Monday, February 28, 2011

Blood, Sweat and Tears (aka Babysitting)

I had a sneaking suspicion when I told my brother and parents that I could come home for the wedding that I'd be doing a lot of babysitting. That suspicion was confirmed when my mom told me several weeks ago "You'll be doing a lot of babysitting."

Normally that's fine. I've got nothing against most kids. But this weekend, it was me and my cousin going up against three 3 year olds, two 5 year olds, a 7 year old and a 9 year old. Given that I'm not the biggest fan of babysitting ratios where the kids outnumber the adults, this was sheer madness.

Friday afternoon, we had some help from Pixar (Bug's Life to be more specific), but by the time the rest of my family got back we'd had one inexplicable bloody nose, a bumped head, several very poopy pants and a gallon worth of tears. Not bad for a day's work, eh?

Saturday morning was equally exciting, especially since several of the kids didn't get much sleep. In the end, though, everyone made it to the wedding intact, give or take a pair of socks.

So depending on how you look at it, the weekend was either hands-on training or demonstrative birth control. I've often said that the worst part about life overseas is not being there to watch my nieces and nephews grow up. This dose ought to get me through until the next time we fly home.

And the exciting part is: our family will keep growing, as it's highly unlikely that my siblings and I are done having kids (especially M and I, since we haven't even gotten started yet)...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The pathetic state of my mediated life

My first morning back in the States, I decided to head to the church I used to go to in high school. Which, by the way, made me surprisingly depressed when I realized that it'd been almost 10 years since I last went; I'm getting old.

On my way out, I noticed that my phone's battery had died from looking for China Mobile service all night, so I plugged it in and left it. Also, I had left M with our US debit card, so all I had on me was a wallet slightly full of RMB, a water bottle, my Bible and my dad's keys.

I really enjoyed the service, but after church let out, I walked the new sprawling suburban megachurch campus feeling strangely alone. I did get a chance to look up my old pastor, who's still there. But perhaps because of my Chinese perm (see last post) he didn't recognize me at first.

After church, I got back in the car and started heading home until I realized that my parents were at their own church service so no one would be home for 3 hours, I had no phone, and to make things worse, I couldn't really think of anyone I knew in a 30 mile radius who would want to hang out with me just then anyway. I thought about grabbing lunch but I was (uncharacteristically) not hungry, so I decided to catch a movie at a nearby theater.

I bought a ticket for a movie showing in half hour, bought some snacks and then realized I didn't know what to do with myself while I waited. I asked the ticket-taker if I could go in the theater and she told me to wait until they finished cleaning. Several minutes later, I was alone in the theater.

Instinctively, I reached for my non-existent iPhone as a diversion. I was so desperate, I even looked for my Bible (:P), but I'd left it in the car. And then a gripping fear set in: I had to wait half an hour with nothing to keep me interested. Which is kind of funny because the movie itself was just a way to kill time anyway.

One of my friends once told me that my enneagram type has a basic fear of being bored. Given how spastic I am, I wasn't that surprised, and Sunday only served to further confirm the fact.

Here's the thing, though: I know I'm not alone in this. Frankly, we're a generation of bored-ophobes. Media has come to rule, and even worse to actually mediate, our lives. We've got TVs on the subways and buses, smartphones with apps and perpetual connectivity, the ubiquitous book, magazine, newspaper, or snack in our bags.

I'm not trying to be a Luddite here, just kind of verbally processing how dangerous it is that we're addicted to media, that we demand constant entertainment and are all too often appeased in those demands.

When we're completely honest, we're running from ourselves, medicating our pain and escaping from reality. These days, unfiltered reality isn't good enough for us and we have to augment it. There's all this talk about 3D being the next big frontier, but I think sometimes we forget that real friggin' life is already in 3D. Technically, aren't we in like 4D?

This ish has become so pervasive that my parents have 4G Android smartphones and while their downtime away with their unlimited data plans. Let that sink in a bit. I'm hella proud of my parents for riding this new wave of technology, but I never thought I'd see my dad streaming YouTube videos on a smartphone on the massage chair he bought off Craigslist. That's just straight up Twilight Zone.

And if you haven't realized it already, I'm the biggest hypocrite here. I started this blog post while Gchatting with M about it and watching my brother rehearse his wedding dance using Xbox Kinect and Dance Central.

