Thursday, October 16, 2014

DIY Health Care

Last month, for the second time since moving to China, I got a call from the kids' school informing me that Caleb had hit his head and probably needed a trip to the emergency room.  The first time they called he had hit a header on a soccer ball too close to a chain link fence and collided with the fence.  He bled and bled, it was a head wound after all, and needed a staple to close the gash.  This time, he stood up under an open cabinet and caught the corner with his forehead.  Again, lots of blood.

I've lived outside the US for several years now, and health care varies.  In major cities you can always find highly trained doctors who inspire confidence, usually speak English (very impressive and appreciated), and clearly know what they're doing.  But, there just isn't the same level of cleanliness that I am used to in America, and that makes me nervous.  When nurses touch open wounds without gloves or even any evidence of having washed their hands, my whole body cringes.  Of course, we say something, we demand gloves and instruments that come out of sealed packages while we watch.  We make them change the bedding and ask repeatedly for everyone to wash their hands.  I'm sure they hate us.  But, the last thing I need is for one of us to contract some sort of random disease or even a staph infection because we didn't speak up. The whole attitude towards disinfection is just a little too cavalier for my tastes so the prospect of going to the hospital is always unsettling.

That said, the folks at Beijing United Hospital are very friendly and courteous.  We have never waited more than a few minutes and our latest visit wasn't even that long.  Caleb was already in the system so we didn't even have to do paperwork.  In fact, the same doctor was on call and he remembered giving Caleb his first set of staples.

Now, I don't know first hand, but apparently, getting staples in one's head hurts. A LOT! Before I even arrived at the school to pick him up, Caleb was already panicking about getting staples, again. I told him it was possible he wouldn't need staples and that no matter what happened, I would be there the whole time to hold his hand.

Turns out he was right, he needed staples and not just one, two this time. The doctor had initially said one would be sufficient and then when he put in the first staple, decided a second was called for.  I'm not sure if Caleb was more angry over the pain or about being lied to.  Either way, he was none too thrilled.  But, then it was over and he got a piece of cake for his pains and was all smiles again by the time I dropped him back at school...of course I took him back, it was only a couple of staples and he had a piano lesson that afternoon!

2 staples, ouch!
All done and ready to be discharged.  With that net on his head he reminds me of an asian pear.
As the doctor was explaining Caleb's post-staple care, he indicated we needed to return to the hospital the following week to get the staples removed.  Oops.  Big problem with that, we were going to be in Burma the following week.  And, if he didn't get the staples out he couldn't swim.  Ugh, another problem.  For 5 days of our trip we were scheduled to be enjoying the sand and surf in a beach front cottage.  We planned to do A LOT of swimming.  Caleb was devastated, as was I.  But, the doctor was wholly unconcerned.  He said something to one of the nurses who stepped outside for a moment and then returned with this:


What is this, you ask?  Well, it's a staple remover, of course.  He handed it to me and told me to take Caleb to a clinic in Rangoon and ask someone (he wasn't really concerned that it be a doctor) to remove the staples.  I must have looked skeptical at the prospect of taking my child into a medical facility in Rangoon.  Now, at this point, I had never been to Rangoon, but in retrospect, I'm pretty sure my skepticism was well-founded.  So the doctor said, "Actually, you could remove the staples yourself, but if the wound starts to bleed, you'll want someone around to help with that."  WHAT?  I can remove his staples myself?  Um, yeah, I don't think so.  That was not going to happen, though, I suppose if push had come to shove and the clinics in Rangoon were not going to work we could have Skyped one of our physician friends in the US to walk us through the procedure.  But, instead, on a friend's suggestion, we decided to call the medical unit at the US Embassy in Rangoon and ask them to take the staples out for us.

Me: Hello. My husband is posted to the US Embassy in Beijing, and we are coming to Burma on holiday.  My son has two staples in his head that he needs to have removed, could you do that for us? (Please say yes, please say yes, please don't make me go into a clinic in a just this side of developed country!)

US Embassy Rangoon: Sure. (They needed some information, of course, but dealing with them was a breeze!)

Me: Wonderful.  Is there anything else you need? (The obligatory phrase that means you're doing me a favor, a big one, and thank you just doesn't seem adequate.)

US Embassy Rangoon: Actually, I'm not sure we have the appropriate tool for removing staples, but we can probably track one down before you arrive.  (Seriously!?!?!)

Me: Oh, not to worry, I'll be bringing a tool with me. (Of course I am, doesn't everyone travel around with their own sterilized staple remover? No? Hm, surprising.)

US Embassy Rangoon: Um, okay, that works, see you on Friday. (I guess if my BYO staple remover is good enough for them, who am I to argue?)

And, on Friday, Kenny and Caleb went to the US Embassy in Burma, and in a matter of seconds the staples were out and minutes later they were on their way. Just another average day in the life of the expatriate.

