Monday, August 31, 2009 ;
So long, farewell, Tianjin...
Saying goodbye is never easy.
Though we're excited to be heading home, and so eager to tuck into our favourite comfort food -- eg laksa, red pearl milk bubble tea, char kway teow, nasi lemak, even fish and chips! -- we have to part with the people who gave Tianjin a face. Our friends...
These people have made our stay in Tianjin so memorable, so enjoyable... Without them, it would have been impossible to survive, really...
So counting backwards from today, I have to record all the people so dear to us that we have met up and said our adieus to.
31 Aug Dinner
H's house. She invited us to her place for a lovely home-cooked meal. My appetite has never been better. It was wonderful chatting with her and her hubby, and the kids enjoyed themselves playing with transformers and Nintendo DS games. It's great that she promised to visit us in Singapore, because their family has grown so close to ours. I would hate to think that we're not ever going to meet up again!
31 Aug Afternoon
We went back to the kids' school for the last time.
The official reason was that ds1 was asked to return for a recording.
It turned out that when he was in kindy the last school year, his teacher asked him to generate some science questions for this organisation Earth Sky. They have a website where they have scientists who answer kids' questions. They collect questions from schools all over the world and then pick some to answer. The teacher said since ds1 was always full of questions, particularly about science, she thought he would be the best person to ask.
And they did pick one of his questions. So they want his question to be recorded and they would feature it as a podcast on their website. Apparently in the USA, they broadcast snippets on radio stations too cos Dh used to tune in to the classical music station every morning, and about 6am, Earth Sky would have some radio time.
The unofficial reasons were plenty.
First, we get to see ds1's teachers, next, ds2's teachers, and then ds2's Nursery main teacher kindly agreed to taking over Dh's many pets. So we were glad that the tarantula, scorpion, gecko, mealworms and crickets will have a good home.
They won't get to meet their friends though, because the school is closed due to H1N1. There were a couple of cases in the school last week (first week of school and many foreigners came back from travelling). So the school has to close from Tuesday to Tuesday according to Tianjin's health laws.
Anyway, the reasons were enough for all 4 of us to make a trip down to the school.
We got a lot more than we bargained because even teachers whom we don't know, or know but do not teach both ds, and other staff, all came to admire the critters. Teachers who didn't teach both ds knew them by name still! I am amazed how these teachers have such great memories. (Oh yes, and of course the school nurse remembers them.)
Even the receptionist of the school called ds1 out, by name! The moment we entered the foyer, she called out "Hi! T!"
They were all so warm and friendly and there was so much laughter and cheerful banter in each classroom we went to. I will miss this cameraderie and the close-knit school community.
(This is another reason why we're going to withdraw ds1 from this popular, big and reputable Pr school in Singapore which he already has a place in, and placing him in a very unpopular and small neighbourhood school. But that's another story.)
The boys got hugs all around too. And I can see their teachers really love them. Ahhh, when I see all the warmth exuded, I wonder if the boys would be similarly loved back in their Singapore schools. I do know that I was never hugged by my Pr school teacher when I was young. She couldn't afford to, I guess, with 44 kids in a class.
Ok, so we got the recording done first, in the Library. The school's Head IT teacher did the recording while the Coordinator for the PYP IB program organised the session. And he very efficiently sent me an mp3 and the photo he took of the session via email already (I checked email when I got home from school and there it is in my Inbox). I am glad ds1 does not have stage fright like I do. For him, such things seem so easy. For me, if you asked me to record something in front of a mic, I freeze up. He was even able to joke and he added silly noises at the end.
The school said to prepare him for the session, to let him know what to say and do, but it wasn't really necessary for ds1. I'm not sure if it's ds2, but for ds1, such things come naturally to him.
After that, we visited the Nursery class, talked to everyone, including the teaching assistants, who missed ds2 so much. One of them told ds2 that his best friends asked for him when school reopened last week! One of them was so sad he was not around anymore.
Then we went to the Kindy class, and talked to the teachers while the boys played with the class pet terrapins. They happen to be "moulting". They just changed their scales on the shell, so the boys were very intrigued. They also got to feed them too.
