leaps & bounds

This has been an exciting week in Asia's life as she takes leaps & bounds towards reading! She is really quite smart (we are pretty sure she is a genius!). Ali & I had tears in our eyes the other day when for the first time she began linking all the sounds of letters....and reading!! She has been working on her sounds for a long time and a few combinations, but it seems it just clicked in her head, because she has gotten much better at it recently. She was looking on www.starfall.com (a great website for teaching kids letters & how to read) the other day and just like that - she was reading entire words!! Now, she gets so excited with the cutest smiles when she can read and understand a whole sentence. We know this is just the beginning of a whole new world that is open to her as she falls more in love with learning. We are really excited for her.


an exciting find - liang cha = 凉茶 - Iced Tea

A few nights ago, I came back from the corner market with 3 new iced teas for Ali & I to taste-test. This tea won the contest, and is a new fave. Its called "Heqizheng" = 和棋正, pronounced "huh-chee-jung." Taste-testing new drinks has become an occasional family event out here. I think the tea is made (partly) from a root that is supposedly good for sore throats. You can buy the root raw and it makes for a delicious hot tea too. I like it because it has three distinct flavors as you drink: First, a pleasant minty flavor refreshing your mouth, followed by a smooth sweet taste. Third is sort of an earthy/dirt aftertaste that just feels healthy. Not that I eat dirt very often, but it is way better than chocolate or cheese and it grows on you. It is hard to drink just one. :)

It is one of the more expensive teas, for a whopping 3.5 kuai, or 45 cents.....only for special occasions! Ali likes the picture of the Chinese man with his pretty fan. Doesn't it just cool you down looking at it??


a sweltering Saturday....

by 8am this morning the thermostat read 87 degrees Fahrenheit....and it got up to 100 degrees at the peak of the afternoon. yea, Summer (xia-tian = 夏天) is officially here! Our city definitely fluctuates between the 2 extremes (freezing winters & sweltering summers) with some nice breaks in between. We love the weekends though - as we get some time to relax, lounge in our jammies, get errands done, and hang out as a family. Most of the weekdays are filled with lots of class, tutoring and language study...so the weekends are a welcome relief to unwind and be mellow....OR get out with the kids. Because of the heat though - its hard to find much to do outside that is worth the sweat.

But this morning, around 9:30am - Asia exclaimed with such excitement, "Mom - I have to get dressed and go outside! It's *VERY* special! The sprinklers are on!!" Special INDEED. :) So Justin took the girls out to run around the courtyard/walkways while the sprinklers watered the grass. They all had a great time getting wet, and frolicking in the spray (as you can tell by the picture). She was drenched!! Poor Asia fell and scraped her knees pretty good. She came inside crying....and the nurse-side of me kicked in, as I scrubbed and washed her little knees while she screamed. I vaguely remember my mom doing the same thing when I was little. Luckily - my mom (a real nurse = hu shi = 护士) equipped us with some great medical supplies before we came back. We had everything to doctor up her tiny scrapes. She's a trooper...and she loves Neosporin and band-aids. Eden is the goofiest kid in the clan. She will always pose for a silly pict as you can see. Thanks for reading and remembering us! We feel so privileged to be living out here, and love to share about our daily lives. I bet its not-so-different from yours. :)


Sydney boop boop

That is what Eden calls her!! She has so many nicknames - Squid, Syd, Mei-mei, Scooter... she is growing up way too fast. She is over 6 months now, she can sit up on her own, and loves to scoot all over the carpet....and she almost always scoots straight for the tiles, where she waits for someone to pick her up. She loves any non-toy, especially DVD's, beaded bracelets and metal objects. Her eyes are this amazing blend of dark blue & hazel - but definitely not like A&E's bright blue. She has a few sprouts of hair...but still pretty much bald. She adores people and smiles continuously. She is our skinniest kid thus far, not as plump and chubby as my first two. She gags when we try to feed her anything solid - so we will wait a few more weeks to see if she can actually swallow food. For now, she is content with momma-milk. Sydney has decided that sleep is overrated, and that she doesn't want to miss anything her big sister's might be doing....even in the wee hours of the night/morning. She needs some change in this area of her life, as does mom.
A'PA (pictured above), as the girls call her, can put Sydney to sleep instantly - and she has been such a help to us around the home. Here's a picture of Ali's hero, holding Syd. We love watching the dynamics change and grow as we raise three beautiful, creative & energetic daughters in this land. Its an adventure....but one that we will never forget. I hope you enjoy watching them each grow and change from afar.


