Archive for November, 2010

Thankful

What we are thankful for here… in no particular order…

  • For breezy autumn sweater weather at the end of November. It’s been a beautiful fall here in Nanjing!
  • For a turkey on Thanksgiving – our first in China! It was DELICIOUS. And EXPENSIVE. Good thing we split it with 3 other families.
  • For our children. They are the light of our lives.
  • For Leo’s kindergarten. He has really started to have his own little life there! And he likes it!
  • For a good nanny who is sweet to our babies. And has a pretty good accent that she is passing on to them.
  • For an almost violent crime-free city. I know, I know, freedom and rights are violated, but all in all, we live in no fear of being mugged, and walk freely at night. That would be a rare find in a city of 6 million in the US.
  • For our jobs.
  • For our friends here and at home. We are thankful for community.
  • For our families. We miss them, but they still shape and strengthen us from afar.
  • For each other. Wherever we are, and whatever we become – in China, in the US, or wherever life takes us.
  • For jiaozi (Chinese dumplings).
  • For new words, new places, new thoughts and ideas. Our lives are always full of these things here.
  • For the GAP coming to China! Thank you capitalism! I (Liz, definitely not JM) almost cried when I entered the store in Beijing. It was a religious experience.
  • For the students we work with.
  • For Chinese massage (oh so thankful).

Happy Thanksgiving All!

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Mei Mei Muller!

Naughty little Mei Mei!

Well, it’s happened. We named our daughter Rosaline, but her name seems to be Mei Mei. Mei Mei means little sister in Chinese, and it seems to have become her name here. So much so, that last night when she BIT her mama (pretty hard, I might add), I reacted by saying, “Mei Mei Muller, don’t bite mama!” without even thinking about it.

Life Is Different

So it’s been about five-hundred years since my last post.  At least it feels that way!  And it also feels like our lives in China have fast forwarded quite suddenly as well.  This is likely because in the last year, I’ve had a baby (and boy does that fill your time!), gotten a new job, moved (across the street, but still), traveled throughout the US for two months, and to top it off, I am now a full-time working mom.

Our lives look a lot different than they did last year too, which is another reason it likely feels we’ve fast forwarded.  We are both working full time, and formal time as students of Chinese has come to a close.  Which is not all bad, since being a student is rather rough on the pocketbook.  Leo is in kindergarten, and is speaking Chinese all day either in school or with his nanny.  JM continues his full-time work as a teacher, and I am in an office all day, with mostly Chinese colleagues and some other Americans.  Rosie is at home with our nanny, a new ‘ayi’ that we hired to work all day from 8-5pm while we work.

We live where I work, as the company provides housing for the foreign employees.  This makes for the world’s shortest commute.  Our apartment is nice, and we are enjoying some creature comforts we’ve gone without the past few years – like a bathtub, carpet, a built-in oven, a clothes drier, central heating and air, and filtered water from the tap.

Lest all these perks fool you into thinking we have suddenly hit easy street :), know that I am working hard for the money.  I am separated from my children a LOT, but we are adjusting and managing.  I am working in education administration, and one of my favorite things about the work is that I work with mostly Chinese colleagues.  I enjoy my American colleagues, for sure, but it has been a great opportunity to use my Chinese far beyond the market, the playground, and the home. I am now using it everyday in a professional setting, and that is great.

So our lives have, over the course of almost three years, settled down here in China for the time being.  Life feels much more normal now than it has ever before.  We have some routines now that we haven’t had in the past, and it’s not as difficult as it used to be to navigate our everyday life.  And I count that as a blessing at this point!  I don’t have to look up new vocabulary words every time I walk out the door.  My newer challenges include things like getting to know an entirely different office and business culture and balancing two small children with a very busy work life.

For instance, I just returned from my first business trip away from my kids here.  I was gone for five days up in Northeast China.  I had the opportunity to meet a lot of directors of different educational programs, and it was a great trip all around.  One funny thing, although while I was on the road I worked about a twelve-hour day each day, my days seemed exceedingly relaxed in comparison to my days at home.  I practically didn’t know what to do with myself (but I figured it out eventually – time to read a book over a glass of red wine quickly became a fulfilled vision, as did an eight-hour night of sleep).  I had time to think and make phone calls; I even trimmed my cuticles.  That being said, I was glad to scoop my kids and husband back into my arms this past Friday afternoon.  There really is no place like home – sloppy wet kisses, snuggles, and sweet funny babies really make my days and nights.

So here we are, living this very normal/abnormal life here – on the one hand working and raising our kids, and on the other hand doing it in China.  It’s still exciting, it’s still exotic at times, and it’s still challenging in many ways.  But it’s a very different life than we’ve led over the past two years.

Another foreigner’s tax

We’re used to paying more just for being a foreigner. In a largely negotiation-based economy, we know that Chinese natives can almost always bargain for a better price for the things they buy than we can. Plus, we’ve been told straight to our face that because our salaries as foreigners are higher than average, it’s only fair that we pay higher prices.

The government is getting in on this now. Frequently, long-term residents have their luggage and personal items mailed to China, because of airplane luggage restrictions, bulky items, or just to get care packages from home. Customs has usually foregone taxing packages valued at less than $70.

Now they’ve lowered that value to $8. That means any box that is worth more than a McDonald’s value meal will now be subject to import taxes. And, according to our friends, the person who sets that tax is a local post officer, who will OPEN your box, personally assess the contents, and give you a 20% fee based on what they THINK the contents are worth.

Hmm.. Does Target ibuprofen retail as high as Advil? What’s the market value of back issues of Time magazine? Is that a new Rolex or a second-hand one (or a knockoff made in China!)?

Apparently the government will step in to save us lots of trouble. Maybe we shouldn’t even fill in the customs valuation forms anymore. There should be a postal stamp that says in Chinese: “Please open me for valuation”.

We’re glad our four boxes from home arrived just before this new law passed. But we’re reconsidering what to ask sent to us for Christmas!

A for effort

I spoke to one of my Chinese students today about taking the TOEFL test for college admission. He is one of the brightest and motivated students I’ve ever taught, and wants entry into a top US university. The TOEFL score is just one component of his application, a
standardized measure of his English fluency.

I asked him how he was preparing and he said: “ETS [the company that runs the test] always gives China the same questions that were offered in USA last year. So I simply download all the released questions, subtract all the questions that have been tested in China so far this year, and focus on the remaining ones. It’s a way Chinese students can get such high scores.”

I didn’t know whether to praise him or scold him. This is already a country with a reputation for cheating on tests, but is this student really cheating, or just being industrious? I figure in the end that ETS has to know this is happening, but how could they do so in good faith? They are the ones marketing their standard, yet there’s this tremendous loophole for Chinese students.

At least my student will learn all of the English on those remaining questions!