Archive for June, 2009

Picture of summer

Summer in the U.S. that is:

Taking a leap

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Back to freedom

We’re back to U.S. soil! It is a wonderful feeling to be immersed in a culture that is completely intuitive. Now when we order a hamburger, for instance, there’s no guessing about what we want, how to do it, what we’ll get, etc. We can handle this. We’re Americans.

Something that has taken more than a few days to sink in since returning, though, is the realization that all of our Internet access is back in action. No more blocked websites, no more having to use proxy sites to see banned pages. It takes a little effort to convince ourselves that Youtube is still functional, with hours of hilarious videos free for the watching. Every time we received an email link to a video in China we considered it a cruel joke, knowing that we were completely blocked off from sharing in the fun!

We can also speak openly about places like Taiwan and Tibet. After a year and a half of closely guarding our speech, it feels strange even saying the names of these places out loud! Our thinking patterns were definitely influenced by the Chinese censorship practices.

So we’re relishing the chance to be Americans again for a few months. Freedom to do whatever we want, speak on any topics we please, protest openly about anything we’re concerned about. You don’t realize how great it is until it’s gone for awhile.

And… We’re back

Our first couple days in Canada have been wonderful, minus the inevitable jetlag (which will be around a bit longer as we travel to the US and then the East Coast on Wednesday). We’re in Vancouver, an absolutely beautiful city! We’re staying with our wonderful friends Alex and Kira, who have selflessly moved out of their apartment for us so we can get over jetlag in peace and quiet.

I (Liz) highly recommend not flying with a toddler that long if you can avoid it, but I must say it is worth it to see our friends and reconnect with our own culture. We are really appreciating so many little things, like clothes driers, soft beds, really cold refrigerators, great playgrounds (that are free of charge), sushi!, transacting business in English, easily shared humor, and really plush Q-tips.

But, all that said, I was happy to hear plenty of Mandarin Chinese yesterday on the local playground! Vancouver is a city with many Mandarin speakers, and it really felt nice to hear the sounds that have become almost homelike to us over the past year and a half. Grandfathers playing with their grandchild, mothers chastising their sons for running too fast, and little boys yelling for others to ‘make way’ for them as they slid down the big slide.

Leo felt right at home in this setting, but has been happily overwhelmed by so many fun and new things since our arrival. He seems to have completely lost his appetite, but hopefully that will bounce back as his body regains a normal schedule. His favorite word right now (which he literally wakes up saying) is “Wow!” There have been many “Wows!” so far, and there are many more to come. We are grateful to be back!

Volcanic Ash and Flight Plans

We have the incredible fortune to be visiting North America on our summer break! We have just touched down in Canada after a long 14 hour flight from Shanghai.

The flight was extra long, in fact, and not just because we carried a 1 year old along with us. Minutes before push off our flight plan was changed on account of volcanic ash entering the atmosphere. We needed to be rerouted around the ash, which took an hour and a half before we finally pushed off from the gate.

And, the new flight path was two hours longer than originally planned, so we were doubly delayed in our arrival.

Everything went relatively well, though, all things considered. Leo only had one and a half tantrums the whole time. There were even individual movie screens at every seat in the plane.

On arrival to Canada, culture shock immediately began to set in (clean air, common courtesies like door holding, etc.). While passing customs, a woman said good naturedly to Leo: "What a cute baby you are! Just precious." Leo gave a resounding "Bu yao!" (No!) in Chinese. She simply smiled and said, "I don’t know what you’re trying to say exactly, but I’m sure it must be good and sweet."

We couldn’t help laughing out loud as we walked away.

Kicked out of Kindergarten?

Leo came home with his Ayi one morning, happily spouting 21 month old nonsensical jargon (which everyone here assumes is English) as usual. Cheng Ayi, however, had a less carefree attitude about her. She had begun in recent months to bring Leo to a local kindergarten to play with the children on their recess. They happen to have a nice playground with slides and swings and jungle gyms (a hard thing to find here), which Leo loves. I had always heard fun stories of their time at the kindergarten, but today was the last day Leo would play there.

Cheng Ayi sheepishly told me that Leo had been asked not to come back. I was slightly dumbfounded, wondering what naughty thing my 21 month old could have done to get kicked out of kindergarten. She explained that Leo was simply "too intense" for the teachers and administrators. I asked what that meant. She told me that Leo was able to climb around the jungle gym and slide down the slides all by himself, and this was very unusual for such a little boy in China. The teachers all were too nervous to continue allowing him to play there. They were also incredulous that such a little boy was able to do these things by himself already.

I had to agree that Leo is unusual for his age here in China. Most children his age are always in the hand of a parent, and have little opportunity to walk or run by themselves. I have been surprised how many times random strangers have come up to me to tell me my son is in mortal danger because he is climbing a set of stairs without my direct help (or touching something on the ground, or jumping up and down, etc). As an American, I tend to encourage Leo to explore and do his own thing while playing, and offer much less overt direction. Of course Chinese children learn to do things on their own too (and very well, I might add!), but on a different timetable, and with differing customs.

Well, Ayi and I were sad that Leo got kicked out of kindergarten, but we both admitted that we harbored some pride at this ‘distinction’!

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Shanghai excursion

The other week we made a brief trip to Shanghai at the invitation of a good friend who was traveling through on a concert tour. He let all three of us spend the night in his 5-star hotel room. Wow. We never knew a bed could be that soft!

Shanghai is a lot bigger than Nanjing. A LOT bigger. And we thought Nanjing had a lot of people! By the time we came back, we were happy to be in a city without heavy traffic jams. People in Nanjing walk a lot slower too. Shanghai is nice to visit, but here is where we’re happy to live!

Common Property

Leo’s nanny takes him all around our neighborhood to play while we’re at work and school. One day, she showed up back at the house with a stack of pictures.. all of Leo.

“I took your camera to the store and had pictures developed! Isn’t Leo cute?”

She hadn’t only not asked our permission to borrow our digital camera, but also developed pictures on our memory card dating almost a year ago. We were speechless at the invasion of privacy.

We patiently explained to her that she needed to ask our permission before using our things. What if something broke? Would she be able to replace it? What if the store uses our pictures illegally for advertisements?

We fumed about this for a day, but then mentioned it to our Chinese teacher. “She probably thought she was doing you a favor,” she explained, “saving you the time of going to the shop yourself.” Only, we didn’t have any intentions to go in the first place!

“Also, Chinese people don’t have the same concept of private property that Westerners have. If they see another person eating something that looks good, for instance, they’ll just take some and share it together. Things are considered to be held in common. Especially for someone from the country, where this is more of a traditional value.”

It’s hard to be upset over something like this. It’s just a blatant difference in cultural perspective. “Ours” always comes before “mine” – how is that supposed to go over with we Americans??