The New Normal

I know it’s been a long time since I told you about our adventures but honestly, what was the point? YOU were experiencing lockdowns of epic proportions. I doubt you wanted to hear about my new normal as you were living through your own chaos. But as we’ve turned a real corner in our lives, I just have to share.

Since January 23rd, our normal has been changing everyday. Once Wuhan was locked down, things started to change in Beijing. Here’s just a snapshot (in somewhat chronological order):

  • school activities cancelled just before Chinese New Year/Spring Festival
  • mandatory face-masks for everyone out in public or in a public space
  • employees who served the public wearing gloves and face masks (occasionally wearing face guards and/or hazmat suits)
  • plenty of food and toilet paper
  • during our holiday break we were informed that online school would commence
  • gyms, pools, public parks closed
  • streets/communities/residential areas fortressed
  • mandatory temp. checks to enter any building or gated area
  • forms filled out (read: tracking for possible contract tracing)
  • delivery guidelines (i.e. the temp. of your food preparer being attached to your packages or packages dropped off at centralized locations, no home delivery unless you are in mandatory quarantine, etc.)
  • 1m spacing marked at grocery stores/retail chains
  • plastic sheeting between the driver and passengers in taxis
  • some restaurants offered only to-go services
  • app tracking and/or verification of movement
  • residential areas closed to non-residents
  • security teams/volunteers set up outside every fortressed residential area/street to monitor residence cards, temperature checks, etc.
  • still plenty of food and toilet paper
  • 14-day in home quarantine for returnees (with delivery services, video monitoring, trash collection, etc. set up by your residential community group)
  • travelers in the vicinity of someone who tested positive immediately quarantined in hotels (paid for by government)
  • no more in home quarantine, 14-day hotel quarantine mandatory for all air-travelers, children under 12 with mother, all other family members in their own individual room (paid for by individuals)
  • my hair has gone grey… not by choice but by circumstance
  • and there is still an abundance of toilet paper

You get my drift, right? Things were changing on a weekly or daily basis but things were serious right out of the gates. The problem was, things were changing at such a rapid pace, it was hard to keep up. Even a restaurant that my “Brew Crew” returned to week after week through this pandemic changed their protocols regularly. In late January, after having our fevers checked and data recorded, 8 of us were sitting, drinking, eating, and laughing together. Two weeks after that, our group dwindled to 6 and we were only allowed to sit in couples, each table 1 meter apart (which made for some interesting food-sharing). And the last time we were there, 4 weeks ago, the 6 of us had to sit at 4 tables (hence the panoramic shot I tried to take).

But things are on the upswing here. Spring has sprung new life in to my temporary home. Wuhan is open, flowers are blooming, and 12th graders have been allowed to return to school in our province. Unfortunately this is a rather moot point as seniors are technically done with school, but returning to get their graduation jackets, take their awe-inspiring Great Wall photo, and just seeing each other (if from a meter away) is so good for everyone’s emotional well-being.

Though I wasn’t one of the 200+ staff and teachers that got the COVID-19 tests and were allowed back at school (because I don’t teach grade 12 students), this is the report that I pieced together from Rob and other lucky ones:

There are a lot of security/health measures in place. It’s not the same old WAB, but everyone is trying their best to show WAB spirit- Gong he! Marta [the Superintendent] and Melanie [the HS Principal] greeted the students and staff from live-streamed TVs near the entrances. They were beaming from ear-to-ear. I’m sure everyone else was too, but you couldn’t tell ’cause we were all wearing masks. Overall, everyone seemed happy to see one another but there is a thread of sadness too. Not everyone gets to be together and this isn’t the senior year they were hoping for. But we have to be grateful that they are healthy and together… ish. I bet things will be different when the 8th graders come back in a few weeks. But at least it gets us out of the house, out of a rut, and planning for the future. Now we have to reflect on what the future of education looks like because I think this is our “new normal.”

I certainly don’t have a crystal ball to envision our future, but I can surmise that the future looks different. Until we have a vaccine, I think life will take place behind a shield. Whether a mask, gloves, face guard, or app tracing, we will all be more mindful of one another’s personal space. I also think, and I’m not a doctor, so I’m just guessing here, quarantines and shutdowns will be part of the norm.

That said, I don’t see our future as sad or dire. We have learned so much. We connect with friends and family in different ways. We make an effort to smile with our eyes and be grateful to be alive. We have learned to appreciate the small things in life like taking a walk, (literally) smelling the roses, thanking others, playing a game, and the art of cooking. There have been bad times and it hasn’t been easy. But we are so much more resilient now.

Beijing Burrito

There are so many things we’ve learned in the 4 months we’ve lived here in Beijing. But the education we’ve received about Chinese traditions and Beijingers is intensified as we explore our neighborhood–a slightly gentrified area called He Ge Zhuang Village. Here’s a little taste… but I’ll explain more in a future post.

