Monday, February 27, 2012

(Mis) Communications

Most days I seem to have pretty bizar communications. With my own boys I speak Dutch, but they often reply in English:

Anne: Kom, we gaan even de hond [van de buren] uitlaten.
Thomas: We're gonna walk the dog? [this is the neighbor's dog]
Anne: Ja, kom, we gaan.

And a similar thing happens when I speak Chinese to some people around me. Some Chinese here have worked with foreigners so long that they have either good English or have at least found their own ways of communicating in English.

So last night I was sending a text message to a friends' ayi (the help), asking her to please come pick up the friends' dog from our house the next morning. I typed my message in (possibly incorrect) Chinese, but look at the reply:

Pretty funny, hah?

And how, oh, how do I type in Chinese you wonder? Well, there's a transcription system for the characters, called pinyin. So when I want to write Chinese characters, I write the pinyin, and then my phone suggests a couple possible characters that would match that word in pinyin.

For example, here I am trying to write "ni hao" (hello):

The first option in blue is already the right one (你好), so I just need to select it and it will show up in my text message.

And if I don't even know the pinyin, I can always look up a word in a dictionary on my phone. Here I was looking up "Netherlands" in the Pleco dictionary:

And finally, if I receive messages that I can't read, I can open them in Pleco too, and the software will help me understand what characters go together to form words. See below for the word "Netherlands" again.

Pretty darn handy, ey? Or as Pleco would say: zhen fangbian de! 真方便的!

In het Nederlands: Ons leven bestaat uit een nogal rare mengeling van talen. Ik zelf praat Nederlands met Simon en Thomas, maar ze geven toch vaak in het Engels antwoord. En als ik Chinees spreek met iemand kan het ook zijn dat er Engels teruggesproken wordt. 

Het typen van de Chinese karakters om een berichtje of email te sturen is overigens best eenvoudig. Elk Chinees karakter kan ook in "pinyin" geschreven worden, zodat je kan zien hoe je het uitspreekt. Als je dat woord in pinyin kan onthouden, dan kan je dat ook gebruiken om op je computer of telefoon het bijbehorende Chinese karakter te vinden. Je moet dan wel opletten, want meerdere karakters kunnen hetzelfde klinken, wat betekent dat meerdere karakters (met verschillende betekenis) geassocieerd zijn met hetzelfde woord in pinyin. Je moet dus nog steeds wel leren wat elk karakter betekent.

Er zijn duizenden karakters en ik heb wel eens gehoord dat ik er zo'n 2000 a 3000 moet leren om een krant te kunnen lezen. Ik ken er nog lang niet zo veel, maar wel net genoeg om wat eenvoudige berichtjes te kunnen componeren en -- ook met behulp van de computer -- een aantal te ontcijferen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Long Qing Gorge Ice Festival

My recent blog posts have been a bit heavy on the domestic side (Thomas, shopping, pollution), so it's time for another peek into China. Sort of.

Just a few weeks ago we went to the Long Qing Gorge Ice Festival. Think massive ice structures, big enough to walk around in. I didn't quite know what to expect, but it was excellent. A bit crazy perhaps, definitely weird, also quite tacky, but worth the 1.5 hour drive up north.

Slides carved out in the ice brought fun for the older kids!

Ice sculptures.

What's this guy from Arlington, VA doing in Long Qing?

Crazy ice temple.

Big enough for a 3rd Grader.

Big enough for a 3rd grader and his brother.

Big enough for the whole crazy family. (My hoodie was tied with a knot and I could not get it off. I think I look like a crazy little-blue-riding-hood.)

How's this for an ice sculpture? You say you built a snowman? I say I just built the entire Forbidden City and more. Look at the woman in the foreground for a sense of scale.

It's pretty much a city with electricity and lights. In Spring there will be running water. Notice again the size of the people compared to the ice sculptures.

Attention for detail.

It's the Year of the Dragon after all.

The ice sculpture maker got a bit lazy I think. This is just fabric, but it looked awesome. It's the face of a character in the Chinese Opera.

In het nederlands: dit zijn fotos van een bezoekje aan het Long Qing ijsfestival. Je loopt buiten - al is het overdekt met doek en lichtjes - en bekijkt en kruipt in allerlei ijsstructuren. Al met al een beetje bizar, maar wel heel leuk! Je moet toch wat in die lange winter in Beijing... 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Here We Go Again (Air Pollution)

Wednesday 8:05 am:

Anna: What a strange weather today. The colors are really weird.

Thomas: I know what it is mom. It is pollution day. I am going to need my jacket against the pollution...

Just a snapshot from an otherwise average day: the pollution count is "only" in the 200s -- on a scale from 0 - 500 (see this post from last year)-- but indeed the colors outside are weird. It might also just have been a lot of sand and dust, I am not sure. It just kind of looked surreal out there just after 8 am.

