We decided to switch things up a little the other day and catch the Thames Clipper, since we live so close. It was a lovely spring day, though a little chilly on board ship, and JQ decided to break his nap strike and actually sleep a little while he was on board (of course only while in his carrier).
Pro tip–to get the best looking pictures, try balancing the camera on top of your baby’s head while you try to get the best shots. He’ll wiggle and possibly even squeak at you, leading to the best crooked pictures you’ve ever taken. (I’m well on my way to teaching a photography course!)
I did end up getting few good pictures without millions of heads and the backside of the boat in them, however. This one of Tower Bridge, for example.
And the battleship whose name I feel I should know but can’t remember.
There were also some people out enjoying the river
And we saw a lovely view of the dome of St. Paul’s looking rather incongruous next to some newer apartment buildings. But at least they’re not Soviet style architecture.
Oh, and London Bridge too. I think most Americans assume that London Bridge must be some fabulous looking bridge that’s the most amazing thing they’ve ever seen. Well, it’s not.
Just kidding; that’s not actually London Bridge. It’s Waterloo Bridge. But the principle is the same.
And just in case you’re wondering what the backside of a boat looks like, here you go. You can thank me later.
It’s me, Seth, again! As many of y’all know—or don’t as the case may be—I am Annika’s (pronounced: A-Naka [ed: don’t you believe him]) little bro-ski, and in that official capacity I was able to biff off and visit sizzors in London a few months ago. The official reason I was sent was to see sister and Jared and JQ, but the real reason was because mother wanted to go, but she needed me to go with her and keep her from getting smashed by a double-decker bus or a bin lorry.
Anyway, having never done much flying, the nine-hour flight had already soured me on London before the plane even touched down. The flight wasn’t that bad; it was my lack of ability to sleep that made me completely miserable on this first flight of any duration (the flight back was lovely and Morpheus closed my eyes more than once for an hour and a half nap, which made quite doable and even enjoyable). Upon my exit from the plane I was at once introduced to that famous damp weather that apparently London has a monopoly on. This did little to ease my sleep deprived mood. Next, we had to pass inspection by the border control personnel. This accomplished—after I cleared up some misunderstanding having something to do with them not getting some joke I made about coming to the British Isles to cause a ruckus at #10 Downing Street—we made our way across the city to Annika and Jared’s flat, which, I was surprised to see, was actually quite three-dimensional and very lovely. By this time I was ready for lunch. While I was still extremely tired, this in no way affected my ability as a trencherman. In short order I was cracking the chicken bones and sucking the marrow out of them, which was slightly odd because Annika had served us roast beef.
By this point in time, my tiredness had become acute, and I was quite relieved when Mum and Sizzors biffed off to the other room to examine the stuffs mum had brought Annika and JQ from the states, and Jared biffed off to continue his studies, leaving me alone to take a nap. Well, not quite alone: JQ was there too. This presented complications as he was asleep on the only suitable piece of furniture there was to take a nap on: namely, the couch. I have often observed that babies have perfected the art of taking up the maximum real-estate they with their small size can muster, and I would not be surprised if some scientist discovered that the square footage a baby requires could expand into the double digits. I settled into the small corner of the couch left for me, and soon found myself desiring a more comfortable position. Being stretched out on the floor was no better, and soon I found myself coveting JQ’s spot on the couch. In short order, I found myself comfortably ensconced on the couch with JQ lying in the crook of ma’ arm. This worked quite well, and we both got quite a long nap.
By the end of my time in London we were quite good friends and he even began copying Uncle Sethy.
When I awoke, London was looking much better. Anyway, over the next nine days we walked all over and saw lots of interesting things. The first major sight Annika took us to see was Tesco. It was absolutely amazing—it was there that we were introduced to British culture right where it counted; food, clothing, house goods, etc… and the admission seemed to be quite reasonable. To sweeten the deal, they even gave us a few heavy sacks full of various things to take to the flat. From there we walked around the square of the Woolwich Arsenal—for the cheapskate readers I would recommend the square because the admission price is a quite a bit less.And to make it an even better deal they only made one take a sack of fruit; apparently these British tourist destinations have so much stuff they can’t wait to pawn it off on helpless Americans. (ed.: Tesco is a British supermarket, and the square is the British equivalent of the American farmer’s market, but I did not want to let on to Seth that I knew this mostly because he would have balked at the idea of wasting sightseeing time to shop…)
The next day Annika was beginning to get that look in her eye that one sees a welder develop as he realizes the shower of sparks and slag coming from his arc are finding their way inside his glove, and me and mum figured the prudent thing to do would be to get out of sister’s hair. Which is almost impossible to do in a two room flat. So we found ourselves exploring London solo. We continued this daily pilgrimage for at least a few hours every day and saw many strange and wonderful things, of which I shall only mention the highlights. Jared took us around his college, and in the vicinity of the college we found this little shop, which Mum, being a Dickens buff, had to enter.
