Monthly Archives: October 2011

Puppies, Bunnies, and Pandas oh my!


On Friday the pre-K classes had their Halloween parade and party. I was in my office when I heard a bit of a commotion outside and knew that it had to be the 2 and 3 year olds starting their party. I went to the terrace and sure enough they were coming back from their parade around the complex. I think they were on a high from that and about to experience a sugar high from the food that was laid out for them. I was  green with envy because I saw cookies and cupcakes!

Elvis is alive and well and living in GZ!

I was not the only one though that was interested in what was going on. The “noisemakers” aka construction men from upstairs were also taking in the excitement. I was watching and happened to look up and saw several faces peering out the window. I gave them a wave and ni hao and was rewarded with a smile and ni hao back. They seem to have accepted the fact that I’m going to say hello to them every time I see them. Instead of looks of disbelief they now smile and say hello. Perhaps they came to the conclusion that I’m not a crazy American, just a friendly one.

The costumes on these kids were fantastic. I’m sure they were all handmade because with so many tailors why wouldn’t you? This is quite an international group of kids but they were certainly into the spirit of the day but nothing says America like kids dressed up and a sack full of candy!

I saw: Woody, a cowboy, Spiderman wearing a turban (I loved it), Superman, a Valkyrie (Viking goddess), a pumpkin, fairies, princesses, a bride, Minnie Mouse, ballerina, a witch, Elvis, and my favorite – a traditional ethnic Chinese costume. 

She would have won "Best Costume" if I had been judging.

So other than the school party, trick-or-treating at the complex, and a few decorations at restaurants and stores that are frequented by ex-pats you would never know it was Halloween. We certainly didn’t have an early nor’easter to ruin anything!  Happy Halloween from the Puppies, Bunnies, and Pandas classes!

3PM – 80°


Zoukai = go away!


I had a good Mandarin Saturday. My confidence is high. I”m not manic/depressive, I swear.

Our dear friend A is in GZ on business so he’s staying with us for the weekend. What do men want to do when in GZ? Go to the watch market. So that’s what we did. One hour and 10 watches (A was responsible for 8!) we were getting ready to leave. Our “qualified watch supplier” has his sister meet us at the entrance to the market upon arrival and then she walks us back to where we get dropped off. I called Ben to pick us up and told him in Mandarin that we were ready. She was standing in front of me and heard me. She turned around and laughed out loud. She was so funny. She wasn’t laughing because I said it wrong, she was laughing because I surprised her with my Mandarin. She thought it was great. It was cute and only emphasizes how amazingly friendly the people are in GZ.

The best though happened after lunch. We were in a slightly more “earthy” part of town waiting for Ben to pick us up. A beggar approached us and I told him zoukai. I said it nicely but I knew what I was saying. Believe it or not this morning I found the “go away” phrase in a book and asked him Ben if it was OK to use.  I explained that I don’t want to be mean but I don’t want to give money to beggars and I want them to leave when I ask them. We discussed for a while how important it is not to give them money. He also told me that if I said zoukai to a beggar it would work because they would think I had lived in China a while. If they think you’re just a tourist they keep at it which is why I wanted a phrase to send them on their way. Anyway,  after I told the beggar to go away he walked behind me so I didn’t get to see his reaction. Anders and A  said he gave me a thumbs up several times and grinned. He muttered something so I thought he was calling me unflattering things. Anders heard him say hao de (good job). Then he stepped in front of me. He was smiling, chatting away in Mandarin, and it was very clear to me that I had shocked him but he thought it was quite funny. So in the end I sent a beggar away with no money AND a huge grin on his face. Not a bad day’s work!

I may take up golf instead


Mandarin Chinese (MC from here on out) is the dialect that was chosen to be the “common” language of the country. It is spoken by more people than any other language in the world, remember that tidbit for Trivial Pursuit. There are 4 tones in Mandarin, 5 if you count the one that is neutral. English is a flat language. We use voice inflection for dramatic effect or to convey emotion. Mandarin uses it to convey meaning and almost every word has at least one tone, except for the few that use the neutral tone.  The Chinese language uses tones because it has fewer syllables and more homophonic words (words that are pronounced the same) than other languages. Chinese has 400 syllables and English has 12,000!

