4.06.2018

Sick Child 发烧

King of moon gloomy afternoon
Losing track of word and meter
Still shaking in this tear room like a sick child
Still shaking nothing reconciled like a sick child
-Siouxsie and the Banshees




Just when I think I can't bear another whiff of the neighbor’s cigarette smoke or fried fish odors invading our house through shared ventilation, the intrusive interrogations of well meaning strangers, our finicky hot water heater that can leave you shivering mid-shower, our misshapen, discolored and abrasive towels, and the general hassle of being an expat in China, it's time to pack our bags and get Cali-bound. 

Eagerly anticipating our winter escape, I centered Dumpling’s bedtime stories on all the wonderfulness we would enjoy stateside. My darling, Dumpling, California has washers and dryers that leaves your jammies gleaming white and powder fresh. Sweetie pie, you can eat creamy avocados until you are blue in the face. Little monkey girl, we can go outside without suiting you up in a marshmallowy snowsuit. We don’t even have to wear socks if we don’t want to. 

Little did we know that taking that 15 hour transpacific fight put our very lives in danger. All that shared air with complete strangers! Who knows what vile viruses they carry? And some vile virus did find a home in our darling Dumpling's body.

The very evening we arrived in California, Dumpling's little body burned hot as a flaming coal. Shortly thereafter, my throat clogged with phlegm, my lungs wheezed a violent cough, and my body ached like someone had beaten me with a bat. We spent the following week hunkered down at Moomoo's, taking turns around the clock holding Dumpling as she writhed in discomfort and debating whether we should head to the ER. Yes, we had touted a one year old across multiple time zones in a cramped plane with hundreds of strangers-- a number of whom poked her with great delight-- just to spend over week under quarantine. What terrible parents we are. Understandably, Dumpling wasn't too convinced that California life was all that great.

We were not the only victims. Shortly after we arrived my mom was smote (for a second time). Then Moomoo. Then birdMAN's sister, brother in law, and their two kids. Who’s next? birdMAN's other brother-in-law and his daughter followed by birdMAN’s older brother. By the time our three weeks were up, pretty much everyone around us had caught varying degrees of illness- cold, flu, strep throat, body aches, and croup. We were all falling one by one like petals from a withering daisy.

Thankfully, our immune systems all did what they are supposed to: wage war and conquer it's viral foe. Once in good health, Dumpling did indeed enjoy California goodness. Being the socialite she is, she reveled in her cousins’ banter and loads of toys. She ate avocado until she was blue in the face. She got plenty of cozy time with Moomoo and Yaya.

So just like that, our California R and R along with February came to an end. Again we packed up Dumpling to make yet another transpacific flight, and suffered a week of recovering from jet lag. A jet lagged one year old is no fun! So looking forward to doing it again this summer (not!). I guess California avocados and dryers are worth the hassle. Let's hope we don't catch anymore viruses on the way.

Until next time California!

Chinese Word of the Blog: 发烧 fāshāo
English translation: to have a fever


Escape from Folsom 10 Mile Run. Hacked and coughed the whole way!
Cousin Capri is such a good mama
Girl talk with Auntie Jaide. Thanks for coming out from Georgia!
Oliver + Dumpling = Best Buds
Just another evening with the kiddos

Moomoo time
Caden and Zeph love their little cousin

Now that is a California cheeseburger!
Our California stash. Chocolate chips and tortillas are worth the plane ride alone.

2.04.2018

You Can’t Always Get What You Want 淘宝网

No, you can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need
-The Rolling Stones



A few posts back I wrote that I save a lot of time not shopping because there's not anything good to buy. Well, I take it all back! I recently became a Taobao customer. Taobao (淘宝) is like Amazon. You can buy anything, and anything can be expeditiously delivered right to your door.

My purchases, however, are not clothes or shoes. I buy food.

No longer do I make the 45 minute journey to Sanyuanli market to stock up on lentils, beets, kale, brussel sprouts, cheese, butter, whipping cream, walnuts, or whatever else I chance upon that is decently priced and looks good to eat. No longer do I brave the local supermarket where raw meat is strewn about for people to pick through with bare hands. No longer do I travel to the imported foods market, D-Mart, which is only a fifteen minute bike ride away, but now a forty-five minute walk with Dumpling in tow.

The inconvenience of lugging a baby around just got a little offset with the convenience of online shopping.

While lounging in my pjs and rocking Dumpling to sleep with cell phone in hand, I scroll through multiple sellers and compare prices on all kinds of stuff. Swipe, swipe, swipe. Food in my virtual cart. Tap, tap, tap. My password sails through the world wide web and money magically transfers from my bank account to the seller.

