Friday, August 30, 2013

Yuelu Mountain and the Chinese Movie Theatre

We are starting to get the hang of some aspects of our life in China.  We just passed the one week mark and are pretty proud of ourselves for surviving this critical adjustment period.  Now, we only have 47 more weeks to go.  We seem to be picking up a handful of new words and phrases each day in Mandarin and will hopefully be able to get by even better a few months down the road.  Stacie is definitely studying the hardest.  She has a little notebook that she writes expressions in and then studies them throughout the day.  Then, she goes through the Chinese textbook at night after we put the kids in bed.  I wish I were as diligent as she is.  I usually just blog or watch tv (Netflix and Dish Network thanks to my brother, Eric), but I know that's not going to do much for my language skills. When the last season of Breaking Bad is over, I'll reassess my priorities.  Hopefully, I can find the time to do both.  We both have some apps on our phones that have proven to be critical.  One is called Hanping and it helps us translate English words into Pinyin and Simplified Chinese characters.  It also has a speaker icon that when pressed pronounces the word for you.  We also have Google Translate, which allows us to type English in full sentences and then translates them for you into Mandarin.  Stacie's phone (I'm not sure why mine doesn't) let's her say the sentence into the phone and it types the English text and translates it.  It's kind of a crutch for now, but we really pay attention to the words that we have looked up and try to learn them for next time.  The children are also doing well with their Chinese.  So far, they have had many opportunities to interact with people and to practice.  It certainly helps that we are quasi-celebrities here and can barely walk down the street without people coming up to us and wanting to take our picture and converse.  Even though we don't understand them very much, they are very kind and usually just tell us our children are beautiful or that we appear to be a very happy family.  We can recognize questions such as "Where are you from?" etc. and can reply that we are "Meiguo Ren" (Americans) and that yes, we do in fact have "Wu Ge Haizi" (five children). 

Today, we finally had the opportunity to climb Yuelu Mountain.  It is such a beautifully scenic spot and one of the more popular destinations in Changsha.  And, the entrance to the trail (more like a paved road) is only about 3 blocks from our apartment.  The mountain is so lush and green and has many different kinds of vegetation.  I knew Stacie would love this area and I was really looking forward to showing her this beautiful spot.  She's always been a nature girl and I knew the scenery would lift her spirits.  It's also good to get away from the honking horns and the constant threat of being run over by crazy drivers.  It was a much cooler day (high of 88 degrees) and we enjoyed our 2 1/2 hour trek up the mountain and back.  Lucy wanted to be carried most of the way, but the other kids did just great.  We went through about 9 water bottles in all.  The risk of dehydration is pretty good in this weather and we are trying to be careful.  When we reached the top, the view was tremendous.  We could see a large portion of the city of Changsha (which is just massive by the way), but we could also see spots of vegetation around the city.  It gave us a glimpse of what the terrain really looks like in our area and how things might appear had there not been so much urban development.  When we got home, we were just exhausted.  Luckily, we had cups of noodles (almost like our Ramen noodle cups in the United States).  We are becoming pros at boiling water to do our dishes, so making noodles was not a big stretch. 

Tonight, we were invited by my friend Ya Lun and a couple of her friends to the movies.  Ya Lun is the girl who was assigned to be my personal assistant last summer (I know that sounds weird to have a personal assistant).  She helped tutor me in Chinese and helped me to shop and get money from the bank when I needed it.  It was nice to introduce her to my family and to spend some time talking with her. We decided to go see Monsters University in 3D.  Last summer, I had the chance to see The Avengers and Men in Black 3 at the very  same Imax theatre and the movie was in English with Chinese subtitles at the bottom.  I found it annoying at first, but then I got used to it and was grateful to be able to watch these movies at all so far from home.  I assumed that this is what the kids would encounter when they went to Monsters University.  I even told Jeanie to expect some subtitles so that she wouldn't be surprised.  When we went into the theatre, the movie had already started because we were a little late.  We discovered that the movie was actually dubbed in Chinese.  Jeanie said "Daddy, you said this was going to be in English!"  I responded that she would just have to watch it anyway.  After about 10 minutes of getting used to Chinese voices for all these characters we know and love (the big void without John Goodman and Billy Crystal), we laughed and enjoyed ourselves immensely.  Ya Lun bought the kids popcorn (caramel since they don't have butter popcorn in China) and cokes.  Our kids don't drink caffeine, but it was one of those times we just said "the heck with it" and let them drink them anyway.  We worried they would be up all night, but I guess the Coke was no match for the exhaustion following the long hike up Yuelu Mountain.  Below are some pictures (and a couple of videos too) of our recent adventures.  The videos don't allow captions, but the first one is me filming a few seconds of the Chinese version of Monsters University.  The second video at the very bottom is the sound of the construction we have been dealing with at our apartment complex since we arrived.  I sure hope they are finished soon.  We lost our water for a few hours today, but it wasn't a big deal.

video 

Annie and Jeanie having fun with Ya Lun and her friends at the movies.