Staples out and all smiles.  He was swimming fewer than 24 hours later.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Great Day on The Great Wall

One of the things I have wanted since before arriving in China is a picture of the 5 of us on the Great Wall.  The first time I visited the Great Wall, I was bowled over.  It is beyond impressive.  It is immense and imposing and incredible.  It is a sight to behold.  My first visit was on a nasty day, one of the only days it snowed last winter.  It was cold and gray from pollution and bad weather.  But, still, the Wall was not disappointing.  I climbed on it despite it being slippery and treacherous.  There were no warning signs or park rangers, you climbed at your own risk.  I was with my dad and he was determined to say he had climbed the Great Wall, and so he did.  But, I didn't want to take the kids on a day like that, they would have been miserable, all of us would have been miserable.

The Wall is only about 40 miles from downtown Beijing, but in traffic, that 40 miles can take hours.  And, as you might imagine, it is a popular tourist attraction, and not just for foreigners.  Just like Americans, Chinese citizens come from far and wide to see the beauties and wonders their country has to offer.  And, just like in America, during the holidays, the number of tourists goes up exponentially.  On Chinese holidays, millions, literally, of Chinese converge on Beijing visiting all the famous (and not so famous) sites.  You don't want to be anywhere near a tourist attraction on a Chinese holiday -- we've done it, we know.

After we moved to Beijing, I realized I didn't just want a family photo on the Wall.  I wanted a photo of just us, no random tourists in the background.  I wanted the photo on a day with blue sky and  when the air was breathable.  After our first winter here, I realized with those parameters getting a picture was going to be more than a little challenging.

However, I was determined, so we made a plan.  We decided the next time the stars aligned (i.e. good weather, low pollution, not a weekend or a local holiday, coolish (because you are completely exposed to the elements up there), and, if we were really lucky, a US holiday so Kenny was off), we'd take the kids out of school, brave the traffic, and, hopefully, get our picture.

Yesterday was Columbus Day and much to my delight all the elements needed for a great day on the Great Wall came together.  The kids played hooky, we made sandwiches, donned jackets, filled water bottles, lathered up with sunscreen, and off we went.

It was an absolutely perfect day.  Perfect.  In fact, I don't think we could have asked for a better day.  The sky was blue and clear - we could see all the way to central Beijing!  There were some tourists, but not too many.  The air pollution was almost non-existent, a miracle in and of itself since it had topped 450 the three days before.  The traffic was reasonable and it only took us 90 minutes to reach our destination.  And, most miraculous of all, the kids had a great time and were really cooperative.  It was Claire and Isaac's first trip to the Wall and our first as a family.  After living in China for 21 months, I finally got my picture, and then some.

We took the cable cars up -- yes, we're wusses, we did not climb. 
Beautiful, right?
So happy to be there.
Even Claire was smiling for the camera. 
Look at that sky!
Family photo on the Great Wall of China.  Huzzah!
It was just chilly enough for jackets.
This part of the wall is called Mutianyu.  It has been restored and set up to cater to visitors.  Next time,
if there is a next time,  I think we'll try to hit a section of the wall that has not yet been restored. 
Just us and the Great Wall.
My kiddoes enjoying an unexpected day off.
Lots of fun entrances and passageways to explore.
It goes on and on.
Come visit, we'll take you to see it! 
Another great view.
Hanging out on the Great Wall.
We took the Toboggan down, super fun!
That's us on the Great Wall of China - WOW!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pinewood Derby 2013

Caleb participated in his first Pinewood Derby last fall.  Watching Caleb (and, truth be told, Kenny) agonize over the design and weight and aerodynamics of his car was fun.  Caleb enjoyed every step of the process from getting his block of wood, to looking up all the zillions of possible designs and secrets to speed available on the world wide web.  He ecstatically chose paint colors and glued on weights.  He gleefully attended the weigh-ins, which seemed to occur inexplicably frequently and last forever.  And, then, best of all, he went to the race itself and happily watched each car zip down the (very fancy, at least compared to the pinewood derbies I attended with my brothers) track.  

Sadly, his car did not perform well.  

He came in dead last.  Of EVERYONE.

But, he was a trooper and was awarded the Sportsmanship trophy, a pretty nice consolation prize.  This summer when we visited what turned out to be the largest scouting store in the world!, Kenny bought a couple of fancy tools to improve on last year's performance.  I think Kenny took it a lot more personally than Caleb did that the(ir) car did so poorly.  Luckily for Kenny, this year he'll have two chances to show what he has learned since his (I mean, Caleb's) car crashed and burned so miserably last year.  Stay tuned! 

 Ready for the race to start

 All the entries.

 Caleb's den's cars -- his is the purple one with gold stars

 Pretty cool track, huh?

Such a good sport!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Manly Beach

Last fall we took a trip to Australia.

Our first stop was Manly Beach where we stayed for three days and enjoyed a little slice of beach life.


Having grown up on the North Shore of Oahu, this is a lifestyle with which I am very familiar. People walking around barefoot wearing all manner of beach attire. Buggy boards and surfboards strapped to car roofs, bicycles, motorcycles, and backs. Salty breezes and perpetually sandy feet. Endless applications of sunscreen and the inevitable burn in spite of your vigilance. Swimsuits that never quite dry between wearings and sand in your hair no matter how many times you wash it. Delicious food that tastes all the more scrumptious after a long day of sun and surf. Sand castles and crab hunting, napping on the beach, and good old-fashioned fun.

