Saturday, December 31, 2005

Last Post of the Year


Angus and Gemma with their Great Papa George in June 2005

In about an hour it will be the new year here in China. We are currently visiting Kunming, in the Yunnan province and have finally found the sun after 4 months of overcast in Chengdu. Sadly though, we had bad news this afternoon. After a battle with multiple myeloma my Grandpa George Amano passed away peacefully at his home in Torrance, California. If you had the opportunity to meet this wonderful man who was the most caring, generous, loving, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather you were very fortunate. Gemma and I will be leaving on Tuesday to come back to the US for his funeral and to spend time with our family.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Environmentally Friendly?

My ayi today me, or rather we used our sign language, to let me know that we had ran out of toilet paper. I went to the gym for my indoor work-out and then went into Carrefour, our lovely grocery store that smells like the smoked animal skin, to buy some toilet paper. When I lived in AZ I always bought my toilet paper in bulk at Costco, so it was always too big to carry with one hand. When I was checking out the lady didn't put my toilet paper in a bag which concerned me because I walked to the store. I noticed a handle on the packaging of the paper and thought to myself how environmentally friendly that was to save a shopping bag. I am also coming around to the babies with no diapers thing. Not that Angus will be mooning the people of Chengdu anytime soon. There are 1.5 billion people in China, can you imagine how many diapers that would be???

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Seasons Greetings from the Du


Our 2005 Holiday Card pictures.

I have been wanting to post more and thought I would get the chance because I thought I had left the holiday hussle and bussle back in the states, but I was wrong. It has actually been more hectic than normal. My small little kitchen has no counter space for Gemma and I to create our cookies and candy. Plus I can't get all of the ingredients to make some of my holiday favorites. I would do anything for a bottle of peppermint extract right now to make my Bavarian mints!!! Luckily a fabulous friend from home, Elaine sent me two big bags of pecans for one of my cookies and sweet potato casserole. I ended up making a huge mess of our house as our cooking making was done on the dining room table and ran around Chengdu searching for ingredients for the cookies.

Another thing that made us so busy over the holidays was the lack of good shopping for the holidays. Oh how I wish I could be at home and just sit down in front of the computer and shop to my hearts content. Unfortunately, we were running to one of the 8,000 department stores in Chengdu looking for kids toys, clothes and little things for my husband. There were slim pickins for the kids, but luckily we all seem to have a DVD fetish right now, so they came in quite handy as gifts. (Speaking of which, I just got the second season of Lost on DVD! I was tickled! Now if they would just get Brokeback Mountain on DVD soon...)

And lastly there were so many holiday parties, birthdays celebrations, etc going on here it has been crazy! I feel like I could call the Shamrock my home away from home! I even have been known to help out behind the bar from time to time. I am really looking forward to a rest this week before we head out to Kunming for the week-end.

We celebrated Christmas Day at home. We opened gifts with the kiddos and talked to some friends and family back in the US and UK. It was great talking to everyone and helped us make it though the holiday. We had a big turkey dinner in the afternoon and had a few other expats over for dinner. I want to thank everyone who kept us on their Christmas card list! I really love getting mail and it was so nice to get a few cards in the mail from our family and friends.

We wish everyone the happiest of holidays and I look forward to seeing everyone in the new year!

Saturday, December 17, 2005



I am the big "1" today!!!

Angus turned one last Sunday. In my wildest dreams I didn't think my son would be spending his 1st birthday in China! We had a little party at our favorite Western restaurant, Peter's and pretty mellow celebration.


Here is the cake that the owner, Peter had made especially for Angus. The restaurant is Tex-Mex, so they have Angus Beef on the menu. When we first moved to Chengdu and met Peter, he was surprised that we named our son Angus. He designed the cake like a sticker you might find on beef.


The proud Papa and his rock-n-roll son. Notice the AC/DC shirt? Na, na, na, na, na, na, na ANGUS!


Angus with Asma. I think Asma has baby fever, she is always trying to steal Angus from us!


Gemma eye-balling the cake that I made. It is suppose to be a rugby ball, but didn't quite turn out that way.


Like his father, he likes older women. Here is his older girlfriend Maddie.