Sully and Mike Wazowski ain't got nothin' on Jeanie.

We pretty much try a new snack every time we go to the store.  These are peanut crackers with seaweed flavor.  When they first hit your taste buds, you aren't sure, but then they become addictive.

One of about 75 rests we took on the way up Yuelu Mountain.

These girls wanted to take their picture with Stacie.  It's not often they see such an American beauty.

Stacie practicing her Chinese with these young girls.  I didn't hear all of their conversation, but I think the girl on the left is shocked at the amount of Chinese profanity that Stacie knows.

Here we are at the top of Yuelu.  We don't yet know how to ask someone to take our picture or we might have got the whole family in this one. 

Another great view of the city of Changsha from the top of the mountain. This was a surprisingly clear day.  It's usually a bit hazy from the pollution. 

What's all the fuss about here?  Oh yeah...a tiny caterpillar.

The television tower at the top of the mountain.  You can see this thing from all over Changsha.  Seems like a lot of work for one channel that doesn't have anything good on it.

More people wanting to take their picture with those famous Steins. 

I guess Annie's orthodontist has a little contest to see who can take their picture with one of Andertson Orthodontics' t-shirts from the farthest place on earth.  I'm not sure how anyone is going to beat her.  We are literally on the opposite side of the world.  Even the North Pole is probably closer to Utah than we are right now (although I'm not sure how to confirm this).

Lucy being carried up the mountain by her mommy.  On the left side of the photo is a representation of the most common attire for men during this crazy heat.  I know there's that expression "When in Rome...," but I'm not quite ready to show off my body yet.

Ezra has this look that says "Dad, I know this was an open bench, but this sleeping dude is making me a bit uncomfortable."

Base of the mountain.

Stacie chopping vegetables for us to cook for dinner.  We finally expanded our one kitchen tool operation (the rice steamer) and bought a frying pan.  We are going to saute tonight.

This is such hard work.  I first wash the food off the dishes in the regular Chinese tap water.  Then, I boil hot water in the kettle and pour it all over the dishes and stack them up to dry.  Then, I pour boiling water on the dish rag and wipe the countertops.  Sheesh.  I won't complain about helping load the dishwasher when we get home that's for sure.

Family dinner.

Yes, we still make the kids do chores.  They are hanging their own laundry up to dry in the sun room.

Lucy loves to shop. Can't you tell?  Oh, and more people staring at us again.

The secret to Lucy's happiness in China is Oreo cookies.

Ready to check out.

The sidewalk leading from our apartment to the university. 

This road leads from the grocery store back to our apartment.  We walk one more block straight and then left.

video

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Annie's Birthday and the Tang Family




We have been walking just about everywhere because we can't all fit into a taxi and I would have to shell out a whopping 7 yuan every time we want to take the bus (about a dollar for the whole family).  We actually have taken the bus a few times, but it's kind of a pain to fish out all those one yuan bills and then keep the kids from falling all over the place when the bus driver speeds off like a crazy man.  So, everyone is a bit tired from walking around in this terrible heat and humidity.  Then, combine that with the jet lag and everyone is about dead every time we return to our apartment.  The other day when we had dinner with Martin Tang (see other blog post), Lucy and Jeanie zonked out sitting in their chairs during the meal.  We weren't even holding them and the time was only about 7 p.m., but they were wiped out.

