Thursday, June 28, 2018

Shanghai’ed


One of the fundamental differences between my husband and I is how we approach travel.  He looks for the simplest plan and is willing to pay more for it.  Ever my father’s daughter, though, I loolk for the cheapest plan.   So when I was booking tickets for our trip to California this summer, it was very clear that the cheapest way to get there was flying China Eastern through Shanghai.


“It’s only like $200 more to fly direct from Seoul!” Matt said.  


“Per ticket! Times five tickets, that’s $1000!” I argued.  “Plus, it would be at the end of a long day, and I’d have to take the train to get there.  Spending the night in Shanghai would actually be more restful because we have a night in a hotel first.” 


In the end, I went with my plan. I’d spent about half the night in the airport hotel last year when I did the exact same route with United.  While it was okay, there were better-rated hotels not far away.  I went with The Qube Shanghai Pudong, noting that it had a free shuttle to and from the airport and breakfast was included.  


As the departure day approached, I started to get nervous, especially when Matt kept repeating, “I wish you were just going through Seoul.” Maybe I did too.  I know my way around Seoul.  It’s a fantastic city.  I tried to line up everything, letting the shuttle service know when I was arriving, reserving my preferred seats for the long-haul flight across the Pacific.  


Everything went smoothly till I got to Shanghai Pudong Airport.  It’s like the Bermuda Triangle.  Something always goes wrong, and you almost can’t get out — they actually block off most exits for some unfathomable reason that I’m sure they call “security”.  So of course I didn’t make it to the designated meet-up point in time for the shuttle, and another wouldn’t come for an hour. By this time, it was 9 pm in Busan, and Annalee was exhausted,  I didn’t want to wait, and I remembered reading that taxis were easy to get and only about $10, so I went to flag one down.


As taxi after taxi passed, I began to worry.  I turned to a nearby policeman and tried to get some help.  He was very kind and even managed to call the shuttle driver using the number in the email I’d received.  We were communicating through a translation app on his phone, and as he showed me his message translated, my eyes widened and I almost burst out laughing, “The driver try to sex you,” the translation read, followed by something about the terminal and needing to get a taxi.  I was sure he didn’t mean to make it weird; it was just another case of translation apps getting things wrong and dirty.  But I had to turn away and laugh silently for a few seconds before I could regain my composure.


At long last, I managed to get a taxi to stop.  The driver wore a stained white t-shirt tight over his pot belly and had a cigarette hanging between his lips as he spoke.  But he seemed to know where the hotel was and agreed to take us, so I ignored how the cab reeked of smoke and was just about to climb in when the policeman once again showed me his phone. I was a little nervous to read this message, but it said, “The fare is 50 [about ten US dollars]. If he asks for more, don’t pay it.”  I nodded and thanked him profusely, and we were off.


Well, sort of.  The taxi was moving in what I prayed was the right direction.  I sat in the front with two of the kids’ suitcases and my purse on my lap, while all four kids sat in the back — three with Lilly stretched across them. It looked hilarious, but Annie was exhausted and beside herself.  She was sobbing, and the taxi driver began mocking her. 


Okay, for those who don’t know, on my list of Things You Don’t Do Unless You Want Me to Hurt You: Number 2 is, make fun of my kids (Number 1 being, try to hurt them or take them).  I sat there feeling my blood boil, taking deep calming breaths as I focused on the goal of getting to the hotel alive.  Then the driver turned to me and said, “So much!” indicating the contents of his cab, “Price 200.”  I felt my blood pressure soaring ever higher, but took a deep breath and firmly said, “No.” I didn’t say anything else because I had no idea where we were, but within a minute, to my utter relief, I saw our hotel in the distance.  


We pulled up to the front and piled out.  Unfortunately, when I changed money, I only had about $50 on me. Thus I had two 100 renminbi bills, plus small change, so I handed the driver one 100, knowing despite the policeman’s warning at the airport hat I wasn’t going to get 50 back. I figured this was just one of those things that happens when you travel.  He looked at it and to my indescribable surprise, he started yelling at me!  His face darkened with rage and he moved close to me, as if threatening to hurt me.  It was not all in English, but he clearly thought I was going to actually pay him 200. A crowd of guests was standing there staring at me, and I’m sure he thought that by creating a scene and presenting a physical threat, I would be pressured into paying him more.


He thought wrong.  Public humiliation has never been a particularly calming tactic for me. And ever my mother’s daughter, I know how to stand up for myself.


As he waved the bill in my face, bellowing at me, I snatched it out of his hand.  I’m actually surprised by myself, too, except that given his proximity to me and moving the way he was acting like he’d hurt me, he’s lucky I didn’t kick him in the treasures.  My cheeks burning from anger and embarrassment, I said that the policeman told me the fare was 50 and had instructed me not to pay more, and so if he didn’t want what I’d given him, he could just not have any.  


