Category Archives: People we can’t live without

Favorite people photos – 1st year

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WOW!!! I started to go through my vast “collection” of photos and realized that condensing my favorites from our first year to just one post would require superhuman skills. There are so many that are too good not to post so I decided that I’ll milk this idea for a few posts. I decided to start with people. Everyone likes people don’t they? I’m sure that as I’m laying in bed tonight I’ll think about this and kick myself about the ones I missed. Oh well, I can always do another blog  and title it, “The Forgotten Ones”.

ENJOY!

9PM – 82°

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I asked Ben to kiss me!

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What did he do? He laughed! Quite hard actually. What did I do? I laughed. Quite hard as well but I also turned beet red.

As I’ve said before, Mandarin is a mine-field. One wrong tone and you end up asking your driver to kiss you instead of asking a question. The word that caused the trouble is wen. It has 7 different meanings but only 4 pronunciations. Yeah, sometimes you pronounce a word with the same tone and the only way to know the meaning is by context! I know there are some words like that in English but it’s a lot worse in Mandarin.

wěn=kiss. This tone is the third tone. Here’s how you say it. The ‘e’ is pronounced like the ‘e’ in her. The third tone starts low, then falls lower before rising again to a point slightly higher that the starting point; louder at the beginning and end than in the middle; slightly longer than the first tone. (This is the way the Berlitz dictionary describes how to pronounce the third tone. It’s easier than it seems but come on, who the heck can understand that!)

wèn=ask. This is the fourth tone. It starts high then drops sharply in pitch and volume; like saying ‘right’ when agreeing to an instruction. It’s an easy tone and I should not have failed.

In class I was learning in-depth shopping. Part of my homework was to ask Ben where he bought something. I chose to ask him where he bought his pants. I always prepare him when I’m going to speak an entire sentence in Chinese by saying, “OK, I’m going to try this whole thing in Chinese.” or “OK, are you ready?” And whenever I do he gets the funniest, most anticipatory grin on his face while simultaneously raising his eyebrow and leaning over to listen. It’s very endearing.

Me (in Mandarin): “I have homework.” And he smiled in anticipation.

Me (in Mandarin and what I meant to say): “I have to ask you where you bought something.” 

Me (in Mandarin and what I actually said): “I have to kiss you…”

Didn’t get any further than that because he started to laugh. I knew instantly why he was laughing. I’ve made the same mistake with E during my lesson so I practiced what I was going to say to Ben. Practiced and still managed to do exactly what I was trying to avoid. After we collected ourselves:

Ben: “This word is some trouble.” I hear that  from him frequently and not just about speaking Chinese.

Me: “I know. I practiced and still got it wrong.”

Ben: “It OK, it OK. Chinese people know it hard for waiguoren (foreigners) to speak Chinese. It OK.”

Me: “I am so glad I don’t look like a local because they know not to expect much.” 

He nodded a little too enthusiastically if you ask me. 😉 This led to a discussion about how sometimes it’s not so bad to stand out.

I told Anders about it this morning. He thought it was hilarious. So what did the cheeky monkey do? He got in the car this morning and asked Ben to kiss him! I had called him about 5 minutes after he left to remind him of something. When Anders answered he was laughing and I could hear Ben too! I asked him what was so funny and he told me that he asked Ben to kiss him and then they both started guffawing again. Guess he’s jealous. I’m just not sure if it’s Ben or me that he’s jealous of. 🙂

5:30PM – 64°

The Honeymoon is Over

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Today’s post has a bitter tone to it. I’m not apologizing, I’m just saying.

Yesterday when I went to the wet market the fruit that I heard about was in season. Several people, including my Mandarin teacher, told me that they are to die for. They are like tiny clementines only a lot sweeter, if you can believe that! They are about 1 1/2 – 2 inches in diameter. I bought about 15 and there were only 5 left today.  Anders is away and I knew that they would be gone before he stepped foot in the apartment tomorrow. So today, the last stop I made was the wet market.

I bought them at a fruit stall that I frequent and it’s right where Ben usually parks. He got out with me because they were a better price than he gets and he wanted to buy some. He also showed me another fruit (longans) that he likes and had me try one. They were delicious, similar to lychee. So he chose some for me (am I not the luckiest person?) and as I paid for mine he was choosing his own. I put the bag on the scale, the woman pointed to 10 on the scale, and told me in Mandarin 10RMB. I paid it. No questions. Well, a little conversation started between her and Ben and I kind of figured out what was going on. The next thing I knew I was handed back 5RMB. When I got in the car I asked him what was said. He told me the sign said 10 longans for 5RMB. She blatantly ripped me off and he caught her. She claimed she was going to give me the change. Liar, liar, pants on fire. She definitely told me 10RMB, she even pointed to the scale when she said it. I have said before that I know I pay more because of who I am and I’ve decided that I’m OK with it. Today I guess it bothered me because she lied about it and I never would have known if Ben wasn’t along. Ignorance really is bliss! It was only 75¢ but sometimes it IS the principle.