8am? Yikes, Thomas missed the school bus and I drove him to school. The little whippersnapper took a couple shots from the pollution day for my blog.

If you want to learn more about air pollution, there's a very recent article in the New York Times, presenting the good news that China itself has started to track PM2.5 concentrations (the concentration of the smallest and thus unhealthiest dust and pollution particles). The American Embassy in Beijing has already for a long time been reporting those numbers on twitter, but the Chinese government had never publicly released this data, or used it for its air quality assessments.

The fact that de PM2.5 data is now officially measured and published, however, doesn't mean that there is a national standard for what these levels should be. And the PM2.5 levels here in northern China are already much higher than what's even allowed in the U.S.:

"In a yet-to-be-released December report relying on Chinese government statistics, the World Bank said that average annual PM 2.5 concentrations in northern Chinese cities exceeded U.S. limits by five to six times. In southern Chinese cities, the concentrations were two to four times higher."
(From the New York Times article; note the reference to the World Bank.)

Thomas in his pollution gear in front of our house.


Who needs a school bus if your mom has a car?

View from the back seat. A lot of pollution dust in China comes from the many construction sites. You can see on the photo that you never have to go far to find one. Two houses next to us--covered by the black plastic in the photo--have been completely removed last summer and will probably be rebuilt this spring.

8:30 am. School is about to start and it is supposed to be more light outside...

In het nederlands: Ik schrijf nog al eens over de vervuiling hier. We praten hier over vervuiling zoals je over het weer in Nederland praat. (Wat is de index? Gaat het waaien? Als het regent, regent het wel weer weg...). Vandaag was overigens niet een bijzonder vieze dag (de vervuilingsindex was "slechts" 200 op een schaal van 500, wat weliswaar in andere landen als zwaar vervuild wordt gezien maar hier regelmatig voorkomt) maar het was vooral raar geel en stoffig. Ik bracht Thomas even naar school en hij maakte de foto's vanaf de achterbank. (Ik beloof overigens binnenkort ook weer een fotootje van Simon te posten! Die had natuurlijk wel netjes de bus gehaald...)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Leesburg Mall??

So Paul is in Washington D.C. this week. For work. (And work seems to involve an endless string of dinner parties with old friends, neighbors and colleagues.) Yes, it is hard work.

Paul's trip to D.C. reminds me about one of the oddities of life in China. In the country that gives name to "made in China," it can sometimes be hard to buy things at a reasonable price.

Sure, if you go to the markets and bargain hard, you can get good prices and some knock-off items for a few dollars or euros. But if you want to buy quality, it can be hard to find and often things are much more expensive than in the U.S.
To give you an idea, here are some items on my wish list for Paul to buy in the U.S.:
  • Kids' shampoo -  Shampoo is either expensive here, or it's a brand that makes you think your hair might turn green or fall out.
  • Over-the-counter medicine - At the doctor's office we can get any medicine that we might need, but for over-the-counter things (tylenol, paracetamol, etc.) I put more faith in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration than in their Chinese counterpart. It just seems safer to buy in the U.S. (Plus, you can read the directions.)
  • Lego and other toys - Lego is available here, but at a much higher price. Many other cheap toys fall apart or break within the first hour of play (see also this blog post). I asked Paul to just go to the toystore and see what games and toys are around these days.
  • Contact lens fluid - My preferred brand seems not to be available in China. Weirdly enough in the stores I only see fluids for soft contact lenzes, and in any case not the one that I want. So we buy it in bulk and ask friends to bring it when they visit!

While Paul already has been shopping in the Leesburg Outlet Mall, last Saturday I actually had to go to a shopping mall close to us to get some shoes for Simon (who had accidentally exchanged his shoes at school for a smaller size shoe and now literally has no shoes to wear- poor boy). Here are some pictures from that mall. It's made to look like an American outlet mall, and I think they might have actually used the Leesburg Mall as the model!

Just like Leesburg, VA (in the U.S.) except for the Chinese people in the picture.

If you are tired from shopping...
I can't believe they actually haven't invited this kind of transport at a U.S. mall. (Or have they??)

Leesburg or Beijing?

Kun - Teng - Kou - Frei - Chi - Kun
OK, I just made that up.

Isn't that an oxymoron? "Armani Outlet"?

Brooks Brothers is also present. (This is a common store in U.S. outlet malls. I am not sure if it's also in The Netherlands?)

More to come...

In het nederlands: winkelen in China valt niet altijd mee. Je moet onderhandelen over de prijs en de kwaliteit laat het vaak afweten. Jasjes voor de kinderen zijn bijvoorbeeld goedkoop, maar dan vallen wel de knopen eraf na een week en de rits gaat een paar keer stuk. Je hebt tandpasta van een paar cent (die we dan niet vertrouwen) of van bijna een tientje.
Vandaag ging ik schoenen kopen met Simon en liep een half uurtje rond op deze Amerikaans uitziende winkelbuurt. Paul is nu in Amerika, in Washington, D.C., en deze Chinese winkelbuurt lijkt echt op een outlet mall vlakbij Washington waar Paul gisteren was. Ik heb Paul een boodschappenlijstje meegegeven voor wat dingen die hier niet makkelijk te krijgen zijn.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dutch News in China

Last Friday our Dutch Prince Johan Friso was seriously injured in an avalanche during a ski vacation in Austria.

