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

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?


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