town gets extremely crowded during Water Splashing Festival and this year was no exception. On Wednesday of that week, there were a few events at the Mekong River (the large river that runs through the center of town) which we sadly missed out on mainly because of the crowds. They had boat races, swimming races, and dancing. In the evening, thousands of people gathered by the riverside to light large lanterns that float into the sky. You can imagine how beautiful it is to see thousands of floating lights in the sky. Many of our friends went to the lantern-lighting, and based on their reports I am glad we didn’t attempt to go with little kids. Our friends said they got stuck in a large crowd of people who were shoulder-to-shoulder and didn’t move for quite some time. During the time they were stuck, two of my friends had stuff stolen – one had his wallet stolen from his back pocket and another had her phone stolen from her purse. Hearing this, I think we have a few more years until we can make the lantern lighting a regular tradition!

 

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Wearing a traditional Dai dress and heading to Claire’s water-splashing celebration at her school.

 

On Thursday, we went to a market called the “Border Festival.” The fair had many products and foods that came from neighboring countries like Burma, Laos, and Thailand. It was interesting to see what was there, but we forgot that Chinese tourists love taking pictures of foreign kids. If we paused to fix a shoe or wipe a nose, it only took a matter of seconds before a crowd of people would gather around us to take pictures of the kids and ask a million questions. Needless to say, we didn’t stay long!

Friday was the big water splashing day when the whole town turns into one big water fight. In fact, Cameron went to the market early that morning and was twice squirted by adults carrying water guns. In town, there is a large open area with a huge fountain where thousands of people go to all throw water at each other. Again, I would love to see it someday, but we have heard that if you are a foreigner, then everyone wants to throw water at you. It sounds like fun, but it can get scary if you can’t catch a breath in between douses. Therefore, we chose to stick around our quiet neighborhood on the edge of town and have a water fight with our friends. It is supposed to be more for the kids than anything, but I think the adults were having the most fun. In fact, the younger kids including our two little ones ended up sitting on the side because the adults and older kids got a little rowdy blasting each other with water guns and throwing buckets of water at each other.

 

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More Adventures in Chinese Preschool

Preschool isn’t normally an exciting topic to talk about, but for us it provides a constant source of new cultural experiences and entertainment. We are happy to see that the principal at the school has started some fun new programs. Each morning when we drop Claire off, the kids start off the day by doing some morning exercises. They play fun music and lead the kids in movements and dances. The school also asked all the parents to download a new app to view school announcements, activities, food schedules and more. I was really impressed by this new app and how it has made communication between us and the school a lot easier. Coincidentally, I just today discovered that the teachers have been using this app to send Cameron and I messages about Claire, but since the app is in all Chinese, it has taken me awhile to understand how to use it. Therefore, I didn’t even see the messages! Thankfully the teachers are still making an earnest attempt to communicate with the confused foreigners (us)!

For a couple weeks during a free trial period, we could use the new app to access the school’s cameras and watch Claire while she was at school. Cameron and I were especially interested to see what kinds of activities the class does during the day. While they do a lot of the usual preschool activities – singing songs, drawing, playing with blocks, etc., I noticed that the classroom doesn’t have a large variety of resources. There are tables and chairs for the kids, a small bookcase with some books and art supplies, two small bins of blocks, and a large TV. In the states, most preschools would have areas or centers with different themes like the pretend-play center, the block center, or reading center where kids would spend a good part of the day moving between centers. I have to remind myself not to compare too much and focus on the good things. She is learning Chinese in what appears to be a positive environment, so that is good enough for now!

Another fun addition that the school made was hiring two young, male gym teachers with lots of energy to do activities with the kids every Thursday. Cameron and I happened to be watching Claire’s class on one Thursday and were happy to see the gym teachers leading the students in an activity with a parachute. It looked like a lot of fun, but the only problem was Claire was not participating. She was running around in a different part of the downstairs area and playing on some playground equipment by herself! We were not too happy about that and had to talk to the teachers about being more strict with Claire. The teachers are still too lenient with her because they don’t think she understands what they are saying. However, Cameron and I know all too well that she understands alot and is simply ignoring them. I think having a foreign kid in the class is also a learning experience for the teachers as well!

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A girl can never have too many purses.