Noticing the commotion, the concierge hurried out and when I explained to him what had happened, he said he thought 100 was fair.  I told him how the policeman — the law itself! — had said 50, but gave the bill back to the driver.  He spat at me and shouted words that Lilly, who had a Chinese classmate last year who used to cuss in Chinese to keep from getting in trouble, said, “were really, really bad words, Mom.” 


Fuming and actually shaking with fury, I went inside.  Fortunately, the man at the front desk was very helpful.  He tried to contact the taxi company to file a complaint, but that turned out to be a dead end.  At least we were in our room before long — a very comfortable family room with two pristine king-size beds and a giant picture of Doraemon on the window that looked into the bathroom.  


I got the kids to bed as soon as I could, hoping we’d all get a good night’s sleep before our travels the next day.  As he drifted off to sleep, Wyatt said, “You know, I think I like strangers in Korea better than strangers here.”  I laughed but lay awake for quite a while, frustrated by what a terrible experience I’d had so far.  Traveling through China wasn’t just about getting the cheapest airfare; I’d specifically chosen an itinerary that gave us a bit of time in Shanghai so that we could experience a bit of the country on our way.  It bothered me not just that my husband’s MO was looking much better than mine, but that my plans seemed to be failing so spectacularly.  Finally, I sat up and said a quick prayer that somehow I would be able to show the kids something good that would give them happier view of China, no matter how short our time was.  After a while, I drifted off to sleep.


The next morning, we hurried to get ready for our marathon journey and headed downstairs to the sumptuous breakfast buffet. There were both Chinese and Western options — Canadian bacon and noodles, dragonfruit and canned peaches, tea eggs and bok choy, and fried eggs and croissants.  We ate to our content and had just about an hour left before the shuttle headed back to the airport, so we took a moment in the beautiful lobby to consider our next move.


One of my goals was to wear the kids out before the long flight, so I announced we were going to take a walk.  The hotel appeared to be a suburban neighborhood, but I’d seen the roof of a temple from our room.  I decided we’d walk in that direction and see what we could find.


As it turned out, we passed vibrant and intriguing shops and businesses, as well as brightly painted murals along the walls,


then came to a street shaded with lush trees and beside it was just what I’d hoped for — a small park.  We walked along its perimeter for a few hundred meters, peeking where we could through the wall to see dozens of older people practicing tai chi.  We entered the park when we could, and though we were the only foreigners we’d seen, everyone was incredibly friendly.  


The women smiled generously at the kids and the men waved and smiled too.  We passed a pavilion where couples were practicing ballroom dance.

  One of the younger men started speaking to Wyatt.  At first we were a little hesitant because he sounded harsh; then we realized he was joking with Wyatt and asking if he knew Kung fu.  He showed him a few moves and posed for a picture, and we all had huge smiles on our faces as we left.


And then, it was already time to head to the airport.  

(Annie’s face is the true expression of how I felt!)


We loaded up in a van provided by the hotel and soon found ourselves in the check-in process, where to my chagrin, I learned that the extra money I’d paid to the online booking company to “guaranteed reserve” our chosen seats would not be honored by China Eastern.  Fortunately, we were at least seated more or less together, though at the very back of the plane and without window seats.  We got through all the lines and found an empty place for the kids to run and dance off their energy until boarding was called. 


Do you get what you paid for?  On the one hand, I got lousy seats on a plane and a brawl with a taxi driver — but I also found beauty and smiles and warmth that I wasn’t expecting.  I was reminded through this experience that in both travel and life, you can have the best laid plans and checklists and guarantees, and they still fall through leaving you to just hold on tight and pray.  But also, while there are always jerks in the world, and plenty of yuck and evil, there’s goodness and kindness in unexpected places.  You just always have to keep your eyes and heart open.


And also, I have another night in Shanghai on the way home...





Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Love From Korea



As hard as it is to believe sometimes, almost two years have already passed since we moved to Korea.  Facebook reminded me the other day of our announcement that we were coming here, and I thought back to how much I have learned and grown in this relatively short amount of time.  I remembered my first post about the things I love about Korea and realized how much more I’ve come to love, especially about Busan, the city we will be leaving this summer.  So here’s another, updated list of my favorite things here, and the news about where we are going next.


1.  I mentioned in my first list how Koreans love children, and honestly, this still gets to me.  Even if they don’t speak any other English, Koreans of all ages, male and female, will smile and wave enthusiastically, then say, “CUTE-ah!”  It really is so heartwarming.  They especially love when Annalee rides her scooter, which I have to say is pretty darn cute!


2.  The street that leads to the subway station in my neighborhood.  I just love it so much.  It’s lined with produce trucks and stands and trees that mark the seasons in all their splendor.  This is my favorite produce stand; the salesman is always so kind, and he always has the best produce.  


