Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter ~ The English Zone

Every Friday at the Ford Motor Research & Engineering Office in Nanjing a class entitled "The English Zone" occurs at 12:00 noon.  Employees who want to know more about the USA or other Western cultures meet to learn a few more tidbits and practice their English skills.  This is lead by Morgan, a young lady who grew up in Howell, Michigan about 45 minutes from our home in Livonia. Gordon was invited by Ling Ling Li to attend Friday's session. She was delighted when he agreed to come.  Arriving late from a meeting he walked into a conference room that was packed with about fifty employees. On the whiteboard were words like Easter, bunny, forty days, etc. Obviously the lesson for today was "Easter Customs in the USA." Morgan welcomed the latecomer to the room and asked him to share how he celebrated Easter back home.  He began by telling them that with grown children the customs have changed but when the kids were little......and out came the Easter Bunny story.  Easter baskets with springtime toys, jelly beans, chocolate eggs & chocolate bunnies were hidden and Allison and Garrett had to find theirs in the house first thing on Easter morning.  His audience smiled with delight imagining the childhood excitement. He explained that through the years the Easter Bunny became quite sly in his placement of the baskets.  One particular year Allison could NOT find hers. Brother Garrett, three years younger, was already drooling jelly bean juice on his jammies and playing with matchbox cars but she was near tears and clueless as to where to find her treasure trove.  Subtle hints revealed that this year the Easter Bunny hid the basket in the OVEN!  Gordon's audience howled with glee for two reasons.  One because of the dramatic build-up with which he told his story and two because 98.8% of Chinese households do not own an oven to begin with!  With everyone still captivated he told them about the family bedecked in new Spring outfits attending Church with all it's Triumphant Trimmings like the Alleluia Chorus and Easter Lillies. They smiled and clapped when he finished and went on to dye Easter eggs.  Morgan's mother had sent the Easter egg dye and wax crayons from Michigan for the next phase of the lesson.  The Big Guy, still holding court, picked up a dry hard-boiled egg and marked it with a crayon. They watched so that they too, might have the technique necessary to accomplish their colorful result with the wax-resist. Childs play, of course, but interesting for first timers. He jumped up and went to lunch leaving Morgan with the newbies.  Gordon relays that the Chinese counterparts who attended "The English Zone" on Good Friday 2011 "oohed and ahhed" over each others eggs & displayed them in their office cubicle that afternoon. No doubt the egg went home and so did another little tidbit about the USA and our customs.

Ling Ling Li sent this with this message:
"Happy Easter, Gordon.  You are the best!!!"
Happy Easter Everyone from Nanjing, China!
Thanks for Reading,


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wish List

Wish List
All our married life I have longed for a water feature in our yard.  Be it a fountain, spurting bird bath, pond or faux waterfall, it’s been on my “someday I’d like…”wish list.  Our first house had the makings of one but the Big Guy soon dismissed the possibility and ripped it out.  Our second home is seated in dense shade. Over thirteen gigantic deciduous oak and maple trees continually drop seeds, acorns, branches and oh so many autumn leaves, so he ruled that out as well.  Add to that the fact that any neighbor that has a pond loses their expensive koi fish to several local hungry herons…. okay, okay, I get his point.  
I was pretty tickled when we toured the small courtyard of our China villa and saw, you guessed it, a water feature!  This man-made pond is encircled with local geological rock forms that look to be centuries old.  They aren’t really attractive to me, but they’re historically geological to the area, which I find significant.  A little research has uncovered that these rocks are called *Taihu (Lake Tai rock.)
Sadly, the ponds bubbler does not work and the Big Guy purports the pond leaks and he can’t find the faucet for it anyhow.  Sad.  So now, three weeks into living here, I putter in my Secret Garden and sulkily look at the murky evaporating pond water and wish the darn thing were fixed.  After all, it takes up a substantial piece of the courtyard for something that is completely useless.  Again, Sad.  Late spring through early autumn is said to be extremely humid and hot here.  I’m not looking forward to a burgeoning mosquito population that breeds in the still water. 
One morning leaning over the pond as in a fairy tale I saw more than my reflection. “Wait a minute,” I said to myself, “What’s that bright leaf doing there in the pond?” Instead of a leaf I saw a six-inch neon orange koi.   I blinked and it disappeared. I’d say it swam away but I didn’t see that happen nor did its movement in the shallow water even ripple the surface.   It was just gone and all that stared back at me was my reflection.  So, I saw it once, but I did see it!  
This sighting may be just what I need to cast my net and get the Big Guy to repair the pond!  Maybe if I name that fish he’d be even more prone to put on some waders to repair the water feature I feel I must have thus subsiding my thirty plus years of an unfulfilled wish. 
You can help by entering the contest below:
Name that Fish!    Yú de míngchēng
·         Help me name the six-inch neon orange koi found in our pond.
·         Place your entry in the Comment section of this blog.
·         Winners will be selected by a panel of judges in Nanjing, China.
·         Grand Prize – A Postcard from China sent directly to YOU!
Thanks for Reading!
*Taihu (Lake Tai rock) -A single piece of rock, naturally formed, from Lake Tai (in the Yangtze Delta Plain, China). Great rocks, sculpted by the water of the lake, adorned the historic gardens of the scholar-officials for two thousand years. The naturally-occurring holes promote the flow of Chi ("Vital Breath" - life-force).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Putter & Potter

