15 March, 2018

The Need for Work

I'm not working regularly right now. I love it and hate it.

That's not true. I don't hate it. It's fine.

But I don't have a lot of daily motivation anymore, so that's not good.

I'm trying to convince myself to establish a routine so motivation doesn't matter. ... and this post is me procrastinating.

Right now, my schedule includes:
  • Mandarin class for 2 hours Monday morning, and 2 hours Thursday afternoon
  • Tutoring a 3yo for 1 hour Friday morning
  • Tutoring 3 11yo for 1 hour every other Friday evening
  • AND I'm called in for voice recording once or twice a week
In my head, all my extra time should be taking care of the house and the groceries, and studying Mandarin like a maniac. In reality, I take care of the house and groceries, study Mandarin a little, read a little, and play a TON of games on my phone and computer. It's sad. Very sad.

So now I'm putting into writing my ultimate goal schedule for non-working me:

Wake, yoga, meditate (additional exercise when no morning class)
NO GAMES until afternoon!
At least 1 hour of Mandarin study on class days, 2 hours on non-class days.
Reading and blog-writing on non-class days.
Housework happens when needed, so I don't need to plan it.

So basically, I guess I need to work on reducing my gametime. Baby steps.

05 March, 2018

Happy New Year!

Chinese  New Year is pretty big here, as you can guess.

The. Single. Biggest travel holiday in this HUGE country.

So, we chose to avoid the crowds by traveling early. We went to Taiwan early in February, returning to Beijing before the actual holiday.

Why Taiwan? I tell you, Taiwan won the toss-up because we need new phones that will function on the Chinese system, but purchasing here means they would include, by default, the "Golden Firewall" and block our favorite western apps. So Taiwan was a good choice.

Now, 20-ahem years ago, my family lived in Taipei. I was sent to a high school in the States, so I was only there for the summers, but still, I thought it might be conveniently familiar. BWAHAhahaha.

I was happy to be a tourist.

I'll share the trip in pictures below, but just a few observations:

1. Taipei 20 years ago is where I learned how to cross a city street. "If there's no car coming, cross, wherever you are, regardless of the lights or nearby crosswalks..." This habit has been a great benefit to me here in Beijing. However, in Taipei now, people actually cross with the light, always. It was weird!

2. BUT... crossing with the lights is a necessity, as the traffic moves very fast. In Beijing, traffic is a bit slower. Maybe it's the quantity of vehicles; maybe it's the greater numbers of bikes, scooters, 3-wheeled delivery trucks, etc.

3. Taipei is noisier than Beijing. Beijing is a city of 21-25 million, depending whose stats you read. Taipei is about 3 mil. (New York City is about 9 million, for comparison.) However, the motorcycles and motor scooters here are often electrically powered, and many cars here seem to be flex fuel. It makes sense, because Beijing has developed so much in the last 10-20 years, there aren't many loud, old vehicles!

4. This is not a new observation, but a deeper understanding of what I knew already in high school: Taiwan is clearly separate from the People's Republic of Ch*** in many ways that I can't discuss here, but now that I'm learning Mandarin... I STILL can't read any characters in Taiwan. It is a different written language.

5. The island of Taiwan is bisected by the Tropic of Cancer. This led me to believe we were taking a tropical vacation! It was foggy and rainy most of the time, and only in about the 50s. Still, a lot warmer than where we came from!

Okay. The trip. We spent one day in Taipei, shopping for electronics, and then launched on a 5 day tour of the island.
First night - Taipei, the hotel claimed "bathtub in every room"

Temple first, then pagoda, about a 25 minute hike away. SO FOGGY!

Sun Moon Lake was SO foggy!

Same lake, the next day.

This temple was destroyed in a hurricane in the 80s. It's been rebuilt.

An active monastery. Fo Guang Shan

These Jade Buddhas are the largest such collection.

They had a million of these!
The southern tip. Bounded by the Pacific Ocean, Bashi Channel, and Taiwan Strait. OCEAN!

Banyan Tree. My new favorite.

Shrine for money burning. (in effigy)

In a big historic site in Tainan

Taipei 101 = 101 story, tallest building in Taipei.

The view from Taipei 101.

My curry lunch in a toilet themed restaurant!!

02 February, 2018

Why Won't You Come See Me???

Got into a conversation recently about people who say they'll visit and then don't, and people who were your closest friends "back home" but when you move overseas you never see them again.

This is an expat issue. Would it be nice to see old friends? Of course. But I get it. It's expensive. And even for the friends who could afford it, or who love you enough that they might save up for it... it's not always convenient. 

Travel is inconvenient.
Packing for a trip is a pain.
Airports are crowded, and not always comfortable.
There may not be a free charging station.
Airport food is expensive and often unhealthy.
Unknown food in a foreign country is a risk!

Travel is not for everyone. 
Travel outside your home country is definitely not for everyone. 

