A Rainy Day in Shanghai

This is a throwback blog from our time in Shanghai. With all the rainy spring days we have had lately, it seemed appropriate. It was a second home to us, and I always love to reminisce about our China days.

Rainy Day…..

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yesterday was a rainy day. I sat by the second story window of our local Starbucks, drinking a non-fat latte, and watching the people on the streets below. With my indoor seat and warm beverage, I think that regardless of the rain, it is a beautiful day.

I watch the lady who sells Mylar children’s balloons on the sidewalk. She has them tied to the back of the bike she transported them on, and I wish I could have seen her trip from home. That would have been a great picture. She sells one each, to two young Chinese women, and as they walk off with their purchases, a man walks behind them, smirking at their childish fun.

Locals pass on their bikes. Their children sit in wire seats behind them. On motorized scooters, children stand behind the handle bars and their parents legs. Others have sandwiched a child between two adult riders on the seat. Age is of no concern. No helmets are worn. Some wear ponchos, some do not. It is not raining very hard yet, so no one is in a hurry.

The armored car arrives to service what has to be one of the most used money machines in Shanghai. Two security guards get out dressed in bullet proof vests, helmets, and carrying what look to me like machine guns, followed by two money handlers. They move into the building with one guard in front, and one in back. The one in back must feel pretty cool, as he has a swagger to his walk. I have been at the ATM when this entourage arrives. It is unnerving, to say the least.

When they are done, they return to the truck. The swaggering man ditches the machine gun and helmet, but leaves on the vest, and returns to the building. The other guard takes off his vest and helmet,  leaves the gun in the truck, and returns to the building in black street clothes. They come back out minutes later, nothing in hand. Must have been a bathroom break. I can tell they are young. This must feel like a very powerful job.

By the time I am ready for Mr. Tao to pick me up, it is pouring outside. There are several silver Buick minivans parked by the road, but it is a 25 meter walk across the courtyard to the street, and I have forgotten my umbrella. I call him to try to figure out which van is ours, but it is lost in translation. His English is limited. I see a police car in the area and I bet on the fact that he has seen it, and parked around the corner. They don’t like drivers to sit on this part of the street to wait. Luckily, if Mr. Tao doesn’t understand you when you call, he usually assumes he is needed at the pickup location.

A minivan pulls up, and I decide to run for it. There are literally thousands of silver Buick minivans driving around Shanghai everyday. It is the telltale sign of an expat. The windows are tinted so I can’t see in, and the license plate can’t be seen from the side of the car. It is raining too hard to try to get to a better angle to see it. The automatic door opens and I jump inside. Generally, your driver will open the door as you walk up, so I am betting it is him.  One day, I will get into a car, and it won’t be, but the rightful owners will be right behind me. The door being opened for them.

I never tire of watching everyday life here. I love experiencing a different culture. Some of it is mind-boggling, but much of it endearing. There is rarely a boring moment, when you live in Shanghai.

 

 

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A Letter to my “Otherly-Raced, Religioned, or Abled” Friends

I am not racist. If you are a good person. Kind. Caring. Thoughtful. Honest. Polite. You will always be my friend. I don’t care what color you are, or what religion you believe. You are my friend.

I could never say that I didn’t notice your color, because I did. Just like my red-headed friend, or my really tall friend. I noticed, but I will not treat you differently than any other friend. If someone asks something, where I have to point you out as an area of reference, like “it’s over there next to the tall, red-headed girl.” I will. I may refer to your color: “See that Asian girl? It’s to the right of her.” But that means nothing about how I feel about you. We all have differences. I am short, and a little over-weight. Feel free to point that out. I don’t care. It’s who I am.

I don’t care if you go to church, synagogue, or mosque. Believe what makes you the best person you can be. What gives you hope. What makes you get up every day. Don’t try to change who I am, and I won’t try to change you, but help me grow as a person. I enjoy learning from my friends, or anyone for that matter. I love other cultures, and experiencing them.