After that we had to make a move as time flew past so fast, it was getting late!
We still had to close our bank accounts and was expecting a church friend to come to our house to get some stuff from us (quilt and shoe rack).
And then we had to give the kitten away too, and both ds were very sad. ds1 even cried very badly when kitty had to go. We got a picture of him crying and me consoling him.
30 Aug morning
Some 20+ people turned up in our house for service that Sunday! We were overwhelmed!
Thanks to Tony who flew from Shanghai to Tianjin specially for us. He did the preaching, and we managed to gather all the factions in whole of Tianjin to come together. We had a couple of objectives. Mainly, it was to let everyone know each other. And it would be a great encouragement to the few who meet regularly to know that there are actually so many local Christians. The only difficulty for them is distance. 2 of them travel 2 hours by bus just to get to our place each Sunday morning. Most of them take more than 1 hour on average, mostly by bus, some by bicycle.
Dh did prepare me for a larger outcome, so we had more grape juice, more unleavened bread, and I baked 2 steam cakes and made a large batch of Konnyaku jelly. My steam cakes did not rise very well actually, because the milk was still cold when I added it in, but thankfully it was cleared very quickly too. Many of them were surprised that such cakes could be steamed and did not need an oven. Tony was even more surprised to know that it didn't need any baking soda or rising agent, it just rose by beating air bubbles into it. My mom's the real guru though, if they had tried my mom's cake before, they would have complimented me on mine. :-)
Lots of them gave us farewell gifts. It made us feel really bad. They did not earn much, and they travelled great distances and still bothered to prepare and buy gifts for us! Some of them cried when they bade us farewell. It made me tear up too.
About half of us adjourned for lunch after the service. They suggested this restaurant and it was delicious! The jiaozi is special, they said it had some Mongolian flavour. Then the fish is so fresh, I hardly come across such fresh fish here. They ordered some special glass noodles too, that were actually made from some herbs and veggies, supposedly a tonic for health. Dh said it tasted like soba. Yet it was kind of spicy, which gave it lot of kick. So it was very interesting and yummy. The veggie and mushroom soup was splendid too. It was their treat.
After lunch and a long chat in the VIP room, it was almost 4pm! Tony had to catch his flight back to Shanghai at 7pm so we all said our goodbyes. 2 of them were encouraged by Tony and Dh to go to Singapore to study in the Bible college there, and they are going to, so we would still get to meet them!
For the rest, we really hope that one day they can visit us too.
29 Aug Sat Dinner
Dh's worker gave our family a treat.
It was at a restaurant in the Hedong district.
Once again, they were so lavish and generous. His wife bought so many tidbits and snacks for the kids, and his daughter and wife spoilt the kids rotten with their cuddles and all. They kept carrying ds2, and then they fed both boys and served them all their food and drinks throughout the dinner. They made me sit with Dh and they had both boys in between the both of them. I was instructed to "just eat" and not bother about the boys as that was their job!
The boys lapped all the attention up and was on their "worst" behaviour. They quickly realised they were the kings and they walked all around the VIP room, climbed on the couch, sat on the window sill, and basically played all the while the 2 ladies doted on them and fed them food! I talked to them sternly about that at home, later, but they had the time of their lives during the dinner indeed.
The food was very good, and as usual, far too much for all of us to consume. They are really too nice.
29 Aug Sat morning
ds1's teachers had asked to meet up for coffee before we left, so we decided on McDonalds. Why? They've been here for a very long time, and around our area (their apartments are near ours too), their verdict is that McD's still served the best coffee around. If you wonder why... you should know there are no Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Coffee Club or whatever around this area, just some cafes which don't really serve authentic coffee.
The teachers were on the 2nd level already when we arrived, and they told us they could hear the kids even while we were on the ground floor, far from them. Oops, my kids are that loud!!
We had such a long chat too, amazing! I guess I'd never run out of topics with these 2 veteran kindy teachers (who both happen to be Aussies). They are also widely travelled, and have taught at other international schools, have lots of experience with kids, and are very well-read. They also have a great sense of humour, so we were laughing most of the time. It of course helped that they bonded with the kids so well, the kids were entertained the whole time. ds2 hadn't even been taught by them but he knows them so well, hugging them, getting kissed, and calling their names all the time to hear his stories.
