Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Day at the Spa

Casey - Mom thinks you need a Haircut

I'm guessing this ear-holding is just the beginning

It's a Long Way Down to Freedom

I See you on the other side of the Glass, Mom...

Groomer Bao goes-a-snipping...

How do they expect a 12-year old schnauzer to get out of here?

Should Have Risked it All, I suppose...

Finally Home and With this New Super Bandana - I guess Mom Loves ME, Afterall!

Not a typical cut, but it suits the Furnace-Like Heat of Nanjing, China!

Stop the Photo Shoot - May I PLEASE go in and sit on my favorite Chair?

Let's See How Mom does with HER first China Haircut!  :::::Muh-ha-ha-ha::::

Mom multi-tasking and holding Ethan (aka Xiao Hu) the Magnificent!

Any Guesses what the Johnson Girls Spent on their Spa Day?

Casey Grooming $9 USD
New Collar $2 USD

Mom Haircut $4 USD

Thanks for Reading,


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"We're just "Do-ers!"

Insulating the U.S.Garage for an All-weather Workshop

Some people golf on the weekends, some barbecue, some attend sporting events.  But for us spending weekends doing projects has always been our style. This couple fixes stuff!
I say that loosely because sometimes I'm just the beverage getter or lunch wench.
I am awesome at "hold this right there, wouldja?" or "you got any paper towels?"

Our first 900-square foot home on a gravel road with a 1/2 acre lot kept us being productive from the start. The Big Guy bought it as a single 25-year old.  The house was small and a definite "fixer-upper" and that's what we did, weekend after weekend. We called it home for eight years. 

Twenty-seven years after shedding that house we still have night terrors about "Parkville."
It's true and happens several times a year to both of us!  There is unstoppable water damage, rotting wood, caved floors, carpenter ants, cracked walls, unusable windows, a leaking roof.  The dream conclusion is usually the same; the house on Parkville has remained ours, we've neglected it,  it's falling apart and there are other people living there, kinda. My jaw is clenching as I write this.

Weekend projects with far less angst and hopelessness or the recurring night terrors ensued when we purchased another place nestled in a suburban wooded setting on a quaint cul-de-sac. Just a few miles away, this house is the complete package of family, friends and the best neighbors on the planet.

Our Home in Michigan

But like any other home we found plenty to do.  In addition to casual home maintenance the Big Guy took on hobbies that require large commitments of time and expertise. Classic Ford Car Restoration being one. 

Apparently we are just "Do-ers" and never mind spending time, talent and treasure on both hobbies and home improvement. 

So this year, after decades of weekends of hobbies and fixing stuff, we fled to China to live in a rented space.  This is foreign to us in so many ways.  There is no need to putter and putz about really.  The landlord is responsible for all repairs and maintenance. Talk about a new way of thinking. As described, the Big Guy is truly "Mr. Project" and will tackle any project sent his way.  To say he's pretty gifted in the do-it-yourself arena is an understatement, and I bet you know someone just like him who lives a heckuva lot closer than China!  But we are HERE now.
Having friends coming in and out of our rusty iron gate in our villa's courtyard here in China began to bug me as soon as the rusty lock broke free.  Large lethal hunks of peeling black paint shards on the gate seemed dangerous and the word 'tetanus shot' kept going through my craw. Should we call the landlord?

"Eh...I'll just do it myself" said the Big Guy.

A Saturday trip to the only big box hardware store in   Nanjing resulted in a warm feeling
of being in the USA - minus the color orange and the hot dog cart.  As I pushed a wobbly wheeled shopping cart the Big Guy sashayed through the aisles tossing scrapers, wire brushes and a couple different grades of sandpaper my way. Off he went to the paint aisle and by this time I was BORED so I perused the organizational plastic tubs.

Upon my return he said, "Hmmmmmmmm, this is just the interior paint, the exterior paint must be somewhere else." 

But it wasn't to be found. 

NO exterior paint, NO Rustoleum primer, NO such thing in a big box store? 

Really, People?

By the third lap of the store I started to whine in hunger and disgust. I'm quite good at this, by the way. So we toddled home with ALL the supplies we needed, except for..well...the PAINT.