 

When Claire’s school began using this new app, they also started a chat group with the parents in each class. I thought reading the chat group messages every day would be a good way to practice my Chinese and learn more about Chinese culture, until I started reading what people were posting. Multiple times a day, a parent would use the chat group to ask the teachers where his or her child was because they weren’t in the view of the camera at that particular moment in time. The teacher would then have to take their attention away from the students to let the parent know their child was in the bathroom, in the hall, on the playground, or wherever! One parent was sending complaints to the teachers about mosquito bites that her son got at school. I think that made the teachers a little nervous, because a few days later one teacher apologized profusely about a bruise Claire had on her leg. I tried to assure them that I hadn’t even noticed it and that it is perfectly normal for three year olds to have bruises! I saw one post where a parent asked the teacher how much lunch their child had eaten and the teacher actually sent a picture of the student’s bowl! Another time the school was planning a weekend barbecue picnic for all the students and parents. It sounded like fun, but a handful of parents in the chat group complained over and over that it was going to be unbearably hot and that roasting barbecue outside would be intolerable! (Keep in mind it is springtime here and the outside temperatures are far from unbearable.) One parent even said that her child couldn’t attend because he couldn’t eat barbecue meat due to having a cold. Her connection between those two things still leaves me confused. The final straw was when the parents started getting really upset that their children were only visible on the school cameras during 9:30-11:00 and 3:00-4:00. There was so much complaining going on, that our chat group got shut down. I am actually glad it did for the sake of the teachers!

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Feeding the peacocks at the local zoo.

 

Besides all our school activities, we had a very nice Easter. I found some Easter eggs on Taobao, a Chinese website, and some hard-to-find candy such as Reeses peanut butter cups. I then invited a couple expat families with young kids for an Easter egg hunt and brunch. We did the Easter egg hunt outside in a grassy area between our apartment buildings. I was a little worried some neighbors would see our egg hunt and join in without asking, but thankfully that didn’t happen. The kids had a blast picking up eggs and the parents enjoyed watching them! There wasn’t much talk of the Easter bunny in our house, but we did introduce Claire to the idea of the Resurrection. I can’t say she actually understood much of it, but maybe she’ll understand more next year!

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Spring Has Sprung

Our trip home from Thailand felt long and adventurous as usual. The first day we drove five hours from Chiang Mai to the border of Thailand and Laos and spent the night. During the drive, we were flagged down by some policeman in the middle of nowhere who asked that we stop to let the Thai princess and her motorcade drive by. Claire was initially really excited at the thought of a princess coming, but was a little underwhelmed when the princess drove by in a fast-moving car with blacked out windows. I guess princesses don’t travel in a horse and carriage in Thailand! We spent the night on the Thai side of the border and then woke up early to cross into Laos. The Laos border crossing is always really crowded with both Chinese people on holiday and backpackers from all over the world. It is often a frustrating experience because the process for obtaining a visa is extremely inefficient and results in long waits. This time we waited for two hours and then continued on our way. We got back to Banna at about 9:00 in the evening. It was good to be home!

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When we got back, I was surprised that the temperatures in Banna were already getting warm even though it was only late February. I am still learning about the climate in this city so I didn’t expect that winter would only last a couple months. I keep putting away and taking out new seasons of clothes for the girls as I try to keep up with the temperature changes. I am not complaining though, it is not so bad wearing shorts in early March!

Since spring has arrived, the tree outside our kitchen window sprouted these big, beautiful red buds. I was enjoying looking out the window everyday at this tree with all its red colors, until I discovered that those red buds are a delicacy in this area. Before I knew it, the whole neighborhood was climbing this tree and picking the buds to eat! I was irritated that people would destroy my beautiful tree, but Cameron reminded me that if it were an apple tree then we would probably be picking the apples. I begrudgingly agreed.

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Claire is back in school now and is growing up everyday. At school, she seems to be following classroom procedures better and engaging with her teachers more. As well as learning Chinese, I think she is also learning how to function in a classroom setting and respond to adults who are not her parents – all good skills to have! Unfortunately, she still likes to play with the student who she refers to as “bad boy.” I actually don’t think he is trying to be bad, but I believe he could be autistic or have something else internal going on. Claire calls him the “bad boy” because he is usually doing something he is not supposed to do like rolling around on the floor and barking like a dog while the other kids are sitting in their chairs. I thought Claire just referred to this boy as the “bad boy” around us, but when I went to pick her up the other day, Claire ran over to the boy and loudly said to him, “Look bad boy, it is my mom!” I felt myself turn red even though I knew that no one understood English, including the boy. Thank goodness, because I bet his mom would not be too happy with Claire always calling her son “bad boy” to his face!

