Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Tender Tennessee Christmas

Well technically for us it's the first one but still, we are totally enjoying this Christmas in Nashville.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I would have eventually forgiven you for losing half our sheep

We've been going to The Vine Street Church in Nashville lately and they have a wonderfully active kids' choir program.

Which one of my kids do you think bonded with the choir director right away? And then agreed to be part of the Christmas play, even though we got to the church just two weeks before the performance whereas the other kids had been rehearsing for weeks? And willingly stood in front of the audience tonight, singing loudly and proudly? With lots of adorable head bobbing?

No, not this one.

It was this one.

Audrey was in the audience and Grant was on stage as a shepherd. At first he told me he had been cast as a cowboy, and then no, maybe it was German shepherd. We finally figured it out. (His English has improved by leaps and bounds but some words still throw him for a loop.)

When he knew the words he sang them clearly. When he didn't know them he faked it so well, only his mother would know the difference.

You guys know me, I was in the audience crying, of course. Partly because my boy was such a charming little shepherd. He is exactly the type of boy, curious and brave, who would have followed a star to see the Baby Jesus on that night 2011 years ago.

There's also a good chance that on the way to see the Messiah he would have left his sheep on a hillside somewhere and the next morning we would have spent hours wandering in the wet grass trying to round them back up again, with Grant in the background reminding us again and again that it was AN ACCIDENT, AN ACCIDENT! Oh dear, these 8-year-old boys and their accidents. It is almost more than a mother can bear sometimes.

So back to me crying.

It was partly because he was such a convincing and sweet little shepherd. And partly because I could not BELIEVE how well he learned those songs in just two short weeks. This is a kid who could hardly say a complete sentence in English five months ago when we arrived here from Beijing. And here he was singing so clearly, "Will you be ready for the light, ready for the light to shine upon you?"

And partly because he had dared to do this thing. Even the dramatic and daring Audrey had shied away from this performance. But there was Grant, standing on the "boomer" (riser) singing and I was in the audience crying. I put my hand on my cheek, hoping it would look like I was lost in thought or admiration and not simply bawling. I faked it pretty well, I think. At least, well enough that only my son could tell the difference.

I am ready, Grant. I'm ready for the light to shine upon me.

And I would have eventually forgiven you for losing half our sheep.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Newest Member of the Gao Family

Dear customers of the Downtown Diner, I give you the newest member of the Gao Family: Cooper Ziggy Gao.

He's a shih tzu. Isn't he adorable? Audrey tells me at least two times every hour, "I just love Cooper." Or she comes to me with an excited report that goes something like this:

"Cooper came over to me and he went like this. And then I went like this. And then he went like thiiiisssss! Isn't he just so cute?! I just love Cooper!"

Grant made an astute observation - he looks like "one of those dogs you see on a girl's binder."

Doesn't he though?

Let me tell you though, the shih tzus, they are hard to house-train. Cooper got me up five times during the night last night. Two times he peed. The other three times, he and I stood there in the freezing cold under the stars, shivering and looking at each other.

I might have said some curse words.

And this is probably not a shih tzu thing but a normal puppy thing - he eats EVERYTHING! Just now I pulled Grant's Chinese textbook out of his mouth. A minute ago he was nibbling on a soccer ball. Sometimes he even snacks on rocks.

Welcome to the family Super Cooper!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Henry the Dead Rat

There is a dead rat at the end of the driveway of our new house. It is so badly decomposed that I thought it was a big brown leaf but Audrey looked at it one day and saw what it really was.

Much screaming ensued, I can assure you. From her dramatic performance you would have thought she had uncovered a mass grave in our front yard.

Anyway no one has moved the carcass so it just sits there. One day when we made a family trip to the mailbox (I don't know why the kids have to go with me to check the mail but they do, every time) Audrey took a moment to visit with the dead rat.

"Let's name him," she suggested. "Mr. Henry. His name should be Mr. Henry."

