Friday, November 29, 2013

Gobble, Gobble

It was a dinner that began with a near-disastrous dump of the turkey on the not-too-clean kitchen floor and ended with something called hokey-pokey ice cream. In other words, it was perfect.
Thanksgiving in Beijing has been much covered in the press this week. Read to the very end here and also check out this (item #12).

So what could I possibly add to that cornucopia of fun, goodwill, love for all creatures, and excess?
Well, there was the sight of my dear husband studying up on his Chinese so he could explain to Li Na, Lingling’s adorable mother, the whole Hanukkah, festival of lights theme before our party began. I believe he looked up the words for freedom, rebellion, and some other terms that are not commonly bandied about in the Middle Kingdom. And there was three-year-old Marco, who discovered he had a stash of stuffed animals hidden here, causing him to toss toys across the floor wantonly. And then there were two babes in arms, adorable two-month-old Gianna and adorable three-month-old Dou Dou, who we decided should marry some day and make ultra-adorable babies. There were my Beijing son and daughter, both happy to have a real American meal in a setting that they described as “not China.” There were some issues with my overheating the sweet-potato latkes, and with forgetting (I’ll admit it now) to strain out the rosemary from the pear-rosemary pie, but in general, the whole durn thing was a blast.
Here are some fun photos of the days leading up to the big feast, plus the feast.

The lovely couple who sold me my Thanksgiving turkey.
The lovely lady who sold me apples and pears.
The lovely lady who sold me my Thanksgiving vegetables.
It turned out great. And for that, I give thanks.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Don't Tell the Ayi

The last time I had a head cold, I made the mistake of sneezing and sniffling around her, and she acted like the world was coming to an end. She immediately ran out and bought pears, brown sugar, and these white ear mushrooms, cooking them all together in a nasty soup that she sat in front of me and forced me to eat.

This time when I got a cold, I was determined not to let her notice. Before she came today, I drank three piping hot cups of herbal tea, and sucked on vitamin C drops. I would blow my nose only when I could hear she was in the other room.

My strategy worked until about 30 minutes before she was done. She was in the study, where I sat, and I had to clear my throat.

Her head whipped around. “Gan mao?” she asked.

“Yi dianr,” I admitted. “Mei wenti.” I didn’t want her to think the cold was too bad. She offered to make me tea, which I refused.

“But you have a cold!” she said in Chinese.

“Yes, but I’m okay,” I said back in Chinese. Since she was done with her work for the day, she was forced to accept that and leave.

Debbie: 1

Ayi: 0

Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Really Speak Chinese

I had a revelation today about speaking Chinese. It can serve a whole other purpose in my little expat world, I discovered when WeChatting with a couple of friends.

To preserve their privacy, I won't name these friends.

But one of them offered me a glass of wine at her house the other day. Another unnamed friend's little one eyed my red wine and yelled out "SHUI!" (water)

"No, honey, that's Mommy Shui," I said.

Another friend admitted just now that she told her ayi she was going in the bedroom to "study" when she was really planning to nap. Why she needed to keep that information from the ayi is not clear, but it gave me an idea for a new term.

"Xue xi" -- naptime. After all, studying a language is only as good as the uses you can put it to.

Now I'm going to get a glass of water and study. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

More Fun with Chinese

It’s a Saturday afternoon, and I’m trying to study my Chinese, even though the air is clear and it’s not that cold out yet.
But I’m being virtuous. Even so, I’m stymied by the bizarro nature of the conversations that the protagonists of my book, “New Practical Chinese Reader,” engage in. I realize that these are not REAL conversations, but it’s distracting.
Our hero, Ma Dawei, wants to buy a CD (a guangpan). Yes, I know, who goes out and buys CDs anymore? Anyway, he runs into his friend Wang Xiaoyun in the CD shop. He tells him he’s buying an English music CD. His buddy talks him into buying a Chinese music CD, “liang zhu,” which is “butterfly lovers.” (Thank you Google.)
And then the conversation gets really weird. Suddenly Dawei asks his friend if he could also buy books and newspapers in that store. Right, Dawei. You can’t fool me. You’re just trying to make sure that the students remember shu (δΉ¦) and baozhi.
I put away the ever-engrossing “New Practical Chinese Reader” and get out my iPad, which has two good apps: Writer and trainchinese. Trainchinese in particular likes to give examples of the way a word is used in context, and the more you dig into that well, the more you learn about what’s really on the mind of Chinese people.
Take, for example, the word “ji,” which means engine or machine. You get all the iterations that use ji, and as you scroll down the list of examples, you start to get longer sentences, like this: “The airport was forced to be closed due to the heavy rain” and “Chances only favor those who have got well prepared.”
Trying another word, I look at bao, newspaper. (Keep in mind that bao, same tone and same character, means “to report, to repay, to revenge.” And other versions of bao with different characters and different tones mean to hug or carry in the arms – little kids will scream “bao bao!” when they want to be held – and also, with a different character and different tone “treasure or baby.” But I digress.)
Bao the newspaper’s example sentence is: “They have reported about this incident on the newspaper.”
I have no comment.
I move on to jiao, to teach or instruct. Here’s one usage: Jiao shi you bei cheng zuo yuan ding. Teachers are also called as gardeners.
And then I find this: Jiao cai zhong de hui hua yao sheng huo hua. The dialogues in the textbook should be lifelike.

Hear that Ma Dawei?

Update: I realized today that I got two Chinese words confused: baozhi (newspapers) and baozi (buns). I'll never learn this language.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thailand Idyll

We're just back from a week in Thailand and, despite the usual travel hassles (I hate you Air Asia, you deceptive, money-grubbing, runway-hugging, hard-seated excuse for a business), the rest of the trip was a respite, a rest, and a revelation.

The sensory delights of Thailand will linger in my head: the careful and graceful way an elephant will grasp a bunch of bananas in her trunk and toss them carefully into her mouth. The look in an ellie's eyes when I scratch her behind the ears. The guttural crunching of a small watermelon as an elephant chews.

The array of colors in Chiangmai's wats, dragons made from tile, and Buddhas covered in gold. The smell of incense.

The soft sand on Railie beach, against the volcanic rock that juts from the earth, the same mountain range we've marveled at in Guilin, Halong Bay, El Nido, and now Thailand, those karsts that seem to be made simply to make you smile. The blue-green water that is so warm your body enters almost without noticing the transition from dry to wet.

The curries and noodles and spices that make Thai food the world's comfort food. The welcoming warmth of Thai people. The blue skies.

Here is a rather long photo record of the trip. I've done enough on Facebook.

First night at Puripunn hotel in Chiang Mai

One of Chiang Mai's many, many wats.

Ancient wat,  blue skies
Blue skies, white wat

Leaving Chiang Mai: comfortable seating for monks only.
A beautiful day for elephants
How to water an elephant.
Mud baby
Elephant on the right is saying, On Wisconsin!
Our cottage at Railie Beach

Railie Beach

Railie sunset