Thursday, December 31, 2009

And now the new year...

New Years Eve and I'm teaching until 9PM again. I can't hook up with my foreign friends for best boy boozing because our new house is across town and the police have bribe stations spread out across all the major highways and byways. Angie got caught in one last night, she was saved by the rain that fell. Cops here hate the rain, they'll abandon a line of sure-thing payments to get out of it. They told her to wait right where she was, and then they all motored away. Imagine how many people stayed where they were.

I think I'll grab a bottle of fifty-plus percent and hide away in my new second story office with a DVD and a blanket. Yeah, it's cold right now. Most houses don't have central air, much less heat. Our two space heaters will crank out 3 feet of heat for our babies and parent-in-laws. Strangers reading this blog might air a criticism, something like "why don't you spend it with your family, you schmuck!" and I'll be forced to explain the sad fact that this day, this New Years Eve at the end of the first decade of the second millennium is just another Thursday to them. The babes will be in bed by nine, the folks by nine-thirty, the wife by ten.

Chinese New Year is sometime in February, the fourteenth I think. You can bet your ass there will be a party then. It'll be the Year of the Tiger, fireworks will fly from every balcony and droves of people will converge upon the open air market seeking treasures and plum blossoms. I'll be there, among them, celebrating who knows what for as long as they let me. You learn to take a party when you can get one in this country.

Happy New Years to those of you about to stay out late tonight, blow a party horn for me will ya!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Red Christmas

Haze paints Zhongshan with a soft brush as I drive Annie to her Kindergarten. I’m trying to figure out how I can ignite the magic of Christmas within her four-year-old heart. In the past three Christmas’s I put up a tree, placed presents underneath and lights around it. I’ve played Christmas music and tried to stoke the Santa surprise, but you know what? It’s never caught on.

It could be the isolation factor. None of her classmates understand or properly observe the holiday. Even within our nuclear family there is a great deal of nonchalance and “ Let’s humor Daddy” as I struggle to implant warm fuzzies in our future generation. Yesterday while on the cell with my wife I asked her if she’d pick up some wrapping paper for the gifts I bought. We finally gave up the conversation as she just could not determine what the hell I was talking about. It’s a language thing and it’s a cultural thing. The Chinese cannot fathom the purpose for wrapping gifts. “Why not simply put it in a bag or just put it under the tree as it is,” She’d asked. How can I explain the anticipation? How can I successfully transplant my culture on this very special holiday?

Around town and in our community blinking Christmas lights are going up in window fronts and store displays. The businesses would love to see the consumer frenzy the Western world is so familiar with. However, ask anyone if they have a tree, or if they have been naughty or nice, and you get a blank look. Every year after Christmas I’d ask my students the same question; what did Santa bring you? Apparently, Santa passes China up because if I ever do get an answer, it's about a red envelope with x amount of cash inside.

Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am not supporting the shopping madness with all its pressures and repercussions as we see so frequently in the West, I only suggest the warmth and glow that comes from giving and not expecting in return. The gifts matter very little. What matters is the joy, the twinkle, not of Christmas lights but of a child's delight. The exciting, breathless moment when a colorful box is placed in your lap and it’s all yours, and you got it just for being a good girl and daddy and mommy are watching and so is little sister and oh the sound of paper tearing and the building of anticipation as paper flies out and something new flies in. This is Christmas, this is a memory that builds confidence and the ability to share and love and be loved.

And this is what I am trying to create this morning as I drop off Annie and head off to find colorful wrapping paper. My wife tells me not to worry about buying her a gift, her parents haven’t a clue as to the holiday, but I know better. I will buy my wife a gift, her parents too. Come Christmas morning, they will, for an instant at least, feel some of the magic when that something special is placed in their lap. I will play Christmas music. I will light up our living room in reds and greens. I will put the girls to bed early on Christmas Eve, and I will wake them early on Christmas morning. We will sit around the tree, wiping sleep from our eyes and looking in wonder at the magic tree that the night before held only a few present but now is completely surrounded by boxes and packages and baskets and are those socks on the wall? No I’ll explain, they are stockings, have a look girls. And they will hop up and run to the stockings and pour out candy and fruit and tiny toys and there will be shrieks of joy from both and my heart will know again the feeling of completed circles.

It’s Christmas time in China and in my house, it will catch on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guilo's in the House of Ma.

Alabama was drunk when I got there, his head giving evidence of the struggle against sleep. Paul and American Dave were drinking Harbin Draft beer and chatting about chicken. I had my eldest with me, she’d cried her way into boys night out. Ma, the head waitress/girl-next-door beauty stood at the ready, amused smile and bright eyes. Time skipped into fast forward and in a blur, I watched the night progress; Annie leaving with her grandma, Alabama’s miraculously slow descent into drunken slumber, Pauls Scottish accent becoming more and more pronounced before he and his buddy, the man from Alabama, stumbled off to who knows where, and Dave, the rock, drinking glass for glass with me and half the patrons of Ma’s restaurant. My watch tells me the sun will arrive soon yet my head begs another beer; Ma’s gone home and so must I, but first I manage to swipe half the dishes and a toothpick holder from the table. Dave’s got his 175cc “chopper” and I’ve got my mini-Mazda, time stopped skipping, exhausted from the night, and I awake amid twisted sheets in the bright sun streaming though cast open curtains.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Her face, lined with every hardship ever endured, brightened when the kids exploded into the house. “Grandma!” were their excited shrieks as they hurled themselves upon her emaciated frame. A small bag appeared in gnarled, spotted hands and with a rustle and little fanfare, sweets materialized, as if by magic.

Their faces, creased with frustration and anger, darkened when the sweets showed in tiny hands. “Grandma!” was their barked cry as they rushed to snatch away the children from her emancipated frame. A small bag disappeared as if by magic and gnarled hands curled in bleak despair as her face, etched ever deeper, grew dim.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dog gone meal

Lunch was at the new "countryside" style restaurant in my neighborhood. Their specialty was deer meat, which is fine.

Like many other restaurants of this style, they keep the doomed creatures in a pen for you to select from, or to let the kiddies have a look before the butchering. Halfway through the meal Annie wanted to go see the deer, so I took her.

In the pen with the fly ravaged mangy deer was a collie as sweet as Lassie. Annie asks me" Daddy, are we going to eat the doggy too?" Changing the subject, I hustled her back to the table, asking myself the same question over and over.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mother of Exiles

Mother of Exiles

Daniel Stine ©2008

(written upon the Stutue of Liberty)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
with silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door

I respond:

Oh Mother of Exiles raise up thy flame,

Glow world-wide welcome just the same.

I wish to hear your silent cry once more,

“Give me your tired, give me your poor”.

Oh Mother of Exiles hear my pleas,

Thy imprisoned lightning o’er seas.

Command again against storied pomp,

Thy tempest-tost Uncle Sam did tromp.

Oh Mother of Exiles guarding golden door,

We yearn to breathe free upon your teeming shore.

Standing there at those sea-washed, sunset gates,

I implore you to intervene in this our wretched fate.

Oh mighty woman with your flaming torch,

A grave injustice your beacon must now scorch.

Behind you lies a brazen giant of American fame,

He huddles behind the masses, refusing in your name.

Calling my wife wretched refuse and much too poor,

She wanted only to visit upon your golden shore,

To bring our children and beautiful mixed race smiles

To my homeland. My wife is the new Mother of Exiles.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Writers block - now of all times

NaNoWriMo has stolen my time. Blogs, twitters, six sentences and random poetry written on napkins and cocktail coasters will be on hiatus until December. I think. I suspect I will enter a realm of insanity where my every breath is punctuated by internal dialog fighting to reach the cursor that is my weapon of wordage. My wife, my life will be rife with strife as I seek that which eludes me now.

Save me oh muse de mio, infuse me, amuse me, please don't refuse me.

I wanna write but writings hard.
someone send me a sympathy card.
What can I say, What can I do
to make this story run through?

I want to write but writings hard.
Someone send me a traveling Bard.
Where should it go, how do I know
is it the high road or the low?

OK, so enough cry baby blues
I gotta go pay my writing dues
I trust you my mighty muse
with you I cannot lose.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fowl, oh so fowl...

Lunch was pretty fowl today.

We had vegetable chicken soup,

goose egg and “quasi” ham bits,

roast duck with green onion,

and a plate of the ever yummy chicken feet (claws actually).

And rice, of course…

Happy Birthday Annie!

Today my eldest daughter is four years old. Here is a poem I wrote for her third birthday:

Anna Danai Stine

Baby girl oh so fine

Some Times It’s Not Easy.

Zhang Liang

Stability you long

Even your name is uneasy.

Anna Liang Stine

Uncle Sam drew a line

So many names make me dizzy.

Zhang Wen Yu

Wo ai ni

Shi ni zhongwen Ming zi.

Four names and you’re just now three.

I’ve been here 47 and only have three.

Danny, Dan, Daniel oh wait there’s more

The most important name, Daddy, makes four.

On the day that you were born the angels got together

I didn’t write that but it’s true you’re birds of a feather

Now that you’ve reached the age of three

The devils dance you’ll surely see

Beware my Anna, Annie, Zhang Wen Yu.

I try so hard to be a good daddy

But it’s like golf with no caddy

I can’t always follow the ball.

Please forgive me any innocent mistake

Our future lives coals do not rake

I will always find that ball.

I morn the loss of your first baby journal

Those words I wrote were meant to be eternal

You should know I wrote them.

Your daddy’s a poor poet and he sure does know it

But the heart speaks and these words do show it

You should know I wrote them.

Annie has four names. Her first name, Anna Danai Stine, was my creation. In chinese there is a word for peace, An, and I identify with this character. My name in D'AN'iel, my wife is "AN" gie so our first baby's name is Anna. Peace both ways meeting in the middle. Since Annie was the culmination of two beings "Dan"iel and Zhang "Ai" (my wife's Chinese name) we made her middle name Danai.

The hospital where Annie was born would not allow an English name to be printed on her birth certificate so we had to scramble for another name, a Chinese name. We chose Zhang (my wifes family name) Liang (beauty) for there was no disputing she was a beautiful baby.

The time comes when I need to register Annie as an American Born Abroad so that she can enjoy American citizenship should we ever leave China. The Us Consulate would not accept the name I gave her (Anna Danai) because it was not part of her birth certificate. They settled for Anna Liang Stine.

It was not long after when my wife, after countless numerology calculations and consultations with her village voodoo uncle decided to change Annies official Chinese name to Zhang Wen Yu. The meaning is not important, the calculated score, 88, is. This score insures Annie a life of luck and love. So Annie has four names by her fourth birthday.

A snapshot of Annies every day life: Annie is in her second year of kindergarten. She is a proud member of the Zhong Ban (middle grade) class number one at Tong Fan Yi He Kindergarten. We chose this school carefully. I actually worked there for two years as their foreign English teacher, I know the owners are doctors and well respected. I know their teachers are fair and hard working, and most important I know they value play as much as study, a critical point for me. Annie has two special classes that she attends, one is Beijing Opera studies, the other is piano. I know, I know, she's only four. But it's common here and we do not push her to study, study, study. It's more about exposure at this point. After school, on the weekends Annie learns the GuZhen, a Chinese string instrument like a harp laying down, and she gets lessons from a Beijing class piano teacher. We are trading lessons in this case, we teach the teacher English, she teaches Annie the piano. When Annie is not in school she is playing with mei mei, her little sister, helping mom and dad at the Language and Culture Center, and reading (well, looking at) books. Annie can speak, in order of skill, Cantonese, Hakka, Mandarin, and English. It's hard not having her first tongue as English, But we still communicate just fine.

So this is my tribute to my eldest, sweet baby girl Anna Danai Liang Zhang Stine. Annie baby, I love you! Happy Birthday!