Wednesday, October 22, 2008 ;
The stark side-by-side contrast
I remember the first time we were heading for the kids' school, we thought the cabbie brought us the wrong way. Cos he was travelling down a bumpy dirt road that seemed to lead to a more and more rural area.
However, the school was really there. It was a modern campus beside the slums. There was also a golf course there, obviously for the rich. And an international housing development, because I saw many nations' flags hanging alongside the wide, long paved road. There were most of the European flags, USA flag, and wealthier South-east Asian flags. Spore's flag was there too.
Another occasion, the cabbie on that day informed me that the 3.5 storey bungalows there are very very expensive (of course I can tell) and that right now, many of the Airbus employees are housed there. More will be coming.
I did see a lot of billboards advertising Airbus' latest fleet. Initially I didn't know Airbus' Chinese name, 空客, so when the cabbie was telling me about it, I didn't seem like I knew about it, and he said, "so famous, such a big company, how come you don't know?". After he pointed out the billboard, which has both the CHinese and English names on it, then I realised it was Airbus he was referring to. The local Tianjin accent is quite difficult to catch at times too.
That is another reason why I am keeping my ayi because her accent is more like the Beijing one, which I can understand well and which I want the kids to model after.
Anyway, about the big divide between poverty and riches, here are some pics.
Below shows the Meijiang South area. A lot more greenery than the rest of the city, better-planned developments, not congested. The roads are wider and have less traffic jams too. We chose this area to live in because it looked cleaner, and it is near the school. We didn't expect to suddenly become one of the "wealthier" people around. It is totally new to me, this status.
Oh, in case you think, what a terrible photo this is, so blur, and unattractive... It can't be helped. Tianjin's skies are grey most of the year. Now that is is Fall, it's worse, there is a fog almost everyday. The air smells burnt and when I inhale, I can physically feel dust particles entering my nose, they are that big.
Below shows the area where I live in. The teachers of the school live in this estate called Lake Park and it faces the lake. That area is very pretty. A lot of high rise condos are being built there, as well as villas.
The teachers in school live in 3.5 storey villas. If you count the split levels, there are 5 levels. Even for single teachers, they are given one villa as accomodation. The financial package offered by the school is very attractive. If not, how else to attract and uproot good teachers from their home countries, and get them to come here?
I was telling my colleagues back home to apply for international schools abroad. Not only is the package better, but you get a more global outlook, make friends from many other countries, get to teach students of different nationalities (very interesting to teach), and get to travel during school holidays very cheaply.
Furthermore these teachers tend to get sent to conferences and workshops at many different countries, since international school conferences are all over the world.
I have one such close friend who taught at Shanghai Intl School and loved her experience. She has travelled and backpacked all over China already. She got involved in volunteer and community work as well, and got to plan the IB Biology curriculum for the school, how challenging and satisfying.
Most of the teachers here have been in Intl Schools in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Columbia, Venezuela etc. I think it would be cool to travel and experience all the different cultures! The teachers said they prefer to choose intl schools in less developed countries. This is because the standard of living is lower and it is very cheap to live there, hence they can save up a huge chunk of their pay and use it to live it up and travel extensively.
Not a bad idea at all. Some of the teachers have grown kids already, so this is their 2nd career, like ds1's teacher. So maybe, when my kids are grown, I could do this together with Dh, it'll be very fun, I think.
Even more condos being built as this area is being developed as a high-class residential area.
I took these series of pics on the school bus, when I followed the kids to school one day.
Our place is just 10-15 min away from the school, and we'll pass this long river. A lot of people like to fish there, as shown below.
All along the way to the school, this is what we see, after we cross the river.
Many people sell their produce or wares on the road, some on carts pulled by donkeys. I was so surprised to see all the donkeys the first time.
And there are various kinds of vehicles here, very interesting shapes and sizes.
rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow
Misc daily events
1. Bought the kids a tub of Lego-like bricks. But it's the ultra-cheap China-made brand. There were more than 200 bricks in a tub, but at a super low price, so we thought it might be good value. True enough, the kids played with them almost everyday till now.
I think it doesn't have lead paint, hopefully they don't find out something else that's toxic in China-made stuff!
ds1 used Dh's Black and Decker cordless drill chargers as part of his brick-play. Wonder if that could be a possible hazard? Or would he spoil tha charger? Dh's mostly not at home the whole day, so he doesn't know about it.
