Thursday, December 17, 2009

A spiritual journey (to the office)

This morning I went down to meet my regular driver who takes me to work. It's always just him and me in the car.

But today when I got to the garage the driver was standing there, and next to him was a Buddhist nun. She was wearing orange robes and a brown cloak, and her head was shaved. I thought, "Wow, I've never seen a Buddhist nun in the garage before!"

The driver and I got into the car and to my surprise, so did the nun.

Now when you stand or sit before a buddhist monk or nun, I think you want to make every effort to be as calm and serene as they are.

Which was hard for me because there was this one thought swirling around and around in my head - "Why is there a nun in the car?!"

i never did get an answer to that question. Maybe my driver is Buddhist and he was supporting a member of the clergy since they can't buy bus tickets or subway tickets. But it seems like he would have given me some sort of heads up.

Anyway I decided to just let it wash over me. (Very zen-like, don't you think?)

i did however get answers to some other interesting questions.

Q: How long have you been a nun?

A: 4 years.

Q: How did you get introduced to Buddhism?

A: I met a Buddhist monk when I was in college and he became my teacher. After several years I decided to become a nun.

Q: Do Buddhist nuns take a vow not to get married and have kids?

A: Yes, that's right.

Q: How did your parents take the news when you told them?

A: At first they were upset but to their credit, after a couple of months they were fine with it. Now they support me. It was harder for my fiance but even he came to accept my decision in time. He was Buddhist too.

Q: You were engaged?

A: Yes, but I broke off the engagement 12 days before my wedding.

Q: How can I learn to meditate?

A: I can teach you. Over email, if necessary.

She has a gmail account. Which suddenly made Buddhism feel much more accessible to me.

Sometimes I blog about why life in China is hard or confusing for me. But at the same time I love my life here because it's always interesting. I just never know what's around the corner but I can be sure I'm going to learn something every day.

This morning was a perfect example.


Postscript: I checked this website to see what kind of protocol one should follow when talking with a Buddhist nun. Sure enough, asking them why they're in the car would have been rude. I was also rude to put on lip gloss while I was talking to her.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Worst Parent-Teacher Conference EVER

Last Friday Audrey came home with a notice that there would be a parent-teacher conference on the following Tuesday.

This is the first thing that I hate. Why can't the school can't decide more than 2 days in advance that we all have to drop everything and be there in the middle of the afternoon? And in my case, dropping everything was impossible since I was signed up to teach a communications class for Sun. So we agreed Buddy would attend.

Now I have to tell you that in China, parent-teacher conferences consist of the teacher, you, and the parent of every other student in your child's class. So you've got 40 parents sitting in their kids' desks, and the teacher talking to them. And normally that's all it is - the teacher just talks to the parents. Tells them what they should be expecting this year, what they should look out for, etc.

But this parent-teacher conference was to be different.

Audrey's homeroom teacher, a 40-something male Math teacher, decided to give feedback to each parent about his or her child's intelligence. He went around the room parent-by-parent, and told them if their child was 'smart' or 'not that smart'. About 10% of the kids were 'smart' and about 25% were 'not that smart'. As for the other 65% it's anyone's guess. Maybe they're average. Maybe he has no opinion. Maybe he wasn't really paying attention.

Apparently his goal was to set the parents' expectations appropriately, so that they wouldn't be surprised or disappointed when their child's grades started to fall in later years. For that notion, I have 3 words: self fulfilling prophecy.

And where, you might ask, did my progeny fall on this teacher's scale?

'Not that smart'.

I am not even going to dignify his evaluation with a response.

Buddy told me the whole story that night after the kids went to bed. He was just as upset as I was. And God love him, he protested heavily against the teacher's judgment. To the extent that one of the other parents gently prodded him, probably after Buddy had been protesting for several minutes, that at a parent-teacher conference it might be interesting to hear what the *teacher* had to say.

I prayed for one thing as I fell asleep that night. "God please let the other parents show good judgment tonight. Please don't let them go home and tell their kids what they heard today. Please let these awful indictments stay in that parent-teacher conference, among the parents and teacher."

But God had other plans for me. Because sure enough, the next night at dinner Audrey said, "Why did you guys keep that secret from me?" We played innocent as best we could. But we're lousy actors and we were most certainly not innocent.

