Monday, June 25, 2012

Dragon Boat Festival

We had a three day weekend in honor of the Dragon Boat Festival, which traditionally involves races on the river and eating zongzi (sticky rice balls with meat).  Unfortunately the weather didn't corporate and Charlie was running his second fever of the month.  We stayed close to home only going out for short trips to get everyone out of the apartment, mostly to avoid cabin fever.  We spent a little time Saturday at the indoor playground at the gym and shopped the fake market on Sunday.  I got a great D&G purse and a few new pieces of jade.  Lily got some chopsticks made for kids, and Lucas got some new shirts.  Didn't find anything for Charlie, but he didn't seem to mind.  I think he enjoys the people watching. 
Today we had planed on going to a water village just outside of Shanghai since yesterday it looked like Charlie was getting over his fever, which was under 100.  But, this morning it was back up so we ended up making doctor appointments for both kids.  Lily has a nasty cough and eczema that is spreading from her neck to her shoulders and arms.  Poor Charlie had to have blood drawn and because he isn't getting enough fruits and veggies, mostly veggies, he has to take a supplement now.  Both kids are on two other meds and have a cortisone cream to help with the eczema.  The minor problems both kids are having are normal for kids moving to a city like Shanghai.  The higher pollution levels affect their immune systems ability to fight of colds and such .  Within a year their bodies should have adjusted and we should be seeing less of the doctor. 

Instead of the water village we went to the mall and wandered a bit.  On the way there I snapped a picture of the bottle opener building, which you can't even see the top of.  Kinda tells you just how humid it was today.  I wish it would just poor so that the clouds would move on and we could maybe get some nicer weather.  Anyway, there is a Lego exhibit going on at the mall that has Lego tables for kids to play at.  With Charlie's cold we didn't want to risk getting other kids sick so we passed, Lily was actually very understanding.  We grabbed some Italian for dinner before we called it a night. 

My only other noteworthy bit from the weekend is that I finally got the guest room/office put together!  We are officially ready for guests, so if you are ready to brave the 15-18 hour flight I have a place for you to rest your head.  We look forward to our first guests!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

To each their own

I continue to be fascinated by the different foods you can find here.  Yesterday's cucumber chips prodded me to seek out the chip isle today at my local Carrefour.  For those of you who need to see it to believe it, I found several flavors that you will not see at your local supermarket.  If you are doubting your eyes, those are hot & sour fish soup, cheese lobster, numb & spicy hot pot, fried prawn, and French chicken flavor Lays chips.  I also had to throw in a shot of the prawn crackers.  And, lets not forget the cucumber ones I tried yesterday.  To each their own the saying goes, but I think it is safe to assume that I came to the end of my chip explorations yesterday.

Ok, so hunting down chips is not all I did today.  I did take the kids to the aquarium.  It only takes an hour from start to finish.  Even though we were there just last weekend the kids haven't tired of the fish and other animals on display yet.  Plus, the penguins are still a new attractions to them and they enjoyed watching them swim around in their chilly home.  As with many of the attractions in China, the aquarium has other "fun stuff" for kids.  At the end of your tour of the aquarium you end up in the gift shop and from there you are dumped into a small food court where you can buy lunch or ice cream and popcorn depending on your mood.  Once you get passed that you have to make your way past a small arcade filled with games and kiddie rides like desert jeep that Charlie didn't seem in any rush to leave.  For just 2RMB, or about 30 cents the kids got a 1 minute ride.  As far as thrills go this not many come cheaper. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Random thoughts...

I have been searching for ricotta cheese, I did say random thoughts, and it has proved to be nearly as elusive as the hot dog.  I have searched to date, five different grocery stores.  I did finally find one that carries ricotta, unfortunately they were sold out.  Lasagna is just going to have to wait a little longer.  I did find Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, a favorite of Lucas', at the City Shop.  I also found cucumber flavored chips.  While I have seen many unique chip flavors here in China, this one is the first I was willing to give a try (prawn!).  I'm not sure what to think of them.  They do taste like cucumber which is an odd thing for my brain and taste buds to comprehend.  I don't think I would describe them as cool and refreshing like the bag though.  To me that have a bit of the crispness you expect of a cucumber, and a bit of salt mixed with the potato.  All in all a bit strange.  I don't think it will be my new favorite though. 
The kids and I made chocolate chip cookies this week.  The Chinese traditionally do not bake and you won't find an oven in a typical Chinese apartment.  Lucky for me I can afford the much more expensive Western apartment that does come with an oven.  I'm still getting used to the oven though.  It does not have a temperature setting so its a good thing I brought my digital thermometer with me!  I found where 350 is approximately and marked it on the oven with a marker.  That does not guarantee it will stay at the temperature I set it at though.  I'm finding that it can fluctuate as much at 25 degrees. As if that didn't make using the oven fun enough it is also much smaller than a standard US oven.  I had to buy a baking sheet here, my other ones were all too big.  This one allows me to bake 8 cookies at a time instead of 12.  Kinda sucks, but at least I have an oven.  I gave some of our cookies to Ayi and Eric, my Chinese teacher.  A real treat for them since neither bake.