When I realized I was bored in that movie theater and how foreign and frightening that experience felt for me, my first response was to tweet it. Haha. And that's how I knew I was really bored. Because I couldn't even tweet how bored I was.

So while this is a post about how sad it is to be bored, it's more a post about how sad it is how sad it is to be bored. I'm not saying the solution is to get rid of technology, Lord knows I rely on the mass production and consumption of media and content for a living.

But it's probably about time we got back to some of the ancient disciplines of silence and solitude followed by a dose of old-fashioned human to human interaction.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Back in the US of A

Hello from the San Francisco airport. I'm on a brief jaunt to the States for my brother's wedding.

Perhaps it's because I let the hair stylist perm my hair. Or maybe it was the Chinese grandma sitting next to me that I was helping out. Or was it because I wore my sweats onto the plane? For whatever reason, the matronly flight attendant on my United flight totally thought I was a Chinese citizen. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But when I asked for the English/U.S. citizen customs forms, she definitely gave me an incredulous look.

I guess I'm flattered. Hopefully it's more of a Hudson Taylor kind of thing than that of my old college floormate.

Anyway, it's good to be back home, if even for a short time. Excited for my brother to get married (finally). I realized a few days ago that him getting married will mean that our family is (hopefully) done choosing people to add to the family. (Unless anyone decides to adopt?)

I'm really happy for him. I think they're a great match and she's going to add a lot to the family. Not that you can trust what I say here because he'll probably read this.

Despite the fact that it's pouring rain here in San Francisco, the approach was beautiful. I love our life in Beijing, but life in California is pretty frickin' sweet too.

The buzz wore off later when I was standing in the security line and it struck me how miserable everyone looked. It was bad. I guess an airport security line is just one of those places where no one actually wants to be, no matter what country you're in.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Beijing's fourth best deal

Life in Beijing has a few perqs. Sure, we may be in the midst of a 100 day drought. And sometimes when I blow my nose, the snot comes out black. But forget about all that stuff for a moment while I tell you about Beijing's fourth best deal.

Inevitably, some of you tricksters will want to know what Beijing's first through third best deals are, so I'll just get them out of the way. (survey says…*ding*)

1. Domestic help, affectionately known as an Ayi. The going rate for an Ayi here in Beijing is, in my opinion, far and away the best deal in Beijing. We recently began teaching our Ayi how to make all sorts of stuff like pizza dough, cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip cookies, so expect me to gain about 20 pounds when she gets back from her Spring Festival break.

2. Public transportation. Using a public transport card, you can get around on Beijing buses for as little as 6 cents and go anywhere on the subway for about 30 cents (except the airport which will set you back $3.50). That makes BART feel like a luxury brand. A really ugly luxury brand stuck in the 1980s that reeks of vomit and urine.

3. Hand-pulled noodles. Now that I know that you have to go 10 rounds with a lump of dough to produce a bowl or two of hand-pulled noodles, the $1 bowls of noodles at my local green-awning Lanzhou beef noodle soup joint seem like even more of a deal.

Now on to our main event. Beijing's fourth best deal.

4. Mondays at Flamme. Element Fresh chef Jeffrey Powell had a brilliant idea. Let's have all the quality of Element Fresh without the burden of all that healthy mumbo jumbo. And thus Flamme Steakhouse was born.

For a limited time, the house steak (98 rmb for 150g, 138 for 260) is buy one, get one free on Monday and Tuesday. Plus, Happy Hour goes all night on Mondays so drinks are 50 percent off.

In a shameless plug on M's behalf, this month's copy of The Beijinger has a coupon for a free drink at Flamme on page 33.

I've had varying quality levels on the steaks during the few times I've been, but considering how hard it is to get a decent affordable steak in this city, I'm more than happy. Depending on how you look at it, the fact that the steaks arrive in about 5 minutes time could be a really good thing, or a really bad thing...

And honestly, I'd keep coming back just for the sides. Their classic fries are the best fries I've had in Beijing, and if you need more fries, you can always double up with their garlic parmesan skinny fries. The creamed spinach and squash roasted with butter and sage are serious tastiness, but be forewarned, they're definitely not guilt-free.

If you can handle another dose of deep fry, the zucchini chips are a great deal. 28 kuai for a big bowl, but they're better if you share them with a group.

So the next time you're sick of riding around on the subway eating noodles with your Ayi, get off at Tuanjiehu and head over to Flamme in the Village.