Sunday, September 30, 2007

Glad Return

Scott arrived home late afternoon yesterday, after eight days away. He had been in the US, so he seemed very far away from us. We are so very glad to have him home again.

We are also pretty happy about the six bags of chocolate chips he brought with him!

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Today I paid the equivalent of six cents each for the girls and I to use a public restroom. What I didn't realize until it was too late was that they were also selling toilet paper at the entrance to the restroom. Shame on me, I should have had my own anyway... most public bathrooms in China do not supply toilet paper. This one featured what are nicknamed "squatty potties" by Westerners, because although they flush like your typical toilet, they are flat to the ground, making balancing a small girl properly over the designated spot while still keeping her clothes dry quite a challenge. Some public restrooms will have western style toilets on one side, and the stalls on the other side will all be The Other Kind of Toilet. In my experience, public bathrooms here are not very pleasant (read: clean), unless they are in a nice hotel or restaurant.

At least the one we paid to use today had a stick of incense burning in the corner. I wonder who's idea that was?

A Poem

All alone in the darkness of night
The owls come out and stay out of sight.
They look about with their eyes so yellow
And softly fly with their wings so mellow.
By Madelyn Liptak
September 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007


Not an exceptional picture but for the fact that Madelyn, on a ferry in Shanghai crossing the Huangpu River, is talking on a cellphone to her daddy, who is around the world in Florida. Except for the noise from the ferry's motor and other boat traffic on the river that made it tricky to hear, the connection was just fine. You've got to love that!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

At the Fabric Mart

The fabric marts in Shanghai are well known for the custom made clothes you can have made for extremely low prices. Last weekend we visited one. It is three floors of tiny little stalls, each with its own fabrics and tailor. Each tailor has garments he or she has made hanging around the edges of the stall as samples so shoppers can see what kind of work they do. If you want to have something made, you can choose a style from among the samples, or bring a photo of a garment (like from a magazine), or bring a garment you already own that you would like to have copied. Then you choose what fabric you'd like it to be made from. It is fun just to see all the many beautiful fabrics!

The kids had fun looking at the hundreds of styles and colors of loose buttons that one vendor had on display. Both Madelyn and Seth bought themselves a little bag of buttons that they hope to use in a special creation.

There are also some vendors selling ready-made ties, scarves, and belts that can be cut to size. Caleb and Seth found neon (one pink, one green) and black striped and checked ties they liked for 10 RMB... about $1.20. They ran into some school friends at that stall, and all four agreed to wear the ties they bought to school the next week. Unfortunately, it was decided by the powers that be at the school that neon ties did not fit the uniform dress code!

Madelyn especially enjoyed all the glitzy fabrics in this stall.

A larger size stall than the typical.
The stall where Scott ordered a suit... notice the non-existent dressing room facilities... if you want to try on the pants you order here, you'd better not be shy!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Caleb and Cory

Caleb and his buddy Cory took this self portrait on Cory's computer. I love it!

Kitten Stuff

Yes, this is really our kitten's foot, but no, I did not paint her nails. I'm putting in a plug here for Soft Paws, which are little rubber tips you glue over your cat's claws so they don't damage furniture with scratching. Google it... you order them online, and the bonus is that they come in a variety of colors!
When I was growing up my mom used to dress our cats up in doll clothes... I think Madelyn inherited this desire. Here Princess is modeling an American Girl nightgown! Often one of the kitties will nap with Gwen in the afternoon.

Turns out both the kittens are quite happy to be pushed around in the doll stroller, much to the girls' pleasure!
Madelyn always gets one or both of the kitties to snuggle with when we settle down on the couch to read, schoolwork or otherwise.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Moon Cakes

Mr. Wu showed up at the door this afternoon with this box of moon cakes for us, to celebrate the Autumn Moon Festival (Mid-Autumn Festival). I had tried several varieties of moon cakes from the grocery store and found them not to our liking... these were better, but still not something I would choose. I'm sure they are an acquired taste! The presentation of the cakes, however, was lovely, so I took pictures of the layers of wrapping. Below is the box they came in.
When the two sides of the box were unfolded, we found these four smaller boxes inside.
Inside each small box was a different flavor of moon cake, wrapped in celophane. I opened each box while Mr. Wu was here so he could tell me what flavor they were. The four kinds were bean paste, two types of egg, and a green tea flavor.
Isn't the cake itself pretty? This one is the tea flavor. The filling is very dense and sweet. I would write in my vote for chocolate one... but I don't think I would win!What follows is some details about what the Moon Festival is about, for those who don't know.