Casey in her new yard, wisteria and all!

Our yard is a walled courtyard with a pergola, wooden benches, a water feature, teak table and chairs, a two-person swing & potters sink. The bees swarm wildly about the wisteria (wisteria synensis) as it blossoms for the first time in 2011 right before my eyes. It wafts the most remarkable sweet scent. How fortunate to be here as Spring arrives in Nanjing! They say it’s short, so I’m going to breathe it in -- deeply.

I’ve been puttering about in the courtyard, trying to make sense of all that the landlord has left. The chicken coop, now disassembled, is alongside one fenced wall. This tells me that there will be chickens returning someday, but not while this suburb-slicker resides here. One of the greatest discoveries was all the planting pots. Seemingly everywhere, most housed dead plants from years gone by. I plucked out anything that was still green, discarded the deadheads and began a small earth pile next to the potters sink. A compost pile of sorts.

Skulking about I was drawn to some particular pots. These were off-white ceramic with royal blue flowers or mountain scenes. Many had Chinese characters too. I believe it’s called ‘transfer ware,’ and you no doubt know just what I’m talking about. My attraction to this assortment surprised me since I’ve never been a “blue” person. Young girls often choose a favorite color and stick with it for years almost like a signature. Because every other little girls favorite was blue I chose something else. In fact, I can’t recall having any shade of blue within my decorating color palette, ever. That was about to change. 

The smog, the construction, the placement within a mountain range are all key factors in the Nanjing air. Outdoor surfaces in Nanjing have an orange silty residue. So did each new found pot. Unearthing the blue and white pots from their secretive spots in the courtyard, I began the process of spritzing and rubbing their outer shells until they glistened. I’d wash a few and set them to dry. Find some more and do the same. The jet stream setting from the hose made each empty pot sing a different tone. Lining them up on the pergola bench the French tune Frere’ Jacques made its debut under the wisteria. It made me giggle out loud. I tried other tunes and made up several of my own. I called the Big Guy over to hear my selections, he rolled his eyes. 

This unearthing and spritzing went on for two days of garden time. Presently there are 35 pots in this Asian-themed cache. I’ve begun placing them here and there, stacking them upside down and even made a blue and white tower. Many deserve to be earth-filled again and topped with bright colored annuals. I can’t wait to see what local flower markets offer here in Eastern China.

I may not be a “blue person,” but this discovery has my creative blue juices flowering in a very Asian direction. This find, in my own little piece of China, lets me relish the Scent of Spring in Nanjing and my Secret Garden too.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Slice of Life in Nanjing

Some of you are asking for day to day details of life here in Nanjing, China.  Therefore I will pepper you with occasional installments of  <roll Asian music …>

A Slice of Life in Nanjing

To Market to Market!

Well, we have our shelter and we brought our clothing so next up….FOOD! This has been one of our biggest challenges, other than the language, of course. We’ve been to the grocery store a few times this week and here are some of our experiences to share.