I was engrossed in a packet of coupons and Grant just shrugged. Audrey continued.

"Mr. Henry, we want to say something to you. We want to say that we're so sorry."

Grant was jolted from ambivalence - his reaction was lightning-fast and assured. He kicked the gravel at Mr. Henry and Audrey. "Sorry?! What am I sorry for? I didn't do anything to him? I'm not sorry for anything!"

You have to understand that Grant is busy enough taking responsibility for the crimes that he really did commit. He has no time to accept blame for things he didn't do.

Audrey kept her eyes on Mr. Henry, unfazed by the rocky disturbance her brother was causing. "Mr. Henry, we are sorry. We're sorry that..." Her eyes were cast downward but I could see that she was searching the ground for some way to complete the sentence she had just started. It's a poor dead rat. Surely there is something we should be sorry about here...

"We're sorry that, that you died."

Grant scoffed. I put a coupon for Disney on Ice (4 for $44) under my arm and threw the rest of them in the recycling bin. Audrey took one last look at Mr. Henry and started a solemn retreat back to the house.

And sadly, no one made any attempt to dispose of Mr. Henry.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

No, that ring is not "hoochie"

Yesterday Grant asked me to come to his school to have lunch with him. Fortunately his school not only allows this but encourages it so I gladly said yes.

This morning I asked him if he had any ideas of what I should wear to his school. "Anything is okay, just not anything too hoochie, okay?"

Pardon me? When did he even learn the word "hoochie"? And have I been known to wear "hoochie" clothes?

I tried to go for a demure yet casual look for our lunch date but I couldn't resist wearing my green flower ring. Does this count as hoochie?

I think not.

I had forgotten how wonderful the bulletin boards are at elementary school. As I waited for Grant outside the cafeteria I taught myself the sign language words for "P.E." and "read" and "backpack".

Then Grant came around the corner and saw me, and he looked so excited. It was the sweetest thing in the world. He held my hand but didn't talk to me since talking isn't allowed in the hallway.

Maybe that explains the sign language bulletin boards.

Then he showed me how to get food in the cafeteria and I was reminded of the day 15 years ago when his father did the same thing, in a different cafeteria, one that was halfway around the world at Chiba University in Japan. That was our first encounter, and the rest is history.

Sunrise, sunset.

I had a ball talking with Grant's classmates during lunch. This one little girl was so cute. Here's a recap of our conversation:

"Did you know they sell cookies for a quarter up there? You can get four for a dollar!"
"That's very impressive math, Madeline. And you're right. Four quarters is a dollar."

Moments later.
"You know, you could go up there and buy four cookies right now."
"I guess I could, Madeline, but I could never eat that many cookies."
"You could give them to us!"
"That's a great idea Madeline!"

And me, being the pushover that I am, I bought four cookies and gave them to Grant's classmates.

After lunch Grant's teacher let me hang around for recess, which Grant calls "Reese's". He's confused as to why they don't hand out peanut butter cups at Reese's break.

Then after Reese's the class lined up and Grant asked me for a hug and a kiss goodbye. This is huge, folks. When I picked him up at his school in China he completely ignored me. He said, "If people see me hugging an English woman they'll think I'm English."

News flash #1: I'm not English.
News flash #2: Even if you don't hug me, people can tell you're half white.

But after a few weeks in the U.S. he is not only not ashamed of me, he's proud of me. I guess he sees that in a different context, I'm not a bumbling, lost fool. Instead I'm smart and capable. And I have some cool rings.

Of course we all know I've always been smart and capable rather than bumbling and lost, but you have to see it from the perspective of an 8-year-old.

All I can say is thank God for different contexts. And for 25¢ cookies. And for schools that encourage parents to come to school for lunch.

And most of all, thank God for 8-year-old boys.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

This girl walks into a shoe store and

We have wi-fi at the house now and it is so dang fast and I can access ANY site I want! I feel so free after years of trying to get around the internet censors in China. And the censorship was getting heavier and heavier as time went by, which always left me with this ominous feeling that one day I might wake up and be able to access chinadaily.com.cn and nothing else...

