Thursday, December 19, 2013

Let Nothing You Dismay

It's gotten bitterly cold here in China, but that hasn't stopped our intrepid group of Wednesday hikers from heading out to wander the mountains around Beijing. So as I look forward to a day of family and pasta next week, I wanted to share with you some of the sights around here. Far outside the kitsch of Beijing, there's nothing but Great Wall, rolling hills, and some very chilly hardcore hikers.

And no wise-guy comments this time. The Wall was broken before I got there.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Setbacks for No-Grudge Smudge

So I have good news and bad news concerning Smudge.

The good news is that she's been started on the process of exiting the country, which includes her rabies shot at the vet, as well as a microchip implanted under her skin, something China insists on for pets leaving the country.

Why, you ask, would all pets be required to have a microchip? I don't have an answer, but I can say it does play into the general paranoia all expats have here. If I hear her start to buzz or talk into her "sleeve," I'm going to be concerned.

Especially since she now seems to be a card-carrying red book holder. The vet gave me her little red book, which shows all her immunizations and vaccinations, and proves that she's not going to be leaving the country with an infectious disease.

But we also got some bad news.
Smudge apparently has kidney disease, which explains her fascination with drinking out of the toilet. The condition is irreversible, and will eventually kill her. What we don't know is when that might happen. The vet suggested that I could take a series of steps to keep her hydrated and make her comfortable, things like giving her a subcutaneous injection for additional hydration.

For those of you who know Smudge, you can stop laughing now at the image of me chasing her around our Beijing apartment with a needle. In addition to what is virtually impossible, I'm not sure I want Smudge's last months (if that's what they are) connected to the idea in her head of me as the one sticking a needle under her skin.

But my friend Danielle, who came with me to the vet the other day, dubbed her No-Grudge Smudge after that experience. Did Smudge blame me for chasing her around the apartment, shoving her into her cat carrier, driving her through Beijing, and then forcing her to huddle on a cold metal examination table while two vets attempted to take her blood pressure by putting a teeny tiny blood pressure cuff on her leg, and then on her tail? No, she did not.

I would like to think, like Danielle, that it's because she holds no grudges. But the truth is that she's not smart enough to make the causal connection between bad stuff that happens to her, and me, her Number One Human. That, of course, argues for the possibility of me actually being able to inject her down the line. Maybe I could wear a mask?

In any event, we're taking it one day at a time, which is what we do anyway here in China. For the moment, Smudge seems delighted with her little catnip mouse that I got her at the vet, my lap for sitting, and the treats I give her every time I go into the kitchen.

Santa is going to bring her a cat water fountain, so that she can have more drinking options. Whether she'll be terrified by it or enjoy the extra drinking is an open question.

Overall, except for a few moments where I felt sorry for myself and even sorrier for Smudge, I think we're okay. And in a few days, I'll be back in the land of Christmas decorations that are not purple. Now those are some tidings of comfort and joy. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmastime Is Here Too

Of course there is a lot less evidence of the whole Christmas spirit here in China -- and I'm not even talking about the attempt to kick out half of my journalist friends or the near-death experiences I face each day I try to cross the street -- but I can report that there is some sign of the holidays here.

Just don't expect it to be, well, the usual. In front of Bob's office building is a giant spring green unicorn creature with a Christmas tree where the horn normally would be. The other day I saw an entire Christmas tree made of white and purple hearts. Because you know nothing says Christmas like a purple heart.

And here are a few other gems I've collected over the last week or so. Be warned: this could wring the Christmas spirit right out of you. Ho, ho, ho.
Okay, you can have a creche, but it has to have a silver tree with purple ornaments too. Mary wanted that.
Another winning combo: tree plus windmill. Because, China.
Lonely tree in the basement floor of a mall.
Silver tree wrapped with ugly red and blue fence.
So cozy, so welcoming.
CD tree, courtesy Mengfei
And finally, the perfect Christmas gift: a real stuffed dog. Imagine finding that under your tree Christmas morning, kiddos.
And a bit of cuteness, the possibly saccharine kind, but better than stuffed dogs.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

And Then There Are Days Like This

Living in China is an emotional roller coaster. One day you feel exhilarated; the next day you plan your escape, right down to the Celestial Seasonings you'll drink and the marathons you'll run when you're back on home turf.

Today falls into the second group. There are the journalist issues -- so many friends are waiting for their press cards, the first step in getting their visas renewed for the next year. Some predict that they'll get kicked out but the conventional wisdom is that China will renew them at the last minute, December 31, ruining many a holiday plan. (For the record, we have our visas, so we're good for a year.)

There are daily life issues. One friend reports her rent is increasing by 50 percent: highway robbery. Beijing, after Hong Kong, is becoming one of the most expensive cities in Asia, at least where housing is concerned.

There is pollution. Another friend reports that Shanghai is having a record beyond-index pollution day, around 500, as she drives to the airport to move back to the States. It's so bad that her plane may not actually be able to take off.

There are strange illnesses. Rotavirus seems to be going around the neighborhood, with at least one toddler and one thirtysomething with confirmed cases. It's a high-fever, vomiting, diarrhea kind of illness that lasts a week if you're lucky.

China is like the honey badger. She don't care.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Why I Love China

Yes, there are days that are beyond frustrating. And then something like this happens.

I'm having lunch with a friend when I realize that the strap across my shoe has come apart and it's hanging off my shoe with the button dangling by a thread. I pull the button off and put it in my pocket, starting to walk home.

I'm stopped by a policeman. (Normally, that kind of sentence might strike fear into one's heart, but the lack of guile in most Chinese on the street -- even those in the uniforms -- brings a sense of trust that I don't think I've found anywhere else.) He points to my foot and, I assume, tells me my shoe is falling apart.

That's another thing about China: everyone minds everyone's business. That is, unless they've fallen and are hurt on the street. But gain a few pounds, get a haircut or need a haircut, wear something too warm for hot day or, much worse, too cool for a cold day and you will hear about it. I think it's considered a general public service.

Anyway, I thank the cop and tell him I know my shoe is broken and go on my way.

Twenty feet down the street is a little stand which offers shoe repair, bike repair, and probably assorted other services. I hobble over to the guy, hand him my shoe, sit on his tiny stool in the pale near-winter sun, and wait as he sews the button and strap back on my shoe.

Done. It costs me 5 RMB. That's 82 cents. Doesn't seem like much, but that same 5-kuai note could also buy me a jianbing (with change leftover), or two baozhis, or a small baked sweet potato on the street. So basically the guy just earned his lunch.

Does an 82-cent shoe repair mean I want to stay here forever? No, but it certainly makes things a little nicer in the meantime.