After yesterday with the Christmas tree and today with the longans, I’m a little sad.

6PM – 65°

Where’s a driver when you need him?

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I actually had to drive myself around Cincinnati today! GASP. I took Anders to work. We are in a hotel next to the office building but HE had to be driven. It may have been raining but I choose to believe he just likes being driven around. As he got out he told me in Mandarin what time to pick him up :-)It was a very odd feeling to be behind the wheel. I think the last time I remember that feeling was the first time I got in the car after getting my license, more than 35 years ago. I haven’t been in the driver’s seat since I drove myself to the airport on August 1. I remember my friend telling me that what took her by surprise when she drove for the first time was how fast she had to go. I know what she’s talking about. Driving on the freeway was a little disconcerting  but it’s like riding a bike. 

When we knew we were going to have a driver in China it was the one thing I didn’t think I was going to like. I thought I was going to feel trapped or like I lost my freedom. No more deciding at the last minute to go somewhere or changing my mind about going somewhere. Set aside that fact that Ben is a wonderful person and I can’t imagine what my experience in China would be without him, I just love having a driver. I love that the gas tank is always full, the car is clean inside and out, the maintenance is someone else’s problem, I don’t have to remember to pay the insurance  and renew the tag. I never give the vehicle a second thought.  I don’t have to Google map my destination and I certainly don’t worry about whether the signs are in Chinese or English or Pinyin. I just call Ben, he shows up, and off we go. If I have a few places to go and no time constraints, I tell Ben what I need to do and let him plan my itinerary. One day we crisscrossed town because I wasn’t able to find what I needed at the first 2 stores I went to. I would have been irritated with myself and probably would have bagged that night’s dinner but I didn’t have to. I apologized but Ben had no problem with it. He likes to drive, I don’t!

After re-reading this post, I may have been deflecting in the first paragraph. I’m the one that’s spoiled, not Anders!

No Affairs for Me, Darn

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I met a fellow GZ blogger the other day for coffee. He stumbled upon my blog while looking for ex-pat things to do in GZ. He left a comment, I read his blog, and I thought we had a lot in common. He had made M&M cookies and posted a picture of them on his blog. Why would I not want to  meet this guy?  He moved here not too long after I did so I thought it would be nice to get together and compare notes. We met at a nice little  bakery. We talked for about 1 1/2 hours and  had a good time. Conversation flowed, there were no awkward lulls in the conversation. I could have talked longer, no surprise, but I had to get home for an 11:00 meeting. Alright, it was for my in-home massage but I do have to meet the masseuse at the door.

Fellow blogger walked out with me and Ben was waiting right in front with the motor running. Hmmm. I didn’t call him. He is able to get street-side parking in this part of town so I was actually going to WALK to where he was but there he was. I said my goodbyes, off went fellow blogger, and I got in the car. I was greeted with a face, not the usual grin. It was a “something isn’t right about this” face.  So…what to do, what to do? I felt like I needed to explain why I was meeting a man other than my husband. Did Ben think I was a cougar? Now that’s funny! I explained how I met fellow blogger. I also hatched a plot though to make sure that Ben knew that Anders was aware of my morning meeting.

I was meeting Anders at 6:00 at the office with a friend who was visiting from the States. (Hey L!) I sent him a text telling him that he had to ask me in the car how my morning coffee went with fellow blogger. I needed  to be sure that Ben knew all was right in the Leidal marriage.  I thought Anders would just say something like, “Hey Karen. How did your morning coffee with fellow blogger go?” Oh no. I should have known. He sat up front with Ben, leaned over, and said, “Hey Ben. About this guy that Karen met this morning, was he wearing one of these? (he pointed to his wedding band) I’m a little worried about who she’s meeting.” Ben very seriously replied that he couldn’t see. I groaned because I thought that the humor and teasing were not going to translate. Ben caught on quickly though and then the laughing started. Ben said that he thinks he’s seen this guy at one of the hotels, hahaha,  and he would go over there and do some checking, hahaha. Anders said I’m glad to know that you’re on my side, hahaha and you let me know what you find out, hahaha. Oh they were having a good time with it.