Like many stores in the USA, grocery stores are teamed up with house goods. Think Meijer, Costco, Sam’s Club, Super Target. Many stores in Nanjing have more than one level with groceries Up and home goods Down. Simple enough. Carts move from level to level on an escalator ramp that latches on to the bottom of your cart as you ascend and descend. Everyone stays to the right if going along for the ride and impatient walkers stream by you on the left hand side. Decently and in order. Then you are “spit” out into a wonderland, the likes you have never seen! Eye-popping product packaging begins its sensory trance. Lime green, hot pink, yellow, white and cool blue – these manufacturers took their lessons from Procter and Gamble, no doubt, and they trumped it. However, to know what is inside the packaging is the trick and I do mean trick.

Gordon was walking down the beverage section and stopped at a selection of stacked boxes. The label was green and white and showed a refreshing spurt across the packaging with lots of emphasis on the Chinese characters! Words leapt off the product packaging and made everything appealing. A helpful salesperson, (there is one every 10 feet, no exaggeration) pounced out of her 10 foot space to help the Big Guy with his selection. She pointed and smiled and said something in Mandarin to help him with his choice. Gordon nodded as if he knew what she was saying. He kept looking at the packaging. A smiling apple was also portrayed. He picked up the box, said “Xièxiè” (SHAY-shay) and plopped his “kill” into my cart. “Apple juice,” he said. “Great!” I replied. When we went to grab an apple juice drink box the next morning we were very surprised to find that it was room-temperature ultra-pasteurized milk in packets. The smiling apple did not mean “apple juice” after all. They’ve been refrigerated ever since.

It’s just tough to know what is inside the packaging. Another example is a bottle that shows a drawing of a white cat and clearly states in English the same, “White Cat.” Near the bottom are some vegetables. Come to find out it is dishwashing liquid. I don’t know about you, but neither a white cat or vegetables indicate clean dishes to me! (see photo – no that is not my bacteria-laden wood cutting board, it is a stock photo.)

Stock Photo!

There is a classic business case study regarding this same thing. It went something like this: Gerber Baby Food expanded their market into Africa. They were quite distraught to find that projected sales fell flat. Baby food in glass jars was a hard sell for some reason and it was puzzling. Come to find out the norm for that culture is “what is on the label is what is in the jar,” and the smiling baby, no matter how Gerber-cute, is what they thought was in the jar. I’m sure they changed their label quickly.

<Gerber baby food was introduced in 1927 in Fremont, Michigan.>

On we go to produce. This is as simple as choosing what you want and taking it immediately to a weighing station. It is weighed, priced and then placed in a tagged bag. Meat is a little different. All of the meat is on mounds of crushed ice in the open air. Picture a mound of chicken gizzards, chicken feet or pig parts. Just select it, bag it and have it weighed. I only had the nerve to do this with chicken breasts, knowing that I was going to cook the ba-jeezers out of those chicken parts before consuming. I refused the community meat tongs to select the three I wanted and instead used the good old ‘plastic bag grab-it method.’ I’m trying people….really trying!

There is not much diversity in Nanjing at all. If you think I’m generalizing or need statistics to back that up I will prove you wrong with one trip to the grocery store. I am followed wherever I go in any store. I am stared at and crowds gather to see what the blonde white lady is purchasing or interested in. Men are particularly interested and want to look into my eyes to see if they are blue. I try and not give them the opportunity, so they go down the next aisle and approach me from another angle. If Gordon is with me, I try and stick near him. You may think it’s flattering at my age to have so much male attention, I will tell you it’s creepy.

Large Chinese groceries like I am describing have a plethora of product pushing demonstrators. These are NOT a typical lunch lady (mature body with a hairnet) demonstrator that you might find in a western big box store like Costco or Sam’s Club. These are beautiful young Chinese women who are costumed to match their product. The lemon-lime yogurt girl was clad in lemon-lime polyester sporting a vest, product name tag and a stewardess-type hat. Yes, that was branded too. She hawked her product and offered tasting samples of the new lemon-lime flavored yogurt. I tasted it and bought an 8-pack.

