Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chopsticks on Fire!

This has been a busy week for my chopsticks. After our initial success at Hunan East, we tried the Golden Dragon Monday, where our waiter George gave us advice on Chinese food and drink, corrected our Chinese pronounciation, and suggested that we contact his niece in Dalian (a coastal city near Beijing) so that we would know someone when we move. How nice is that? The jasmine tea, potstickers and Yang Zhou fried rice were also excellent, and we even had a complimentary glass of Dragon Silk Riesling, which was probably good if you like Riesling. My niece Kelly gave me a fancy set of chopsticks with a little silk pouch, so I am now eating in style. We tried Panda Express on Friday and that was also tasty, so I am happy to report that I can find good food even in the fast food area, at least here in the States. Joe has been practicing his Chinese using our language DVD and a website called Livemocha, where you trade language lessons with someone, both written and audio. He is speaking in complete sentences and tells me he knows what he is saying.

Good news from China: First, we got an email from our new Head of School with our list of email buddies, so I'll be contacting mine (a music guy) soon. Either I haven't had many new questions or I'm just not writing them down to remember them. The principal of the lower school is Tammy Roudebaugh, so my poor students will have to make some careful decisions about who we are! Second, there is a cupcake seller in Shanghai named Emily whose blog is maintained through her VPN on, so this blog might not have to switch to another site, I hope. Third, Shanghai has bowling alleys, including one named Sakura that has 40 lanes! Although I probably can't bring my ten-pound ball, I think I might include my bowling shoes. Finally, China does not observe Daylight Savings Time, so this Arizonan will leave her clocks unchanged even overseas! This pleased me greatly until I realized that I was agreeing with a Communist government on a matter of policy, but I'm just going to say that even a blind squirrel finds a few nuts.

On Saturday, we visited the Chinese Cultural Center, which is a combination office building and strip mall with all things Asian, including a big food market where we found all sorts of food, including squid jerky, dried snack anchovies and quail eggs. We passed on all of those things, opting for two types of tea (jasmine for Joe and Extra Gunpowder for me), a tea infuser, and also some music CDs and another book from a different store. We also walked through a huge garden on the backside of the building that had beautiful trees and replicas of various gardens and buildings from China, which gave us some good ideas for vacations once we get there.

Jack's situation is still uncertain, although we have two backups in my two sisters (Jill volunteered also). We will be back in Prescott next weekend and see if anyone there has found a place in both heart and home. We did get a call back from Tiffany the dental hygienist, but we decided not to follow that option. I went to a concert given by two friends of mine who play flute and glass armonica (you need to look this up), an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin and composed for by just about everyone in the eighteenth century, including Mozart. When I told my kids about the concert and mentioned what great friends I have here, one of my kids said, "Mrs. Rauschenbach, if Mozart were alive today, he'd be your friend!" Kid, you have great instincts, because I always find wonderful and interesting friends, and although it's hard to leave the ones here, I know the ones in Shanghai are also going to be Mozarts.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Farewell Tour, Part Two

We're back in Flagstaff, which is sunny, but we still have two feet of snow in our backyard. On the remainder of our spring break, we spent a couple of days in Phoenix, where we went on a very familiar hike and managed to shred Jack's pads to bits. He could barely walk for the rest of the week! That gave some support to the idea of Jack living with my sister Rhonda, where he would have a relatively sedentary lifestyle, just walks around the neighborhood. She doesn't really want another dog (having her husband's aging Dalmatian is trouble enough), but this is what happens to dogs in my family, we just keep switching them around.

For the end of the break week, we traveled to Prescott to play in our friends' church, primarily the Rutter Requiem. I have been organizing players for Lenten and Advent cantatas for a few years now, and it was bittersweet to play my last gig for awhile. The choir and orchestra were quite surprised by the news, but hugely supportive and interested in our entire story, which we told ad nauseam until our young high school friend Emily could tell it just as well. I especially enjoyed showing the picture of the auditorium at SCIS, which is a thing of beauty. We also pitched Jack's plight to a few of our friends, so we're keeping our fingers crossed. Jack did nothing to aid his cause, generally barking his fool head off at almost anyone who moved, but he made a fan of our even younger friend Andrew, whose current dog is a bit blind and deaf and is not quite up to the lifestyle of an active boy.

We've had a few Flagstaff anecdotes as well this week. In his spare time, Joe has been checking out the school lunch menu to see what we might get to eat when we are there. In the spirit of preparation, we had lunch at Hunan East, where I had egg drop soup, lemon chicken and fried rice. I used a spoon for the soup, but for everything else I used my chopsticks and Joe even complemented my ability to get a good quantity of rice on my sticks. It wasn't a bad first effort, I guess, and the manager recommended a trip to the Chinese Cultural Center in Tempe to pick up some good jasmine tea (which is served with the meal at Hunan East and is quite nice). When we got back from lunch, I saw a couple of my neighbors shooting the breeze, so I went over to tell them about the plans. They were both pretty surprised, especially after I informed one of them (a college graduate) as to the geographic location of Shanghai. It's not the first time in this journey that someone has said in all sincerity, "Shanghai? Where's that?"

We came across a great quote from the book "China Road" regarding the state of Christianity in China. I had heard about this book from interviews with the author, Rob Gifford, and knew that Joe would enjoy it as much as I did the first time I read it. It has many funny and also brutally honest parts, but here is what Mr. Gifford says about Chinese Christians: There is a purity and an intensity to Christian believers in China, and it overflows in their prayers. Mention Christianity to ordinary Chinese people, and they are not burdened by vision of crusading soldiers, fornicating popes, or right-wing politicians. They have heard about this belief relatively late in the faith's long and winding history, and for them it is a matter of the heart. I can't imagine a more exciting place to be a Christian, or a more beautiful statement of how the faith can be lived. They really do come as children, just as Christ commands, so how will this sophisticated seminary graduate measure up?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Farewell Tour, Part One

Greetings from sunny Tucson, AZ! Unlike my last post date, I have seen no snow falling, just sitting way on top of mountains where I did not go. Instead, we slathered on the sunscreen and hiked by a roaring creek in the Catalinas on our last spring break for a couple of years. We do have a break later in the spring in China, but it's called "Tomb Sweeping," when we are supposed to go clean up the tombs of our ancestors. If you have any ancestors buried in Shanghai, let me know and I'll see what I can do next year.

So we have started our Farewell Tour (T-shirts yet to be printed) here in Tucson with our friends Steve, Edina, Lourdes, and their various children. This has been very useful for our trip preparations, because the first day here we attended the second annual Tucson Festival of Books (a must do for those of you near the area next year) and I met JA Jance, a favorite author of mine, who was very enthusiastic about the trip and recommended getting at least one Kindle of books, much to Joe's delight (he's been asking for a Kindle for some time now). She also tried to introduce me to Janis Ian, the singer, but I didn't really pick up on that in time and ended up looking like an idiot. That's a story for another blog, perhaps called "How I Manage to Misunderstand Everyone," or maybe that's a new CBS show for the fall. Anyway, Steve and Edina have just come back from an orchestra tour in China (she's a violist), so they were full of great books and even greater ideas. Steve used to work for Delta, so he is my new expert on how to get my stuff to China, and what to ask about transit visas and cargo shipping.