Anyhoo, have you all been looking at the green stuff? I hope so.

Since segues don't appear to be my strong suit this morning ("anyhoo" is not a segue, I admit that) I will make no attempt to give you one now. I'll just go straight to a great Nashville story for you.

My BFF Pat came to Nashville to help us get settled in and we wanted to celebrate with a glass of wine. The kitchen was completely bare so I went out in search of a liquor store where I could get a bottle of wine, some wine glasses and a cork screw.

The name of the one I found was so perfect for the Deep South. "Mr. Whiskers Liquor Store".

I quickly picked a Yellowtail Chardonnay from a collection of wines so impressive you'd hardly believe it belonged to a man named after his mustache. But I could not find the wine glasses and cork screws. I walked through the whole shop twice and finally gave up.

As I was checking out I asked the guy at the register where the corkscrews were.

"We can't sell cork screws here. Tennessee law," he said.

"You can't sell cork screws?"

"Tennessee law," he echoed.

I must have looked really pitiful at that point. I was after all wondering if I would be able to swing the bottle of wine at the side of the house and open it without shattering the whole thing.

He whispered to me, "You can buy a corkscrew at the shoe store next door."

"Seriously?" I asked. "You can't sell me a corkscrew but the SHOE STORE can?"

"Tennessee law."

By then I was actually enjoying the thought of opening the bottle of wine with some unconventional method but I wondered if he was kidding about the shoe store so I decided to find out.

The shoe store next door wasn't one of those crappy shoe stores that sell last year's shoes at next year's prices. It was a serious operation. One of those orthotic places that make molds of your feet and do heat-sensitive impressions and stuff.

"Can I help you?" asked a friendly, white-haired lady.

"The guy at Mr. Whiskers told me I could buy a corkscrew here?"

"Yes, let me finish with this customer and I'll get one for you," she said.

"Oh, I don't really want one. I just wanted to know if you really sell them," I answered and then walked out.

So let's re-cap here. In Tennessee wine is sold in liquor stores and corkscrews are sold in shoe stores.

Shoes, it seems, can be sold in shoe stores.

Everyone got that?

Tennessee law.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Take Time to Look at the Green Stuff

We arrived in Nashville on July 18 and we're slowly settling in to our new house. Every day is chaotic and fun right now - I'm drinking wine out of paper cups and mixing chicken salad in a soup pot and we're sleeping on a mattress on the floor but we have everything we need.

There are so many stories I want to tell you but for now I'll share the one on the top of my mind -

On the drive from Birmingham to Nashville Grant stared out the window for several minutes and then told me, "I've looked at green stuff so long now, my eyes can see further. When you look at trees and grass for a long time I know it makes your eyes gooder."

More later, once we get wi-fi established in our house. For now, don't forget to look at the green stuff.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Oh, and Reba McEntire is going to be my neighbor

People have been asking me the same questions about our upcoming trip to Nashville so I decided to simplify things for all of us and post an FAQ.

(Do normal people post FAQs about their personal life? Someone tell me they do.)

1. Why are you going to Nashville?
The kids' English is falling behind their same-age peers in the U.S. and I want them to catch up right now. There's a certain window of opportunity for learning a language like a native speaker and I don't want that window to close before I realize it. So the main goal is to get their written and spoken English back up to their age level.

At the same time I really need some time back in my home country, close to my family. I do love China and my friends and family here but after six years, it's time for me to get back home for a while.

2. How long will you stay?
At least a year. Buddy and I will an assessment after six months and see how everyone is doing academically, socially, health-wise, etc. Then we'll decide whether we'll move back to China in 2012 or if we'll stay in the U.S. longer.

And wow did I just put "academically" ahead of "health-wise"? I did, didn't I? That is just not right.