Gordon wishes that they had some tasting samples coupled with a perky polyester-clad demonstrator before he flung the case of ultra-pasteurized milk/apple juice into our cart. I wonder if he would have purchased it anyway?

More shopping news to come I’m sure.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì? - "What is your name?"

During our first visit to China, I noticed that all staff of the Sheraton-Kingsley in Nanjing had both a Chinese name and an American name. Their name badges sported both. We had wonderful service from “Sophie,” “Kevin,” “Dave,” “Betty” and “Rick,” all young people in their twenties. The chances that those American-type names appeared anywhere on their People’s Republic of China government issued identification card with its 17-digit number and solemn photo was, in my opinion, quite slim. They brightened whenever we used their American name and especially when we made the effort to greet or thank them in Mandarin.

In the midst of globalization it seems a cross-cultural tradition for a Chinese speaking person to also have an “American” name. This became even clearer to me when we met our landlord’s daughter, Chén yì jūn.

She looked about thirteen years old, distrusting & quite sullen when meeting the 'big money’ Americans that were about to take over her home. Her hair was black with a long-banged bob which she peered out from while she stood in the dining room and I stood in HER kitchen. I was doing my utmost to converse with her mother, our landlord. Her mother would look at her for help knowing that Chén yì jūn was studying English at school. I fully suspected that Chén yì jūn would be fluent in both and that she was just being, well, a pissy teenager. I was wrong. Only two out of three of us could understand the other one and I wasn’t among the two. I was immediately overpowered in their homeland, on their turf, in their kitchen. Perhaps Chén yì jūn, had every right to be perturbed.

Perched on the dining room table were three books that will be rag-torn before you know it. They are “Chinese Phrasebook,” “Chinese Phrases for Dummies” and “Mandarin Chinese English Visual Bilingual Dictionary.” I grabbed one and flipped frantically to find the right chapter that would get my point across. We all huddled around the book until I found the object I was looking for. On that page was a picture of a clothes washer, the Chinese characters signifying washer and the pin-yin pronunciation of the Chinese characters. We were all on the same page, we had broken the ice and I showed them both the other books. They were fascinated by them. Sullen teenager no more, Chén yì jūn began to think I wasn’t all that bad and her frown turned upside down to reveal her sweet self. She conveyed that her English teacher had given her an American name, “Emily.” I told her it was a beautiful American name and she beamed.

“Do you have an American name?” I asked her mother. She shook her head no and looked at me expectantly. After all, I was the only one in the room with the grand power to dub her with one, right? As if performing a magic trick I asked her to write down her name. She did so in Chinese characters and in pinyin. It said Bì hǎi ping.

I thoughtfully looked at those three syllables and paused while they both held their breath. Instead of stroking my non-existent beard I “hmmmmmm”-ed and exhaled slowly. The first name I wrote down under the letter “B” was “Becky,” I wasn’t quite happy with that selection, so I went toward the letter “P” and wrote “Patty.” I paused, looking at both names and back at the landlord. That wasn’t going to do it either, as I shook my head. They watched the pen on the paper as I scratched off the first two selections. By this time I was empowered with the process and felt, like they did, that the pen, most assuredly, held magical ink. Then between “Becky” and “Patty” I wrote the name “Rebecca.” There was no question in my wizard-like mind that this was the right choice. I pronounced it and looked at the landlord and her daughter. They peered at it closely, as if looking for gold dust. They pronounced it over and over, “er-becca,” and then we all giggled with the revelation. Now this sweet Chinese landlord, who was a physical therapist in Nanjing, would have an American name befitting to her kindness, “Rebecca.” She and “Emily” floated about the house explaining to workers, the realtor and family that her name was now “Rebecca!” I truly don’t know what she said other than the name, but I heard it a lot that day. When I summoned her with her new mystical American name she brightened as if it were the first time she had heard it. Dismiss the magic if you must, but our new home reverberated with the enchantment of two cultures, two languages and three women in a kitchen in Nanjing. I think things are going to work out just fine.
 Chén yì jūn ~ “Emily”

Thanks for Reading!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Carol’s China Glossary: Chapter One

(Learned in the first two weeks)

Expat – Short for expatriate, someone who resides in a different country for an extended length of time with permission of the host government but keeps their citizenship to their home country.