On the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, the moon is round and the Chinese people mark their Moon (or Mid-autumn) Festival. The round shape to a Chinese means family reunion. Therefore the Moon Festival is a holiday for members of a family to get together wherever it is possible.

On that day sons and daughters will bring their family members back to their parents' house for a reunion. Sometimes people who have already settled overseas will come back to visit their parents on that day.

As every Chinese holiday is accompanied by some sort of special food. On the Moon Festival, people eat moon cakes, a kind of cookie with fillings of sugar, fat, sesame, walnut, the yoke of preserved eggs, ham or other material. In Chinese fairy tales, there live on the moon the fairy Chang E, a wood cutter named Wu Gang and a jade rabbit which is Chang E's pet. In the old days, people paid respect to the fairy Chang E and her pet the jade rabbit.

The custom of paying homage to the fairy and rabbit is gone, but the moon cakes are showing improvement every year. There are hundreds of varieties of moon cakes on sale a month before the arrival of the Moon Festival this year. Some moon cakes are of very high quality and very delicious. An overseas tourist is advised not to miss it if he or she happens to be in China during the Moon Festival.

Well, I guess one must try the moon cakes...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Peace At Last

I have to admit, on some days I enjoy this girl the most when she is asleep! Can anyone relate?! When she's sleeping, not only is she still and quiet, but it's then that I am amazed again at how beautiful she is.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Morsel of Progress

Gwen runs into the bathroom where I am drying my hair.

"Mom, turn off the hairdryer. I want to tell you something!"

I turn off the hairdryer.

"I don't show my yucky food. I swallow it up for you!"

I'll take the small victories.

Saturday Shopping

I now remember that in one of my very early posts from China, when we had first arrived, I noted that it was not a good idea to go grocery shopping on the weekend. It is just insanely crowded.

Earlier today I forgot that I had made that mental note, and went to Carrefour to shop in the late afternoon. The store was very busy, but not as unmanagable as it had seemed when we shopped on the weekend the day after we had arrived here at the beginning of July. It probably seemed more managable today because I was not extremely jet-lagged or shopping with all my children, like I was on that first trip to Carrefour.

What I noticed today was that all sixty-three of the check out lanes were open. So I actually didn't have to wait that long to pay for my groceries. Yes, you read it correctly. 63 check out lanes. All open.

There are a lot of people in China.

It's the Little Things I Miss...

I love baby carrots.

There are no baby carrots here.

Mid-Autumn Festival

Last night in our apartment complex there was a show celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. It was a combination of some acrobat acts, a little Chinese opera, and lots of talking in between by a master of ceremonies who spoke only Chinese but appeared, by the reactions of the nearly all Chinese audience, to be quite funny and entertaining. It was strange to be in the audience in this situation... we strained our ears for familiar words, catching only an occasional one that we understood.

This young pair skated in very fast circles on the small circular board on the stage, doing all sorts of amazing stunts involving the girl being held in precarious positions and spinning around. Whenever they stopped to bow, their faces were expressionless and they didn't even appear to be breathing hard!
Notice the positions the two girls on the right are in... and they are holding on with their teeth!
We loved the elaborate costumes these two were wearing.
A famous folk tale character in China, the Monkey King. This man was able to twitch his facial features in such a way that he really did look like a monkey!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fun "Taxi" Rides in Suzhou

Both Gwen and Madelyn wanted to ride in these several types of bike taxis the minute they saw them. Scott and I were doubtful, but it turned out to be really fun. Nothing like being in the thick of the traffic... these guys wove in and out of it. We were inches from buses many times, in fact Caleb make a game of seeing how many he could touch.

This one was motorized, and had room (barely!) for all six of us.
This one was just a bicycle, and had room for just two. We squeezed into two of these between us, and had quite a wild ride through the city. Here I was trying to take a picture of Scott, Seth and Gwen in the other "taxi" while riding with Caleb and Madelyn in the other one... thus the blurry outcome!
Worn out from the day!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Scenes From a Canal Ride

One of the things we were really looking forward to in Suzhou was a canal ride. Portions of Suzhou have homes built right on the canal, with little stone steps that lead right down to the water, presumably for washing clothes or whatever. I realized that I don't have a picture of the whole boat that we were on, but you can see below that it had a covered portion in the middle with seating, then flat open area in the front and also in the back, where the operator stood. He was a lovely older man, brown and lean, and he rowed like a champ with his one long angled oar.