Meet Chem, our fabulous driver.  I don't know what I would do without him.  He is a good guy and funny as hell.  His English isn't the best, but I told him it is much better than my Chinese.  Now that I am learning Chinese he helps me practice. We don't always understand each other and we often make each other laugh with our miscommunications.  I have learned that he has been married for two years, he is from Shanghai, his wife is not, he has a brother (couldn't figure out if he is older or younger though), he has a 3 year old nephew, lives in Puxi, and has a new puppy.  Most of this we pieced together over several "conversations" using his English, my Chinese, and gestures.  By the time I get back to the States I'm going to be unbeatable at charades. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cooking lesson

I've always had a love of food and cooking so I figured while in Shanghai why not learn to cook like a local?  So, I asked my Ayi if she would be willing to teach me to cook Chinese food.  She had said she was a good cook when I interviewed her, she didn't lie.  She has cooked a couple of times for the kids when she babysat, but I've never been around to watch.  The last time she cooked it was homemade dumplings. Lucky for me and Lucas there were plenty of left overs.  Anyway, Ayi is going to cook lunch for us on Tuesday and Thursday.  Since she leaves at 4:30 dinner wouldn't have worked.  Eric, my Chinese teacher has offered to translate for me on Thursdays.  It works out for him too since he gets to stay for lunch. 

For today Ayi made pork dredged with sweet potato powder and cooked in oil with red onion, mushroom soy sauce, and a bit of sugar and chicken granules.  Shrimp cooked in oil with garlic and a bit of sugar and some mild green onions.  And, cucumber salad with carrots, red onion, garlic, and sugar.  All severed with rice.  It was all very good and I can't wait for Thursdays lesson!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Weekend

Saturday we headed to the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium with the kids, this is the other place we got a membership so we can visit as often as we like.  We learned the during our first visit that the stroller is better off left at home.  There are several escalators that you take as you go through the aquarium and although I'm very proficient now at taking a stroller up or down the escalators, (China does not believe in public elevator service) Charlie is starting to prefer the freedom he's allowed with his bear backpack.  Bonus, all the walking tires him out helping to ensure a nice long nap when we get back home.  The penguins were finally back on display.  This is the first time we've seen them since we started going to the aquarium.  It really is a nice aquarium and I'm looking forward to taking the kids during the week when it is not as crowed. 
The aquarium does have a fast food place that serves both KFC style meals and traditional Chinese ones, but its not the best.  We opted to walk just next door to a Japanese noodle house which is a chain here, for lunch.  It is very good food, and it is very cheap.  The only down side is the complete lack of forks.  Not a problem for us, but the kids can't use chopsticks, although Lily tries.  I'm gonna have to remember to keep some travel ones on me for this very reason. But, honestly it was more of an issue for me and Lucas than Charlie as he just literally dug in.  I will say, that for anyone who wants to visit (mom), most places do have forks for Westerners.  Lucas and I were always okay with chopsticks but we have gotten quite good since our move.  We can even pick up individual peanuts with them now. 
After lunch it was home for naps all around and then off again to Century Park.  The weather so was beautiful it just seemed like the perfect way to end the day.  We took the kids on a few of the rides, walked around for a bit and feed the Koi. Lily picked some wild flowers and had a hot dog on a stick.  I still can't get over that, I guess it is the Chinese version of a corn dog. They don't exactly do hotdog buns here.
Today, Lucas slept in while I took are of the kids.  We headed to Julie's for a late breakfast.  It's one of the few places around that serves an excellent Western breakfast.  After breakfast we walked over the the fake market.  I got a silk table runner and Lily got a small fish purse.  Lucas looked at some golf clubs, but I have gotten him to hold off for now.  Not sure where the heck I would put them anyway.  He did end up getting a "D&G" wallet though.  Both kids were ready to crash so we went home for nap time and Lucas headed across the street to the spa for a nice deep tissue massage.  Unfortunately by the time he got back home I had a migraine.  I took some medicine and it has finally  disappeared thank goodness, but it was not how I'd planned on spending the afternoon. 

