Visions of China…….

This blog was written during our time in Shanghai, our second home, which I miss everyday.

Visions of China

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

As I look out the window of the tour-style bus that I ride with the children on Tuesdays, I think about how my views of China have changed in the last 8 months. When we first arrived I noticed the extreme poverty that is prevelant in so many areas, and how it is so close in relation to areas of extreme wealth.

Right outside of the gates of over-priced, over-sized, ostentatious compund, is a gentleman who sells Chinese pottery. He has just recently chosen this spot to set up “shop.” A mere ten feet from his products, stands his tent. This is his home, not just shade for the day. Just 50 feet from his location, the migrant worker’s housing starts. This is a “neighborhood” built of tin shacks, where the men, and sometimes their families, who are building the new part of our compound live.

When we first arrived, I was greatly bothered by these sights, but they are common to me now. I still find it very sad, but it is no longer a shock to see. It is everywhere. Tucked into the corners of downtown Shanghai, next to five-star hotels and expensive shopping, and on the road which leads to Shanghai American School.

I have stopped looking at these things as upsetting, and begun to enjoy watching the people within them. I find these areas are one of my favorite parts of life in China. Of course this is from the outside looking in. I could never imagine living this way, but they handle it gracefully. It is all they have ever known.

On the road to the school, there is a small, poor, town. It is not a tin shack town, but a few steps higher on the housing ladder. People sit outside their homes eating breakfast, doing laundry, taking care of grandchildren. The “shops” consist of open stalls, selling whatever the locals may need. Everything looks old and dirty. Items we would probably never touch. The local school looks like a warehouse, or even an abandoned buiding. It took me a long time to realize it was the town school. I see the students occasionally, lined up to go inside.

A few hundred yards away, the gates to another expensive housing compound, and an international American school. Millions of dollars of materials and technology, just a short walk from poverty. We know which provides the better education. We know which kids are sure to have a full tummy at night. We know which children have a better chance of physical health.  I wonder how the souls of those children compare with mine. I’m sure they’re full of family, friends, and love, with no expectation of anything else.

 

 

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Thank You……A Letter to God

Thank you, God, for all the blessings you have given us.

Thank you for my husband. For the life we share. The adventures we have taken. For making him the thoughtful, smart, funny, loving man that he is. For helping us find each other. For helping us make it through tough times together, and continue to grow closer.  For a love so deep, I can’t even find the words to describe it. Thank you for Billy.

Thank you for our parents. Without them, we wouldn’t exist. They kept us safe through childhood. They shaped our personalities. They gave us the tools we need to succeed in life. They love us unconditionally. They are always there when we need them. Thank you for keeping them on this Earth with us for as long as possible. Thank you for our moms and dads.

Thank you for our three beautiful children. For showing us the  love that fills a parent’s heart. For trusting us with their well-being. For keeping them safe. For everything about them. Even the rough moments. Without those, we would take the happiest times for granted. Those difficult patches will help our children grow into strong, independent adults. Thank you for Ethan, Brennan, and Carleigh.

Thank you for our siblings. Without them childhood would have been a much lonelier time. Thank you for giving us someone to play with, and learn from. Someone to fight with. It is through our interactions with them, that we learned many valuable lessons in life. It is them we  turned to in tough times. It is them we continue to turn to. Thank you, for our sisters and brothers.

Thank you for our friends. They help us through the day-to-day. They are like family. They join us to celebrate the good times, and mourn the bad. They are a shoulder to lean on when we need it, and to prop up when they do. We learn from them. We grow with them. Thank you for the friends you have blessed us with.

Thank you for the home we live in, the clothes on our back, the food in our cupboard, the water that flows out of our faucet. Health. Love. For my husband’s job, good schools for our children, and the transportation to get to them. Thank you for giving us everything we need, and more.

Thank you for the sun and the moon. For the green grass and trees, the blue sky in day, and the starry night. For the sound of birds, the smell of flowers, and the feel of a cool breeze. For our oceans, lakes, mountains, and valleys. For rain, snow, and fluffy white clouds. For the occasional rainbow. For glorious  sunrises, and vivid sunsets. For those little, yet big, things that inspire us, and give us hope. Thank you for the beauty of Earth, and the galaxy around it.