Disclaimer: none of the  MC words in this post will have tones marked above the corresponding letter because the wingdings on this site only have 2 of them for MC. I don’t have the time to figure it out in Word and then copy, cut, or paste. Sorry. Just imagine little marks above the vowels. They can be whatever you want them to be, just make sure there is a different mark above every “a” or “u” in the MC words in the next paragraph.

Some common words to practice tones on are: ma, ma, ma, ma. Depending on the tone they mean: mother, hemp, horse, or to scold. Then there is zhu, zhu, zhu, zhu with the assigned meanings of pig OR pearl, bamboo, master, or to reside. I mentioned a tongue twister E gave me a few weeks ago. The only difference in the 3 words for the whole thing is whether I raise or lower my voice and whether my tongue is touching the back of my teeth or the roof of my mouth. I’m a visual learner so not only do I have to see the spelling of the word but I also have to see the correct tone for the correct vowel, and then say that tone correctly. (It’s like practicing your golf swing: head down, shoulders back but relaxed, feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, elbows straight but not locked, roll your hips, and DON’T LIFT YOUR HEAD KAREN!) Can you say uphill battle? No tones needed, just say it with an exasperated inflection.

It’s very strange to be home all day by oneself and talk out loud. Try it, it’s odd. I say things in my head but then remember that I have to say them out loud. The other funny thing is that for the most part I’m just saying individual words. No sentences,  a word just pops out every now and then.  Door, office, wallet, cup, clock, beer, wine. See where this is headed?   I put  post-its on things in the house.  I have a list of drinks on the refrigerator and “measure words”.  The Chinese love their measure words even though they’re not measuring anything!  When a certain driver helped me with my groceries this week he laughed and I mean laughed. The more stickers he saw the harder he laughed. To the point that when he went to the door to leave and saw the post-it for that word he almost tripped walking out the door. I am not exaggerating for comedic effect.

Wow, I just realized that this is not a very positive post. Talk about a defeatist attitude! I’ll never learn with that attitude. I put way too much pressure on myself and for various reasons want to be speaking like a local after 3 months. Anders just doesn’t have the time for lessons here. Shampoo and conditioner don’t make themselves you know! He’s depending on me to get us around GZ and China, we’ll end up in Kazakhstan.  I want to make E proud, she’s such a great teacher. I want to impress friends and family when they come to visit 😉 Ben thinks I can do this. And I don’t want anyone to think I’m not smart enough or horrors, too old to learn!

Yesterday as we pulled up to the building for my lesson I told Ben that is was time for me to start thinking in Chinese. We laughed and as I got out of the car he said, ” Just change your SIM card.” Oh how I wish it was that easy and wouldn’t that be cool?!?!? Can someone please work on that and make it a reality in the next 6 months?

2PM – 79° (This is for you neighbor, you know who you are.)

Grapes from California?


I went to the wet market on Monday. I needed a lot because now that I have my kitchen all set up there are no more excuses to go out for dinner, at least during the week.

I took my “little money” because the vendors don’t really appreciate being handed a 100RMB for something that costs 4RMB. I don’t blame them. 100RMB is equal to about $16 and 4RMB is equal to about 65¢. My dad asked me about the money in China so in the future I will do a post about it.

I bought: 5 large tomatoes, 2 red peppers, 1 English cucumber, small head of broccoli and cauliflower, big bunch of scallions, 4 apples, bunch of seedless grapes that were imported from California which means I paid way too much for them but they are fantastic, snow peas that were curly, 2 cabbages, 2 small heads of romaine lettuce, 3 carrots, 1 bulb of garlic, and cherry tomatoes. I went to 4 different vendors. They are very sweet and like to choose the best produce for me and they really do choose the good stuff. I guess it makes them feel better about charging me more.  I was done in about 20 minutes. I saw a woman buying live shrimp, hopefully for dinner that night because you can’t get much fresher than that.  I mean they have fish swimming in tanks so why not live shrimp? I think the next time I will buy some. Guess how much it all cost?