Then all I have to do is wait. Periodically I check the status of my order. Swipe, swipe, tap, tap. My order is being packaged. A little later. Swipe, swipe, tap, tap. The kuaidi (快递, delivery) guy has picked up the package and his name is blah blah and his phone number is blah blah. A little later. Chime! Text message. The package will be delivered within two hours. A little later. Ring! Ring! The kuaidi guy calls and asks if I'm home and can he deliver the package right away. Knock, knock, knock on the door and from behind it, the kuaidi guy yells, “Kuaidi!”

Before I can say “I’m a Taobao addict”, Dumpling and I are gleefully peeling back the packaging tape and inhaling its toxic fumes. A few minutes later, the fridge is restocked with butter and cheese, and the freezer with chicken and shrimp. The boxes and bubble wrap will entertain Dumpling for at least an hour.

Which brings me to the unfortunate reality of online shopping: the waste. Oh the waste! Each tender avocado and mango is encased in Styrofoam. Frozen chicken and shrimp stay frozen in sizable Styrofoam boxes. The brown sugar, powdered sugar, and popcorn kernels, not needing insulation, is delivered in sturdy cardboard boxes. After every delivery, as I chuck an armload of cardboard, Styrofoam, and plastic, into the waste bins, I say a silent “I'm so sorry” to the environment.

After all, Styrofoam takes 500 years to decompose. Each set of packaging multiplied by the 369 million Taobao users equals a lot of trash (1). No wonder China recently no longer accepts foreign rubbish (2). China is generating enough of its own.

I quickly forget about the environment as I await the rock hard avocados to ripen. Guacamole and chips this week. What to do with that frozen shrimp? Shrimp with cilantro pesto pasta or shrimp jambalaya? A package of cream cheese was a steal for 9 rmb. Let's make a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Thanks to Taobao, non-Chinese food is what's for dinner.

After a week or so, the freezer drawer is empty, the butter has been baked away, and the toilet paper supply is low. Time to restock. Swipe, swipe, swipe. Tap, tap, tap. Can't wait for that knock, knock, knock on the door and the kuaidi guy yelling, “Kuaidi!”


  1.  22 Amazing Taobao Statistics (September 2017)
  2. Plastics Pile Up As China Refuses to Take the West's Recycling

Chinese Word of the Blog: 淘宝网 táobǎo wǎng (seek treasure internet)
English translation: Taobao Marketplace, a Chinese website for online shopping

jd.com is another online shopping website. This is how packages get around.
Kale, mint, a humongous beet, and coconut milk delivered!

Found on Taobao: Fashionable and warm for only $8 to $10
Taobao is the place to find cozy slippers. If her feet are that cold, she should wear pants.
Turn your home into banana paradise. Only $30!
Dumpling does quality check on blueberries, avocados, and frozen shrimp
Got cream cheese? Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting coming right up!

1.16.2018

Mr. Blue Sky 空气质量

Runnin' down the avenue
See how the sun shines brightly in the city
On the streets where once was pity
Mister blue sky is living here today hey, hey

-Electric Light Orchestra

January 9: Mr Blue Sky came out to play

Last week, I looked out my window and the sky shone blue. I thought, It's a good run day.

Dumpling and I had been exiled to our 80 square meter apartment since we got home from Thailand five days ago. Poor baby was sick on the plane with a fever. Her vomiting on me, diarrhea-ing on me, feeding on me, and breathing on me, led, of course, to me contracting her heinous malaise. So I'll save you the details and summarize it this way: sick mama+sick baby+dad away at work=SO NOT FUN.

We seriously needed to get out. To waste a blue sky day is a sin in Smog Capital. Beijing Blue is a rarity. Or is it?

I dare say, not this year. This time last year, I was imprisoned in my home not only because I was on full-time fatten-up-preemie-baby mommy duty, but also because the air quality was just plain nasty. In contrast, this year, I have looked outside and thought, It's a good run day, much more often than, Ehhh, it's a bad smog day. We're staying in.

I'm not the only only feeling the blissful blues. After several years in China, one of my friends finally invested in an air filter. Come December, she was a bit disappointed she had scarcely used it. While her air filter and everyone else's collect dust, people are leaving their apartments to soak up--not the smucky gray-- but the wintry blue. Every morning, the parking lot below my window teems with grandmas and their grandchildren. Toddlers puffed in oversized down coats and bulbous pants run back and forth enjoying clean air, sunshine, and empyrean blue. I imagine that the public parks likewise abound with sun loving tai chi enthusiasts and waltzing senior citizens. When the winds become too frigid or lunchtime rolls around, they go home to natural gas powered warmth.

