Honk Honk

I do most of my traveling around Shanghai one of three ways: on foot, by subway, or by taxi.  All three have their perks, of course.  Walking I get to see all of the sights on the way to my destination.  I can count the number of men who have decided to take a break to stretch their legs and take a public pee break.  On the subway I can get extremely familiar with the perfume (or lack thereof) worn by my fellow travelers.  I can get an up close look at what my neighbor has chosen for breakfast after he elbows me out of the way to take the last seat on the train.  Riding in a taxi, however, has so many advantages.  It lets me work on my reflexes as I prepare for sudden stops.  It gives me the thrill that one can only experience when they are at the mercy of a stranger to get them from point A to point B in a timely manner.  It gives me a chance to practice my Mandarin and lets me attempt to decipher the language of horn honking.  Sure, back home people use their car horn for more than one purpose.  It can be a warning—Hey!  I am about to hit you!  Argh!—or it can be a pleasant “hello” as you wave out the window.  When I lived in Boston, there was plenty of horn honking, even some that was meant to get your attention in order for the driver to give you the finger.  This was usually after they followed you for several blocks and then made a third lane in order to get really, really close to you.  They really, really needed to express their displeasure concerning that turn you took 30 minutes ago.  Sometimes these fellow road warriors would try to make you roll down your window so that they could better explain to you in colorful language just exactly why they disliked your driving.

But Boston has nothing on Shanghai when it comes to horn honking.  No sir.  In just the short amount of time I have been enjoying Shanghai taxis I have seen the horn used to convey many, many things.  For example:

  1. Watch out!  I am about to hit you!
  2. I am thinking about turning.
  3. Your motorcycle will be too close to me in approximately 3 seconds.  When this happens I plan on hitting you!
  4. I am in this lane, sort of, but I am thinking about moving into that lane.
  5. My car is bigger than your bicycle, so don’t even think about it.
  6. You are driving too slow.
  7. You should have run that red light.
  8. I am going to run this red light.
  9. The light is about to change and I don’t think you are ready to gun your engine.

This last one is more common than you would think.  For some reason, the traffic lights here give you an indication that they are about to change.  And not just from green to red, but from red to green as well.  This means that not only are people able to take a chance on a yellow light to keep from getting stuck at a red light, but on the other side of the intersection the cars are being simultaneously told that their light is about to go from red to green.  I am sure this has some wonderful city planning implication, but what actually happens is that on one side, cars race to avoid a red light while at the same time all the cars on the other side begin to crowd into the intersection in preparation for their light to turn green.  Add to this the constant movement of bicycles, scooters, and pedestrians and you have more chaos than I care to deal with on a Monday.  Apparently accidents happen and some of them are serious.  People get hit by scooters. Cars smash into each other when intentions are misinterpreted.  Which might be the reason for number ten on my list.  A few days ago while riding with an older man in his dilapidated taxi I realized he was just repeatedly honking.  There was no real reason and nothing to make him think we were about to be smashed into or that we were going to smash into anyone else.  Sometimes we weren’t even really very close to any other vehicles.  But he kept honking.  Just a rhythmic beeping that let everybody know we were there on the road.  I couldn’t ask him why he had decided to honk like this, constantly alternating his thumbs on the wheel, so I just sat back to enjoy the scenery and the sound of the horn.  I think maybe he just wanted everyone to know,

10.  We are driving here.  Take note.

Carrefour! (It Isn’t As Exciting As You Think!)