"What secret, honey?"

"That I'm not that smart."

Yep, sure enough. One of the parents told their kid, and the kid told Audrey the next day.

And the worst part is, she asked us why we didn't tell her that she isn't that smart. NOT - why didn't you tell me my teacher said I'm not that smart. But - why didn't you tell me I'm not that smart.

It breaks my heart. And I'm having a hard time controlling my anger at this teacher. I wish you guys could have seen this post before I deleted a whole bunch of words. It was spicy.

We've considered talking to the principal but a) he probably doesn't care and b) the damage is done.

If you have ever had a worse parent-teacher conference than this please tell me about it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

So much for the green revolution

Grant drew this picture at school yesterday but his teacher wouldn't accept it when he tried to turn it in. Do you see the reason?

That's right, the tree trunk should be brown, not green. And thus, she rejected his picture.

Grant told me that when his teacher rejected his picture, he said, "小气!"

That is to say, "I'm only six and I can see how incredibly petty you're being."

I asked him if he seriously said "小气!" to his teacher.

He said he said it in his heart.

Bless your heart, Grant. I love your picture and am forever immortalizing it on my blog.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I just called to say "Put on a sweater"

guan, v.: 1. to care for someone; to tell them what to do; to tell them what not to do; to tell them what to do after they finish doing what they're not supposed to be doing; 2. a common expression of love from Chinese parents to children.

Example: If I didn't love you I wouldn't guan you.

Today we were at my in-laws' for dinner and my father-in-law started guan'ing Grant for something. (I didn't completely understand what he was saying, but guan'ing is easily recognized even if you don't speak Chinese.) This went on for several minutes until my mother-in-law called from the kitchen to tell her husband to stop guan'ing Grant so much. She told him that if he guan's the grandkids all the time then his guan'ing will lose its meaning and the grandkids will grow to resent him to boot.

He told my mother-in-law that she shouldn't guan him when he's guan'ing the grandkids because that hurts his credibility and undermines everything he's trying to do.

Never one to miss an opportunity to be a PITA, Grant chimed in and said that his grandpa shouldn't guan him all the time because he can't hear the TV over all the guan'ing.

Poor thing. Because we all know that if you miss a single word of the dialogue in "Ultraman" you are lost for the rest of the show. Ultraman is an old Japanese show, where a plastic action figure fights with a plastic dinosaur, or a paper mache volcano, or a styrofoam space ship, or a tinfoil robot.

So essentially this is what we had.

Grandpa guan's grandson. Wife guan's husband. Husband tells wife not to guan him. Grandson tells Grandpa not to guan him.

Meanwhile I was laughing so hard I nearly choked on a dumpling.

And no one else appreciated the humor in the situation.

Except, hopefully, some of you out there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I realize they have the same school uniform and all but ...

you'd think one of them would have noticed something was awry...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November 9, 1989

In 1986 I left the U.S. for the first time - I was just 17 and looking back, I have no idea how my parents let me leave the country at such a young age. Alone! I was an exchange student in Germany, thanks to a generous scholarship from the U.S. and German governments. Shortly after my arrival in Germany my host family took me to the border between East and West Germany.

At the border, my host father Willi handed me a pair of binoculars and I looked into one of the guard towers on the East German side.

I was shocked to see that an East German border guard was looking right back at me through his own binoculars.

Here's a picture of the border. The sign in the front says, "Stop, this is the border."

Isn't that funny? The dividing line between East and West Germany wasn't a wall, it was more of a quaint picket fence. At least here in Schleswig-Holstein. There probably was a wall at other stretches of the border.

Fate and luck came together and brought me back to Germany again in 1989. I was living in a dorm in Hamburg and I remember when one of my floormates, Olaf, came into the kitchen and said, "The border is open! People are coming from East Germany to the West!"

Disbelief - that's the only way to describe that moment and the days that followed it. The Wall was such a fixture, something we believed would always be there. And now it was down. Incredible.

I went to the border and picked up one of my most prized possessions. My own little piece of history.

I brought back two pieces of the Wall. My kids have already told me they want them when I die. Which is so sweet that of all the jewelry and stock and property that I own, the thing they want the most is a piece of the Wall.