I don’t mind a good debate. Don’t get mad at me if I don’t agree though. I will do the same for you. Mutual respect for differences is important. I have lived in an area that is populated by many, many people who have political views that are not the same as mine, for most of my life. That is not a problem for me. Again, if you are a good person, believe what helps you to be your best you. What makes you happy. What makes you thrive. I will never hold your beliefs against you.

If you have a disability, please don’t be offended if I say that word. It doesn’t mean I look down upon you, or think you are any less than me. It’s just a word. My friends are full of gifts to give the world. You contribute to society in many ways. You contribute to MY life in many ways. I don’t care if you can’t walk, talk, see, hear, or anything else for that matter. It doesn’t mean anything to me, so don’t be offended. It implies nothing, except  maybe a closer parking spot.

If you are not a good person, I don’t care what color you are. Bad people come in all colors, religions, races, and abilities. If I have a friend who is not who I thought they were. If I find out that they are not the kind, thoughtful, honest, and polite person I thought they were. They won’t be among those I call friends.  I surround myself with people who I feel have a positive effect on the world, and humanity. I don’t care what color you are, or what god you believe in.

Good people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and religions. I will take all the friends I can get. They are blessing from Heaven. Be a person to be proud of, and I will call you friend.

 

The Heart of a Parent

I am so proud of my kids. They are strong. They have already been through many ups and downs in life, but they thrive. Most of the time. Sometimes they fall. Sometimes, they curl up into protection-mode, because the world can be a harsh place, and they are scared.

In the last few days, they have shown me many reasons to be proud. Giving a dollar to a homeless man, sharing a dessert they swore they wouldn’t with a sibling, calling out the child who was mean to another, reminding me that they have listened to what I have said, and learned what is polite, and what is not. They are growing up to be caring individuals. I have done a few things right. These moments are beautiful……for the heart of a parent.

Many times, though, I get the feeling something is brewing, deep in the pit of their being. They are not ready to talk yet, but it is coming. They desperately want to figure it out on their own, but they cannot. They don’t have the tools. Did I fail to provide them? Did I let them down? Or is it just something that comes with time, different for each child? Life lessons are hard for kids, maybe even harder for the parents who have to watch. And wonder. Could I have done something different, to better prepare my child? These questions are always floating around……..in the heart of a parent.

Over the years I have learned to be patient. To give them time to come to terms with whatever is bothering them, and seek help or advice when they are ready.  I have learned that trying to dig it out of them will only create resentment. But it’s hard to wait, when you know they are struggling. Or hurting. Or stressed. Patience can be hard……… on the heart of a parent.

I can only hope that years down the road, I will see how these experiences helped them grow. Become stronger, and more resilient. Molded them into adults who will wear armor when necessary. Who will not hide from the harshness of the world, but will stand up,  weather the storm, and come out even stronger still. That as parents, we will have provided them with the skills and the determination they need to be successful in their endeavors, whatever they may be.  In the meantime….Parenting is hard…….on the heart of a parent.

 

 

 

 

The Reminders of Spring

I love Spring. The fresh air has finally arrived. It smells like life renewed. The trees are budding, the bulbs are beginning to bloom. The world around me is becoming colorful again.

There is so much joy in my heart for the simplest of pleasures. An open window, the sound of a light breeze. A blanket to ward off the slight chill in the air. A cup of coffee. A book. A dog snuggled up on my lap. Comfort clothing. For me, this is a sweatshirt and shorts or capris. The sweatshirt keeps me warm, while I can finally rid myself of longer pants and socks. Although it doesn’t seem like much, after a long winter, it feels freeing.

Even the dogs enjoy the change in the air. They stand, or sit, in sunny spots on the deck, lifting their heads to the oncoming breeze. Closing their eyes. When I open the door to call them in, they look at me from their cozy place. They don’t move. The cats sit on their perch by the open window, leaning into the screen to get the full benefit. Or stand by the door when I open it, to take a peek outside.

The sounds of the neighborhood coming back to life. People coming out of their winter hibernation. Lawn mowers whirling, the smell of fresh-cut grass.  Children playing. Dogs bark as walkers pass by. Strollers and wagons come out of storage. Laughter and conversation, as people return to their patio sets. Birds.

At this time of year, I am always reminded of God’s wonderful creations. God’s love. Hope, faith, joy. That after every storm, after dark times, there will always be light. Growth. Renewal. Color. For this, I am forever grateful.

 

 

Elvis is IN the Building

Elvis is IN the building. At least that’s what he said. On Sunday, April 12th, Bill and I had our vows renewed by Elvis. Well, not the real one. I’m in the group that believes he’s actually dead.

We were in Vegas, and it seemed like the cheesiest, and most awesome thing to do. It was. It was hilarious. Fabulous. Perfect. We got ready at the hotel, and headed down to our limo. A beautiful, white, stretch limo. Our driver was very friendly, and as you all know, I can make a friend anywhere. He was from South Africa (and had a beautiful accent), so I asked him why he moved to the States. He told me his daughter is an actress, and they moved here for her. She got a big break, and is a lead character in a currently running, and very popular show. Seriously. Awesome.

On the first speed bump we hit, in the hotel parking lot (didn’t take me long) I spilled my wine, uh, I mean soda, right down the front of my dress. Unfortunately, it was red grape….soda. We were headed for a big time cliché wedding. All the better. Once arriving at the “chapel”, and yes, I use that word loosely, we headed into the Doo Wop Diner, which we had chosen for our vow renewal. It seemed appropriate for Elvis. We had a 30 second rehearsal, and we were ready to go.

We registered as Billy and Liv. Bill has called me Liv for years. The photographer begins the live internet feed, and Elvis immediately starts calling me “Lin.” I, now, have a huge grin plastered on my face. Could this get any better?! This is a dream come true. Cheesiness at its finest. Then, he starts the song music…on his ITouch…..good grief. Seriously?! It’s the wrong music, so he has to start again. Sometime, in the middle of our quick “ceremony,” right before he starts the second song and hits the wrong song AGAIN, Bill whispers to him that my name is “Liv.” As he starts to sing, he pulls a little yellow sticky note out of his pocket to check the names. Classic. I’m not complaining. It couldn’t have been any more perfect. The best. We thought having an Elvis wedding would be enough. We didn’t even consider the cheesy flaws that could make it better!  We will never forget it.  I’m still smiling about it.

After our renewal, we had the limo driver drop us off at an Italian restaurant for dinner, and later we saw the Criss Angel Believe show.  Tickets we had gotten by attending a time-share presentation that morning. We did one of these in our first year of marriage, and now on our twenty-fifth. This time the gift was better though.  The last time it was supposed to be a TV, but they gave us a “shower spa.” Regardless, I hope we don’t do it on our fiftieth anniversary.

On Monday, we took a trip to Death Valley National Park and enjoyed God’s Beauty. And HEAT. We were lucky though, as it only hit about 103-104F. It was a beautiful day for a drive, and we took some gorgeous pictures. Bill has been on many business trips in the area, and he has always wanted to share it with me, so it was wonderful to experience it with him. We even saw a few dust devils, and tumbleweed. Wild West. Thankfully, we weren’t there on Tuesday, when we had a sandstorm in Vegas. I can’t imagine what that would have been like in Death Valley!

Tuesday was our actually anniversary, and we enjoyed a mellow day at the hotel. The winds were very high, so we couldn’t  use the pool as planned, but it was nice to rest and relax. We ate dinner at The Golden Nugget. Vic and Anthony’s Steakhouse was highly rated, romantic, and had a beautiful old-time steakhouse decor. It was the type of place you would imagine seeing a few mobsters, or members of the Rat Pack. The food and wine were fantastic.