Looks like the rainy season we've heard all about is finally here.  Today and the rest of the week looks like rain and by the time the rain lets up the summer should be in full swing with lots of humidity!  Damn, I thought I'd left that behind when we moved from Raleigh. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lily's Graduation

Lily finished school this Thursday, we were all invited to help celebrate the end of the school year.  The kids sangs us songs in Chinese and did a Chinese fan dance. We all had cake and the kids who are moving on, either to a new school or leaving the area, got a photo album of the school year.  Those staying got a class photo.  We also got an end of the year report card, Lily is doing great and is right where she should be.  The kids all made graduation hats and at the end of the party we all went outside to see the "graduates" get their diplomas.  It was a fun morning and I know Lily is excited to go back to school in the fall. 
That night we took our friends, who are here on their look and see trip, out to dinner.  Leo and his wife Lily, are both Chinese, but have lived in America for so long that they are more "western" really than Chinese.  They have two kids, a son a few years older than Lily and a daughter a year younger, and will probably be living close by so we are looking forward to having them here and getting the families together.  We went to Lost Heaven for dinner a very popular restaurant in Puxi that serves Yunnan style food. 
While we went out to dinner, Ayi watched the kids and made dumplings for dinner.  When Lucas saw that he was tempted to stay home too.  Lucky for us there were plenty of leftovers. 

Today was the first day of summer vacation for Lily.  Luckily the heat and humidity have disappeared and we had a beautiful day.  The kids and I walked over to the gym for the indoor playground.  I'd promised Lily we would go when she finished school.  The kids were so good on the walk, even holding hands the whole way.  We didn't stay too long at the gym since it was hot and we didn't bring juice but the kids didn't argue about leaving. 

No big plans for the weekend, probably the aquarium tomorrow and maybe the fake market on Sunday if Lucas is in the mood.  Since it is Father's Day I'm letting him decide where we go.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

More Sci & Tech Museum

It seems like summer has finally arrived and done so with a bang!  It is hot and humid and even walking across the street to Carrefour makes me feel like taking a shower.  To keep out of the heat we took the kids back to the Science and Technology Museum on Saturday.  We saw several of the areas that we missed on our first trip including an exhibit on different forms of power, electrical, water, and wind, were just a few.  There were lots of hands on activities for the kids and they both enjoyed themselves immensely.  While the museum was very busy, not surprising considering the weather, we did manage to find a small exhibit that was virtually empty.  Here they had displays about different forms of technology used to make things and they had several stations where you could have a souvenir made up.  We got a glass block for both of the kids, Lily picked a bunny and Charlie got a Tiger since he was born in the year of the Tiger.  The kids watched in fascination as the robotic arm grabbed the block and put it on the stand and then let the laser etch in their names and the date.  Lucas and I got one for ourselves too of the museum.   

One of the things Lucas and I enjoy doing here in China is spotting Chinglish.  Signs that are in English, but have spelling for grammatical mistakes.  The Sci & Tech Museum was a wealth of Chinglish, this one was probably the best.  This is a sign at the bottom of an escalator, not an elevator and that is just one of the many mistakes we spotted.  When we move back home I plan to make up a Chinglish album! 

Lucas and I are also enjoying dates nights here in Shanghai much more often than we did back in the States.  We are lucky to have Ayi, the perfect babysitter.  She not only watched the kids, she cooks them dinner, cleans up dinner, sweeps up, and takes care of the laundry.  I've only asked that she cook dinner, the rest she just does on her own and I would probably just confuse her if I told her not to worry about the rest and to just read or watch tv after putting the kids to bed. 

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Lucas and I plan to have many more date nights!  Last nights date started with a wonderful dinner at South Beauty, a Schezuan style restaurant that is a chain here.  The food was great, if a bit spicy for my taste, but probably mild for most. We had Kung Pao chicken that was to die for and excellent dumplings and wonton soup.  The restaurant is on the 10th floor of the Super Brand mall and offers a great view of the city.  Unfortunately with the heat and pollution the view was not the best that night. 

We had s bit of time before our movie so we did some shopping, hey, it is a mall.  We ended up getting Lily and set of Disney DVD's that teach Chinese and a picture book with Chinese words in pinyin (the roman alphabet).  I'm hoping she will pick up the language some over the summer even though she won't be taking lessons.  We also got the kids a couple of new outfits form a store here that has such cute stuff it is almost impossible to walk past.  We did make it to our showing of MIB3, which was very good, and exactly what you would expect from a Will Smith movie. 

Today was a bit quiet and lazy all around.  The kids slept in till 9, I don't know what Ayi did to tire them out but I hope she does it more often!   We walked down to the French bakery for a late breakfast before we headed over to Carrefour to run a few errands.  I had a pedicure this afternoon, my first since moving here.  Aside from being cheaper it was pretty much the same experience as back home, and I am now sporting bright pink toes.  Lucas had basketball in the afternoon and by the time he got home and showered my homemade chicken & broccoli mac' n cheese was ready.  The kids are in bed now and I'm thinking about a hot bath and a good book...

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bobbin' for frogs?