With us, they also gave us a lot of advice, told us a lot of stories and said whichever school in Singapore that gets ds1 and ds2 would be very very lucky. :-) I know maybe they tell this to all their students but it sounded so nice and sincere from them.
They also said they would visit us in Singapore very soon. They always stopover in Singapore on flights home to Australia but never stayed much before. (previously they've only been in Singapore for conferences and work/ medical-related stuff.) Now they have reason to, they said.
We warmly welcomed them. They have become friends already!
We set off for the CF park playground early in the morning with H and her boys. For the local Chinese, it is the last weekday of the entire summer holiday. So H suggested that we let the boys have a fun day out for the last time.
The playground is not cheap. They charge 60yuan per kid. But they have a facilitator who would bring the kids around to the various stations and guide them through the activities. So basically we moms just tag along (required), and take pictures.
They have rock climbing, barrel rolling,obstacle course, craft station, spider web crawl, blindfold games and so on. Both ds enjoyed themselves a lot, although I think ds1 benefitted more because the equipment was geared towards kids above 6yrs old. ds2 was a bit too young for many of the structures and his legs were simply not long enough to reach certain rungs or certain tree stumps to play the games. But the facilitator, a young chap, was very very patient and helpful, always carrying ds2 and helping him specially through each game.
Besides both ds, and H's 2 sons, there were several other kids too. But of course the 4 boys had the most fun playing with each other.
After a whole morning of activities, we were famished and left the park for Mighty Deli for our lunch. Then we headed home for a good rest. In the evening, both boys went over to H's house again for a playdate. They played there by themselves with H's sons and I remained home to prepare dinner.
Meeting different ladies at my home for yard sales and packing luggage.
Ayi helped to advertise in the Korean papers, so many different people would arrange to come to my place to view the things and buy stuff.
22 Aug Sat lunch
N invited our family to Din Tai Fung for a farewell lunch. She asked Jade and her mom to come as well.
The VIP room had an area for the kids to play together, so after a scrumptious lunch, the 4 kids had fun together. Jade and my boys were significantly more rowdy than Matt. But Matt kindly tolerated them all. Matt is extra nice to ds2 as well, taking very good care of him, more than ds1 would. :-)
We adults had a good time chatting, catching up and eating. We were so stuffed cos there much so much food. There were quite a number of dishes they ordered that I had not tried before, so it was rather interesting.
Then they gave us little farewell gifts, which are Tianjin's special handicraft items.
21 Aug Fri
The movers came on this day!
I was really truly still frantically packing my boxes right up till the time they came. And when they arrived, I still hadn't sealed 3 boxes! Argh! There were 47 boxes in total in the end.
And then after they left, I realised I missed out some books and stuff. Sigh, that is the peril of packing till the last frantic minute.
I think they pegged the final volume at 6 cubic meters. And shipping charges by volume, not weight. We were given a very reasonable rate for the shipping. It was the taxes, service charges and various other fees that jacked up the total cost by more than 3 times of the shipping cost!!!
Anyway, we have to go through this, so after some haggling, the price was fixed.
They say, in China, you always bargain. Never accept the price quoted as it is. So true enough, they easily reduced the price for us, though not by too much, it was still significant.
Suddenly after that, our house became an empty shell. When we spoke, there were echoes!!
Crazy packing and watching Da Chang Jin DVD whenever I felt tired and needed a rest. Ooh, this series is so educational, so moving and so thought-provoking. I like both male and female leads too, and their romance is so touching and fulfilling. Dh was equally gripped, or may I say, even more affected by the show. Because, after we finished all the DVDs, he went back and picked out many more to re-watch. He also wanted more romance between Chang Jin and Min Zhen Hao, and he is rarely like this! He usually watches action-packed, CGI-heavy movies only.
16 Aug Sun
N had a Back-to-school party and invited us even though the kids were no longer at the same school as Matt. She said it would be a good chance for the kids to all meet up again. So the kids got to say goodbye to their friends too. Many kids were invited and their parents went as well, so we adults got to talk and exchange a lot of news too. Most of them went overseas for the whole summer so they had a lot of interesting stories to share. We enjoyed hearing all of those.
