Up Above the Daily Hum 九月份

When is this all over
When does the next one begin
Happy on the pull of the past
Just before the future comes
Hoping for the rush of some experience
That could elevate me
- The Flaming Lips

This is definitely not Beijing

Beijing’s September started off with a bang. And when I say bang, I mean it started off with rain. The fall season has thus begun. People are wearing light sweaters and the children socks. Body odors aren’t so repugnant, and the sky breezes pollution free and blue as a gleaming sapphire.

The cooling temperatures are a welcome respite from Beijing’s muggy summer. We heard that July in Beijing was particularly insufferable. Rain poured for two weeks straight during which the sun refused to show up even once. Additionally, the heat and humidity were so intense that nobody left the sanctuary of air conditioning.

While Beijing cooked like a baozi (dumpling) in the steamer, California charred like a Kalua pig in the BBQ pit. Devastating wild fires ripped throughout California, leaving thousands homeless and the skies shrouded in soot. It was here in California’s dry inferno, the three of us spent the summer. My brother-in-law joked that California’s air pollution made us Beijingers feel like we were right at home.

We did feel right at home--but not because California air pollution was on par with Beijing’s notorious pollution. (Side note: smoke is waaaayyyy worse than car exhaust air pollution.) We felt at home because 1.) California is our home and 2.) we stayed at Moomoo’s house, and Moomoo makes you feel at home.

As if the nightly gourmet dinners (e.g. beef bourguignon), daily delectable breakfasts (blueberry pancakes), and King-sized bed with a private bathroom, weren’t enough, Moomoo scheduled another week in yet another Magnificent Beautiful House in Lake Tahoe. Seven grandchildren ran amok throughout the house. Dumpling was besides herself surrounded by her cousins and endless bounty of Haagen dazs ice cream, avocado and corn chips.

Otherwise, we did what we always do when we summer in California: we catch up with friends, ooh and ahh at how the kids have grown, swim, and eat lots of cheese and barbecued meat. In addition, we squeezed in a few side trips: one to Georgia to visit my sister and her husband, and one to beautiful Monterey Bay with Yaya, Pop-Pop, and cousins Caden and Zephram.

And just like that, just as the smoke began to clear, our summer elapsed into the clouds. We said, “See ya, California!” once again, and said “Hello, Beijing!” Yep, back to steamy Beijing. Back to air drying our clothes and towels until they are stiff as boards. Back to hand washing every single dish. Back to speaking Chinese as clumsily as a carsick clown on a tightrope. Back to reality.

While I ached for American conveniences like a dishwasher, Dumpling eased right back to her Beijing life like Cinderella’s foot in her glass slipper. She gleefully ran around the apartment rediscovering her toys. She skipped around Merry Mart waving to the workers like they were old friends. She perfected her slide skills with as much finesse as a Cirque Soleil acrobat.

So here we are more than halfway through September enjoying blue skies and mild temperatures. We’ve stopped dreaming about leaving China. We are back to our Beijing life, and we are OK will it. birdMAN is again teaching high school math, and I follow Dumpling around and talk to ayis at the park. Life is functioning at a comfortable normal. And we still have plenty of room to drastically improve our Chinese skills. Maybe we’ll stick around a little (or a lot) longer.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Beijing is home.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 九月 Jiǔ yuè (literally, nine month)
English Translation: September

Grandma makes us dinner. We're not in China, but we still get Chinese food.
Eating good at Moomoo's

Dumpling can't believe her eyes. California has so many french fries.
We only dare to wear white, pretty dresses in California. Here you can wash with hot water and use a dryer.
Hi Lake Tahoe! Our old friend.
Cousin Sabella's excitement is contagious!
Post nap grumpies. She slept through ice cream time.
California = Haagen Dazs heaven
Ohh and ahhh, how the kids have grown!
Good times with our long time friends.
Dumpling feels at home
Checking out Monterey Bay Aquarium
Keeping cool at the California coast
Sacramento Zoo excursion
Back in Beijing, and the weather is fine!


Southern Nights 南部

Southern nights
Have you ever felt a southern night?
Free as a breeze
Not to mention the trees
Whistling tunes that you know and love so
-Glen Campbell and the Philharmonic Orchestra

Two years ago, my sister and her husband accepted an assignment down yonder where sushi is still called bait. This year in their Georgia home, they was busier than a pair of moths in a mitten. Recoverin’ from a three week Israel stint, preparin’ for RCs and RP school, and secular work amongst numerous responsibilities, fixin’ a trip to California at the same time as us was gettin’ as messy as eatin’ a soup sandwich.