The first day we arrived was overcast and a little chilly,
so we visited the local aquarium.

We saw sharks and sea turtles and rays and eels and endless varieties of fish.

We watched the penguin show,

and hung out with the mermaids.

The next day, the sun came out. Huzzah! We donned our swimsuits, grabbed our pails and shovels, and headed to the beach for a relaxing day of

sand 

and surf

and a dip in the pool afterwards just because we could.

It was so refreshing being in a place where the air (and everything else) was clean.  The people were so friendly and everything was easy and calm.  We spent a lot of time outside just breathing deeply and trying to rehabilitate our lungs after prolonged exposure to the polluted air in China.  The kids played at the local playground and ran everywhere.  Every way we looked we were met with gorgeous, pristine scenery.  It was such a relaxing and much needed escape.

This was the view from our hotel room.  Perfection. 

These free filtered water stations were everywhere in Manly. Such a great idea. We had forgotten that there are still places in the world where water not in a plastic bottle is potable!

Our last evening in Manly we took in the coast.

 
First, we went to this art museum built right on the shore featuring the work of many local artists.

Then we ate dinner at this waterfront restaurant.

After dinner, we went for a walk along the coast. We saw beautiful plant life, like this stunning bird of paradise. 

We didn't see any penguins on our walk, but these signs were everywhere, so we were on the lookout. 

We climbed the rocks and trees. 

 We explored the tide pools.

We watched the sunset and just soaked in the beauty of it all.  Our time in Manly was a great start to what turned out to be a nearly perfect vacation.

Friday, September 19, 2014

12 months on

We arrived in China on January 28, 2013 (Caleb's birthday).  The day after we arrived, our new friends* took us out to dinner at a local dumpling place.  I don't have any pictures from that night but I remember a few highlights.

1.  It was freezing.  Freezing. And, we were walking outside for what seemed like forever.  It wasn't, but it was cold and we had no idea where we going, so it felt interminable. They led us through a maze of alleys, constantly cautioning us to watch where we stepped. There were hoards of people swirling around, despite the bitter chill. And the pollution was so bad you could taste the air. Not our best introduction to life in Beijing.

2. We were deliriously tired.  Isaac even fell asleep over his plate. Sound asleep.  I remember feeling more exhausted than I had ever felt and the burden of trying to make conversation with utter strangers was almost more than I could bear.

3. The food was good (though not all of it was immediately recognizable) and everyone (except Isaac) ate, but it was even freezing in the restaurant (we never took our coats off) and all I could think about was getting back to our new, climate-controlled home and our borrowed beds and linens.

4. Learning Chinese, even a little bit, was going to be HARD. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore and all sense of the familiar was gone. As it happens, that wasn't entirely the case, but at that moment, it felt like we were a million miles from anything and everything we knew.

1 year later, we commemorated our arrival in China with a meal at the same restaurant. It has become one of our favorite restaurants and we have been there many times. They specialize in dumplings, in hundreds of varieties, and the kids could eat dumplings all day long every day if given the option so they love it. 

We were much wiser on this visit than on our first visit and knew the restaurant was just a short walk from our apartment building. We knew to ask for an interior table nowhere near the door so we could take off our coats and eat in relative comfort. We knew to bring spoons and forks for our children who aren't quite proficient with chopsticks, yet. We knew what to order and definitely what not to order. And, we knew to remember to bring the camera.

We can't believe we have been in China for a year already (actually, as I write this, 
we are closing in on 2 years!).  


Claire loves her rice!



One of their claims to fame is colored dumplings. The filling can be anything you want and everything tastes better wrapped in orange, green, or purple! 


Two very happy boys!


Come visit, we'll take you to eat here. You'll love it!

*One of the services the US Embassy provides each new family is a sponsor. The sponsor is available to answer questions and provide perspective and advice in advance of your arrival at post. They make your beds and unpack the temporary kitchen supplies and bedding supplied by the embassy and they arrange your first meal, whether it is home cooked, take-out, or a trip to a neighborhood establishment. We were lucky enough to be assigned really helpful sponsors who did us the great favor of introducing us to one of our very favorite places to eat anywhere in the world.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Easter Photo(s)

Getting all three of the kids to look at the camera at the same time with decent expressions is nearly impossible.  Thank goodness for digital cameras.  We take shot after shot in the hopes that one will be a keeper.  Holiday pictures generally tend to be the worst, probably because I really want them to come out great and usually there are carefully selected outfits involved.  Easter this year was particularly challenging, as evidenced below... 


90% of the time, Claire is the culprit


for example


now she's just toying with me


and here, she just up and walked away


and then decided she'd be happier on her own


Caleb does everything he can to get the other two to cooperate, 
look at that perfect posture!


Claire look at Mommy, Claire look at Mommy, Claire look at Mommy, 
Claire, Claire, Claire...


responding to Kenny's attempts to get her attention


If Claire plays around too long, we inevitably lose Isaac, by this point he was done


The best of the bunch.  3 smiling faces looking in the sameish direction.  
Not perfect, but we'll take it.  Next up, 4th of July. 
 

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