I keep planning on posting about my multiple grocery stores, but each actual trip to the grocery store leaves me too exhausted to write anything.  Today I even made a feeble attempt at a few illustrative photos before I was rendered unable to push the shutter button by the flying Chinese elbows in the vegetable section of Carrefour.  Before I get ahead of myself, I should let you know that there are varying levels of shopping here in Shanghai.  I am an uninformed American expat, and I am newly arrived in the city, so I get taken at pretty much every turn when it comes to buying food for my family.  I have mentioned before that I have a bunch of different stores that I frequent to find the things we are used to buying.  I had imagined myself taking to the local culture and heading to the markets to find fresh, locally grown produce to feed my family, but that bubble has been burst.  I have yet to make it to the wet market, apparently called “wet” because they get hosed down at night, and I have been frightened to the point of paralyzation about going to the wrong one.  I have also heard them called “hepatitis markets” which is very helpful if you like to avoid food poisoning at all costs and think that more serious afflictions would be best avoided as well.  One of my new friends went to the wet market with another Chinese friend as her guide and came away thinking that the experience was perhaps not worth repeating.  Apparently, there was plenty of yelling in Mandarin which resulted in great vegetables but subpar fruit and left her pining for the local supermarket.  This is saying quite a bit, actually, because a trip to the local supermarket here leaves me wishing I could take a nap on the couch with a bottle of wine.  There are some more upscale places, of course, but they have the prices to prove it, so I always end up at the supermarket with the low prices and the most aggravation.  Today that was Carrefour, the French market that originally tricked me into thinking that Shanghai shopping would be all unicorns and rainbows once we moved here.

When we were looking at housing in September, one of the agents thought I might like to have a look at the Carrefour in Jinqiao.  We were considering an apartment right across the street so this would be one of my most easily accessible places for food and everything else.  I should preface this by saying that the agent was Chinese.  Very Chinese.  We ate lunch together, and when I wanted to get a cold drink afterward, she kept insisting that I wouldn’t be so thirsty if I had just finished my soup.  Because the Chinese don’t really drink cold drinks she couldn’t fathom why I would want one or why the soup wasn’t just as thirst quenching as an iced tea.  Like that Abbott and Costello routine, she kept insisting that I should have finished my soup and I kept reiterating that I needed a drink.  Over and over and over again.  She was, perhaps, not the best person to introduce me to Carrefour.

Carrefour is French.  And I went into the store ready for a French grocery store experience.  I am used to how shopping happens in Paris, but this was Shanghai.  Imagine my surprise when the first thing we encountered was much more like Walmart than some French grocery store.  They have bicycles, and dishes, and clothing.  They have sheets, and cosmetics, and everything else you could want.  Well, sort of.  It is an enormous place with lots and lots of stuff.  My local store is smaller, but still fairly packed with things.  You need an iron?  Carrefour has that!  You want shoes?  They have that, too!  You want imported food at a reasonable price?  Ok, they have some of that, but I can’t leave there without spending $100 and not in the satisfying $100 at Target kind of way.

The price of my American laundry detergent from home

The price of some suspiciously watery Chinese laundry detergent

My local store is two floors.  The top floor is the household stuff.  When I need an iron or an electric kettle, someone comes over to help me work out what I want.  Sometimes they speak a little English, but usually they don’t.  My years of English teaching have given me the superpower of being able to understand any language when it is in a specific context so I usually do ok, but I do occasionally leave with the exact opposite of what I intended to buy.  This is usually the most painless part of the trip.  Yes, people stare at me.  Yes, they point and talk about me while I choose which toilet paper to buy.  But this is nothing.  The real fun begins downstairs with the food.

The Chinese have perfected the awesome belt system for moving you and your cart from one floor to the next.  The carts have hollow wheels with a flat section to stop them from rolling, and to head downstairs I just position myself and the cart on the belt and ride on down.  Brilliant, actually.  Carrefour has plenty of imported items so I hit up the imported foods section first.  They have conveniently put it right after the belt contraption.  I assume this is so expats can hit this part of the store and run as fast as their little legs will carry them to the registers.  When we moved here in December, this section didn’t even exist and I had memorized all of the secret spots where I might find the things I needed.  One day, I arrived at the store to find it completely rearranged.  I have gotten used to this on a small scale.  Usually I will figure out that a certain store has a particular item that we absolutely cannot live without and will return time and time again only to be surprised one day that they no longer carry it.  The space where it was once shelved will show no indication  that the thing was ever there.  Maybe in a few days it will reappear, like magic, in the old spot, or maybe I will never see it again.  There is no way of knowing.  Today I found the Carrefour brand of pate brisse and contemplated buying the 20 or so packages that were sitting in the refrigerated section just in case this was a one time thing.  I settled on two, telling myself that if they were delicious for chicken pot pie I would return tomorrow to buy the rest of them before anyone else noticed they were there.  Desperation.  It isn’t pretty.Chinese Honey Nut Cheerios are significantly cheaper than the American ones!