Thank you, God, for the life you have provided us. It has been far from problem-free, but the good far outweighs the bad. We have learned from our experiences, and grown because of them. We would not be who we are today without them. Thank you, God, for the all the blessings you have given us.

 

 

A Soft Place to Fall

We live in a small community. Our town is a mere 2.6 square miles of densely packied houses, within a huge metropolitan area. It is where we bought our “starter” home. We said we would be here about five years, and they told us that many people say that, but few leave. We have been here 18 years. For us, it has become a soft place to fall.

We have added on to the house, and made many improvements. It has grown with us. It exudes who we are. It is a virtual rainbow of colors, some bold, some subdued. Wood floors and plantation blinds. Paintings, photographs, knickknacks, and furniture from all of our adventures. All these touches bring warmth, comfort, and character to it.  It’s not a very big house, only 1600 square feet, but it’s just enough for me. I have told friends for years that I like a house that “hugs” me. It feels safe. It is a soft place to fall.

We moved to China for four years, but we always came back twice a year. Christmas and summer were spent here. It was home base.  We didn’t rent it, or move our things out. We left most of our possessions here. When we walked back in, we felt like we had never left. We have friends and neighbors who have been here with us for many years, through thick and thin, good times and bad. They are like family. They are here when we return. It is a soft place to fall.

Our community is chock full of young families, but it wasn’t always that way. When we first moved in, it was mainly retirees. The “downtown” area was dated, and although it had a bank, post office, grocery store, gas station, and a number of other small businesses, it wasn’t the kind of place that people would come to hang out on a weekend. I had a feeling in my gut that was going to change. It was a great location, and a better value than the areas around it. It is now full of unique gift shops, restaurants,  pubs, spas, and coffee shops. Many of the old houses have been torn down for new builds. Others have updated existing homes. There isn’t a day you won’t find people wandering around the area. Walking dogs. Pushing strollers. The local ice cream shop has a line going out the door every day. I see people I know every time I go out. It is a soft place to fall.

This morning, I was woken up before 7am to a child hollering up the stairs…”There is a fire truck at the next door neighbor’s house!” I rushed outside to find our neighbor standing outside his house, surrounded by emergency vehicles and personnel. There seemed to be every available officer from our town and several from the next town over. We are lucky to not have many crimes,  or emergencies in our community. Not much happens here. They come out in large numbers when something does. There were at least 6 police cars, two fire engines, and an ambulance. They had arrived no more than two minutes after his call. They are looking out for us. We are safe here. It is a soft place to fall.

The events of this morning reminded me of the things I love about our town. Standing outside talking with neighbors about what was going on. Being there for one another. Our hometown heroes, our police officers, taking the time to chat with us, while they waited for the electric company to come. Accepting the coffee I offered. There is truly nothing better than having a small town feel, within such a large metropolitan area. It is our little slice of heaven. A soft place to fall.

We stumbled upon our town while looking for this house. It is small enough that I had hardly ever heard of it before then, much less known where it was, or imagined that I would spend so much of my life living in it.  It was unexpected. A pleasant surprise. A blessing from God. It is OUR soft place to fall.

 

Time-Travel in Shanghai

Although it’s more appropriate for a Throwback Thursday, today, I’m returning to one of my most memorable moments in Shanghai.  Where old and new, Asian and Western, and poverty and wealth collide.

Thursday Time-Travelers

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bill and I have spent the last few Thursday nights on the town, while the kids stay home with Ayi.  This past week, we had an errand to run before we went to dinner.

Bill is traveling to India in July, so we needed to turn in the documents for his visa. Once we arrive at the necessary office, they directed us to a side street across the road, so Bill could get the correct passport size photos taken. Mr. Tao parked the car, and he and Bill went to the “cubby hole”  which was the “photo shop.”

As I waited in the car, I watched the local activity, smacking myself for not having my camera with me. We were on a street that looked like we had teleported back in time to the 60s or 70s in China. Much farther in the States. We sat by an ancient two-story building, lined with doorway after doorway, only 10 feet apart. Older Chinese men and women, sitting in front of their homes, on bamboo chairs, sharing each other’s company, in the late afternoon sun. Beside one of the doorways, was a cabinet holding what appeared to be a number of family’s wares.  Next door, a gentleman closes up his “shop” for the day, putting away the homemade sign with a handsaw drawn on it. Taking down the worn kettles and pots that had hung on the wall. Upstairs, someone sits close to the open window, resting their elbows on the sill, and leaning out into the fresh air.

Two school boys walk up to the car, one staring in at the console. The other slapping him on the back and telling him, “Too expensive,” in Mandarin. They then walk to the back of the car, where I notice they are now looking at it from the rear. They are so entranced by the car that they have no idea I am watching from behind the tinted, rear windows. Our car is one of thousands of silver, Buick minivans which travel the streets of Shanghai everyday, but it would seem that none have ever been so close.

Once BIll and Mr. Tao return, we head to dinner, a mere five-minute drive from the small side street. The restaurant is one of about six or eight expensive, modern, and chic locations on the Huangpu River which runs through the city. They serve gourmet international cuisine and fine wine, with panoramic views of the cityscape. They spare no expense in dinnerware, furniture, or staff. It is a well-known and frequently visited location in the life of the wealthiest Chinese, and the expat community, but not one of the people on that side street that has endeared me today, could ever imagine.

Bill and I are early for our reservation, so we enjoy a glass of wine in the bar one floor below the restaurant, where we meet and chat with the owner of both.  She is Australian, and was the first to open a restaurant overlooking the river. She is directing her staff in rearranging the furniture. It’s early, so no other customers are there. Later, it will be packed.

Once we are seated on the terrace for our meal, we order a few starters of lobster and salad. When it is time to order our main course, I order “Veal Faggot with Sweetbreads.” I am initially deterred by the word “Faggot,” because I don’t know what it means, then decide it is probably just the way it is served, and veal sounds good, besides, “Sweet Bread” sounds delicious…..I like “sweet” bread. Bill goes with steak.

Before the meal arrives, Bill gets a “swimmer” in his wine, and we let the waitress know. I think she will get him a new glass, Bill thinks she will “fish” it out. BIll wins. She brings over a spoon, cloth napkin, and a new, empty, wine glass. She fishes it out, puts it on the napkin, tells him “good wine,” and asks him if he wants the clean glass. Meeting the owner already, I know she would not approve of this, but we let it go, chalking it up as one of the quirks of living in China. The waitress leaves, and Bill decides he doesn’t want the tainted wine after all, so I chug it down for him. The wait staff chuckle behind us at his facial expressions.

Our meal arrives and it is tasty, but mine has a funny texture, and where is the sweet bread?! I learn later, online, that the “faggot” was the giant meatball that was on my plate, and is made up of all the “extra” parts of the animal.  The other half of my dinner, which had a strange texture, but was fabulous, was the “sweetbread.” Not at all “bread,” but instead a dish made of glands from around the heart and neck. Who in their right mind would call this “sweetbread?!” Towards the end of our meal, fireworks start going off across the river, and the skyline is lit with the lights that make Shanghai, Shanghai.

Two different worlds, only minutes apart. Both scenes are beautiful. Both scenes forever engrained in my memory.

 

Bloggers Are Writers, Entertainers, and Inspirationalists

I love to write. I blame it on my hIgh school English teacher, Mama Lon. She was strict. We were going to learn in her class even if it killed her.  We would learn about the classics, and write lengthy papers that she could take her red pen to……with vigor. She didn’t let her students get away with much. She called people out in front of the class for any reason she saw fit. Mama Lon was also hilarious, and made the hour fly by. We all loved her. Still do. She has a huge student following on Facebook.

When we flew to China to bring Carleigh home, I started a blog to keep friends and family informed of what was going on during our trip. When we moved to China, I started a second, to chronicle our adventures, again for friends and family. I found that I still really enjoyed writing. As a stay-at-home mom, it discouraged my brain from turning to mush. It helped me realize the blessings in our life. It forced me to learn about and focus on the differences in cultures, and to appreciate them more. Once, I sent an email to Mama Lon with a link to the blog. She “red penned” it. Always the teacher.