2. I mentioned my North Korean ayi before. I have requested her to teach me a few Korean dishes whenever there is not much housework to be done. This is the first dish.
She normally suggests kid-friendly dishes, so this is the korean egg roll.
Ingredients include Mexican green pepper (a little spicy and very fragrant), carrot, onion all chopped up within the egg. Basically, if you want more ingredients, you can do it.
It's kind of like an omelette but the skill involved during the rolling is important. When she did it, it looked very easy, just throw the beaten egg into the frying pan and use a spoon and ladle to slowly roll the egg up as it cooks.
She seemed to have 4 arms (haha, Ben 10 alien). She could handle the spoon and ladle, each in one hand, and then also turn the fire up or down when needed, and also use the spoon to constantly scrape uncooked egg away from the rolled part, to make sure the layers are even. Otherwise, the roll will be lumpy, and when cut into sushi-like segments, will look ugly.
Anyway, it looks just like a humble egg dish, but it is oh so yummy and oh so fragrant.
I have since made it 3 more times myself, for a guest from USA too, and for our own family. Dh and the guest loved it. Our sons, hmmm, they don't like the slightly spicy pepper.
3. My kind neighbors... ahh, what to do without them.
Both H and N go all out of their way to help me.
Dh had to go to Mudanjiang and Beijing for a couple of days (business trip). Both neighbors were very concerned for me and kids.
N actually got her ayi to prepare 3 bento sets for me, complete with a cup of Szechuan veggie soup. She said it was cos Dh is not around, and I probably want to spend time with the kids, so I should not bother to cook. That was on Sat night. Look how nicely her ayi packed the home-cooked food.
H will top up my phone card for me, bring me grocery shopping, even cook pork porridge for me when I was very tired.13 Sep
11am - 2pm
Matt's birthday party
Dh had to work, so I brought kids only. N chided me as she had prepared a lot of extra food for the adults. haha. She said I have to bring Dh and I didn't.
The kids started out coloring and upon completion they will get their goodie bag, and a bracelet of a certain color. That color determines their grouping for games later on.
After that, there was a screening of Diego's DVD, then a real live Diego performed magic tricks for all the kids.
After magic tricks, there were a few party games, whereby all kids could get prizes. The kids' goodie bags were becoming very full. They had so many lollies and little figurines and toys.
Then the kids were blindfolded in turn and had a chance to pin the tail on the donkey. The butt of the donkey reminded me of Target stores' logo. Maybe she bought it there.
Then there was lunch. Adults had catered Bento sets and one cup of homemade corn and chicken soup. Kids had McDonalds sets with corn chips.
Then there was outdoor games. N had such an elaborate set up. There were these vehicles around and ds2 enjoyed the vehicles a lot.
Then they gave out animal masks. Ds2 got a hornbill (?) one. Ds1 got an elephant one.
Then the kids are asked to wear their masks and go treasure hunting using a knapsack. Most of the kids tore off their masks to facilitate faster collection of goodies later on. haha.
ds1 collected far fewer knick knacks and candy, because he looks at places that are far too complicated. The candy and presents are strewn all over the whole field of grass, and openly placed on rocks and so on. The earnest boy went looking above in the tree branches, under rocks and in far corners. ds2 got more than him, in fact. Fortunately the generous ds2 shared half his loot with the older brother, and ds1 was not very forlorn over his failed mission. He actually found only 1 item.
Then there was a vehicle race where the groups pitted themselves against each other. 2 kids in one vehicle.
And what birthday party would be complete without the popular pinata. Since this is a Diego-themed party, poor little Diego was the one being whacked.
Below shows ds2's turn.
And ds1's turn. Naturally ds1 did much better at smashing the thing, cos he's taller and has a stronger swing. I like the series of pics I took of him, cos his expression is priceless. Even when it was ds2's turn, he was shouting away, cheering him on. When it was his friends' turn, he was jumping and screaming for them to get Diego too.
A sack race ensued after Diego fell and tons of sweets fell onto the ground. As usual, both ds are more engrossed and interested in the playing and hitting of the pinata, so they didn't pick any of the candy up. I'm happy about that of course, since their teeth had so much work done on them already.
ds1 doesn't look like himself in the pic, cos his hair is flying about, with him so intent on hopping quickly. He fell a couple of times but he got up and continued. His competitor is the Japanese-Italian-German mixed boy M. He's very good-looking and I find it so adorable and interesting to hear him speak in rapid-fire Japanese. He looks totally European but speaks in Japanese, so it is very fascinating to watch and listen.
