Here is a message I sent today to a friend - Since it had some updates on recent adventures, I pass it on to you all. We have been pretty darn well, finishing up the first of our "other Chinese city" trips. We went to the beach yesterday and ventured out with a taxi cab driver who then agreed to stay at the beach and wait for us.
The place was jam packed but we did get a little beach umbrella - old women vendors selling crabs along the beach, and a steady stream of very old looking fishing boats going out with their putt putt engines. Otherwise pretty typical beach scene. Lots of extended families, throwing friends in to the water - people bring 5 or six round watermelons, float them in the water to keep them cool and then eat them by breaking them open with their fists. The guys collected lots of cool rocks, (it was "golden pebble beach") and caught some good waves body surfing. Amazingly the taxi guy was there at the appointed hour. It was our first big outing without the help of "Shining," our 24 year old sweet young guide - sent to us by friend of a brother of a Chinese friend in Minneapolis - a language student who seems to enjoy the chance to use her English and who has helped us negotiate some good meals that we never could have managed otherwise. We found Dairy Queen with her and the guys enjoyed that - they also played a little soccer on a really big field in the broiling sun during halftime of a local game. The hotel we're in is very nice, ritzy and fancy and not too expensive. We're finding all kinds of curious local foodstuffs, for instance little stick pretzle things but with flavors like tomato and corn and vegetable. The translations are always very funny when they do attempt to translate. For instance, I'm looking across at the "Dalian Delight Hotel." Or on a billboard around a construction site for a fancy new residence, "Shanghai Dynasty - Style and vogue, Concinnity and Sublimity, Rarity and Treasure, Elegant Lifetime, Time breeds Life." Aren't you ready to move in? We hope you are all well and enjoying the summer. So far so good here. Took us two cities and 6 computer stores to find our brand of computer ink, but now we're set. Most products you need and want are here, you have to hope you know your brand colors and labels well from western advertising, as the colors are frequently the same but it's all translated into Chinese characters. Tried to find some sunscreen though yesterday, and only could come up with a tiny bottle that would have covered one of the four of us for a beach outing. When I went to the woman and using the word "big" and some hand movements, let her know we would like a larger version, she brought out a bottle which was about a quarter again larger. Oh well, we had our umbrella.
Hey! I'm in CHINA! Got your message a few nights ago, at the really cool "work-station" I had just discovered I could use for free in the Shangrila Hotel in Dalian, (Two hour flight north of Shanghai) City of 2 to 5 million depending upon how you count, and with the biggest, most socially active plazas I've seen in awhile. Anyway, I was excited to see your name, but distracted from instantly replying by the contents of another email we received that evening telling us that we were almost a month late with tuition payment for Henry and Jacks’ school and that if they didn't see evidence of a wire transfer the next day they were going to give our kids spots to some one on the wait list. ACK! How did I miss that July first payment date? Maybe the fact that we left Minneapolis on July 2nd? And I had called the school and planned to visit to finalize things while we were in Shanghai but the day we were to visit three of the four of us had been hit with gastrointestinal distress that one expects to get at some point here. And here we are in this city far away with none of our files and only a computer. I saw all the hours we had spent on applying for the school lost and us homeschooling instead! This moved me to action. Thank heaven for computers. I knew things had been going way too smoothly and this was finally the fire drill that would let us know that we were really in China. Amazingly, things were all smoothed out by the next day. I was able to use Google to get Wells Fargo info and despite the fact that it was 10:00pm for once the time difference was working in our favor and I could call the bank as they were opening that morning and the rest clicked into place....... And the nice guy at the school gave us a week's grace time to get the payment to them. I guess I was appropriately apologetic on the email. So.....
To comment on your email - Henry has not only finally settled in to have enough time to be on email, it would be fair to say that that was the NUMBER ONE priority in settling the family in. The computer was set up and humming with World of Warcraft before we had soap purchased for the bath room. The computer has been KEY to keeping the guys happy - allows us to go out and explore and know they are safe. We are trying to demand one outing per day so we don't feel like total parental slugs, but sometimes this outing is once around the block, course with the heat, that can be expecting a lot. While the immediate block we live on is very tony and could be any where western, the block behind us can be a little intense when you're not feeling top notch, (smells, sights, footing, and lots of bicycles, moped and cars which seem to have little rhyme or reason in their order - except that sometimes they all seem intent on running you over.) Fortunately there’s a swimming pool as part of the apt complex so that gets them going, AND a squash court, and after a purchase of a few 4 dollar racquets at the PEOPLE'S NUMBER ONE DEPARTMENT STORE, we are outfitted for the guys to get down and run around the little white box chasing the little ball. The only other major family outing of note was to "ChinaJoy" a mega, earsplitting trade show of computer games - two huge convention halls of every computer game company I've ever heard of and many new ones to us, each trying to outdo each other with pounding rhythms, dancing, live bands, attractive armies of young women in matching outfits giving out free fans and even occasional groups dressed up like some of the characters in the games. I fear for the hearing of the young of Shanghai! There is also a "geeky Asian" look I could discern. The guys fit right in, playing games, causing some heads to turn. Jack was filmed by some guy for a while playing a game, (I could hear the broadcaster commenting on the evening news, "even some westerners joined in the fun!") The Chinese seemed very willing to wait on pretty endless lines to play certain games. Gratefully, our guys were less patient. Then, last night, Steve and I went to the adult version, the Dalian "beer festival" equally huge and ear pounding, with each beer company, (local and int’l) having a huge stage with more gyrating bodies performing, also goofy "audience participation” events, like filling contestants mouths with lots of beer and them having them try to say the name of the beer, (or whistle) before swallowing. You can imagine the fun, I'm sure. It was not unlike the Minnesota State Fair, gobs of people, lots of food on a stick vendors (and most of the food was still wiggling before being put on the grill) entertainment - all a little too intense for us to stay too long, or even to have a beer - which tells you something since you know Steve's desire to taste new beers.
Mostly, though, it's been pretty low key, settling in, learning where to buy food, where to get a yoga class in, (not a problem) outfitting the kitchen with the essentials, taking some Chinese lessons, and continuing to listen to my CD's of Chinese. It's sort of working, I can say occasional one word phrases which can get us the basics: cold water from the little vendors, a beach umbrella yesterday at the beach. I need to master, "stop here" for the taxi cab drivers and "that's beautiful" because taxi drivers seem to show us cool stuff and I want so show some appreciation. But the language does seem to be crackable. And it is amazing how adept the locals are at having the english appropriate to their immediate job, (but no more) and how comfortable everyone is with negotiating price by writing numbers in the sand, or punching them into a handheld calculator and then offering you the calculator to counter offer. Jack has bought his first two bootleg computer games for about 2 dollars, and amazingly, movies (on Dvd's with english) are less than that even in "reputable" department stores. Clothing is very cheap from little stalls and stores and western priced at the MANY MANY upscale designer malls with more impressive foreign names than you'd see in Minneapolis.
So that's the basic update. We leave tomorrow for one more week of travel up north - the home city of Ming's brother, the heart surgeon. Then we'll be back and it will be the week before school starts for the guys. Who knows what sort of rhythm we'll be in then. Other than a few days early on when everyone had stomach distress, we've been pretty darn good. Thinking of you all - and hoping that your summer has been good, and that your trip was fun.