Returning to work on Monday the Big Guy spoke to a native Nanjinger about the lack of paint to do this maintenance job.  The response was a surprise. There was a prominent furrowed brow & puzzlement on the face of the co-worker and an eaves-dropper.

"Why would YOU take on a REPAIR job," was the distinct message from both.
"We don't do things like that," he exclaimed. "We hire someone to do it and they    get the paint themselves." 

"Okay, well where do THEY get the paint?" said our do-it-yourself-er. 

 "Ummmmmmmm,I don't know but I will find out."   -As a teacher I LOVE that answer.

The next weekend with address in hand we were taken to an industrial site with a footprint about 1/2 mile square and three floors high.  An outdoor escalator took us up, up, up.   It was filled with hallways of small stores that specialized in building supplies and tools. I guess you'd call it a Suppliers Mart.  Some housed furniture, kitchen cabinets, plumbing hardware, stoves, shower doors, definitely a builder's warehouse.  They seemed to be categorized by hallway and our driver pointed us in the direction of the paint stores and fled back to the car. 

Clearly, we were going to be on our own for any description of what we needed or more importantly any transaction. 

 And so we were. 

There were over 30 'little box' stores with just paint. Some were closed for the day so we wandered around and around.   Finally one shopkeeper understood what we were looking for and took us three hallways over to another booth. There we found a pint of exterior high gloss enamel- SCORE!  (It's funny what we find exciting here, isn't it?)  I was thrilled enough to suggest getting a second pint 'just in case,' since selfishly I wasn't keen on a return trip.  (Again, whiny, hungry...)  The cost was peanuts compared to what we would have paid in the US.  The shopkeeper told us the price and took the 'right amount' out of the Big Guy's palm. Trusting saps that we are. 

Returning home the scraping and sanding began.  Because wrought iron oxidizes so quickly the painting had to begin as soon as the sanding stopped. And so it did. I was stationed on lunch patrol and keeping a little black miniature schnauzer away from the noxious black paint that she was so curious about.  After all, that gate is her window on the world.

Puzzled gardeners stopped to watch this "whitey" painting so carefully.  A security guard screeched his bike brakes to a full stop, said something in Mandarin and took off.  He returned with some sandpaper.   Anyone who meandered by did a double take and felt the need to watch or comment. Along came new ex-patriate neighbors who after politely introducing themselves kiddingly scolded "Shouldn't your Ayi be doing that?  YOU shouldn't be!"

The lack of supplies should have been our first clue. The puzzlement and comments just underscored what we were starting to conclude; In China, all household maintenance is always hired out to someone of less stature than yourself. And a "do-it-yourselfer" is NOT a coveted role here.  That type of work is perceived as beneath your station and degrading.

This truism has not slowed down "Mr. Project." 

Since the gate painting he has:
  • caulked the shower
  • fiddled with our water feature
  • repaired the plumbing on the dishwasher
  • installed a fire-proof box for our important papers and passports
  • added a doorbell to our entrance
  • installed shelving in the garage
  • assembled a shoe rack
  • installed clothing hooks
  • started to make a wooden clock
  • assembled a push mower
  • bought a table saw with 220-voltage
  • moved a garage door button to a side wall
We are running out of things to fix and tweak.

And in my best Yiddish accent I say, "Once a Do-er, Always a Do-er!"

Last Saturday we sat next to another new neighbor telling him our gate repair story and how the Big Guy attracted quite an audience with each brush stroke of black paint. He laughed at the picture we painted and nodded his head knowingly.

His reply went something like this:
"Wow, our gate was in similar condition.  I was about to head to the hardware store and buy all sorts of supplies and do the same. Instead, the little woman called Keiko in the main office and the next day they sent someone over and replaced the gate."      

 Go Figure!

I'm lobbying to put a halt on the home improvement and get to some of that traveling in Asia that we've been promising ourselves. We'll be stepping beyond our pretty courtyard, but maybe it's about time...
Casey Marie - 12 years old

Thanks for Reading,


Monday, August 1, 2011

Round Three - Ding!