We got our second preparatory newsletter from dear Jeff, and we are delighted to learn that we are the farthest ahead in getting our documentation ready (our competitive spirit knows no bounds). My sister Rhonda attributes this to the fact that she started telling us what to do as soon as we called her with the news of our contracts. She is my bossy older sister and suggests I should be grateful for that, which of course I am. I Googled the school's address and found a pretty specific map location, but couldn't get to the street view, either because Chinese law prohibits it or because I'm not that great with Google maps, I'm not sure which. My new colleague Wendy writes to say that the kids are really great (as in, not that spoiled), but I should brush up on my ESL (English as a Second Language) skills, because some of the new students need a bit of help getting started. Our friend Rick (the counselor who will be in South Korea) had a bit of a health scare, and we thought for a few days that he might not be going abroad after all, but he turned out fine and will be there a week ahead of us, so we can't travel with him as we had hoped. Our friend Nate, who speaks Chinese and therefore travels there on business every three months, has been sending us pictures and news items to help us acclimate. I would post the pictures, but they're not really for public consumption. The news item was about a man who had to be rescued from his apartment when bottles of something unmentionable fell on him, but the really funny story was about a Shanghai lonely-hearts club made up of five women who were fleecing these poor men across China. They were discovered when one of the women claims to have actually fell in love and her would-be suitor turned her in to the cops. The Shanghai Daily News is certainly an entertaining news source!

Jack is currently without prospects, and he's really starting to warm up to strangers, realizing that he's got to find a good family. Tiffany the dental hygienist called to say that she has many reasons for turning him down, including general disinterest on the part of her boys and the fact that she hasn't actually mentioned her current four cats to her apartment manangement. Probably not a good situation, but better to know now than too late. I broke the news to my 90 year old Aunt Clara, who said, "Well, to each his own, I guess. You never know what good you might do there." Way to have our backs, Aunt Clara! I'm also starting work on my "Arizona" necklace, which will incorporate a lot of copper beads and red glass chili peppers. I haven't decided whether to augment this with Arizona gemstones or perhaps try my hand at creating the state flag in beads. I'll let you know and might even try posting a picture to this blog - oh boy!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Search Continues

To paraphrase Garrison Keillor, it's been a quiet week in China Preparation Land. We did book our plane tickets, and that was a bit exciting. Korean Air from LA just after midnight on August 4th, changing planes in Seoul (or wherever Incheon Airport is) and into Shanghai at 9:40 a.m. on August 5th. We were able to see the seats on the plane (a Boeing 747, for those of you who care about such things), and they looked pretty standard for an international flight. It's a bit roomier than a domestic flight, and the seat backs have individual screens for the movies or whatever, although of course we are supposed to sleep as much as we can on the flight so we'll be close to Shanghai time when we land. Sure. I've had jet lag before, and it really stinks, but maybe a red-eye flight will help.

I had a great time telling one of my former teachers (a non-internet sort) about the big news. First, I had to repeat myself, and then when I told him we'd be moving to Shanghai in August, he paused a moment and said, "Do you have any idea how exotic that sounds?" I do, actually, and it hasn't gotten old yet. Also, let me say this: it hasn't snowed in Shanghai in years, and that sounds pretty good to us as we watch the snow fall AGAIN in March! Of course, a month after we get there, the typhoon season will start and it is supposed to rain buckets for a few weeks.

Just a couple of notes about how things are moving along this week. We might have a buyer for Joe's car, the nice boyfriend of one of our new renters, who will be moving up here for college and is in need of cheap reliable transportation. That's our Cavalier for sure! Next, we downloaded our Chinese visa application and we just haven't really looked at it yet, but we won't need it until July anyway.

Jack is still potentially homeless (other than all the people who say, "Well, keep us posted, because we don't want him to be without a home"). Mia just couldn't handle having a big crazy dog in her house, so our neighbor took a pass. I was at the dentist this week and mentioned my plight, and the hygienist went crazy over Jack's pictures. She has had poodles in the past and her three boys are asking for a dog (they already have four cats), so she took my phone number and said she'd call on Saturday to meet him, but he got stood up. He looked really sad on Saturday night, so I tried to explain to him that everyone has relationship problems and we would eat cookies to feel better, except of course that he can't have cookies, so I ate for him. I'll try calling the office tomorrow to see if maybe she just lost my number and couldn't remember how to spell my last name. Sure.

Well, that's it for this week, but keep your fingers crossed for Jack.