Personally, I get a little panicked before any social event. Maybe some people get that way before they travel. 

I know a lot of my American friends who just don't think travel is safe. (not picking on Americans, but any of my friends of other nationalities are already travelers, so...)  
Flip-side: Any time I've lived in another country, they think America is unsafe! Literally. I heard that in Sri Lanka and India in the 80s, and hear it here on a regular basis. 
Pick your safe.

Even of my friends who I think would *pipe-dream* like to visit, how many have a passport? A passport card to travel within North America, maybe, but few leave the country. So if they actually made up their minds to come, they'd have to shell out about $100 for a passport before even looking at tickets. And they'd have to do that months before booking tickets, too, so it's a long-term commitment!

Do I have friends who could do it? Sure. But let's consider priorities:
Unless travel is a priority for you and your family, you aren't going to make this trip. Maybe the comfort of the known is where you are at your best. Even friends who take big trips annually often make the same trip - comfort of the known.

Maybe getting the kids to their favorite summer camp is a bigger deal than showing them the wider world. I don't get that, but I won't judge. I'm not a parent.
For years, I lived on the East Coast while my family lived in the Midwest. My vacation time was usually spent visiting them. America is a big country. For families that are spread out, visiting a friend in a far-off land just isn't a priority.

Besides, America is big. REALLY BIG! Unless you live on the west coast, flying to China is a LLOOOONNNNGggg trip. It's actually really annoying, to be honest. You have to have a major sense of adventure to do this.

My brother's family lived in Turkey for 7 years. For 7 years, I intended to visit, but couldn't afford it, couldn't afford it, couldn't find the time... and I only got there weeks before they moved back to the US! There is a lot that goes into international travel, and I will not ever begrudge my friends who "intend" to visit but can't make it happen.

Life is hard.
Travel is good, but not easy.
Pick your hard.

05 January, 2018

Someone Else's Life

I don't have kids.
Never wanted kids.

I do have two step-kids, sort of. 
"Sort of," because I married their dad when they were already out of the house.

I had absolutely nothing to do with their upbringing. There is nothing for me to "be proud of" when they do well.

But right now, I am very proud of my step-daughter. Like many kids after reaching their majority, she floundered a bit, trying to figure out what to do with her life. 

She tried college, but never having loved school before, and not having a job in mind, college wasn't a good choice. 

She worked fast food, but unless you are driven for management, fast food is not a long-term choice for most people.

She worked a couple retail jobs - sometimes seasonal - and there just weren't enough hours.

Finally, she moved out of her mom's house and to a different town. This was a good move for her.
She found a job - part-time retail. 
She had a roommate, then moved out. Couch-surfed for a while until an affordable room came available.

During all of this, knowing that now rent and food were dependent on her own paycheck, she picked up all the extra shifts of her co-workers, stayed late, did whatever she could at work, and got noticed.

Last week she was promoted to Assistant Manager, and I'M SO PROUD!
I have no right to be proud, but I've worked in retail, and retail management, and I know it is easy for kids to slack off in that environment.
I also know that a lot of companies don't promote much from within. (I don't know her company, though.)

She has shown drive. She has apparently found something she is good at - this retail job includes commissions, which frankly, I was never brave enough to try. And she is on her way to being a successful adult.
If she likes this company, and is coach-able, she could really go places.

It's a crazy pride for someone I have no direct impact on. 
What about you? Ever take pride in someone else's accomplishment, just because it seemed so long coming?

17 December, 2017

Spread Wars II: This Time It's Personal

Five-odd years ago, a couple of Aussie bloggers I followed at the time started an online debate about which spread was better: peanut butter or Nutella. I joined in the fray (and links to both of the original blogs are in that post, although both are inactive now).

You do not need to read that post to understand this post.

We now live in China, and when we first found peanut butter, I noticed they only offer small jars. Small, and tiny. I have since found creamy in larger jars, but I now realize that the big jars of chunky that I used to purchase in the States are simply an element of The American Dream.

Peanut butter is not cheap here. When we first moved here, we had nothing, so we certainly didn't spend on peanut butter. When we decided to splurge - mostly because of my peanut-buttered apple addiction, I spread the peanut butter very thinly. I was the primary user of the peanut butter, and I was frugal with my expensive decadence. 

Now that we are more settled and have reliable income, there is always peanut butter in the house. (It's not cheap, but it's not *that* expensive.) 

However, we are at an impasse. Brett has this habit of dipping a licked utensil into the jar of peanut butter. And he ALWAYS wipes down the insides of the jar with his finger. His logic, "You let me put my tongue in your mouth..." like that makes any kind of sense. So when we had a backup jar - because we must never run completely out - I claimed it as mine, hid it, and told him the current jar was his to ruin.