But the final laugh was on her, as it was only inhabited by a grumpy Asian man selling shoes.
After we got over our disappointment, we took a cruise on the Thames and went to the Greenwich Observatory grounds and saw the laser arcing through the fog to show the meridian. We saw the maritime museum, several old important buildings that some guy named Parliament built, and next to them a big honking church built for some guy and gal named West Minster and Abby respectively. We went to famous London preacher C.H. Spurgeon’s church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, for our Sunday morning service and heard a rousing sermon by Dr. Peter Masters. We also went further afield and took a trip to Gloucester to see friends, and had a delightful lunch and tour of the grand old town. I for one was glad to get out of the city for a bit and cool my heels in a place where it was not so easy to lose mum. The last notable place we visited was Dover with its white cliffs, and all the rest I shall leave without comment except to say that Mushy Peas look and taste exactly like they sound.
In our many jaunts around London I was given to wonder why I had always wanted marry a spirited Lass. Mum is among one of the most spirited adventurous women I have ever met and at times it was with the utmost difficulty that I kept from losing her as she would move with the crowd to get on the bus or train—the wrong bus or train, or even worse when she would begin to cross the road having looked the “wrong way” and almost get smashed by an oncoming bus. I especially pondered this question as mum would duck into many little shops to examine small things (flowers, parks, paintings, baby clothing etc…) as I wanted to go look at bigger, better, more interesting things.
Like this dredging bit. . . for some reason mum found its charm elusive.
I came to realize that it was for the same reason that the cat goes and eats grass when it is sick; namely, because it knows what is good for it. I dare say I would not have had a hundredth of as good a time if mum had been less adventurous. In fact I probably would have been content to sit in the flat bugging sister and holding JQ. Thus, the moral of the story is, always take along a spirited woman when you set off to see the world—or else you probably won’t see it, although look at it you might.
I found it fascinating to watch the inhabitants of London who, despite their many differences, all seemed to have one thing in common—they are always in a hurry! Secondly, it struck me as slightly disorganized in its general layout, and for the most part, a hodgepodge collection that had evolved into its present state over a long period of time, which, while not providing for the rapid assimilation of the American tourist, did lend a particular je ne sais quoi to the overall mystique of the city, and aids the adventurous in finding new roads. Thirdly, I had to marvel at the transportation directors and their splendid work in organizing the publick transportation for so many millions of persons every day, so that even a backwards American farm boy could get around quite easily . Lastly, London struck me as a place where I would not like to live—as I far prefer open fields and the clean air of country life. But for all that, London is a fascinating place full of great history and well worth a visit.
Since there are (fortuitously) seven steps to follow, I’m linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes!
Can you believe my baby is already almost five months old? He’s getting big so fast! So in honor of being the mother of an almost five-month-year-old (how Jared says it and it’s so funny I have to include it here. Do tell if you know anyone else who says that!), let me give you some advice on how to make your pregnancy really easy and stress free.
(Cute baby picture so you’re reminded what the end result will be).
First, start your pregnancy in a country where no one speaks your language. Prenatal visits are that much more exciting when you have to listen to the nurses practicing how to say “gynecological” from Google translate. And you’re never quite sure if they’ve understood any questions you have. As a bonus, when you come back to English-speaking parts all your doctors will be really annoyed because your medical records are all in Chinese and they don’t teach them that in medical school.
Second, get rid of nearly everything you own and prepare to move halfway around the world when you’re about five months along. Things like couches can really weigh you down with their couch-sitting needs, so it’s better for all involved if you just get rid of them now. You’ll be thankful later when you’re so huge you can’t pry yourself off a couch with a crowbar!
