Monday, August 31, 2009 ;
10:36 PM
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!

28 Aug
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.

24-27 Aug
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!!

17-20 Aug
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

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