Friday, July 29, 2011

Ready to Roll

We leave China in a little over two weeks and are approaching that inevitable part of any adventure where, on the one hand you feel desperate to get out and, on the other, you think of things you will miss and things

you haven’t done. We have an action-packed two weeks planned including a trip up north to Lijiang, which sits on the edge of Himalayas. We chose this particular city largely because it’s famous for its performances of traditional Naxi music. In the style of a nineteenth century anthropologist who doesn’t speak the language and knows nothing about the culture, I’ve been doing my own exploration of soundscapes and, despite the fact that we are in a place with an ethnic minority where more women dress in traditional clothes than western clothes, it’s extremely hard to find music that doesn‘t sound like anemic western pop. Lijiang also sits at the base of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Obviously with three kids in tow we can’t do any heavy high altitude trekking but we can at least look at the snow. (In May Manuel mailed a piece of lab equipment and some warm clothing for this trip. The boxes have reached China but are stuck in customs for about three weeks thanks to the Asian Games, which, apparently, create a need for especially vigorous scrutiny of scientific equipment, jeans, and peanut butter pretzels. ) Locally we’re very busy with going to the Dai village with a Dai student, apparently taking the whole lab out to dinner, and gathering up useless paper and plastic items to give to friends in the States.

But despite all of these tasty treats, Manuel has been telling people for a few days that he thinks I’m done with the jungle. I lost it a couple of days ago when my running water bottle and computer power cord suffered an army ant invasion. So what follows is a list of signs that we may have reached some sort of tipping point here…

I now know that the Chinese government’s Great Firewall blocks PBS kids but not Feudalism II or the “Meet Chinese girls “ site Jonathan found before I quickly unplugged the computer.

I manically worked on an ice cream without an ice cream maker project all day and we got exactly five bites each.

Our entire credit card bill last month was Kindle and iTunes charges.

In addition to various natural jungle soundscapes I can tell by ear when the AC will go off, when the power will surge, when the breadmaker will finish its kneading cycle, when the two year old next door will erupt into a tantrum, and when the big potato who lives across the street is coming home.

Last night while Manuel was out drinking hooch and eating Dai barbecue with his lab, I actually cursed at my four year old when he wouldn’t go to bed. After all three kids finally went to bed I settled down with a cup of chocolate sorbet made by my own brute force and a little shot of “disposed wine.” I spent a delightful hour trolling through the UVa special collections catalogue for quirky items to display in an exhibit. This seemed like the most fun I’d had in days.

I painstakingly created home made mac-n-cheese and short bread cake in a toaster oven with butter acquired by plane ride to Vietnam, and the kids told me it looked suspicious. I told them they are pains in the ass.

I passed two peacocks humping on my run. I did not think they were beautiful or even note the cool factor of sharing the road with said birds. I just cursed at them for blocking my path.

Our kids are basically feral.

Because we’ve all had boils and other dirt induced illnesses, we’ve been stressing hand washing. The kids are becoming slightly germaphobic, and I overheard Jonathan explaining to Eli that he really needed to wash his hands carefully even if Chinese kids don’t because Americans are just neater than Chinese people. That’s exactly the kind of cultural generalization/judgement one hopes an experience in another culture will smack out of their kids, not drive into them.

Our collective idea of home-schooling is now CCTV documentaries where the kids learn about various acts of aggression against the never-at-fault Chinese government.

In our first months here, my attitude towards things that cost 25 cents was “just because it’s almost free doesn’t mean you can have a new one if you loose it or break it. We must respect things.” But, yesterday Jonathan discovered that Eli had lost too many pieces of this third magnetic chess set by turning them into a clone warrior army. I decided that, given the price of $1, I wold buy a new one just to keep both boys quiet.

The next door neighbor is mad at me/the kids because Eli “snuck” a rock into her house by putting it behind his back and said because her kid was mean to johnny he would “huff and puff and knock the house down.” He got the ending of that book wrong.

Rebecca and Eli between them ate two servings of heart, liver, and kidney from unknown large vertebrates (maybe mammalian) the other night. We thought we ordered beefsteak. Luckily I was at the store buying beer and soda when the food came so I didn’t even have to look at it. Jonathan ate one piece of bread and some Sprite, and that seemed fine.

The kids want us to drink more (beer) because they are collecting bottle caps. But the beer is so weak and tasteless that I don’t even want it.

Given the paucity of reading material and the computer gymnastics it takes for me to add things to kindles, we’ve given up worrying about whether books are appropriate for eight year olds. Consequently both Rebecca and Jonathan frequently use phrases that may not fly at school, “police are cynical bastards.” “do you think that is a guild of exotic dancers” and “check out those gams.”

We don’t think that it’s strange that the a.c. doesn’t start working until after 5 when the sun lowers a bit. The best-case scenario of turning it on is that it goes off every 6 minutes. The worst is that it starts a fire or a flood. Not does it seem strange to go look at the pool every few days and see if it has water in it. And part of any bedtime ritual involves sending armies of ant to meet their maker before crawling into bed.

It seems pretty normal to me that a few times a week garden staff waltz into the house ostensibly to fix something but don’t touch anything in the house. When one of the dudes spends a good half hour playing with eli and taking his picture, I do not assume he is a pedophile as I might do at home if a strange man started snapping my kid’s picture.

And of course most importantly we all miss our friends and family; our google phone, skype, and email usage is going up not down and the kids are worried that their friends have forgotten them. It’s true that we’ve been away for this length of time before and that we’ve had friends go away for a year but something about being so very far away seems to magnify the time.

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