3. Why Nashville? Aren't you from Alabama?
Yes, I am from Tuscaloosa and my parents are still there but we picked Nashville because it's a very open-minded and vibrant place. Nashville is a city with soul.

Plus my baby sister Amanda lives there and she and her husband Jeff are expecting their baby Bliss in September.

(When your baby sister has a baby do you have to stop calling her that?)

4. Where will the kids go to school?
Nashville public schools. Julia Green Elementary School for Grant and J.T. Moore Middle School for Audrey. We're going to live right across the street from Amanda in a 2BR/1BA duplex.

Yes, one bathroom. God help us. I hope Reba doesn't mind if Grant occasionally pees in the bushes in the backyard. Maybe she will write a country music song about him.

5. When do you leave?
July 14.

6. Have you started packing yet?
Yes. Grant packed the first suitcase over the weekend. He used our biggest suitcase and filled it with Nerf guns.

So we're set, basically.

7. Are the kids excited?
Yes, totally. They can't wait to see what American schools are like. And they love cheese grits and Taylor Swift.

8. Will you miss us here in China?
Yes, absolutely. I love you guys. We will be back, I promise.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Parking in China: The Joke I Do Not Get

When you were little did you ever have those times when everyone else was laughing at a joke and you didn't get it but you pretended like you did?

It happened to me all the time. And that's how parking is for me in China. I think we're all just parking wherever we can find a space but apparently there is some rhyme and reason to the whole thing that I DO NOT GET.

For example today I drove to the subway station and parked on a side road. There was another car parked right in front of me so I thought it was okay to park there.

But alas, 2 hours later, Buddy sent me this picture.

It's a parking citation.

But seriously folks, I don't get it. I think we're all just parking wherever we can find a space. Aren't we? (I took these pictures of parked cars on the way home today. These are very typical parking jobs.)

So why did I get a citation for parking like this?

China, I just don't get it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Overheard in the Gao household last week

1. Pepsi is a cheap knock-off that must be punished
Audrey hates Pepsi. HATES it. She told me this yesterday in the car. I never knew.

She doesn't hate the taste of it. She hates it because Pepsi copied Coke's idea. Coke had a great product and Pepsi "came along and copied it and is just trying to make money".

And we all know how altruistic Coca-Cola is.

2. Ashes to ashes
The other night at dinner Grant told us his friend's grandpa died in a house fire. It wasn't smoke inhalation, he burned to death. The rest of the meal was eerily quiet - unusual for the Gao family - as we all thought about the poor grandpa's painful demise.

Audrey was dubious and decided to investigate Grant's story a little further. She interviewed the friend yesterday after school.

Turns out his grandpa died in his sleep of cancer and the cremation was last week.

You can see where the confusion comes from. If you were an eight-year-old boy who was fascinated with fire and uninterested in details.

And Audrey's Big-Sister-Know-It-All crown rests firmly atop her head.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mother-Daughter Spinning Class - The Non-Freaky Kind

Audrey takes this class called GAB (Girls Achieving Balance) that is offered by Stella Chan Marinaro and if you live in Beijing and have a tween daughter you really should contact Stella because she has a great way of talking to the girls about fitness and nutrition. They listen to her. She says the same stuff we moms think we're saying but Audrey listens to her in a way she won't listen to me. Maybe it's because Stella's not her mom, maybe it's because she's sweet and cool, maybe it's because she's totally fit herself. I'm not sure what it is but I'm so glad we found GAB.

Stella gives the girls a chance to try all kinds of different sports. They've done kick boxing, cheer-leading, yoga, Nia, and spinning.

Audrey loved the spinning. She wanted to do it again and asked me to find her a regular class, which I dutifully did. I registered her for a trial session, to which she said, "I hope you registered for two because you know I'm not going to do this by myself."

In fact I hadn't known that but luckily I was able to get another spot in the class for myself.

Turns out the class I found wasn't quite what she was looking for. The music, the lights and the spinning were all too "freaky".

I have no idea what "freaky" means in this context, except that Audrey will not be attending that spinning class again.

And if you're the parent of a tween, you know that if I asked her what she meant by "freaky", the word "freaky" would have come up several times in her explanation. Which would have left me feeling not only confused but decidedly uncool. I guess this is pretty much how the next few years are going to be.

I lamented to Stella the next day at kick-boxing and guess what she put together? A special mother-daughter spinning class just for tween girls and their moms. The music was Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus, the lights were normal and the spinning was as hard or easy as you wanted it to be. It was perfect, nothing "freaky" about it.

If you can translate the word "freaky" into English please help me out, in the comments section.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Farewell to Lan Lan. And my sanity.

Yesterday I came home from work and was met at the door by a clearly distraught Audrey. She wiped a tear from her cheek and drew in a deep breath before telling me, "Lan Lan ... is ... gone!"

My mind raced. Lan Lan. Lan Lan. Who the hell is Lan Lan?

A classmate of hers? No.

A relative? No.

One of the turtles? No, we haven't named them yet.

I decided sympathy was in order regardless of who Lan Lan was so I gave her a warm hug and said, "Oh sweetheart, I'm so sorry for your loss."

And then, gently, "Now remind me, who was Lan Lan again?"

"My dolphin!" she yelled indignantly, as if I had blanked on the name of my own grandchild. "Grant poked a hole in her and she deflated!" She ran to her room and slammed the door.

I knocked on the door and tried to comfort her with the fact that Lan Lan had gone to be with her Maker. Probably somewhere in Guangzhou.

She yelled at me to go away.

I went to find Grant, who was stretched out on the guest bed watching a Chinese drama about fighting the Japanese in the 40s. On an interesting side note, you can turn on the T.V. at any time of the day or night in China and see a dramatization of the fighting with the Japanese.

Well, I think that side note is interesting.

Anyway, Grant showed no remorse for his crime.

"She poured 酸梅汤 (sour plum juice) in my water gun so I killed her dolphin!" he cried.

He said it with such conviction, as if the dolphinticide were his God-given right. As if he had killed in self-defense. As if the dolphin had been armed and Grant had no choice but to take him out.

I felt compelled to say something but I didn't know where to start.

"Grant, you can't just..."

"Do you really think killing a dolphin is..."

I gave up because I couldn't think of way to complete those sentences that wasn't completely ridiculous.

Alright, Downtown Diner customers tell me what you would have said to Grant if you were the lucky woman God picked to be his mother. You can also leave condolences for Audrey, in the Comments section.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My niece hugging the "First Woman"

April 29th was "Take Our Daughters to Work Day" and for my sister Christi, that means she took her daughter to the White House. Christi is a White House correspondent. I'm a little bit proud of her.

I saw Mandy on Friday and she told me all about it. Her highlights were:

  1. The "necklace" they gave her at the door. That was her press pass, which you can see on the lanyard around her neck.
  2. Hugging the "First Woman". I thought about telling her she's called the "First Lady" but her expression was just so darn cute...
  3. Wondering why the press can't clap when the First Woman enters the room. We talked about how the press is supposed to remain impartial and that's hard if they're in the habit of cheering for lawmakers. Mandy was unconvinced but I love the fact that she's learning first hand about the importance of journalistic integrity. She might just follow in my sister's footsteps one day. If that happens I will straighten her out on the whole First Lady vs. First Woman business.

As for me, I love the way Mrs. Obama is holding that little girl's face in her hands.

She is taking her so seriously.

And cherishing her.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

This is my hometown

I thought I was going home for Easter. Turns out I was going home to sit in the basement with Mom and Dad through the worst tornado Tuscaloosa, Alabama has seen in generations.

I was supposed to fly out early Wednesday morning but the storms were already brewing so I had delayed my flight to Thursday. I thought we'd sit through a few heavy storms on Wednesday and then I would drive to the airport the next morning.

Looking back now, my concerns about getting to the airport seem ludicrous because an F5 tornado was heading right for our backyard.

In the early afternoon Mom and Dad and I realized the storms were serious when our local weatherman, James Spann, hijacked the TV broadcast and started streaming news about the approaching tornadoes. There were a bunch of them and they all looked mean.

Modern technology is great in many ways because James could show us radar and images and streaming video and all kinds of great stuff about the storms. He told us a twister was going to hit Tuscaloosa around 4:45. It's scary when someone gives you an educated guess about What Time You Might Die.

He pointed to what he thought would be the storm's approximate path and he sent chills up my spine when he said it would likely go through Alberta City, which is where we were. Again, James was surprisingly accurate, the storm took almost the exact path he had predicted. I'm sure that all this technology, combined with James' analysis of it, saved many lives that day.

Mom and Dad and I were hunkered down in the basement watching James and the weather report. We had candles and flashlights and the weather radio and I had my laptop too, which turned out to be a serendipitous thing.

Remember I mentioned how great all the modern technology is? Well, it didn't seem so great when the tornado got dangerously close to Tuscaloosa and we got to look our storm straight in the eye as it churned towards our city. We could see it was a monster - it was a mile wide and it was hugging the ground like a vacuum cleaner.

To put that into perspective, the average tornado is around 100-500 feet wide at the base and it skips over the landscape. I've never heard of one that is over 5,000 feet wide and stays on the ground.

And this one was headed directly for us in Alberta City.

Just as James was shouting, "If you're in Tuscaloosa take cover immediately!" we lost power... No more images, no more radar, no more James Spann. Just us in the terrifying blackness.

Although we had brought flashlights with us to the basement we couldn't find them now in the dark (note to self: you really need to keep the flashlight in your hand) but my MacBook Air was in my lap and it gave off a nice glow. We used it to light our path to the safest room in the basement, where we got down on the floor and pulled a mattress over our heads.

That's when I heard the freight train noise and I knew the storm was close. I can't even describe the sound to you. It was adjectives like HUGE and POWERFUL and RIPPING come to life. It was I-DON'T-CARE-WHO-OR-WHAT-YOU-ARE-YOU'RE-IN-MY-PATH. It was HORRIBLE.

I could hear things hitting the roof outside. Mom still had the weather radio on and I asked her to turn it off. "I think our ears are going to tell us more now than your radio will," I told her.

After about a minute the freight train passed. We waited a few minutes and then emerged into the daylight to see trees down on power lines, branches and debris all over the neighborhood, but no one was hurt and no homes had serious damage. We were so lucky. Just 1/8 of a mile to the north complete neighborhoods were wiped out. Gone. All that's left are piles of rubble and remnants of trees. It looks like a bomb went off there.

This is my hometown.

There was a tree house on Forest Lake where I got my first kiss.

Krispy Kreme was the place where Christi and I played hooky on Sunday mornings with my Dad. Lemon-filled for me, chocolate with peanuts for her.

Rosedale Baptist Church was reportedly haunted and on weekend nights we used to sit in the parking lot and scare ourselves silly, claiming that we had seen a face in the 2nd floor window.

All that stuff is gone now. Dozens of people are dead or missing.

I'm grateful that we're alive.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Jiminy Cricket!

Today I got in a cab and was ready to listen to my "Inspiration" song list during the ride. It has some great tunes on it collected from my best friends and I will share it with you one of these days.

However as soon as I got in the cab I heard this creaking noise. My first thought was that the meter was stuck or broken or something and the driver was going to try to overcharge me.

Oh I am so jaded. Because the driver was the kindest person I was going to meet all day.

The creaking noise was coming from none other than his pet cricket!

"Guo Guo" crawls around on the dash, sits on the steering wheel -

And doesn't fall off when the driver turns the wheel -

The driver bought Guo Guo in November and although it's very hard for crickets to survive the winter, this hardy little guy did. Crickets like this usually don't live more than six months so Guo Guo is in his twilight days. God bless him.

He eats just a few shreds of vegetables every day and otherwise is no trouble at all. Except that he did start wandering towards the backseat today and I had to ask the driver to get his animal under control. Because I was having visions of Guo Guo crawling up my pant leg and me flailing around in panic and crushing him to death. That would have been bad.

It was so cute to watch the driver and his pet play during the drive. Guo Guo sings. The driver picks him up and holds him in his palm. The cricket crawls up on the driver's sleeve. The driver strokes his wings.

Then we nearly side-swiped a Hyundai.

I guess between the roaming cricket and me leaning up from the back seat to snap pictures of him, it was a ride fraught with peril. Anyway I made it home safely and after saying good-bye to the driver and Guo Guo I chirped my own little song as I walked to the door.

Alright now seriously imagine Guo Guo was crawling up your pant leg. Would you have the presence of mind to gently shake him back out or do you think you would flail around and crush him? Tell the truth, in the comments section.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Drama Queen

Lately I'm trying all kinds of new things. Like kick boxing and starting my own business. And now, theater.

Well, let me back up. One day this woman named Luciana came to my kick boxing class and she said she was putting together a show for International Women's Day and she needed some fighters for a fight scene. My friend Dee and I volunteered.

We didn't realize that the show would require real acting with speaking parts and all but we were good sports about it. We set two not-so-ambitious goals for ourselves:
1) Have fun.
2) Make the audience laugh.

We achieved those goals and in addition we gave each other countless bruises and cuts during our rehearsals.

And we became fast friends our co-star Tom Lone and our director Aashna Sen.

The play ran at the Penghao Theater. If you live in Beijing then attending a play at this theater needs to be on your bucket list. It cozy and hip and you will love it, I promise. Be sure to get the carrot cake from the cafe. You wouldn't expect to get the best carrot cake of your life in a theater cafe, would you? Oh, but you will. Normally you get carrot cake because of the cream cheese frosting but would you believe their cheesecake has chocolate frosting? Carrot cake with chocolate icing! It rocked my world.

Let's see, where was I? Oh right, the play.

The proceeds from the play went to a non-profit called Wokai, which provides micro-financing for women in rural China. Click on this link and you can see women just waiting for funding for their projects, and it's easy to donate.

Here are some scenes from the play. As you can see I've overcome my inhibitions about hitting, kicking and biting.

I'm not planning to keep the gold jacket that I wore in the play. What should I do with it? Please tell me in the comments section.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Who's following up on the salmon issue?

Grant asks a lot of questions. Here are some classic examples from the last few weeks. I swear I am not making any of these up.

- If sharks could cook their food, would they?
- Could you teach a dog to start a fire?
- If a shark and an octopus had a fight, who would win?
- Who invented the traffic light?
- Do bugs go to heaven?
- If I was riding my bicycle really fast and I hit a pig, would the pig die?

Last night I was cuddling with my inquisitive son before he went to sleep when somehow his thoughts turned to arctic fisheries.

He asked, "What kind of fish do they have on the North Pole?"

I had to guess and said salmon. That could be right, right? I mean, I'm pretty sure I've seen pictures of polar bears with salmon in their mouth. Or are those black bears in Oregon...? Anyway, he's seven, how factual do I need to be here?

"Where else in the world do they have salmon?"

Again I guessed and said mostly in cold waters like the Northern Atlantic and arctic regions.

"Where does the salmon come from that we eat in China?"

At this point I was completely winging it. "I know a lot comes from Norway and Sweden. But it could come from any part of the world, I think." (Totally CMA'ing with that last sentence.)

"What tastes better - arctic salmon or Atlantic salmon?"

Do you ever reach a point where you feel it's best to just come clean and admit you have no idea what the hell you're talking about? That last question brought me to that point. So I dusted off an old phrase that I haven't used since my days as a high tech manager. Come on, it's the one you use at the office all the time. Let's say it together.

"That is a really good question and I'm going to have to check on that and get back to you."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You have no idea how sweet I am

About four months ago I strapped on a pair of boxing gloves for the very first time at Vince Soberano's Black Tiger Fight Club and now I'm hopelessly addicted.

At first I was VERY uncomfortable with the idea of punching and hitting and kicking. I'm a pilates kind of girl. Swimming. Long walks in the park. Yoga. That's me.

But my friend Helen said I would love Vince's workouts so I decided to give it a shot. That first workout was hard on me because I was not in fighting shape at all. But I pushed myself, I sweated, I strained, I refused to quit.

And then Vince said, "Okay, great warm up. Let's start our workout."

I nearly died.

But now four months later I make it through the workouts with energy to spare. Vince has gotten me toned and shaped up in a way that I didn't think was possible after age 40. In fact I'm in the best shape I've ever been in.

Which is more a statement about the shape I've been in than my current one.

The gym is a little far from our house and I keep telling Buddy that when my current card expires I'll find a closer gym or class but in the end I keep going back to Vince.

I wish I knew how to quit him.

The other day my partner noticed something interesting, which I managed to catch on camera for you all.

Do you see that? I sweat in a heart shape! I am a seriously sweet and loving person.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Happy Year of the Rabbit from the Gaos

Much love to you from Buddy, Melanie, Audrey and Grant. 恭喜发财!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

You picked the wrong dead end street to beat up your GF

I love the picture window in my living room. Right in front of the window is a dead end street and just past the street is the Olympic Park. The park has lots of lovely green foliage - it feels like an ocean that holds the city at bay, far away from us.

The other night around 9pm I was walking past the window and I saw a car parked on the dead end street. Nothing unusual there - people often park on this street and make out.

But what happened next is not common.

Two people came out of one car and started fighting. Like a fist fight. Now that I think about it, I've seen more fist fights in my 6 years in China than I've seen in my whole life. I don't know what it is about Beijing but it seems to turn people into some amateur version of Mike Tyson.

So anyway, turns out this fight was between a man and a woman. And the man was kicking her ass. Literally. He pulled her out of the car, pushed her on the ground and punched her.

He picked the wrong dead end street for this.

I yelled at my husband to call the police, which he dutifully did. But I ran out of patience when they didn't arrive within 30 seconds and besides the poor woman was really taking a beating out there. So I put my long black coat on over my pajamas and headed for the door.

Buddy stopped me mid-way and asked me what I had in mind.

That's when it occurred to me that I didn't have a plan. Those of you who know me are nodding your heads knowingly. I love you guys. And please know that if anyone is ever kicking your ass I will come to rescue. I will have no plan but at least we can get our asses kicked together.

I made up a plan quickly. I was going to stun the guy by speaking English and then kick him a few times.

Per usual, it all sounded good in my head but kind of fell apart the more I talked.

Buddy came up with a better plan - he would go down.

This was a much better plan, for many reasons:
1) He's stronger than me.
2) He speaks better Chinese than me. (Yes, I know, English was one of the key points in my battle plan but let's face it, we are in China and both the attacker and victim were presumably Chinese.)
3) He was not in his pajamas.

So he got in our car and drove over to them. He rolled down the window and asked the guy what was going on. This embarrassed the guy, who like the true coward that he is, quickly got into his car and drove off. Leaving his bruised female companion on the street. Classy.

Buddy asked the girl if she knew that guy and she said no but he owed her 5,000 RMB. This is where her story starts to fall apart. I mean, either someone is a complete stranger or they owe you money. Can't be both. Unless you're a really stupid loan shark. But this doesn't matter. Guys shouldn't beat up girls for any reason.

And definitely not on the dead end street right in front of our house.


Epilogue: The girl walked to the subway station and we never saw her again. The police showed up about 30 minutes after the whole thing was over and took some random pictures of the gravel on the street. They might as well have taken pictures of the stars for heaven's sake.