He's very mischievous though. But both my sons are like that too, so I'm used to it. When I am on the school bus or anywhere near him, he'll want to hit my head, punch my butt or grab my arm, just to give me a scare. It's very sudden, so I have been surprised a couple of times already, but I'll just play along. He is very good at sports and is such a good wrestler that everytime ds1 and him "fights", ds1 always gets much more injuries.
The other day he just came back from school with muddy footprint marks all over his tee, near the tummy area. I asked him about it and he said M kicked him repeatedly in the stomach. Of course it wasn't done in a mean way, and ds1 said he was roughhousing with M then. I guess, I'll just take it easy and let him learn. He gets a lot more bruises now, not surprisingly, since his accounts of playing at the playground after lunch involves a lot of "fighting" with this Indian boy, a Japanese, a German and an American. Those seem to be his usual sparring partners. I hear their names everyday.
The birthday boy blowing the candles on his gigantic Diego cake. The cake was from Holiland, this confectionery within our apartment estate. His Taiwanese Nainai is behind him, clapping her hands. They all look so young, his grandparents on both sides. Wow.
After that, I brought the kids home for a short nap, while my piano tuner tuned the piano.
H recommended me the piano tuner, and I had to use him because the piano had not been tuned since the landlady had movers drag it over to our house.
Tuning is so cheap here! I remember tuning my upright and baby grand for a much more expensive price. He charged me just S$30. And he is one of 5 expert tuners in Tianjin, certified by some Music and tuner assoc in China. And he didn't complain even though he had waited for me outside my home while we were at the birthday party, at least for 1 hour.
Then in the evening, we went to H's house for our Singaporean Mid-Autumn Festival Celebration. As we all know, Singaporean Chinese celebrate a lot of the Chinese festivals in our own way. I heard that during Chinese New Year, lao yu sheng, a common practice in Singapore, is not done in China. And the carrying of lighted lanterns by kids during MAF is also unique to Singapore/ Malaysia. Our Hainanese Chicken rice too, is nothing like the chicken rice found in Hainan, China.
We also found that our tastebuds have been attuned towards the kind of mooncake we always enjoyed, and the local mooncakes here taste different. Since we yearn to have a taste of home during festivals, it is of utmost importance that we celebrate together with people who have the same tastebuds. :-)
L, H's hubby, invited his GM, Goh, and the GM's gf, E. The boss is Singaporean. And another Sporean guy who lives in the same estate and works at the same company, Melvin. Melvin had just returned to Spore to get his work visa done. And his mother-in-law is a Teochew and makes her own mooncakes, so he brought 2 boxes over for us to enjoy!
H cooked all the food. The kids had their separate table. We had a great time chatting. Although we have never seen Goh, and Melvin, we could hit off at once, and were talking about all kinds of topics. Ah, the bonding between fellow countrymen who are abroad, feeling homesick and missing everything back home.
Look at the mooncakes. Both are yummy but I like the traditional brown one better. She made the lotus seed filling herself too, and it is not so sweet (I like) and very fragrant. We stuffed ourselves silly with the mooncakes.
We had wanted to get the kids out strolling, enjoying the full moon, and carrying the lanterns. But there were no such lanterns to be sold at this period since they don't have the custom of doing that now. They do it during CNY. So we just ate somemore and kept on chatting.
Goh is 48, according to H. His gf, E, a local Chinese, can't be older than 25. She was playing with the kids while we chatted. A very sweet girl. According to H, Goh has brought her home to Spore several times already to meet his family. Goh has a 15yr old daughter from a previous marriage. Melvin has 3 kids already, ranging from 2 to 12 yrs old. Coincidentally, he lives in Jurong West too, and so we had a lot of things to talk about since we hung out around all the same places when we are back home. His eldest daughter is doing PSLE this year at Rulang, so his family decided that only he should come to China alone.
It was a long day, but what an enjoyable day. As most people in Tianjin tell me, there is nothing to see here in Tianjin, and it is the people and the gatherings that make our stay memorable.
rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow
Tuesday, October 21, 2008 ;
Water Fun Day
The school held a Water Fun Day when the kids get to play with all kinds of water-related activities.
