Better “Suit Up”

Barney Stintson, on “How I Met Your Mother” had the catchphrase, “suit up.” This comedic phrase referred to his incessant need to wear a suit for any occasion.

During winter in Beijing, “suit up” refers to the 5-10 minutes that must be added to any outdoor activity as one prepares their body to deal with the inclement weather. (read more about how one would “suit up” in Beijing)

But during the time of COVID-19 (previously known as “Corona” virus), “suit up” takes on a whole new meaning and an extra few minutes of work. In the past 4 weeks, I’ve learned a lot about the art of “suiting up” and wearing a protective shield over my nose and mouth. I thought I would be remiss if I didn’t share my “knowledge” with you.

WARNING: My expertise is not medical in nature. Any information shared here is just an expat’s experience of this phenomenon and a light-hearted way to bust the boredom. This is all in jest.

Too Many Choices

There are many different kids of masks. Reusable and disposable. Cotton and fleece. Medical and gas. There are also thousands of “invented” masks or techniques to wear masks. To get the legit scoop on mask wearing, listen to the WHO, but if you want a laugh, check out Bored Panda.

For this illiterate-in-Chinese family, once news about the virus hit the 24-hour news cycle, sourcing masks became a challenge and we’ve had to make do with whatever we could get our hands on. Our collection of masks include those which should be used when the AQI is high and those which should be disposed after each wear.

Create a “Safe Space”

It is important to create a safe space for any items that may be subjected to COVID-19. We have created this space near the front door of the house, where our shoes, jackets, scarves, hats, boots, gloves, and dog leash rest between jaunts outdoors.

Our “Safe Space” includes (from top to bottom):

  • hand sanitizer: because it’s the perfect way to further dry out your winter skin
  • wet wipes: a good way to clean your hands before/after/while touching something outside
  • our Lego family: because neither Rob nor I have hung it on our front door yet
  • masks: in various colors, sizes, and materials
  • tissues: for the inevitable nose blowing that commences once one enters from the cold
  • breath mints: the only way to avoid the question, “Does my breath REALLY smell this bad?” once you’ve put on an over-used mask on… again
  • headphones: so you can avoid the teen squabbles that may be included on your outdoor excursion

Who Does It Belong To

When your family has a collection of masks by the front door, it’s important to make sure you can identify whose mask is whose. There are countless ways you can organize this: bins, baskets, hooks, and labels. I have invented my own organizational trick which I have dubbed: “the Lipstick.”

The Art of Mask Wearing

To know me is to know that I love to communicate. Whether friend or foe, stranger or neighbor, I have an insatiable need to communicate. This need is difficult in a country where my language skills are limited to basic greetings, thanks, and apologies. What does one do? Well, they learn how to communicate with their face. The art of non-verbal communication served me quite well until… well, until COVID-19. Below are four ways to help you “read” the mask face.

Smiling With Your Eyes: notice the squinted eyes and even fatter cheeks

Damn It’s COLD Outside/Why Do I ALWAYS Have to TAKE the Dog Out At Night?/My Kids are Fighting Again: observe the arched eyebrows and cold, dead stare

The Neutral: there’s nothing going on. Not. A. Thing!

The Don’t-Make-Eye-Contact-With-Me-Because-I-Don’t-Speak-Chinese-And-I’m-Nervous-You-Might-Ask-Me-A-Question: observe the eyes darting a way to look somewhere. Anywhere.

I hope some of this helps you the next time you decide to “suit up.”

Be safe. Suit up. Wash hands. Live life!

“Living” Through It

What do you do when you’re sick of reading about nCoV? When you’re bored, cooped up, and flooded with queries from loved ones I think the best thing you can do is… blog.

A lot has changed in the past few days. The constant barrage from my news feeds, first hand reports, and personal experiences have made for some angsty moments. But a daily family vote means that we’re seeing it through (for now). Let me catch you up.


School/Work

Schools are closed until further notice. Most international schools will begin online learning on Monday February 3rd. WAB has things in place and we’re ready to go. It won’t be perfect. But it’s all we can do.