Yesterday, we had a super fun day with Jeanie for her birthday and we really wanted to show Annie a good time as well.  Initially, she asked to go hike Yuelu Mountain, which is this lush green mountain very close to where we live.  Stacie and I talked her out of it because we worried it would be her last birthday if we tried to hike it in the hot weather.  We have been drinking a ton of water just trying to stay hydrated when walking around the city streets.  Instead of hiking the mountain, Annie decided she just wanted to go shopping.  We visited many stores along Lushan Road, which runs along campus.  Annie seemed to enjoy trying on all the clothes and looking for souvenirs for her friends back home.  On the way back to our apartment, we stopped to get another cake.  I told the family, "Wait here, I've got this covered" because Jeanie's cake was so easy to purchase.  However, the bakery didn't have the cake Annie wanted ready and so the bakery worker had trouble communicating to me that I needed to pay now, take my receipt, wait for the cake to be finished, and then respond to a call when the cake was done.  It was very difficult and I left frustrated by how little Chinese I can speak.  We did have some fun moments as a family on this particular excursion.  Ezra bought a pomegranate all by himself, Jean bought some grapes and was mad that she couldn't eat them until we had a chance to wash them with clean water, Nicolas bought a red army style cap (hopefully he isn't turning on me, although he has been watching some MSNBC lately).  Oh, Ezra bought a hat too that has built in sunglasses and a fan that is supposed to cool your face when powered by these little solar panels.  The hat didn't work and we didn't have time to go back and get our money refunded.  Ezra was so upset that it didn't function properly.  I guess he hasn't purchased too many Chinese goods from Wal-Mart lately or he would know better.   We also stopped along the way at a clothing store where Annie bought some pajamas and Stacie bought a couple of shirts that she thought would repel the sweat a little better.  The rest of us sat outside and waited.  So many people would walk by and stare at us.  Sometimes they would do a double take by glancing once and then jerking their heads back for a second look.  One really nice man kept staring for a long time and then proceeded to walk into a candy store.  He came out a few minutes later and gave all the kids some flavored yogurt cups.  He was probably staring so that he could count how many kids to buy for.

When we got home, we sang to Annie and ate cake.  Annie liked the cake for the most part, but I think she was a little disappointed that even the chocolate cake she chose had fruit inside.  I guess all the cakes in China have fruit.  Personally, I think they are better than the cakes we have in the U.S.  After cake, Sophia came over because we invited her to dinner with us.  She told us earlier in the day that the police would be coming to our apartment to inspect it and to ask us a few probing questions.  She said we didn't need to hang out at home and wait, but that she would call us when they were ready to come over.  When she arrived for dinner, I asked her why the police never came.  She explained to me that sometimes the police are lazy and they just have too much to do to interview every foreign expert.  She said that the police actually did file a report saying everything was fine with the Stein family even though they never talked to us.  I thought this was kind of disappointing because I wanted to have the experience of being interrogated by the police.  Oh well.  Maybe next time.

We decided to go to a barbecue place near campus that I had been to last year.  A man and his wife lay out a spread of skewers with different kinds of vegetables and meats.  You grab a tray, choose what kinds you want, and then take them over to the man at the grill.  Then, he grills them while you sit at these outdoor tables and visit.  Although we all got different items, some of the things represented were potato slices, hot dogs (which I thought tasted a lot like a churro), mantou (bread dough), beef sticks, eggplant, red bell pepper, meatballs,  and needle mushrooms). It was a bit spicy for Lucy and Jeanie, but everyone else seemed to love it.  Speaking of Lucy, she is having kind of a hard time adjusting to life in China.  Because she is young, outside of her routine, jetlagged, and overwhelmed by all the Chinese people wanting to talk to her and tell her how "Piao liang" (beautiful) she is, she closes off and either cries or buries her head in our chests when people approach.  I think she'll adjust soon, but we are trying to be patient with her in the mean time.  Stacie learned how to say "she's very shy" and I'm learning how to say "back off, mother scratcher" (I stole that Mormon profanity from my colleague, Matt Barton).

Today was pretty interesting.  Amy sent a student assistant and a driver to pick Stacie and I up at 8:30 a.m. to travel into downtown Changsha for a medical exam.  We had heard that the doctors are sometimes not too impressed with our American doctors and may want to do all of the exams over again that we had prior to coming to China.  This concerned us since we had had a physical, an eye exam, blood work, a chest x-ray, and an EKG.  We were also a little concerned leaving the children with Annie in a foreign country for a couple of hours.  Fortunately, Stacie and I both have cell phones and we have an extra one we use as a home phone.  Additionally, I'm not sure if you could tell this from the pictures of our apartment building, but every single window has bars on it.  Even the front door has an extra door with bars on it that closes with a big clank (almost like a prison door).  Nobody is getting in or out of our apartment without some explosives or possibly a spare key.  We took the long ride into the city, waited about 45 minutes while the student assistant showed the doctors our paperwork, and then we left.  I asked why we didn't get an exam and we were told that everything was "all good."Hmm...so why did we have to be there again?