big number four... so mature now

Hello friends! we wanted to share some pictures of Asia's birthday party yesterday. she had such a great time with her "English friends," and being the center of attention. She wore her pink #4 birthday hat most of the day.....even after the party was over. such a die-hard. The pictures tell the story pretty well. enjoy!

It was such a sight - to see 9 white kids, parents and birthday balloons taking over a small park. This was her request, "English friends at the park" so we granted her wish. Thanks for the gluten-free cake mix Nana!!


my "bargain king"

I am not fond of shopping here: I guess I'm not really a "shopper" in general, but I love to find bargains, practical discounted items, and even better - used stuff @ garage sales or on Craig's List. I really love the REI garage sale, but that's another topic. Believe it or not - Justin is the main shopper in our family. No, he doesn't hang out at the mall or spend hours perusing the goods, but he's the one that goes to the market, the department stores, the electronic store, the home-supply stores, etc. His language abilities are more advanced than mine....and even more than that.....we call him "The Bargain King." He even asks for the "best price" for food....

Justin is an expert bargainer. He's been doing it since we moved here. Everything we have ever bought here in this land has been bargained for, besides the rare places where prices are fixed. In our 11 short months of Mandarin studies, he has mastered the bargaining lingo and can converse easily with shopkeepers in a strategic dance that can be so amusing. Watching & listening to Justin bargain is so funny. It's not just his words but also his facial expressions – the shock, the disgust, the surprise – and then the exaggerated body language that communicates a complete disregard for the item in question no matter how much he would like to purchase it (tai gui-le = 太贵了 = too expensive!). Sometimes I even question if he wants to buy it too, he's that convincing.

If I am lucky, I might have a part to play in the banter - while I walk away and begin to show interest in another item nearby. But there is no way that I will ever come close to the skills of "Bargain King." There may not be a sales tax on most items, but we definitely have to bargain creatively to avoid the "skin tax." Justin says its an ART to walk away from a deal knowing you got a good price and the shop keeper is still relatively happy.


DON'T whistle while you walk

Here in China, children learn to use the "potty" at a very early age. earlier than most kids in the western world. we have heard of kids being trained as early as 12-15 months!! Chinese toilet training consists of: holding your baby gently by the hips over a potty, or by the edge of the road and whistling softly to imitate the tinkle of urine. its amazing! Chinese babies & toddlers don’t wear diapers at all, not even cloth ones. Instead, they always wear "split pants" (see pict above). Also, someone is always available to be with a Chinese baby (since there is only one child per household), to be fully attentive to their needs. Parents/grandparents begin to toilet-train their child as early as one month! Incredibly, most babies are basically toilet-trained by six months, at least during waking hours. By the time they can walk (12-15 mo), they know to squat down in their open-crotch pants whenever they feel the urge.

Obviously, there may be a huge debate across the globe as to when/how to toilet-train a child, and that is not the purpose of my post, but just to share the way it is done here in the Orient. And it works for millions of Chinese babies all the time, so there must be some truth to this method. And it is VERY conservation friendly - conserves trees, water, petroleum & landfill space, which are huge factors. Not to mention the built-in air-conditioning.

Now, I happen to smile when I see a little Chinese bum. they are everywhere!! Maybe until the children are around 3-4 years of age, they will continue to wear these "split-pants." And today, Asia decided to join the crowd and pull down her shorts & undies while we were playing outside this morning. My head was turned in another direction as I watched Eden running down the path, so I giggled when I looked over and saw her squatting to pee on the grass. She has seen it done SO many times here, so why not join the masses? (sorry, no picture for ya) The only differences: she is already potty-trained, AND she had me run inside to fetch some toilet paper while she stood there half-nakies. Silly kid. I think she was just curious and wanted to prove to herself that she could do it. Now she's even more Chinese than ever.