The one thing that is absolutely fabulous about living in the village is the great ease at which one can support the local economy. Food stalls, street vendors, restaurants, and shops abound. From permanent fixtures to stalls on bike or moped, there is a glowing sense of entrepreneurship around every corner.

The village’s original food truck is a moderately wind-proof kitchen on the back of an electric tricycle or small truck. The couple who cook at one close to our house work steadily to craft some sort of delicious smelling pancakey concoction. On our regular dog walks or bi-weekly visits to the green grocer, we would pass the food truck and walk by obnoxiously slow in an effort to peek in the windows. Alas, the steam that permeated the “kitchen” never allowed me to see get a clear view.

But one night, while walking with my new friend (and village tour guide), Merle, I got first-hand mentoring about all the fabulous delicacies that can be found in the most unassuming of locales. With her support, I stopped by the food truck and purchased one to take home to my hungry clan.

The masterpiece, made by our local chef (whose name I will learn one day), is a beautiful creation which begins with a thin crepe and an egg cracked, scrambled, and cooked as a thin layer on the crepe. Once flipped, the paper thin pancake is filled with a menagerie of goodies: black sesame seeds, hot sauce and/or a homemade hoisin sauce, cilantro, lettuce, onions, chopped mustard pickles, and a crispy cracker.

It is called a Jianbing and it is amazing! Though it’s very popular in our village as a dinner food, it is China’s most famous Chinese breakfast.

The infamous Beijing Burrito is so popular, young artists are making jianbing t-shirts, paintings, and these fabulous earrings.

I don’t know when you are planning to come and visit. But when you do… we’re not letting you leave without enjoying our beloved Beijing Burrito!

a book for christina

We had a great summer holiday in the USA and I was going to hit the ground running in Belgium and start blogging about our trip to California. But when we walked in to the Bomma and Bompa’s house, my phone *dinged* with a message about the passing of my friend, former  colleague, and Xavier’s 3rd grade teacher, Christina Hutterer.

Between cleaning up the kids vomit (they caught Roman and Katya’s tummy bug and it reared it’s ugly head at 37,000 feet) and drugging away their headaches and fever, I tried to console my grief. I added every one of my Indonesian friends to a big group list where I asked people to share their favorite memories of her. This “work” began to quench the despair I was feeling.

When I woke up on Day 2 in Belgium, I thought… I have to do something with these beautiful memories. I have got to share this with her parents. So I grabbed my Mac and consolidated the messages and photos in to a book.

What you see below is a slideshow video of that book. Before I print the book for her family, please look through the pages (I had to embed it as a video, so you might have to pause to read your comments). I had to make some changes for spelling and space but I think that your thoughts have been captured appropriately. If not, please contact me.

It’s beginning to FEEL a lot like Christmas…

It certainly doesn’t look like Christmas here in Indonesia. Between the shorts, flip flops, humid-laced rainstorms, and lack of houses clad in twinkle lights it doesn’t really look like jolly ole Saint Nick is on his way. But for a few random moments sprinkled throughout the month of December it begins to at least feel a little more like Christmas.
Christmas started early this year. In mid-November, when I returned to Indonesia from a whirl-wind trip to California to boost the spirits of my sick Nama, the crew of house D-2 taunted me to stay awake through jetlag by decorating. Instead of sleeping the day away, Rob turned up the Bing Crosby and lit cinnamon-scented candles as the kids outfitted our Kuwaiti pine with years of memories and stories (in ornament form). By 8pm, our Indonesian abode looked a lot more like Christmas and we were ready for the some hot apple cider and mulled wine .
On Thanksgiving evening, Bomma arrived from Belgium with an extra suitcase filled to the brim with cold weather clothing. Rob and Anouk greeted her at the airport with loads of hugs and kisses while Angela and Xavier made an appearance at Mr. Jones’ annual  turkey feast. The mashed potatoes and tryptophan were enhanced by the multi-culturalness of the evening. Our plates were laden with the basic turkey-day fixing as well as somosas, sushi, and BBQ drumsticks. It still didn’t quite feel like Christmas.
The gauge turned more to jolly as the heavens opened up and the rainy season began with a vengeance. During a lunch break in the staff room, Catherine, a new teacher, stopped her story mid-stride and gaped wide-mouth at the intense rainstorm that saturated our surroundings.
But it began to feel a little more like Christmas when our children dressed up in their patterened batik and took to the stage in their annual holiday concert. Anouk presented and sang a song about Japan while Xavier and his classmates played their recorders accompanied by Beethoven’s Fuer Elise. At the end of both concerts, the kids stood up and sang two rousing renditions of We Wish You A Merry Christmas and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
Then came baking day and the mood certainly felt a lot more like Christmas. Channeling the Betty Crocker-like baking skills of my Nama, the grade 2 and grade 4 teaching teams collaborated to bake our various family’s classic holiday treats. From cereal wreaths to fudge, thumbprints to shortbread, we were baking mavens and the house was full of Christmas cheer.
Now, we look ahead to an amazing week of Christmas carols at the Koi pond, reflective learning engagements that challenge our student’s wants for Christmas vs. their needs for Christmas, holiday assesmblies, and Christmas parties. By Friday afternoon, we’ll be looking forward to our journey to Japan where we will spend Christmas with Cathy, David, Amy, and Randy (some of our dearest friends from our ancient life in Kenya). It is certainly beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
Now, we look ahead to an amazing week of Christmas carols at the Koi pond, reflective learning engagements that challenge our student’s wants for Christmas vs. their needs for Christmas, holiday assesmblies, and Christmas parties. By Friday afternoon, we’ll be looking forward to our journey to Japan where we will spend Christmas with Cathy, David, Amy, and Randy (some of our dearest friends from our ancient life in Kenya). It is certainly beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Learning Rocks!