Compound – Enclosed neighborhood, condominiums, apartments, detached houses that cater to expats and local well-to-do families.  Therefore several different countries and languages are represented.

Western – Anything from the US culture and references  restaurants, clothing, or people.

Asian – Broad description of Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Thai.  (see above)

Whitie – derogatory term for a Caucasian person.

Villa – Known in the states as a condominium.

Metro – Underground transportation

Fappio (FAH-pee-oh) – A receipt for purchased goods, taxi rides, etc. 

Ayi (EYE-ee) – literally “Auntie”- a domestic helper to hire for shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry or babysitting.  Rarely speak any English and arrive on foot, bicycle, bus, or motor scooter.

Driver – Hired driver of a lease vehicle assigned to us.  We are not allowed to drive, so careful planning is the only way to get anywhere.  They rarely speak English. Think of the show “Taxi” with charades.

A proper business card exchange
Business Card – You’re nobody without one.  Having your home address written in Chinese is helpful for taxi rides, etc.  Collect one wherever you go, so you can get back there.  They are presented with both hands.  

Non-smoking – These areas do not exist.  Smoking in public, restaurants and private homes is the norm. Not in my home, though!

ABC – an American Born Chinese person.

KFC – Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants are everywhere!  The Chinese love their chicken, especially the dark meat.  The restaurants are not looked down upon but are held in reverence to the good old 
USA. Some even have tablecloths.

Xièxièxiè  (SHAY-shay-eh)  Thank-you!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Chicken Little and the Sky that Didn’t Fall

Chickens in their courtyard pen

The delay in obtaining a place to call our own in Nanjing was at first frustrating, but like anything else, once it’s over it doesn’t seem nearly as horrifying and a lot less important!  Our landlords had lived in this 10 year old villa/condo since it was built with their daughter, Chén yì jūn.

Their objective was to move closer to her school near the city center.  After all, as their only child, she was the center of their universe.   Although the landlord and our realtor knew we were arriving and moving in on April 1st, they were far from ready.  As we arrived with our 5 bags of luggage that would get us through the next 4 weeks, it was clear that there was “no room in the inn” for the Johnsons.  Cupboard contents had exploded on to floors and surfaces.  There was buzzing about and an expectation that we would move in amongst their stuff and call this our home.  That was NOT going to happen, said Gordon, and I full-heartedly agreed.    There were promises that it would happen the following day, but just having done lots of packing and purging in Michigan, we knew better.  They were days away from being ready.  Even the chickens were still in the courtyard pen.

Chicken, unnamed and angry
Instead of Friday, we moved in late Sunday night to a bed with fresh sheets and our own shower.  They still bustled about for the next 3 days, non-stop.  The end result is a furnished villa, our 5 suitcases and 2 chickens in a pen.  The chickens will be on the chopping block shortly – literally.  I’ve tried not to be my nurturing self and name them.

If you’ve ever camped you know what it takes to make a place feel like home – you need to take the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing, make it portable and make it work in a new space.  We’re doing just that.  The sky has not caved in without fresh ground coffee beans, we have eaten more rice in a week than we’ve had in 3 months, and we are limping along without FaceBook access or access to this blog.   Our “air shipment” arrives within 2 more weeks, we hope.  It is in Shanghai in Customs, awaiting two red stamps of approval.  (Every legal document must have two and they must be red.)  Once delivered, we then await our “sea shipment” which could take up to 10 more weeks.  Other expatriates tell me that it will feel like Christmas when that happens.  And like a child, I can’t wait!

There is a front-loading centrifugal washer, but no drier.  Everything is hung outside.  I’ve done two loads so far and, well, let’s just say I was a child in the 1950’s when this was the norm. At that time I didn’t do anything but run through the sheets on the clothesline in the sunshine and get yelled at for doing so.  I reaped the benefit of sweet smelling outdoor sheets as I was tucked in by my parents that night.    China laundry learning lessons are probably necessary and I suppose I could master it.   Running through the sheets in the sunshine portrays a lot more fun, doesn’t it?  I could farm out the laundry to willing domestic help.  Not a tough choice at the price they will charge me, I hear.