I am usually fine until I hit the meat and vegetable sections.  Until this point, there are plenty of things that make me remember that this is Carrefour.  It is Chinese, yes, but they have those granola bars that the kids like!  Made in France!  They have Korean and Japanese imported foods, too, but this never throws me as much as the meat and vegetable parts of the store.  That first visit will be forever etched in my mind as the day I realized grocery shopping could have a smell.  Not a fragrance, but a smell.  Carrefour in Shanghai has a smell.  There are stores that smell worse, but Carrefour has enough of a smell to make the illusion of shopping in France somewhat impossible.  But it isn’t just the smell.  Once you pass the freezers, you are smacked in the face with China.  Chinese vegetable shopping here is a contact sport, and if you can’t take it then you should get ready to go home empty handed.  People crowd around the bins of fruit and vegetables and it is every man for himself when something special is in season.  Today there was some sort of pear being unloaded and the crowd was three deep around the bin and the arriving boxes.  As soon as the produce guy would start to unload a box of the coveted pears, the crowd would rush forward snatching and grabbing.  There were some lesser pears available, and there was a rowdy crowd around these, but this did not compare to the “special” pears.  Each one was individually wrapped and padded, but the sheer force of the handling combined with the chucking of the special fruit into carts so that hands could be freed for more snatching rendered these protective covers ineffective.  I can easily get caught up in this madness.  When everyone is ravenous for something, even if it is something I cannot identify, I can’t help but join the crowd.  Today I left with no pears, but I still have both my eyes so I consider this a win.

This is the least crowded part of the vegetable section. Notice the creative cart positioning.

Once you have selected your pieces of fruit or vegetables, you have to get them weighed.  You bag your own stuff, but then you need to take them to a special counter where someone weighs them for you, puts the price sticker on, and seals the bag.  Here is where I have become the most Chinese.  There is no lining up, of course, so if you want your stuff weighed you have to commit.  Today the crowd was three deep all around which is much trickier when patrons use their carts to try to secure  a spot closer to the weighing machine.  The women who work there randomly grab bags of produce, sling them on the scale, and tag them without ever making eye contact.  When it is less busy I can say “please” and “thank you” like a civilized human being, but these times are few and far between.  Carrefour is usually crowded even at 9:30 in the morning.  Today, I muscled my way in had my things weighed but only after edging my way to the front and then ignoring the woman to my left who kept repeatedly demanding that I move out of her way.