After dinner we went out onto Fremont Street. I love the old school Vegas lights. Thanks to the fact that they have made it into a walking street with a covered roof, we were semi-protected from the wind and cold, and the ceiling lightshow was a nice addition. You could have your picture taken with all sorts there. Super hero, Chippendale, naked cow girl, a multitude of Elvis’. I spent five dollars on the penny slot machines.  It was the perfect venue. I made a few dollars, then lost it all, but I smiled the whole night. It was a great ending to an unbelievable vacation with my man.

Elvis is IN the building.

Lost Under Las Vegas

We are on our 25th anniversary trip. It has been amazing so far. Sometimes I think that I could not be more in love with my husband. And then, I am.

We started at Disneyland. You’re never too old to enjoy Disney. It’s magical. It was sunny and warm, and we felt carefree. We could do what we wanted. We went early, rode on a few rides, had breakfast, walked around, and went back to the hotel for a long nap.  Several hours later, we would head out to Downtown Disney to eat before going back to the park for a show, or more rides. We probably only hit about four rides each day. We didn’t feel the need to wait in endless lines. We soaked in the atmosphere. We enjoyed watching the excited children. When they got tired and cranky, we didn’t have to deal with it. “Awwwww, look at how sad that poor little guy is…… ”  Okay, moving along.

I am continuously in awe of how well Disney masters detail. Down to the  littlest things. The rides, the buildings, the music, the lighting, the benches, the restrooms, the trash cans, the cracks in the walls. Everything is in theme. It is a compete experience. It’s all about the customer.  When checking into the resort hotel, they ask if you are celebrating a special occasion. We proudly wore our “Happy 25th Anniversary” pins (okay, Bill only wore it because we could get free champagne at some of the restaurants.) Almost every cast member we passed commented on them.  “Happy Anniversary!” “Twenty-five years?!”  “That’s not possible!” “You’re too young!” (I have lots of new best friends.) Downtown Disney, Disneyland, and California Adventure, no matter where we were we felt relaxed, young-at-heart, happy. It really is the happiest place on Earth. At least it was for us, for a few short days.

Las Vegas is one of the craziest places on Earth. The people-watching changes drastically. From Mickey ears and strollers, to short skirts, and stiletto heels. Actually, I did see Minnie, next to Hello Kitty, and not far from Sponge Bob and Olaf. I’m not sure what they were doing here, but they were mingling with a few show girls, and walking among the lady-sellers. They also looked like they had been through the wringer. Character convention? Weekend bender in Vegas?!

Last night, on our way back to our hotel, we walked through another,  to catch a tram. The signs to get into the hotel and casino were very clear. To get out….not so much. We were literally, lost under the streets of Las Vegas. Totally sober. We ended up farther away from our destination than when we began. I had no idea there was another world below the streets of the city. I don’t know how the drunks do it.  They may never make it out.

Tonight we saw a show. Absinthe. It was fantastic. Crude humor, burlesque, acrobats, tight rope walkers, tap dancers. All under a circus tent, theater-in-the-round style. We were, at most, five feet from the stage. It was an 18 and over show, and if you were in the first five rows, you had a good chance of being harassed. It was hysterical, and chock full of very talented people. We fluctuated between laughter and awe. On the way back, we stayed above ground.

We are five days in, to our nine-day trip. It was a long time coming, and very much-needed. It will be over all too soon. If only I could find a magic lamp to rub, and a genie to grant me a wish. Slow. Time. Down.

The Best Day of My Life- A Letter to my Husband

Marrying you was the best decision I have ever made. That day changed my life forever. I would not be the person I am today, if it weren’t for you. I wish you believed me when I say…… it was the best day of my life.

