Good bye, favorite restaurant!

We have a favorite take out place in our apartment complex that has these delicious dumplings. They make it on the spot as we order them and you get 6 for a $1. Not only that, we always got a 20% discount, and we had no idea why… One order will fill you up. 2 Order will feed me and the kids. Tenille went there the other day and noticed that it was closed. I was hoping that perhaps it was a holiday that they might be observing. So, I went back the next day after work and sure enough the lights were out, the chairs and tables were gone, and there was a sign on the door. I took a picture of the sign to show to our Chinese teacher. Maybe they moved to a new location nearby? When I showed the sign to my Chinese teacher, he read it and said, "It says ‘Space for rent’." I’m super sad. Now we have to find another super cheap, reasonably safe Chinese restaurant. It’s forcing our family to start branching out again and experimenting. It’s made me realize that we’ve been getting in a bit of a rut with the few local restaurants that we’ve found.  There’s a row of restaurants where I’m sure when we first arrived would have said, "We’re never eating in that place… " Those are the types of places that we’re now starting to investigate… Cheap and good…

Our dinner exploration the other night did not turn out so well.  I had fried mutton, which was a hunk of deep fried lamb brisket.  I wasn’t as enthusiastic about it as I had hoped, considering it was deep fried..  My wife got a chicken stirfry dish, but the vegetables didn’t wholly agree with her. 

Availble for rent……sad!


Not too spicy (Bu yao tai la)

We went to a restaurant with our Chinese teacher and he taught us a lot of useful phrases. One very useful phrase is not too spicy. Wo bu yao tai la! Tenille modified this phrase a bit because "not too spicy" might mean a little bit spicy. She wanted "NOT SPICY AT ALL!" So she has been saying "bu yao la".

This week, we went to the hospital because our good friends just had a new baby. As good Mormons do, we wanted to bring them a meal, so we stopped by a Thai restaurant next to the hospital. I ordered about 4 things from the menu, then Tenille started to order off the menu. After each item, she would say, "Bu yao la" indicating that she wanted it not spicy. The waitress looked to me and showed me her order pad (as if I could read Chinese), then started listing off the items. Although I can’t read, I can count. I noticed that she only had 4 things on her order form. She had written something else, but then crossed it out.

I opened the menu and pointed to what my wife wanted to order. Then she looked at me funny, and repeated, "bu yao le." Then I realized what was happening. "Bu yao le" means, I don’t want. So, I pointed to Tenille’s choices and said that we do want them. "Wo yao!" Then Tenille jumped in and started repeating, "bu yao la! bu yao la!" Then I had to say, "No NO NO! Wo yao! Wo yao!" as I motioned to Tenille to please stop helping!! And I said, "Wo bu yao tai la!" Which means "not too spicy" but it was the best we’re going to do for tonight. Then I explained to Tenille what I thought was happening. As we waited for the food, I could hear the waitress muttering under her breath to her colleague, "bu yao le! bu yao le!" I’m sure it was frustrating for her as well. "Do you want it or not lady? and why are you pointing to an item and telling me you don’t want it?!"

Later we had a good laugh about it with our Chinese teacher and he taught us to say, "Wo bu yao la de." Which is much less ambiguous… especially with our crazy American accent.

Welcome back to Beijing

We got off the plane in Beijing, and it was time to take a Taxi back to our apartment. We were spoiled in Hong Kong because everyone spoke some amount of English. I got my game face back on and rehearsed the name of our Apartment Complex – Yuan Yang Xin Gan Xian in the San Yuan Qiao neighborhood. We got to the taxi stop and noticed hundreds of taxis waiting in line to take passengers. We went up to the taxi that we were directed to. The taxi stand person asked us where we were going, and I told him. The taxi driver saw our bags and started saying something. My guess was that "It was not going to fit!" He opened his trunk, and it was a bit small. He also had some stuff in there already. He put our big bag in the trunk sideways in a way that it would obviously not fit, then started shaking his hand. It was clear that he wasn’t even going to try and make this work. It’s not like there aren’t a hundred other taxis here. I was done with the nonsense, and started walking to another cab. The cab stop person talked to the new cab driver for a bit, and it looked like the cab driver was asking, "Why are you bringing them to me?" He reluctantly opened his trunk and we put our bags in. I told him where we were going, and he repeated it. So, I repeated it. Then he repeated it. Then he started saying a whole bunch of other stuff. I apologized that my Chinese was not so good, then repeated where we needed to go. He was just muttering something under his breath. This was all making me a bit nervous, so I asked him if he knew where San Yuan Qiao was. It was like a bomb went off. it seemed like he was giving me a tongue lashing. Fortunately, I had no idea what he was saying. I sat in my seat quietly waiting to see how this was all going to play out. I could tell Tenille was a bit nervous in the backseat. I wondered if asking if he knew San Yuan Qiao was somehow offensive. Perhaps there was a more polite way to ask. As we got close to our home, I gave him a little help to guide him to our apartment complex, but it seemed like he knew exactly where it was. We thanked him and paid him, and went upstairs to our apartment a bit puzzled. Welcome back to Beijing!

The next day, we described to our Chinese teacher what happened and asked if I stated the question impolitely. He said that it’s exactly how I was supposed to ask. Then, after thinking about it some, he said that he was probably mad because we lived so close to the airport. Taxi drivers have to wait in very long lines and are hoping to make a lot of money by taking passengers that live far away. We paid about 50 Yuan which is about $7.50. That probably makes sense. The line was pretty long.

I was talking to my friend Adam about this who lives in Taiwan. He said that in Taiwan they have a system to address this. If a passenger is only going a short distance, the taxi stop guy will call a cab from the back of the line. This way, the cabs that have waited a long time can all earn a substantial fare. He also said that in England, if you’re back within 15 minutes of picking someone up, the cab can return to the front of the line again. Apparently, taxi drivers started forming teams where 1 cab would pick up a passenger then drop them off a short way away from the airport feigning something wrong with the car where his buddies would pick them up. Then the original cab driver would go back to the airport to get in front of the line and pick up another passenger and repeat the process. These cab drivers are no dummies…

Shang Gang tai gui le! (Hong Kong is too expensive!)

Our visit to Hong Kong was a successful one.  There was an Asia Women’s conference for our church that Tenille wanted to attend, so we packed up the whole family to visit Hong Kong. 

My first impression was that it was busy!  It’s like the Manhattan of China.  Buildings reach skyward all around you so that you can sometimes only see a sliver of sky.  It’s also expensive like Manhattan in terms of hotel costs.  My wife got the cheapest hotel (just shy of $100/night)  that seemed like it was walking distance to the church.  We gave the address to the cab driver and when we got there, we were a bit concerned because it was just a street full of stores.  No Hotel!  Where’s the Hotel?  We did another lap around block thinking that perhaps it was tucked away in some side street.  No luck.  We then came back around and started paying attention to the numbers on the stores.  The Hotel – Mingle by the Park – was located at 143 Wan Chai Street.  This time we found it.  It was a small doorway squished between another doorway and a Doctor’s office marked by a small plaque next to the opening.  We got off at the corner and went into the doorway which led to stairs.  We went up 3 flights of stairs and found a small reception desk where we checked in.  We got a room on the third floor which is worse than it sounds because the first floor starts at the reception desk.  Luckily, we had some help carrying up all of our stuff another 2 stories of stairs.

The Peak Tram 2009-03-15 043

Now Tenille and I don’t often argue about much, but we did have a slight disagreement about the number of luggage we were taking to Hong Kong.  I am the type of person that can wear the same pants for 3 days without thinking about it, and Tenille likes to prepare for every eventuality (which in general is a wonderful characteristic to have in a wife).  Being reminded of our experience coming into the Beijing airport, where I had to push two different carts full of teetering bags across the airport like a maniacal cartoon character, I asked Tenille to try and reduce our number of bags.  She didn’t like this suggestion, which I can somewhat understand because the weight limit in China is 20 kg (44 lbs).  She said, “How hard could it be to carry an extra bag!  We get on a cab outside our door, carry it to check in, then carry it to a cab in Hong Kong, then carry it inside!” 

This conversation happened to have taken place right after I was tasked with borrowing a Graco Pack and play from friends that lived in a resort like complex.  If you’ve ever had to carry a pack and play across a cruise ship, you might be able to relate to my state of mind.  There is no easy way to carry a Pack and Play.  It’s a big rectangle that’s awkward to carry.  And there’s a small handle in the middle which feels like you’re getting a rope burn after a few minutes of carrying it.  Needless to say, I was not a fan of taking the Graco, but Tenille was insistent because she wanted a place for Andrew to sleep.  I pleaded that I would rather stay up all night with Andrew in the bathroom rather than take the Graco.  She would not back down.  Then, I asked her to reduce our bags down to one.  She didn’t like that suggestion either, but eventually agreed under threat of a luggage audit.  Since my wife is Awesome (she told me to write this), she got down to a single bag that weighed 19.9 kg.  The problem is that one person has to take the kids, which means the other person (usually me) has to take ALL of the luggage.  Tenille usually has some scheme to assemble and stack all of the bags in some complex fashion so that one person can somehow manage an unnatural number of bags, but only in ideal conditions.  For instance, it wouldn’t work on stairs or be extremely difficult through the security check. 

Hong Kong 001

On the day of the trip, Tenille was pulling our big bag with the Graco on top of it probably due to my whining and to show me “How hard could it possibly be?”  We went all over the airport before we figured out that the taxi took us to the wrong terminal.  We walked around until we found a bus terminal to take a bus which took about 20 minutes to our terminal.    With this incident and how crowded it was in Hong Kong and having to take our luggage up 4 stories of stairs, I think Tenille was ok that we got down to a single bag, although she might not admit it.

Enough on bags, back to Hong Kong.  We thought we had gotten used to being in tight quarters until we saw our Hotel Room.  The room was a King size bed with about 2 feet on 3 sides of it to walk around.  There was a flat screen TV on one wall.  It was a bit tough with the 2 kids, but we managed ok.  They also had a movie system which had something like 2000 movies.  When I turned it on, it said that they can only be played one at a time, so some movies may not be available.  That was enough for me to think that there was some respect for anti-piracy laws, and we watched Kung Fu Panda.  3 times…

On the first day, we went to see a giant Buddha statue on top of a mountain.  We went on a 20 minute cable car ride to get to the top.

Hong Kong 004 Hong Kong 008 Ngong Ping - Buddha - Tai-O 2009-03-12 051 Ngong Ping - Buddha - Tai-O 2009-03-12 060

We also went to a fishing village called Tai O.  Many of the houses were built upon stilts.  We were there during low tide, so we didn’t get to see the houses as if they were floating on the water.  Just by chance, a lady offered us a ride in her boat around the village and we accepted her offer.  We road in a small boat with two other couples.  One couple was from Hong Kong and was taking another couple around.  The lady from Hong Kong spoke English very well and fell in love with Andrew.  She ended up giving us an English tour as the boat drove around the town.  Even after the boat tour, she stuck with us and explained about the town.  The others in her party seemed a bit annoyed with her as she stayed behind with us.  Ends up that the town has changed a lot over the last 5-10 years.  The government had built housing inland for the inhabitants.  However, you had to pay taxes if you lived in the government housing.  Many people chose to stay in the stilt houses and pay no taxes.  But, there was a fire a few years ago which burnt down many of the houses.    We walked through the small market (which was basically an alleyway), and saw a lot of live seafood.  The shrimp looked more like an ancient bug than the shrimp that I’m used to.  The Hong Kong lady said that they’re supposed to be related to the ancient fossils.

Ngong Ping - Buddha - Tai-O 2009-03-12 151 Ngong Ping - Buddha - Tai-O 2009-03-12 120 Ngong Ping - Buddha - Tai-O 2009-03-12 119

Over the next few days, Tenille attended the church conferences while I worked throughout the morning and set out for food with the kids in the afternoon.  One day, I went out to Victoria Park with the kids.  There we saw what looked like a kiddie pool, but it was designated for R/C boats.  We stuck around for a while, and boy was I glad we did.  There I saw the fastest R/C boat I’ve ever seen in my life.  It sprayed a rooster tail behind it that was probably taller than I was.  I was a bit concerned that it might come flying out of the pool and hit one of my kids which would definitely result in a hospital visit…   But, that’s me.  Always thinking about the worst possible case scenario…

Hong Kong Don Camera 059

In the evening, we went to see the Hong Kong light show.  The lights on the biggest buildings in Hong Kong are synchronized to music that is playing across the bay.  Honestly, I was expecting fireworks when I heard about the light show.  It was interesting to see, but a little too long for my taste. 

Hong Kong 049 Hong Kong 039

Tenille and I took turns attending the Temple.  The Temple in Hong Kong is  intimate and can probably accommodate about 30 members.  If you have a party of more than 10, you’re supposed to make an appointment.  I have to admit, I love to see the church in the nooks and crannies of the world – to see how they worship and to see the small differences to accommodate local circumstances and culture.  With that said, the church building in Hong Kong was enormous.  It was about 11 stories tall.  I counted 3 chapels in there.  We ended up going to the Philipino branch which was made entirely up of women.  There were 3 men that made up the Presidency, and 2 men + 2 missionaries that passed the sacrament.  From the talks that were given, it seems like the women all left their families in the Phillipines to make money in Hong Kong.  Several of them spoke of how much they missed their husband and families.  It made me appreciate that I’ve lived all of my married life with Tenille and we’ve hardly ever been apart.  We shouldn’t take that for granted.

Hong Kong 023Hong Kong 019

On the last day, we went on a tram to the Peak in Hong Kong.  The tram was fun because it went up a very steep incline, sometimes feeling as steep as 45 degrees!  The view from the top was pretty nice, but a bit hazy. 

Hong Kong 110 Hong Kong 115 Hong Kong 123

Finally, I was impressed with how the airport works in Hong Kong.  There’s a train that you can take from the city to the airport which takes about 30 minutes.  The train is faster than the taxi.  The best part is that you can check your bags at the train stop in the city, then just board your plane at the airport.  Next time we saw our bags was in Beijing! 

Beijing experience

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been reflecting upon my experience in Beijing.  I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted, but I’m grateful for what I’m getting.  Being in Hong Kong has reinforced many of these thoughts.

There are places in Beijing where you can have a very “American’ experience living in suburbs with traditional neighborhoods surrounded by English speakers and stores that cater to westerners.  This works out great for a lot of families that are stationed in Beijing.  Although we’re not living in a Hutong (traditional Chinese courtyard neighborhood), our experience has been one where we feel very foreign.  In general, people don’t speak English.  Even if they understand it, they are hesitant about speaking it.  I can completely relate, because I don’t want to speak the little bit of Chinese I know in fear that the other party may assume that I know how to speak Chinese and start barraging me with a river of words I start drowning in.  This has happened so many times.  It usually ends up with me giving a blank stare for a few seconds, then “I can’t speak Chinese very well.  I’m an American.”  If they give me the blank stare back, now I usually say, “I’m Korean.”  That usually prompts a head nod, and I’m relegated to my proper place as a foreigner.

In general, it’s rare to have an experience as an adult where you feel so helpless.  Perhaps, it might be likened to being in an accident where you need to learn to walk again or use your hand again.  You’re used to being able to do some things very well, then to have it all taken away is a frustrating and humbling experience.  And to be able to climb back out so slowly is also humbling.  But, I’m finding that, this is what I wanted, and I am realizing that it’s probably the most valuable experience I’m getting from this time in China.  Many foreigners are experiencing similar trials.  I think that is why it is so easy to strike up conversation and become close friends so quickly here.  For the first time in a long time, we feel like we desperately need other people’s help.  Our ability to eat, get around, and just about do anything depends on it.

There are a few things I’m pretty sure I’ll be bringing home, and I hope it is lasting.  1.  An appreciation for foreigners in our country.  Oh, how desperately we want to know natives of this country that can teach us and affirm to us that we’re doing things right.  America is probably a country that is quite unaccommodating to foreigners.  Hopefully, our experience will ring out in our minds when we see a foreigner struggling to figure out how things are done in our country.  Hopefully, we will take time to guide them and befriend them.  2.  Friendships based on need and service – I am sure we will consider how we can forge more intimate friendships with our existing friends, and place ourselves in places where we are made to depend on others and where we can be of service to those in need.  It’s nice in some ways to be in a place where you feel you don’t need anyone else’s help, but we’re finding that feeling dependent on others and others on you is also very fulfilling. 

In my few days in Hong Kong, I have yet to run into someone that doesn’t speak some amount of English.  It’s a place that is probably much more comfortable and fun than Beijing in terms of amenities for foreigners.  But, fun doesn’t always have the same rewards and refining edge as an experience of humility.     

MIT in March Madness!

I’ve never been much of a sports fan… until I read that MIT is going to be in the NCAA Division III basketball tournament this year!

I’d better polish up my MIT cheer:

"I’m a beaver,
You’re a beaver,
We are beavers all.
And when we get together,
We do the beaver call.
e to the u, du / dx
e to the x, dx
Cosine, secant, tangent, sine
Integral, radical, mu dv
Slipstick, slide rule, MIT!

This will be great!  At least for the first few minutes!!  I hope you join me in cheering on the true Cinderella team this March!  If you want, you can even get a T-shirt with the cheer in mathematical notation.  Gooooo Beavers!