Archive for April, 2008

And… We’re back!

After a week of battling food poisoning of some sort, both of us are officially on the mend! The week consisted of a forced fast, as we were told the only way to cure the poisoning was to basically starve it out of our systems. This news was ill-received (ha ha), but turned out to be right on. We drank gallons of tea with honey, sipped bowls of salty chicken broth, and tentatively ate a few crackers when our hunger pains got the better of us. All the while we dreamed of the day when food would once again be a part of our daily lives. Neither of us can remember a time when we were sick for a full week in the recent past! We canceled Liz’s tutoring sessions, skipped JM’s classes, and basically camped out in our apartment with Leo’s care and our own survival as our main preoccupations.

Leo really enjoyed this arrangement and made impressive developmental strides in the past week. All in one day he decided to push himself into a sitting position, and then proceeded to pull himself up to standing on our living room furniture. He now tries to pull himself up onto everything and anything, so we’re watching him even more closely to make sure he doesn’t maim himself in the process. He is really fearless. In the past couple of days, his food intake has about doubled. It’s pretty fun to watch him chow down a bowl of cereal and bananas.

We slept in the living room for a few nights while we were sick to make sure Leo wouldn’t be disturbed by our many trips to the bathroom (Leo sleeps in a crib in our room). Lo and behold, he just started sleeping through the night all on his own, going to bed at 7pm and waking up at about 6:30am! Liz is especially excited by this new milestone, and is already feeling less groggy.

Chinese studies were very limited this week, so today was spent taking shifts caring for Leo so we could begin reviewing and catching up. It will be a couple of weeks before we reclaim our lost ground, but we are truly just relieved to be feeling better.

Was it something we ate?

Was it the beef in that bowl of noodles, or the cucumber on the side?  Or how about that broccoli we tried cooking at home?  Maybe the not-so-clean looking set of dishes at the restaurant, or the tea brewed with the local water?  Whatever it was, both of us have come down with your garden-variety food poisoning.  We haven’t eaten anything solid for the past 36 hours outside of a handful of crackers, while living on Sprite and chicken broth.  JM has put classes on hold until this passes along.  Thank goodness Leo is none the worse for wear- we planned all along to keep him away from questionable food, and have only just started giving him rice cereal and bananas at home.

My classmate from Dubai grew up in India, where he says sanitation is much worse.  For him China seems much cleaner, and he rarely has digestive problems.  He has seen that Westerners typically don’t have the same tolerance for local cuisine, and often get sick.  Although we’re thankful for Western sanitation, we would pay a little money for a tougher stomach right now!

On a positive note, Leo’s two bottom teeth have finally broken through!

Dinner politics

We went to dinner with two classmates, one from France, the other from United Arab Emirates.  Conversation was wide ranging, from business to our language abilities to French food.  We’re used to political topics coming up, but it’s a new ballgame to have discussions with people from foreign countries.  Everyone brings different perspectives to the table, we’ve come to realize.  We’ve never heard someone sing the praises of the Iranian language before, which was described as being the most respect-filled language you could ever imagine.  Hearing about Iran in a flattering light was definitely new.

The stability of Tibet also came up, amid reports of violent demonstrations being planned by Tibetans in a neighboring province.  Our Frenchman promptly responded, "I don’t understand- how will they attack?  With incense sticks?"  Something must have happened in France, as one of my teachers mentioned that Chinese people have talked about boycotting French products (sound familiar?).  The Tibet issue is receiving attention over here too, by what little we can understand.  It doesn’t seem to be an engrossing part of daily life, however- most people are just as focused on day to day activities here as Americans are in the midst of the Iraq war.

Follow all safety instructions

We’ve taken some time getting used to a new set of safety standards here in Nanjing.  A few things stand out in mind to us as memorable differences from what we’re used to in the states.

1. Car seats are fairly non-existent. What before in the States felt like neglectful parenting now is routine- hopping into a car with no bother about having a safety seat for Leo.  Seatbelts are also optional for us.

2. Traffic: beware the beep of the horn, lest you suffer the consequences! Who knew that claiming the right of way could be so easy!

3. Work zones: cordoning off work zones is left to the crew’s initiative.  If they feel a jackhammer in the middle of the sidewalk isn’t intrusive, no need to put up barriers.  This past weekend we were walking under a few stories of bamboo scaffolding, unwitting to the fact that it was being simultaneously torn down. Sharp wires and sizeable planks of bamboo walkways started flying down around us- the demolition crew kindly waved hello to us once they noticed us passing through below.

4. We were shocked to see our A/C repairman climb right out onto our 7th story wall unit with nothing but a rope tied around his waist, attached to the flimsy patio railing as an anchor.  Thank goodness he didn’t fall- we’re not sure either the rope or the railing would have held!

5. After our solar water heater was installed, our landlord explained to us that during a rainy day, we’d need to plug it in to heat the water.  But, he said, don’t take a shower during the rain.  This was his way of explaining that stepping into running water with the heater electricity plugged in could be very dangerous.  Needless to say, now we check the socket every time before taking a shower.

Picture Update


We were out eating delicious “jiaozi” (dumplings) for dinner, and the shopkeepers were having a ball holding Leo. While we ate our food, Leo had four doting caretakers. Note the chefs making dough in the background.


A flatbed of pineapples frequently appears outside our front door. This one is almost empty.


Same story, everywhere we go – Leo adoration continues unabated.


A typical street corner in Nanjing; mopeds, bicycles, small shops, and drying clothes are regular parts of the scenery. The lack of people in this shot is uncommon.


A shared meal, Chinese style.


Better than your local video store – at 75 cents per DVD (to own), the price can’t be beat. Over 90% of DVDs are sold this way, making an ‘official’ copy difficult to find.


Leo had been digging around in his bin o’ toys until Mom came along with the camera, a more interesting toy.


This hat really sets off his cheeks, don’t you think?


Can you see any family resemblance?

Lost in translation…

Trying out a new language poses many perils for the beginning speaker. Pitfalls abound in one’s first attempts at communicating concepts in spoken form. Chinese seems especially difficult to us, where slight pronunciation shifts make all the difference in the outcomes. Here are just a few of the blunders we remember making in our first two months here in Nanjing, along with what we were trying to say, as the context wouldn’t even have been enough to get the meaning in some cases!

1. Leo, you’re extremely strange. (well-behaved.)
2. He’s a very greasy man. (friendly man.)
3. We big garlic to go. (We are planning..)
4. Leo is June. (six months old.)
5. That’s very swimming pool. (very useful.)
6. I want a bowl of vodka. (breakfast porridge.)
7. We want to hire a nanny that beats children. (raises children.)

Life without capitals

As I sat through Chinese class yesterday, I noticed how our teacher refused to write words like Nanjing, Zhongguo(China), and Wo(I) with capital letters in their non-character transcriptions. I found myself wondering, ‘Doesn’t she know those are proper names?’ It struck me then that this had been the norm all semester. How strange, I thought, that Chinese people don’t think of words in terms of capitalized versus non-capitalized ones.

This got me wondering about the English usage of capitals, and how this device adds a whole extra layer of thinking that is absent in a language like Chinese:
imagine a life where sally and spot visit washington d.c. to see the national mall.
I feel as though I’m in egregious error typing a sentence like this. But in a language like Chinese, how can you capitalize pictures that stand for words?
马丽住在北京。mali zhu zai beijing. (Mary lives in Beijing.)

I will have to fight my resistance to this new norm, trying to convince myself that life is still okay without having the comfort of capitals to mark all the ‘proper’ objects I think about. Who invented capitals anyway? And isn’t life easier with one less convention to follow? China has seemed to do fine without them for the past few millenia, so why start now?