10.22.2017

Mr. Roboto 上网

Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
For doing the jobs that nobody wants to
And thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
For helping me escape just when I needed to
-Styx



Someone generously donated to us a second hand IKEA baby high chair. We are grateful that once again, we got something very useful for free. The chair, however, was filthy. Clearly, its previous owners never scrubbed it or noticed the dust film on the tray's underside. That's fine. I'm used to making China's version of "clean" to actual clean.

Adequately cleaning the chair and the tray require separating them. How else could I reach all the grooves and crannies? So I pulled on the tray. It didn't budge. I twisted it. That didn't work either. Then I examined how it was attached. I didn't see how to get that tray apart from the seat. Meanwhile, the grimy film lining the tray's underbelly taunted me. I knew what to do. I did what I do every time I encounter a dilemma that needs resolution: I Googled it.

But Googling in China isn't as simple as in places like the US. Here in China, just as a unlocking a bolt requires a key, Googling requires a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Other websites that require a VPN include YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and pretty much anything Google related. A VPN connects the internet through a server in another geographical location. The result is that I am browsing the internet from somewhere else, and not in an internet restricted country.

I swiped on my Samsung tablet, logged into the VPN, and Googled, "IKEA high chair separate tray". Voila!  A three minute YouTube tutorial and a few vigorous tugs on the tray later, I got that stubborn tray separated from the chair. Time to scrub that tray and chair silly. Thank you, Google. Thank you, VPN.

Oh how I love the VPN. With the VPN, YouTube keeps me moving with unfettered access to Popsugar Fitness workouts. With the VPN, I Google "how to get baby to sleep through night" and "1 cup butter to oz". With the VPN, Dumpling and I chill out to Cat Steven's radio using Pandora. With the VPN, Instagram keeps me connected with friends and family stateside as well with my growing international circle of friends.

So last summer when various news agencies reported that come February 2018 China would totally block personal VPNs, the expat community, as well as China-based researchers and international businesses that rely on Google or foreign websites for work, crinkled their foreheads with worry. Will we really get cut off from the rest of the world? As for me, with Google's search engine no longer an option, will I have to resort to the deficient Yahoo or Baidu? No more Instagram, Gmail, Google Hangouts, or this blog. No more Popsugar fitness videos or recipe research on Yummly. If you want to talk to me, my American friends and family, you will have use Skype or WeChat (China's ubiquitous version of instant messaging, Instagram, Twitter, online wallet, online shopping all combined into a single app).

Even more terrible, the next time I can't get furniture apart, I'll have to figure it out the old fashioned way. That is, sans Google.

Read more:
China moves to block internet VPNs from 2018
Tips for China: VPN Frequently Asked Questions

Chinese Word of the Blog: 上网 shàng wǎng
English Translation: to surf the internet

So clean you could eat off of it!
Without Instagram, how else could I enjoy these two singing Kingdom karaoke?



10.02.2017

That’s Amore 十六年

When a moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
That's amore
When the world seems to shine like you've had too much wine
That's amore
-Dean Martin



Sixteen years ago, we got married. We were two very young people barely into our twenties. Our greatest worries were acing our college midterms. Wingless chicken wings and Midori sours at Chili’s were our idea of tasteful, casual dining. We regularly went to bed long after midnight (by choice!). Reaching the sunset of our thirties was far from our minds, let alone setting up house overseas and birthing a child there.

Sixteen years of marriage later, we are the happiest we have ever been. To make ourselves even happier on our very special wedding anniversary, we worked around Dumpling’s semi-predictable nap schedule and jetted over to Sanlitun for some make-us-happy eating.

Ah Sanlitun: Beijing’s non-Chinese food mecca....Here you can get a health fix on kale smoothies at Wagas, sink your teeth into legit fish tacos and guacamole at Taco Bar, or risk serious garlic breath aftermath on hummus at Biteapitta (so worth it). We forwent our usual casual dining and opted for a fancier fare at Bottega. Fancy fare for us is simply a single candle on the table. No tablecloths or servers clad in penguin suits required.

Because we worked around Dumpling’s nap and early bedtime, we arrived at Bottega at 4:30 pm. With no other customer in the joint, we got three attentive servers to ourselves. One of the server’s captivated Dumpling with his generous smiles for about ten minutes. Thanks for the distraction, Mr. Server.

We sat on Bottega’s slender patio and under Beijing’s dull gray sky. Here we enjoyed the some of the best weather that Beijing has to offer during the year. Unfortunately, these pleasant temperatures are transient. Beijing, after all, only has two seasons: a long, muggy, and gray summer and a long, cold, and dry winter. Fall and spring seem to last a couple weeks each. Before we know it, we’ll be layering on the sweaters, scarves, and down coats.

16 years and counting

Oohh…let's not think about winter. For now, on our 16 year wedding anniversary, let's eat! Bottega has a nice selection of Neapolitan style pizzas, none of them faintly resembling China Pizza Hut’s oddball fried shrimp and canned peaches pizzas. We opted for the kale and sausage pizza with red sauce and the house made vegetarian raviolis topped with pesto and pine nuts. birdMAN was a little hesitant about ordering the vegetarian raviolis, but my-oh-my! Those raviolis stuffed with eggplant, carrot, and zucchini and bathed in a decadently creamy sauce made our hearts sing. The pizza, while generously oozing with mozzarella cheese and packed with flavor, was a little moist perhaps due to the cooked kale. A bottle of Italian red wine rounded out the fare and jacked up the dinner bill.

Dumpling, our little foodie in training, made our 16th year one of the best. This year we got our own little human! And she likes food as much as we do.

Sixteen years later, we are a family of three. Our greatest worries include making sure Dumpling gets her nap and in bed on time. Thin crust pizza and a bottle of wine is our idea of fine dining. We regularly go to bed at ten pm (by choice!) Reaching the sunset of our fifties…Come on now. That's still really, really far away!

Happy sixteen years to us. I love you both, birdMAN and my darling Dumpling.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 十六年 (shíliù nián)
English translation: Sixteen years


These vegetarian raviolis gave me some good dreams
Mi Amore, pizza
Dumpling gives the raviolis two thumbs up!
Dumpling got ravioli-ed




8.25.2017

It’s Just That Simple 简朴的生活

There's a whole lot of money that you gave me
I'd gladly empty my pockets right now
You'd parlay all that by triple
It's just that simple
-Wilco




Five years ago, we packed our bags and said, "Adios California” and set up house in crazy, smelly, spilling-over-with-people Beijing. We said, “We’ll give it a year!” The year came and went, and we said, “We’ll give it a year!” Now five years have come and gone. And guess what? We are still saying, “We’ll give it year!”

So you may want to know, why in the world, do we stay? It's not because life in Beijing is a breeze. There are plenty of things about living here that are plain annoying. For instance, listening to my neighbor hacking up loogies in the hallway makes my stomach churn. Other annoying things include strangers touching Dumpling without warning, the inexplicable amount of dust and dirt everywhere, air-dried-stiff-as-a-board laundry (no clothes dryers here!), extreme weather (hot and muggy, freezing and dry, sandstorms), and bad air days.

Life here, though, has a major advantage. Life is simple.

What is so simple:
  1. Stress-free work: birdMAN works Monday through Friday 8 am - 4 pm at an international high school. With the exception of a class trip and a few nights overseeing study hall, he reliably comes home by 4:30 pm. No overtime and he enjoys extended winter and summer holidays. An almost stress-free job and me having no job keeps our stress levels to practically zero. While our household income may be much lower compared to a typical US household, it is enough that we can keep our fridge stocked with cheese and butter, regularly drink beer and eat cheeseburgers at Great Leap, order pizza whenever we don’t feel like cooking, and set aside some money for a rainy day.
  2. Transportation: birdMAN rides his bike to work everyday. Prior to Dumpling, we rode our bikes everywhere, but now I am a pedestrian. Instead of two cars (like what would be required to live in California) to maintain and wash and the required insurance, we pay less than a dollar per subway ride and probably spend less than $20 per year on bike maintenance.
  3. House: We a rent a one bedroom 80 sq m (860 sq ft) apartment for 6,000 RMB (900 USD) per month. Water and electricity are cheap. We have no garage and very limited storage space. Since I disdain clutter, we simply don’t buy a lot of stuff. Forget fancy kitchen gadgets like mixers or food processors. There is no more room in the cupboard. 
  4. Shopping: As far as clothes and shoes go, there’s not much I want to buy in China. The malls are full of expensive and ugly polyester clothes. Taobao and Jingdong have made internet shopping commonplace, but I find navigating the Chinese and gambling on the questionable quality of stuff tiresome. We just get our shopping fixes done in the US where we a.) understand item descriptions and reviews, b.) can return anything that’s unsatisfactory and/or ill-fitting, and c.) buy expensive stuff on sale. I save a lot of time here by simply not shopping.
Ok, you might say, That’s nice and dandy, but really, Why? Isn’t California so nice? Don’t you want your Dumpling to grow up with her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins? And don’t even get me started on the Beijing smog!

Yes, that does sound nice. But we do have compelling reasons to stay. We have made a home here. We have friends here. We have students. Simply put, we aren’t quite ready to give up what we have worked so hard for the last five years just yet. It's just that simple.

So for now, we will say, “We’ll give it another year!”