4.  Kids’ cafés. 

 I’m trying to figure out how to describe this because I really can’t think of anything comparable in the States.  The café part is for the grown-ups, and the offerings range from just your typical caffeinated drinks to snacks and even meals in some locations.  And then there are all these different things for the kids to play on.


If you’re picturing your typical “play place” attached to a fast food chain — ball pits that smell faintly of urine (or worse), sticky floors and suspicious splatters, loud and obnoxious machines or animatronic animals that are somewhat terrifying, places where you want to bathe your children in hand sanitizer when you leave — this is not what I’m talking about!  Instead are little “rooms” with play kitchens and living rooms, 


ball pits with interactive screens, usually some sort of trampoline or bounce pad, and some even have a sand box! 



 There are toy cars to ride and dress-ups, 




and often times, café employees will follow your child around playing with them, so it’s like you have a baby-sitter too and can actually have a conversation or finish a complete thought! 


Having been traumatized by American play places, I was really reluctant to warm up to these.  But then when I went and the employees made my kids wash their hands and took their temperature as we walked in, I fell hard.  
I mean, I seriously had to restrain myself to keep from hugging them.  Some are more pricey (especially in our neighborhood), but they’re pretty reasonable.  Since the weather and air quality isn’t always ideal, they’re a great place to get away to.  I don’t know if they sell gift cards, but if so, that would be THE PERFECT!!! Christmas or birthday present for someone with young kids here.  I mean, picture a house chock-a-block full of the best toys that you sit in while sipping your coffee, and then you leave and don’t have to clean up anything!  It’s kind of… heavenly.


5.  Convenience stores.  Koreans absolutely love them, and now, so do I.  You are rarely in a place that doesn’t have one.  They’ve come to the rescue when vegetarian eating options are limited as you know you can always at least get some ramen and survive!  Sometimes there are even two different chains of them side by side.  And it is so, well, convenient!  We have one downstairs from our apartment (that I’ve mentioned before), and it really does provide such peace of mind.  I’ve started wondering how I’ll ever again live without a place I can’t just run down to when I need something!  I mean, the responsibility of having to plan — it’s overwhelming! ;-)


6.  I feel safe.  Okay, not when I’m driving or crossing the street — that’s just plain terrifying.  But I noticed last summer when I went back to California, the sort of low-level (sometimes high-level) tension I felt for myself and my kids’ safety.  But here?  I dropped my phone chasing my kids to the park last week, and (thanks to teamwork from my friends!), I actually got it back!  I’ve left my kids $100+ scooters for an hour and returned to find them exactly where I left them. In California, both my granddad and one of Matt’s best friends were shot in parking lots.  Both survived, but I don’t walk through parking lots there without keeping an eye all around me, and hurrying my children in and out of the car.  Here, though, honestly?  I only worry about what other foreigners might do.


I feel like I’m often saying this, but Korea is so much more than what the media portrays it to be.  It’s a beautiful and fascinating country, and while I have had some challenges, it has definitely become a place that is special to me.  


Which is good! Because… we are staying in Korea!  (The sign above says “We live in Korea”.  And, no, I didn’t just get all good at Korean — my friend helped me! haha!). 


Our move this summer will be the shortest ever of my husband’s career.  We are leaving Busan, but we will be closer to Seoul, which I love.  Also, we will be living sort of out in the country (at least compared to what we live in now) which will be a different change-of-pace for sure.  


I leave this afternoon for California, where I will spend most of this summer with family and friends — and especially Jayna.  I think the hardest part of staying in Korea is knowing we will still be so far away from her.  So I’m going to go spend a weekend with her before her finals and then moving her out of her dorm next week.  I haven’t done any of the things parents usually do during their kid’s first year of college — I’m very thankful that I get to do this!  I’m going to soak it up!


When I get back at the end of July, we will have a week or two here before we move.  We’ve already said goodbye to some friends who won’t be here any more when we return, and we have sort of packed a little not just for our time away but for when we get back, not knowing how long it will take to find a place to live.  I’m sitting here writing this feeling pretty emotional, knowing that it is sort of the end of a little era, but also kind of in denial, I think.  


Prayers are always appreciated.  Moving here was harder on my kids, Wyatt especially, than I expected.  I’m bracing for that while hoping it is much smoother, especially since we will at least be in Korea still.  


So that’s our big news!  What are your summer plans?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Watching, Reading, Wearing, Eating, May ‘18




So even though it’s already June 1, this is the Watching, Reading, Wearing, Eating for May.  I have a whole lot on my plate at the moment which I will fill you in on soon, plus I had a sick kid at home this week — one who would not stop talking the second the Motrin kicked in and his fever came down.  I couldn’t even have him watch a TV show without having to have a conversation about it.  