It's not so sweet that they're already planning ahead for my untimely death.

But that's another post.

I wish you all peace and the freedom.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Honey the Parking Attendant

This is the attendant in the parking garage of Tsinghua Science Park.

I love her.

I don't drive to work often but when I do I park in her garage. As soon as I drive up to the window to pay her, she starts singing a lovely litany, a combination of any of the following:

"You are so pretty!"
"I've missed you!"
"I really like you!"
"I wondered if you had moved back to America."

I don't know what her name is but I imagine it's "Honey" because she is so sweet.

Don't worry, Honey, I'm not going back to America any time soon. The parking attendants over there don't have a clue!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My resolve is fading

Okay so my last post was pretty passive-aggressive*. It went something like - if the powers that be don't want me to access popular websites like and and (yes, Facebook, for crying out loud!) then fine!

I won't access them.

And blogosphere will miss me.

And blogosphere will think how terrible it is that access to information isn't free here.

Only guess what? The blogosphere party is pretty much going right on without me. Dr. Cai narrowly avoided a couple of fistfights in his taxi in Singapore. Penelope got engaged in Wisconsin. Mr. Clark didn't win his bid to be mayor of Provo, dangit. Skrocki is leaving Sun, double dangit.

And all I got was a T-shirt that says, "I'm being passive aggressive."

It fits me very well, by the way.

And my blogosphere friends did feel bad that information wasn't free here but they were like, "It's your own fault for moving there."

[BTW I know like is so '80s. In the '90s we said all as in, "He was all, 'It's your own fault for moving there'. " But someone please tell me what we say here in the '00s so I can update my vocabulary.]

And although I thought free access might be restored in October it wasn't. So I don't see the light at the end of my passive-aggressive tunnel.

So if free access isn't restored soon, I'm afraid I will just find ways...

(*For the uninitiated, or mentally healthy, passive aggressiveness means you do exactly what someone tells you to do, hoping that they will regret it one day.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why I seem so anti-social lately

At least for some of you I'm sure it seems that way. I'm talking about the folks that I normally chat with via Facebook and my blog or their blogs... I haven't been logged in to these sites lately because we're having trouble accessing our favorite internet sites here in China. Sites like Facebook,, etc. have been blocked for quite some time. There's a rumor that full access will be restored in October.

And like all rumors, I have no idea if it's true.

Except for the rumor about me being a supermodel when I was younger. That one is totally true.

So if you've invited me to be your friend on Facebook or if you sent me your pictures on or if you wonder why I'm not commenting on your blog, please know that I'm not ignoring you on purpose. One day soon I'll be back out there gallavanting on the Internet.

And until then, just imagine for yourself what I'm having for breakfast every morning. Whatever you imagine is probably way more interesting than whatever I'm actually eating.

(Postscript: I know there are ways to get around the restrictions. I mean clearly I know that, just look at the URL of this blog. But aside from this one short foray into blogging I don't want to circumvent things.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

To have and to hold. And to put her scissors back where they belong

This is week 3 of our summer in Alabama.  Originally we were supposed to be here for 5 weeks but I cut it a few days short because Buddy and I are missing each other too much.  We'll fly back to Beijing on August 9 instead of on August 15 as originally planned.  

I'd like to say the kids miss Buddy and they do in a way but he's competing with things like fireflies and popsicles and swimming and sunshine and smores and long breezy summer evenings.  Meanwhile Buddy is back in Beijing, which they associate with school and homework and alarm clocks and such.  Very hard to miss those things.

Last weekend we drove up to Nashville to visit my sister and see her new condo and meet her new boyfriend.  She got them both around the same time and it looks like she's going to keep both long term.  

The condo is beautiful.  Let me tell you about her closets - they are color-coded.  It's is a well-organized wardrobe rainbow in there.  It's the kind of thing that makes moms like me stand there and cry.
And she has this little place in her kitchen drawer where the scissors fit just perfectly.  I kept opening the drawer to look at the scissors and every time I did ... 

they were still there!  

I was like Rainman, opening and closing that drawer all throughout the weekend.  Open, scissors are there.  Close.  Open.  Scissors are still there!  

