Manuel will come back from Beijing tonight with whole-wheat flour, pretzels, cheese, butter, and various other treats. I feel pretty buff after my four days flying solo here. The first night sucked. At 1:00 am all the circuits blew with a huge noise that jolted us all awake. Getting back to sleep required flipping all the circuits on and then turning on six different ac thermostats. After not much sleep I came downstairs to find my two boys, shirtless, using the Chinese computer to surf the FBI’s most wanted site. “Eli why doesn’t the FBI know that Osama Bin Ladin is dead?” (I’m told this is normal for boys and they will not grow up to be serial killers) I don’t understand why the Chinese Internet sensors allow this list and disallow information about a lightening storm in Malaysia. The plus side of the great firewall is that it acts a bit like parental controls—nothing with sex or the word butt or poop gets through. (this is no laughing matter here as I learned from the New York times that a man in southwest China earned a spot in a labor camp for scatological humor involving a high ranking official.)
I pretended the whole scene of boys looking at violent criminals before breakfast was a hallucination and walked towards the new French press coffee maker where I promptly squired myself in the face during the push-down-the-press part of the process. Luckily, Rebecca had read on the Internet that it’s best to pour the water just before boiling. And for the icing on the cake; while cooking the morning batch of Tibetan Flat bread I noticed a spider the size of my fist attempting to crawl onto the first loaf. I grabbed the giant frying pan (the kind that you can kill an intruder with) and smashed it.
Thursday night I realized that the ten-gallon water jug had to be changed. When I first tried to lift it I completely failed. Rebecca and I rolled it across the entire house and then I tried again. The kids suggested that we all grunt—which we did—and miraculously I lifted it. I then had a shot of some sort of Chinese moonshine (throat burning alcohol), which staved off any muscle aches. The other big buff moment came last when going to the pool depended on me finding the bike with the baby seat on it. Despite having very little distance vision and no depth perception I’ve always been willing to do things like bike, ski, run and roller blade based on the assumption that the only person I’ll hurt if something goes wrong is myself. Putting a kid in the baby seat obviously defies that logic. However, with a temperature of close to 100 degrees and no other way to get to the pool we had no choice. The whole scene looked like a cross between Big Love and Fantasy Island. Three out of four husbands skipped town, this week which left one Dutch guy, four wives and eight kids. Apparently word on the street yesterday was that we were all Indonesian. We figured out how a pool with no chlorine stays in business all summer. Every few days they empty and refill it; yesterday was a refill day. This thrilled Eli as he could now walk across most of the pool.
We all made it there and back in one piece. And I’m not sure me with a back seat driver is any less safe than Rebecca’s favorite mode of transit, which is multiple girls on a vespa. She feels best with one grown up and three girls and has taken to hitching rides rather than wait for the electric bus. There has to be a kind of safety equivalent of willing suspension of disbelieve while we’re here. I can either spend the entire summer worrying about the various ways the children can be killed (venomous snakes, vespas, faulty construction, rotten tofu, tropical disease etc..) or I can just let it rip.
Meanwhile we’re continuing our exploration of the garden and the rainforest. The kids who have grown up here are enjoying teaching our kids the names of various exotic plants, which I’ve never heard of. On one of these tours, the one that led us to a tree where we could sit INSIDE the roots Jonathan scowled in frustration “well we only know the Latin names tell us in Latin”
Oh and if you need to find some protein that a kid who eats only chicken nuggets will eat may I recommend using a dumpling steamer to poaching a chicken breast in with a little salt and Chinese chicken bullion. (do not look at the ingredients because you will puke) Then shred it. And if you have to get the chicken by a kind of weird boob dance you will feel especially proud of yourself about the meal.
Meanwhile Manuel was living it up with foreign scientists. Highlights seemed to be a grad student style tour of multiple Chinese scientific institutes, a musical performance with a contortionist, and smoking hookah. His paper apparently went fine.