Archive for November, 2009

Short circuit

About a month ago, I (JM) thought our Apple laptop was toast. It’s five years old, a pretty venerable age in computer years. It suddenly decided not to power up, but only turned on showing a black screen with the cooling fan running in the background. This may have had something to do with my dropping the computer last year, but it had been working fine since then with only occasional blackouts.

This problem was pretty serious. I used another computer to google the symptoms, and sure enough, "The Black Fan of Death" was a common problem for other iBook G4 users. To my delight, a website offered a do-it-yourself solution to this problem, professing to save you the $500 asked for by Apple retailers for the fix.

Too good to be true? This website (coreyarnold.org) has 500 testimonials from other users. So, I thought, what’s to lose? I can’t really find much in the way of authorized Apple support in China anyway.

Nerve-wrackingly I followed the instructions on his site, opening my laptop up for the first time ever. This is what the back of an iBook looks like without its case on:

The fix involved shimming a loose microchip that everyone was having the same problem with. You can see my cut-up blue credit card sitting with a piece of chopstick over it, placed under the black power cable.

I fixed it in place with some tape, and voila! With the computer cover back in place, the shim puts enough pressure on the circuit board to fix whatever the problem was with that chip. The computer has worked with no problem for over a month now!

I should mention that the original chopstick piece in these pictures was too big- I whittled it down lengthwise so it is now only half as thick as it looks. I didn’t want the board underneath to crack from too much pressure!

I wonder what else MacGyver would have done with a chopstick and a credit card?

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Peanut Butter Cookies and Leo’s Latest Chinese

The Muller household is proud to announce that we are now the happy owners of a countertop OVEN. Yes, after almost 2 years of oven-free living in China, we treated ourselves this past weekend to an (on sale!) oven to ring in the holiday season. It is JM’s (early) Christmas present to Liz, and she thinks this may be her favorite Christmas present EVER (maybe with the exception of the Christmas I got the Pongo Ball). Last night the smell of freshly-baked peanut butter cookies wafted throughout our apartment, and the word ‘cookie’ is now firmly embedded into Leo’s permanent vocabulary. They were actually almost too sweet for all of us, since we don’t eat tons of sugar here, but somehow we managed to eat a LOT of them anyway. A pumpkin pie is next on the list, and Liz has visions of muffins and pizzas and casseroles dancing in her head. Although it’s been a blessing in some ways to do without an oven for a couple of years (we’ve certainly learned how to cook more Chinese dishes because of it), having an oven makes our home in China just a little more like home.

Now getting the oven home was quite a feat. We traveled to a suburb to buy our oven, and it just so happens that this area is under heavy construction. Which in China means TOTAL CHAOS. We made our way through a bit of rubble across the street to catch a taxi home (with JM lugging the oven and Liz lugging Leo), only to find that taxicabs aren’t crazy about this area right now (I can see why). The nearest bus stop was about 1 mile down the very busy and congested road, and there was no pedestrian walkway. So, we hired a pedi-cab driver (who were keen to pick up the business the taxi drivers didn’t want), and he hauled us the mile to the bus stop. We are happy we made it in one piece, and truly wish we had brought our camera to show you all. I thought we were going to tip over about 5 times. Then we caught 2 other buses and then another cab to get all the way home. But we made it, and the oven survived the trip.

On another fun note, Leo continues to make leaps and bounds with his language. The other day he told his Ayi, using Chinglish, "Ni have it. Gei wo!" Which means, "You have it; give it to me!" She jokes that he will teach her English (which is not far from the truth, as she has had to acquire a few words to understand what he’s saying at times).

Winter is here!

It’s been a while since we’ve posted, and I wanted to give everybody a quick update. A couple of days ago, it SNOWED – a real snowstorm that lasted an entire day and actually left some snow on the ground! It doesn’t always snow every winter in Nanjing, so it is a real happening here. It also rarely snows this early in the season, so everyone is wondering what this winter holds in terms of weather.

Since we live south of the Yangtze River, our city does not have central heating in any buildings. We rely on space heaters and lots of clothing and hot drinks to make it through the colder months. We arrived in Nanjing in February ’08, and narrowly missed the last snowstorm in Nanjing. We lived through the last bit of ’08’s winter, and then last year really experienced winter in Nanjing for the first time – on the 7th floor of an uninsulated North-facing apartment building. It was cold. We moved. End of story.

This year, we are happily situated on the 3rd floor of a building that has other buildings around it, and so far so good. We are now pros at switching our various space heaters around the house to maximize the heat with the least amount of electricity usage. I’m really into space heaters, and if you ever want to know the various pros and cons of differing types of space heaters, you just let me know – I’m our household expert.

Leo was less than impressed by the snow; he was outside for 10 minutes and decided it was way too cold and wet for his liking. The next day he outright refused to go outside all day. Today, he’s much more content now that the sun is shining, and I also think his day indoors was just boring enough to convince him the cold isn’t that bad after all. If he would agree to wear his mittens, he might like the snow a lot more.