I decided to let ds2 join in as well, even though he is in the half-day programme and does not normally stay in school after 12pm. The teachers were happy to have him join in, so I went to school to help out and to take pics.
So the Nursery and Pre-K kids did not have their nap time that day!
They had tons of fun. This pic below shows even the elementary school head joining in. She's very sporty and enthusiastic, just like the kids, and she let them and the teachers spray and dump water all over here. She's the one in blue tee, near center of pic. The one in black tee, at right of pic, is ds1's teacher. All of them are soaking wet cos the kids had so much fun spraying at their teachers and principal.
I laughed a lot too, it was so funny. At the same time, I wondered if the same thing would happen in hc. I remembered the 2004 carnival at hc, where our P/ CEO was dumped into the pool by the water polo guys(?) at one of the games stall. (Those of you who remember the details, pls correct me if I am wrong) He was a real good sport then. But it was one dunk. I wonder if we dare to keep throwing water bombs at him or spray at home. hehe. Or maybe it's just me, always afraid to cross the line. Or maybe it's the Asian mentality, I don't know.
ds2 had a smashing time (below). He didn't even know what to enjoy first. He loves sand, water, everything there, so he had a go at all the water and sand toys first. Spent at least 30min there. Then he ran for the spraying hose.
That's ds1. He tried most of the stations except for the water pools. Both ds didn't think the pools were anything special, funny. I thought it was fun to splash around in the inflatable pools since we haven't brought them swimming over here in Tianjin at all.
Maybe it's something we have done before, like splashing in the pool or bathtub, so it is not a big deal.
ds1 spent about 30min at the sand pit too, but unlike ds2, who played with all the water and sand toys, he only played with the shovel and spades. He kept digging till there was a huge pit. Can you see he is standing in lower ground?
Sigh, he kept playing some make-believe thing, talking to himself and doing funny actions/ movements, till I couldn't stand it anymore and asked him what he was doing. He replied that he is the leader of the "goblin-digging team".
If you're scratching your head, this is taken from the Magic The Gathering card game, the card game he is still obsessed with, since he started playing with it in Utah last year.
I read in the Straits Times recently that this game is still very hot in Spore and that grown men are still playing with a fervor. They include many professionals who will take part in international tournaments! That article got me very alarmed because I thought it was a passing fad with ds1. What if he continues playing these cards till he's 40??!?
Throughout the session, the kids could go to the popsicle station to grab a popsicle for themselves. When they grab one, they get a stamp on the hand, so that means they had one already and can't go for another, haha.
Both ds got theirs, of course. Against my better judgment, I let a soaking wet ds2 enjoy the whole popsicle. They usually share one ice cream cone or popsicle with me, when we dine out or have it at home. Yes, 3 of us share one. Now, on that day, each kid had one, and I didn't want to be the evil one, so I let them each have one.
However, after the popsicle, ds2's teeth started chattering. ds1 played with the water slides and sand and tubs, but he wasn;t soaking wet from head to toe cos he avoided most of the outright spraying. ds2 had been intentionally running into the jets of water because he enjoyed being sprayed at. So even his hat and hair were all wet.
I wanted to towel him dry after that but he still wanted to play. I went to get all his clothes from the locker, and came back to change him. By that time, his lips were blue with cold already. Sigh, true enough, he nursed a cold over the weekend.
Was just thinking, fortunately I am living alone here. If I were back in Singapore, I'd be blamed for causing him to fall ill. No need to mention by who. I'd be chided for not having common sense in taking care of the kids.
Over here, I have no pressure at all. I just kicked myself for letting him eat the popsicle in wet clothes, and make a mental note not to do that in future. Then we proceeded to enjoy the rest of the day and the weekend, even though ds2 was sick. We all had a terrific time.
If I was back with all the relatives and folks back home, I'd be reminded of my irresponsibility each time ds2 coughs or sneezes, the whole weekend, for sure. :-)
That's ds1 below, at the water slide station. They had plastic sheets on the slopes, and they squirted soap and sprayed water down the sheets. ds1 is waiting his turn, as his classmate is sliding down the slope. ds1 went back to queue again and again. He really enjoyed the sliding. Many of the kids tried coming down the slope in various positions after the first try. Good fun. Made me feel like joining in too. Why didn't they say "parents are welcome"?
rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow