Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Living in a Compound

I think we live in a colonial compound. It’s a circle of brand new swanky new houses built for senior scientists. One side of the street has Chinese scientists and the other has four Western Scientists and their wives. The entire garden except our compound supposedly has wireless. The kids (including our three) who can walk and talk, and two babies, run in and out of each other’s houses and speak a dizzying array of languages. The houses are all glass. That means if the girl next door comes over to play and I say “the kids are resting” She can say “no they aren’t I just saw Jonathan jump on his bed.” Adults are in and out quite a bit as well. Everyone removes shoes and I’ve started to recognize individual footwear habits. Mine are about three times the size of any other woman’s. This global glass house intimacy means that for example the dai nanny of the half Indonesian/half Dutch 18 month old next door noticed that our tv is never on. So while the kids and I were hanging out this morning she came in with the 18 month old on her back to fix the tv. When that didn’t work she decided it was time for Chinese lessons and began quizzing us on the little flashcards we bought last weekend.

All of the other kids are girls and two more are on the way. Jonathan explained to me “it’s a good thing I mostly played with girls in kindergarten and first grade so I’m comfortable with their play habits.” Eli has a bit more preschool machismo. The Sunday afternoon ramifications of this were that while the rest of the kids were INSIDE watching Kung Fu Panda Two, Eli was OUTSIDE doing his own kungfu and screaming so loud I thought he would be ejected from the garden. (and yes the irony of a bunch of children of white scientists hanging out in the jungle watching kungfu panda is thick…). He also attempted to use my phone as a missle/num chuck, which endeared him to his new admirer. Rona will be four next month. She was gone the first week we were here but came home and found true love in Eli and a goddess in Rebecca. At every wretched thing Eli does she collapses on the floor in hysterical giggles, which prompts him to do it more. When that becomes boring she follows Rebecca around who takes the opportunity to demonstrate an extreme big kid kindness, which she rarely lends towards her brother. Eli will have to be deprogrammed when we go home. One of his new favorite games is hopping on his crappy little bike, pedaling about three rotations and announcing, “I’m going to wooook. You stay home and take care of becca and jonny. Make Sure they do their home wooook”

We’re still spending a fair amount of effort on set-up/ getting used to things. I have a feeling we’ll get it all worked out just in time to leave. I’ve been having an epic battle with the Kindle app on my ipad trying to download new books without a wireless connection. I decided I simply could not live another day with out a copy of “The Frankfort School in Exile” and the latest of the “Red Princess” Mystries which are set in Beijing. And I routinely bribe the children with free Kindle books and games. After more hours than I’ll admit I got everything to work with the Kindle but failed with the iPad until we discovered the sneaky fact that the graduate students have wireless in their office (Manuel does not) so I can hike to the lab, hang out with the students, and synch my ipad. Meanwhile, should I have any cooking questions those can be attended to as well. The kids are also figuring things out and Jonathan took his first ride on the back of a Vespa today. He hates carousels, roller coasters, and anything fast so he has avoided all activities that involve this mode of transit. Today, he was shamed by a four-year-old girl and off he went to the soccer game. We were all so relieved when the kids made it back safely a few minutes into a gigantic tropical thunderstorm that we ignored the fact that they returned on the back of a bike of someone they and we had never met and who spoke no English; she seemed very nice. When I came home from my first substantial bike ride in 10 years in one piece, the kids asked over and over again if I had gotten lost or had any falls.

One of our many challenges this summer is keeping the children occupied in a place with no swimming pool, two other kids who speak their language, no familiar food, no lessons, no activities etc… I’ve been cooking up various school activates; usually in the afternoon. Today they decided they wanted to sketch the lilly pond As it turned out all three have fallen in love with the toxic watercolors we bought last weekend. So Rebecca packed a backpack with watercolors, brushes, little glass bowls wrapped in kitchen towels for mixing colors, and paint brushes. They spent a good hour idyllically mixing colors and making “abstract” pictures. This was followed by an hour of truly wretched behavior including Rebecca sneaking out of quiet time to go next door and Eli taking the laundry off the line THREE times.

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