In January, I began the current blog. This time,  I made it public. Why? Because I love attention?! Of course! Who would start a blog that didn’t like even a little attention? For me though. It is about three things. The first, I’ve mentioned… my love of writing. The second is to entertain. There is, most likely, not a single entertainer out there that does not like a least a little attention. Especially when the are doing something they love. Actors, actresses, singers, comedians, dancers, writers. Do they like the attention?! Yes! Why else would they be doing it? The money is nice, but if they hated it, they would probably move on. They are doing what they love.

The third reason is my hope that I may inspire someone along the way. To encourage people to take a leap of faith and step out of their comfort zone. To see what the world has to offer.  For those who are going through a rough patch, to find strength in themselves to carry on and, in time, thrive. To see that even though they may not know why misfortune has come to them, in the end, no matter how much it hurt, they will look back and think……. “I get it.” “That really sucked, but I’m not sorry it happened,  because I learned from it, and it made me a better person.” I hope to inspire everyone to find beauty and peace in the little things. Blue sky, white clouds, the fresh cool breeze. Mountains, flowers, the sound of children playing. The snuggle of a spouse, baby, dog or cat. To slow down for a minute to appreciate the world around them.

So to those who don’t want to read blogs because they are written by attention-seekers…..turn off your TVs and radios, throw away your books, CDs, computers, tablets, and iPhones.  Go back to the old fashion flip phone with no entertainment capabilities. DO NOT, I say, DO NOT go see a movie. They are written by, produced by, filmed by, performed by, and have music created by……….attention-seekers. Enjoy your entertainment-free, inspiration-free life. You win………..NOT.

 

 

You Can Sleep When You’re Dead

Earlier,  I was thinking about what I would write about today. I was laying on the sofa, looking out the window at the brilliant blue sky, and freshly budding trees. There was a gentle breeze flowing through the house, and the birds were chirping outside. We had just returned from church, and there was plenty of day left. I starting thinking about the beauty of a good nap……..and I fell asleep.

It was perfect napping weather, and since we were very busy yesterday, we had no big plans for today. I was still enjoying the peaceful feeling I get from the mass we had just attended, was surrounded by my family in the comfort of our home, and the weather was gorgeous. What better reason to enjoy a little refreshing slumber?! After I awoke, we spent much of the afternoon on the deck. We grilled up some dinner, listened to a baseball game, and started a bit of light work on the backyard. It was a perfect day.

Not to mislead, I think almost any day is good for a nap, but not all result in a perfect day. Rainy and snowy days are also great for a snooze. Many times, days like these make me feel tired just because they are overcast and glum. However, there are also pro-sleep factors that occur, as the  pitter-patter of rain on the house is a soothing sound, and the cold that comes along with snow, makes curling up under a warm blanket all the more tempting. The weather creates little desire to go outside, so a pajama day, along with a movie or TV series marathon, is always a treat. If only we didn’t have obligations to attend to, on a majority of those days.

For those who are not yet experienced in the art of a good nap, there are several rules required to be successful. If you haven’t already discovered your favorite napping spot, then you’re already behind in this game. I suggest you start testing potential locations immediately. I find the sofa to be most comfortable, but many like a reclining chair, or a wide-seated chair with an ottoman. I make sure I always have the mobile phone within reach, in case someone calls (getting up to answer it will completely ruin the napping experience), or for using the alarm. Make sure a blanket is nearby for an easy pull-down-and-cover maneuver, if needed. Let the dogs out beforehand, so they do not sit by you whining to go out, then make sure said dogs, and any interested cats, are comfortably positioned around you. Now lay down and relax. If you have any skills in this sport, you should be dozing within minutes.

A few other helpful tips would include never taking a long nap after 3PM. You’ll just feel messed up for the rest of the night. A twenty-minute cat-nap may be just enough to help you make it through till bedtime. If you don’t set an alarm, and sleep longer, you’ll probably regret it. I always do. Two words. STAY AWAY. My favorite time is right after I take the kids to school. The house is quiet, the dogs are snugly, and when I wake up, I’ll still have plenty of day left to do the things I have to do.

If only we could convince children of the beauty of a daily nap. I mean, seriously, they have no idea what they are missing! And whoever said “you can sleep when you’re dead,” obviously never experienced a glorious nap, in beautiful weather, on a perfect Sunday.