Yes, that's my dish drainer!











I don’t even have everything photographed that I bought. $12. That’s right $12!  I pay more than a local so I can only imagine how much I’d save if I had an ayi (household helper) and sent her to do the shopping. Which will never happen because I love the wet market. After I got home I had to spend about 45 minutes washing everything and putting it away but it’s worth it. The fruit and vegetables are so delicious. Just look at the colors!

Drivers are guardians too.


I just got home from the “Crap Market” or as it’s more commonly known, OneLink. I ended up going by myself because my fellow “crapper” couldn’t make it. I almost didn’t go but I thought it would be good for me to get out by myself. I even used some Mandarin at the stall where I bought 3 adorable purses for $14.  Actually that’s all I used and maybe a little gesturing. I also managed to walk into 2 dead-ends in the building. That’s not easy to do yet I managed it. I’m so directionally challenged when there is no tall beacon to guide me. That is the real reason I don’t like to go to OneLink by myself! I get lost.

The real point of this post is Ben. I hope you don’t mind yet another tale or two of how wonderful he is but this man is a treasure and we are INCREDIBLY lucky to have him.

He’s teaching me a useful Mandarin phrase everyday. This was precipitated  by him very gently, sweetly, delicately, and kindly telling me yesterday that when I call him I just need to tell him what time to pick me up. We can discuss plans when he can see my face. For anyone that speaks another language you know how difficult it is to talk on the phone! Point taken 😉  So that led to me asking him to teach me the phrases I need when I call him. I showed up in the car this morning with a notebook to write down what he tells me. Oh, he thought that was funny. Today’s lesson was “I’m ready.” He thought for 5 minutes about the best phrase to teach me as there are several. He told me that he doesn’t want to teach me anything too slangy but also doesn’t want me to speak high-Mandarin.  Thanks for keeping it real. I wrote what he told me, spelled incorrectly of course, and practiced it with him because there are 3 tones in this short little phrase!

He then put amazing amounts of pressure on me, unknowingly of course. He told me that he thinks in 6 months he won’t need his English when talking to me! YIKES! You can’t do that!  I won’t be able to do anything for the next 6 months except study, study, study to achieve that level of expectation. I told him that he was being kind but he said that he truly believes it. After I ODed on OneLink it was time for me to call him. I practiced it a few times in my head and I laid my zhunbei hao le (I’m ready) on him and I got an enthusiastic hao de (good) in return.

I had asked him to take me to an ATM before I hit the market. We got talking about my “lesson” and forgot until we pulled up to the front of the building. I asked him if there was one nearby and he pointed me around the corner. I admit my heart skipped a beat because I wondered  how I would ever find my way back to where he dropped me off.  As I’ve said before, where you’re dropped off is where you’re picked up and as I’m so directionally challenged I panicked a tad.  So, I noted that there was a Chinese Lottery kiosk at the corner and walked about 1 1/2 blocks to find the bank.  The ATMs were in a lobby but if you’re waiting you have to do it outside, that’s how close they are to the doorway. So, I was waiting and watching the guards have a very good laugh about something, and I heard behind me, “Karen, you ok?” It was Ben. He surprised me but after I thought about it I shouldn’t have been. He wanted to make sure I found the bank and that I was OK with the ATM. I told him earlier there is an ATM 1 block from our apartment but it doesn’t have English options. So he waited until it was my turn and when the English came up he stepped outside to wait for me. As we were walking back to OneLink he cautioned me to make sure I kept my wallet in my purse and to keep a tight hold on it, both inside and outside. It’s a crowded place and there are some nefarious looking people hanging about. He did not use the word nefarious, that’s me taking liberties. I looked up at him and realized that he was being the guardian that we had heard about from his previous family. I don’t even want to think about the day we leave China 😦

“Tailor-ware” party


We went to our friends house last Friday evening to meet D’s new best friend. D is really into having clothes made and might be slightly addicted to the fabric market, by her own admission. She’s the one that took us 1 1/2 weeks ago to meet her “shirt” guy. By the way, they should be ready to pick up in 2-3 days according to Ben. Yes, we had him call because the tailor spoke very little English and yes, he’ll also go pick them up when they are ready AND yes, we know we’re spoiled. D’s new BFF makes house calls and was thrilled to meet 4 more of her friends. Mr. H speaks very good English and was easy to work with.

D was in India on vacation and bought 2 saris. The salesman tried to convince her to wear them as saris. Indian women are beautiful and I think they look amazing in saris. D thinks a Western woman wearing a sari just looks like a Western woman wearing a sari and I agree.  She had one made into a Chinese-style dress and a pair of pajamas, and the other made into a Chinese-style jacket. The 3 pieces were gorgeous and I wish I had taken a picture. Based on the work he did for D, we ordered a few things. 😉

 Anders decided it would be funny to wear his largest pants there. I guess he thought the tailor would take pity on him and give him a good price. It was hilarious because he could have done an ad for a miracle weight-loss program, that’s how big they are. He pulls his belt to the last hole and the waist gathers so much it looks like he’s wearing a flour sack. When he gets dressed in the morning I tell him that those pants are ridiculous or not hideously large. Not hideously large means he can go to work as dressed, ridiculous means go try again. Mr. H had a lot fabric samples but I insisted on wrinkle-free material. I’ll iron shirts but I refuse to iron dress pants. Ugh. Anders ordered 8 pairs! Truly, there is not one pair of pants that fit him. Mr. H is going to make one pair, come to our house, and based on that he’ll  make the rest.

I ordered 2 pairs of dress pants (had a favorite pair copied just much smaller thank you very much) and 4 shirts. The shirts are copies of 3 shirts that I had. I was going to donate one of the shirts before we moved but then remembered how everyone in China raved about tailors so I brought it along. I’m so glad I did. When Mr. H brings Anders’ guinea pig pants, I’m going to have him go through my closet and determine what existing clothes can be tailored down to fit. It seems wasteful to just get rid of everything and have all new made. You can also give the tailor a picture of something you want made and they do it. Now that’s talent! Mr. H also had beautiful Chinese silk. He had shiny silk and not-so shiny silk. It’s all dry-clean only but I think I will have to have something(s) made. Not sure what but oh my, I wish you could have seen the fabric cards. You name the color and he had it.

I have to admit that I can see how it can be addicting. Shopping for fabric is entertaining. You see a stall where the fabric is piled high, walk in, and start digging. It’s kind of like looking for seashells. It’s a treasure hunt and you don’t know what you’ll find. I actually saw one woman who was crawling across a stall and she was above eye-level. Perhaps I never mentioned this but safety standards in China may need a little work.

The female readers seem to be very interested in this part of the China experience. I say, “Come for a visit and experience it for yourselves!” As soon as everything is done, I will post pictures. We can’t wait. We can’t wait to see our things. I can’t to see Anders in somethings that actually fits and he can’t wait to wear something that actually fits. Time for him to show off that new svelte frame 😉 Now I have to go to India (perhaps visit the Taj Mahal along the way) and buy a sari.

Pollution or haze?



Clear day Guangzhou

This is Guangzhou on a clear day. This happens to be the view from Anders’ cubicle. Even though he doesn’t have an office (no one does) the view more than makes up for that. 


Pollution day Guangzhou

This is Guangzhou on a not so clear day. This happens to be the view from our terrace. Even though we don’t have a huge terrace (no one does) the view more than makes up for that.

Weather Underground shows that GZ is experiencing haze. I’m no meteorologist but I would not call this haze. If Google translator is being used it would explain the translation breakdown.  Let’s call a spade a spade, it’s POLLUTION. Fortunately this is the worst I have  seen in the 3 months we’ve been here. I only remember it coming close to this bad one other day.  We are lucky that we’re here because this is what Beijing looks like just about everyday. I’m not sure I could live there if this was the norm.

I apologize for not having apples to apples photos but: 

A) I thought you might like to see what Anders sees everyday

B) I didn’t have any photos from our terrace other than T-storm and night shots. That’s the real reason. 😉