I avoid the meat section in order to avoid a compulsion for vegetarianism.  It isn’t like a butcher shop exactly, but they do hose down the floor and this is enough to make me think that a nice meal of veggies and rice would be great for all of us.  There are tanks stuffed full of fish and eels and other wild and wooly water creatures.  Today I saw a couple wrangling eels with one of the nets.  This surprised me because I had assumed that one of the shop workers would be responsible for this lovely task.  Not so!  The eels were feisty despite their cramped quarters and we were all treated to a nice fresh water rinse whenever the man managed to get one in the net.  There is prepackaged meat, but it is packaged in house, so that doesn’t make it any easier for me to take home.  I know it would be cooked and so some of my worries are unnecessary, but sometimes, my mother’s voice jumps in my head and I can see the food safety violations like bright red warning beacons.  The meat is out like the vegetables, and unless you need something special, you bag it yourself and have it weighed.  People like to examine each individual piece of meat so there are bins of frozen parts as well as fresh ones.  I was fine with this until I saw a woman trying to bag her meat unsuccessfully.  She was having trouble opening the plastic bag so she placed the hunk of raw meat (beef, maybe?) in the bottom of her cart while she worked on the bag.  It dripped onto the floor and mixed with her other groceries until she had wrestled the bag open.  Then she placed the meat in the bag and went to have it weighed.  I have seen this happen time and time again with split ducks or frozen chicken feet.  People need to rearrange things; they need to get organized.  They need some place to put down that hunk of raw meat and there isn’t a great place.  Dear Carrefour, can you please help these people out?  I once commented that my mother can never come to Carrefour.  The scene will be too much.  Mark suggested that it would be good for her to see that a country that has managed such a large population handles their food in this way.  And this is much cleaner than many local markets!  Shanghai is a city with 23 million people!  But I know what my mother will say.  She will tell me to imagine how many people  would be living here if the rest of them weren’t all dying from salmonella.

Biking in English

Walking at night with the kids to meet their father and a friend for dinner, I notice the bike slowing down. The guy stays in the bike lane, but he is going so slowly I am wondering how he can keep the bicycle upright. He lingers just a bit behind us, but I can tell he is listening to our conversation. We are talking about all kinds of crazy plans, but mostly Lucas wants to know about the buying of things. If we were rich, he always asks, would you buy me everything I ask for, everything I want? He always hopes that the only thing standing between him and what he thinks of as perfection is only some monetary problem. Nope, I always say. Even if I had all the money in the world I would never buy you everything you want. He understands, but this doesn’t stop him from asking. The cyclist is still behind us a bit, and he is still listening. He pulls the bike up onto the sidewalk and starts to push it. “What is that guy doing?” Lucas asks me. “I’m not sure,” I tell him, but I am pretty sure the guy is listening to us. Maybe he can speak a little English, maybe not. Maybe he just likes walking with us and staring at the kids.

“Helllooooo!” the guys finally yells at us, and we answer him. The kids are used to random people greeting them with a long drawn out version of the only word they probably know in English. This guy is different, though. He pulls the bike up beside us and tries to start a conversation. “Excuse me,” he begins, “Can you give me directions to Longyang Road?” Lucas looks at me with a perplexed expression. Why would a Chinese person ask his mother for directions? In China? The other children also seem confused. Doesn’t this person see that we are not Chinese? Doesn’t he know that he should ask someone else for directions? He smiles and I smile back. I have a vague idea about where he needs to go but I know he doesn’t need directions. He wants to practice his English. I tell him that I think the road is straight ahead but I am not sure which direction it runs. “Do I turn left or right?” he asks me. “I am not sure,” I say and we all continue walking together.

“Mom,” Lucas whispers, “Why is that guys still walking with us?” “I think he wants to talk to us,” I say. “Where are you from?” the cyclist asks me and I answer him in Mandarin. This is one of the three things I can say and I am excited to be able to use it in a conversation. If he is impressed, he hides it very well. “Are you a teacher?” he asks. “Yes!” I say and once again try my Chinese. I can say that I am an English teacher! I know how to say that! But he is not happy with this. “Your Chinese is very good,” he tells me dismissively while waving his hand in the air. The kids snort and roll their eyes. My Chinese is far from good. “Let’s talk in English instead!” our new friend urges me. When we reach the intersection he points to the road sign. There is the street. He needs to turn left. “Ah!” he exclaims. “I must turn left! Now I can find my way home! Thank you! Thank you!” We separate and he calls after us, “Goodbye! Goodbye!”

“Mom, he wasn’t really lost,” Lucas informs me once the man is gone. I smile and admit the truth. “Yeah. I know.”

My homework

The dog ate my homework.

You’ve heard that before?
This one ate the table,
then chewed through the door.

Broke into the living room
with his munch mouth,
snacked on some carpet,
and lunched on the couch.

