Forgotten School Photos

In the crazy rush of the new schools, I had completely forgotten that the kids had school photos taken.  As we count the days until our first semester of school in China officially ends (single digits!), here is a look back at those photos for your viewing pleasure.

Henry’s is the most interesting.  I can’t stop looking at this.  He is a little mad scientist here.  A deep thinker.

Ava doesn’t look at all like herself.  The uniforms make them look so unfamiliar.  I am wondering if she and Henry were told not to smile.  They both look so reserved.

And, here’s Lucas, predictably almost laughing.  He had a “fancy” shirt to change into, but he didn’t have time.  Or he forgot.  Or he decided to just leave that red shirt on to look like he is wearing the Yew Chung uniform like his siblings.  He also looks vaguely familiar, but not like his normal, every day self.  These weren’t taken that long ago, but they have changed so much even in just a few months.  We are almost ready to head back to the States for our summer visit.  We survived!

The Complainer

Have I mentioned that I am a complainer?  Maybe you have noticed my occasional need to vent?  Yes? I am sure that it has become apparent that I cannot let the opportunity to whine pass me by.  I am not naturally a glass half full kind of person.  You can guess what this means for people who are lucky enough to be around me when I hit a little pothole in my China experience.  Fun, fun, fun!

I have been in a dip for a week or so and this, unfortunately, coincided with my parents visiting for a few days from the United States.  They had been touring around China for a week and a half and had only a few days in Shanghai. Initially, I had been confused about their trip to China.  When my mother called to tell me they were planning to visit, it seemed that they were only going to be in the country for three or four days—barely long enough to recover from the plane ride and begin to adjust to the time difference. They wanted to see the kids’ schools and our neighborhood and spend some quality time with the grandkids.  This seemed like an unusual to do list for my mother.  She is known to sightsee from dawn until well after the sun has set and I couldn’t believe that she would spend her time in Shanghai sitting around our house.  Things became more clear when their departure date got closer.  My mother started talking about their China trip long before they were to arrive.  Weren’t they coming on the 26th?  Why was she packing and talking about their flight details?  It turned out that my parents weren’t merely coming for a Shanghai visit.  They were booked on a China tour complete with river cruise.  They were scheduled to see the Great Wall and the terracotta warriors.  They had events planned for every day and every evening.  By the time they arrived in Shanghai, they would have seen more of China than we had seen in our five months living here.  No wonder they were content to fill the last few days with cafeteria lunches and classroom visits.

Since my parents were only staying for a few days, we decided they would stay with us rather than in a hotel.  This would give them the opportunity to spend more time with the kids.  Apparently, it also gave me more time to vent, whine, and complain.  My mother tried very hard to look at the positive but I was in no mood for that.  Our conversations went something like this:

Mom: I like the roof deck.

Me:  I hate it.

Mom: This kitchen is nice.

Me: I hate it.

Mom: The neighborhood is pretty.

Me: I hate it.

I am sure this got old, but still my parents tried to enjoy the experience.  I worked hard to keep a constant frown on my face.  When I could also furrow my brow and turn up my nose I worked that in as well.

Soon after they arrived, my dad got a terrible cold with a fever and the chills.  He spent the remainder of the trip in bed trying to recover.  Mom and I went to the Pearl Market to bargain for some souvenirs.  Thrown in there was a visit to the pediatrician for Ava, a major work snafu for Mark, and more of me grinding my teeth.  Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful time?  Ok, the market part was fun, but the rest of those things were less than enjoyable.  Mom got to visit my local Carrefour and take a few photos of the turtles and eels ready to be taken home for dinner, but we stayed close to home for the rest of their Shanghai time.

And I complained and complained and complained about everything.  I am fairly certain that my parents left thinking that the kids were fine but I had some real adjustment problems.  Any of the ease I had been feeling about living in Shanghai was gone when my parents were here.  I wanted to be a good hostess and to show them the great things about our new life here but, honestly, I couldn’t remember what any of those things were.   All I could remember was how frustrating every little thing was, how much time I spent on things that at home took no time at all, and how no one would ever really understand any of this.  Even when things went well, I still acted like it was the end of the world.  Who wants to visit the Ericksons in Shanghai now?  You’ve all got an open invitation to visit The Complainer!


Old News

Lion Head Fountain= Fancy

Today I found some old photos of our first few days in Shanghai.  Most of these were taken around our neighborhood and will give you an idea of how it has been built to look luxurious and pricey.  It is pricey, but since I currently have multiple issues with appliances, lighting, and some sort of sewer smell creeping in through the kitchen pipes I think we can all agree that the luxury is only an illusion!  Ah, the first few days of our new house!

This is going up at the end of the street.  It isn’t the loudest construction sound, though.  Lots of my neighbors are constantly ripping out the insides of their houses or digging new basements so the hum of jack hammers is our new background music.  Yesterday Lucas commented that he wished all the workers would take a break so he could have some “peace and quiet”.  Get off his lawn!When the movers were unloading the truck the kids thought it would be fun to climb inside the shipping container.  The Chinese moving men thought this was hilarious, but questioned what kind of a parent would let her children climb up in the truck.  No one could move any boxes because we all needed to hover around the edge of the crate in case a kid fell out.

Not our house.

The houses in our compound all look very similar.  We have street names, but everyone is really identified by their house number.  I don’t even know the name of the street our house is on and it isn’t part of our mailing address.

Also not our house.

Ok, this one is actually our house.