After the doctor visit, the driver took Stacie back to our apartment and drove me to the university where I had to read and sign my contract.  It basically says I have to teach my classes, follow the laws in China, and groom myself.  While I was filling out the paperwork, Amy introduced me to the Deputy Director of the International Office.  His name is Richard Tang (no relationship to Martin Tang, the Director of the International Office).  I figure it must be a common name, like Smith is in the U.S.  He wanted to drive me to his apartment to meet his wife (Lily) and son (Joey).  They were very pleasant and indicated that they would like to have their son and some of his classmates at school get to know my children.  They also invited us to dinner later that night.   The afternoon was spent lounging around the apartment.  It was the first day we did virtually nothing for such a long stretch and it was wonderful.

That evening, the Tangs picked us up in a van to go to dinner at a fancy restaurant right off of the Xiangjiang River.  They had their family, but also a couple of children from Joey's class.  Their names were Yuki and Ariel.  They were such beautiful little girls and very sweet.  The kids (except Lucy) had a great time playing with them in the restaurant.  The food was wonderful and consisted of more exotic fish, balsamic pears, Chinese watermelon, a variety of different mushrooms, and other kinds of meat and vegetable dishes.  The kids didn't like it as much as the other meals (perhaps too many strange vegetables), but Stacie and I really enjoyed it.  Once we finished the meal, we walked out to a little playground area outside of the restaurant and the children all played while we visited with Richard and Lily.  I think we have started a pretty good friendship with them.  They talked of all of us going on a bike ride around the park, swimming, trading English and Chinese lessons for our kids, and other kinds of activities.  It seems like every Chinese person we meet is the nicest person we have ever met...until we meet the next Chinese person.  Stacie and I both felt that the generosity and kindness of these people is something we should really try to emulate in our own lives.

On the van on the way to dinner with the Tangs.

Some fun toys for the kids to play on.  Nicolas said: "Hey, I've seen those things in the Karate Kid."

Ariel (Left) and Yuki showing Jeanie how to make things out of these building blocks.  After dinner, they would give it to her as a gift.

Joe is showing Nicol and Ezra how to play with his Chinese toy.

Line to get in to see the doctor.

The doctor is in.

Chinese barbecue.

Annie is excited for her cake.

This cake was so good. The lighter brown parts are chocolate mousse.  Stacie thought the sugary nuts on top were the best.


Sophia gave Jean a cactus for her birthday the day before.

Taking a rest in the shade from the heat.  This is a quiet spot on the Hunan Normal University campus.

Nicol posing with the man who sold him his hat.

This is the guy who bought all the kids mini yogurt cups.

Ezra wrapped his present for Annie three or four times.  I can't remember exactly.

Nicol wasn't smart enough to wrap his present before coming like Ezra.  Either that or Ezra used ALL the wrapping paper.  Anyway, Nicol got creative and wrapped Annie's present in...yep you guessed it...a smelly sock.

Nicol's present to Annie was a pair of sunglasses with a fake mustaches that hangs down.

Our present to Annie.  Now, if we could only think of something she might want to take pictures of.

This was Stacie's best day in China so far.  We left the kids for an hour and wandered around the store by ourselves.  She had an opportunity to check things out without having to worry about the little ones.  She bought this bamboo plant she has in her hand. 




The Chinese know just the solution for keeping a teenager in check.

Ezra used his snap electronics kit to build a radio.  And, guess what?  It actually picked up a few Chinese radio stations.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What do you mean we don't have Internet?


It’s been 4 days since our last blog entry.  I intended to write more regularly, perhaps as often as once per day.  However, when we arrived at our new apartment, we did not have Internet installed.  Our main contact over here for dealing with “foreign faculty” issues, Liu Chenhui (aka Amy), indicated that she would have the Internet guys come over and install it on Monday (we arrived on Friday).  I began to feel the withdrawals immediately from not being able to access email, Facebook, Netflix, Dishnetworkanywhere.com, bank accounts, blogger (of course), and Skype.  We were just totally cut off and knew that our family back home would wonder if we arrived safely and how we were doing.  But, we had no way to reach anyone.   It’s now Monday and we should have Wi-Fi by the end of the day, but it just occurred to me that I don’t actually need the Internet to keep a journal of what has been happening with our family in China.  So, let me describe how things have been going since we left Incheon airport in Seoul.

