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5.21.2021

Give it Away 给别人

What I've got you've got to give it to your mama
What I've got you've got to give it to your pappa
What I've got you've got to give it to your daughter
You do a little dance and then you drink a little water
- Red Hot Chili Peppers



Over the years that we lived in China, we inherited a lot of stuff from people that emptied their apartments before heading home or elsewhere in the world. Afterall, there's only so much you can bag in a bag.

Each time I used something that had been passed on to me, I fondly thought of its previous owner. Each time I slow-cooked carnitas or baked banana bread, I thought of fellow Californians Zhiruo and Xueshan who bequeathed us a slow-cooker and mini oven before heading to warmer climes. The one time I attempted to make gluten-free cookies with coconut flour, I thought of my French amie and health nut. Before settling back in the land of baguettes, she had unloaded gluten-free flours, flaxseed, and blueberry tea on me. Each time I used a cute plastic bag, a pink and white polka dotted cupcake liner, or floral contact paper, I thought of prolific baker and big-hearted Taoyu. She really baked the scrummiest (as they would say on the Great British Bake Off, my quarantine guilty pleasure). A caboodle of clothes, cleaning supplies, stationary, face masks, utensils, Japanese flavor packets, etc dotted our shelves from a succession of people that have come and gone.

And I remember each and every one of them. Each inherited thing is like a hello from a friend.

Here is Zhiruo saying hello

Now we are part of that great crowd of those who have come...and gone-- except we didn’t have the opportunity (uh hum! hassle) of purging our stuff accumulated during the seven plus years living in China.

As you may know, back in January 2020 we had left China expecting to return three weeks later. More than a year later, we had yet to return and decided conclusively that Beijing would not be a part of our immediate future. For nearly the whole of 2020 and the early part of 2021, our Beijing apartment collected dust. Now the time had finally come to deal with our abandoned apartment and the stuff in it. This task (uh hum! hassle) primarily fell on fellow Californian, Xialian, and local friend, Fanglan.

Fanglan along with two other Chinese friends had already cleaned out the food in early January 2021. They had oohed and ahhed over the booty (bottles of wine, the bag of quinoa, the stockpile of dried beans, rice, nuts, semi-sweet chocolate chips and a large jar of pure vanilla extract) as they helpfully divided up the loot. I can’t help but wonder what happened to my treasured quinoa. Surely not wasted, it was probably made into 粥 (porridge). Someone is eating the most expensive porridge ever.

Wine comes to those who clean out our place
 
Now mid-February, Xialian arranged for an exit permit to leave her college campus where she lives and works. She and her husband, XP, had been on strict lockdown since January 2020 only leaving campus a handful of times. Unfortunately, one of their first outings since the Pandemic hit was not a dinner date at Great Leap Brewery for cheeseburgers and beer. (But they did inherit our humongous chili pot emblazoned with a Great Leap logo. See Pork and Beans.) Even so, Xialian and XP cheerily offered to help.

And oh boy, did Xialian, XP, Fanglan, and all the helpers rise to the occasion. Once I told Fanglan, “很可惜,我们决定我们不会回北京” (Sadly, we have decided not to return to Beijing), and I gave her the greenlight to give away stuff, there was a flurry of texts swifting from Beijing to California and back again: So-and-so or so-and-so’s relative needs a sofa, a crib, a room screen, etc, and would it be possible for so-and-so to take the wok and soup pot? And I said, Give it away!

The word spread and people came and requested what they wanted. Two days later, the good stuff (our furniture, oven, and birdMAN’s bike) had been snatched up. A week later, Xialian and XP had sorted through our stuff, and set aside things to be shipped 5,900 miles from Beijing to California. Soon thereafter on a Monday afternoon, Xialian and Fanglan neatly laid out the goods not yet spoken for or not yet taken.They put out the invitation: Open house everybody! On such and such afternoon, come one and come all. Please take what you want.

Come they did--at least that’s what I figured from Xialian’s instant messages. As I laid in bed (there’s a 15 hour time difference), fragments of our Beijing life were dispersed and divided amongst our friends. Even our set of IKEA matching dishes of six bowls, six plates, and six large shallow bowls were divided up one by one. I wonder if the same thing happened to the complete set of silverware. A single fork for this person and a single spoon for the next guy. Ahhh that’s China for you. Nobody cares if the bowls match the serving dishes. China kitchens brim over with a hodgepodge of dishes snagged from the mobile pottery cart or someone’s abandoned stuff.

Soon our apartment had been stripped bare, and then our friends scrubbed the place top to bottom. I might add a thorough cleaning was hardly necessary. The apartment was already cleaner than 99% of most rentals returned to a landlord. Nonetheless, our amazing friends cleaned the place spotless worried that the landlord would quibble and withhold our deposit.

Xialian and XP going to work

Scrubbed clean

After Fanglan reassured me that she had diligently cared for the apartment and arranged a walkthrough with the landlord, she sent me this message:

“谢谢您!刚才一边收拾,一边难过,满屋子都是关于您们美好的回忆!XX找我要关于您们的照片,我居然有从宝宝出生到现在的好多照片,和您们在一起的日子真美好!真是舍不得您们不在我们身边!”

(“Thank you! As we finished cleaning, I felt sad. This house is full of good memories! XX asked me to find pictures of you, and I have many pictures from your baby’s birth until now, and that time with you all was so wonderful! It’s unbearable that you are not here!”)

That really tugged at my heartstrings. Okay, I admit it! That made me weepy and nostalgic and regretful that I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to all our Beijing friends. I do, however, take comfort that at the very least somebody is using our stuff.