That's right, gas powered warmth. No coal burning in or around Beijing.

China is sick and tired of being known around the world for its embarrassing and deadly smog problem. With an estimated 1.1 million people dying each year from air pollution (1), and public outcry reaching a crescendo, in 2013 China implemented an ambitious action plan to clear the air in and around its most polluted cities. Iron and steel plants and industrial factories have been shut down or forced to adhere to stricter emission standards (2). This year, households in and around Beijing have swapped out coal for gas or electric heating (3). Government officials are patting each other on the back stating, "the capital has become China's first city with all its power plants fueled by clean energy" (4). Thanks to China's mighty efforts and cooperation across several provinces, perhaps Beijing Gray will now be known as Beijing Blue.

Air quality monitoring from both the Chinese government and outside sources back the hype. December saw the best air quality in five years with 25 consecutive days rated as "excellent" or "good" (5). The US Embassy air quality readings indicate that PM2.5 readings were 50 percent lower from October to December compared to the previous year (6). My very unscientific observations--that is, looking out my window--resonate with the news reports.

No doubt the coal ban and other clean air measures reduced air pollution. But not to be forgotten is smog's great foe: the wind. Rumor has it that China leveled a mountain to generate more wind thus making Beijing Blue the norm, but I can't find any (not one thing) that substantiates that claim. What is true that this year, several cold fronts from Siberia gusted through Beijing dispersing pollutants (6). No matter what, strong winds mean no pollution. My very unscientific observations likewise back the weather reports. It's been frigidly windy. Good thing Dumpling's fancy stroller's rain cover doubles as a wind guard.

Besides the environment and public health, China still has to juggle other aspects such as the economy. Shutting down factories means unemployment or reduced production and profit (7). In some areas, the electrical or gas heating infrastructure lags behind implementation deadlines leaving residents freezing in their own homes (8). Time will tell whether China's massive efforts are sustainable and result in a consistently blazing Beijing Blue.

Meanwhile, Dumpling and I will enjoy these Beijing Blue days. We're not holding our breath though. The next windless day means I'll look out the window and think, Ehhh, it's a bad smog day. We're staying in.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 空气质量 kōngqì zhìliàng
English translation: Air quality

1. China's Surprising Solutions to Clear Killer Air
2. Beijing's air quality sharply improved
3. China's putting the brakes on coal for heating millions of homes this winter
4. Beicology: Beijing's Last Large Coal-Fired Power Plant Suspends Operations, No One Notices
5. Beijing enjoys best winter air quality in five years
6. Reality Check: Is Beijing's air quality better this winter?
7. As China's Coal Mines Close, Miners Are Becoming Bolder In Voicing Demands
8. Poor bear brunt of Beijing coal cleanup with no heating at -6C


November 10: Just chillin' in the chill
December 5: Never been so happy for the blues
December 19: Dumpling is overwhelmed with the blues
January 14: Mr Blue Sky where did you go?









12.29.2017

In the Sun 晒太阳

In the sun I'm waiting for the day
Having fun in warm far away
Moonlight nights water seems so clear
Oh city lights while I'm still waiting here
In the sun it's for everyone
~Blondie




Greetings from Thailand!

Every year we like to escape Beijing's cold and head to the tropics. Over the last five years while living in the northeast hemisphere, we've hit up Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia twice. We're back full circle to Thailand, packing an extra member of the family: one year old Dumpling.

So what does our little world traveler think of Thailand?

Fruit: Loves bananas! She would be happy living on a 100% banana diet. She also downed mango, watermelon, pineapple, and avocado with zest. Poor payapa has repeatedly been rejected.

Jungle Animal: My girl is a city girl. She cried in fear at the sight of a friendly elephant. We need to take more trips to the zoo.

Thai people: Dumpling loves people in general, and Thai people are no exception. She gets plenty of smiles, tickles, and bananas from our friendly Thai friends.

The Beach: We probably enjoyed seeing her in the warm Indian ocean for the first time more than she did. She was, however, very interested in eating the sand.

Thai Food: Loves the fresh fruit smoothies and anything with coconut. She loves all types of noodles: sweet, spicy (ish), or salty. Chicken satay, mild coconut curries, seafood glass noodles all so delicious. We might be realizing our goal of raising a foodie.

Meanwhile, we are enjoying the balmy weather here in Phuket. That is in between nap time and bedtime.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 晒太阳 shài tàiyang
English translation: bask in the sun


Mmmmm coconut shake
The elephants are scary
Getting some snuggles and a cookie
Dumpling takes a dip






Beach snooze
This sand is not delicious




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