Enter a new Ayi - three days a week.  Thanks to "L" for the referral.   We are going to try this one on for size.  She seems nice enough. 

 Here's her photo...

Ayi #3 Preparing to Cook

I haven't asked about the health of her grandmother........ yet.

Ayi and Rodolfo

As you've read, I spend much brain time during my encounters in Nanjing, China trying to make sense out of things. What I learn often has a cultural slant to it - definitely fun to discover and even more fun to pass on to you. I love the field of anthropology and folkways and mores and why groups of people do what they do!  So having landed in another culture I am certain that I truly do learn something new everyday.

Enter "Rodolfo." - He is a ceramic chef who sprouts a plethora of wooden spoons and utensils from his chef hat. He sits on the counter next to the cooktop and is ever-ready to offer 'just the right' one when needed. He's pleasantly plump and holds a wooden spoon in his left hand.  I was drawn to him for so many reasons; his left-handedness, his mustache, his cute apron, and his ticket price of 50 cents at last Fall's Congregational Church rummage sale back home. And so "Rodolfo" boarded a ship and came to China.

A few weeks ago while observing Ayi #2 in my teeny tiny Chinese kitchen, I noticed that she re-positioned "Rodolfo" from facing forward to facing backward as she cooked.  I didn't really notice this until she had left for the day and the counters were all sparkly and our tummies were full.  "Interesting," I thought and then I turned "Rodolfo" around to face forward.  The next time she cooked she did it again.  I wondered if the re-positioning him from watching the Ayi to not watching the Ayi had any significance.  Then Ayi #2 left us and my curiosity left too.  

When Ayi #3 arrived last week I had an opportunity to watch her kitchen skills. She stir-fried similar foods; eggplant with garlic, minced pork with edamame and peppers, minced pork with straw mushrooms and ginger. All of it yummy, using freshly marketed items she purchased just hours before.  She prepped, cooked and placed each in a separate dish for the Big Guy and me to eat when our Mandarin lesson was over.  Walking back into the teeny tiny kitchen with our empty bowls I looked over at "Rodolfo."  He was NOT looking at me, but once again had been turned around and faced the tiled wall.   What is going on?  Why did BOTH Ayis turn "Rodolfo" to the wall?  Was it 'unlucky' to have a man in the kitchen?  Is a figurine with two eyes not allowed to watch a Chinese person cook?  Would the kitchen go up in flames if he wasn't turned to the southeast? Were both Ayis offended that my mustach-i-oed "Rodolfo" was Italian and not Asian?   I tapped my fingers and thought the behavior surely was proof of some Chinese superstition. One that I needed to know about.

Enter Stefanie, our patient as a saint, Mandarin instructor.  She fields many cultural questions for us and is an excellent lǎoshī (teacher).

 After our lesson one night I asked Stefanie to come into the kitchen to meet "Rodolfo" and solve the mystery.  I showed her what each Ayi had done....revolving "Rodolfo" from front and center to the back wall, and told her that this happens each time an Ayi cooks in my teeny tiny kitchen.  "Does it mean anything, is it unlucky, what do you think?" I peppered her with questions as I wanted desperately to understand the cultural significance of this repeated behavior.

With a  quizzical look and a very long pause, Stefanie gave "Rodolfo" the 180-degree turn from facing forward to facing backward and then back again. 

 "This happens everytime?" she asked.  

"Yep, everytime," I replied confidently.

"Hmmmmmmmmm," she pondered.

 I held my breath like a new Mom seeking advice from her pediatrician about her ill and symptomatic first-born.  I would remain lost and in the dark without our lǎoshī 's astute and expert diagnosis. I craved enlightenment on this mystery. I wanted the answer.

And surely Stefanie, with her deep understanding of the Chinese culture, would have the answer.

Stefanie diagnosed the situation:

"Well.............I think both Ayis

did not want to get his face spattered by

 the cooking oil in the wok."

"Oh," I sheepishly replied.

(So much for my Margaret Mead anthropology skills, huh?  I guess I won't be tapping out a blog entry about this then will I?- Wait a second... I think I just did!)

Thanks for Reading,