Third, leave the country you started in and spend a few months with family. You’d be amazed how packing in the visits and seeing as many people as possible in a couple months’ time makes everything easier. But don’t get your heart set on staying here with people you know–these are just quick visits!
Fourth, when you’ve traveled the entire length of the country and seen everyone, get ready to move! Thankfully this will be an easy process since you will have already done step two. It just involves packing your entire life back into the two suitcases you’re allowed and you’re off again.
Fifth, once you’ve flown for around seven hours and have a serious case of jet lag and swollen ankles, start looking for a place to live. This will involve lots and lots of googling and walking everywhere, so be sure to give yourself at least a few weeks before the baby’s supposed to come. Remember, you still have to find a doctor reasonably close to where you’ll be living as well.
Sixth, you finally find a place to live and your baby’s due in a month! Perfect timing. Now you can relax. . . except there’s no furniture. Time to go shopping so when that baby does make its appearance it doesn’t have to wear your clothes. Oh, and having somewhere comfortable to sleep is a plus too.
Seven, buy that waterproof mattress cover you know you should have just in case you’re one of the few people whose water actually breaks before you’re in labor. Then let it sit in the other room because there’s no way your water is actually going to break in the middle of the night–at least not two weeks before the baby’s expected!
(Not-so-cute pregnancy picture so you can see what the last two weeks of pregnancy were like.)
Once you’ve done all that, you can kick back (I’ll let you have a couch again) and wait for that baby to arrive. You’ll probably have about two days before he decides it’s time. But at least you weren’t just sitting around worrying about when he was going to come.
So in brief: to have the easiest, least stressful pregnancy possible, all you have to do is get rid of all your stuff , pack some suitcases, and fly (four or more flights is best)! And for maximum stress reduction, plan on having a baby a few weeks after you arrive. It’s completely foolproof.
Can you believe it’s already the end of 2015? Where did the year go?
Just back last January, we were in China. Winter was seeming really gray and really long. So apparently I spent a good deal of my time blogging, as , in some un-repeatable feat, I wrote a total of 11 posts. Most popular of those posts was, of course, Whither Sex?. Other than writing blog posts, though, I was busy finishing up grading for the year, visiting some interesting places in Beijing, and then jetting off to Xi’an to do a little sightseeing. For some reason, my least popular post in January was this one. I guess people don’t like reading about dishes??
I don’t know what my favorite picture from January is. Probably this one, of the cathedral in Xi’an:
It was such a welcoming atmosphere, to worship with the people of God in another land.
In February, Chinese New Year was the main event. We heard fireworks for weeks! Of course, another exciting thing was that I got pregnant with John Quincy, which meant that all the sudden Jared told me everything I wrote sounded like I was complaining. However that may be, my favorite picture from February is definitely this one of the fireworks. They may have been loud, but they were pretty to photograph!
Favorite picture for March is definitely the one of the girl kissing the horse. She was so cute!
In April, apparently not much happened. There was Easter (which was of course busy at church), we visited Marco Polo Bridge which is called something else entirely in Chinese so no Chinese person will know what you’re talking about if you call it that (though I digress), and the most popular post was one about how China lost our mail. Fascinating stuff going on here, folks!
My favorite picture for April, though, is one of the pretty spring flowers. When you’re living in a place like China, where the buildings aren’t beautiful, you’ve got to cling to whatever beauty you can find–and the flowers definitely had it.
In May, my most popular post was on how to grow up. We also visited Tianjin and got a taste of another Chinese city. And that’s all I blogged about, though I’m sure my days were filled with more teaching, bike riding, and grading.
Favorite picture in May is of the man fishing (though I still wish the angle had been right to get the No Fishing sign in the picture!).
Bonus picture: little tiny JQ (it sounds nicer to say it that way than big fat me!).
In June, the most momentous thing was that we decided to go back to the US for the summer. Of course, we were keeping it a secret, so no blog posts about it. It was a fun surprise! Since I wasn’t blogging so much (looking back, I mostly remember being pretty busy with teaching all the time!) I got in a guest poster who would write something funny for ya’ll. I’ve tried to get him to do more, but whaddaya know? He’s even worse at turning out regular blog posts than I am!