Now, I considered hiding the peanut butter in my underwear drawer, or among feminine products, or other places he NEVER would consider. I am good at hiding! But Brett is a typical man: unobservant. He is always asking where something is which I quickly find by moving one thing. So I didn't put a lot of effort into hiding it: 
He never opens the cabinet under the cook-top.
I didn't dream he'd actually move the saucepans like this!

Brett: Well, I'll buy more peanut butter today. You can get yours out from under the stove.
Me: What? You found it?
Brett: I've been without peanut butter for two days!
Me: I thought I was safe, because you never open that cabinet.
Brett: I didn't find it by accident. I knew you hid it somewhere. I was making a big show of bringing in my chocolate bars smeared with peanut butter - I thought surely you'd ask!
Me: I saw your almost empty jar on the counter, and almost threw it out, but there was enough for at least one more of your chocolate bars, so I decided to leave it there so you wouldn't search for mine.
Brett: I kept waiting for you to notice yours was going down.
Me: I wasn't using it, because I didn't want you to see me eating peanut butter and remember we had another jar in the apartment!

Today he is buying his own peanut butter. He'd been digging into mine secretly - allegedly not using his fingers - for the last 2 days. He kept expecting me to notice, but I didn't because I was intentionally avoiding using peanut butter, thinking he forgot we had another jar, and would try to take it from me!

So we were both deceiving each other over the same thing. Except apparently he was trying to get caught, while I just assumed his small jar was lasting and lasting, like a Hannukah miracle.

This is the real Spread Wars, people: keeping your spouse out of your spread!

UPDATE: He still hasn't bought more peanut butter, 2 days later.

14 December, 2017

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Facebook keeps reminding of what I was doing this time in past years - prepping and baking fruitcakes, shoveling out my car, gift-wrapping, setting up nativities, writing letters - these are my ghosts of Christmas Past, but also, of Christmas Future.

We haven't had an oven since moving here, which means no baking for last Christmas or this Christmas, but if we're still here next year, we will be in a better apartment, and I *will* have an oven! And maybe some surface space that isn't in active use, where I can place my one nativity that I brought back from storage in August. And maybe I'll find actual Christmas cards, now that we've figured out the postal system. Here's to Christmas Future!

Last year I saw Christmas decorations for sale in a couple places, so I thought I'd put a string of lights in our enclosed balcony, but when I shopped for them, they weren't around yet, and I haven't been back, so it's a no go. Just as well, because we have a lead on a good apartment that we might be moving into early in the new year - who wants to take down decorations in addition to a move?! But next year I'll do some lights.

Today I am home with a fever. I don't know why. I got excessively cold two days ago, and my body hasn't figured out how to regulate my temperature since then. Whatever. It'll sort itself out.

Before I opened my computer to start work this morning, I reached out to my sister with a message, and to my best friend back home, just saying hi and wishing well. I guess it's a kind of Christmas spirit homesickness. I'm not sad, but just needed the contact. Weird, huh.

My ghosts are messing with me. 

{I wanted to drop some pictures in here, but trying to find the right past Christmas pics is tiring. I need a rest!}

18 November, 2017

Time Travel is Real

For years, I've crossed distances to "do coffee" or "do lunch" or "take a walk with" friends by phone. It's a habit that I figured could help me cross time as well as distance.

Friend: Hey! I want to hear more about that thing you posted. How about we "do coffee", 9am my time tomorrow morning? I'll have coffee, you can have wine!
Me: That's perfect! Since your time changed, I think I'm 13 hours ahead, so that's... 8pm for me. Easy enough. See you then!

The next morning, on waking up:

10pm previous night...
*missed call"

Friend: Okay, I've tried calling, so I'm going sit by my computer and work on some stuff, and you just call me when you're ready.

Me: OH CRAP! When you said "tomorrow" I didn't think of the fact that your "tomorrow" is my "today"! I realized after we set the time, that it would be 10pm my time, not 8pm, and I was so happy that I realized it, that I forgot to think about the date! When can we reschedule coffee?

Friend: LOL. I get it. How about MY Friday morning. I'll be driving, so I can focus on our conversation.

*I check my planner* 

Me: Oh good grief. Friday is the day I had marked for our call, even though I was planning for Thursday and it should have been Wednesday! Apparently I can't figure out time. Talk to you Friday morning, your time! Friday NIGHT, my time, LOL.
Friend: Perfect.

*After putting it in my phone calendar*

Me: I'm such a mess! I had the first time in my phone set for the correct night, but 8pm, which was my first - WRONG - guess about the time! I think I'm finally set for YOUR Friday morning. I really can't wait to give you all the details.

*Friday morning*

Me: It's my Friday morning, which means your Thursday night, right? So we'll talk when you wake up! I'm on it!
Friend: Bad news. Crisis at work, so I won't be free to call, and actually have a meeting at 7am tomorrow morning. Sorry!
Me: I'm SO SAD that I messed up our first scheduled time! Please let me know as soon as you have an idea when you can talk. 

Conclusion: I suck at time travel.