Friday, February 27, 2009

Memories of My Grandma

My Grandma Spencer recently celebrated her 78th birthday. As part of the festivities, the grandchildren were asked to write a memory of our grandma. The memories were printed and placed in a special memory box. The following is my memories of my grandma.

I feel very fortunate to have spent so much time with my Grandma Spencer over the years. She has always held a special place in my heart.

I am more like my grandma than anyone else who has contributed to my genetic make-up. We share the same long toes, a tendency towards stubbornness, dimples, hair color, stomach issues, appreciation for Dancing with the Stars, and love for black licorice.

She has also helped me gain some very important “life skills”. She taught me how to correctly make a bed, dust, vacuum, make potato salad, and fold a towel. She claims I am the only grandchild who folds her towels the “right” way. =)

So many memories of time with my grandma fill my heart it is difficult for me to pick a favorite. There are the hours of playing cards and Rummikub, watching the Dodgers on TV, going to Sea World, Thanksgivings in California with just me and my grandparents, going to watch Lethal Weapon in the theaters so we could “ooh” and “aah” over Mel Gibson, picking at peeling paint, grocery shopping in Hemet after 10, and eating bowls and bowls of popcorn.

The fondest memories have occurred during the last few years when she and I have had time to talk. She has shared experiences she had with her siblings growing up, stories about her parents and grandparents, and details about life with my grandpa and their four girls. She has informed me that I was a little “*@$#” as a child (I think this is where our shared stubbornness comes into play) and has told me stories of times she and I spent together. I have learned a lot about her, my heritage, and myself. These wonderful conversations are a gift I will always treasure.

The greatest gift of all is the unconditional love and support she has given me over the years. Through all my trials and crazy adventures I have embarked upon she has been there for me. She tells me she is proud of me and assures me I am loved. No one could ask for a better grandma.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year!

Xin nian kuai le! Happy New Year! 2009 is the year of the ox. The ox is the second of twelve animals in the Chinese horoscope. Sunday was New Year's Eve and the Shanghainese started it with a bang. The fireworks started around 6:30pm and did not end until 2 or 3 in the morning. From a rooftop vantage point in our small section of Shanghai we counted over 30 firework displays. For my friends who were observing from the city center, that number was over 100. It was an impressive sight.

Celebrating the new year is much more than just fireworks. It began with a legend. Thousands of years ago, a beast called Nian, or Year, would come the first day of the New Year. He would devour livestock, crops, and people, especially children. In order to protect themselves, the villagers would place food in front of their doors at the beginning of each year. Nian was appeased by the offering of food and did not attack the village. Once, when Nian was about to attack a village, he was frightened away by a child wearing red clothing. The villagers realized Nian was afraid of the color red. Each year after that, the villagers would hang red lanterns and red scrolls on the windows and doors. They also used firecrackers to frighten Nian away. Eventually, Nian was captured by a Taoist monk.

It is interesting to see how the Chinese people still carry on the traditions began in the legend of Nian. Red lanterns and decorations are everywhere. People hang red scrolls in their windows and on their doors. Each scroll has a wish or desire for the upcoming year. Peace, friendship, luck, prosperity, and health are all common. A red diamond with the word fu, or auspiciousness, is the most common of these. It is hung on the doors or windows upside down which symbolizes the arrival of luck, happiness, and prosperity. Two of the children I tutor made scrolls and a fu diamond for me. They are hanging on my door to welcome the new year.

In addition to the New Year celebrations the Chinese celebrate the Spring Festival. The Spring Festival is a time to gather together as a family. The days before the Spring Festival is a time of preparation. The house is cleaned which gets rid of the bad luck and makes the home ready to receive good for the coming year. New clothes are purchased, haircuts are received, flowers are purchased, and decorations are hung.

On New Year's Eve families gather together for dinner. Fish is one of the traditional foods prepared for this dinner. Some families follow the tradition of leaving some of the fish which is stored overnight. The remaining fish symbolizes having abundance in the coming year. It is also customary to eat foods that are round. The round shape symbolizes wealth. Dumplings, or jiaozi, is one common dish. Mandarin oranges are also consumed in great quantity during this time of year. They are also given as gifts. Long, uncut noodles are also eaten. The noodles represent longevity and long life.

Gifts are also given. Red envelopes, or hong bao, are given by older family members to children or young single family members. The hong bao almost always contain money. The amount of money in the envelopes should be in even numbers. It is common to give amounts with an 8 or a 6. Both of these numbers are considered lucky. It is also custom for people to give hong bao to those in their employ. For example, if you have a housekeeper, an ayi, she should be given a hong bao which is equivalent to one month's salary.