The prospect of no sister time this year was makin’ me feel a bit blue. So when birdMAN asked me if I reckon’d squeezing in an extra trip down yonder during our seven week long US summer sojourn, I said, “Is a bullfrog waterproof?” Butter my butt and call me a biscuit, birdMAN bought round trip plane tickets from dry as a popcorn fart Sacramento to steamy Hot-lanta.

My lil’ sis and her sweetie been acclimatin’ well to southern living. They say, “Yes ma’am,” and “'scuse me, sir.” They snack on boiled peanuts and drink sweet tea. They don't mind the swelterin’ humidity or the evening hum of cicadas. But a cat can have kittens in the oven but we ain't gonna call ‘em all biscuits. G&J are still bred n’ raised Californians. They miss tacos, sushi, and California sized wages. They can't wait for a reason to go to Atlanta and side trip over to Trader Joe’s.

The five of us bred n’ raised Californians did what we do best: we ate and ate till we was fat as ticks. Admittedly, we steered clear of the greasy dives (eg Waffle House) and opted for the highfalutin varieties of southern cuisine. As a visiting Yankee who loves make-your-tongue-slap-your-face good food nearly as much as life, I had a hankerin’ for samplin’ the local fare.

Didn't make here... Maybe next time
At the trendy Twisted Soul, while I admired the Will and Jada Smith lookalikes and their equally purdy younglin’s, I savored my first ever chicken and waffles. My oh my! This trademark dish of the South made my heart sing a thousand banjo strings! For you Californians that don't know (like I didn't) that breakfast and dinner can be combined with such beauteous harmony, chicken and waffles is exactly that-- savory and sweet married like peanut butter and jelly. Twisted Soul’s version was seasoned fried chicken sittin’ pretty on top of a golden waffle, with a side of Bourbon syrup and cardamom butter.

Food adventures continued at the uppity Dovetail in downtown Macon, where the local folk don their Sunday church attire and enjoy spirits and grits. We showed up Sunday at 12:30 pm, the golden hour after which alcohol may be served (we in the South!). Dovetail dabbles in fusing California fresh with southern staples. I had me the shrimp and grits. The shrimp were far from shrimpy; they were fat, juicy, seasoned prawns. The grits were traditionally creamy and drizzled unconventionally with olive oil and arugula (arugula is originally Mediterranean). I was as happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.

Besides eatin’ ourselves blue in the face, we got plenty of jollyin’ around like local folk and a lick of touristin’ around like touristin’ folk. We cooled off swimmin’ and kayakin’ in Lake Tobesofskee (that's a mouthful), swattin’ away at the mosquitoes, and explorin’ the Las Vegas of captive fish life: Georgia Aquarium. You oughta see it! Y’all go hogwild for the whale sharks, manta rays, and beluga whales swizzling around in the Big Whopper of fishbowls.

Our five day southern sojourn was long on eating but too short on parlayin’ with my lil’ sis and her suga’. Our gracious hosts G&J was as sweet as pie. Our wine glasses never went dry, and the AC never turned off. But good thing we left when we did. All’s that Georgia fried chicken and beer gonna turn my body broad as I is tall.

Well, that's the whole hushpuppy. We all lovin’ that southern hospitality. Hope to be back sooner than a minute!

Y’all hear?

Chinese Word of the Blog: 南部 (nánbù)
English Translation: the southern part; south

Need to brush up on your southern talk? Click HERE

Good BBQ makes your tongue slap your face
Aunty gives Dumpling a present

It's hotter than a goat's butt in a pepper patch
Life is just peachy

Finger licking good
The Georgia Aquarium

Penguin encounter
Dumpling misses out on shrimp and grits, bless her heart
Is this what Southern big hair is supposed to look like?


Hospital Beds 住院

There's nothing to do here
Some just whine and complain
In bed at the hospital
Coming and going
Asleep and awake
In bed at the hospital
-Cold War Kids

Over 16 million babies are born every year in China. That means there are over 16 million mothers pregnant and/or giving birth in any given year. Such a populous country with access to cutting-edge technology in addition to thousands and thousands of years of history of childbearing...that should lead to the conclusion that childbirth here is a breeze, right?

Nope. The reality is that China’s hospitals are too busy to cater to the needs of worried mothers. Mothers leaving the hospital with a baby in tow are often scarred not only by a c-section but also by the entire experience.