We have a townhouse.  When we were looking for a place to live, we saw so many things in such a short period of time that I couldn’t remember many details about this specific compound or the houses we saw while we were here.  There are bigger houses, but I thought they all had three bedrooms.  We need four bedrooms, especially if there isn’t a playroom or basement.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of my friends has four bedrooms in a much larger house in our compound.  She has a huge kitchen!  Her yard is 10 times bigger than mine!  She is also paying $3,000 more A MONTH.  So a townhouse it is for now.  

Here is our mailbox that fills with water when it rains.  We may or may not pay extra for this.  I have extremely clean mail.

Flowers from the flower market. I always need the purple flowers for the front of the house.

Even though we have less space than before, we are walking distance to Ava and Henry’s school.  Lucas gets dropped off near one of the gates and the kids have more freedom in the neighborhood than ever before.  They like the compound (which still feels weird to say) and love being able to ride their bikes and walk to a playground.  The back yard is small, but the dog gets more walks now.  Pluses and minuses, you know.  For now, we are trying to focus on the pluses.

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.”

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

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

My New School

I’m not used to my new school yet.  Every day I don’t want to go to school.  I don’t like having to get up at 6:15.  Now every time I hear something that sounds like my alarm clock, I start to cry.  I also don’t like my bus monitor.  She is really mean and has weird teeth.  I am not used to my new school yet because it just isn’t my old school.  I miss everything about my old school.  I hope I get used to my new school soon.

Inconvenience– China Style

Today was another whirlwind day in Shanghai.  Basically, I spent the entire day on the move and I have three things to show for it.  First, I was finally able to get a bank card.  Up until now, I have had to rely on Mark to supply me with cash from the ATM so that I could make purchases.  I haven’t had access to the Chinese bank account, and when I want to make large purchases I have to borrow his debit card and leave him with the possibility of needing money and being unable to get any.  This is frustrating to say the least, but this isn’t a situation born of pure laziness.  I have been in Shanghai for two months now and it isn’t from lack of trying that I don’t have a debit card.  You see, the bank wouldn’t give me one.  Well, they wouldn’t give me one unless I opened my own account.  They thought it was crazy that Mark would want an additional card for his wife.  A joint account?  Ha, ha.  That suggestion is so funny!  The solution was for him to open an account for me and then just keep putting money into it from his account.  And depositing money is best done in the bank, mind you, and our internet banking is limited and, also, apparently has never worked.  Ah, China.  Why can’t things just be simple?  Why the crazy every day?  Just to mix things up, it turns out that other banks will let you have two debit cards for one account!  And they have internet banking!  In English!  So what do we decide to do?  Go and open another bank account, that’s what.  Now Mark gets the joy of changing his direct deposit and other information from one bank to another.  Check back with me in a year or so and I am sure it will all be close to figured out.  So now I have a debit card for an account with no money in it!  Chinese bank card—mission kind of accomplished.

I had grand plans to make it to the big electronics store down the street.  Yesterday for Leap Day they had a big sale where things were 29% off (so clever) but I couldn’t get to the store to save Mark money.  My Chinese teacher claims they have all of the items I have been scouring the city for and that the prices are relatively cheap.  She taught me how to say “food processor”, “blender”, and “digital slow cooker” in Chinese in preparation for my excursion.  Allegedly there are English-speaking staff working there, but I have learned not to count on that.  After my three hour bank trip I was going to see if anyone could understand my Mandarin and hopefully score some of my kitchen things.  I was debating whether I should walk or grab a taxi to save some time and energy when my phone rang.  It was Lucas’ school telling me he was sick and I needed to come and get him.  Change of plans.  Luckily, I had the school address and phone number along with my parking pass and parent ID card in my bag.  Emergency preparedness!  For once I had enough cash for the big ride to Shanghai American School and I was right by the taxi stand!  I sprung into action.  I was amazed at how easy this was!  I was in a taxi going to pick up the sick kid!  Without incident!  Of course, this could not last.  The driver had no idea where he was going and asked me to call the school for directions.  A few weeks ago this would have made me nervous, but we were going in the right direction so I stayed calm even though it took me more than one call to actually get a person on the other end of the line.  I handed the phone to the driver and he sorted things out.  He still pulled out his map, though, which meant he was driving, talking on the phone, and reading the map at the same time.  We slowed to a crawl and wandered into other lanes as he tried to get his bearings.  Horns honked and other cars swerved to avoid us, but this isn’t so strange for Shanghai.  He eventually handed the phone back to me and we barreled down the road.

Lucas’ school is a good 40 minute ride from our house, and once I am there I need a taxi to take me back home.  I remembered how this has left me stranded before so I figured I would ask the driver to wait for me while I went in to get Lucas.  But how to communicate this to the driver using only five or so words in Chinese?  Not possible, I decided, and called Mark’s assistant.  Once again I handed the driver the phone and he swerved and talked until things were worked out.  He found the school, waited until I had Lucas, and even managed to get us on the way to our house in one germy piece.  The ride home was uneventful until we arrived at our compound.  We usually come in the last gate, but this afternoon it was locked down tight and not a security guard around.  Our taxi joined the line of honking cars and waiting bicycles, but nothing happened.  Lucas and I got out of the car and hiked to another gate.  When I called to find out why the gate was closed and when it would be reopened I was told it was closed… forever!  Just because.  Closed even for foot traffic.  FOREVER!  Oh, China!  You are so silly.  But we were home, so mission survive-a-quick-change-of-plans was—accomplished!

And my third exciting accomplishment?  I wanted a bubble tea and I got one!  Ok, it was cold and I had wanted a hot one, but I am still going to say that mission order-a-drink-through-a-combination-of-Mandarin/pantomime was—accomplished!  And, yes, I am going to count that as my third big event.  The end.