Apparently I didn’t upload any pictures on to the blog in June, but here’s one of our anniversary dinner: some kind of Chinese tasty beef.
We actually hiked the Great Wall in June too, but I didn’t write about it till July. As that was the only thing I posted in July, due to visiting relatives (it’s hard to find time to write when visiting people!), pictures are rather scarce. Looking back, I find it hard to believe that I actually did that hike when I was five months pregnant. Maybe I was slightly crazy!
Since that picture was actually taken in June, I’ll give you a real July picture too: Jared doing one of his favorite things.
In August, we were visiting another set of family and I gave you the rundown on the crazy that was my life. I also got asked questions like “Would you rather have Jared or a shark?” Tough decision, folks!
Favorite August picture: Colorado sunset.
In September, the big news was moving to London! (Yes, third continent in one year.) We stopped by Iceland on the way there just to do some sightseeing as well. I also was so pregnant that I decided there were some things that pregnant women shouldn’t have to do. (One of my more popular posts for the year.)
Favorite picture from September? Iceland.
In October, I wrote my most popular post ever. That was definitely the most exciting news of October. Just kidding.
Actually, John Quincy was the most exciting thing of the whole year. And he definitely merits the October picture. Except, he’s so cute I don’t know which picture is best. So you get the one that was most exciting for me–when he’s about three seconds old.
Santa Baby definitely takes the cake for December. Everyone loved him.
And that’s it for 2015. Just a quiet year involving three continents, a move, and having a baby. Who says you need to be single to have adventures? Let’s hope 2016 has just as much joy and maybe slightly less excitement.
It’s been kind of quiet around here lately. Yes, even where I live, even with a baby. Though for a couple days last week, he broke his “good baby” streak and got a little crabby as he was sick. No, I won’t rub it in for those of you who have babies who cry every evening for four hours without fail. Two days of that was plenty for me, thank-you-very-much.
Other than baby getting sick, I’ve mostly been grading essays. Last year, I taught six writing classes and had six sets of around 120 papers each. I could usually get them all returned by the time the next class session rolled around–and I thought I was a pro at grading papers. But mix in an international move and a baby, and suddenly those papers don’t move so fast off the desk. Now, as soon as I start grading I’m interrupted by baby waking up or wanting to eat or needing a diaper change, and my concentration is gone like that. I’m ashamed to admit how long it’s taken me to grade only 32 papers. But finally, finally (probably feels like forever to my students) I’m done with one set–now on to the next set of 32! (And then they turn in one final set this weekend, so it’s not over yet.)
I’ve also been monkeying around with Photoshop the last few days, watching YouTube tutorials and all that. I figured out how to do that black-and-white with a pop of color thing, see?
Now I can mess up my pictures for the blog here, and ya’ll can be tortured by them.
Now what you’re really here for–the Christmas decorations. This is how we decorate for Christmas:
Red bowls? Check. Pretty flowers? Check. Red flowery glasses? Check. Baby? Check.
He adds a certain flair, don’t you think?
In case you don’t like the baby in the window option, I have option number two for you:
Introducing: the baby as the dinner table centerpiece. The piles of books and papers are essential for completing this look. They help to ensure that the baby won’t go anywhere. (Ignore the food–I take really bad pictures of food, as we all know. )
And, you know, I mentioned spit up in my title, so I’ve got to talk about it for a minute. Not that there’s much to say about spit up, except is it one word or two? And it lends its unique smell to everything it touches, which, as of now, is everything. I consider it a good day if my shirt has only been spit up on once. Jared considers it a good day if his hair doesn’t get spit up in it. He’s considering patenting a new conditioner–after all, they make soap out of goat milk, so why not regurgitated breast milk? Makes your hair smooth, shiny, and strong!
Oh, and a few pictures of London for you too. We were on our way to church yesterday and kind of got lost on our shortcut through the park when we ran into this view:
It’s pretty amazing to live in a place where you can find a view like that just getting lost (it’s from the Greenwich Observatory, by the way, and our church meets in one of the buildings in that square down below).
I tell my students they need to write good conclusions that neatly wrap everything up, but how do you wrap up something so random? Maybe a pithy phrase will do it: have a good week, and may the spit up stay out of your hair!