My neighbor is one such mother. When her water broke at 33 weeks pregnant, she summoned an ambulance to take her to the hospital right away. Upon arrival, however, no beds were available. She was not scheduled for delivery for another seven weeks.* While the hospital did not tell her to go away, she was placed in the hallway. There in the hallway, without family, friends or privacy she labored. Hospital passersby were her only companions. Doctors examined her in the hallway with zero privacy. Nurses wouldn’t even bring her a glass of water. Meanwhile in the waiting area, her husband frantically called female friends asking for assistance (males are not allowed in the birthing wings). Finally, the baby’s heartbeat indicated he was in duress. The first-time mama ended up on the operating table for an emergency Cesarean. After the Cesarean and she was sewn up, the doctors told her to move herself to the gurney so they could take her out of the operating room. She was so traumatized that she flat-out says she will never give birth again.

To be fair, many mothers have relatively smooth births in Chinese hospitals. I, however, have heard too many traumatizing stories like my neighbor’s. I didn’t need to think long before determining that giving birth in a Chinese hospital was out of the question. I am adventurous, but not that adventurous. Western medicine was for me.

Fortunately, Beijing’s sizable expat community and rich Chinese desiring a not so Chinese birth experience means there's a market for plenty of international hospitals. These hospitals include Beijing United Family, Amcare, Baodao, and Oasis. I contacted a number of them and compared prices. Out of these, Oasis offered a free tour. In addition to taking a gander at the spacious birthing and recovery rooms, one of the obstetricians invited me into her office to discuss prenatal care and birth. They had me at the superb English, but I ultimately chose Oasis for the following reasons:
  1. The facilities were gleaming clean and spacious
  2. The atmosphere was chill
  3. The staff was friendly
  4. The doctor said my medical wishes would be respected
  5. The cost is a little bit cheaper than BJ United Family (a very popular hospital for expats) 
  6. They did not pressure me to get a 1,400 RMB consultation (uh-hum! BJ United Family) without letting me check out the facilities.
  7. Did I mention everyone speaks English?
I dreamed of a semi-hippie-dippie-ethereal birth experience during which I would labor at home for awhile, eat a big meal, breeze into the hospital, and a few intense hours later, birdMAN would catch our little love. The three of us would then bond with skin to skin contact and descend into newborn baby bliss.

Yeah, that didn't happen. My water broke at 34 weeks and I had a few minor complications during labor. But what did happen is that Dumpling got born and both she and I got superb care.

Here are some general observations about giving birth and staying at Oasis:
  1. Staff: Labor and delivery doctors and nurses were professional, reasonable, reassuring, and kind. During our two weeks stay, the pediatric nurses were so hospitable and aware of my needs. They would eagerly fetch anything I needed (towels or lotion for example). Everyday a friendly ayi would clean the room, always asking permission before entering.
  2. Treatment: Born premature, Dumpling’s biggest obstacle was weight gain. She would nurse for a few minutes and fall asleep. To pack in the calories, she was syringe fed with calorie fortified breast milk every couple hours--even through the night. Because she was so sleepy, getting her to swallow just 10 ml was a laborious process. While birdMAN and I at times would feed her, the nurses did the bulk of it-- especially in the middle of night. They would tell me to rest and go to sleep. The staff also were very supportive of breastfeeding.
  3. Room: On par with a super nice hotel. Impeccably clean. The bed and pillows were so comfortable. birdMAN slept comfortably on a couch with hospital provided bedding. The room was private and quiet and stocked with an air purifier. 
  4. Food: Oasis provided breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner. In the morning, I could choose out of two or three choices for lunch and dinner. I am not sure if because I was starving all the time or getting meals were a highlight out of a relatively uneventful day, but I really enjoyed and anticipated each meal. Four bowls - usually soup, salad, cooked vegetable, and main course- neatly arranged on a tray arrived in a timely fashion. Occasionally, some weird mystery meat resembling bologna speckled with white was served with breakfast. Otherwise, the food was more than satisfactory. 
That’s what I have to say about the hospital where my baby girl got born. Dumpling is now 18 months old, and continues to see the same pediatric doctors and nurses that cared for her when she was just a wee preemie. Every time, the staff makes a big whoop-dee about how fast and healthy Dumpling has grown.

The take home is: if you happen to find yourself pregnant in China, and you can’t or don’t want to go back to your home country to give birth, you need not fear. There are international hospitals (like Oasis) in major cities that match and/or exceed the care of western hospitals.

Unless...you want to embrace the Chinese birth experience and take your chances at a Chinese public hospital.

Here is a helpful resource that compares Beijing International hospital costs:
https://issuu.com/beijingkids/docs/beijingkidsjulhealthguide2014 (see pages 24-33)

*In Beijing, mothers without Beijing hukou(户口)must reserve a space for birth in a public hospital by the time they are 6 to 12 weeks pregnant. If they miss that window, they will have to go to their hometown to give birth or pay extra at an international hospital. See China’s big baby bump puts the squeeze on hospitals and pregnant women 

Chinese Word of the Blog: 住院 Zhùyuàn
English Translation: to be hospitalized

The doctor gives me a back massage. Very nice!
Post birth Oasis swag
Dinner for two: part of Oasis birth package.
Dumpling gets fed

Hospital life


Swimming Lesson 游泳课

And if you feel like you can't swim
When you're thrown in the lake
Just watch the bugs
Passin' by you as you
Slip under their wake
-the Eels

Dumpling was born and lives in China. She eats rice or noodles nearly daily. Her first words besides “mama” (which is the same in English and Chinese), were Chinese (阿门and谢谢). Even so, she is the flesh and blood of two flesh and blood Californians. That makes her a Californian through and through. End of discussion. So she will spend the summer in California the way California kids do: splashing around in a pool.

Just one problem...she doesn’t know how to swim, and the closest water body is our apartment complex’s mosquito haven of a muddy pond. What to do?

Fortunately, an enterprising business catering to Chinese parents with cash to burn on their precious little emperors and empresses opened in the local mall.

Yule Beibei (鱼乐贝贝) operates a number of baby swimming facilities all over Beijing. The setup is simple: a few hot tubs full of warm water and floating toys, gracious, young and female teachers, and babies whose parents, many of which lack swimming skills themselves, desire their little emperors and empresses to become little mermen and mermaids.

The total time for each session is about an hour. Each lesson starts with some play time, a clothes change to swim gear, pre-dip shower down, thirty minutes in the hot tub, shower, and play. Two types of sessions are available: (1) baby enveloped in floatie while adults supervise from outside the pool (普通游), and (2) both baby and teacher in the pool for a "real" swim lesson (水育课).

Making friends
For the first type of session, the little student floats around in an inflatable doughnut and plays with any toy that happens to bob by. Only two or three babies are in the hot tub at a time. Meanwhile, the teacher walks around the rim of the pool encouraging the baby to 踢腿 (kick). Swimming lesson is like bath time raised to the fifth degree.

Every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, the student can trade in the floatie for a real swimming lesson. The teacher, also gracious, young and female, gets in the giant hot tub with the student. The teacher gently pulls the little pupil through the water and blows bubbles with the goal of teaching the baby to independently swim underwater.

A couple months ago, our fearless Dumpling absolutely loved her hot tub time. She laughed gleefully at the supervising teachers, fellow floating babies, and poolside grannies and grampies. She splashed around in the 95 degree water happy as an otter that discovered there was such a thing as fried calamari. She was the envy of poolside moms whose babies that were afraid of the water. In fact, one Tiger Mom chastised her two year old twin daughters for crying: "Look at that brave little girl," wagging her finger toward Dumpling, "Next time, you will be like her. No crying!"

While I felt bad for Tiger Mom's babies, my pride swelled big and round like a puffer fish warding off a predator attack. The teachers praised Dumpling as one of their best students. They predicted she will be swimming underwater after three or four personal lessons.

My mama ego soon busted like an inflated puffer fish bitten by a great white shark.

Two subsequent lessons with the personal swim teacher were disastrous. Little Dumpling cried and cried, her arms outstretched towards me. What could I do? I rescued her from that ill-fated lesson after only ten minutes. Maybe she didn't have a long enough nap. Hoping to avoid a repeat disaster, I made sure Dumpling got a long nap before the next lesson. Unfortunately, the nap did not keep Dumpling's fears at bay. Again, she cried and cried. The teachers sent me out of the room and managed to keep an uneasy Dumpling in the water for the full thirty minutes.

Maybe we should call her "Grumpling"

We forged ahead. Maybe Dumpling just needs to go more often. She started go twice a week, once each for the two types of lessons. Persistence has not resulted in a happier little swimmer. As of now, she’s content enough to float around in the floatie, but wails like a dolphin separated from its pod during the personal swim lesson.

The teachers are befuddled. Usually the babies will cry at first, and improve with each subsequent lesson. Not my Dumpling. That would be way too easy.

Three months of “swimming” (aka hot tub time) later, Dumpling is nowhere remotely near California swimming ready. Tiger Mom’s babies, on the other hand, are swimming laps across the hot tub. Ah well, at least Dumpling’s getting some exercise and lots of exposure to Chinese speaking teachers. And we haven’t had to throw her into the mosquito haven of a muddy pool.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 游泳课 Yóuyǒng kè
English Translation: swimming lesson
Example Sentence: 是上游泳课的时候了! (Shì shàng yóuyǒng kè de shíhòule)
English Translation: It’s time to go to swimming lesson!

Some babies get a neck floatie


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.