Did I ever tell you that you are everything I ever wanted in a husband? That as a little girl, when I thought of my future husband, it was you. A gentleman. Smart, loving, kind, giving, thoughtful. And funny. I still laugh when I think about the “hats” you used to make out of towels, when you finished your shower, in our younger years. Those silly games you made up, that were meant to drive me batty, like “I Got Your Pinky Toe.”  I would be sitting there, minding my own business, and all of a sudden you would be holding my feet up by my pinkie toes. Or when I was reading on the bed, or watching a show, and you’d flop on to me like a fallen tree. You called it, “I’m a Bull Seal.”  Where did that stuff come from?! I love that now and then, you remember, and I find myself trying to figure out how to escape your game. I can’t help but smile and laugh, even though I am stuck, at least until I can convince you to free me. I love you for that. Thank you for teaching me to be lighthearted.

You’ve spent our entire marriage making big plans for us. You started talking about adoption from the day after our wedding, until the day we did. I never thought it would happen. I didn’t think we could ever afford it. You talked about living abroad, long before I had the nerve to do it. You make me believe in things I never imagined. You make the impossible, possible. You fantasize about what we will do in our retirement years. I hope they come true. Thank you for teaching me to dream.

Thank you for taking care of me during my Crohn’s years. For seeing me through those miserable days. For staying by my side. For doing things I’m sure you didn’t want to do, during my recovery from surgery. Thank you for not looking at me differently once I had my Ostomy bag. For loving me just as much. Or more.

You’ve taught me to live a life where fear does not control me, or my decisions. A life where I don’t worry about what others think. That it is okay to do something spur-of-the-moment. That prior planning is not always necessary, or preferred. Thank you for suggesting we take an unplanned trip to Seattle, just for fun, to see my brother, with 12 hours notice, a three-year old, and a newborn. You showed me how to feel carefree. You’re the one I want to spend my wild and crazy days with. Thank you for teaching me to be spontaneous.

Thank you for holding my hand, when we go to sleep. Or snuggling up behind me. For always being close to me at night, no matter how far to the side of our king-sized bed I lay, so I can keep my feet out of the covers. Thank you for holding my hand when we are at the mall, or walking down the street. For opening my car door. For pulling the car up so I don’t have to step in a snow drift, or through the mud. For always making sure the street is safe to cross, even know I’m completely capable of doing it myself.  I love how you protect me. Thank you for showing me how much you care.

Thank you for all the little things you do. For taking the kids to their activities on those days that I can’t stand to get in the car again, even know you’ve had a full day at work. For bringing me coffee in bed. For spending hours making homemade bread. For making that amazing Thomas the Tank Engine cake for Ethan’s 2nd birthday, when I was too sick. Thank you for taking care of the kids by yourself for two weeks, so I could help my parents in Arizona after that medical emergency. And for doing it again, for five weeks, the next year, without hesitation. Thank you for the big things, too.

Thank you for your love of music. For walking into a room blaring a happy song, on a dreary day. For smiling and dancing. For wanting me to sing for you. Or dance with you. For listening to the same song, over and over again. Thank you for “theme songs.”  For almost 30 years you have burst out in song, based on a current situation, whatever it may be.  This skill is now ingrained in my brain. I can pull an appropriate, and timely, “theme” song out of my head at the drop of a hat. Thank you for reminding me to sing and dance.

Thank you for every minute of our life together. The good, and the bad. They have made me who I am today. I don’t regret a single second. Thank you for giving me every bit of you. You are amazing. Inside and out. You are God’s gift to me. You are my everything. Thank you for loving me. Thank you…….for the best days of my life.

 

 

 

 

Rags to Riches- in Marriage

When I think back to where Bill and I began, and where we are now, I am in awe. We have come so far. Farther than we ever imagined. We never knew the blessings that life would bring us, and although we are more financially stable than we were back then, the riches I refer to, lie in our experiences. In sharing our life together. Today, I am focusing on the beginning.

We went on our first date, when I was sixteen years old, and a junior in high school. He was in Navy boot camp, and 18 years old. We had our whole life ahead of us. We had no idea that we would be married less than 5 years later, and we would never have imagined that 23 years to the day later, we would be standing at the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center. The second tallest building in the world at that time. We would never have dreamt that we would have three beautiful children. That we would live in China.