As I have mentioned before, we will miss all the friends. The people make up Tianjin. And we will always remember Tianjin for the people.
So long, farewell, till we meet again!
rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow
Monday, August 10, 2009 ;
Forgot to update that Dh's boss and boss' wife did make a trip to China and he flew to meet them from 19th to 22nd of July. He went to Shanghai to meet them because they arrived there and then travelled to Suzhou, back to Shanghai then to Beijing and to Tianjin.
Was alone with the kids those few days.
On hindsight, since their announcement to close down the company came shortly after that visit, we wondered what was the purpose of that visit? Hmm.
Anyway, when they were in Tianjin, we did host them to a lunch at the Korean restaurant and they loved the food very much.
Those few days, the kids had their rollerblading and art classes as well, and H was such a great help. She'll give us a ride there and just so happen on 2 of the days, her hubby was not dining at home too, and we all went to Pizza Hut to eat together. The 4 boys together, they always create a huge din, so fortunately we were not dining in a high class place.
We let them play shoot basketball in the hoops and bouncy castle games. There was a mini-kiddy rides area just outside Pizza Hut. The kids also tried driving these huge inflatable float cars. But those were kind of dangerous. So they spent a lot more time in the bouncy castle instead. They had a blast together.
Then my mom arrived in Tianjin on the 24th of July. H went back to Msia with her kids on the same day.
That's the update so far, and I think after this, we would be in Sg!
rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow
Happy National Day Singapore!
How did you celebrate Singapore's 44th birthday?
If you are in Singapore and in school, you would have a celebration for sure.
A friend in Sg, and her account on her blog, of their celebration in Sg. http://hedgehogcomms.blogspot.com/2009/08/happy-national-day.html
If you are already working, you have a long weekend, and probably get the chance to enjoy yourself.
If you are overseas, I would assume you tend to be more patriotic than you were back in Singapore.
As I checked several blogs, I found that the case. Except for my good friend Teck, who says there is a difference between being patriotic and loving Singapore. He loves Sg but is not patriotic. I have a mushy brain and cannot process this piece of information but I know for the past 3 years, being away has made me feel all the more for Sg.
I feel the love and longing a lot more. And when National Day arrives, we are all the more enthusiastic and united in the celebrations.
There is this family, also a young couple with their 3 young boys. They are currently in Beijing. I started reading her blog because she faced similar situations with her family in China. They had a great time at the Singapore Embassy. ANd had Hainanese CHicken rice to boot!!!!!
We had chicken rice at home too, but cooked by my mom. :-) She's here for 3 weeks to help me with marketing, cooking and caring for the kids while I frantically pack up all the stuff in the house to get ready to move home.
Too bad the embassy is in Beijing, else we'd go for the large screen NDP broadcast too. But Dh hooked up his laptop to the TV at home, so we did watch the entire webcast of the parade, mass performances and stunts by the Navy and Airforce on the big TV together.
I have pictures of the boys and Dh reading the pledge together at 8.22pm, with the whole world of Singaporeans in unison. We all wore red. In fact the boys were in red AND white. I have a video of them prancing around dancing to the Sg songs, and another clip of them marching with the marchpast during the parade segment.
But I can't upload them here as I am using the proxy and I still cannot access Facebook. argh... Some of my friends manage to, because they employ other countries' servers. Like a friend who uses the US server. But I don't know how to go about doing that.
Anyway, just 3-4 more weeks, we will be back in Sg!
We haven't bought air tickets yet. We plan to ship off our stuff then we'll know when we can go back.
Recent developments in Dh's company meant that he too, will go back with us for good. Initially, the company was still ok, and he was to continue coming back to Tianjin to oversee the operations even though he is based in Sg. But now his bosses have decided that they have been "bleeding" too much and have to wind up the business. According to his bosses, they have already lost both their homes to the banks (via mortgage) and because they defaulted on payments. Well, we know times are bad.