Angus loved the whole singing and candle thing!


And the cake was a hit with him!


We had a great day and it was a great year! Angus also gave me a little present right before the birthday. Just 3 days before his party he started to sleep through the night!!! Whoopee!!!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Family Expat Holiday Party


Oh how I love to decorate cookies!!!

Last Saturday afternoon we attended the expat Holiday Party for families put on by Jonny's company. The company also had the brilliant idea to have the employee party the night before in which I didn't see Jonny roll in the door until 5 a.m. I feel like I have a teenager in the house! It was a great party and my friends Angie, Reed, and Sadie did a fabulous job decorating and planning the festivities. Here are a few snapshots from the day!


Angus enjoying his food.


Gemma and Angus with Santa. Can you guess who Santa is?


Here is the family with Santa.


And the girls with Santa. Rumor is that Sadie has a thing for Santa!


Speaking of having a thing for is our future son-in-law, Xavier with his betrothed! We have already worked out with Xavier's parents that the kids will marry when they are in their mid to late 20's. When in China, arrange marriages!


Here is Gemma with her good friend Tea.


Gemma and her classmates, Tea and Sheryl


More classmates, Shu Jane, Sheryl, Tea, and Gemma


There was a fabulous band that played for the last hour of the party. They were a cover bands from the Philippines and I tell you those girls can move! The kids loved it although I am not sure how appropriate the music and dancing was since the second song of the night was Sex Bomb by Tom Jones! Here is a photo of guest singer Sadie with her favorite band in Chengdu.


And Miss Gemma cutting a rug!

Monday, December 12, 2005

You know Chinese New Year is coming when...


when there is pork hanging from the ceilings and balconies.

Yes, indeed that is meat hanging. It will hang there until the end of January when the Chinese celebrate Chinese New Year. I walk through our housing compound and you can always tell when your neighbors are Chinese when you see link after link of sausage hanging off their balconies. I have heard from others that they will even hang dead cats from their balconies preparing them for their new year's feast. Luckily we will be somewhere on vacation, so we won't be dining on any of these delicacies.

Last week my friends Asma and Sophie attended a cooking class to learn how to cook Sichuan- style Chinese dishes. We learned how to cook sweet and sour pork, ma po dofu, kung pao chicken, fish-flavored eggplant, and crispy rice with vegetable sauce. It was a great class and we had fun along with great food. I have to say my favorite was the ma po dofu. The teacher, who spoke zero English thought I was crazy. I wasn't following instructions and she would curse me everytime I didn't use 1 cup of oil in my dishes. I was explained that in Sichuan cooking it was very, very important to use a lot of oil. I just ignored it and just used a tablespoon of oil in my dishes. They were also using recycled oil. When we finally realized that the oil we were using wasn't fresh we asked for fresh oil. I have never seen such dirty looks in my life!


Sophie, teacher, and Asma chopping and stirring. Check out our cleavers!


Asma stir-frying her little heart out!


Here is the crispy rice with vegetable sauce.


Sophie tasting her delicious cooking.


Group photo

I am not sure if you noticed from the photos that we were still wearing our coats. It was freezing in the kitchen. There was no heat and the 2 burners we were using didn't really keep us very warm. I am still trying to get used to most places not having central heating.

I am really looking forward to coming home this summer and cooking a feast for my friends! I promise not to use any Chinese bacon!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Holiday Celebrating and a true taste of Chinese culture

This past Saturday we had a holiday celebration at our friends, the Pontius' home. Everyone brought fabulous appetizers and wine. Amy made these fabulous cheesecake brownies that I have been craving for the past 3 nights! The Pontius' are heading back to the U.S. to celebrate the holidays with their family and wanted to get together with all of us before they took off. We had a fabulous time and listened to festive Christmas music. Here are some snapshots of the evening.


Angie, Reed, Sadie, Amy (our gracious hostess!), and Me


Brad and Angie


Bruce and Reed


Our hostess and host, Amy and Jeff!


