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.|
|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.|
|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.|