The flight into Changsha was pretty pleasant and seemed incredibly short compared to the earlier 12 ½ hour flight from Vegas.  When we arrived, we were greeted by Amy (see above) and Sophia, an undergraduate student who has been assigned to be our personal assistant while we are here in China.  She was very sweet and certainly willing to answer any questions that we had.  Her English is very good and the family warmed to her fairly quickly.  We walked to the curb where arriving passengers were to be picked up.  Up pulls a pretty good size bus (although not like the buses Americans would picture).  They clearly called in the cavalry not knowing how much stuff would be brought by this family of seven and the Sorensen’s (our traveling companions) family of three.  We loaded all of the luggage into the front seats of the bus and we all sat toward the back.  Most of the kids sat on the very back seat and we moving around trying to get a good vantage point as we weaved our way through the streets of downtown Changsha.  They don’t really use seatbelts in China (as far as I can tell) and it was a little unnerving to the parents to see the kids jumping around so much in this bus that was swerving in and out of traffic.  But, we survived.  As you can imagine, it was quite fascinating to everyone to look out the window and see everything in Chinese characters.  Only every once in a while would we see anything in English.  It’s a bit disorienting to be thrust into a different culture and not know what anything means.  I just tried to imagine how many written words someone in America sees every day and how many of those words they can actually live without.  When we walk down the street, does it really matter that this is a phone store or that’s a store with musical instruments?  Probably not, so I try to think about that when I see all these Mandarin characters over here.  Some of the sights that the children thought were interesting were the people riding scooters (mopeds) wearing rain ponchos (did I mention it was pouring rain) and a man carrying a bunch of dead ducks on the back of his vehicle.  Evelynn and Lucy were fighting to see the ducks, but Annie was trying to get a picture for her blog, so I think they may have missed out.  They will see plenty of dead birds later, so I wasn’t particularly worried. 

We arrived at our apartment and unloaded our luggage.  We were very anxious to see where we would be staying.  We had anticipated for a long while what the arrangements would be because the Chinese hadn’t told us much about them except that we would probably be in a 3-bedroom apartment and that it would be furnished.  Well, it turns out the apartment exceeded our expectations and we were all initially pleased to have a place that was spacious enough for our needs and relatively clean.  The ally way leading up to our apartment and the stairwell were kind dark and reminded me a little of the movie Saw, but once inside we could see the walls were clean, the floors were tile and wood mostly and that we had beds and couches to sit on.  There were some things that immediately needed some attention before we could be comfortable.  First, one of the bedrooms had two sets of bunk beds.  Sophia kept telling us that this bedroom was for the four little kids and that they second bedroom was just for Annie.  They were kind of insistent that Annie should get her own room.  We found out that Amy and Sophia had spent a great deal of time assembling the bunk beds for us.  They weren’t here when the last foreign teacher occupied this apartment, so we were really flattered that they went to so much effort to make us comfortable.  It was a really nice gesture on their part and made us feel so welcome.  Unfortunately, the bunk beds just had a piece of plywood on each one.  So, we had to figure out how to get mattresses, sheets, blankets, and pillows for everyone before the end of the day.  

In terms of the rest of the apartment, there was a master bedroom and bathroom for Stacie and I, a small kitchen, and an extra bathroom for the kids.  The kitchen does not have a stove or a microwave.  Those things aren’t common in China.  We do have an electric hot plate, which we use to heat up water.  The water here cannot be consumed because of bacteria so everything we ingest has to be boiled or purchased (bottled water).  We bought a big kettle and we use the hot plate to boil water.  Then, we use this water to wash our vegetables, to rinse our dishes, to fill up our drinking water bottles, and to brush our teeth.  We can shower with the Chinese water, but I personally try to make sure my mouth is closed until I get out and dry off.  It can be a complicated process, but we are getting used to it.  Another aspect of the apartment that is a little difficult is having to plug in and turn on the hot water heater every time we want to bath or use hot water.  We have one water heater that runs the kitchen and main bathroom and another for the master bathroom.  So far, the master bathroom water heater doesn’t work and so we haven’t been able to use that bathroom for showering.  Stacie would tell you the most difficult part so far is having a washing machine that is broken.  Amy is sending a maintenance man today to fix it and so we are hopeful that we won’t have to wash our clothes by hand.  We already have to dry them in the sunroom and it would be hard to do everything by hand.  The washer would certainly be a time saver for us. 