Rock and Jonny

I have to say the holiday season has been different around here. There is definitely less hustle and bustle and also less pressure to buy the perfect gifts. I haven't even began to shop for Jonny and the kids. I think we will probably have a minimalist Christmas, which is what I always strive for but never achieve. I have to admit I am very jealous that the Pontius' are going back to the U.S. for Christmas. As much as I have been saying I don't care much about where we celebrate the holidays, since we are always away from our family anyway, I sure wish we were with family for this holiday season.

On Sunday we had been invited to lunch at the Hardgrove's house for lunch, which was being made by their ayi, which happens to be our ayi's sister. We were getting ready to go and my ayi with her son and husband showed up at our house. I thought this was a bit strange that the Hardgrove's ayi would invite her sister's family to the Hardgrove's house. I asked our driver what was going on and he said we weren't going to the Hardgrove's for lunch we were going to a countryside village to Da Yang's house for lunch.

We drove about 40 minutes outside of town to Da Yang's house. We thought the gesture to invite us to their house was really nice. We really wanted to see how the locals live in the villages and we definitely got a taste.

When we arrived Da Yang's family greeted us. They lived in a one level house that had cement walls and floors. It had no central heating and the house looked like it needed to be finished. I have never appreciated central heating as I did yesterday.


Here is the front door. They eat their meals in this dining area.


Xiao Yang and Angus


Angus and me at the dining table with all of the scrummy food!


Our hostess and chef, Da Yang!

After lunch we loaded up the van and Da Yang took us to a Buddhist temple by her village.


Here are a few monks praying.


The temple is in renovation, but will be complete by Chinese New Year.


Rock and Jonny praying to Buddha.


Here we are with both our ayi's families and our drivers.

We had a nice afternoon and we appreciated the taste of Chinese culture. I was amazed that they lived without central heat, especially in this cold climate. It has been in the mid 40's F, so it isn't just mildly cold, we are close to freezing. I am almost positive that the majority of China DOES NOT use heat in the winter. Our driver who considers himself middle-class, has central heat, but does not use it. He told me "he is not scared of the cold". Unfortunately being in Arizona for the past 10 years has made me afraid of the cold. I am just thankful that we have central heating in our house.

One thing that my wise husband pointed out today was that even though Da Yang and her family live in less than modest conditions, she is the happiest and generous people we have met while in China. It has really given me something to think about.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Driver dilemma

I forgot to mention something in my last post. I figured this deserved a post of its own though. While we were in Shanghai our driver decided to drive our van. Now it isn't really our van, it belongs to the company our driver works for, but nonetheless, it isn't his van either. When he picked us up from the airport he was sporting a baseball hat, which I thought was quite strange. When I got closer to him I noticed that he had a huge bandage on his forehead and he took us to the van that just happened to belong to Jonny's boss. While we were out of town Joseph decided to take the van to his parents for dinner. On the way to his parent's home a bicycle jumped out in front of him, which is very common here, and he swerved to miss the bicycle and ran into a cement block. We understood that it most likely wasn't his fault because there are several million bikes in this city and they think they own the road, so we didn't think a thing of it. That is until Joseph started sending other drivers to pick us up. We couldn't really get a straight answer out of him on why he wasn't able to drive for us and why we had several different driver in several different vans. Finally we decided to speak with Joseph's boss.

Jonny spoke to his boss and he told him that Joseph drove the van without permission and had his parent's in the van. His father had to go to the hospital with a broken shoulder and put 30,000 RMB (almost $4,000) worth of damage to the van. So that is the real story. We were a little taken a back that Joseph failed to give us all the details. So since finding out the real truth of the situation we have had 5 different vans, the last one smells of cigarette smoke and someone used the cup holders as ashtrays, his dad has had 2 surgeries on his shoulder and we still don't have our van back. Joseph has also lost all confidence in his driving and some of his habits are starting to get to us. Like for instance, he doesn't have good oral hygiene. I don't think the man has ever used a toothbrush and the smell of his breath is unbearable. Jonny has said he was going to talk to him about it, but how do you tell someone that their breath is horrible? We are considering finding a new driver, but we are really torn. He really knows the city, not geographically necessarily, but if you need something he knows the best place to find it. I think we will give it another week and if things don't improve we will start to look for another driver. Oh how I wish I had my Honda Odyssey here with me, sigh!!!