Last weekend, our school gave the OK for teachers to leave Beijing. This option has caused another layer of stressful conversations in the Langlands’ home. But more on that later.

WAB is allowing the community to come on campus from 10-11 am to get supplies and tools they may need for online learning. You can only get on to campus under tight restrictions. Before walking in the security gate, we masked up, showed school ID, had our temperature checked, and completed documents that notified the ministry about our travel movements during the Chinese New Year holiday. This measure will permanently end on February 3rd and campus will be on complete lockdown.


Our Village/Life

Our village community is normally open with multiple entry points and small alleyways snaking throughout. All but two have now been barricaded. At the two that remain open sit a security team and the occasional guy in a hazmat suit. They are checking temps and IDs. This caught me off guard yesterday and all I wanted to do was pack a suitcase and get out. 

I’ve calmed down since then.

This is our lockdown

The village is doing a lot to keep people safe. If you show symptoms of the flu, you are encouraged (read: required) to self-quarantine. At that point, the village governance will provide food to your home for 14 days. On our way to school yesterday, my friend took a picture of us crossing the red carpet. If you read the picture details you can learn more about the protocols that are hiding in plain sight.

Today, the grocery stores and veggie market proprietors reopened as their anticipated Chinese New Years celebrations ended.


Our Life/Beyond the Wall

For the last few nights, we’ve been meeting friends for dinner or drinks at local establishments. Some restaurants are staying closed because of staffing issues as staff haven’t returned from their government mandated Chinese New Year extension. The ones that are open are taking extra precautions to keep everyone safe. A benefit to some restaurants being closed, you can often pick up some fabulous produce from those that have set up tables outside. They would rather sell off their stock than see it go to waste.

One of our favorite Craft Breweries is now adding security measures to their ads.

A Lesson/Don’t Always Believe the Hype

When you watch the news or read an article online, I’m not sure you’re getting the full truth. I don’t know what life is like in the epicenter of Wuhan, but here is my lesson on perspective.

When I went to the grocery store yesterday, there are some shelves that are completely empty and huge gaps where the hand sanitizer once stood. I took a picture of the empty freezer cases but if I chose to show you only that, I would change the narrative. Because turning the corner to the 2nd freezer case–there was an abundance of food. It was all strewn about and disorganized so I’m thinking, maybe the freezer cases are just broken for some reason. But I wanted to show you that it’s not as dire as it sounds on the news. In all honesty, there is an abundance of fresh breads, milk, fruit, and veg. We wont starve any time soon!


Our Choice/Conversation Topics

Every day, the group of “staying teachers” seems to get a bit smaller. Some will stay. Some will go. For each family, there are so many factors to consider. For ours, here are some things we discuss daily.

  1. When will we be coming back?
  2. Should we buy tickets for a few weeks in Bali to wait this out? Or do we go home and stay with friends and family for a few months? If you don’t know the answer to #1, you can’t answer #2.
  3. Where should we go if we need to be available to kids between 8:30 am and 3:30 pm, Beijing time?
  4. What will be open today, tomorrow, and long term?
  5. What does the next step of government protection/mandatory closures/quarantine look like?
  6. What if more airlines stop flying out of Beijing? Will we be able to get out?
  7. What do we with our dog?
  8. How do we stay mentally healthy?

Our Opinions/Life Decisions

We are healthy and confident that we are doing what needs to be done to stay safe. So, at present, we’re staying. We’re washing our hands, wearing masks, avoiding large crowds, going on walks, and being social. We’re going out with friends again tonight and planning on taking advantage of Beijing’s traffic desert by exploring on bike and foot.


Final Thoughts/Small Moments

For now, we’re using the tips that our school counselors sent out in an effort to avoid cabin fever.

An excerpt from a fabulous message WAB sent from the school counselors

That’s all we can do.

Laugh…

This is a picture our friend, Stephen Taylor, took to show some measures
people are taking to keep their kids safe. Look VERY closely!

… and blog!

Baby It’s Cold Outside

As a Californian (read: a Bay Area girl) I don’t really get weather. Growing up, living, and working between San Jose and Fremont kept me in a pretty consistent weather zone. Summer would ease in to fall with the occasional bouts of hot and humid days in September or October. But for the most part, Bay Area weather is beautiful. Never too hot. Never too cold. So when we woke up one morning in Beijing and the outside furnace had been turned off, my inner monologue was screaming profanities!