So there you have my first report, the China sky has not fallen!  So we move forward with rice in our tummies, clean sheets and two unnamed chickens. 

Best to you All,

Friday, April 8, 2011

Opening Day for the Tigers!

Little Tiger Jack - our neighbor and son of our FORD family in Nanjing - says, 
 "Suit-up, Detroit Tigers for a Winning Season"!

 "Grrrrrrrrrrrr & Play Ball!"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

More Keys = More Importance

My keys have been on a pink paisley lanyard for the past few years.  It’s bright, swings around my neck and for the most part, is easy to find.   When people borrowed my keys at work I knew they’d not forget that it was mine.  It was easy to spot on my desk, in my purse or hanging out of my pocket looking very urban (well as urban as one can be sporting pink paisley).

As we got closer and closer to our foreign service assignment in China the keys in my possession began to change. 

First to go were four house keys of neighbors and friends.  These were entrusted to me in case of an emergency, which usually meant a teenager had locked themselves out of the house when Mom and Dad were on vacation.  Thank goodness that was the only “emergency” that occurred for years.  Sometimes the keys were used to let pets out or mail in.  Knowing we wouldn’t be in the neighborhood for the next three years was a signal to return them to their owners. 

My lanyard, like yours, sported more than keys.  Represented were “frequent user” tags for specific discounts and rewards that ran the gamut of a ‘free pastry with your latte’ to just tracking  you shopped at their establishment that month.  Punch cards are passé , it’s a key tab that stresses you  “belong.”
These plastic key tags were taken off the key ring and shoved in a safe place.  No need for tags that said  “Panera Café,”  “Kroger Plus Card,” “ Value Center Market,” “Blockbuster” or “Ace Hardware”  in Nanjing, China. That game was over.

As my key ring dwindled, so did my presence in Livonia. 

My 83-year old mother resides in an Alzheimer’s Assisted Living facility in Livonia.  One of my keys had a label with both the interior and exterior code on it to remind me what to punch in when I visited.    As staffing changed the five-digit numbers would too. These reminder labels placed one on top of another were beginning to mount after five years.  Both codes would be worthless in China, as well.

Turning in my keys from work had a most unusual feeling, too. Off went a key fob that is assigned to a specific user & allowed me into the church/work, anytime, day or night. It also had the “power” to keep the door opened for a specific amount of time for committee meetings or weddings that I supervised.  That was ONE powerful key fob!  In addition there was an allen wrench used to keep the exterior doors accessible and open.  Yep, I was a keeper of the keys and that was ending.

One by one the keys dwindled as did my importance, it seemed.

The house key was hung up awaiting our return.

Next to go was our lease car key.  Ford won’t allow their employees to drive in China.  Liability is the biggest issue, and safety concerns.  So we will lease a car with a driver while we are there.   

So now, dangling from the pink paisley lanyard were two lonesome keys.  They hardly deserved a big honking lanyard anymore and sure looked silly. 

I was struck by the two keys that remained.  Key number one was a key to my parents house on Vassar.  A small bungalow house they have occupied since 1952 on a tree-lined street across from a city park and walking path.  My roots and a house that often is in my dreams still exists and I know every creaky door and where to find each light switch.  How lucky was I to have just one consistent homestead from birth through young adult.  Even more fortunate is that my 83-year old father resides there still.   That key remains.

I am clueless about the last key.  How important is it?  Why don’t I know what it belongs to?   It didn’t fit any door, padlock or vehicle.    It’s not particularly old and still glistens when the sun hits it. Puzzled by it’s importance and presence  I’ve decided to call it my  Key to Tomorrow!   I’ll “use” this  Key to Tomorrow to unlock so much an entire world away.  New experiences, new life challenges, new friends and who knows what else?  It will be a universal key fitting many doors and represents a broad spectrum of global and self-discovery.  How fitting to have this unknown key remain.  My  Key to Tomorrow will glisten when the sun hits it, and it will be the same sun that will rise and set over our home in Livonia, with all that “importance” left behind.


Next Entry:  Nanjing Arrival!