(He’s a whole lot like my dad.)  


But better late than never, right?!  I’ve said that a few times here, haven’t I?  Here it is:


Watching — We finally saw Coco.  It was beautiful and sweet… but I had the whole thing figured out pretty much from the start.  


But I also watched not one, not two, but THREE grown-up movies in May!!  The first was not exactly a new movie — I think it came out a few years ago — called Room.  Have you seen this?  I watched it Mother’s Day weekend (because it’s largely about a mother and what she would do for her kid).  In case you haven’t seen or heard of it, a young woman is kidnapped and forced to live in a shed for several years.  She has a baby and raises him in “Room”, which becomes his world, until realizing that she desperately wants her child to grow up free, she comes up with a risky plan.  It was hard because I can’t watch or read things where kids are getting hurt and abused without feeling physically ill, but I stuck it out even though I was actually shaking in parts of it.  It definitely made me think about things like what we do to adapt to difficult situations (though I’ve certainly never been in one like that!), and also the lengths parents will go to for their children.


Skyler (my super-cool fifteen-year-old who loves watching classic movies!) and I watched To Catch a Thief.  Oh Cary Grant and Grace Kelly!  Oh French Riviera!  Oh Edith Head costumes!  I felt swoony again and again.  What’s not to love?


Then we watched Game Night.  The premise kind of reminded me of the Michael Douglas movie from the 90’s called The Game, but it was much funnier.  I definitely laughed out loud.


Reading — Honestly, my reading slowed a lot this month.  I think it’s because I was working through nonfiction informational books, which are sometimes just a little too easy to put down.  Especially when you are needing to work on other things.  But I did read a few good books.  One was There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Åkeson McGurk.  The subtitle is A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (From Friluftsliv to Hygge).  This was full of interesting and very thought-provoking information.  


I read it on the heels of Last Child in The Woods by Richard Louv.  Both books speak to this strange phenomenon of trying to teach our kids to be environmentally responsible while pretty much removing them from nature (and nature from them!).  Think about the playground at your kids’ school, for instance.  Do you see much evidence of nature? 


McGurk (whose blog is Rain or Shine Mamma — a great resource!) returned to her native Sweden for six months with her two young daughters.  What she learned — or was reminded of— about the Scandinavian way of raising and educating kids is so fascinating.  I have some wonderful Norwegian friends here, and I picked their brains about it as schools are very similar there.  PLEASE read these books!  They address issues that concern all of us.


I followed that up with Rethinking School by Susan Wise Bauer.  I have three girls that were so easy to send to school and trust that they would behave.  They are/ were model students and citizens.  And then I had Wyatt.  The boy is smart!  But he learns (and behaves) so very differently than his older sisters!  This book is a fantastic resource for out-of-the-box thinkers/ kids like him.  I’m (very slowly and humbly) learning that it’s okay for him to be different, and reimagining ways to make him love learning — which is one of the things I want most for him.  


Wearing — DRESSES!!!  It’s finally dress season!!!  



(This is what happens when you’re trying to take a picture with a kid that just woke up from a nap). And shorts season!!!  And sandals!!! *heart eyes* Gone are the puffer jackets (F I N A L L Y!!)!!!  I’m so very happy!  Though you need sunglasses if you’re looking at my legs right now, they are so white.  This weekend looks like it will be the warmest of the year so far, so I hope to hit the beach for a bit.


But also, Matt gave me this bracelet made by my friend Amber (who I’ve mentioned before). 


 You guys!  Barely a day has passed without me wearing it!  I love it so much!  Amber is one of the sweetest and hardest working women I know, so check out her shop Touch of Whimsy.  


Eating — We have a move looming soon, so I have been made a very concerted effort to “shop the pantry” while coming up with meals for my family.  Have you ever done this?  Every meal is kind of like an episode of Chopped, complete with hits — and some definite misses.  But one of the latest hits came when I found a packet of rice noodles and decided to do something different from what I usually do with them.  I tried these Banh Mí bowls I’d pinned.  I can only really say that what I ended up with was “inspired by” them because I didn’t have some of the ingredients for the tofu (plus I had to double the recipe to feed my crowd) and wasn’t about to shop for them.  So instead I baked the cubed tofu — and I got the kind I wanted!! Firm tofu is a must for this! —in a  375-degree oven for 20 minutes and then tossed them in a marinade of minced garlic (I think I used four cloves), two T’s miso paste, one T soy sauce, 2 T water, 2 tsp’s honey, 1 tsp Sriracha all whisked together, then cooked it very quickly in a pan.  Everyone loved it — to the point that I sadly did not have any leftovers.  But weren’t they pretty? 




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So stay tuned for more about our move, coming up next week!  In the meantime, what are you watching, reading, wearing, and eating?