Celebrations for the Chinese New Year differ from region to region. In mainland China, for example, the celebration of traditions has been limited. Here, you will see the decorations and fireworks but not the parades and other common festivities. For a more traditional Chinese New Year celebration one would have to go to Taiwan, Singapore, or Malaysia.

We were able to find a group performing dragon and lion dances. The dragon dance is performed by a team of people carrying a dragon on poles. The dance is meant to mimic the movements of the dragon and demonstrate its power and dignity. The lion dance of northern China is performed
with two lions.

The celebration of the Chinese New Year lasts 15 days. It culminates with the Lantern Festival held on the evening of the 15th day when people light lanterns and parade through the streets.

May your new year be prosperous. Gong xi fa cai!

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Shoutout to My "KotaBug"

This beautiful little girl is my niece, Karsyn Dakota. Karsyn is six-years-old and is in the 1st grade. Karsyn loves music and is learning to play the guitar and the piano. She got a keyboard for Christmas which she is very excited about. She gave me an impromptu performance when I called on Christmas Day. It was wonderful!

Karsyn asked if I would write about her on my blog. She misses not being able to call me whenever she wants. She thought having me write about her would be really cool. So, here is my shout out to Kotabug.

Karsyn has held a special place in my heart since the first time I saw her sucking her thumb and playing in her hair as she was lulling herself to sleep. She is her Aunt Steph's girl in more ways than one.

She and I became especially close about 4 years ago. I had back surgery and spent the summer in Utah recuperating. Karsyn was my care taker that summer. Not only did she help take care of me but she kept me entertained. We watched dvds (Monsters Inc. and Brother Bear were the two favorites) and Karsyn would keep me thinking and awake with her continual questions about events or characters in the movies. We also went for walks, and as I began feeling better, we went to the park or made trips to McDonalds.

Since that summer, Karsyn and I have always made an effort to spend time together whenever I am in Utah. She comes to spend the night with me and we go to the park (she loves it when we buy a loaf of bread and go feed the ducks) or shopping, out to eat, or to a movie. Karsyn loves going to McDonalds and she can usually sucker me into taking her there because she just HAS to have a hamburger with cheese, chicken nuggets, or an ice cream cone. Another of our special treats is a cheese pizza and Crazy Bread from Little Caesar's.

When Karsyn feels sad, or sometimes when she's gotten into trouble or if she has exciting news, she likes to call her Aunt Steph. The conversation might begin with a sad story but by the time we are ready to hang up we are both giggling.

I like calling Karsyn when I have seen something I think she might like or if I have a funny story to tell her or if I just miss her so much I have to hear her voice and her cute Karsyn laugh.

I thought of Karsyn yesterday while I was out exploring Shanghai with some of my friends. One of the movies Karsyn and I watched together was Mulan. Karsyn would giggle at Mulan's funny lucky cricket. Yesterday, we visited a market that was selling lucky crickets. They had them in all sizes and colors. Some were kept in plastic boxes or cylindrical tubes covered with newspaper, but the biggest and most colorful ones were kept in ornate cages just like Mulan's cricket. I kept thinking how much Karsyn would like it if she could have been there to see the lucky crickets.

Karsyn is a special little girl, She is not, however, the only niece or nephew I have. Karsyn has two older siblings. Her brother, Mason, is 11. He is in the 6th grade and is an awesome athlete. Her sister, Brea, is 9. Brea is in the 4th grade and participates in gymnastics. She is an amazing gymnast. All three of these wonderful children bring me much joy and I miss them very much.

To my other nieces and nephews, if you send me pictures I will write a blog about you too. I love and miss you all.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Blog Is Born

What is the first thing people say when you tell them you are moving to China? Nine times out of ten it's, "Are you NUTS!?!" The next thing they say is, "You'll have to e-mail us and tell us all about it." Well, after the 15th or 16th person who tells you to e-mail them you begin to think, "How in the world will I ever find time to communicate with that many people?" Okay, actually, I could find the time but do I really want to try to be clever and witty with that many people on a regular basis?

When my aunt, who is an avid blogger and talented writer, added herself to the list of people who wanted "to hear all about China" I expressed my frustration with what I viewed an overwhelming task. She suggested I write a blog. Immediately I balked at the idea; me, a blogger, NEVER! I have not been one to follow trends and as I watched so many friends and relatives begin blogs of their own I thought to myself, "Good for them, but I'll never do it." I should learn to avoid the term "never". The last time I emphatically stated I would never do something I ended up spending six years of my life in Finland.