Hopefully every time someone eats noodles from one of those white IKEA bowls, they think of birdMAN, Huixin, and Dumpling. Those crazy Americans that spoke crazy grammatically incorrect Chinese and cooked crazy food with a lot of cheese and cinnamon. Those crazy Americans who laughed a lot and welcomed them into their home for dessert and lively conversation. Those crazy Americans who broke all kinds of rules like drinking cold water and eating ice cream in the winter. Most of all though, I hope that every time they clink a chopstick on one of those white IKEA bowls, they remember how much those crazy Americans loved them. A white IKEA bowl sending a message of love--or at least a 你好 (hello).

Here is a huge 谢谢  (THANK YOU) to Xialian, XP, and Fanglan for taking the lead in giving away our stuff! Also to TF who helped us with complicated bank stuff. You and all our beautiful friends in China will always and forever have a special, special, special place in our hearts.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 给别人 (Gěi biérén
English Translation: to give something to someone

Example Sentence: 我把所有的东西都给别人。(Wǒ bǎ wǒ suǒyǒu de dōngxī dōu gěi biérén。)
English translation: I gave all my things away to people.

Our place goes up for rent! Apparently no one wanted the electric kettle.

The rocking chair and lamp chilling in a new home

There goes my coat and DIY art

Special delivery! Now we know it takes two months to get stuff delivered via snail mail from Beijing to California.

3.18.2021

Time to Move On 往前看

It's time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It's time to move on, it's time to get going
-Tom Petty and Heartbreakers



For the better part of 2020, our Beijing apartment echoed empty awaiting our return. The sourdough starter along with a chunk of vacuum-wrapped gouda cheese languished in the fridge. A stockpile of quinoa, dried beans, rice and spices stored away to be cooked into something delicious. Four bottles of wine bought on special stashed in the closet. A throw pillow, bedding, storage baskets, a bathtub, a down coat all recently purchased on China’s Black Friday, November 11 (Singles Day, Double 11, or 双十一). The laundry in plain sight hanging out to dry.

Our home waited for us.

Sometime in April, restrictions in Beijing had eased somewhat and our American friend was able to get past the guard and into our apartment complex. Via video call, we toured our apartment and our friend commented that the place fragranced clean and minty. Maybe it was the eucalyptus oil I use for cleaning. Anyway, everything was in order and no pipes had busted. As a reward, she snagged the nearly full jar of Kirkland peanut butter and the vacuum wrapped gouda cheese.

Our Beijing apartment waited for us. And waited some more.

As the months marched steadily on, spring heating into summer, and summer waning into winter, returning to our little Beijing home seemed more and more unlikely. The Pandemic raged on around the world and China and US international relations frazzled like a strained thread. China imposed strict restrictions on international travelers making obtaining or renewing a visa uncertain or impossible. Furthermore, once international flights were available (after a long hiatus), they were extremely limited and absurdly expensive.

By the close of 2020, most of birdMAN’s fellow workers had slowly returned to China. During the journey, each of them took several COVID-19 tests and temperature checks. Upon arrival, each spent two weeks quarantining in a hotel. Most of them said the experience wasn’t so bad. They had time to rest, read, and chill out in solitary.

I, however, dreaded the prospect of quarantining for a full two weeks with a four year old child. I imagined all the art projects, the tickle fights, the bath time, the snacks, book reading, and the screen time. How many bags of goldfish crackers would I need to pack? Would I need one or two jars of peanut butter? I imagined putting Dumpling through reading and math boot camp. Yeeessss...quarantine would turn Dumpling into a genius. But a more likely scenario was that all my parenting sensibilities would vaporize and Frozen II would be on repeat. Which reminds me, how many Disney dresses should I pack? Definitely bring Ariel and Elsa dresses, but Belle dress may not make the cut.

Meanwhile, surely our Beijing home had descended into despair, its door hinges rusting from disuse.

Over here in California, we had settled into a predictable weekly routine. birdMAN worked online in the evenings. Friday was Papa Murphy’s pizza night. We spent a lot of time walking or biking the nature corridor near Moomoo’s house. We renewed our 3 month mobile plan for the third time. Dumpling knew the way to the park and could distinguish between Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Safeway. As our American life habits developed, we stopped looking at available flights into China, and half-heartedly applied for China visas. While birdMAN could be approved because he had a job, Dumpling and I did not qualify for visa consideration.

So the question, “Will you return to China?” lingered like Beijing air pollution--there but barely noticeable. Over the year, I went from feeling anxious to return and gung ho about quarantine, to unsettled limbo, to acceptance that living abroad had finally come to an end. Then one day, birdMAN simply said, “I don’t see us going back.” And I nodded. That was it.

Beijing no longer waited. Time to say goodbye.

The answer to, “Will you return to China?” is now definitely, positively, once and for all…

No.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 往前看 (Wǎng qián kàn)
English Translation: Look forward

Example Sentence: 我们没办法会北京去,因此要往前看,要往前走。
(Wǒmen méi bànfǎ huì běijīng qù, yīncǐ yào wǎng qián kàn, yào wǎng qián zǒu.)
English Translation: We cannot return to Beijing, so we must look forward and move on.

Back when we would just hang in our cozy home

In Beijing, we improvise furniture

Getting around Beijing style

Exercising Beijing style

Exercising California style

How we used to do Moomoo time

In California, Moomoo time is so much better!

Yaya time = Zoo time

California has an abundance of goldfish crackers!