Friday, July 17, 2009

Cross-Continental Tootsie Rolls

Elizabeth and Anna Reilly are two of Julie and Z's new best friends, thanks to a year of living in Beijing together. There were all of those xiao che rides to and from BISS together. And there were plenty of times when our two families got together for dinner and fun times.

For Elizabeth and Anna, their China adventure finished up a month ago, when they headed back to the States for a family wedding. Luckily for us, Judy (Elizabeth and Anna's mom) had a quick return trip to Beijing in the works. I say "luckily" because Judy sent us an e-mail from Boston, asking us if there was anything we wanted her to bring along.

For Desi and Julie, the answer was a definite "yes!" The call went out for Judy to get some detangler and hot oil treatment. Yes, the girls had hair on their minds!

As for Z, it was snacks, like microwave popcorn. "Wait," you may be asking, "Can't you get microwave popcorn in China?" The answer is, "Of course you can!" But, according to Z, our resident aficionado, it's just not as good as the stuff you buy in the US.

Fast forward to the other night. There were, sitting at dinner in our neighborhood with Judy. Not only did the hair products and snacks come out, but Judy also revealed an already-opened bag of Tootsie Rolls. It seems that Elizabeth and Anna got their fingers into the bag before it ever left Boston. This enabled Julie and Z to share in the snacking by eating right out of the same bag their friends had used just days before on the other side of the world.

Talk about the world becoming a smaller and smaller place!

~Steve

Thursday, July 16, 2009

So, Why Don't Parasites Usually Kill Their Host?

On our return from Xi'an in May, I felt some rumbling on the airplane. Not only were the engines firing, but so too my intestines. After eleven days of Mao's revenge, I broke down and went for some medical assistance. Venturing to CBD's Kerry Center to visit the Vista Clinic (an international "boutique" clinic that caters to Westerners, as is evidenced by their high level of service and matching prices, but certainly not without Chinese characteristics), I was deemed "without infection" and given a few meds to get my digestive system back on track.

So why am I writing about this in July? After waiting for several weeks for my system to get back on track, but still not feeling quite right, I decided to do a little research on my condition on my own. While Google should certainly never be used as "Dr. Google," it did serve as a research engine for possibilities.

Armed with my theories, I ventured back to Vista this week. My guess is that I have been harboring an intestinal parasite common to China and some other countries known as Giardia. While I'll probably never know if this was definitely my affliction, as they hang out in the small intestine and are difficult to detect in a Chinese medical lab, I agreed with the doctor that a nice blast of antibiotics and some anti-spasm tablets might be in order.

As a result, things seem to be "moving" in the right direction. I think a nice hearty two gram dose of Tinidazole was the key. And while this setback definitely slowed me down a bit over the last few weeks, it provided me with two great lesson plan ideas for next year's bio kids. The topics "parasitism" and "antibiotic use" will have a great case study to make them a whole lot more interesting!

~Desi

PS: Parasites don't usually kill their host because then they'd die too! Best to weaken your host and chow down for a long, long time.

Mama And Kuaile

This afternoon, Z and I had the chance to complete the job I had started a few weeks ago, by actually recording the English learning books I had edited.

I truly felt gratified to see, and read aloud, the changes I had made for future English speakers. A particular triumph was viewing, in print, the new and improved phrase, "Watch your head," beautifully replacing the Queen's English, "Mind your head."

As we made our way through the two, two hundred-ish page books, both Z and I caught and corrected a few lingering errors (although a few did slip past us in real time). Perhaps the funniest of these was when we got the page where Kuaile (the young son depicted in these dialogues and portrayed by Z) had fallen off his bike. "I hurt my a**," was the statement that remained. "Uhh...Wo you yi ge wenti!" Z blared into the microphone. When the woman in charge of monitoring the recording came into the room, both Z and I (trying to hold back our giggles) explained to her that this was an inappropriate phrase for children (the target of these books) to say. We also offered two alternatives..."Rear end" being the more formal choice and "bottom" the less formal and ultimate choice of our laoban.

