Sunday, September 14, 2014

Piano Men

For the past year, Caleb and Isaac have been taking piano lessons. Unfortunately neither Kenny nor I play as well as we should despite having taken lessons ourselves many moons ago, thus, though we know it might be a battle, we are determined the boys will play. At least well enough to accompany the hymns in church on Sundays. Something I have needed to do all too often of late, with less than sufficient skill. I lament everyday that I didn't practice more. My mom said I would be sorry, she was right. Very, very right.

Earlier this year they had a recital. They both played performed well and were completely unaffected by the large crowd and darkened auditorium. In fact, Isaac, who had never played on a grand piano before, was so mesmerized by the instrument that in the midst of playing his piece, he stood up and looked over the frame to watch the hammers hitting the strings. Even so, he didn't make a single mistake.

Piano practice is not always their favorite part of the day, but they are both improving steadily and we are proud of their progress. They take their lessons at school and are surrounded by other children who practice for hours each day and are ABRSM students. Their teacher keeps asking me if we want to get more aggressive about their lessons, but I think for now, while they are sill engaged and having fun, we'll just keep it casual. At this point, I doubt conservatory is in our future, but then, clairvoyance has never been my strong suit so we shall see.

I made them dress-up.  A lot of the other kids wore their school uniforms.

I also brought flowers...I was the only one.  Apparently, that's not a thing.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Starting Young

If you know me, you know my favorite pastime is going to the theater. When we live in the US, we always have season tickets somewhere, or even several somewheres. My very favorite theater performances are those of the musical persuasion. I love musicals. Love. Them. I can't help it, and I can't help but inspire (read force) my children to love them, too. And, so far, we seem to have been successful at accomplishing this goal. We put a musical on the stereo or while driving in the car and they sing right along. It makes my heart swell.

Since Caleb was born, we have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to introduce the children to the joy that is watching a musical live onstage. We took Caleb to see The Nutcracker a few years ago and we have been to see some community theater performances, or short children's theater productions, but never a full-fledged, all the trimmings, Broadway show.

Until this summer.

We were in London and there were several kid-friendly productions playing in the West End and we decided this was going to be our best opportunity for some time (most of the theatrical performances in Bejing are, not surprisingly, in Chinese). We selected a show they were familiar with, arranged for a babysitter for Claire, plotted our route on the Underground, and set off.

After a very hurried dinner at the Shake Shack (yum!), we dashed over to the theater with just enough time to snap a photo commemorating the evening, then scrambled inside to our very good (and very pricey - when did theater become so expensive?!) seats. The boys were enthralled. They loved every single minute and even wanted to hang out by the stage door afterwards to congratulate the actors. They have asked several times since when we can go to another performance -- they are hooked. Mission accomplished.

We all loved this show!

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Last First Haircut

Claire has needed a haircut for some time. But, we've had less than stellar success with haircuts in Beijing, and I didn't want her first one to be a total disaster. So, we waited. And waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, while we were visiting civilization for several weeks this summer, we got it done.

Our friends directed us to this FABULOUS kids hair cuttery complete with video games, themed chairs, individual and personalized movie screens, balloons, and, of course, the obligatory "you were so well-behaved, or maybe you weren't, but either way you get a treat for getting your hair cut" lollipop. We purchased the first haircut package (they had one! -- it included a certificate, picture, and keepsake lock of hair!), popped the pacifier in her mouth, and plopped our curious, but skeptical, child in a Lightning McQueen chair. They had a princess chair too, but she was adamant she sit in the "car cars" chair. She was very good. Or, she was just completely mesmerized by the movie playing in front of her. Either way, she didn't move, the cut was quick and painless, and the results are exactly what we were hoping for.

Before.
During.
Almost there.
After.
Success! She already needs a trim. But, this time I'm armed with a photo of what I want (thanks to the aforementioned package we bought) and the, likely misplaced, confidence that even our local "stylists" can manage just a trim. Fingers crossed. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Football

The boys played soccer, or more accurately football, this fall.  The format is a little different from what we are used to in the US.  Instead of practice during the week and a game on the weekend, this program meets only once a week and Daddy does not have to help coach (yea!).  It is very organized and each team has an English speaking and a Chinese speaking coach employed by the organization.  Half the practice focuses on skills and drills and then the latter half is devoted to friendly matches against teammates.  The classes are supposed to be divided by age, but since Isaac is half a head taller than most boys his age and a good many Caleb's age, my two ended up on the same team.  There are also match play teams that teach your child to be a super star in case their life goal involves a serious commitment to the game.  But, we are not likely to avail ourselves of that option.

The boys had fun playing and more than that, enjoyed showing off their expanding skill set during recess at school.  Caleb has asked to be signed up for next "season" and Isaac is still contemplating whether or not he is keen to receive more formal instruction in this sport.  He plays sports purely because he enjoys being with the other kids, but he is happiest engaged in more creative pursuits.  So, we'll see if winter soccer is in our future.







Friday, December 20, 2013

Touring China: #3 - Shanghai -- Happy Anniversary to Us!

In August we celebrated 10 glorious years of wedded bliss.  Seriously.  We are so happy being married to each other, it's almost nauseating, even for us.  People always marvel at how quickly we moved from veritable strangers to eternally together (7 months), but it was the easiest decision we've ever made.  Bar none.

We dashed off to Shanghai for a romantic weekend getaway to celebrate.  In spite of the oppressive and cloying heat we had a lovely and relaxing visit.  We took the high speed train and in no time flat (5 hours or so) we arrived at the massive train station on the outskirts of Shanghai.  We then proceeded to drive on Shanghai's famed elevated highways through the forest of skyscrapers that make up the city's skyline.  I'm sure Shanghai doesn't have as many massive concrete and steel edifices as New York or probably Hong Kong, but we drove through them for a solid hour and there were buildings on every side as far as we could see.

Immediately after checking into our hotel, Kenny booked a river cruise on the Yangtze.  It was still daylight when we shoved off giving us great views of the city in the setting sun.  By the time we disembarked the shoreline was alive with a rainbow of flashing neon lights, including the Bund, which is beautiful all lit up.  We took a taxi to our dinner destination, M on the Bund, a delicious surf and turf restaurant where we stuffed ourselves on rarefied delicacies followed by an enormous slice of pavlova.  Yum, yum, yum.

The next day we meandered around Shanghai stopping for some shopping, everything but Chinese food dining, a stroll through the French Concession, a visit to the world's largest and most collection of Chinese propaganda art posters (no pictures and the constant threat of being shuttered), and several visits to important sites in the history of China's communist party.  So romantic, no?  We also visited the Yu Gardens and Bazaar newly renovated in traditional Chinese architecture.  It was teeming with people and smells (mostly good) and we picked up a few trinkets for the kids and ate mochi ice cream, cookies, candy and other delicious offerings.  We were in Shanghai for less than 48 hours, but we squeezed in a lot of yummy food.

On our final morning we blitzed through the Shanghai Museum taking time to appreciate the impressive collections of jade, pottery and calligraphy.  The museum is really well done, and free, so the lines were long and the common areas crowded.  Surprisingly, many of the galleries were relatively empty.  I guess people were just looking for somewhere to escape the heat.  After the museum we raced back to our hotel, checked out, and jumped in a taxi trying to break the land speed record (our fault, we told him to hurry) before boarding our train home.  We were back in time to put the kids to bed having spent a truly delightful weekend away.  I'm not sure we'll go back with the kids.  There were things to see, but not tons for kids and there is plenty to see elsewhere.  Maybe if they finish Shanghai Disney while we're still in China we'll reconsider...

A new skyscraper in Shanghai.  We could them working on this all night and day long.
I Love Shanghai!
The view from our river cruise
The Bund, all lit up
Shanghai at night
The view from M on the Bund
This picture depicts those that were present when the Chinese Communist Party was officially created -- apparently there were a couple of others there as well, but they didn't stay true and have been written out of the historical record.  A security guard was not pleased with me when I took this picture, but there weren't any signs indicating I couldn't take photos, and surprisingly, he didn't make me erase the shot.
The Birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party -- right behind those doors
French Concession
Former residence of Zhou Enlai, the first premier of the People's Republic of China
Sun Yat Sen's former residence
Yu Gardens
Yu Bazaar
Shanghai Museum

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Song and Dance Man

Our bandwidth is insufficient to determine if the attached video will actually play.  But, if it does (I hope, I hope, I hope), you'll see Caleb (he's the blond who waves during the first few bars) "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" with verve.  I love when he demonstrates the "sentimental feeling" he gets from the season.  Just awesome!  Most of all, I love that he volunteered to show off his holiday moves.  He was the only boy, but he didn't care.  He just loves to sing and dance!

video

Disclaimer: This might only be suitable for viewing by grandparents,
proceed at your own risk.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Familiar Feeling of Failure

Tomorrow is Snuggle Up and Read Day at school.  The boys are so excited.  They get to dress in pajamas (not uniforms!), bring pillows and blankets, and share their favorite holiday books with their classmates and teachers.  They couldn't be more thrilled.  I thought, in honor of the day and in view of the continually dropping temperatures, it would be fun to make them each a pair of fun and fleecy pajama bottoms.  I've made pants before so I knew I could throw a couple of pairs together in just a few hours, all I needed was the fabric and some elastic.  Luckily, I had recently visited a nearby fabric district and knew exactly where I needed to go to purchase fleece and notions.  Or so I thought...

I gave myself a 3 hour window to run this errand.  I knew I was cutting it close, but I also knew exactly what I needed and where to get it so I was feeling confident.  First mistake!  Traffic was not great.  But, for a city of 24 million people, it was at least manageable.  It only took 45 minutes to get to my destination and I only had 2 almost accidents, pretty good start!  Then parking.  I found a semi-legal (or not) and almost large enough parking space and wedged myself in.  Sometimes having diplomatic plates and living in a country where traffic cops, or cops of any kind for that matter, are basically non-existent is nice.

Then it was off to select my fabric.  There was a spring in my step, a smile on my face and excitement brewing as I mentally composed my blog post about a successful venture that ended with delightfully warm pajama pants times 2.  I passed stall after stall looking for fleece.  I'd seen it the last time I visited, so I knew I'd find it.  During my quest I passed shops selling shirting and wool, corduroy and lycra, silk and broad cloth.  At last I found fleece.  A wall of samples in every color and print I could imagine -- HUZZAH!  I selected the two, okay three patterns -- I decided to make a pair for Claire, too -- I wanted and then got the owner's attention.  I asked the prices of the different prints, roughly $5 a meter, so cheap!  Then I asked for a meter of the first one.  Silence.  I asked again.  Silence.  Then perplexed silence from me -- it was like a play and I'd forgotten my lines.  Deep breath, one more time.  He cleared his throat, looked at another clerk and said, we don't have it.  Okay, no biggie, there are plenty of other great substitutes.  I asked for the next one.  Out as well.  And the next and the next and the next and the next.  ALL OUT.  ALL OUT?  All out.  My mind was reeling.  Why would they be on display if one couldn't buy them?  Why would he tell me the prices if he didn't have them?  Maybe he was lying.  Maybe he was lazy.  Maybe he just wasn't interested in helping me.  Stunned silence.  Defeated, deflated silence.  Starting to sense a less than positive outcome silence.  What do you have?  He gestured to a pile of bolts.  Navy, gray, black and some really depressing plaids.  This is all?  None of these others?  This is all.  Which do you want?

Which do I want?!?!?  None of these!  I want the cute flowers and the fun race cars and the ninjas.  I want the fruit and the baseballs and the space scene.  I want the stars and the hearts and the crazy stripes (which are harder to sew, but I'd be willing to take the extra time).  Those are the ones I want! 

ALL OUT!

I left.  No problem, I'd find other options elsewhere.  I still had plenty of time, success was still going to be mine.  I headed off this time with a slightly less springy step and a lot more skepticism.  But I was not completely forlorn.  One of the things I have learned about shopping in China is that every stall sells the same thing, so hope was still burning, just not as bright as before.  If you're at the pearl market, every vendor has what you want in every color and price point.  Want shoes?  Find your preferred pair one place and you'll find the same shoes in a hundred places.  If you desperately need that Louis Vuitton, they've all got it.  Not this time.  I walked in the bitter cold for another 45 minutes.  I found fur and satin and polyester and rayon and charmeuse and flannel and EVERYTHING else.  But, no fleece.  NO FLEECE!  I know what I want is somewhere in this massive city.  Everything is, if you know where to look.  IF.  I'll find the fleece street one of these days, but today was not that day.  Eventually, I faced the reality of my failure and gave up.  I drove an hour home in stop and go, mostly stop, traffic and selected some boring, but well-loved, pajama options from the boys' drawers for tomorrow.  And, they'll be just as happy as if I'd made them a new pair.  I'm the one who feels dejected.   

I have been an expat for 5+ years now.  And, in that time, I have gotten used to a few things that are constant, no matter where we have lived.  First, everything, EVERYTHING, takes a lot LONGER than you think it will and definitely that you want it to.  Even simple errands often turn into protracted, time-consuming events that don't always end the way you'd planned or hoped.  Second, change is constant and learning to adapt is key to your happiness.  And, finally, failure is a fact of life.  Today I was reminded of that, again.  I failed.  It was a simple task.  And I just couldn't do it.  In years past, I would have been really upset.  I would have raged and ranted.  But, I am getting used to this familiar feeling of failure.  I am getting used to keeping my expectations really low.  Some days everything goes swimmingly, even better than that, but often I run head long into my reality -- that I live a million miles away from a more convenient existence.  It's worth it, of course.  I know that.  But, even with the knowledge that we lead an exceptionally good life, sometimes under very trying circumstances, failure is still failure.
 

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