Homeschooling update. Homeschooling today consisted of skyping with Grandpa and Grandma, making a paper Christmas tree and sticking tissue paper wisps all over it for snow, a language arts lesson, playing with the bunny, making a cloth doll for her doll, reading Daggie Dogfoot.

While all of that was going on I ordered some Christmas gifts online.  Is anyone else as far behind with Christmas preparations as I am? I haven’t sent cards yet, but have purchased the cards. I want to enclose a family photo but haven’t actually taken the photo yet… It has been hard to get the three of us home at the same time.

Nevertheless, Christmas will come and we will be ready or not. If  nothing else we will all have lots of Stollen! I bought a big, yummy, powdered-sugary loaf of Stollen at the German Embassy Bazaar and that is ready to go. So if nothing else we can gather around the tree, have a bottle of Great Wall wine and our Stollen and wish each other a Very Merry.

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We are all getting ready for Christmas around here. I think these thoughts from Dickens express why I still like this time of year, even though it is hectic with planning, decorating, traveling, shopping and parties:

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. ~Charles Dickens

Keep in touch

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It is our second week in Beijing. Why did I wait so long to write my first blog entry? Now I’ve forgotten almost all of my first impressions.

So far, I like it here. Here is why:

It is oddly quiet without all the scooters tearing and blaring around, like in my neighborhood in Taiwan.

It is actually pleasant to walk around here – nice wide sidewalks, plenty of room. I can walk to Mitsukoshi, where downstairs there is Bread Talk a great bakery with the best foam on a cappucino I have ever had. There is also a grocery that looks exactly like Jason’s but it is called something else.

No one points and yells “Waiguoren!” People are not that interested in me, and those that are are more discreet. A child would never point and yell “Waiguoren!”.  People here are much more subdued and not the champion talkers that are the Taiwanese. They talk quietly amongst themselves. No one asks all those prying personal questions.

We live in a highrise on the 22nd floor high above all the dust on the ground, with an expansive view of the city, a great sunset, a great view of the moon.

We have a big window seat.

It is like living in a hotel. Huge (compared to my place in Taiwan) empty rooms. Everything new and shining. No clutter. Nice sofa. Our few outfits slosh around in the wardrobe. A cleaning lady comes in and cleans 3 times a week.

There are a few conveniences here in Beijing I didn’t have in Taiwan: the mom-and-pop store in the first floor of the building next door in our complex will send anything up to your room with just a phone call. Yesterday I had them send up some bananas and carrots. Today they sent up a big jug of water for the bubbler. I love that. It is almost like room service.  Also, the cleaning lady will pick up vegetables and meat from the traditional market for me on the days she comes to clean.

We are walking distance from a subway station.

 We can walk to Wal-mart. In their deli they have great salami. I bought a half a jin for RMB 20 (NT$80), in Taiwan that would cost about NT$200.

I found a yarn store just down the street from me that sells lots of wool yarn of every weight, a few synthetic yarns (good for Kaylen’s crafts) and needles and crochet hooks and all that. Yay!

We have already had to go to the doctor. Kaylen had a mosquito bite on her foot that she scratched until she broke the skin. This got infected. I put antiobiotic ointment on it but it kept getting worse until it was all red and inflamed around it, like the size of a silver dollar. And it really hurt even to touch it, she said.

Unfortunately, I didn’t pack a first aid kit so didn’t have an alcohol swab or iodine or anything useful. I asked the cleaning lady if there was a small clinic nearby and she did not know of any. It seems to be a different system here. People go to pharmacies for small problems and to hospitals for big problems. No small local clinics. I only knew of one hospital that Melinda told me about: Beijing United. Thank goodness I was armed with at least this much information. I called them and made an apointment for that afternoon. They seem to cater to the foreign community and are a bit pricey. Their website is  http://www.unitedfamilyhospitals.com/bj/index.html. Kaylen had a French doctor. The hospital is very clean, the doctor was very thorough, the staff was very attentive.

As a result, I won’t let Kaylen wear her Crocs around anymore as I am paranoid about some foreign dirt getting into a cut and causing an infection. There is always new dirt, new germs, new mosquito venom to get used to in a new place.

The other day, Kaylen and I were sitting outside sipping iced milk teas, gazing at the flow of Lujou life passing before us. I think it was in the middle of the week-long flooding rains Taiwan was experiencing in the second week of June.  Watching the rain from the dry comfort of our al fresco table, we were inspired to write some poetry. We talked about the haiku form. I like the haiku form: it is easy to introduce, short in length, simple in structure (5-7-5 syllables in three lines), and typically written of light-hearted subjects. 

My haiku:

Black streets wet with rain

Smokers under the awnings

June day in Taipei.

