Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stopped Stitching But Still Running

The summer of 2012 I created  Run Stitch Run - Stitching to Support those Less Fortunate than Ourselves - a grassroots organization. The Pillowcase Project was born - funded by generous folks and crafty sewing friends and strangers.
A year ago in the Fall of 2012, my friend Angie and I traveled to an orphanage near Fujian, China. Our suitcases were filled to the brim with custom and unique pillowcases to gift each child housed there.  An entire year later I still resonate with that opportunity, still stunned and so grateful to each donor and participant.   We made a wee difference on this side of the world. The project portrayed Westerners as generous, playful, kind and colorful.  In my mind, that's a very good thing.

[see my blog post "Step Out or Stay Put" -12/3/2012 ]

I count this experience as the most eye-opening and life-altering week of my three-year China adventure.
Since then Run Stitch Run has donated even more pillowcases to two other Chinese orphanages.
Before the last 'batch' of pillowcases went out I  managed to squirrel some away for just the right moment.  That moment has come.
Butterfly Children’s Hospice will benefit from the remaining 25 pillowcases. They will be sold at the Nanjing International Club Fall Bazaar with 100% of the proceeds given to Jenine Basaraba, Director of Butterfly Children's Hospice, her newest mission.  Jenine never tires of helping others and has a great big heart, especially for children in need.  Chinese view medicine in a very different light and forbid any pain medication for children.  Can you imagine?

 Read about this worthwhile cause here  http://www.butterflych.org/nanjing-project

Generosity made a difference then and now and I thank all of you who contributed to the Run Stitch Run Pillowcase Project.  Before distributing the pillowcases a year ago, Jenine read the words I knew my donors wanted to convey to these children. Children who came from hurt and faced an uphill daily battle with past demons and future difficulties: 

I asked her to say these words: 

"You are Strong!
You are Beautiful!
And Yes, You are Loved!"

Here are more photos from that remarkable week.  They were just collecting dust in my photo gallery and I wanted you to get a glimpse once more...so that WE ALL continue making a difference - big or small.

Looking back and Moving Forward...

While the Children Went to School - Five of Us Walked Down the Mountain to Town

We will Always Recall Infectious Smiles and Warm Goodbyes.  Once Again, I Thank All the Donors Who Made a Difference
in these Children's Lives and the Lives of the Young Patients at
the Butterfly Children's Hospice of Nanjing China

Thanks for Reading,



Sunday, July 28, 2013

Same-Same - But Different-2013

The T-shirt slogan “Same-Same – But Different” caught my eye in 2011 when we traveled to Bangkok, Thailand and perused the bustling Sukhumvit Street Market there.  Puzzled by the phrase I asked our friend and host Bethe.  She laughed and said it poked fun at Thai vendors who are selling ‘similar’ merchandise also known as “knock-offs.”  The claim that the merchandise they offer is “Same-Same – But Different” is a common one.  We have used the expression ever since as we experience the wonderful world of shopping cheaply in consumer happy Asia.

We frequent street and underground markets wherever we find ourselves.  It is always a fun activity.  These Mom and Pop shops are usually open from 10am-10pm and some disappear in the middle of the night.  Hence, if you see something you want, you better buy it because the entire shop could be gone tomorrow- literally.  Experience indicates that some shops are family-owned businesses hiring young robust help for a very minimal wage and in others, vendors work the shops themselves - 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It doesn’t look like an easy way to earn a living.
I have my favorite vendors.  We all do.  For me, the criterion for being a favored vendor doesn’t have much to do with selection because very often what one stall offers another one nearby will have very similar merchandise.   My favored vendors exchange my smile for their smile.  They exude patience and interest in what I’m looking at and are willing to negotiate with their calculator in hand.  It is very rare to see things marked with a price in these stalls.  This allows the vendor to size up the potential buyer.  I am getting quite adept at spotting someone trying to snag my expected fair-skinned wealth.
Negotiating goes something like this:  
“Zhege duoshao qian?”  - How much is this?
The seller reaches for a hand held calculator and “plinks” in a price, facing the calculator in my direction.   
Now it’s my turn to scoff and shake my head in disgust at the ridiculous price.  (Usually rightfully so.)
“Tai gui le!”, I say indignantly – Too expensive!
Next I counter-offer by clearing their entry and “plinking” in one third of what they just “plinked.” 
They shake their head in disgust (usually rightfully so,) and the negotiating is underway.
They counter with another number which they have now deemed the “friend price,” (because for some reason we’re now friends?)   I counter with a little bit more and they are still disgusted.  They counter with a little less.  Back and forth until eventually they start the, “Okay, Okay.  You give me best price.”  If I raise it and say that this is my best price, they might agree, but most times they still only lower their price a little and now extol the virtues of this very ‘high quality’ piece and why it must be at their price.
Eventually, maybe we’ve settled…maybe not and if not, I begin to walk away.
Depending on their sales hunger that day they either chase me down with “Okay! Okay!” or they don’t. 
The Big Guy advises to pre-determine a bottom line and NEED for the item.  He says there is an acceptable price and a walking away price.  You should know both going in.
This is great fun sometimes and exhausting at other times.
Once the price is determined they slam my purchases into a flimsy plastic sack in disgust. I skip away merrily swinging my bag of treasure that I had to have.  I have won – I think.   If I’ve walked away instead, I can try negotiating again at a nearby stall.   Our negotiating skills are sharpening.   The Big Guy arrived with a slew of them well-honed by his FORD - Purchasing experience but even he admits they have been improved by the frequent market visits. 
In addition, we’ve adopted an aloof demeanor and glide by hawking vendors who bark:
“Hey Lady! “
 or “Hey Boss!”
 “Come Look?”
 “Good Price for You!”
The clothing stall vendors take one look at my non-petite Asian frame and retort with
 “Scarves, Lady?”   [I mean who can’t FIT into a scarf?]
We have witnessed sales of many fake items and knock-offs for more than 2 years.  The list is endless:  bags, watches, DVD’s, I-phone accessories, jewelry, backpacks, luggage and clothing.  We’ve been whisked off to back rooms and watched as walls turned into doors and then into secret compartments of the ‘good stuff.’  We’ve traipsed into seedy apartments stocked with merchandise.  The quality is questionable but 70% of the time it’s passable.  It could be a total knock-off or it could have been manufactured when the shift was over and the line kept running with the end products being heaped into a truck.   “Same-Same – But Different.”
Manufactured goods are not the only things that can be “Same-Same – But Different.”
Last weekend while being driven to a dinner destination, I spotted a large lit sign Hard Rock.” 

My jaw dropped at the sight and I looked back as we zoomed by, determined to check it out as soon as possible.
As luck would have it, we couldn’t find it after dinner but that didn’t squelch my curiosity.   Less than a week later I engaged Stefanie, our Mandarin instructor, in the search.  Yes, she found it on Shanghai Lu.  We planned a Wednesday evening outing to introduce her to this iconic experience that began in London, England in 1971.  
Stefanie is a good sport and a fun one to spoil so we began our adventure with a pedicure.

Once our toe-sies were rose-ied,  we began our exploration to find the Hard Rock in Nanjing.
We found it!
We were welcomed into a cozy wooden floored bar space with wooden booths and TV screens. Taylor Swift wailed away above our heads.   So far, so good!  The Hard Rock logo was emblazoned on much of the d├ęcor in its familiar font.
Rock and Roll memorabilia graced each wall.

 Gliding past it all we landed in the Chinese lucky number #8 booth.  
And that is when our luck ran out.
The beverage menu arrived quickly.  Everything was in Chinese characters without pictures.  If restaurant management wants to attract Western patrons, there’d better be an English menu.
This was the Hard Rock, right?
Next the Food Menu – 4 choices:

a Chicken dish
a Pork dish
another Pork dish
a third Pork dish
We smiled sweetly to each other realizing we weren’t going to get any classic or even semi-classic Western fare at this Hard Rock.
That should have been our cue to walk out, like the two groups of patrons that came in right after us.  They sat down, had the menu explained to them and walked out.
Without a car, driver or any other restaurant choices in sight, we didn’t have the option of escaping.  So we politely ordered and paid up front.   That should have been another clue of what was to come.
The meals came in a cafeteria style divided plate with bok choy and rice and included a soft drink for 28rmb/ $5 USD.
The price was reasonable.

The food was not.  I had two bites of mine and two bites of Stefanie’s for comparison and she did the same.  Oh well!
Nonetheless, as evening descended on Nanjing, we had enjoyed ourselves.  Since we were still hungry, I felt justified in walking about the empty restaurant taking photos inside and out.

So let it be known that the Nanjing  Hard Rock-Love All- Serve All “ has left a bad taste in my mouth and some pork bone shards that I hope won’t rip my stomach to shreds.  Sure, I should have known better since the Beijing, China Hard Rock closed in 2012 and the Shanghai, China location closed its doors in 2004. To expect Nanjing to suddenly have one is quite a China stretch. 
* * * * *
Oh!…A friend just told me about a new coffee shop called “MoreBucks.,” which I’m absolutely going to check out this weekend!

What are the chances/percentage that “Same- Same – But Different” will be underscored once more in our China Adventure?   I will “plink” a number into my calculator and let you guess how close Morebucks is to that other Coffee Spot that has a green and white circle logo.

Thanks for Reading,