Although we hit the ground running again as soon as we got back, life threw us a few curveballs. Chloe was super sick for about five days. During that time, she was having trouble retaining fluid and got close to needing an IV. I was really stressed at the time, because the hospitals here are not that good and I knew it would be a frustrating experience if we had to go. My friends finally directed us to a small clinic close to our house with a doctor who was very friendly and knowledgeable. I was so relieved to find a doctor that we can go to without having to face the craziness at the hospital. After Chloe got better, I spent five days with the same stomach bug while Cameron came down with pneumonia. Thank goodness we found that doctor, because we have seen her a lot in the last couple weeks!

Despite our illnesses, we have been working on some of our new goals for 2016. We have lined up a baby-sitter for every Friday night, and we will now have a date night every week! Woohoo! We also have begun getting out as a family every Saturday and exploring fun things to do in Banna. We tried taking a walk along the Mekong River last weekend, but discovered quickly that the girls don’t really consider a walk to be much fun. We’ll see what we can find this weekend that might entertain them a little better.

 

 

Thailand 2016

Yes, believe it or not, we are still here in Thailand. The long stay here has been nice, but I think we are all ready to head back home to China. Even Claire has been throwing fits today about wanting to go back home, screaming, “I want to go back to China!” It’s a good thing we are picking up Claire’s passport today and going back in a couple of days!

Our time in Thailand has been wonderful. We started with two weeks at the beach with Cameron’s parents. We stayed at the beach in a nice hotel that seemed to be a favorite among people from all over the world. During the time we were there, we met people from at least twenty-five other countries and only one other person from the States. Oddly enough, it didn’t matter where in the world people were from, a lot of them seemed to know plenty about our home state! Here are a few of the funny comments we got after we said we were from Texas:

Polish guy – “I won’t hold that against you.”

German guy  – “We all know why that city is famous, but hopefully it’s improved since then!” (referring to Dallas and the JFK assassination)

A boisterous group of Danish – “Yeehaw!!”

Australian guy – “All of my exes live in Texas!”

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At the same hotel, we also witnessed some awkward cultural exchanges which probably happen a lot at that hotel with so many cultures in one place. In my last blog, I already mentioned the vast array of swimming attire ranging from long sleeves and hats to topless swimwear. We also witnessed a couple of awkward interactions regarding lines and personal space. Having lived in Asia now for 4 years, I can understand why Asians tend to cut in line. Westerners leave so much space in between people in line that it is really hard to tell sometimes where the line is! We also witnessed an odd exchange at breakfast one morning. A Thai waitress took away an Indian man’s mostly empty plate who had left it on the table while he went to get a drink. When he returned, he angrily told the waitress that he was not done with his food and that she should have known not to take away his plate away because of how he had arranged his eating utensils. He gave her a lengthy lesson on how the fork and knife is placed on the plate to indicate whether or not a person is done with their food. It was the first I have ever heard of such a custom, and I am guessing that was the first time the waitress had heard it too!

After Cameron’s parents left, we met some friends at a different beach hotel that was about an hour away from the first one. This hotel was very family-friendly, so we spent a lot of time outside at the beach, the pool, or the playground playing with the kids. The beach, in particular, was a great place to play since the ocean was extremely calm and had a nice, gradual slope.

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After two and half weeks at the beach, we hired a driver to take us to Chiang Mai which is a city in Northern Thailand. Most people make that journey by plane, but since we didn’t have our passports in our possession due to our China visas being renewed, we had to travel by car. It was a really long day of driving, but we finally arrived in Chiang Mai. We then spent about 4 days going to doctors and dentist appointments. We really like getting medical and dental procedures done in Thailand because the healthcare is great and extremely cheap compared to the States. For example, Claire went to a wonderful pediatric dentist for an exam and cleaning and her visit was only $18!