Kaylen, thinking back to our day at the beach a few days before, wrote this one:

Big blue waves crash down

Hot sand under the big sky

I surf between them.

 I love this particular Billy Collins poem. “This is the beginning of sadness…”

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On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel

 like I’m coming down with something,

something worse than any stomach ache

or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–

a kind of measles of the spirit,

a mumps of the psyche,

a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,

but that is because you have forgotten

the perfect simplicity of being one

and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.

But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.

At four I was an Arabian wizard.

I could make myself invisible

by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.

At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window

watching the late afternoon light.

Back then it never fell so solemnly

against the side of my tree house,

 and my bicycle never leaned against the garage

as it does today,

all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,

as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.

It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,

time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe

there was nothing under my skin but light.

If you cut me I could shine.

But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,

I skin my knees. I bleed.

Billy Collins

My Horse Essay

by Kaylen Isabella Hou

    I am Kaylen Isabella Hou. I love horses. That is what I want to talk about. Days and days the horses are hungry and no fresh water for the colts. Horses are pushed way up to the top of the mountain. Pretty soon no horses will be left. I think we shouldn’t just think about us we should think about the living creatures on the earth. The land that you are on is their land. It was and it is their land now.  

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This is a photo of Icelandic ponies in Iceland. I got it off Flickr.

 

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Last weekend we and our neighbors on 8th floor had a table at the Orphanage Flea Market at TAS. We  love shopping at this flea market together and always get a little crazy. It is always a fun day: Kaylen and Eevie always find treasures, there is pizza for sale and chocolate cookies, throngs of intent shoppers, and Hsiuchi is a champion bargain finder. We have always talked about having a table there some day. Well, this year we did it. We started talking about it back in January and both families had piles and piles of stuff when the day came. We had mostly kids clothes, books and toys. The Lin family had  a similar collection of stuff along with some bigger items like computer equipment, an espresso maker and a small refrigerator.

The idea was to let Kaylen and Eevie be in charge and learn about making money, and have the satisfaction of selling some their unwanted items. And, in fact, they had a great time. We got together the night before and started going through things and sorting a bit, and discussed our pricing strategy and our merchandizing strategy. We started pricing late that night.

Saturday morning, we got to TAS at 8:30 am to start setting up. We had barely started unpacking and I made our first sale to a TAS staff – a pair of shoes and a pair of shorts. Garbage bags and boxes of stuff that had been in storage for six months were unpacked and set out. There was a cascade of items from behind our table and flowing onto the floor in front.

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The sale didn’t start until 10 am but at 9 am there was already plenty of activity from TYPA families and fellow flea marketers browsing the other stands. At 10 am the crowds really hit. We were frantically making sales, making change, explaining features and demonstrating products. It was tense: were the Bionicles overpriced? Dacheng had insisted at marking them at NT$150 each and we decided that if they hadn’t sold by 11:00 am we would mark them down. Were the English Early Readers priced too high? No one seemed to be interested in them.

Almost all the sales we made that day were within the first hour. The Bionicles sold – one for Nt$150 and two at NT$100 a piece. The Early Readers did eventually go at the prices marked (NT$20-NT$80 a piece).

At 11:00 when things slowed down Kaylen and Eevie took NT$100 each and went shopping. Kaylen is the worst bargain hunter in the world and is more likely to pay more than the offering price than less, but she has a very good eye for special treasures.  

Kaylen and Eevie would return every few minutes to help out. It was sad to part with some of Kaylen’s old things, but it was sadder not to see some things going to new homes. I happily packed up several workbooks, readers and toys for one grandma who was stocking up on things for her grandchildren, and one mom was very happy to get a collection of Kaylen’s wooden toys that she had when she was 2-3 years old. It was sad to see four sets of Kaylen’s long underwear in great condition just sit there. Those are the kinds of things I love to stock up on at flea markets – kids long underwear sets. Oh well, those went into our neighborhood recycling bin.

Kaylen rescued some of her stuffed animals and toys that I had sorted to sell. There was a ball yoyo that she decided she didn’t want to sell.  This toy that she had ignored for months was suddenly her favorite toy. She was playing with it and a little boy saw it. He begged her to sell it to him and he finally bargained her up to NT$100. Oh, the bitter taste of regret as she watched him happily walk away with that ball! Earlier in the day she bought a lovely stuffed bear from another table for NT$100. At the end of the day when we were packing up another little girl wanted to buy it from her. Kaylen told her very definitively that it was not for sale!

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We took in about NT$4,000 that day, so cleared NT$3,400 after accounting for the cost of renting the table. 

I think the main lessons learned that day were that 1) it is fun to do almost anything when you plan it with your good friends, 2) that it is more fun to get things set up and then leave the underlings (the parents, in this case) in charge of the store while you go off and shop, and 3) that some things are not for sale at any price.