So, here I am, sitting in front of a keyboard trying to figure out how to be witty and clever. For those of you who requested I share my goes.

TCB - "That's China Baby!"

TCB is a phrase coined by one of my co-workers. It is not original, those of you who are Elvis fans have probably heard it before and with a different connotation. For our little group of expats living in Shanghai it refers to something one might see, hear, or experience in China which probably would not or should not be seen heard or experienced anywhere but China. Whenever we see something that makes us stop and shake our head, gives us a chuckle, or just plain ticks us off you'll hear someone say "TCB, that's China Baby!"

Because this phrase is said by someone on an almost daily basis I thought it would be interesting and perhaps entertaining to write a regular installment titled "TCB". While pondering which TCB I should write about first I decided that perhaps I would start with something that was quite annoying when I first came to China but now happens on such a regualr basis that usually we find it humorous. We call it the Shanghai stare.

In a country with such a large population you might think it would be quite easy for a foreigner to get lost in the crowd. Not in Shanghai. The locals here notice you immediately and when I say notice, I mean they gawk. Think bearded lady or two-headed calf.

Now, it's not like we are the only foreigners in Shanghai, there is actually quite a large expat community here, but for some reason my friends and I, a tall blue-eyed redhead and two short black girls, elicit the Shanghai stare on a regular basis. I'll share an example.

The first week of October is National Week in China. The schools, and many businesses, take this week as a vacation. This gave myself and a colleague the opportunity to travel around Shanghai a bit and do some sightseeing. Everywhere we went, we drew the attention of the Bug-eye Brigade. Have you ever seen someone stare so hard they look like their eyes will pop out? If you have, you understand what I mean. One day in particular stands out.

We traveled an hour southwest of Shanghai to China's version of the beach. It was a beautiful, warm day and we were looking forward to some "fresh" air and relaxation. Immediately upon our arrival the gawking began. We remained good-natured about it though because we were excited. We were at the beach IN CHINA! They had some paddle-boats there and because neither one of us had ever ridden in a paddle-boat before we decided to give it a try. All was going well and we were both immensely enjoying the experience until our wheel got caught in the buoy rope. We were stuck, we tried forward, we tried reverse, we weren't going anywhere. Then, the chain came off the pedals, so we really were stuck. As we struggled to put the chain back on and keep the boat from tipping over we began to draw quite a crowd of spectators. Did they offer to help? Were they sympathetic? NO! What they did do was pull out their camera phones and start taking pictures.

As frustrated as we were with the paddle-boat situation seeing a crowd of Chinese people whip out their camera phones to take a picture was quite humorous. We thought, if this were happening to someone else, we would probably be taking pictures too. Thanks to the heroic efforts of my friend, our chain was finally repaired and we were able to continue on our way. We soon discovered however that it wasn't just our predicament that had encouraged the shutterbugs, it was the two of us.

When we returned to the beach and settled ourselves on our towels we began to notice people slowing down and even stopping as they walked by us. Then we saw a couple of girls standing quite close. One of the girls was hiding behind her friend and attempting to surreptitiously take a picture of us. This happened several times over the course of the next hour. The first few times, it was funny. But then it became downright annoying. My friend would look right at the "sneaky" photographers, smile, and wave. After the 20th or so photo we decided that perhaps we should start charging 5RMB for a picture. If only we had known how to say, "We charge 5RMB per picture".

We began reading our books and did our best to ignore the spectators. Then a couple of boys came up and started watching us. They took a picture, chatted with each other a bit, took another picture, then one of the boys came a sat in front of us and began to pose. At that point my freind sat up and posed with him. This encouraged him to scoot in between us, put an arm around each one of us take a group picture. Afterwards both boys tried to speak with us and they thanked us many times. When they left we had a good laugh, then looked at one another and said, "That's China Baby."

After that experience I have pretty much taken the staring in stride. Once in a while, if I am having a bad day, I might stare back. Some will look away, others will just return my stare. Once in awhile, someone will pass me on a bike and be so enthralled they watch me instead of the road. I have seen a couple of collisions and a few near misses. One night in the grocery store, I actually saw one woman sprint about 6 meters over to her son, grab him, turn him around and point at me. It was funny, because as excited as she was, he could have cared less. TCB.