Toward the end of the day, I went with Sophia and the Sorensens to Wal-Mart across the Xiangjiang river.  I desperately needed to get bedding for the family and some towels so that we could shower.  The carts at Wal-Mart were about half the size of a cart in America and I was trying to buy six mattress pads (no mattresses unfortunately) and all the bedding.  I gathered everything up (I’m going to skip this part, but it took hours to find everything) and ended up filling four carts.  I needed Jay, Sophia, myself, and a really nice Wal-Mart worker to push this stuff out to the street so I could load it in a taxi.  By the time I shoved it all in the taxi’s trunk, front seat, and back seat, there was barely room for me to squeeze in.  Jay had to ram the door shut just to get me in.  It was crazy trying to do all this with small carts and a taxi.  I’m used to throwing things in the minivan and driving home.  Not too complicated. 

On the second day (Saturday), we all woke up a little jet lagged.  I think Ezra and Nicolas woke up about 3 a.m.  All of us are slowly working our way back to a normal schedule, but so far we seem to be going to bed very early; the kids about 7 p.m., Stacie about 9, and me about 10.  Then, we all wake up early.  We took those herbal jet lag pills during our travel and they are probably helping it to not be worse.  It seems manageable so far.  Anyway, on Saturday we pretty much cleaned our apartment from top to bottom, shopped for little things we needed, and went to lunch at one of my favorite places from my last trip to China.  The restaurant is owned by a wonderful lady named Liu Jie and her husband.  Chance and Brenna (the students I met in China last summer) became really close with Liu Jie and wanted me to deliver a letter with some pictures of their new baby.  So, we went to her restaurant for lunch and she was absolutely delighted to see us.  She took the Sorensen’s baby, Eva, around the restaurant showing her off to everyone and fed us an insane amount of food.  The kids and Stacie loved everything we ate (personal favorite was Guo Ba Rou, which is sweet and sour pork).  When we finished eating, we asked for the bill and Liu Jie refused to let us pay.  We couldn’t believe it.  It was a TON of food.  I told her we would treat her next time and that we really appreciated her generosity.  

Most of our weekend was occupied by organizing our apartment, walking around the streets near our home, and trying to figure out how to feed ourselves every day without having to eat every single meal out at a restaurant.  The kids and Stacie enjoy talking to people on the street.  We are drawing a great deal of attention as we thought we might.  We are quasi-celebrities as people seem to point as us and say things in Chinese.  However, many people actually come up to us to ask us questions.  We can usually understand the main parts of what they are asking and have mastered the art of saying "Wo men you wu ge haizi" (we have 5 children), which elicits expressions of shock.  When, we were in the mall the other day, someone walked past us and started singing "do re mi fa so la ti." The kids have seen the movie, so they know the reference.

 I think everyone would agree that the highlight of our weekend was when we were invited by Martin Tang (the Director of the Office of International Exchange and Cooperation) to dinner with he and his wife.  Martin is the one who initially invited us to come to China and he is an important person on campus.  We had a wonderful conversation with them over dinner and the food was extraordinary.  Some of the dishes that I recall eating are lamb ribs, goose, pork ribs, swordfish, dragon fish, rabbit skewers, soups, breads, and different kinds of green vegetables.  It was pretty exotic compared to what we are used to eating back home.  Martin talked about his various travels, particularly in the United States and we talked at length about our family backgrounds.  It was really interesting.  He had many questions and I found myself not being able to answer many of them.  One of them involved the elevation of the Wasatch Mountains.  I have no idea!  During the course of the dinner, I was trying to be receptive to certain social cues.  I know many of the rules, but still find myself breaking them from time to time.  For example, I did point across the table with my chopsticks.  This is considered to be very rude, but I only did it momentarily (like a baseball batter partially swinging the bat, but pulling back at the last second).   I also mentioned to Martin that I once ate a Chinese food and realized it was a decoration and not edible.  He corrected me by telling me it was edible and quite delicious.  So, I basically told him I thought this Chinese dish was inedible.  Not my finest moment.  I also wore a nicer shirt to dinner because Martin wore a tie last time I visited China and had lunch with him.  This time, he showed up in a polo shirt and shorts.  So, there is a certain flexibility sometimes with the social etiquette.  One rule that doesn’t seem to change is the assigned seating based on hierarchy.  Martin sat at the head of the table, I sat at his right, and Jay Sorensen sat at his left.  Before we ate, I offered Martin and Amy a gift, which is very traditional in China.  We brought them dream catchers, a description of the origins of this Native American symbol, and a few postcards of Utah.  Unlike last time, they did not have a gift in return.  Of course this is not a big deal.  I would rather have a gift for them and be safe than to have them offer me a gift and not have anything in return. 