Having experienced Chinese language learning through CDs and podcasts (and always wondering what the people on Pimsleur and ChinesePod who record the dialogues look like), I can't help but wonder what those kids' minds will be thinking when their little ears hear...

Lesson 85: I Have to Poo

Kuaile: I have to poo.

Mama: I have to poop too.

Mama: Hurry up, I can't wait.

Kauile: OK. I'll hurry.

Well, at least we got rid of that "other" phrase. The threat of Chinese children running around saying, "I have to take a"...well, you know...has been diverted.

All in all, both Z and I feel great about our contribution to English language learning in China. And the extra four hundred kuai in each of our pockets, for three hours of work, feel pretty good too.

~Desi

It Took Three Young Chinese Girls

At some point, probably many months after we moved to Beijing, I noticed this rickety bus snaking its way through the narrow streets of Saoziying. This little bus intrigued me, not only because it struck me as an improbable means of travel through crowded streets that are not much more than alleyways, but also because it was not clear to any of us just what purpose this bus serves. Who rides this bus? Are they workers using it to get to and from their jobs? Or is it something altogether different and unexpected?

Fast forward to this summer. One of the big holes in Julie's "resume" has been a lack of friends who are Chinese. Sure, Julie has spent a lot of time with girls from Italy, Nepal, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, and the United States. But making Chinese friends? That has proven to be, to say the least, difficult. You see, Chinese kids are essentially "learning machines." They go to school all day, and then study all night. As for the weekends, there are more classes and enrichment activities to attend to. It has struck us as remarkable the lack of any visible presence of children between the ages of five and seventeen in the neighborhoods of China.

Then, a week or two ago, school let out for the summer. Without warning, there they finally were, the missing generation of China's population. Many of these boys and girls stared at us as we walked through the neighborhood, like we had just arrived or something. And then it struck us. When we settled in last year, these kids were heading back to school. A year of their lives have since gone by, and they didn't even know there have been waiguoren living right in their midst. On one level, this is easy to understand. There are no questions about the Balla family on the gao kao (the national examination that determines children's academic futures), so why should they pay any attention to us? On another level, though, this is surely an opportunity missed, the chance to spend good quality time with peers from a foreign country. Why spend all of that time reading about America, when you can experience life through the eyes of an actual American?

But enough of that. Back to the bus. Over the past few weeks, Julie has become friends with a trio of Chinese girls. Every morning, these girls ring our doorbell. If Julie is working on her lessons, she doesn't answer the call, knowing it would be too difficult to explain the foreign concept of home schooling across the language barrier. Such nonresponsiveness, though, does not deter these girls, who are bent on making the most of their limited vacation time. They simply walk around to the other side of our building, stand below the balcony, and scream Julie's Chinese name out, over and over again, “白依柔!白依柔!” Just this morning, we noticed that the girls had written a note to Julie, in chalk, telling her they will come back later to look for her.

One of the girls' priorities has been to take Julie to the mall. (Some things, like shopping, are universal, aren't they!?) They told Julie that her parents were welcome to come along. (Now that kind of attitude is certainly not universal!) They also told Julie that they would take her on the free, local bus. There it is! The answer to the riddle I have been puzzling over for months! Yes, the bus operates out of the mall, rumbling through local neighborhoods in search of potential customers. Who knew?

With this little mystery solved, I only wonder how many other inscrutable features of local life would have been exposed had the children of Yan Bei Yuan been out and about all year long. As is usually the case, there are these barriers that, for some reason, naturally exist between Desi and I and the adults of our community. It is through our children that oftentimes these barriers are broken down. Sure, finding out just where a rickety little bus goes is not going to bring about better relations between China and the United States. But this episode, I think, reveals how hard it can be to forge the kinds of cross-cultural relationships that can lead us to lives of mutual understanding.

~Steve