He chewed up some albums,
then swallowed the mail,
even ate pretzels,
though they were stale.

He garbaged down everything
left in his path
and still wasn’t full
when he found my math.

He chewed tops off bottles
then drank all the pop.
As far as I know,
he still hasn’t stopped.

If you don’t believe me,
then give Mom a call,
if she still has a kitchen
or phone on the wall.

She’ll answer and tell you
my story is true.
The dog ate my homework.
What could I do?

that is by Sara Holbrook. I wish the dog had eaten my homework. I really hate homework. I get too much of it each day and most of the time it’s easy but I have sooooooo much of it! 😦    I get this much each day*

my homework


*it’s not really my homework




Ninja Post 3

Good Things About School:

1.  My friends

2.  Playing on the playground

3. My teachers (Ms. Tammy speaks English and Ms. Stacy speaks Chinese)

Bad Things About School:

1.  Physical Education (We don’t get to do just one thing.  We have to do like FOUR things and we are always with another class.)

2. Nothing.  I like my school.

Dictated to Gwen by Henry

The Hottest Ticket in Town

Friday was Ava’s violin concert.  All of the students are required to learn the violin as part of the music program at her school.  When I toured the school for the first time, this was a real selling point for me.  They told me all about how it helps children with the tones in Chinese and it exposes them to reading music.  At Ava’s previous school, Music was connected with Math (along with everything else—yeah integrated curriculum!) and I am a firm believer in the benefit of learning to play an instrument.  Studying music is really a no brainer, in my opinion.  That said, I have tried to learn to play several instruments and have been wildly unsuccessful at all of them.  Still, I think music is important.

Apparently, the other parents at this school agree with me.  At least they agree on the importance of attending the Spring violin concert.  The concert took place on two days in order to accommodate all of the special guests who needed to see their little virtuosos perform.  You had to request tickets or go to the main office to get them.  Each child was only allowed two tickets when they were first made available but there was the possibility of obtaining more tickets if there were any left after round one.  Yes, two rounds of tickets for an elementary school violin concert.  You need tickets but then it is general admission.  No assigned seats!  First come, first served!  We have only two adults that might possibly endure such a concert, so this all seemed unnecessary to me.  This wasn’t U2, right?  Was Paul McCartney going to make a guest appearance?  No?  Then why all the fuss, people?

I would soon find out that the violin concert is no trivial matter.  Mark was late and so I waited outside the school gym until the very last minute.  I lined up with some other concert goers, but really, “lined up” doesn’t describe what we were doing.  In China, no one makes an actual line, and there isn’t this recognition of who is first, then second, and so on.  People clump together and push.  They will walk to the front and demand answers to their important questions as if they are the only person in the room.  This happens everywhere—the bank, the grocery store, restaurants.  I hadn’t expected it at the elementary school violin concert, but, well, there you go.  It is an international school, so you have the interesting cultural combinations that result when you mix some Chinese parents with other nationalities.  Some of us were lining up and handing our tickets to the teachers at the door, and some of us were clumping together or trying to ignore the ticket idea altogether and just push into the concert.  A group of Scandinavians in front of me had only two tickets for four people.  No, no, they were told.  All the seats were claimed and they would need to have two people wait to see if they could come in.  This was serious business, this concert.  Behind me a gaggle of Chinese parents and relatives were starting to groan and push.  It was of the utmost importance that they get into the concert!  Immediately!  Never mind that the rest of us were going to the exact same place and we could literally see into the gym.  Finally they could take it no more and several of them pushed past the rest of us.  The teacher in charge made a tight-lipped grimace and continued checking the tickets of the five or so of us remaining at the door.  Then she put someone else in charge, left her post, and began hunting down the gate crashers.  At first I thought this was a little over the top.  I mean, who would try to sneak into a school concert without a ticket, especially when the tickets were free?  Well, apparently, all of those pushy parents would, that’s who!  One had a ticket for the performance the day before.  She wasn’t Chinese, and made a big show of not understanding enough English to realize the date on her ticket was not the date of the concert she was trying to attend.  Tellingly she had crumpled the ticket and shoved it deep in her pocket in an effort to make it more difficult to read.  The rest acted shocked—truly shocked- that they were required to have tickets!  The teacher drug them all back out to the hallway to wait for available seats.