I learned a few things from this episode. I really like fellow blogger, we do have a lot in common even thought he’s young enough to be a much younger brother. Boomerang Bakery makes the best cappuccino in the world. Ben has Anders’ back. He is my protector – I already knew that but he just keeps solidifying it. If I want to do anything surreptitious, I better call a taxi 😉

1PM – 85°

Trip Advisor not necessary, we have D

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As you know on Wednesday we are heading to the “north country.” Have I mentioned that it will be cold there? Ben and I were talking about it yesterday and again he told me it will be cold. My Mandarin teacher and I were also talking about it on Thursday because I’ll miss class and she too said, “It’s going to be very cold.” NOTED!

As it turns out I did not need to do any pre-work about places to visit and things to see and do. Anders and I are staying an extra day to enable us to do some exploring together. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do but knew I would come up with something. I should have known that with an admin like D, I wouldn’t even have to think.

She contacted an alum of the university where Anders will be working and asked her to act as our tour guide.  She will be spending Saturday with us showing us the university and sights around the city. I’m also hoping that it includes a lunch at a local restaurant. Seriously. I’m not kidding former neighbor 😉 We did not ask her to do this but being the thoughtful person that she is she took the initiative. I can’t tell you how nice it is to know that she wanted to make sure that we had a positive experience. Who needs Trip Advisor when we have D?  If only she could control the temperature 😉

5PM – 83°

Drivers are guardians too.

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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 😦

Drivers are teachers too.

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Sorry that no blog was posted yesterday. I had a BAD case of “I ate something that didn’t like me!” I felt so awful that the banging that they’re doing in the upstairs apartment to tear up the concrete floor didn’t faze me. Today it most definitely is.

This will also be the last post for 10 days because tomorrow Anders and I are off to Bali to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Our anniversary was in May but someone was in GZ on the actual day so someone needed to plan something special and someone did! 9 days and 8 nights at a resort on the very southern tip of the island and we’ll be staying in the honeymoon villa! Yeah, someone did it right.  I’ll be taking lots of photos and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write about when I return. My passport arrived right on schedule yesterday so I’m now legal for 1 year AND able to leave the country!

I actually managed to have 2 Mandarin lessons this week. It was a close call this morning as I didn’t think I was going to make it but after Anders fixed me tea and toast I felt much better. My teacher has learned that I’m interested in Chinese characters and while she can’t teach them as part of this class she does throw in one or two per lesson. I will definitely be  taking a class in the next year or so. They are fascinating and so meaningful. She also taught me a curse word. I said darn at one point and her eyes lit up and she asked me if I wanted to learn one in Mandarin. Again, I’m fairly certain that it’s not part of the Berlitz curriculum. She was cute about it and got her point across without being crude.

 This then led to a very interesting conversation with Ben. Now he gave me a lesson in cursing.  All the way home. I started by showing him what E had taught me and he kind of laughed because as it turns out what I learned from E was not so bad. He told me he couldn’t imagine me having a need to say it so he taught me a few things I could use. It was hilarious. I do not have a foul mouth, I occasionally curse but it’s mild stuff for the most part. But we were both dropping the f word like it was part of our normal daily language. I have never heard him say anything, even when people do really stupid things while he’s driving he never even beeps his horn! But I learned a few words today that I can’t repeat. Not that I’m demure or anything but I just can’t remember what he taught me. 😉  I do remember one because  he had me write it down. He said it’s not that bad and I wouldn’t shock anyone if it came out of my mouth.  I told him that I couldn’t believe that we were talking about this.  It was a very surreal conversation and we were both laughing the whole time.

Drivers, they aren’t just for driving!

5PM – 79° (remnants of Typhoon Nesat)

Just another reason to love him.

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As I wrote the other day, I was very excited to come across the puffy heart that Andrew gave me. It was in my car basket that contained things like a tire pressue gauge (I never used it), hand sanitizer, lotion, and CD cases. When I gave the basket to Ben to put in the van I pulled it out and told him the sentimental story behind it. He understood.

Last night I finally emerged from the boxes, paper, plastic storage bins, and general disarray to meet friends for dinner. When I got in the van, there was my heart both literally and figuratively! Ben hung it up for me. I always had it hanging somewhere on the radio controls or air vent but I never told him that. I just told him I kept it in the car. He even hung it on  the side of the van where I sit when I’m in the middle.

As if we needed another reason to love Ben.

Ben Q & A

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My dear friend back in my hometown asked me a few questions about Ben. Here goes, it’s “All About Ben” day.

Q: How did we get the gift of Ben? That is exactly what she asked. Nice wording because he is indeed a gift. Being ex-pats we are not allowed to drive in China so we get a driver. Driving here is not dangerous, it’s not like there are a lot of accidents but the traffic patterns are VERY different. It’s odd but somehow it all works. They all know what the rules are and traffic just flows, I don’t really understand it much. I’ve only seen the aftermath of one accident and it was just a fender bender. Because it’s so congested the only time you’re moving fast is on the freeway so around the city it’s slow. 