Today (Monday) was Evelynn’s  6th birthday.  The day was kind of boring for her at first.  I had to meet with Amy to go over my contract and to sign up for a bank account so that they could deposit my paychecks.  I will be paid once per month 6400 RMB (about $960).  I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s not that bad.  In the afternoon, we were able to get her a beautiful Chinese cake with whip cream and fruit (kiwi, peaches, strawberries, dragonfruit).  I don’t think she liked it much, but Ezra ate 3 pieces of it and everyone else seemed to enjoy it.  I asked her if she liked the cake and she said, “Yes, but sometimes I’m just full.”  About 20 minutes later, she was eating some other kind of candy.  After the cake, we took the bus across the river and went down what the locals call “the walking street.”  I think it’s one of the older streets in Changsha and has a bunch of really interesting stores and food places.  I had exchanged the children’s money that they had been saving all year for Chinese yuan and they had a ball looking for things to spend it on.  Stacie enjoyed looking at some of the more ornate things and I could see her thinking she might like to come back again and really buy some things.  We didn’t have as much time as we hoped because we had to meet the maintenance man to fix our washer and water heater (which he did).  Hooray for hot showers and clean clothes (even if we have to let them dry for 3 days before we can wear them.  Ok, that’s about it so far.  Tomorrow, I will report on Annie’s birthday adventure.  She wants to get a more chocolatey (is that a word?) cake than Evelynn got and also wants to hike up Yuelu Mountain.  We sure miss everyone and wish you could be here…to take our place.


Wait...how much are we spending?


Lucy loves these tiny watermelons.  And, they are bright red on the inside.  Really delicious.



Cleaning our new apartment.



Just hanging out.



Evelynn in her new bed. 



The four younger kids seem to be doing just fine in the one room. 



Dining area in the main room.  That's the kitchen off to the right and the main bathroom near the front door.  The tv has been moved out of the way altogether since nobody wants to watch China Central television.  I showed the kids the huge tv tower at the top of Yuele Mountain and Annie asked: "Why do they need such a big tower for one channel?"  Good question.



Master bedroom for Stacie and I.




Kitchen.  We use the hot plate in the corner to heat up water in the kettle.  We use that to clean the dishes and to fill our water bottles.


Fancy dinner with Martin.  That's Katie Sorensen on the left trying the soup, Martin Tang's wife (Lucy) in the middle, and Martin's assistant Amy.  That pitcher in the middle is some kind of bean juice (very sweet) and the dish on the left is the goose.  They bring everything out in stages, so we are just beginning our feast here. 

Jay and I aren't wasting any time.



Evelynn is so excited to open her birthday card from Uncle Garrett.



Good shot of the apartment. 



Can't remember what she is carrying, but you see this technique often.



The walk down the ally from the main street toward our apartment. 



Outside of our apartment.  Most places aren't much to look at from the outside. 


View from the entrance to our apartment building going the other way toward the main road (Xingmin Road).



Evelynn and I went for a stroll with her daddy on the morning of her birthday to get her cake.  Behind her is the entrance to Yuelu Mountain and to the left of that is the most wonderful little bakery where we purchased her cake. 



Beautiful...and the cake too.



Close-up shot of the cake.  I bought a candle with a 6, but had nothing to light it with.



Lucy is sporting a look common in China during the summer with their 125% humidity. 




Here we are at the old walking street.



Stacie's first crowded bus ride with the kids.  She was nervous, but it turned out just fine.  You really have to hold on during these rides because the drivers are CRAZY!



Evelynn got some pretty good stuff for her birthday.  There's an umbrella with a Panda face, a mirror with a blue flower on top, an instrument that seems to be a flute piano hybrid, a bracelet, and rabbit pencil, and a small toy shark that grows big if you leave it in water for three days.