Mark arrived during the first squeaky number.  I had selected seats near the door so he could find me.  Unfortunately, an aisle had been made in front of us for traffic going to the other side of the gym.  As soon as the kids came on stage, this space filled up with doting family members holding their cameras.  No one looked around to see if they were obstructing someone else’s view.  We reluctantly stood up to be able to see the top of Ava’s head.  This continued throughout the concert, combined with a constant hum of conversation coming from parents whose children were not performing at that moment.  People were videotaping the event and I am sure that rather than the beautiful (ahem.) sound of violins, they primarily captured the personal conversations of those around them. The woman sitting next to me whipped out her phone and unabashedly played Angry Birds.  A talkative kid in front of us took candid shots of Mark with her mother’s camera.

Would you like to see some pictures?  I would love to show you some, but the combination of my small crappy camera and the other overzealous parents resulted in all my photos including the back of other people’s heads.  Eventually, I started taking pictures of the other parents taking pictures of their children.

If we don't document this, it is like it never happened.

The concert had been a big deal for Ava and she was very nervous about her performance.  She hasn’t been playing violin long and her entire experience has been about getting ready for this concert.  She smiled when she saw us, though, and she couldn’t have been any worse than the kid who kept putting his violin down and letting out repeated sighs of exasperation.  Or the kid who held his violin pointing straight up  so that his bow wasn’t really touching the strings.  Or the smaller kids who kept wiggling so much that it was impossible for them to hit the right notes.  There were a few solo numbers from some kids who took lessons outside of school and these included some baffling dance moves.  For visual interest, I guess?  Who can say, really.  And then it was over and we all pushed our way out of the gym as if there were Black Friday sales in the lobby.  I managed to get a few photos of Ava as she made her exit.  Notice the stylish uniform.  Which she hates.  

Shanghai Life

My life here is starting to unfold.  My life is like a path but I can’t see all of it.  I don’t like Shanghai.  It is becoming a very scary place.  I don’t know anything about it yet.  We don’t have a car here so it is difficult to get around.  We either have to walk, or take the subway, or take a taxi.  The walking is my least favorite part.  And I can’t really understand most people because I don’t know much Chinese.  It almost seems like I keep doing the same thing over and over and over again, not learning.  But anyway, I hope it gets better.

Dictated to Gwen by Ava

Law Abiding Citizens

Lucas “They should make it illegal to spit on the street.”

Gwen  “I think it is already illegal.”

Lucas  “It is illegal?  In Shanghai?”

Gwen  “I think so, yeah.”

Lucas  “Then everyone in this city should really be in jail.”

Gwen  “True.  So true.”

Conversation after witnessing yet another amazing phlegm performance by a Shanghai resident.  Officer Luke is back on the beat!  Stand down, Officer Luke!

Shanghai Charades

“This weather matches my feelings.”

Lucas Erickson, March 7, 2012, 6:45 am


The weather here has been terrible—constant rain and gray days.  Today when I walked Henry to school it began to sleet.  It is no fun to be in a downward dip in your cultural acclimation and have the weather decide to follow your lead.  Needless to say, this is making any attempt at cheering up the kids fairly futile.  This morning when Lucas looked out at the cloudy sky and told me that this weather was a perfect match for how he was feeling inside, my heart sank.  I can remember feeling like that about 10 years ago when I had a touch of the old baby blues.  Looking out at that February sky that always seemed to get dark and dreadful so early in the afternoon, I couldn’t imagine that I would ever be able to manage leaving the house.  But Spring came in spite of my dour mood, and suddenly things seemed ok again.  I am hoping that any minute now Spring will come to Shanghai.  We could use it.

There was about an hour of reasonable weather yesterday.  The sun threatened to shine and tried to peek out of the clouds.  It didn’t last long, but it was just enough time to do a little shopping with another American who arrived in Shanghai about the same time as we did.  We had plans to head over the river to explore a bit, but ended up staying close to home to run errands.  One of these stops involved the sporting goods store to buy some gear for her son.  He is in middle school, and is playing baseball here in Shanghai.  To be able to practice, he needed an athletic supporter.  Moms love to buy these kinds of things, of course.  Even in English, purchasing a jock strap for your not-quite-grown son can be a terrifying experience.  Having to explain yourself and ask around to find what you need can be brutal when it involves someone else’s genitals.  And it doesn’t matter that you might be fine with every word ever used for boy anatomy.  The salespeople rarely have this kind of poise.

The sporting goods store here is pretty big so we were sure they would have what we needed.  We started the search hoping that it wouldn’t involve the usual Chinglish pantomime that seems to occur here on a daily basis.  No such luck.  An unsuspecting salesman with limited English approached us to offer his assistance.  Did we need any help?  Of course we did!  We explained in English.  My friend offered every synonym for jock strap known to man but was met with a baffled expression.  Where do you wear this thing?  The salesman was confused.  Was it to protect your stomach?  What sport was this for anyway?  He led us to the support belts for heavy lifting.  Nope, we explained.  It is for protecting this part HERE.  We vigorously pantomimed.  My friend kept suggesting situations where a cup would be helpful all of which made the salesman grow redder and redder in the face and more confused.  He questioned us to help determine what this mystery item was.  Why would a ball hit you there?   What sport was this for again?  He enlisted the help of a fellow associate.  My friend volunteered that you might need an athletic supporter for American football or for rugby.  This did not help.  Our first helper tried explaining to our new acquaintance in Chinese what he thought we were looking for.  The second man’s face grew red as well and he expressed his astonishment and confusion through an increasingly pained series of gasps and groans.  We pantomimed again and explained that it was like underwear.  It was special protective underwear for boys.  My friend once again demonstrated an imaginary ball hitting someone in the crotch.  The new salesman winced and blurted out, “Why?!”.  Desperate, they called in the big guns.

They hunted down the manager and once again tried to explain what they thought we might want.  He blushed as well and consulted with a female associate.  We did our wild demonstration again only to have the woman use a word in Chinese that I actually understood.  Don’t have.  She didn’t even come close to blushing.  After all this they didn’t have it.  Wait, the manager insisted, we should wait while he checked online.  Maybe they did have something like this.  We waited.  He returned holding two jock straps—one a junior size and one an adult.  We loudly expressed our thanks and gratitude only to then further scandalize him by involving him in the discussion of which size would fit best.  He shifted from one foot to the other as we examined the packaging and inspected the product.  Once my friend had made her selection, I asked him what it was called in Chinese.  He told me in a low voice and I repeated the word several times, each time making him more and more uncomfortable.  “The first part means ‘protection’”, he explained, “and the second part means… this area.”  He made a sweeping gesture to indicate what he meant, making it clear that he would rather die than discuss it any further.  But who can resist repeating a word like that?  Not me.  I am sure that never before had the manager been so relieved to have satisfied customers leave with their purchase.

I Don’t Like My School

My school is very boring.  There is only one thing that I enjoy about it.  Oh, well, make that two things.  They are: my friends and the after school Chinese dance class.  My school is boring because it is nothing like Park School.  That was my old school.  Almost everything was different there.  For example, art is a lot different.  We don’t do the things we did at my old school.  We don’t get to make whatever we want, we have to make exactly what the teacher tells us to.  P.E. isn’t anything like Park school.  I can’t exactly explain that.  It will never be as good as Park School!!!!!!


Dictated to Gwen by Ava