Madelyn rode out on the front of the boat like the river queen!

Passing another boat, one without the covered middle, but a similar model.
These children were catching fish in the canal and were happy to pose for a picture as we passed.

Scott took a turn trying to row... it was not as easy as it looked!

This sweet local lady waved to us as we passed her window.

Toward the end of our ride, our boat operator asked us with gestures if we wanted him to sing. We were agreeable to whatever it was he was asking, and were so pleased when he began to serenade us in Chinese as we floated along! We applauded loudly for him, then we sang "Amazing Grace" to him, which he seemed pleased about. After a few moments, he broke into song again, and after that we took turns singing back and forth. It seemed to me like a moment suspended in time... like I couldn't believe we were actually there to experience it. I wish we could have understood what he was singing!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Just want to let you know, in case you are a weather watcher, that although the typhoon of the decade was predicted to hit Shanghai yesterday, it moved in another direction. School had been called off for Wednesday on Tuesday afternoon because of the predicted severe weather, but we ended up with just a lot of rain and some wind. So it ended up being a nice day off in the middle of the week.

We all know about snow days... had you ever heard of a "typhoon day"? New to me!


Okay, someone thought they had a good idea. The wheels on the grocery carts here all swivel. Perhaps you haven't noticed the swiveling pattern on the grocery carts, but if I remember correctly, in the US only the front wheels swivel, and the back two must follow. Sometimes this makes getting around the corner with a full cart tricky. So it seems like all the wheels being able to turn in every direction would be helpful, doesn't it? Perhaps if the cart was perfectly balanced or something, it might be good. Perhaps I have just had the one bad cart in the store every time I've shopped in China.

I don't think so.

I think every wheel on a grocery cart swiveling is a Bad Idea. It means that the cart is extremely unruly, almost as if it has a mind of its own. It isn't so bad at the beginning, when the cart is light. Then you can push it any which way you like, and you start the shopping trip very hopeful, hopeful that this time you've got it down. You have mastered the funky Chinese shopping carts, and this time everything will go just fine. But as the cart gets fuller, the wild wheels, each wanting to swivel their own way, get worse. By the end, you are convinced that you have ruined every joint in your legs for life, with all the gripping and straining to pull the cart back the way it should go. At some point, you think maybe pulling the cart might work better... but it doesn't.

There is No Good Way to make these carts behave. And when you are fruitlessly hunting up and down the aisles, retracing your steps a multitude of times to find that one thing you need, like kitchen garbage bags, it is so very tiresome to try to keep that cart under control.

If only you could ask someone where the garbage bags are located in the store, then maybe you wouldn't feel so frustrated with your unruly cart, because then you could go to the right aisle and not wander aimlessly.

But that's not an option either, when you don't speak the language.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Just Before Lunch...

...yesterday, Gwen said, "I like kitty food, Mom. It's good. It's crunchy."

Monday, September 17, 2007

In The Humble Administrator's Garden

I know, it's a funny name! This garden was actually more of an estate, with many different buildings, some for bedrooms, some for entertaining, etc. We had an English speaking guide take us through the garden, so we were able to hear some little interesting tidbits about the garden and buildings. It seems that the Chinese are very deliberate in the planning of the buildings and courtyards... they will face the builidng a certain way so that the fragrance of the lotus blossoms will come in a specific window, for instance.

We learned from our guide that Chinese bridges are constructed with all these turns in them because the Chinese believe that ghosts can only walk in a straight line... so the curving bridges prevent the ghosts from crosssing!

Many of the building were furninshed with period furniture, from the Ming and Qing dynasties.

This covered walkway can be seen from another building, where I stood to take the picture. The intent was for the men to stand in the building adjacent to the walkway in order to watch the women cross through the walkway... the women's reflection could be seen in the water below, thus the men would have double the enjoyment!

Our guide pointed out the tiny, almost nonexistent armrests on these chairs, which were intended for ladies. The women were never to have their elbows out on an armrest, but rather to keep their arms tucked in close to their bodies, hands in their laps. So the armrests were sort of a reminder about the correct posture for a woman.