Chinese Word of the Blog: 简朴的生活 Jiǎnpú de shēnghuó
English Translation: simple life

P.S. We would also like to thank Great Leap Brewing for making Beijing life a bit sweeter. See us at GLB through the years.

Year 1: September 2012. The weather is fine!
Year 1: February 2013. It's freezing.
Year 1: April 2013. An exceptionally long winter.
Year 2. May 2014. It's a friendly affair.
Year 2. June 2014. Cheeseburgers + Beer = Happy
Year 3. August 2014. Another hot summer.
Year 3. September 2014
Year 3. October 2014
Year 3. November 2014. It's Movember!
Year 3. June 2015. Xialian joins in on the fun.
Year 4. March 2016. One of my last beers before getting pregnant.
Year 5. January 2017. Dumpling is the same size as a pint of beer.

Year 5. February 2017. Just the three of us.
Year 5. March 2017. We make it into a family affair.
Starting Year 6 off with a bang! August 2017

8.15.2017

California Sun 暑假

Well I'm going out west where I belong
Where the days are short and the nights are long

-The Ramones


Well, that’s a wrap! Another great summer in the land of our birth: sunny and hot California. Seven weeks of good eating, family time, and of course, California sun.

To soak up that California sun, we packed up Dumpling and all her accouterments for her very first plane ride for her very first trip to the land of her citizenship. The summer of 2017 hereafter shall be known as summer of firsts for Dumpling: first plane ride, first time to the ocean, first time to Lake Tahoe, first filet mignon, first time meeting an adoring handful of aunties and uncles and a rambunctious bunch of cousins.


This filet mignon is soooo good

Unfortunately, Dumpling didn’t make it to one of California’s hotspots, Disneyland; but who needs Disneyland when there’s Moomoo and Aunty Sunny’s houses? The toys were beyond imagination! Toys that beep, sing, vibrate, glow, roll, collapse, expand, float, and elevate. Soft toys. Hard toys. Animal toys. Food toys. You name it, California’s got it.

That is some toy!
But even better than the toys were the cousins. I must say, the cousins know how to put on a show. While Milan jumped around like a silly kangaroo, Capri shared all her favorite toys. Caden was like a gentle protective big brother, while Zephram’s got zany moves. Keiko and Kenji were all smiles and brought out a selection of stuffed toys. Four-year old Enzo put his nose right up to Dumpling’s, and said with impressive diction, “You’re impressive!” Dumpling couldn’t contain herself waving her hands and giggling with excitement.

Vacation came to an end too soon and we got out of California’s hot sun and into Beijing’s muggy one. Dumpling still hasn’t adjusted to the fourteen hour time change. Every morning Dumpling is ready to party at 4 am and go down for the night at 7 am. In addition to the time change, she's adjusting to only having her two boring parents around. I think she is seriously missing California and all its fun-ness. Well, even a baby must learn the hard truth: we can’t be on vacation all the time!

Time to get into a routine. birdMAN goes back to work in a few weeks and I have got lots of child-rearing and homemaking to do.

California sun, we’ll catch you later!

P.S. Many thanks to our generous friends and family that fed us, held and adored our baby, and showered her with gifts. We love you!

Chinese Word of the Blog: 暑假 Shǔjià
English Translation: summer vacation



My parents' house gets lot of California sun
Thank you Capri for the toy
Cuties Kalea and Caleb pop by for a visit
As you can see, Dumpling is absolutely thrilled to meet Oliver
Elliot entertaining as always
My Meimei loves food just as much as I do
Can I please have a lick?
Syche in the house!
A trip to Santa Cruz is just we needed!
 These Georgians miss the west coast
Happy to catch up with longtime friends and meet their new ones
There are so many avocados here
Look at all these one quarter Chinese kids
Moomoo's house serves up a fancy ladies lunch
All Moomoo's grandkids are under one roof. Poor Roman is outnumbered by the girls.
Dumpling meets her great grandma. They like each other.
Aunty Coco is the best aunty in the world!
These well-behaved children can't wait for turkey dinner (in July!)
Cousin Capri is a good mama
Capri -- too sweet for words
Lake Tahoe: Nice day to lug around a heavyweight
Food: A good reason to go to California
The tradition lives on! Milan and I make peanut butter blossom cookies
We got purdy for family pics
First time in Donner Lake
The ladies plus Roman
Dumpling's first hot dog
Donner Lake
Does this picture show what these cousins future relationship will be like?
Dumpling takes center stage
Aunty Tami meets our little princess
And here is our favorite doula!
Getting some Keiko love.
Cheese plate. 'Nuff said.
The best toys are free




Sometimes we go out...especially if it involves beer
Beijingers
All that fun-ness is exhausting