This summer has been like a time warp for me–somehow I expect it to still be June or July, but here it is September! And leaves are turning colors and everything, while I’m still expecting to hear about the green beans getting ripe or the squashes finally coming on. How is it already apple and raspberry season?!
Anyways, enough about me being clueless about what time of year it actually is (maybe it’s just denial that I’m going to have a baby in around 8 weeks. . . ).
Let’s talk things that clearly were not designed for pregnant women and should be put on those randomly restricting lists that float around.
Wash dishes. This one should be obvious–who really wants to do the dishes, especially when they’re pregnant? But the reason it’s on this list, besides the fact that you all know my true feelings about dishes, is that every sink ever made is at the exact wrong height for the belly of a pregnant woman. And who really wants to stand at a sink trying to wash a dish from a foot away, while simultaneously trying to keep water and soap and grease spots off their convenient spot-attracting shelf? So I say, let’s put dishes on the list of “dangerous things for pregnant women” that includes things like picking up a jug of milk because it’s too heavy.
Pick things up off the floor. Who really wants to bend over when there’s a gigantic baby in between your waist and you? Either you can bend at your hips and spread your legs apart and pray that you don’t fall over, or you can try to bend like you used to and get about half as far as you used to, or you can do what’s “recommended” and squat, praying that you’ll make it back up. All three options have a pretty good failure rate, in my opinion. So either build conveniently placed shelves around all the walls of your house to put everything you’d usually stash on the floor on, or just leave stuff on the floor. It’s better for your health! (At least, your mental health.)
Do laundry. Getting stranded on your belly as you gracefully fish for the last few pieces of clothing stuck in the very bottom of the washing machine isn’t my idea of a fun day. If it floats your boat, then by all means, go ahead and fish! As for me, maybe I’ll stick with a front loader instead of a top loader so I don’t have to grow my arms a foot longer.
Sit up. When you’re laying in bed and somehow have to get your feet off the bed and on to the floor, it’s oh-so-tempting to try to do it while keeping the rest of your body laying flat. Unfortunately, for those of us who weren’t gymnasts in our former life, 90 degree angles don’t come easy to our backs. At the same time, with abs stretched as far as they can go, sitting up takes a herculean amount of will-and-muscle-power. I have yet to find a solution to this problem, but rest assured I will keep trying! (I’m guessing “have the baby” is the only solution out there.)
Live in hot, humid places. I thought I was doing great with summer heat. . . until I came to Arlington, Virginia. Days in the 90s combined with 50-60% humidity (on a good day) do not lend themselves to the cool svelte look. My advice? Stay someplace nice for the summer, where there’s no humidity. Maybe Australia would be nice for the months of June-August.
Drink ice water. Actually, I have nothing against ice water. This was one of the crazy Chinese prohibitions that I think probably every American pregnant woman has broken at least once. I actually had a Chinese woman take an iced drink away from me and chew me out (in Chinese) for drinking a cold drink while pregnant. I basically listened to her and then took it back and finished drinking it. Baby’s still fine, as far as I can tell (it would be tough luck on all those American babies if ice water really were harmful!).
Read pregnancy advice blogs. Writing them is fine, as long as you have GOOD advice to give (like mine obviously is!). But when every other pregnant woman out there is certain they’ve figured out the secret to _______ (fill in the blank with your choice), or has a horror story of that time they nearly died because their baby kicked them in the ribs (totally making that up, but you could probably find it somewhere on the internet!), it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So basically? Stick with nice bloggers, like me, who don’t post very often. Then you can’t get overwhelmed.
And, in the words of the immortal Bugs Bunny (I have a nagging fear I’ve used this line before, but can’t remember for sure), “That’s all, folks!” Oh, and here’s a bad mirror selfie of me because I haven’t taken any other pictures this month.
Food. We all eat it every day. At least, I hope we all do. And sometimes, when I’m really stuck in a rut and have absolutely no desire to eat Chinese food again because I simply cannot do more cabbage with eggs, I read food bloggers and salivate over all the delicious American food that I haven’t eaten in months. Roast beef with mashed potatoes? Bring it on, I say! (Or hamburgers, or bean burritos, or anything American that Chinese people don’t eat. It all sounds good.)