Of course this news made the headlines in Europe, but I was a bit surprised to also see it on the front page of the China Daily online today.

Here's the article. If your Chinese is not that good, try this BBC article.

In het nederlands: Dit spreekt wellicht voor zich. Het nieuws van Johan Friso stond zelfs hier in de krant, op de voorpagina van de China Daily.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Week in the Life of Thomas

Rumour has it that people have been waiting for an update from China. (Hallo ooms!)
Well, the last week it seems like all we have done is focus on Thomas. You might think I am a tiger mom, but I honestly had little to do with this boys' overscheduled life this week (other perhaps than giving birth to him 6 years ago.)
Here is his week in pictures.
Wednesday February 8
Thomas turns 6!
In the morning we open presents, including a package from grandma in the Netherlands.
Thomas' class gives him a book with drawings for his birthday. (Thomas is in the back with the checkered shirt.)
Birthday cakes at school.

We had cup cakes for everyone in Thomas' Kindergarten class.

At night, Paul is back from his trip in China and has more cake (and "rode kool") with the boys.

Grandpa and grandma are on Skype to wish Thomas a happy birthday.

The birthday boy shows his presents to tante Johanneke and grandpa and grandma.

100 days at school!

On Thursday, all the Kindergarten kids celebrate that they are exactly one hundered days at school. Everyone brings some artwork to illustrate the number "100."

Thomas and a friend in front of Thomas' one hundred days project: 100 silly faces. (It took me one hundred times of reminding Thomas that we still had to do his project :-)

Show of the "Greedy Triangle"

On Friday morning it was KG Assembly time, which meant that all the Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes gathered in the school's theater. And this  particular Friday, Thomas' class was the "host class," so they did a show for the other classes.

Thomas was a "greedy triangle" who wanted to "get one more side and one more angle," which for the mathmaticians among you means that he turned into a square (which was another kid), then a pentagon, hexagon, etc, until the greedy triangle had become a circle, but still was not very happy. You can check a self-help book to figure out how the circle became happy again.

Jedi Training

On Saturday morning Thomas' friends came to our house for his Star Wars birthday party. The kids were "younglings," who had to prove themselves worthy of becoming true Jedi's. (SPOILER ALERT: All the kids became Jedi.)

Two Jedi in the making.

The birthday celebration continues.

Another friend, anonymous, comes over for Thomas' birthday. They have so much in common!

Monday and Tuesday, we actually don't do very much--other than rehearsing the lines for Wednesday...

2nd Wednesday
KG Art Show

On the second Wednesday, a week after Thomas' birthday, it was time for the KG Art Show. All the Kindergarten kids presented their artwork -- painting, crafts, singing, and dance -- in a show for the parents. This is Thomas' self portrait. I wish I had a broccoli leg. (Or actually, considering my athletic abilities, perhaps I do have broccoli legs.)

In the entrance of the school was a display of the kids' art work. It was part of their exploration of "homes and buildings," which was the topic of a recent Unit of Inquiry. (The units of enquiry at the school are overarching topics that guide the curriculum, so science, math, reading, and art, are all related to the topic of the unit of inquiry.) 

Thomas' home. Kind of funky FEMA trailer.

After the visual arts, there was the performing art show with dance and singing. Thomas is in the top row, second from the left with a purple scarf.

2nd Thursday
Orange Day!

On Thursday, Thomas got an certificate for knowing all the "orange sight words," a small collection of words (back, just, much, like, then, and so on) that they are learning to read.

On Thursday evening, the Orange Day continued, with Thomas' kongfu class.

Together with a friend he performed the right sequence of steps and punches and got his orange belt in a mixed martial arts program.
So I hope you understand we were a little busy this week!
In het nederlands: Het was een drukke week voor Thomas! Vorige week woensdag werd hij zes en op donderdag was er feest op school omdat de Kindergarten klas precies 100 dagen op school was. Op vrijdag gaf Thomas' klas een voorstelling voor de andere Kindergarten klassen en op zaterdag was Thomas' kinderfeestje. Op zondag was er weer bezoek en de woensdag erop nog een voorstelling, deze keer een kunstvoorstelling voor de ouders. Tot slot haalde Thomas op donderdag zowel een oranje certificaat voor het lezen als een oranje band in zijn gemengde "martial arts" klasje. Pffew. Dit is geen normale week hoor - volgende week doen we het weer wat rustiger aan (hoop ik).