As for me, I am now wearing my huge black maternity-ish winter jacket, which somewhat hides the fact that I am 8 months pregnant. I look like I might be pregnant, or I might have a huge beer belly. This is causing some problems, because getting on the bus is becoming next to impossible (when I am lugging Leo, the backpack, and the stroller, I can barely make it up the bus stairs now). So I have to immediately open the coat when I get on the bus to get a seat and I really feel like I ought to get 2 seats these days. My days of riding the bus solo with Leo are very numbered. I think taxi rides may be in my future for the remainder of this pregnancy. It literally takes me 5 minutes to recover my breath after I sit down, and if the bus is crowded and thus hot – then I also feel like throwing up about 10 minutes into the ride. 🙂 Ah, pregnancy!

But winter is here to stay, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. We are excited to begin celebrating the holidays, and I am counting down the days until Thanksgiving so that I can put up our Christmas tree. In the US, we had a strict no Christmas decorating rule until just before Christmas Eve. But that was in a country where you couldn’t walk two steps after Halloween without being confronted with Christmas. But here there is none of that, and we make our Christmas for ourselves. So we will decorate early and try to squeeze every Christmas-sy little tradition into the next month or so. Not to mention, I could very likely have this baby before Christmas. I will confess I have already been singing Christmas carols to Leo, and have moved our decorations to the front of the closet, but so far I am exerting my self-control fairly well.

He’s not thin, he’s active!

The other day Cheng Ayi had Leo outside to play with some other kids at a park while I was in classes. After I returned from class, we were sitting at our table while Leo was eating, chatting for a few minutes before she left for the day. She reported that people often tell her how thin Leo is and ask what he eats at home. Cheng Ayi herself has often questioned us about his diet and made some suggestions, because we do have a little guy who is pretty lean (much like his dad). I have no qualms about adding butter, oil, whole milk, plenty of good cheese, and whatever other sources of fat I can squeeze into his diet – and although Leo is still in the range of normal, he’s just lean and that’s that! And frankly, this makes most Chinese people uncomfortable. They like their babies and toddlers seriously beefy.

So it surprised me when Cheng Ayi reported that she now springs to his defense when people give her trouble for Leo’s lean frame. She retorted to them that Leo eats a lot (which he does, especially these days). But then she went on to say that she told them that Leo is so active that it just burns right off (which is highly likely, as anyone who has seen him whirl around our house for 10 minutes can tell you). And (this is the best part) that Chinese babies and toddlers are just not as active because their parents fatten them up too quickly – chasing them around with all kinds of food and bottles of formula and milk constantly. As a result, she concluded, they don’t want to move because they are already so fat, and so they just keep getting fatter. So that explains why Leo is so active and agile now (which he is, it scares me and makes me proud all at once!), and why Chinese toddlers are slower to move the way Leo does.

I’m not so sure of this explanation, but I sure got a kick out of it! I think Leo’s frame and agility has a lot to do with genes and his own natural temperament. But I do love the fact that Ayi is now coming to his defense after about a year or more of worrying that we were somehow starving our poor child.

Midterm Exam – Finished! Leo – Escaped!

I (Liz) just finished my mid-term exams, and do I ever feel like an undergrad again! I did manage to sleep some last night, thanks to JM who got up with Leo in the middle of the night (Leo’s been a little restless since his vaccine last week, unfortunately!), but wow does it take some kind of effort to prepare for a Chinese language exam. The volume of material that we’ve covered in two short months is astounding and impossible to fully absorb.

That said, I can’t believe how much I have absorbed in two short months. More and more, I am getting it, and more and more I can hold intelligent conversation, as well as READ. This is the glorious thing – to be quasi-literate once again. I really know how it feels not to be able to read. It renders one thoroughly incapable of shopping at the grocery store, taking the bus, reading instructions, etc. Now, I am well past that stage, and I am grateful! The last year and a half has been filled with challenges of all kinds, but this has been the biggest.

Leo’s latest achievement is escaping his crib. He has long been able to climb in and out at will, but he’s never figured out that he can do it at naptimes or nighttimes if he wants. Well, last night, after JM had said goodnight, Leo showed up in our room with a thoroughly happy and self-satisfied expression on his little sweet face! He was raring to go and so happy to have freed himself. JM and I had to suppress our laughter and we solemnly walked him back to his bed (not wanting to encourage this behavior in the least – it was our only choice ;). He loudly protested this premature return to bed, but did not get out of his crib again. Whew! We’ll see what tonight brings.

Leo gets his kicks

As Leo grows older, he’s become more and more aware of all the attention he garners as a foreign baby in China. Everyone still adores him and wants to interact with him, but these days he is developing a healthy sense of his own space and he’s not always willing to do so.

Today, at a bus stop, two well-meaning Chinese Nainais (older grandmotherly women) we’re talking with him and telling him how "pretty" he was. They wanted to stoop down and play with him in his stroller, something he was not willing to do at the time (it was late, he was hungry and not in the mood for the attention). He repeatedly told them in Chinese, "Bu yao!" (meaning, "Don’t want!"). However, Chinese peoples’ boundaries are much less tight than ours are in the States, and specifically, children’s boundaries are the least respected of all here. Generally children are laughed at and then the adults do what they want. I tend not to agree with this aspect of Chinese culture, as I think it’s good to teach children a healthy sense of self and a respect for your own needs as well as those of others – and part of that, in my opinion, is having your wishes about your personal space respected.

Well, this Nainai decided, as many Chinese do, not to heed my son’s "Bu yao!" and got right in his cute little foreign face. As our bus was coming, I didn’t actually see this happening, but I suddenly saw her jump up and yell, "He kicked me! Hard!" She was rubbing her mouth, as Leo had really aimed well and kicked her straight in the face.

I sputtered out a quick, "I’m sorry!" as I jumped on the bus with Leo. JM did the same, and we semi-chided Leo for kicking a grandma. However, it was hard to feel that sorry or really discipline Leo for kicking – as Leo had given her adequate verbal expression of his disinclination to interact with her in the first place. I’m secretly glad he feels empowered to ward of unwanted attention, and definitely plan to intervene sooner on his behalf the next time I think he’ll haul out and kick another grandma. I don’t have to worry about his assertiveness, that’s for sure.

From Rhogam to Rabies

Today was rather busy, with classes all morning, a big shopping trip to a Target-like store here to stock up this afternoon, followed by a doctor’s appointment for both Leo and I. I was all prepared for Leo to get a vaccine – having been through this before, I bought him a new little toy bus and some mini M&Ms to sweeten the pain of getting a nasty shot (something my parents can tell you I really hated when I was a kid). Happily, his vaccine went off without a hitch while he was happily distracted by his brand new bus and the taste of sugary goodness in his mouth.

However, I was not so lucky. As I was taking care of the paperwork on the front end of our appointment, I noticed the word "Rabies" written at the top of my form. Hmmm, that’s strange, I thought – why "Rabies"? When I called for the appointment, I asked to receive "Rhogam." For those who don’t know, Rhogam is a shot that many women who are Rh Negative (it has to do with blood type) receive during pregnancy to protect their babies from possible complications if they are married to men with Positive blood. JM is positive – so I need this protection with every pregnancy. It is a good thing I really do read every form, and that JM was along for the appointment today (thus playing with Leo, allowing me to read all those forms) – because today, I almost received a Rabies Vaccine. This would not have been a good thing for a pregnant lady who has not recently been bitten by a rabid animal (and who has already been vaccinated anyway).

So, I cleared up that little snafu with the nurse, and asked her to please switch my request to Rhogam. One interesting and little known fact about Chinese people – almost none of them have negative blood; it’s just not in their gene pool. So, none of them need Rhogam – so instead of Rhogam, they heard me ask for Rabies. Understandable, yet it underscores the need to be extremely careful when communicating in a foreign language – we have learned to ask questions twice, and then ask them again in another way to make sure everybody’s clear! I have asked several times whether or not Rhogam is available at the clinic, and the answer was always, "Yes, of course!" So I assumed it would be no problem to come in and get the shot. But the Chinese, "Yes, of course!" is not always as it seems.

The thing I’m left with after today’s appointment is – why didn’t they ask me, as an obviously pregnant lady, WHY I needed the Rabies vaccine just now? It wasn’t my first time to the clinic – they’ve got my history, etc… and yet, they just assumed I knew what I needed. It is a good thing that is mostly the case.

In the end, we did not get Rhogam, because they have to special order it from Hong Kong and it costs a gajillion dollars for one dose. So we’re back to the drawing board to see how to make this work financially. The other fun thing about my blood type – the hospital has to special order blood for me when it’s about time for me to deliver in case I need a transfusion. I happen to be the Universal Donor blood type, but unluckily for me – I can only accept my own kind of blood. Let’s hope I never need a blood transfusion in China!

My doctor, in top form, took one glance at my belly and said, "You look like you are at least 35 weeks along! You’re big!" (I’m 30 weeks.) And then he went on to say, "Maybe you’ve got twins in there!" Ha ha. SOOOOO funny. Hilarious. Can’t stop laughing, I’m sure. I told him not to mess with a pregnant lady because I can’t take the stress right now. So he went on to grab his nurse to commiserate with his opinion that I am really quite huge. She had no choice but to agree with her boss.

So, no rabies (thankfully), no rhogam (too bad), and confirmation that my BIG baby girl is growing strong in my HUGE belly. 🙂