Shanghai, September 2002, Part Three

As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.
As I prepare for C’s and my move to Shanghai in January 2015, it seems particularly apt to take a look at when I last visited Shanghai. It’s funny, but I keep thinking that I was in Shanghai “fairly recently,” but 2002 is not recently at all! I visited Shanghai for one week during a break in my graduate classes in Singapore.

This is one of my favorite excerpts. I actually love the idea of people dressing identically, particularly in pajamas while out in public. In fact, I sort of plan to have C and I dress in pajamas, perhaps identical ones, and have a public outing at least once in Shanghai. I remember well the chair/clothes incident. I cannot say my Chinese has much improved. I hope the cruise has as it is again on my “must-do” list. I also remember Suzhou fondly and look forward to taking my mom there as I think she will love the gardens and C will love the carp. I should plan on finding the Garden for Lingering In first.

Here in China it is just adventure, adventure, adventure. Though I may have been a bit premature in saying how much I loved it. Yesterday some things started to get on my nerves, or at least I noticed things that would get on my nerves eventually. Or maybe I would love/hate them? They are part of what makes this China. There are a few silly things, like the amazing number of people who like to walk around together dressed identically! It is not just children, but couples, friends, old, young. This also goes for the propensity for women to wear panty hose that only goes to their ankles or below the knee when their skirts are above the knee. What really bothers me are the spitting, the smoking, the street arguments, the maniac taxi drivers, and the complete disrespect for the environment. Honestly crossing the streets is like taking your life into your hands each time. It doesn’t matter if you are at a crosswalk and the little walking man is green, taxis and scooters will run you over! I have had many close calls already. When I am in the offending taxi I just want to sink into the back seat so no one thinks I am some foreigner bent on taking out Chinese in the streets! And the arguments, ugh, you see a good one just about every day. Yesterday I saw some women with children screaming at each other at the top of their lungs while the kids cried. I couldn’t understand what it was about, but it seemed serious. Then again last night I was involved in my own little argument…..

I decided to take a night cruise on the Huangpu River. This is interesting for about the first 10 minutes, and then it just isn’t. The guide book says that the night tour is best unless one has a fascination for loading cranes. Well, in the evening you get to see the loading cranes in silhouette against the night, beautifully backlit, simply breathtaking! So I bought my ticket and boarded the boat 20 minutes before its departure, and it was packed. Not a spare chair to be found. Well, that’s not true. I saw some spare chairs around some specially set aside tables, and they had Sprite and watermelon!! I really wanted some watermelon, but I knew it wasn’t mine, but I did take a chair. No one was sitting in it, and I had a ticket just like everyone else. Of course as soon as I started to drag the chair away some guy comes after me, “Xiaojie, Xiaojie” (Miss, Miss) but I ignore him. Then he comes up to me and tells me to give the chair back (in Chinese). I try first for the dumb foreigner tack, I ask him why? In English. I have a ticket, why don’t I have a chair? He just points to the chair and grabs the back of it. I won’t give it up. The people next to me are on my side telling the guy to leave me alone and let me have the chair. Ha, success! The guy next to me asks me how long I have lived in China because my Chinese is good. I tell him “Bu gang dang” (No it’s not, don’t flatter me) the right thing to say. Of course I know my Chinese needs lots of work. But he tells me I argue very well. 🙂 Well, I don’t know about that. Maybe they didn’t notice because when I wanted to say “I bought a ticket too, so why don’t I have a chair (yizi)?” I ACTUALLY said “I bought a ticket too, so why don’t I have any clothes (yifu)?” Ha, ha, ha. Good thing I mumbled that last syllable because I wasn’t sure I was remembering the right word. I was just so flustered and speaking quickly. However, the chair guy came back when some more people showed up looking for those chairs. I saw him coming and held onto my chair tightly. He asked me to give it to him, and I just said “Bu, Bu, Bu!” (no, no, no!). My new best friends sided with me again right away, especially as the guy had tried to steal some of their chairs too. So I got to have a chair with a great view of the shadowy dock cranes.

Today, I took a trip out to Suzhou, about an hour from Shanghai by train. Suzhou used to be the premier spot in China for silk. Suzhou became very famous during the Ming dynasty. And there was some saying about heaven in the sky, but on earth there is Hangzhou and Suzhou. So it was considered a pretty nice place to live back then, and many rich people built beautiful gardens there. The gardens are the THING to see in Suzhou, along with a few pagodas. So I rented a bicycle (also a relic of the Ming dynasty) and headed off to see these amazing spaces of tranquility. Now the thing in China is that nice places like this, or well even plain old rocks that people want to put a sign on, have to have super spectacular names. So today I was to visit the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Lion’s Grove Garden, the Master of the Nets Garden, and finally the Garden for Lingering In.

I headed first to the Humble Admit guy’s garden. And judging from the size and care put into it, I doubt he was really humble. It was a really nice garden and I wondered what it would be like to have it as one’s very own private garden. I spent nearly an hour there and was surprised by how quickly the time flew by.

I headed then to the Lion’s garden and found it smaller, more intimate. There was a little sun breaking through the clouds (or was it pollution?) and it was warmer there.
Then there was a harrowing ride around the town to get to the next garden, the Master of the Nets. There I was distracted by the sounds of a nearby school and school children repeating a silly dialogue about one’s mother and a missing bag in English. I had an insane idea to find the school and break into the class and give the kids a real English lesson, but after going around to the front of the school I lost my courage and just biked to the next sightseeing spot, a pagoda and one of the city’s original city gates, all in kind of a complex. This was a pretty cool spot. The pagoda was really magnificent. But the best part was a huge pond with many carp in it. I saw some people near the pond and fish thrashing around. All sizes and shapes and colors (okay, not blue or purple- but all kinds of golds and oranges and reds) jumping on top of each other to get the food, so much that some were on top of the water and then began to thrash about trying to get back into the water.
By this time it was almost 5 pm and I was getting tired and wasn’t sure I wanted to see a garden that would cause me to linger in it. Then again as I bought a ticket that included this garden, I set off to find it. For being the largest garden in the whole town it sure is hard to find and no one seems to know where it is. After searching for 20 minutes or so, after another life endangering 20 minute bike ride across town, I gave up and decided the only place I wanted to linger in was the train back to Shanghai.

I also wanted to share a few more humorous things from today, such as the names of various places inside the gardens. For example, The Listening to the Sound of the Rain Pavilion, the Hall of Drifting Fragrance, the Pavilion in the Lotus Breeze, the Watching Pines and Appreciating Paintings Studio, the Chamber for Reclining on the Cloud, and the Pavilion for Asking the Plum (ask it what??). Then there were those that were translated but I still couldn’t figure out what they were: The Cymbidium Goeingii Hall, the Prunus Mume Pavilion, and (my favorite) the Malus Spectabilis Court. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
There was also a list of Points of Attention posted at each garden:

1. Travelers must buy tickets before they enter the garden. They should be civilized and polite and conscientiously observe the social morality and public order.
2. No firearms, bullets, explosives or other dangerous articles are allowed to be brought into the garden.
3. Protect the world cultural heritage. Cutting, climbing, or damaging the construction and facilities is strictly forbidden. Flowers and trees should not be injured and no trespassing on the lawns is permitted. No entrance into the fence, climbing on banisters or picture shooting is allowed.
4. Defend public hygiene conscientiously. No spitting, urinating or dispersing of peels or rinds or skins of fruit and scraps of paper. Smoking is not allowed in the garden except in places where it is otherwise stipulated. (I then watched a group of six men enter and light up immediately!!)
5. Travelers are forbidden to sell articles and to conduct any business or charging activities in the garden. (But I suppose locals could?)

These are great!  Ah, China.


Shanghai, September 2002, Part Two

As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.

As I prepare for C’s and my move to Shanghai in January 2015, it seems particularly apt to take a look at when I last visited Shanghai. It’s funny, but I keep thinking that I was in Shanghai “fairly recently,” but 2002 is not recently at all! I visited Shanghai for one week during a break in my graduate classes in Singapore.

I find this excerpt interesting for a few reasons. One, these days in my Chinese reading class we have had several texts with criticisms of Mao Zedong, though his face remains on the Chinese bills. Second, my visit to the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe – at the very least I would like to take C to see one of their performances. Finally, I really can hardly wait to go to the hair salon and have one of those fantastic head and shoulder massages. As a single, without child person, I took those WAY too much for granted.

I think the Mongolian women are working here and have essentially moved into the Pujiang hotel. I thought it a bit strange that they went out dancing every single night. Yesterday I thought what a boring holiday that would be, not seeing any of the sights, and surely Ulaan Bator has a few discos to keep them satisfied. But now I am quite sure they are working here, probably at a night club, so there is little hope of them leaving me in peace any time soon. I didn’t get much sleep the night before last because they were chatting away as usual, and then one girl came back at 3:30 am and clomped around the room awhile. The other girls came back at 5 am and thought it a good time to have a heart to heart conversation, in loud voices. I sat up and asked them if they wanted to talk could they do it outside, and again “sorry, sorry” and then they launched right back into their dialogue. Probably they are rather drunk and don’t realize they are talking so loudly?

By yesterday evening, around 7 pm, I was so very, very tired, and didn’t think I was going to make it through the acrobatic performance from 7:30-9, and I had a pounding headache. But I bought some medicine and went to the performance. It was incredible!!! Simply breathtaking. I was literally on the edge of my seat, with my mouth hanging open, and making audible gasps as they continued to do amazing stunts of strength, flexibility and grace. I would highly recommend seeing this performance. I couldn’t help but wonder though about the lives of these acrobatics. How is that they got into this line of work? I think in the movie “Farewell my Concubine” we see at the beginning the children sold to the acrobatic schools by parents who can’t afford to keep them or to pay for debts, and the excruciating training the children go through to be so flexible and strong. I don’t know if that is the case anymore, or if like in the recent book I read “A Son of the Circus” by John Irving, which is set in India, that the children are often street children and are “better off” in the circus than on the street. Hmmmm……. I don’t think there are very strict labor laws like in Japan. Although in Japan there are many pop groups made up of children, they cannot perform live after 8 pm in the evening until they are over 16. In this performance I saw there was a little girl, maybe 7 or 9 years old who performed the last stunt after 9, and what a stunt it was! She balanced on one hand on top of a pedestal for approximately ten minutes, sometimes changing hands with a little hop, and stretching her legs in all sorts of contortions. It was so beautiful. She appeared happy as she made her bow, and as I was in the fourth row, so I could see all the performers clearly. But is she really happy? You could already see the muscles in her little arms and legs. She is so powerful, but so tiny and fragile at the same time. A truly amazing performance though.

I wonder about the still lingering admiration of Mao Zedong in this country. Is this man really adored? Is he venerated still after all the harm he did to the country? It seems so because his face now adorns the money here. When I was here in 1994, and even in 1996 and 1998, there was no Mao face staring at me from the currency, though it seems beginning in 1999 his face is on all the bank notes, replacing the faces of Chinese minorities. Maybe they no longer feel they have to placate the minorities for poor treatment by putting them on the money? I went to the Shanghai museum yesterday and there was even an exhibit for China’s minorities, and really well done. But to put Mao’s face on the money? Why not Deng’s face instead? I don’t see the little red Mao mirror pictures which I used to see hanging in taxis in Beijing when I was here in 1994. That doesn’t mean that they don’t hang somewhere now, but why have them when everyone carries Mao’s face with them in their wallets? Is this part of capitalism with Chinese characteristics? Every time you use money you are reminded of the revolution, of Mao? Interesting.

Yesterday I saw another spectacle on the street. As I was about to cross a street, a commotion arose to the right of me. I didn’t see what initially happened, but saw a policeman grabbing at a man, trying to hold him in a vice. The man was resisting and asking him what was the matter. Of course, this immediately caught the attention of every Chinese person in the vicinity and a circle was quickly formed around the pair. I was waiting for the light to change and cannot deny my own curiosity as to what was happening. I was more intrigued about this crowd though, and almost thought to take a picture, but could imagine the policeman then turning on me, so I refrained. The policeman kept trying to grab the guy by the hands, by the neck and so on, and the guy kept trying to get out of these attacks, but he didn’t seem to be prepared to run, just wanted the policeman to let go of him. He accidentally pushed the policeman who then fell to the ground. I let out a gasp at this, because I expected the guy was really going to be in trouble now for having pushed the policeman. But the guy then starts preaching to the crowd, pointing at the policeman and stating his case. I assume he was telling the crowd how he was wrongly attacked by the policeman. This was getting interesting, and the crowd was getting larger. I gave up trying to understand and crossed the street.

Yesterday I also had my hair done. I just went in to have my hair washed because I wanted the head massage, but decided to go ahead and have a little cut. The massage was exquisite. Wow, wow, wow!!! There was a head, neck, shoulder, and upper back massage included in this. I had my hair washed, dried, and cut. All of this for the amazing price of 29 kuai, or less than US$4!!! But what was more interesting perhaps was my hairdresser told me my hair was beautiful, I was beautiful, and would I like to go out dancing that night?! He gave me his name card and told me to call him after 9 pm!! I didn’t call him though. Too tired. But it really made me wonder. I have been in Shanghai three days and I had several people stop to talk to me, and tell me I am beautiful. One guy with his two female friends told me they just had to stop and talk to me because I looked exotic. I have been in Singapore two months and haven’t had anything remotely similar happen. But all this adoration could go to my head! Overall Shanghai seems like an interesting place to live. Sure it doesn’t have quite the cultural component of Beijing, but it is appealing in its own right.

Shanghai September 2002, Part One

As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.

As I prepare for C’s and my move to Shanghai in January 2015, it seems particularly apt to take a look at when I last visited Shanghai. It’s funny, but I keep thinking that I was in Shanghai “fairly recently,” but 2002 is not recently at all! I visited Shanghai for one week during a break in my graduate classes in Singapore.

After the overnight flight on which I got only 2 or 3 hours of sleep, I was barely conscious of my arrival in Shanghai. As a friend told me, Hong Qiao airport is more like a bus terminal than an airport, quite unlike the beautiful new Pudong Airport on the other side of the city. At 6:30 in the morning there just wasn’t much happening at the Hong. I caught a cab to the city, because of course the cab drivers all claimed that there wasn’t a bus to the city, even when a bus drove by right in front of me!! At least I talked them down from the ridiculous price of 380 kuai to the city, because the guide book said it was 50 kuai. But I couldn’t get less than 100. And it wasn’t even a real taxi, it was a nice van. They, the nice van guys, told me the taxis were just for short distances. Hmmm, I think I will be going back to the airport another way. Though, to tell the truth, $12 is not a horrible price to pay from an airport to the city in any country.

The day before my departure I had checked online for information a hotel which was to have dorms. Their website indicated all the types of rooms were available for Saturday. I figured since I was checking less than 24 hours before my arrival, I could safely expect them to remain available after I arrived. Still when I checked in and asked for the dorm I was told they were full. I mentioned I had checked the computer the day before, and miraculously one bed became available!! I just love that, milk the foreigners for all they are worth.

At 7:30 in the morning my room was devoid of people. I thought it odd that in a 6 bed dorm everyone was up and about so early. But maybe they are like me when I travel: early to bed and early to rise? I stayed up to get some water at the little mini store which opened at 8, and then I took a nap until 11. That felt good. Once I got up it was still cloudy but I thought I should at least go for a walk. The hotel I stay at is quite close to the Bund, the riverfront symbol of Shanghai. I somehow thought the Bund would be a bit nicer than it was, so much hype about it I suppose, but it is a rather cool place to go for a walk, because so many people are about. On one side of the Bund, the same side of the river is a main road, and many colonial buildings from the early 20th century. Grand, imposing structures that have a proud, weary, worn feel to them. On the other side, next to the busy brown waterway, is the modern New Pudong area, with a huge pink needle like skyscraper, a building with two glass globes flanking it, and several more shiny new tall buildings. So the Bund seems to flank both the “old” and the new in Shanghai, kind of a walkway between them? Really cool. Today I took a picture of a set of quadruplets dressed identically and wearing funny masks. They were maybe 3 years old and so cute. I am a bit surprised by people’s reaction to me, they still stare. I thought since this is Shanghai and many foreigners live here, that there wouldn’t be much staring, but I am a celebrity again!! I even noticed a few people taking pictures of me when I walked by. But I thought it was kind of funny when I stopped to check in my bag and then was on my way again, and a group of young women became frantic because they hadn’t gotten their camera out in time. Just the day before, an old man and a little Chinese girl had stopped in front of a huge Soviet-style statue and it was such a perfect picture, I was fumbling about for MY camera, but wasn’t quick enough!! I was stopped by several people today to chat and for them to introduce themselves and practice English. One guy asks if he could accompany me all day and show me around. I politely told him that I prefer to sightsee on my own. And thankfully he accepted that. I have had others in Tunisia, Italy, and Paris who would not believe me when I said that, and I was followed for hours….. But not here, not yet.

When I stopped to talk to the first guy who introduced himself to me, and then three children hung around to try and listen in and demand I speak Chinese (which I tried!), of course a few people would stop and watch the spectacle. And when I stopped to take a picture of the four identically dressed boys (all in pink!) with the funny Groucho Marx glasses on, we became a circus act in ourselves. The parents beaming that a foreigner wanted to take pictures of their children, the children unable to all have their glasses and stand still at one time, and myself trying to take the picture. A regular three ring circus it was. I managed to extricate myself from the circus and still the crowd was forming, because it seems in China when a small group of people begins to form, others cannot help but go and see what is happening too, so even after there is little to see, the crowd continues to grow.

Yesterday, I took a walk down Nanjing Lu, the main shopping drag of Shanghai. I stopped in and got a bad manicure and pedicure, but the most incredible foot massage ever! I think the pedicure was so bad, because normally they only give it to men. So my toe nails were at a rather longish length and I just wanted them cut nicely and some polish on them. They are sooooo short now, men’s length! And the polish, ugh! It was somewhat amusing to watch the man trying to put polish on my toe nails (especially as they were so short!). A woman working there saw how it was putting the polish on and told him to move and let her do it because he was doing a bad job. But she didn’t do all that great either. But the experience was worth it. The nails will grow back.

The hotel I am staying at is the Pujiang Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Shanghai, and what used to be one of the most posh It used to be called the Astor Hotel and then Richard’s Hotel, and the likes of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, Einstein, and other celebrities stayed here. Now it is the location of some of the cheapest accommodation in the city. It still has the high ceilings and imposing rooms, but all are a bit worn for wear. It has a neglected feel and seems dark and tired, but it is also kind of cool. I wonder if Einstein stayed in my room? Though I have a feeling that it was the billiards room, because the light on the ceiling has that look about it. It has what used to be a fireplace, as well as a small alcove that can be closed off, which to me speaks of a small smoking room or gambling room off the billiards area. But I could be wrong, but it doesn’t matter, I’ll just think of it has the former billiards room anyway.

Ah, but what craziness my room is! Yesterday when I arrived at 7:30 in the morning, no one is there. Then at 7:30 pm when I returned, the others are sleeping. I was annoyed because I wanted to take a shower, but a pair of pants was floating in the bathtub. But I think, well, they ARE early to sleep, early to rise people. I am just going to go and do a little email, and then I will go to sleep early. But after email, I watched the Fellowship of the Ring in the bar, and went back to the room at half past ten, which had then become a flurry of activity! All the rest of the room members are women from Mongolia, and hard partiers from the look of it! They were all getting ready to go out, putting on make-up, in all states of undress/dress, and yakking up a storm!! They were talking so loud. The television was blaring. One girl in her bed chattering away on the phone, and almost as soon as she would hang up, someone would call again. I realized I wasn’t going to get any sleep right away, so I started to write in my journal. After half an hour though, my eyes were getting too heavy. I put my stuff away, and lay down, but the yakking did not stop! They even turned to me and told me sorry, they would be off soon, and then returned to talking to each other at the top of their lungs. Mongolian to me sounds like a cross between Korean and Russian, which isn’t all that surprising, but of course I did not understand a thing. But I didn’t care; I just wanted them to talk quietly. Half an hour later they will still going strong and I was about to scream. I asked them if they were going out, and they said in two minutes, sorry, and off they went again using up oxygen as though it were in short supply. About 20 minutes later they finally left. Though one girl arrived back at 5:30 in the morning and stomped about in her high heels as loud as she could, back and forth, back and forth across the room.  I cannot help but hope these women check out tomorrow.

Today I took the psychedelic Bund tourist tunnel under the Huangpu River to the New Pudong area and checked out a mostly empty mall and the Shanghai aquarium. The aquarium was really, really good. In my opinion it is much better than the one in Singapore, which really surprised me. Especially as the Shanghai one mentions conservation, while the Singapore does not. Yeah, China!

Three More Months

In my last post I waxed poetically about how nice it is to be here in Northern Virginia for training in the fall. Now, I feel like I want to whine just a wee bit.

Here I am starting to settle in. We have been here eight weeks now, basically two months. C is getting settled in her “school” (i.e. daycare). She names a few people as her “friends” (turns out several of them are her teachers, but hey, that’s cool). When both C and I and my sister and her kids are free, C gets to spend time with her cousins. Most afternoons during the week my parents pick C up from childcare, so C gets several hours a week with her grandparents. C is in swim lessons. She finished up the Beginner Mommy and Me class and today started her first Advanced Mommy and Me class.

We are settled into our apartment. Sure, it’s an extended stay hotel, but it is home. Well, for a little while longer. We have thirteen weeks left, basically three months. ONLY THREE MONTHS!

It seems like we were only just packing up in Mexico. Oh, right, we were. That happened only four months ago.

I looked back at the past ten years and I have moved TEN times.

If I go back ten more years, I have moved a total of 22 times in past 20 years. (This does not include my traveling such as the 11 months I spent backpacking in 2000-2001, my two months traveling through Spain and Portugal in 2002 or our nomadic Home Leave adventure this past summer)

How about that?

(I know, I know. I chose each and every one of these opportunities.)

Even if I take out all of the pre-Foreign Service moving, I have physically moved six times in the past 3 years and 4 months!

I returned from Jakarta, Indonesia to start with the State Department and moved into an apartment at Oakwood Falls Church, Virginia in July 2012. In November 2012 I had to move out of that apartment into another one as Oakwood was renovating. Then in January 2012 I gave birth to C and moved out of that apartment to live with my aunt in Winchester, Virginia for two months (the reasons of which are complicated to go into – basically the government would not pay my per diem while on maternity leave). Then in March 2012 when C was eight weeks old, I moved back into Oakwood Falls Church. In July 2012 we headed to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for my first tour, and then, of course, we departed there July 1 of this year, moving into our current accommodation at the very end of August. And in three short months we will be on the move again.

Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy being here. I was not making things up in my last post. Also, a certain part of me must rather like this, the regular moving. However, every once in awhile I feel overwhelmed with the moving and I question my sanity. I wonder what it would be like to stay in one place longer term…

When looking at the Foreign Service for a career, the oft quoted time frame is that an officer will move “every few years” or “every two to three years.” However, the reality is that an officer will likely move more frequently. Most often the increased frequency depends on training in Washington, DC and certain posts with shorter terms.

When you join the Foreign Service you start in Washington, DC in training at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, VA. If this is not your home before joining the FS, then the State Department will move you there. You could be in training for six weeks or six months or one year. It depends on where you are assigned. Many who are assigned a Washington, DC post for their first tour move out of the State-department provided housing into their own housing. So even if you stay in DC for the first year (most of these DC tours are just one year), then in 14 months you have moved twice, and you are likely then preparing for a third move overseas for your second tour, again depending on how long you will be in training prior to that tour. Moves are just par the course.

I am excited to get to Shanghai and set up our new place. Being the crazed list-making fool I am, I do, of course, have a list of how I will decorate C’s room in Shanghai and a list of places to visit and things to do together. After all, we get to stay there for a WHOLE TWO YEARS.

Basically, though I am tired just thinking about this next move even as I start preparing for it (it’s time for the time-honored tradition of applying for our diplomatic visas!) I am keeping in mind that right at this moment many of my FS colleagues are preparing for or in the midst of their own moves. There are friends raiding Costco for must-have food items in bulk. Others are having their final farewell parties and dinners with friends at home, in DC, or at post. Or even saying final farewells to favorite haunts and foods that will be unavailable or difficult to procure in post X. Many weighing suitcases and boxes in bids to estimate if their carry-on, Unaccompanied Baggage (UAB), or Household Effects (HHE) will meet the maximums. No move is the same, but it is comforting knowing that I am not the only one doing this. Also, that I have survived moves in the past and most probably will survive the next.

Of Two Minds

It is really nice being in the United States. I cannot say I love studying Chinese (there are good days and not so good days), but I do enjoy being in Northern Virginia. Autumn is such a lovely time here. I missed autumn in Mexico. Contrary to what many people thought, it did get cold in Juarez, but there is no changing of the leaves, then crispness in the air and cool, drizzly days. It was really, really hot and then it was not quite so hot. It rained maybe five times a year and I did not even carry an umbrella.

So although recently it has been rainy and cool, even this self-confessed tropical weather chaser has liked it. I have even bought C her first rain coat and it made me ridiculously happy to do so.

I really like living in Herndon. We are very close to where I grew up. I regularly drive past the Pizza Hut I worked at the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. Across the street is the shopping center where the parents of one of my best friends in high school had their Chinese restaurant. C’s swim school is located in the same store space as the Hallmark my mom used to take my sisters and I to spend our allowance. In the same shopping center is the McDonald’s where they gave me a free small fries when I showed up in my Halloween costume (I dressed up as a bag of McDonald’s small fries!) There is also the Giant Food Store my best high school friend worked at for years. The shoe store where I had my first job is now a dry cleaner; the first pizza place I worked is now a Pollo Peru, but the reminders are still there.

I lived my whole childhood in the same place, in this area. Even Falls Church, which I drive through each day to and from the Foreign Service Institute, is not only where I lived when I last did my Foreign Service training, but where I lived with my aunt and uncle one summer in college. I love the Lost Dog and Stray Cat cafes. There is a wonderful park in Falls Church across from the library. I used to walk down there when I lived with my aunt and uncle. I feel my cheeks burn when I think about the time I made out with a boyfriend there. (And they are burning now) When living there 2011-2012 I picked up pregnancy books at the library and just a little way up the street a policeman at the town hall helped me install C’s first car seat.

Washington, DC too is close. As a child, I spent many a day at museums on the National Mall. I still remember the summer my dad worked at the Air and Space Museum and he took me to work one day. We visited the Smithsonian castle and the National Museum of American History many times. Yet the National Museum of Natural History was the runaway favorite, most especially the Egyptian mummies, the dinosaurs, and the live insect section. Later, as an adult, I lived in DC for four years and the Spy Museum, Newseum, and National Portrait Gallery became new favorites.

There are memories really on just about every corner; I have a history here.

I have found myself daydreaming about what it would be like to really live here again, not just to be here on a temporary basis while training at FSI. I try to puzzle out where I would like to live. In the heart of DC in a chic neighborhood like Eastern Market or Georgetown? Falls Church with its small town feel right outside of DC? Reston, in the area right around the pedestrian-friendly shopping center? Or right here in compact, convenient, and historical Herndon?

What really hits me is that C will not grow up in just one place. She will not really have a home town. She may or may not ride her bike around the neighborhood. It will depend on where we are living at the time – if it is the kind of place kids ride bicycles or not. It is highly unlikely her elementary school classmates will also be in her middle and high schools. She may attend as many as three or four elementary schools.

It is not a bad thing. It is only a different thing.

Yet, I find myself feeling wistful.

Then I think ahead to Shanghai. I have heard such good things about living there. I have already compiled a lengthy list of things for C and I to see and do, one for almost one-third of our 104 weekends. I can hardly wait for us to take a stroll along the famous Bund, possibly wearing matching pajamas. I look forward to taking C to the Wild Animal Park and the fantastic Ocean Aquarium. I see us taking in a show of the famous Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe. And finally the cherry on the top of my I-am-taking-my-Disney-loving-toddler-to-Shanghai sundae: Shanghai Disneyland is slated to open in late 2015.

I think of all the opportunities that C will have. She has already been to more countries by the age of two than many Americans will visit in their lifetimes. She will visit many of the finest places in the world, be they amazing cultural or natural sites, famous or not. She will meet and make friends with people from all over the world. Heck, by this time next year she will probably be speaking Chinese!

Although a single town or area will not have landmarks of her childhood, she will have such landmarks all over the world. That is amazing to think about.

10K is the New Half

Today I ran the Freedom’s Run 10K in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Originally though, I had signed up for the half marathon. It was to be my West Virginia half and one I was pretty excited about. (I even checked with the 50 States Half Marathon people to make sure it qualified for West Virginia since the majority of the run is actually in Maryland.) Runner’s World magazine ranked it among their Top 25 Half Marathons as well and named it a Bucket List race. Who would not be tempted by that? Certainly half marathon enthusiasts would find it hard to turn down. I absolutely did.

However as race day came ever closer I realized I just would not be ready. This felt different than my concerns before the South Dakota half. This was not just nerves; this was hard reality.

Who would have thought it would be easier to train in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, former murder capital of the world and an always dusty, sandy high desert locale, and while traveling around on my crazy Home Leave? I did not. I envisioned fabulous long runs along tree-lined, beautifully maintained Northern Virginia running trails. I did not factor in juggling my Chinese training and study schedule and being a single mom of an active toddler.

I tried to train C to sit quietly in the gym with her iPad and Stuffie the Black Kitty but that turned out to be a laughable proposition. I sometimes managed two miles with several pauses in-between to tell C to sit down, put down the weights, not to touch something, get off the other treadmill, and so on… <sigh> THAT was not going to be a reliable way to get my run in.

Again I went to the Freedom’s Run website.

“The Half Marathon is very challenging”

“The first 3 miles are flat on the C & O then the difficult Antietam Battlefield section begins as you join the marathoners.”

“Once leaving the Canal the course is very hilly and rolling through Antietam Battlefield.”

“As one 2009 participant stated aptly ‘Freedom isn’t easy.’ These words will be your mantra through the scenic Battlefield.”

Um, yeah. Not only was my training crazily random and many would have a hard time calling it training at all…but the course would kick my a** even if I were training. It was time to email the organizers and drop down to the 10K. The elevation of the 10K chart indicated it would be plenty enough of a challenge.

And it sure was! Temperatures were perfect and the course lovely. At least half the course followed alongside the Potomac River on a tree-shaded road; the leaves in red and golden mid-Autumn splendor. The course though was HILLY, the organizers were NOT kidding. One particular hill, on the way back into town, seemed to go on and on and on…

As I had looked ahead to this half I had also made a decision to not participate in any more organized runs. I simply do not have the time to train. But…after three 10Ks in five weeks I must admit the distance has begun to grow on me. It is still a challenging distance, particularly with my current situation, but it is a distance I can train for and run without taking up quite as much time as a half marathon.

So, yes I have signed up for yet another 10K in four weeks. They had a long sleeve pullover and a distance I could not resist. I am on the lookout for more.

I will miss the half marathons. I may not run another until next summer, after my Chinese training, after my Chinese test, after we have moved to Shanghai, after I have had a chance to settle in and find out if and how I might train for one. I certainly would like to give the Freedom’s Run half another go. Until then, the 10Ks will have to tide me over.