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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.

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.

All the hard work at the weekly practices and extra solo and dance practices at Ms. Carol’s house culminated in an impressive Spring Concert!

 Kaylen is fourth from the left in the front.

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The Chantarelles sang nine songs, featuring four selections from High School Musical. Kaylen and Sven sang a duet in the High School Musical song The Start of Something New. They both did great. The peformance was a very ambitious undertaking for the director and the singers – lots of two-part harmony, a song in Latin, the fairly difficult High School Musical material – challenging melodies, syncopated rhythms, etc. – and a dance number too.

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Kaylen getting ready to sing her duet with Sven:

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 Kaylen was very nervous about her duet but she overcame her nervousness and gave the impression, at least, of being very relaxed – she smiled a lot, danced around a bit, looked at Sven like she was supposed to, stayed on key, and was very expressive. I am proud of her and she should be proud of herself.

In the last number they all had to do the dance steps and sing the chorus. They had two older girls leading them in the dance number. Surprisingly, it came off quite well, considering they only had a couple weeks to learn the dance.

Friday playgroup this week found us at a new (for us) indoor recreational spot in Taipei – the exclusive Beitou Resort.

 Located at the Fuxinggang MRT stop on the Red Line, this resort was originally created for MRT staffers to use. It is one of those weird government projects that you encounter occasionally inTaiwan. A big cavernous, lonely, wind-blown place for which a lot of money was spent to build, but which was never planned to be used, a slush-fund project. It takes me back to communist China and all the cavernous, lonely, pointless, wind-blown structures there…

 The first surprise we had is that we must enter the Resort from the MRT station. Then we walked across a bridge over the train yard to get to it. Since it is cleverly disguised as a either a train depot or a prison, we weren’t at all sure we were in the right place. We found the expansive steps leading up to the main door, but the main door was locked. There was not a soul around. The only sound was that of the weed whippers at work mowing the grass between the tracks in the train yard. We found a stairway leading downstairs and headed that way. Luckily, there was someone filling an ATM and he was able to give us general directions to the main desk. We pressed on down wide hallways, past huge banquet and meeting rooms. Finally we found someone at a desk in the exercise room.

Seeing all the benefits of this place we quickly bought ourselves a NT$200 membership in the club. One mom took the wiser approach of getting a guest pass to check it out before committing.

 Membership lets you use the facilities for a small extra charge: NT$60 for the kids’ playroom, NT$90 for the pool. The pool looked nice – a lap pool, a kiddie pool and a diving pool.

The kids had a great time in the playroom, and we definitely plan to go swimming there at some point. It is a nice place to add to our (short) list of good indoor places to go for playgroup.

So, if you want to go, just get off at the Fuxinggang exit and ask for directions. You will need two ID photos and some picture ID to get a membership card made. Children also need cards so bring photos and all for them as well. Children need socks in the playroom!

Places in Taiwan are funny: they are either super crowded or super dead.

Beitou Resort is the blue and grey building off to left, next to the depot:

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Inmates, er, “members” this way:

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Landscaping crew at the Resort:

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