My kids love to show off what they learn. Today’s session is very reminiscent of the Dr. X days. Check out the fun Anouk and Rob had creating a video for her class. Her video answers her independent inquiry project: How do plants survive in the desert?

And if you’re in the need of a Dr. X fix…

Here’s to a great week of learning ahead!

A Haunted Halloween

As our last year in Indonesia unfolds before us, we are all taking time to savor each event with the friends and colleagues we’ve made here. This year’s Halloween celebration was just that. From creating creative (and sometimes reused) Halloween costumes to carving pumpkins and trick-or-treating with our school friends and teacher kids, we had a great, though slightly ghoulish Halloween.

This year, the girls of the Langlands family garnered creativity for their costumes in great elementary literature. Mama dressed up as Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus series while Anouk was Thing #1 from a variety of Dr. Seuss books. The boys opted for a tougher/rougher edge and clad themselves as rockers with dark nail polish, fake tattoos, and heavy metal t-shirts–they had a rockin’ good time!

The tradition at SIS is that during our morning homeroom period, the elementary students parade through the school halls and show off their costumes while Halloween music is pumped through the PA airwaves. The bigger students (and parents) cheer, take pictures, and support the wee ones as they march through the halls all clad as superheros, princesses, and cowboys.

After the parade, students enjoy small classroom parties and a day of Halloween-themed learning activities. Since Halloween is not really a holiday in Indonesia, teachers at SIS have had to organize a trick-or-treating activity for the kids. So… after school, the assistants guide students on a walk to teacher housing where teachers pass out candy during a guided trick-or-treating activity. This year’s stash of candy included lollipops, full-sized snickers, seaweed, and Capri-Sun. It was remarkable to see how excited the kids were about, of all things, THE SEAWEED! We are certainly living in Asia.

Any chocolates poured out from the treat bag were immediately stuffed into the fridge in an attempt to retain their shape (damn heat). The kids asked for squid ink pasta and orange pasta sauce for dinner (in keeping with a ghoulish theme) and the teacher housing street was lit up by 6:30 pm with teacher kids roaming door-to-door on a quest for a few homemade treats (my neighbors are GREAT bakers).

It was a great day and we teachers will probably spend the next week recovering as our students try to hide candy in their lunch boxes for a midday treat. All in all it was a great way to celebrate our last Halloween in Indonesia.

Enjoy the photos.

Childhood memories relived

Growing up on Greenwood Drive was super fun. With the safety of my grandparents across the street, summers were amazing. Dominic and I would wake up, mount our bikes, and join our friends for a variety of adventures up and down the street. We had two summer rules while I was growing up:

  1. Don’t come home until the street lights go on.
  2. No one in the pool unless a grown-up is watching.

How things have changed for our kids! Since their birth, Xavier and Anouk have grown up behind gates. In Nairobi, we lived behind a gorgeous bouganvilla-clad gate guarded by Gideon and Andrew (part of the Factory Guards Security System our school employed). During our 3 year stint in California, the kids grew up in the safety of “Grandpa’s Garden” where the fortress of the “manor house” kept our wee ones safe. In Kuwait, our apartment complex was behind an abnoxiously loud metallic gate that kept out little more than the wayward stray cat (it certainly did not keep out the dust and desperation). Now in Indonesia, we’ve spent the last 2 years in a gated residential area behind a 2nd gate which (quite unfortunately) separated us from our Indonesian neighbors.

Because of all the gates, the opportunities our kids have had to play with the type of freedom I grew up with has been extremely stunted,

But all that changed this year with our move to “teacher housing.” Our new house is located amongst a dozen or so teacher-houses just 500 meters from our school. The neighborhood is full of kids and while spending 4 days unpacking, hanging up art, and moving in… we didn’t see our kids from breakfast until dinner time (with the exception of a few unscheduled snack stops). It’s been wonderful to see the kids return home, dirty from top to bottom.

Rob and I woke up late one Saturday morning. The kids (and dog) are watching cartoons because they weren’t allowed to play outside until 8:00 am.

…As our first month back has come to an end, nothing much has changed here at “teacher housing.” The kids have a menagerie of friends to play with, do homework with, and get up to no good with. It will be a great year!

Another one bites the dust!

As another summer comes to a close, I sit back doctoring a luscious cocktail and reminisce a holiday full of laughter, sorrow, and adventure! We started our trip around the world with a jaunt to Australia which I already wrote about in a blog titled, “Amazing Australia!

When we got to America, we hit the ground running with countless parties and family get-togethers. From family BBQs to tea parties, 40th wedding anniversaries to 90th birthday parties–we spent a great deal of quality time with our immediate family. We made our first (and quite possibly our last) trip to Mesa, Arizona for my Uncle Len’s memorial service. We hung out with our favorite wee one, Katya; bought a half-dozen hens and collected eggs daily; We enjoyed hours of gab as well as delectable street food with Tricia; caught up with my favorite NDers: Meri, Dian, and Teresa;  And enjoyed a week of quality time (and roller coaster-ing) at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in honor of my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. After 4 weeks, we were exhausted. No wonder we crumpled into our flat-cocoon seats on our flight to Belgium and fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.

In Belgium, things settled down a bit. Our visit here included a trip to the Olympics in London which shocked us immensely. From the moment we stepped off of the airplane, London-2012 was everywhere. And despite the number of Londoners who evacuated the commotion, people came out in droves to attend all the events we wanted to see–the Olympic torch on the barge arriving at tower bridge, the opening ceremonies at Hyde Park, and the England v. U.A.E. game at Wembly stadium.

We also had a great time on some short local trips. In Antwerp we enjoyed a great day out to the Saturday Immigrants market where we could stock up on great fruits, veggies, breads, and olives! We always end our Antwerp shopping day with lunch at our favorite Lebanese restaurant.

A fun first for our family was a trip to the gorgeous city of Durbuy. It is known as the smallest town on Earth but I think it should be more famous as the most beautiful town. It is the quintessential little European town and it was perfect! The only challenge for me was all the French being spoken. I DO NOT SPEAK FRENCH!!! Next year, we’ll return for a weekend away where we will also include a kayaking trip down the Ourthe River in the Ardennes

Rob and I escaped Belgium for a mini-break to Holland. The peaceful train journey did not prepare us for the amazing chaos that greeted us in Amsterdam. What a crazy city and not at all what I expected. The weather was rainy and grey, the tourists were everywhere, the canals were filthy, the lines to get in to see any artwork were exhaustively long, but the architecture (and stories about the homes) was enthralling. Rob was secretly happy that he beat my dad’s record of 60 minutes in the Van Gogh Museum where we learned about the hidden works of art that lie beneath some of the most brilliant paintings. Magical.

Our summer ended with a surprise visit to see the flower carpet on the Grand-Place in Brussels (something I’ve wanted to see for years!) They only create the carpet once every 2 years and it usually is only available for 2 days, but this year’s African-inspired carpet will be on display for a record 5 days (despite the remarkable heat). It was something I’ve been eager to do for a long, long time and my schatje surprised me. I am happy now, especially after my Rodenbach and mussels met frites.

And as I put the finishing touches on our allotment of only 4 suitcases (at 20 kg. each), I think back on our wonderful holiday. The kids have taken care of chickens, picked plums, carrots, lettuce, and potatoes, played with a million Legos, and have ridden their bikes in every location. Rob has enjoyed his tour of home through his documentation of the beers he’s drunk, and I’ve had a great time reconnecting with our loved ones…especially those who just announced that they are having babies! It has been fun, but it’s really nice to get back to our own reality: our new house, our own things, and our little puppy!

When all is said and done, we have racked up an astonishing 53,087 mi. (88,594 km.).  And to think, the actual circumfrance of the Earth is 24,902 mi. (40,076 km.). Here is the geeky recap: Surabaya, Indonesia — Bali, Indonesia — Melbourne, Australia — Sydney, Australia — Los Angeles, California, USA — San Francisco, California, USA — Mesa, Arizona, USA — Oakland, CA, USA  — New York, New York, USA, — Brussels, Belgium — London, England — Brussels, Belgium — Amsterdam, Netherlands — Antwerp, Belgium — Frankfurt, Germany — Singapore, Singapore — Surabaya, Indonesia.

I wonder what next summer will bring… 

Now. A quick jaunt in Rob’s MG before we go!