FYI: I do have a few qualms about this method. I notice that there is little concern for location of this event....which creates in me - a hygeine concern, where my girls sit, play & explore. I have seen this happen on a bus, near a tree, over a garbage can, on the street....you name it! I try not to think about the grime/dirt that is all around me - ALL the time...or else I think I would be consumed by it. If these parents can handle it, we can too. Now you have a glimpse into another cultural difference in our world. And a little reminder to not whistle while you walk here in China.


send in your questions!!

hello friends & fam. in an attempt to make this blog more interesting to read - we would love to hear your questions and ponderings about life here in the wild west of China. we will see if we can post a weekly Q&A with J&A. we will do our best to post pictures to give you a visual too. so ask away - we can't wait for your queries. you can also glance thru previous posts (along the right column) in some of the areas you might be interested. have fun browsing. we hope you fall in love with this place too! love J&A
p.s. write us at our email address!


"english" friends

sometimes I forget that we are living cross-culturally. until my sweet Asia reminds me. when i asked her how she wanted to spend her 4th birthday, and she said, "I want to go to a park with my English friends." so here's the first-installment of some of her "English friends" as she calls it. believe it or not - the parents of these two cuties grew up in San Jose, CA! what a small world. its been so fun getting to know them, as we have similar humor, upbringing and cravings for a good burrito or avocado. Their mom is also expecting #3 in a few months! The 2 little girls even look like twins sometimes. i can't tell you how wonderful it is to meet people with similar loves & lives out here. the kids cherish it too.


a wedding event

today we got to attend our 2nd Chinese wedding!! it was very fun, and always a cultural learning experience. One of Justin's previous language teachers got married today!! She is such a sweet girl, very spunky and giddy. She looked beautiful and was truly glowing! Really -- she was decked out in a big white dress - with heaps of fake colored rose petals, lots of glitter, hair ornaments and flowers throughout her hair. You can kind-of see in this picture. isn't she so cute??

We were the only white people there, and quite the spectacle (we didn't even bring all THREE kids!). Weddings here are not typical ceremonies, but more like a reception/celebration. There are no vows or any program you might think of as "American." lots of toasts, bowing to one another & bowing to the parents. there is always a BIG meal with dozens of dishes placed at each table, with so many new delicacies to try. the DJ was loud!! he hardly stopped yelling into the loudspeaker as everyone ate, and most of the men were smoking, but overall....it was nice. at one point, one of Justin's other teachers came over to see Sydney, and we gladly let him hold her. he was gone in a few seconds, and then handed her off to another lady (who we think was his wife?). I tried not to get nervous, until 30 seconds later I see this woman putting a piece of candy into her mouth (she's only a 6 month old baby!!). Justin rescued her just in time. now she knows the taste of sweet-candy. she is ruined forever. :) just kidding.

My favorite part of the day was when the groom (who we had never met before) yelled to us over the microphone in front of the entire room full of guests, "Has President Bush ever gone to a Chinese wedding?" What can you say?? if he hasn't, he's missing out!!


June 1st - Children's Day! 儿童节

here in China, today is a *very* special day for kids. every June 1st, is Children's Day! kids won't have any homework, and some don't have school. This is a day to celebrate with their family and go to fun parks! it's a day to be treated with lots of yummy, sweet-tooth snacks, and showered with gifts. for many, it can be one of their most favorite days as a kid. almost every park, museum, cinema, art exhibit or other entertainment park is open free-of-charge, and some schools throw big celebration parties while parents & friends shower them with presents. i have read that this day is celebrated because children are the "future custodians of the nation" so they seek to provide them with a good family, social, & educational environment.

for our family, everyday is children's day. :) we spent the day dancing in tutu's, painting with watercolors, baking bread, running thru the tall weeds outside (which we aren't supposed to do), eating peach-juice popcicles, and enjoying Cowgirl Dora. as i type we are eating strawberries and making garlic rice for dinner. sounds like a fun June 1st to me.