We then had a week of meetings in Chiang Mai. It was a really nice time of connecting with people and processing our past year. Thinking back on 2015, Cameron and I agreed that while we had a wonderful year work wise, we have some areas of improvement in our personal lives. Therefore, we made some goals for 2016 to focus on things like physical health, alone time as a couple, more socializing opportunities for me, etc.

Now we are on our last week here and are planning to pick up Claire’s passport today so we can head home in a couple days. It is a little difficult to entertain kids in Chiang Mai because it is a busy, crowded city without many places for kids to play. However, we have gone to some of our favorite spots – the zoo, the city park, and and some indoor play places. We found one indoor play place that was a few stories high! It was amazing. Even Cameron and I found ourselves running and crawling through this giant maze and sliding down the huge slides.

We will miss Thailand and all the memories we made this year, but there is always next year!

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The hippos are our favorite part of the Chiang Mai zoo!

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Claire’s annual bird hunt at the city park.

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We were all a little surprised when she actually caught one.

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Beach Bums

I realize that in my last blog I said we wouldn’t be driving to Thailand anytime soon, but I neglected to mention that we would be flying to Thailand again this month for our annual meeting and vacation. We are currently at the beach and loving every minute of it. We really needed a vacation after a long and busy year of work. Our work is super-rewarding, of course, but when we are in China it sometimes feels like we live at work. There is no lakehouse to go to, no Mexican restaurant to meet your friends at, no babysitters, no leisurely shopping, etc. In other words, there are very little ways to truly relax and have fun. I think this time in Thailand will be what I truly needed, which was a big dose of fun!

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Quite surprisingly, we will be here in Thailand for over a month. Yes, we agree that a month vacation is a bit long, but due to our visa and passport situation, we had to leave China for that long. Since we are on a 1 year travel visa that expires in January, we have to get our visas renewed which takes about 2.5 weeks of processing. Then, we realized that Claire’s passport was quickly running out of passport pages, so we also have to get her a new passport which takes another 2 or 3 weeks. After spending countless hours researching the least-costly and least-time consuming way to get this done, we realized that staying in Thailand for a month or so would be our best option. This is especially true since we are here every year at this time anyways for meetings and vacation.

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To get to Thailand this time, we flew from Banna to Bangkok. We were hoping that all the flights would be on time because we wanted to get to a Fedex in Bangkok by 5:00 before they closed for the weekend. If we could mail off our paperwork as soon as we got there, then that would save us two days of waiting time. Luckily, every flight was on time and we landed in Bangkok at 3:00 with plenty of time to get to Fedex. That is, until we loaded ourselves into a taxi cab driven by the worst taxi driver ever. Although we had a map and a phone number to Fedex which was located directly next to the airport, the crazy taxi driver drove us around in circles for 45 minutes as we tried to tell him where to go. In the end, we never found Fedex and by that time it had closed at 5:00 anyways, so the taxi driver angrily drove us back to the airport. Cameron tried to get the driver to at least take us to our hotel, but by that time he was so frustrated, he starting tossing our baggage out on the airport curb making it clear he wanted us out of his car. At least we didn’t have to pay him!

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After we got to Bangkok, we waited for Cameron’s parents who flew from Texas all the way to Bangkok. Their first flight was 17 hours to Hong Kong, followed by a 1.5 hour layover, and then finally a 2 hour flight to Bangkok. We were all a little nervous something would go wrong along the way, but they made it just fine! We then rode by car to a beach resort where we are all staying now. We love this resort because it is nice, kid-friendly, and not too expensive. The people staying here are from every different country in the world which makes for some fun conversations. The first day we took Cameron’s dad on a tour of the property and as we were walking around the pool area, a woman who was sun-bathing stood up from her lounge chair and took off her bathing suit top right in front of us. I started giggling uncontrollably as I watched Cameron and his dad’s jaw hit the floor. While we are here, I guess we need to get used to other culture’s standards of beach attire!

All in all, it has been a great trip so far and I look forward to more rest and fun!

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Santa comes to China

Oh my! A lot has happened since I last wrote. We are never lacking in adventure around here! Get ready for a picture and story overload.