No, no, no… there is no outside heating device warming the world, but on said morning, the weather had gone from a toasty 25c to an earth-shattering 8c overnight (for those who think in Fahrenheit that means the weather went from 77f to 46f). And… it. Just. Got. Colder!

This immediate change in weather was not a fluke (so I’ve been told). Apparently, it’s just what happens in October in Beijing. It’s as if the gods wake up one morning and say, “Today we begin winter!” and the weather drops. Instantly. And then it keeps getting colder and colder, and colder. And because cold air blows in from the Siberian desert (and the even closer Tianmo Desert) the air is dry, the wind is biting, and electric shocks are around every corner.

So what does that mean for life here?

Well, just as arbitrarily as the weather gods change the outside temperature, so the government changes the inside temperature. Many homes here are heated by district energy which turns the heat on one day and turns it off months later. If the schedules don’t match between inside and outside temperatures… well, you’re shit out of luck!

Side Note: When we went to Tokyo to visit our friends Amy, David, and Cathy (who we worked with in Nairobi so long ago), they told us a similar tale. All of the vending machines around Japan are changed arbitrarily. One day, all you can find is cold beverages. And then one day all you can source are warm ones. I mean, who doesn’t want a steaming hot cup of coffee when it’s 31c (88f) outside?

For most of my Bay Area chums, this random temperature decision making sounds insane. But district heating is a thing in many places around the world (including parts of the US).

And though our house is not on government regulated heating, WAB runs an air filtration system through the school which also controls the heat. So as I write this blog during my break time, it’s -7c (19.5f) outside and I’m down to jeans and t-shirt because we’re all roasting in doors. I find this lifestyle crazy because we wake up and “suit up” layers of clothes to walk the dog and get to school and then have a heap of clothes near our work environment because it’s just blisteringly hot inside.

This is how I “suit up” to get to school. My heap of clothes includes my down jacket with hood and fur, gloves, scarf, leg warmers, and a wool headband/ear covering that is still on my head because my hair looks AWFUL!

But I digress.

Growing up in the Bay Area, I can vividly remember a few crazy winters that may have included torrential rain or a few events of hail. But snow… never! So when the first snow fell in our village it was a site to be seen! And I was like a kid in a candy store.

The snow fall was beautiful, the city blanketed in white was stunning, and the hygge we develop in our home has been so connecting for our family.

But damn. It’s COLD outside. And it’s just. Getting. Colder!

Eye Candy in Prague

I am no stranger to the crooked old cobblestone streets of Europe. Being the daughter of a Portuguese father, wife of a Belgian, and having studied in England, I get Europe. But there is something about Prague that is different than all the other cities I’ve been to. Maybe it’s the enchanting beauty of a city fairy lit for Christmas or the smell of trdelník (a spit cooked doughnut-y thing) and svařák (mulled wine) in the air, but whatever it is, Prague has left an indelible mark on my memory.

Here are some of our family highlights:

Beautiful Architecture

Prague, as a city, is over 1,000 years old. And its architecture proves it. From the Castle buildings constructed in the 9th century to modernized and colorful buildings dotted in and under the Charles Bridge. There is something to see around every corner. My only recommendation: look up and down. Some of the most amazing things are happening under foot.

Interesting Art

Prague is a city littered with beautiful spires and intricate brick facades. But it’s the fantastically bizarre art around every corner that really stops one in their tracks. From the graffiti of the Lennon wall to the eerie Franz Kafka statue, there is something for everyone…Though I’m not sure that woman posing next to the blue gorilla really knew what she was getting in to until she walked past the other end of the creature.

Everyday Life

The great thing about going on holiday before the Christmas holidays start, is that we get the luxury of seeing a city in everyday life mode. Sometimes you just have to skip all the Trip Advisor attractions and just get lost… that’s where life really happens.

What Shouldn’t Be Missed

There is so much to be seen in Prague. But there are also a few things I don’t think anyone should miss. Unfortunately, I say this and everyone seems to agree with me so be on notice… it will be busy! Don’t miss the opportunity to eat a delicious trdelník. They are these amazingly delicious doughnuts that taste similar to a Portuguese filhós thanks to the generous roll in cinnamon sugar. But the brilliant thing about these hard-to-say-their-name-delights is that they are hollow on the inside because the dough is rolled on a spit and then roasted over coal. You don’t feel as if they are too bad for you because you’re not eating that much doughnut after all. Pure genius.

With so many tourists around every corner, the food in Prague is a menagerie of cultures and cuisines. We actually spent our first few days eating very little Czech food, and instead, filled our bellies with shawarma, tacos, and beer. But the highlight of these experiences (except maybe that beer is cheaper than coffee), was a visit to U Flekü, purported to be the oldest pub in the country (apparently it was opened in 1499). When you walk in to U Flekü, you are seated at long tables, where a server immediately hands you a small glass of something that looks very similar to apple juice. It. Is. NOT. Apple. Juice. While sipping your spirit, the strolling accordion player excites the patrons to eat, drink, and be merry. Vegetarians will love the pickled cheese while their meat eating counterparts say the goulash is not be missed. Regardless, U Flekü is a fascinating restaurant that shouldn’t be missed.

All in all, Prague was a fabulous experience. I’m so glad we went and I can’t wait until we can explore again.

 

pooping problems

During our first few days in China, we had a family meeting to check-in regarding our initial impressions and general feelings about moving to China. Here is a (to the best of my memory) transcript of part of that discussion:

Parent: How are things going?

Child: I can’t poop.

Parent: Oh my gosh. I didn’t know you were feeling sick.

Child: I’m not sick.

Parent: But you said you can’t poop.

Child: I can’t.

Parent: Let’s go to the pharmacy and get medicine to help you poop.

Child: I can poop. I just don’t want to poop.

Parent: *blink* ??? *blink* ???


Here’s the story…

Some members of our family are having pooping problems and NOT for the reasons you’d think!

Yes, there is a lot of (rich, delicious, fried, and smothered in sauce) food here in China. And yes, for some people, that may be the reason they are having pooping problems. But for others, that is NOT the problem! The desire to poop is there but the ability to freely and comfortably poop in our temporary housing is the real problem.

You see, when we arrived in our temporary housing we had to read and sign a contract about all the things that we will and will not do in the apartment. For instance, the contract states: The tenant will not play loud music which will disturb other tenants. Or The tenant will not move furniture, paint the walls, and/or hang artwork. All of this is pretty reasonable.

But then we read this:

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.24.24 AM.png

Eww.

I bet the poopy problem is beginning to make more sense now.

Because they couldn’t put their poopy toilet paper down the drain, the aforementioned child didn’t want to poop (in the apartment). So the poor kid was having to strategize about places around the town where they could “do the deed.”

Once the parental unit figured out what the real problem was, we made a compromise.

Parent: If it’s yellow… let it mellow and toss the paper in the bin. If it’s brown… flush ALL of it down. INCLUDING, but not limited to, toilet paper!

Child: *smile*

1264386424_1dab00cd2d_b

“Poop”by Taylor McKnight is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

May your life be free from pooping problems.

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um… no!

(co-written by Anouk)

I have been vegetarian for most of my life. My parents tell a story about me gagging in the meat department of a fancy grocery store when I was just 6 months old. I don’t know if the story is true, but for most of my remembering years, I’ve been a vegetarian.

But being vegetarian in Beijing Is. Not. Easy!

Most foods, especially those that are packed in small bits of deliciously fried or steamed dough (read: dumplings) look rather scrumptious. But even a discerning palate like my mom’s cannot often guarantee that the minced up food inside is meat-free. So I usually have to take a hard pass!

And many “vegetarian friendly” foods in local restaurants have chicken, fish, fish sauce, or mystery ingredients that I can not be sure are vegetarian.

Additionally, I’m what my mom calls, “a lousy vegetarian” because I don’t like tofu and mushrooms–two foods that are in many Chinese dishes that ARE vegetarian.

So what is a lousy vegetarian to do?


Here are my top tips for eating vegetarian food in Beijing:

  1. Eat out with a friend who speaks the language.
  2. Learn how to say, “Is there meat/fish/chicken/pork/beef/lamb/etc.” in this?
  3. Always keep snacks on hand. If you’re going out, be sure to be loaded up with healthy-ish food that IS vegetarian because you never know what you’re gonna get.

    Quick anecdote: During the New Teacher/Family Orientation Weeks there were MANY dinners out. On a number of occasions, my meal consisted of roasted potatoes and/or white rice with a HUGE helping of dessert. There were some beautiful looking vegetable dishes that were laden with chicken or mushrooms. Um… no!

  4.  Check the menu first. With the internet at your fingertips, you can often check the menu before you decide where to go. And with WeChat’s translation services, you can figure out what most food is. (Except for my mom’s cappuccino the other day. WeChat translated it to: Cow Curry Morphine. Which I guess it kind of is– milk. Hot. Caffeine.)

1wdgJchERUaCv6QzZyHbkw_thumb_22e.jpg

Anyway, here is some fascinating food we’ve found here in China:

by Anouk and blogSignOff

P.S. the carb heavy french fry and fried egg concoction tasted great!

eyes wide open

你好 (nǐ hǎo) is the Chinese translation for “hello.” Nǐ hǎo from Beijing.

I don’t know what I expected from Beijing, but I do know… it wasn’t this! The vast spaces of green are a pleasant surprise for someone who just spent the last 3 years in a beautiful (yet color barren) desert. And since we (temporarily) live in the 789 Art Zone, we are surrounded by craft work, graffiti, art installations, and a menagerie of art studios. Creativity abounds and every walk cum excursion leads down paths with new beauty.

Another thing that has surprised me about Beijing, is its order and systems. In a city of over 21 million people, I expected far more chaos than I’ve experienced. Everything seems to operate in an organized system: from pedestrian walkways to entering/exiting public transport, from shopping at the vegetable market to how food is delivered to your table–there is a system. The fresh fish at Carrefour are all barcoded for purchase, the metro station doors blink to give you a heads up as to which way to exit, and the cues at the vegetable market are long because trained staff gather the produce for you.

More to come soon… but for now, know we are well. We are happy. We are amazed by the school (we’ll write more about this later), and we are busy learning how to survive in this bustling city!

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sometimes you need ‘home’

The worst question you could ask my (or any) TCKs (Third Culture Kids) is ‘where are you from?’ For Xavier and Anouk, they are from everywhere and their ‘home’ is wherever the four of us are together. During the school year (at the present moment), ‘home’ is Muscat, Oman. For three weeks in the summer, ‘home’ is Geel, Belgium and for another three weeks, it’s Fremont, California. For Rob and I, ‘home’ is reserved for those places we spent our formative years and where our parents still reside. And though we wouldn’t give up our lifestyle for anything (except maybe our dream B&B (read: Bed & Brewery) in some fabulous small town in some distant land), sometimes we are desperate for our connection to ‘home.’

It was on one such day back in late February when Rob and I looked at each other and wondered, “What the hell have we done?” Like any move that has come before, this one has been hard, wonderful, challenging, and joyous all at the same time. Usually the sense of adventure and excitement supersedes any feelings of loss or regret. But first years can be hard. It’s not hard in the where-is-my-next-meal-coming-from hard but challenging in the: making new friends, setting up a new home and new job, cultural differences, and where the hell is the grocery store? hard. I would actually say, first years are exhausting! No, no… they suck!

But in late February, the feeling of fear, apprehension, and WTF have we done? came with a vengeance.

And then… I called my mom.

With a lump in my voice and tears streaming down my face I asked my mom, “Could you or dad please come to Oman?” After a tearfully honest conversation about how hard (yet also how easy) this transition has been, my mom said, “Let me call you back in a few hours.”

And 24-hours later, since my mom and dad couldn’t make the trip at this very moment, their representative was on her way to Oman. After rescheduling appointments and frantically packing her suitcase, our dearest friend and Anouk’s Godmother, Tricia, arrived at our home 8,500 miles away. And in the first moment with her– the deep and all-encompassing hug she gave each one of us made everything right again in the world.

For the short four days she was here we didn’t play tourist at all. She came and left Oman seeing nothing this beautiful country has to offer. But what she left in her wake was far more powerful. She filled our buckets to the rim with the love and joy we needed to get ourselves to the end of year 1. For the days she was here, we were in a loop of: talking, drinking, crying, laughing, hugging, glamorizing, eating, walking on the beach, and playing games. This loop was on repeat up until the very moment we needed to hightail it to the airport.

40 days later, my heart is still full.

I’ll say it again… though we wouldn’t give up this opportunity for the world, sometimes you just really, really, really need ‘home.’ And thank goodness to our army of loved ones–this time, ‘home’ came to us.

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a week in Oman

Today marks the first whole week we’ve been in Muscat, Oman. The flights from Amsterdam – Abu Dhabi – Muscat were easy peasy though Rob’s beard caused some issues and required extra security checks (sigh).

Within 24 hours of arrival in the country, our shipment arrived and a crew of hot and sweaty men emptied the container, delivered everything to our 3rd floor apartment, and unpacked hundreds of boxes (did we really have that much stuff?!) Within a week, we had everything put away in it’s new home (where did I put the coffee again?!?!) and are just trying to figure out where to place all of our artwork.

This week has been a whirlwind of businessy stuff. Rob completed medical checks, received his resident card, and participated in a boat load of orientation work. The kids and I continued to get things settled and made friends with the neighbor kids (who just moved here from China). At night, we explored the city’s vast malls as we stocked our fridge and pantry with necessities.

Each adventure out of the house has been an exercise in patience. Our waze GPS has been helpful but when she urges us to turn right, we’re not sure which right she’s referring to as intersections include a menagerie of right turns, most of which lead you on to some expressway or on to the wrong side of a concrete divide. We’ve definitely spent more time going in the wrong direction than in the right one!

New staff orientation visits have included drinks (read: beer!) at the American Club, a traditionally lavish meal at Kargeen, and our Australian buddy, Peter, inviting us to visit the fish souk early Saturday morning.

The fish souk near the port in Mutrah (about 15 minutes from our house) is a real working market. Though smaller than I had imagined, it gave me a real insight in to the size of Muscat (small) and the Omani people (friendly!). The vast amount of fish (tuna, squid, shrimp, shark, lobster, mackerels, and sardines) was impressive, but the genuineness of the place was unmatched. We tromped through salt water strewn floors and negotiated our purchase with Omani men perched on small benches (the occasional cat eating a small fish at their feet). For 1+ kg of tuna and 1 kg of shrimp, we walked out having spent just under $20 with the idea of dinner quickly taking form in our mind.

Just a few kilometers down the road, we were enjoying fabulous views of beaches, forts, and mountains all while trying to add as many locations to our GPS as places we have to get back to!

Can’t wait to see what fun week #2 brings!

reading response

MayBird
image from Goodreads

May Bird Among the Stars book #2 written by Jodi Lynn Anderson

This is my first time blogging a reading response so forgive spelling mistakes
 
May Bird is the main character who in book one gets sucked in to a swamp by her house. Luckily her cat somber kitty got sucked in with her. May Bird, Sombre kitty, a ghost named Beatrice, a spirit called pumpkin and ghost captain Fabbio try to travel to a mysterious lady who will grant there all there wishes.
 
This book is thrilling and very detailed, though you should read book #1 first or you’ll end up really lost. I would recommend this book to advanced readers, probably  grades 6+ this book was actually recommended to me by ms. Jacobs.  
 
I would recommend this book to…
 
-Peter. N, not the best writer but he is a deep thinker and he likes detailed writing I think he would really like May Bird.
 
-Baya. J, she is very advanced reader and she does enjoy suspense, this is a great book for her.
 
I would not recommend this book to…
 
-Xavier. L, he is not the kid for reading fantasy accept for how to train your dragon.
 
-Joel. W, I don’t know much about Joel, but i know he takes things a bit to literally sometimes so when he reads this book he would probably be disappointed at the little amount of realism there was.