So today I’m here to show you how to cook one of my most boring meals: breakfast. This is my way of winnowing down who’s really my true friends–because if you’re still here after this most boring of blog posts, you are dedicated. Breakfast is boring for me because we always have eggs, and while eggs are fine, they get a little old after you have them every single day. But when you don’t want to eat gruel for breakfast (which is what the Chinese eat), you have to eat something. And eggs are acceptably American.
So, though I’m sure you know how to make a simple fried egg, here’s how to make eggs that you can eat every day for breakfast, even when you feel like you’ve become the most boring breakfaster on earth. And why someone would want to write a blog post about how boring their breakfast is beats me. I think I better give up my food blogger career already.
Anyways, to be a good food blogger, you have to take beautiful pictures of food that looks like something someone would want to eat. So here are my essentials: eggs and butter.
What? You don’t nosh on eggs-in-the-shell? Especially not eggs-in-the-shell with some ancient honey and random junk in the background? But they’re so pretty and brown, and the butter’s nice and yellow!
Anyways, before you start the eggs, it’s a good idea to start baking some bread at the same time so you can eat hot rolls with your breakfast, as it takes away the monotony a little. So pull your already-prepared bread dough out of the fridge where it’s been souring for the last couple days and plop it on the pan of your toaster oven. I know you’re super prepared like that.
Oh, and when you’re taking pictures of your food, you want it to be the center of attention. No giant white space in the background, now!
And since of course you’re super prepared and starting breakfast an hour ahead of time (like I always am), you heat up your toaster oven and set the rolls on top to rise a little. And if you’re not super prepared, hockey pucks really aren’t bad. I know from experience.
Anyways, back to your eggs. Once you’re sure you have them (it’s always a good idea to check and see if you’re out), but some butter in a pan and heat it up.
Food photography tip number three: random yellow areas in the whiteness of your tile backsplash just bring out the beautiful yellow color of your eggs. Photoshop some in if you don’t have any.
Once you have your butter deliciously hot and bubbly, add in your eggs. And take a picture of a giant blurry hand. Because nothing says “I want to eat that NOW” like a picture of a giant hand. Not even yellow caulk.
Then you snuggle your eggs real close together so they don’t feel all lonely-like, and take a picture of them nestling themselves up in their cozy bed of butter.
Then, because you were busy taking pictures, turn ’em over on to their little yellow bellies a little late so their yolks are already nearly cooked through. That way you don’t have to feel bad about leaving them too long on the other side because hey, they were already ruined.
Oh, but I almost forgot. While you cook your eggs, don’t get so busy taking picture that you forget to throw your rolls into your toaster oven to start rising cooking.
Photography pro tip 5 (or is it 4? I lost count somewhere back there): take a blurry picture through your spotless oven door, because cameras only show the dirt worse. That way you might get a little incentive to clean that oven.
Once you’ve finished all your multitasking of frantically rushing back and forth and making sure all the dirt is where it should be, turn off the heat (under the eggs, silly), and put some cheese on top of your eggs.
Then cover them with your perfectly clean lid that you wash at least twice a day in warm soapy water, and let the residual heat work its magic.
Just don’t let them sit too long or your carefully curated yolks that you forgot about earlier will be hard and nasty. Ask me how I know.
Anyhow, while your eggs are sitting and waiting and feeling lonely, your rolls probably need to be turned around so they’re not burnt on one side and raw on the other (the joys of cooking in a toaster oven!). So you take them out of the oven. This is another place where a giant hand picture is appropriate. Because it’d be weird to have rolls coming out of the oven on their own.
And you start the wrestling match, because toaster oven sheets are notoriously sticky.
Then, once you get tired of fruitlessly digging under the rolls while simultaneously trying not to burn yourself, you throw them back in for another 2-3 minutes, until they’re nicely browned on all sides.
Then you dig in to your lovely delicious breakfast of eggs and rolls. On your perfectly clean, curated dining room table.
And to make sure your pictures turn out just stunning, you should add a little color to stand out, like some yellow pineapple. Brown rolls, brown/yellow eggs, yellow pineapple. Not too similar at all!
So there you have it–how to make everyone want to come over and eat your food. Take stunning pictures of it gorgeously arrayed in all its approachable glory, talk it up like it’s something unique that’s never been done before, and make sure you add a contrasting color. And voila–hordes of people just longing to take a bite will magically appear.