Although there is no big story behind the proposal, Bill did ask my dad for permission beforehand. He has always been such a gentleman. His mama did good. We were married in a park in downtown Charleston, under the “wedding tree.”  It was a huge, old oak tree with more thick, long branches than I had ever seen on one tree before, or since. The park had been partially destroyed by Hurricane Hugo, but the tree still stood proud. Nearby, a man-made pond with a bridge crossing over it. I wore a dress I ordered through the JC Penny’s catalog, and made all the bouquets myself with silk flowers from the local craft store. We were married by the Navy Chaplin, under God’s natural beauty.

Our reception was at a Holiday Inn on Folly Beach, which we were chauffeured to in our friend’s 1960’s era Camaro convertible. Cherry red. The hotel had also suffered damage from the hurricane, but mostly exterior. It provided the beautiful ocean view we wanted, and was fairly inexpensive, so it worked for us. We had invited about 50 people to the dinner, and a bunch of the guys from his boat (a submarine) afterwards.

A few of Bill’s Navy friends hired their favorite local band, as a gift to us, and another friend deejayed as well. When I caught my veil on fire on a candle, the DJ played “Burnin’ Down the House” by Talking Heads. Bill forgot the tape with our wedding song on it, so it became whatever the band knew that worked. “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton. We had a cash bar.  We didn’t do a receiving line, and we forgot the father/daughter dance (that part broke my heart when we realized it.) Our photographer was either new to the profession, or doing it for fun, so for $100 she handed me a large stack of 4×6 prints. We couldn’t afford a honeymoon. The whole event cost us less than $2,500. Too much for us at the time.

Twenty years later, at the 40th birthday party that Bill threw for me at a local Marriott, he made sure that daddy and I had that dance. He knew how much I had regretted missing it at the wedding. Twenty-five years later, we are finally getting that honeymoon. We have only ever taken two trips by ourselves since the kids were born. A weekend in Chicago at 12 years, and a long weekend in San Francisco a few years ago. This year, we will be gone for nine glorious days. Making more memories.

We began our marriage in a one bedroom apartment. We had a day bed for a couch, a hope chest coffee table, a mini-fridge side table. A mattress on the floor in the bedroom, and a red milk-crate bedside table. We had what appeared to be drug-dealing neighbors. The nighttime people-traffic to their door terrified me on the nights when Bill had to be on the boat, and I would sleep with the lights and TV on. Barely getting a wink. We had strange peach spots on our carpet that seemed to be from something seeping up through the floor, and a shower with a wall that glowed a pinkish-orange. I tried to convince myself that maybe this was due to light coming in from the neighbor’s bathroom. It was one of those big, plastic shower inserts, not tile.  Maybe there wasn’t a wall in between?  I generally only saw it glowing in the middle of the night, when they didn’t have a light on, though. When it happened once during the day, I had that neighbor come over to see. She ran out of our apartment as fast as she could. I was trying not to freak out about it. That didn’t help. We never did figure out what it was.

Bill received his honorable discharge in 1991, and we moved back to Michigan. Bill was starting his college degree, and I was finishing mine. We lived with his grandfather for the first couple of years, as we were paying for two college educations. It worked well for all of us. Grandpa liked the company, and we could help him out when he needed it. He was helping us out by saving us rent. And from glowing walls and seeping floors. We were on the next step in our young lives.

It is when I think back to our beginning,  those two kids, blind to what was to come, just trying to survive, that I am in awe. I am proud of us. We don’t live in a huge house, we can’t buy everything we want, we can’t fly off to an exotic locale at a moments notice, or a year’s notice for that matter.  We still have bills, we still have to budget. We are not dollar rich, but when I think about how far we have come, how much we have experienced together, I realize…….we are marriage rich. I wouldn’t have it any other way.