Sunday, February 28, 2010

Preparations Continue

We've had a good week of progress. It feels a bit like being in two worlds, or a parallel universe or something, because we are still working at our regular jobs, but we are thinking A LOT about our future jobs. Today was especially exciting because we got our first orientation newsletter from SCIS (and from Jeff to boot), full of information and a big to-do list. Turns out we're already slightly ahead of the game with our visa documents already sent. He didn't mention immunizations, but that's pretty well covered on the school website. The big news is that we finally have a suggested report date: August 5th or 6th!

Here's what came up this week.

Visa application: Jeff's newsletter sent a link to a form, and forms are always a positive step in bureaucracy. We haven't heard anything from the school about the visa documents we sent, but we figure Ms. Kasono (the main HR lady) is pretty busy right now. We will fill out this form and make our appointment with the Chinese consulate in LA sometime around the first week of July, when we will go and I will be uncharacteristically quiet and hopefully convince the Chinese government to let us in. We will be putting our reason for visit as "business," which is the magic word. We have learned quite a bit about magic words, which seem very important in getting things done that are supposed to be against the rules. For instance, betting is illegal in China, but you can place a "guess" on a horse at the track.

Immunizations: We are done with our typhoid series and I have my second hepatitis (A, I think) in a couple of weeks, right after spring break. I have been emailing to a couple of my SCIS colleagues and have been assured that medical care is great and we can finish the hepatitis series there, although she still told me to bring all the medications I need with me. Joe has already visited his doctor and got medical releases for both of us so we can take our medical records with us. We'll do a doctor visit at the beginning of the summer just in case we find something we need to clear up.

Jack's new home: I sent an email this week to many of my Flagstaff friends, detailing Jack's plight and his qualifications as a good dog, and asking for suggestions. One of my former parents, Karen, wrote back quickly to say that she was interested and would like him to come visit to see how he would get along with Mia, her cat. We were skeptical, because Jack has never had any sort of feline relationship, but he has done fairly well in his two visits this week. On the first visit, they stayed well apart in the same room and growled at each other. This cat can really growl loudly. On the second visit, Jack and Mia went nose to nose, and although Mia hissed at him, she seemed to settle down a little bit, and Jack was almost polite. I think he's knows something's up and he seemed to understand that he has to make friends with Mia. However, after the first visit, Mia spent the entire night under the bed, and that sounds like a bad sign to me, so we'll see what develops.

Communications from our friends: I have saved many of the emails we received from our family and friends, and they make for great reading. We have a surprising number of friends who have traveled to China, so we are getting lots of good ideas about places to visit, vaccinations, and communications of all kinds. One great thing that came the old fashioned way (the regular mail) is a Mandarin language DVD from my sister and brother-in-law, Rhonda and Andy. She has always been the one keeping everyone else organized! More on that after we start watching it.

Communications from our new colleagues: I am emailing to two of my new colleagues, Helen, who is part of the music team, and Wendy, an NAU grad who teaches language arts and is from Mesa. Although we will both be assigned "buddies" who are in charge of getting us up to speed on life in China, these two ladies have been great about answering all kinds of questions, and the answers have been very interesting. The government will be monitoring pretty much everything I do on the phone, and probably on the internet as well, at least those sites that are not blocked, which is just about everything (no Facebook? I can't do it!). Joe has nicknamed this problem "The Bamboo Curtain." However, we have learned about the semi-mighty VPN, which stands for Virtual Personal Network (I think, I looked it up on Wikipedia). The VPN can't help with the phone monitoring, but it does get past the "Great Firewall" of Chinese internet, so I believe I will at least be able to maintain my blog, but I think Facebook, and for some reason, AOL, might be non-starters in China. Boy, do I hate to give up my Violindiva address! If I can't make the blog work, I'm going to have to send my postings to someone back home to enter for me, but I'll find a way. (The Chinese haven't met me yet, you see.)

Studying: I haven't spent so much time trying to learn about something since law school, I think! We are reading everything we can get our hands on, from National Geographic (the March issue has an article on Shanghai) to books to other people's blogs (so I know the blogging can happen). If you're thinking about some foreign travel, how about the 2010 World Expo, being held in Shanghai through October of this year? If travel isn't on your plate, but you'd like to know more about China or Shanghai in general, here are the books we're currently reading: "China Road" by Rob Gifford, a Christian NPR reporter who was based in Beijing for six years and decided to take a cross-China trip prior to leaving for his new posting in London. He is very funny and very honest about the country, both good and bad, and I really love how his faith colors much of his commentary. The other great book is "Postcards from Tomorrow Square" by James Fallows, a writer for The Atlantic and other journals as well, I believe. He is a huge fan of the VPN and deals specifically with Shanghai and the joys and travails of living there.

The Farewell Tour: Once we got our report date, Joe started looking at plane tickets, which are really not crazy at all. Korean Air has been recommended to us by our friend Rick (remember Mr. South Korea?) as well as just about everyone on the travel sites, and a one way ticket comes in at $600 from LA (because we can get to LA through Southwest, of course). We also had a visit to our bank to find out how online banking works, and the test case turned out fine - our HOA check was cashed. So, if I can reach my bank's website from behind the Bamboo Curtain, I'm golden! It's so easy, I might do more stuff this way. Also, we're starting to plan our visits to various places, beginning with spring break in Tucson (Edina, Lourdes, we'll call you soon), and what is shaping up to be a big Vegas reunion for my side of the family, coinciding with my Uncle Steve's seniors' bowling tournament (over 55, not prospective grads). Finally, we have our Indiana trip set for mid-June to see Joe's family and our Louisville friends, so you Hoosiers and Bluegrassers get ready too.

More next week...

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