At my house if you want scissors, the last place you would look is the little slot in the kitchen drawer where they fit perfectly.  No, you would be better off following a crafty trail of shredded paper and glitter and sequins and ribbon.  Through the dining room, over the sofas, under the guest bed and out the other side, around the potted plants.  At the end of that trail, that's where you'll find your scissors.  

Glued to the floor, naturally.  

Amanda's boyfriend is even better than the condo.  His name is Jeff and I will tell you one thing about him that will show you what kind of person he is.

He wanted to spend quality time with me.  

That means he and I went out for lunch together, just the two of us, and had an adult conversation.  While Amanda took care of my kids.  

You see Jeff has met everyone in the family except me and before he and Amanda talk about anything serious he wanted to meet everyone in the family.  I thought it was so he could make sure he likes us but Amanda said it's so we can be sure we like him before we consider accepting him as a member of our family.  But either way, I'm so impressed that this guy cares this much about Family in general and about our family in particular.  

Of course before we finalize anything I need to test him and see if he will put the scissors back where they belong.    

Friday, July 24, 2009

If he does that I will change his name to Bubba

While I'm working every day the kids are in day camp at Forest Lake United Methodist Church. They told me they weren't going to pick up Southern accents while they're here but now that they're surrounded by kids their age who are dripping in Southern drawl, Audrey and Grant are picking it up too.

For example this morning when Grant dropped his French toast he said, "Dedgummit!"

And he asked me to put fried catfish and hush puppies in his lunch box today.

I'm just waiting for him to say "y'all", that's all that's missing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Barack Obama's Reporter's Husband's Backyard's Trampoline!

The kids and I are in Alabama now spending 5 weeks with my parents. My new boss is AWESOME to let me do this and I can say that because she doesn't read my blog, she doesn't even know about it, so this doesn't count as a$$ kissing. She agreed to let me work remotely from Alabama for 3 weeks and then I'll be on vacation for 2 weeks. 

My whole family (mom, dad, 3 sisters, husbands, cousins, etc.) will go to a lake house at Lake Guntersville and we'll celebrate Mom's 70th birthday and Dad's 75th. And someone else had a big milestone birthday this year but that seems to have totally slipped through the cracks. 

Good thing I'm mature enough to handle this without doing something immature like complaining about it on the world wide web.

One sad thing, Buddy's not with us. He just started a new job as a business development director at HP and he can't get any vacation time.  I thought we were going to be able to last 5 weeks without seeing each other but it's just now been 1.5 weeks and I miss him so much already.  

On our way to Alabama the kids and I had an overnight layover in D.C. and we stayed with my sister and her family except my sister was in Africa with Obama at the time.

My kids are so impressed with the President. While at Christi's house I told Audrey she could go outside and jump on the trampoline.

She paused at the door and said, "I am about to play on Obama's Reporter's Husband's Backyard's ... *trampoline*!"  

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bathroom Conference

The other day Grant summoned me to a bathroom conference. He rarely takes time for real conversations but for some reason when he's in the bathroom he transforms from an insanely active 6-year-old into a thoughtful, expressive young man.

I think it's because he's stranded when he's on the toilet, with nothing within reach that can be turned into a sword or a gun.

Grant had a clear agenda for this bathroom conference - he confided in me, "I love my new teacher at school. I told her a lot of stuff about me today. I told her my favorite color, my favorite food, and I told her you are older than Daddy."

At first glance that might seem like a strange collection of facts to share on the first date, or on the first day of school as the case may be, but later it occurred to me why he told her that I'm older than Buddy. He was telegraphing to her that his family is okay with May-September romances and that the two of them wouldn't get any resistance from us.

Now granted my relationship with Buddy is more like a late June-early July romance since I'm just three years older. Just for the record, now.

Grant also told me, "Miss Ma is prettier than you but you're nicer than she is."

"Oh great, you're saying I have a great personality!" I said.

He consoled me by saying, "I want to marry her but I want to marry you more." When I told him that I couldn't marry him because I was already married to Daddy he flippantly said Buddy and I could get divorced.

Naturally I would never let Buddy go for anything in the world, and most definitely not for my son. But at the same time I find myself already resenting Miss Ma for stealing my little boy's heart from me. I will probably be a quintessential monster-in-law one day. Woe be to the little tramp that he one day brings home and introduces as his girlfriend.

I will tell her that the only reason he's not marrying me is because I was already married.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Artwork for the Godparents

Grant wanted to give one of his kindergarten pictures to each of his godparents: Mr. Al, Miss Barb, and Aunt Caroline. He and I thought long and hard about which picture he would like and then we came up with a great idea - we should use my blog and let them choose their own pictures.

So Barb, Al and Caro, this post is for you. Grant says, "You can look at all of those pictures and if you want which one, you can have it." Just leave us a comment with your preferred piece of art and we'll mail it to you.

#1: Underwater Playtime. Note the blue fish on the left is eating the smaller gold fish. It's all about the food chain.

#2: Our family. He says the larger figures on the right are him and Audrey. Buddy and I are the dwarves on the left.

#3: Helicopter, hot air balloon and plane flying over a cityscape.

#4: Rainy Day in our Neighborhood. Those dots falling out of the sky are raindrops. Those big brown dots behind the picture are his adorable eyes.

#5: Black-and-white collage of our neighborhood. A bird, a jet and a hot air balloon in the sky. Rockets on the ground. Please note that are in fact no rockets in our neighborhood.

#6: Heart Monster. Two little girls in his class contributed some extra hearts to his collage, they thought his wasn't warm enough. I think it's sweet that he accepted their contributions.

#7: Our neighborhood. Helicopter flying overhead. Note three rockets on the ground, sandwiched in between the sky scrapers.

#8: The four of us and a jack-in-the-box.

#9: Calligraphy.

#10: Fruit trees, buildings, airplanes, helicopters. The green one flying "the other direction" is a bird, not a helicopter.

#11: Traffic light.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Heart Us

Tonight after dinner Buddy and I took the kids for a walk around our apartment complex - they rode their bikes while we jogged. Grant doesn't know how to control his bike very well yet so at times he rode his bike *into* me while I jogged.

He was like an obstacle course that moves right along with you.

The weather was perfect - balmy with just a soft breeze. The mosquitoes aren't out yet. We could hear scores of frogs croaking in the moonlight. It was one of those moments where my heart swells up with contentment and gratitude for all my blessings. God is so good.

Then Grant ran into my shin again and kinda killed that moment.

Anyway there's a lake in the middle of the complex and it has a sandy beach. We sat down for a few moments to enjoy the evening, and to put some direct pressure on the cut on my shin.

Audrey wrote "I {heart}" in the sand.

And then my heart swelled to new heights when she completed the sentence.


I love us too.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A secret admirer

Today Audrey got a postcard at her school from a secret admirer. It says:
"Audrey Gao
Audrey Gao I miss you.
Audrey Gao I {heart} you."

The whole thing just makes my heart flutter. I asked her all kinds of questions like:
- Do you have any idea who it is? (No.)
- Why do you think they say 'I miss you'. Has someone left your school lately? (No.)
- Do you think it's from a boy or a girl? (Not sure.)
- Are you going to do anything to try to find out who it is? (Of course not.)
- Will you smile at all the boys tomorrow and try to guess by the way they smile back if they're the secret admirer?

In answer to that last question she said, "You never got one of these when you were little, did you?"

"In fact I didn't. How can you tell?"

"I can just kinda tell."

I need to try to be more cool.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"I'm sure only half of them will come"

For Grant's birthday we decided to invite his whole class to our house for a party. We thought maybe half would come since it was in the middle of a long weekend but to our surprise almost everyone RSVP'd so Buddy and I found ourselves planning a party for 18 kids and 14 adults! He and I were up until 3am the night before the party - dyeing eggs (120 of them), making sandwiches, pizzas, soup, ants-on-a-log, and 160 Easter cookies.

Check out my work - I was so proud of myself!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lollipops, Tanks and Lakes

My son Grant has a little bit of a competitive streak. He gets it from my husband, who once heard that the lake in the apartment complex next to ours is bigger than ours and he makes us all jog over there every once in a while after dinner to look at it and see if it's true. The whole family has to stand there analyzing the lake from many different angles trying to decide if it really is bigger than ours. And if it is, would we consider moving?

He says he would move over something like this.

I say that he would be moving by himself then.

Anyway when Grant and I do homework together we usually have to have competitions to see who can write their Chinese characters better. Grant gets to name our teams. Last night he was the Tank Team.

He named me the Lollipop Team.
Yes, the Tank Team was lobbing cannon balls at the Lollipop Team before the games even got started.

So far I am letting Grant win in these games. I could kick his butt if I wanted to - I'm decent at writing Chinese characters since I used to live in Japan and Japan borrowed China's letters many centuries ago (and still haven't given them back) - but one day soon Grant will start kicking my butt, I know he will.

That will be a sad day for the Lollipop Team.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Audrey goes to a regular Chinese school so they weren't celebrating Easter last weekend and she had her regular load of homework. Which is always a lot on the weekends.

Saturday night we told her she had to finish her homework before we would let her decorate Easter eggs. She said we were very mean parents and voila, the ensuing English essay:

"Easter. I like Easter but this Easter is not god [sic], because I did my homework.

Tonight was not fun, but today was fun. I hope I will have a great day tomorrow."

Why "The Downtown Diner"?

If blogs were restaurants mine would be a downtown diner. The food you get here wouldn't be haute cuisine or especially nutritious but it would always taste good.

Basically I'd be the grilled cheese sandwich of blogosphere.

But the waitress here knows your name and she always has a smile for you, and it's a good place to stop by whenever you need a little break.

If your blog was a restaurant what would it be like? Leave me a comment.

I'm not sure these children are mine

Here's something you would never seen in my childhood home.

It's a chocolate Easter bunny. In its entirety. Two.days.after.Easter.


This is why I'm not sure these children are mine. No self-respecting Parsons would let a chocolate bunny see the sun set on Easter Day.

I grew up in a home that was absolutely Darwinian when it came to snacking. The strongest got the best snacks and if you showed any sign of weakness at all you would soon find yourself at the bottom of a heap and they would be eating your Ho-Ho.

Except you'd have lost the right to call it "your" Ho-Ho when you put it down on your plate to take a sip of your milk. You hesitated. Don't blame the shark for eating the wounded fish, it's what he was made to do.

My youngest sister Amanda was naturally at a disadvantage since by the time she came along there were already three sharks swimming the waters. She says that sometimes when a fray ended and she had once again gotten nothing she would climb up to the the cabinet and sneak herself a grape-flavored Flintstones vitamin.

She does have great teeth.

There was no hierarchy in our snacking power struggles. Adults got no more respect than kids. Once my mom bought a pie for Easter and she wrote "Don't Touch" on the top of the box. So naturally my two younger sisters ate it before the rest of us got up on Easter morning. When my mom discovered what they had done - I can still see here there in her bathrobe, gasping, pointing at "Don't Touch", saying something about Easter being a holy day and company and could we not show some restraint?! - they feigned wide-eyed innocence, swearing they thought that box top said "Don's Touch" and that that was the name of the bakery.

We were creative.

And we did well under pressure.

And thus I just cannot figure out how my own offspring have left this chocolate bunny on the table this long. There was another bunny, which they've eaten, so I know they know what it is.

Meanwhile there's a half-eaten pan of granola on the stove top. (Which by the way comes from Boomama and believe me it is every bit as delicious as she says it is!) (I prefer the baked oatmeal from Stretchmark Mama. But that's just me.)

Is it possible the hospital would have switched them both at birth?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Overheard at The Orchard today

Today some friends and I had lunch at the Orchard and I wish I had recorded some of the comments.

"Frequent flyer miles are like fireworks - they're just for fun." (- Buddy)

"I find gnomes repulsive." (- Chantal)

"Next week I'll be in the land of free diet Coke refills." (- Greg)

"My son is good at mopping? Is that all I'm getting for $10,000?!" (- Helen)

"You need eggs, vinegar and food dye? Can you write that down for me?" (-Ray)

"Just stay calm, I'll talk you through this." (- Sheri)

"I had some serious trust issues after that." (- Grace, after her husband completely surprised her with a huge birthday party)

"I'm sorry I lied to you. And it was a bad lie. I was under duress." (- Dalton)

"I'll watch the kids." (- Damien, noted here because those are the sweetest words to any mother's ears)

Friday, April 10, 2009


I'm excited about turning 40 today because I think this is the sexiest age ever. (You see why I moved from the corporate blog over here, I would never have ventured to write "sexy" on my company's blog space even though I mean it in the most un-sexy way possible.) (You know what I mean.)

So what is so sexy about 40?

40-year-old women know themselves. I mean, we've been living with ourselves day in and day out for four decades now so I guess we really should know ourselves. We know our strengths (first impressions) and our weaknesses (anything cheese-flavored). We know what looks good on us (long earrings and scarves) and what doesn't (hiking boots and shorts). We know what we like (a long dinner with good friends, bubble baths) and what we don't (pettiness, sesame paste). We don't waste time on things that we used to (reading trashy magazines, worrying about our thighs) and we invest in the things that we find rewarding (doting on our friends and family, flax seeds).

And we've come to love ourselves as we are. When we look in the mirror we see more good than bad, more character than wrinkle, more curve than lump, more shine than oil, more sparkle than grey, more radiance than ruddiness. And we've learned that in order to love ourselves more, we need to look in the mirror less anyway.

And people who know and love themselves are more capable of knowing and loving others, and really, what more does anyone want than to be known and loved? And thus the virtuous circle is created that, trust me, leads us back to the conclusion that 40-year-old women are sexy. Just trust me on this one. You'll understand when you're 40.

In addition to feeling sexy at 40, I am completely content. I have every single thing I ever wanted in life. I have had more love, adventure, fulfillment and joy than I ever thought would be possible in an entire lifetime. And here I am just now 40. So I figure if anything good happens to me in the next 40 years or however many I have left, it's just icing on the cake. My cup runs over. I am blessed beyond words.

And thank you Mom for all you did for me this day 40 years ago. And every day since then.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I am bang

One of the best things about Beijing is the taxis, or more specifically the hearty guys (rarely women) who drive them. There's something about them - they've been around the block a few times so they know you the moment you sit down. Most of them love to chat and they have great stories to share. And you can share all kinds of crazy stories with them and know that a few hours later over potstickers and beer they will share your story with their friends, who will share it with their friends, and suddenly you are even more intricately woven into the colorful tapestry that is Beijing folklore.

And it's all anonymous. That's good for us introverts. Or maybe it's good for the paranoid among us, either way it's a good thing.

I love it when my husband drops me off somewhere to get a cab. The same conversation always ensues.

The cab driver asks me where I'm from. I say I'm from America.

He asks me if that man who just dropped me off is my driver. I smile and say he's my husband.

The driver asks incredulously, "Your husband is Chinese?" I smile again and say that he's born and raised in Beijing. (Have you ever noticed that lots of Chinese girls hook up with Western guys but it almost never goes the other way around? I have many theories about that, that'll be a whole other post some time.)

Then 9 times out of 10, the driver turns around - don'tworryaboutthosecarsinfrontofustheywillswerve - and gives me a big THUMBS UP sign and says "zhen bang!" which means something like "great!"

Which is so sweet. Buddy and I have wondered together what's prompting the thumbs up. Is it that I'm married to a Chinese? Is the thumbs up for him, that he's married to me? Is it that an American and Chinese would marry? Is it a sign that relations between China and America are getting better and better? Is it overall world peace? We have no idea.

I tried asking once.

"What's great about that?"

"It's just great," the driver replied. "Zhen bang!"

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. I have no idea why but I'm bang. Or we are bang.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Got the words right but the music all wrong

The other day I was at the playground with my kids and started chatting with one of the other moms. In Chinese. My Chinese is okay but not great, as you are about to see.

Me: "So what do you do?"
Her: "I'm a teacher."
Me: "What do you teach?"
Her: "Skiing."
Me: "Oh cool! I tried that once and broke my leg. I didn't have a good teacher like you."
(She looks a little confused.)
Me: "So do you work mostly in the winter?"
Her: "No."
(She looks more confused. I decide to stop pursuing this line of questioning.)
(About two questions too late.)

I found out later that this woman was in fact a CHEMISTRY professor and not a SKI instructor.

The tones in Chinese are so annoying. They're so subtle and yet so important.