Have I convinced you? Or will you now resist any and every dinner invitation given by yours truly? (Jared’s comment: “I’m sure you’ll get lots of people seconding your title.”)
To the Chinese, they say, there are only two countries in the world: China, and America. This bothers the Norwegians to no end, but we have little pity for them.
This hypothesis was borne out the other day when Jared was getting a shoe fixed in a small shop near our apartment. While he was in there, watching the shop owner carefully stitch up his shoe with strong thread, another Chinese man came in and began talking.
“You so strong! You so handsome! You must be an American,” he said.
Jared replied, “Thank you! I am an American.”
“You’re so good-looking,” he intoned again.
“Uh, thanks.” Jared said. “You are a teacher (he asked in Chinese)?”
“Yes,” he replied in English, “I am professor.” But his English wasn’t quite good enough to specify what it was he professed. So he returned to his favorite subject–the attractiveness of my husband.
“You are so good-looking, you can take care of two wifes,” he matter-of-factly stated.
Jared was a little shocked, but managed to croak out, “Uh, thank you, but I’m happy with the one I have.”
“No,” the man insisted, “you can take care of a second lover, one with nice legs, because you’re so handsome.” (No, this was not a comment on the state of my legs–I wasn’t there, and as far as I know the man had no idea if Jared was even married or had a wife!)
Jared was nonplussed by that, and could think of nothing more to say than, “Um, have a nice day!” as he ran away with his newly-fixed shoes. Chinese may admire America more now, but apparently traditional China isn’t dead yet!
All of this seemed particularly reminiscent to us as we’re reading Pearl Buck’s famous book The Good Earth, which tells the story of a Chinese farmer, Wang Lung, in traditional China. He begins poor. But then he gets a wife who up till then had been a slave in a Great House, and who now works beside him in the fields, bears him lots of sons, and makes him rich through her diligence (and talents at acquiring jewels). He then does what every self-respecting wealthy traditional Chinese man would do, and buys himself a second wife, appropriately named Lotus, for she was the human form of the flower: dainty, sweet smelling, useless in the fields, but my, what a sight to behold. Anyway, in the story, once he gets his Lotus, as you can imagine, the First Wife (O-lan) wasn’t very pleased, and his household became a very unhappy place. Wang Lung then forgets about his First Wife and enjoys his flower. Only when O-lan begins to die does he notice her again, but by then it is too late.
So I’m thankful Jared had the moral fortitude to run away from his hypothetical second wife with beautiful legs. He told me he didn’t need another flower–he already had his Rose.
I know this sounds crazy, but school is starting soon. (Yeah, don’t mock me, all you US readers. I understand you’re about to do midterms now. Well, China’s DIFFERENT!) I’m going to have to give up my life of leisure applying for jobs and filling out forms that I’m convinced were invented by someone with a diabolical imagination (sequel to the Screwtape letters right there) and going to Chinese class and tutoring in the afternoons and suck it up and actually work. On my four (4!) classes per week, that I’m hoping will have almost no homework to grade. Sounds pretty miserable, doesn’t it? I hope the tears of pity are dripping down your face right now.
It’s pretty bad that I have no idea how much homework these classes will have–and I’m one week away from starting to teach them. I don’t even know the textbook we’re supposed to use yet. But that’s China for you: keep you on the seat of your pants, they do, and only tell you things when you’re getting mildly nervous about what’s going to happen and what you’re going to teach and wondering if-anyone-shows-up-to-your-classroom-what-are-you-going-to-tell-them and will-they-all-think-I’m-a-confused-American-teenager-that-wandered-into-their-classroom-by-mistake. (Last time, a couple of my students said they wondered if I was one of their classmates. Good for inspiring confidence, that! I should figure out this “mature look” better, I guess.)
But by the time class starts, I will know what I’m supposed to teach, and I will have a textbook. They’re being extra kind this semester and giving us our syllabus and information a total of two days before the semester starts. Two whole days.
So excuse me while I make the most of my break here–you can imagine me lying on the beach reading my favorite book or touring around China seeing the Great Wall and everything else.
Imagine me there, because in reality, I’ll be planning lessons for my one-on-one students this week and filling out more job application forms while my brain begins to scream in protest. I vacation in style.