Around mid-November, we made a very quick trip to Thailand by car. I say “quick” trip, but I am discovering more and more that the drive to Thailand is not as quick as I would like it to be. This time we experienced long delays at both the Laos and Thai borders as well as wet, slick roads in Laos. The girls both threw up in the car due to car sickness even though I gave them more than the recommended dosage of Dramamine. Cameron almost broke his tail bone after our car hit a pothole in Laos and he was launched up into the roof of the car and then slammed back down into the seat. We had so many delays along the way that we thought we weren’t going to make it to the Thai border before it closed (although it turned out they are open late and we had plenty of time). Our “quick” trip on the way down turned into a 16 hour drive. It was no small miracle that the girls were so calm during that trip. In fact, I was more mad and grouchy than they were. After we finally reached our destination, we had 4 days to meet with some coworkers, attend a meeting, get Chloe her shots, buy some Western goodies, and have 1 day of rest and fun. I was particularly happy to get Chloe her shots since we now live in a place where kids actually die of very preventable sicknesses. Thankfully our trip home was much smoother, but I don’t think we will decide to do another random road trip anytime soon.

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After we got back, my focus turned to Thanksgiving plans. I was originally going to invite a few families to my house, but after talking with another friend we decided to join forces and have a big Thanksgiving for all the American folks in town at her apartment. Unfortunately, in taking on the role of co-host, I found myself in some hot water. The week of Thanksgiving, I heard through the grapevine that the non-Americans were feeling left out because they weren’t included in any Thanksgiving plans. In our small city, we have this problem whenever any foreigner hosts something. It is the same problem that I always had when I was in grade school – do we invite everyone or only a few people? My intent was not to leave anyone out, but the host and I felt that 35 Americans, adults and kids, was already more people than one apartment could hold. If we invited every foreigner in town, that would have been close to 70 people. It felt natural to limit the guest list to Americans since we are the only culture besides Canada that actually celebrate that holiday. Anyways, maybe next year we can find a way to include everyone without stressing out the host too much.

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After Thanksgiving, we jumped right into Christmas plans. This year we upgraded our 2-foot Charlie Brown Christmas tree, to a 5 foot one. Since we have two small children, I knew that putting up a tree was going to be somewhat futile, and boy was I correct. I tried to hang the ornaments out of their reach, but it wasn’t until that I had all the ornaments on the top 1-foot of the tree that they couldn’t get to them. I also had major issues with putting on lights. I wasn’t surprised that the Chinese-branded Christmas lights I bought were horrible quality, but after buying 14 strands only to have 4 work, I literally started crying. Cameron was a bit worried about the fact I was crying over Christmas lights, but I managed to pull it together and successfully get lights on the tree. As if our tree didn’t look bad enough, one day the kids pulled the whole thing down and the top section completely snapped off. After using duck tape and chopsticks, it is now barely staying up. I am actually planning to throw the whole thing in the trash in a few days. I wonder if a Christmas tree bought in the States can fit in a suitcase?

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The week of Christmas started off with a round of stomach flu for the whole family. That was the first time I have had to take care of a child with the stomach bug. I thought that I had reached the pinnacle of maturity after birthing two kids, but I actually realized I had more maturing to do after having to get down on my hands and knees to clean the floor after my child threw up. Maybe I have a weak stomach, but that might be the most disgusting thing I have ever had to do.

The day of Christmas, we had been invited by Claire’s teacher to design her class’s act during their school Christmas program. I found a cute song about Santa with extremely simple lyrics and made up a few hand motions to go with it. I even bought hand bells for the students in her class to use during the song. I was quite proud of fulfilling my school mom duty, until I watched some of the other classes perform their acts during a rehearsal. Most of the other songs and dances were more Britney Spears-esque with loud pop music and complicated moves (these are 3-5 years olds, keep in mind). It was definitely not what I would label as cute and sweet. I suddenly felt embarrassed that Claire’s class wasn’t busting a move up there, but I reminded myself that her class did have one thing the other classes didn’t – Cameron in a Santa suit. Yes, much to Cameron’s dismay, I forced him to get on stage while Claire’s class was singing and dance around in a Santa outfit. I initially promised him it would only be a few minutes of acting like an idiot and then we could go home. However, I didn’t anticipate that the principal would be so excited by Cameron’s Santa costume that he asked him to stay to do a speech, a raffle, hand out candy to the kids, and take pictures after. Cameron was giving me the “I am going to kill you” look the entire time. Oops!

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And here are a few more pictures for your viewing pleasure…

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