Typically either the employee interviews the driver or the admin does it, especially if the driver doesn’t speak English. People with children will want to ensure they have  a  safe driver and one who is willing to do a lot of driving in the afternoon and on weekends for after school activities. Another person  might only want someone who speaks English (according to Ben only about 10% of the drivers that he knows speak excellent English.) You have the driver for your whole time in China so it’s important to find someone that’s a good fit.

Anders met Ben very briefly after a company dinner when he was in GZ prior to moving here. After meeting him he had D set up interviews with Ben and 2 other drivers. Anders bumped into the family that Ben was driving for at the watch market of all places along with another family. Anders asked the employee, his wife, and daughter about Ben. They described him as caring, reliable, and a “guardian”. There were a few times when street vendors were tad aggressive toward the wife and daughter and he got out of the car to shoo them away. The other family was in need of a driver and heard the conversation but knew that Anders had an interview with him. He told Anders that if he had any doubts that he would take him. Anders said that he was taking him and called D to have her cancel the other interviews. That is how we got the gift of Ben.

Just today our last stop on our way home was a small convenience store that caters to ex-pats. The kind of place where you can buy Hershey’s chocolate licorice for example. Anders and I got out but I did not grab a bag out of the car because we only needed about 3 things. You don’t get bags at grocery stores here.  When we went to the register to pay one of my bags was sitting there. I stopped in my tracks and just smiled. When I went out to the car I told him he was the best and he just gave me one of his big grins. He knows!

Q: Is this Ben’s full-time job? It is. He works only as a driver. Essentially he is ours 24/7 but we’re nice people and don’t  abuse the system. If we had an emergency we could call him in the middle of the night and he’d be here as fast as possible, I have no doubt. All the drivers know that there is the expectation to drive on weekends. We were told early on that we should try to give him one day off on the weekend. That hasn’t happened very often. He wants to work and I believe his favorite phrase it, “No problem, no problem. ” Add a Chinese accent and you can imagine what we hear just about every day that we’re with him. There have been times when we’re out to dinner and we’ve accumulated extra people who need a ride back to their hotel or their apartment and he happily deposits them wherever. As he said after he became a dad, “I’m a father now, I have responsiblity. I need to work for my family.” How can you not admire that?

A  week after we moved here we spent Saturday with friends of ours and their driver picked us up and transported us for the day. The next day when Ben picked us up we mentioned to him where we had gone. He had a stricken look on his face and asked us if we took a taxi. We told him that we were with friends and their driver took us around.  We assured him that we would never take a taxi! He looked so relieved and I think it broke the ice a bit.

Q: Do certain employees have the admin/driver combo? Certainly there are people who have both but I believe  that we are the luckiest ones. Anders “inherited” D from his predecessor. The admins are aware of how difficult the language problems can be and how different everyday things are in China. They do not just help the P&G employee with the normal duties but also help the family with other issues that might arise. D accompanied both Anders and me to the bank the first time we had to do something other than make a transaction at the ATM. This is just one of many examples of all that she does for us. If you read any previous posts you know how much we appreciate, and adore them.  

Q: Have I seen pictures of Ben’s daughter? You bet. The day after she was born he had a few pictures on his phone. As I am constantly looking at the view out my front window I happened to catch him the first morning he picked up Anders after she was born and he was showing the other drivers her photo. He was the proud dad. People are the same no matter where you go in the world. She looked all squishy, cute, and like a newborn. Last week he brought in his camera to show me pictures. She is beyond adorable. She was three weeks old and her eyes were open and she didn’t have the newborn puffiness. She could not be more  beautiful. She has Ben’s eyes and ears, which he had told me the day after she was born and by darn she does. I had commented on all her thick, black hair. As the mother of blonde babies, they were both bald. That’s one thing that I tend to notice when I see other babies. Let’s just say she’s gorgeous.

Q: Did we give him a gift? Oh yeah. As we were only here a week when she was born we definitely needed guidance on that. D recommended giving him a case of Pampers. We did and he was very appreciative. Every new parent needs them. The first day I met Ben and he was driving me home from the airport, Anders and I were chatting with him and Anders mentioned that Ben was going to be a new dad in the coming weeks. Of course my first thought was, what does somebody give for a baby gift in China?!

Q: What happens to Ben when we leave? Normally he would be interviewed by any employee that is interested in hiring him. While that may be the norm that is not what is going to happen, not if I can help it.  Anders and I will be the ones conducting the interviews. We will take it upon ourselves to make sure that the new family is worthy of him, not the other way around!

8PM – 91°