14 November 2014

here we arrrr

Welcome to our new Chinese city... 

Beijing with its complex dumplings and classic ducks and giant pancakes folded into sandwich bags. With its pirate-pronounced Mandarin all heavy with R's and weather bursting with the sun and the wind.

There is still bad air. So bad that it keeps us inside until we want to knock down the walls and run for the hills. (Except that we’ve heard the air is bad there too.)

On the good days we go out and seek places that are historic or delicious or normal or not. We see and eat and ramble our way. We look for a Beijing life.

The other days – the inside days – are not so different from the inside days where we lived before. Except that here there's more sunlight sneaking onto the walls.

So in Beijing when we climb the walls, they will be bright.

We're already getting to know our new home.

02 November 2014

summer home

We lived here when we were young like our son. When our small soft feet followed our mothers and fathers. When our grandmas and grandpas were all still alive, living where they always lived.

When we were small everything about this place seemed so big and huge. But then we grew and grew until our eyes were so high that we could see beyond where we were.  

And then we decided to make that big beyond our own backyard.

So it will be hard for our son to imagine a life in one place. He wakes in new cities and speaks new languages and his body already knows that the world is large. His life will move and bloom in place after place.

But when there is time we will all come back.

And when we're here we'll tell him that this is the home that doesn’t change. That this is the place where we drive past old houses and dig up our memories and hug the people we love. We’ll hold hands and run in the grass and breathe in the big blue sky.

Because no matter where we go, there's one small place in this world that's ours.


01 November 2014

done eating 吃完了

Plates emptied and napkins wadded – and the last photo I took in Chengdu. On to the next meal...

25 September 2014


We’re pretty adept at leaving.

We’ve left a lot over the past ten years and each time that we attempted a continental switch it worked out ok. Boxes of our stuff left one day. We left another. All were reunited someplace fresh and new.

The bit that refuses to be orderly is never the suitcases or the silverware.  It’s the intangibles.

How do we pack up the sight of our son sleeping all curled up and humid in the corner of his crib? The clicks of mah jhong with the clacks of conversation that snuck through our windows at night? The rabbits we ate in an Italian way after Shi-wen spent hours dancing with them in the kitchen? The new light that came through the windows after the trees were trimmed?

Where do we put all of that?

More troubling, I still haven’t found where I can keep my feelings about the woman who taught our infant son to be a toddler. I need to pack those memories somewhere or I’ll keep reliving how I’d come home from work and ask, in Chinese, how the day had gone. Listening to a day’s worth of details with hope and humor. Hearing about how our son was growing and learning and eating and sleeping. Hearing it from the person who was always at his side.

I want those moments close but not too close. The videos we have of her make me cry. In one she looks into the camera and talks to our son. Do you remember me, she says. Do you remember how we would play and read and dance? I wonder if you are more handsome? Are you taller now?

She trails off and the recording stops.

On our last day together she thanked us for the opportunity. We said we were the ones who were grateful. We may all have said thanks five times but then she said more. In a few gentle moments she told us more than we had ever known about who she was and what her life so far had been.

With those few sentences we understood why she was right for our tiny son. Why she’d insisted he drink every drop of milk. Napped in his room as he slept. Snuggled with him if he woke too soon.

It made me cry harder.

So where do the goodbyes go? 

13 August 2014

eye health

The vet’s office had an eye chart. We didn’t ask why it was there. We just went ahead with our dog's exam. And then, when he was done, we asked the vet if we could take his puppy for a walk. He had found the dog abandoned with a leg injury and had helped him to recover. Now the puppy was waiting in a small cage for a German woman to come back and adopt him. No one knew how long she would be. A month? Maybe. Some weeks? Perhaps. The puppy already had his shots so we took him for a walk down the block, past restaurants that were mashing their garlic and preparing the day’s oil. We went around the corner and then came back to the vet's office. We didn't use the eye chart during our visit but on the way home Shi-wen noticed that the puppy had nipped him so we called the vet to double-check about the shots. I think the vet said everything was fine. Then again my Chinese veterinary vocabulary is not particularly rich so he might really have said that we’d neglected to take our eye test. You never know.

06 August 2014

glass in the road

Chengdu’s streets are a loosely tied knot that stretches and pulls to accommodate anyone and everything. This swelling and shrinking is a communal choreography built on tolerance. Tolerance of the slow, the broken, the fast, and the rich. Tolerance of the poor, the new, the bicycle, and the Bentley. And tolerance of glass, which, like everything else here, gets strapped to the back of something with wheels and then rolled into the fray. These streets take all comers.

06 July 2014

the neighborhood by the cookies

There's a neighborhood that surrounds the bakery where we like to get mala cookies. The cookies are fantastic but the neighborhood is the real find. It's a place where naps are being taken and turtles are being fed. 

And if you want to talk to people, you can stick your nose into their lives and they will warmly accommodate the intrusion. To the lady feeding a turtle with chopsticks you can say, "I didn't know turtles like to eat rice," and she will say, "Yes, my turtle likes it very much," and continue on with the meal. 

If you ask the two women preparing bitter melons about how to cook the melons they've laid out across the incense sticks, one of the ladies will tell you that bitter melon should be cooked simply, with very little oil, and that you shouldn't eat the seeds. She will then use a large hooked knife to scrape seeds out of the melon she's holding in her hand, dropping them onto the pile next to her chair.

The lady selling mahjhong sets will eventually turn around and carefully observe the conversation you are having in the street with a different woman who stopped to chat about the age of your son. The mahjhong lady will smile and her dog will pant and then they will both turn back to watching the sidewalk when you're done.

And the man who is standing on a bench stirring a giant vat of oil will confirm, when you ask through the open window, that "yes" he is preparing the oil for the hot pot restaurant. And when you stick your head back inside to ask if it tastes good he'll again say "yes" as his colleagues laugh in the corner. 

After all of this it's easy to forget that you came here to buy cookies. You start thinking you've swung by to see old friends instead.