I've always been open to the differences you find in foreign countries, but I still find myself laughing at somethings or even left scratching my head over others. This one was a combination of amusement and head scratching.  This is my local Carrefour, and that is a blow up swimming pool with frogs in it.  I guess frogs must be in season if they need a pool to contain them.  Just grab a net and help yourself.  Although Charlie was fascinated by it, I decided to pass on frog legs for dinner.  I still prefer my dinner to be dead and nicely packaged before I bring it home.  

I think we will be heading back to the Science and Technology Museum tomorrow since it is supposed to be 90 and humid.  We didn't come close to seeing all of it the first time there so it should be fun and most importantly, air conditioned!   I'm hoping the weather breaks by Sunday, I'd really like to take the kids to Century Park.  I don't know how many more nice days we can expect.  Summer's heat and humidity is fast approaching as is the wet season.  Fingers crossed for one more nice day before we are forced indoors! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Storage space!

When I first looked at this apartment I somehow missed the lack of a closet in the guest room/office.  I don't know how, I must have just assumed it had one.  It's not a huge problem, but I hate not having a place for guest to put their clothes and I don't like having all of my scrap booking stuff lined up along the wall.  Anyway, we have finally fixed the problem by buying a wardrobe at Ikea. It was delivered yesterday and assembled today.  I now have room for my scrap booking stuff and a place for guests to store their clothes.  Lucas and I had to rearrange some of the furniture to make room for it, and in the end we had to move the book shelf to the living room.  Not exactly ideal since Charlie thinks of my books as new "toys" to play with.  I'm sure the novelty will wear off and he will ignore it soon though.  Now I just have to unpack my scrap booking stuff and the rest of the office things and I can mark this room off as done. 

We got a small shelve with removable plastic bins for Lily's room.  We needed something to put her fish tank, or "tank fish" as she calls it.  This gives her extra storage space for toys too.  I'm trying to keep the family room from being too cluttered with toys by putting some in each of the kids rooms.  Since this is a new concept to them they don't play with the toys in their rooms much and when they do, they drag them into the family room.  I don't mind, especially since I can keep an eye on them, but it does mean I have to drag them all back at the end of the day. 

I'm almost done with the bedrooms and I will share pictures soon.  With the addition of the air freight last week I'm rearrange toys and trying to find the best spot for everything.  The only other big purchases I want to make are curtains and area rugs.  I love the hard wood floors, but I've been told that they can be very chilly in the winter.  I read about a place where I can design my own rugs for a very reasonable price so I may give that a try... 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sci & Tech Museum

We took the kids to the Science and Technology Museum this weekend.  We probably should have gone when we lived in Shama since it was a short 10 min walk, but we just didn't seem to think of it.  This place is huge!  My friend Brenda suggested we leave the stroller behind and I'm so glad she did since the first part we walked through was a "jungle" that took you through different parts of the rain forest on a rocky path.  We also got a membership since it is close and we knew we wouldn't be able to see it all in one day.  What we did see the kids really enjoyed though.  We walked through a hall that had each of the continents represented by the animals that can be found there.  The kids really loved this and I will have to go again when it's not so crowded so the kids can take their time and really check out all of the animals. I think Lily would have happily spent the whole morning in that one hall. 
After the continents we took a walk through a tropical rain forest and got to see many other animals, all fake, that make their lives in the forests.  They also had a huge waterfall in their jungle.  It was really well done and even the English translations were excellent.  I'm thinking they had a native English speaker write the signs for them, you just don't usually see perfect grammar in these places. 
As always, my extra large husband has to watch his head.  It is pretty rare to see a Chinese person over 6 feet tall, or with shoulders like Lucas, so it is not uncommon for him to have to duck or squeeze through certain places. 

The museum also has a 4D theater, although we did not see a move they had several on different educational topics that you would expect to find in a museum.  The kids, Charlie in particular seemed to loose steam after just two hours so we called it quits.  With the membership we can always go back and see the rest some other time.  I think the kids are suffering like me from allergies.  I just hope that whatever it is passes soon. 

We made a quick stop at the flower market and picked up a couple more fish for Lily's fish tank and some more plants for the apartment.  I got a gorgeous tree in a ceramic pot that is about five feet tall and a pothos in a four foot plant stand along with three other small plants for just $80!  The tree alone would have cost around $200 in the US.   It is amazing how cheap something are here.  I've also started to keep fresh cut flowers in the apartment since the vendors are just across the street and I can get 20 roses or lilys for about $8 and others types of flowers for less than $5. 

In the afternoon Lucas took the kids to the indoor playground at the gym, and as always, Lily made a friend.  The kids came home sweaty and tired and I know Lily is going to be asking me when we can go back.  It is nice to have such a great place for them to run off energy though with the summer and humidity coming.