Dh has taken it really well, maybe because his options are still wide open. He has a lot of plans and are acting on some of them now. On my part, I just hope his bosses can slowly pay him back whatever they owe us, cos Dh did not receive last month's and this month's pay and has had to settle a lot of the company's debts over here in Tianjin on our own money first.
I have been doing my part. We recouped some from having something like a moving-out sale. My ayi can write Korean, so she put in a free ad in the Korean newspaper for me, and we had numerous callers and moms who stopped over at my place to look at our furniture, electrical appliances and kids' toys and books. 2 of them bought a lot of stuff.
One of them suddenly wanted both my bookcases and my Ikea table, plus a shelving unit in the kitchen. So we had to frantically put everything on the floor. After she left, my house looked like a war zone. Books, kitchen ware, baking supplies, toys, all over every floor surface in the apt.
She also liked both of the boys' bicycles very much. Initially I didn't want to sell cos we got them from the US and the boys loved their bikes, but Dh said this time, the shipping costs back to Sg will be borne by ourselves (not the company like from Utah to Tianjin) so we should ship as little as possible.
We finally sold ds1's bike first. Cos ds1's was already rusty and had scratches and was small for him. The lady still liked it very much cos she said she cannot find such bikes here.
Another lady wanted our ice cooler box. She kept asking me to sell. But Dh and I decided to keep that one cos that one had accompanied us on many of our road trips in USA and went on the church camp to the Tetons.... Sentimental value... hard to put a price on it.
So basically I did clear my house of a lot of bulky and big items. I sold off my beloved little oven and blender. I gave away 3 huge boxes worth of stuff to the needy villagers in Jixian (outskirts of Tianjin). I am giving away all other stuff to friends and neighbours and my ayi who appreciate and will love the stuff.
For example, the plastic storage boxes. My ayi was fawning over them, saying she never say such high quality plastic boxes. Even though I pointed out that it was "made in China" but everyone here knows that the good stuff gets exported and whatever you buy overseas that is made in China cannot be easily found in China. She took all my DVDs (those that Dh bought here), my iron, my standing fan, my plastic clothes hangers, dish rack etc etc.
Church members will have our bedding, blankets, plates, glasses, kitchen cutlery, more storage boxes, slippers and shoes.... Whatever they want. They say they feel bad rummaging about our house. I say please don't, we can't bring those stuff home, and it's enough for me to know that the stuff will be well-used and appreciated. I'll feel lots of heartache to throw them away!
Then the other difficult part of moving. I had to throw/ recycle so much of the kids' art work, craft work, projects and worksheets from school. But I did tell them, and I did take pics of them before giving to the recycling man.
There were some valuable and sentimental stuff we simply had to leave behind too. That is the tough part in moving, deciding what to keep and what to leave behind.
I'm glad that with my mom occupying the kids, I managed to accomplish a lot more. She is leaving this Friday. After that progress will be slow again. The kids seem to be especially ravenous during summer hols, so I have to keep getting them food to eat, but other than that, thankfully they now can play by themselves, although once in a while I have to go break their fights or tend to some injuries.
Dh promised that after he settles all the stuff at the factory, he will be at home to help pack too.
He has to also give away all his many pets. Do you know now they number so many??
He brought home a kitten. Cute, but really pesky and require so much time and work. Gets in the way of my packing too. I told him to please discuss with me before bringing home pets like that in future. His tarantula, praying mantis, gecko, scorpion, crickets and so on, I don't mind that much cos they are all in respective tanks and containers, and I need not care for them. The gecko and tarantula feeds very infrequently too.
But the kitten is so much of a handful, scratching furniture, jumping on the sofa, running around my feet and tripping me over when I am carrying a lot of stuff. The boys love her so much though. Although, I feel they are not ready to be responsible pet owners yet! They are learning, of course, that is good, but many times I have to remind them not to play so roughly with the kitten -- she is not a young boy like them!
So Dh has to find her a home too. For the various insects, no one would take them, so I suggested to him to take them all back to the seller (all from the same shop) and give them back to him.
Is this a mid-life crisis thingy for men? Then maybe I should be glad it is just collecting weird and troublesome pets, instead of some vintage car-collecting hobby or something more expensive or more undesirable. :-)
rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow