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!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Love/Hate relationship

An oldie but goodie. I wrote this my second year in China. Some of the observations have been tempered with experience now, but I left every as I wrote it. Sort of like a time capsule.

First a confession, I've never been happier. I have everything I always asked for. Yes I am paying a steep price for this happiness by effectively being exiled from my family, but hey, if it were cheap everyone would have it. Now that is in the clear lets move on to the love/hate relationship every westerner, including my self, feels when on extended stay in the Orient.

Love: Guys, your ideal mate is in the Orient.
Hate: So is her whole family, they'll be moving in once you've married.

Love: There is real opportunity in the Red land.
Hate: Just not for foriegners. You'll need a local partner.

Love: The cheap labor and high desire to do business.
Hate: Trying to do business on a Chinese schedule. You thought mexican siestas were bad?

Love: Everything you could want is manufactured in China.
Hate: It's all earmarked for export.

Love: There is 10,000 years of recorded history here.
Hate: Every successive dynasty, and now Republic has re-written it.

Love: Art, poetry, philosophy, caligraphy all have enriched the culture for centuries.
Hate: A farmer rose to power and for ten years exterminated all literati, artists, and their works.

Love: There is an absolute freedom to be had here if you don't cross any political lines.
Hate: No idea where these lines are, if I've crossed them, or what will happen if I do.

Love: The bazzar is full of interesting and cool trinkets to buy for your family.
Hate: You have to send a local in to make the purchase as foriegners get ripped on prices.
Hate: Buy it, great. Ship it? A CD disk will cost 20RMB to send with a 50/50 chance of passing customs.

Love: The food. Simplicity, fresh, healthy.
Hate: The food. Innards and extremities such as heads and feet.

Love: Buddism, Taoism, the art of Zen.
Hate: The compete lack thereof in modern day China.

Love: Chinese comedy, you must see Kung Fu Hustle. The stereotypes are spot on!
Hate: Chinese TV, the stereotypes are boring and unreal. "Everyone is kung fu fighting, huh!"

Love: Some of the worlds most amazing geographical features can be seen in China. Rivers, mountains, gorges...
Hate: Each one is choked with agressive souvenier vendors, obnoxious tour buses, urban sprawl, and too many people.

Love: The concept of "face" and "honor" that is inextricably woven into the very genes of the Chinese.
Hate: Trying to figure whose face they are trying to save, much less which face is currently on display.

Love: Children go to kindergarten for three years. The schools are healthy, relaxed, fun, educational, and interesting.
Hate: From primary school on it becomes tragic as pressure for the highest marks increases exponentially.

Love: English is a national obsession and any native speaker can easily make new friends.
Hate: "do they love me or my English...?"

Love: Diet and active (no car, no elevator)lifestyle will slow, even reduce your appearances of aging.
Hate: Air/water/noise pollution, acid rain, insecticides and desease outbreaks will lower your life expectancy.

and on and on.

This was all brought on by an event in my house tonight. As free-lance teachers we have students passing through our house to our back bedroom/classroom all the time. We expect the kids to be dis-respectful of our belongings and to touch or mess with things they shouldn't, they are kids. We plan accordingly and hide all things of concern. We are irked but not excessively so when they violate our private areas by going into our bedrooms and what not, they are after all, just kids. But tonight my wife had a class of adults that ended at 9:30PM and they, in my mind, crossed a line. Our baby, who I had put to sleep with great satisfaction of a job well done, was sleeping on my bed in my bedroom when a woman came in after class ended and picked her up. The woman/student brought my baby out into the bright lights of the living room and showed her to all the other admiring students. They all cooed and clucked at baby's sleepy face and they melted at her tears as she slowly woke to a room full of strangers. I sat on the sofa nearby dumbfounded, watching as the two hours of building up to bedtime with baby unraveled in this (moronic) womans arms. Who would have guessed the West would beat time-worn East in the respect game? Even I know you dont pick up another persons sleeping baby, especially from a private bedroom at 9:30PM at night.

Love: The people. Family oriented, nice, friendly, humble, hardworking, intelligent.
Hate: The people. Self-absorbed, oblivious, rude, superstitious, and hard to trust.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rant - House series - Bathrooms

I stood transfixed in the hall way of my new house-in-progress, staring maybe a little slack jawed at the light green vanity sitting there awaiting installation in my decidedly un-green-friendly bathroom.

Pointing like we do at everything here in China, I stammer.

“it’s green!”

My wife can only nod her head as she gives me a sideways look, knowing whats coming next, “I’ll call the lady,” and she’s on the phone, translating for me;

“the lady say’s it’s not green, it’s elephant tooth color.”

“No,” I say from experience “This is not ivory, this is a light, pastel green.”

“ The lady says it's what we picked from the catalogue.”

“The catalogue showed a white cabinet, that’s why we picked it.”

Now I am a light shade of pastel green as I realize this is what we will get. There will be no replacement, apology, discount or explanation.
Ordinarily, I’d be a much brighter shade of red, the color of fury, But I am at the tail end of “decorating” the interior of my house. It’s possible I have burned that light bulb out. Nowadays, the best I can do is point and maybe snort derisively as the workers do not one iota more than they were instructed to do at birth.

Snort “So, if I need to take a crap I should open the shower doors to give me enough room for my knees?”

Snort “Maybe the towel rack will fit if they put it on sideways. Hey’ I was just kidding!”

Come time to settle the bill and the lady is on the phone to my wife, “you’d better pay us in cash,” My wife turns her own favorite shade and exclaims “ Meiya?” ( this means “what”, forcibly) and then a stream of presumed curses followed by a “hmmpf” and a hang up.

SO now we are standing in line at the ATM plotting never-gonna-happen revenge on yet another vendor in a long line of vendors all bearing the immense karmic weight of our curses and of course, our cash.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Life in China as an Ex-Pat American. I will write poems, flash, stories, etc. to share the experience of life for foreigners in this, a very foreign land.