China: June 7th - 13th Visiting Grandma

Sunday we went to visit Yue Li's grandmother, on her mother's side.  She lived with her daughter and husband  and helped care for Yue Li until she Yue Li was two, then moved in with her son and his wife to  help with their children. 

Yue Li's father and Little Star.  We've arrived at Grandma's.

Two months ago, Yue Li's grandma moved to this small retirement home in the country.  An "eighty yuan taxi ride" (how Sky and Yue Li speak of distances in Chongqing), or an hour's drive from our apartment, we first passed through a small mountain village packed with weekend tourists from the city, then drove another five kilometers, part way on a dirt road, to this home of twenty rooms, two residents to each room.

I think I should mention we hurried to get ready that morning - and Yue Li had been up late with baby.  This is the explanation I have for little Guy's outfit.  It's possible the shirt was an old one of Xing Xing's.  Little Star does not have her usual put-together look either, I see.  You know how it goes. There's good days and bad days....

I need to point out the dog. She belongs to Yue Li's dad. She goes everywhere with him. On the bus, in the taxi's, through town, on vacation, to the doctor's, and so on.  He never has to call her, she's just always there. 

From L to R: Yue Li and Xing Xing, Yue Li's step-mom, Yue Li's dad, me, Yue Li's Grandma, the dog.

We stayed a couple of hours and then caught a ride with this guy into the city.  He was on his way to pick up groceries for the retirement home and didn't mind some extra cash from us. I was really grateful I didn't have to walk the five kilometers back into the mountain town then take a bus. It was hot and muggy that day.

He let us off in Nan Ping where Yue Li's newest shop is. We're all going to get some lunch and check it out before we split up. Note the dog making sure everyone gets out.

She a little herder and scout rolled into one. She forays out in front of everyone then comes back to weave in and out of our feet, never once tripping anyone up.  If one of us lags behind, she trots behind that person until they catch up and we're in a nice little group again. Then off she goes to scout the territory ahead.  And she's a poodle, not a heeler.

Opening up the shop, which is located underground, like so many of the shops are here.

Xing Xing was the only one of us besides Yue Li who had been to the new shop.  With great formality, Little Star introduced us to the shop by taking our hands and individually lead Grandpa, then grandma, then me into the shop. 

The dog waited for everyone to leave the shop before she began her "rounding up" to get us in our tight little huddle again.

Chinese fast food.  The place is huge and packed. Here everyone is in line to order.

My Deal Meal. Mushrooms in gravy, rice, soup, and pickled somethings. Oh, and unidentified black food that I took a pass on.

Yue Li's meal. Spicy vegetables and chicken.

This was a small stack for the bus boy. On his previous run, five minutes earlier,  the trays were piled up to his chin.

Free refills of rice and soup.

The menu.

The dog takes a break from her herding duties.

After we ate, Yue li went to her shop to work, and Xing Xing, whose pre-school had shut down for the week because of two kids coming down with hand, foot and mouth disease, went home with grandma and grandpa. I went home to recuperate. Big day.


A Nurturing Wing

We broke the school dress code with our hip-hugging, skimpy cut-off shorts and bra-less halter tops.  And certainly we broke the smoking code, which read, “No Smoking on the Clairemont High School Campus”.  I sat on the closed toilet seat and she, with one hand propping the stall door open, the other holding a cigarette to her mouth, eyed me closely.

“Africa! Can you guys believe it? She just moved here from Africa!” Heads turned briefly in the smoke-filled bathroom, then just as quickly back to the more interesting news of who was dating who and where the next keg party was.

Her frizzy auburn hair framed a freckled face with glasses, and I wasn’t sure, but I thought one eye was a little, off.  Mostly I was focused on the intensity in which she absorbed me, the details she drew from me, and the observations she made about me – “You’re so tan! You’re so pretty!”

I’d hoped to slide under the radar the first few weeks and get my footings before actually talking to anyone, but here I was on my second day, cornered in the bathroom stall.  Her personality filled and spilled out of the small space, her vibrant curiosity lighting up her eyes, her grin - she never smiled - only grinned, incredulous, accepting, and welcoming.  I’ve never asked her what she saw, but whatever it was, I was instantly brought under the nurturing wing of her seventeen-year-old heart.

I wasn’t the first, and certainly not the last stray to be plucked from a lonely perch in life and swept into a world where ordinary things were more colorful, more fun, and full of good times.  But I’m one of the few early ones whose life was completely changed by her – not too long afterwards she introduced me to her older brother, and not too long after that we married.

Now she fights a disease that could take her life.  Yesterday, while she was under the knife and surgeons removed cancerous lymph nodes I did my daily tasks in a country so alien it usually demands my constant attention, but I saw little of it.  Instead I envisioned her husband and son, brother and sister-in-law, waiting anxiously for news of what the doctors had found.  I thought of how they must have received it, and how they chose to tell her.  In my mind I saw her awake to a body in pain and with defenses down, too vulnerable to hear that her fight had just begun.

Last year Guy was moments away from death when he crashed his quad.  Two years before that, I nearly died as well, when I opened my arm on a barbed wire fence, miles from any help. From those experiences we both changed in profound and lasting ways.  We emerged, not perfect or unbroken, but with the ability to take more joy from life.  To distant observers, our lives were the same. To us, and to those people close by us, it was obvious that discontent had turned to serenity, bitterness to appreciation, from dwelling on what we did not have to celebrating what life brings to us.

And I learned something.  I cannot tell the future.  What I try to predict rarely comes true.  What does come true is so unexpected I don’t even have the imagination to conjure it up.  And when it comes it’s almost always something to be happy for and to celebrate over.

What my sister-in-law, Gail Rose, has received here is not despairing news but a work order.  And as part of her love team, I’ve my marching orders too. I’m to listen carefully to her needs, whether those are voiced by her, or one of her next-in-command, and respond immediately and with all my abilities.  And I’m to stay out of the role of future-telling and stay in the moment where I’m much more useful.

I’m not the pro she is at extending nurturing wings, but I’m getting ready and flapping hard in preparation of extending mine.


China: June 5th - 6th

Xia Lang, Yue Li's friend, standing in front of Yue Li's Paul Frank store.

It was 1957 and she was eighteen years old.  Her mother had given up on life, and her sister, crippled from birth, could not work.  They were all the family left to Xia Kelan.  Then she got a job at the government-owned oil company.

“The first month I worked for my company I gained fifteen pounds,” she said, smiling at the memory.  “Finally there was enough food and I could support my mother, my sister and myself.”

It was not family or love that sustained Xia Kelan throughout her life.  The ever-faithful bedrock she drew strength and hope from was the oil company that employed her until retirement.  Her job provided Lan with a security she’d hardly known in her difficult childhood, and provided her opportunities not possible to obtain in the war-torn country of her youth.


CHINA: June 1st - June 4th

Remember I told you Yue Li shopped three days in Chengdu for clothes for her shops? Well, she needed to make room for them so she cleaned out the baby clothes that weren't selling  put them in the biggest plastic sack I've ever seen (200 pieces) and hauled them back to our new (yes, NEW) apartment in the taxi with us yesterday.

She and Skyler had spotted some sidewalk vendors across the street and she thought that would be a good place to offload them.  I was assigned to guard the spot she choose next to the plastic shoe seller while she went up to the apartment for a blanket.

I had to fend off the hair accessory gal, but made up for it later when I bought a barrette from her.

So we've laid down the blanket and dumped the clothes out.  Yue Li is standing with the black change purse strap slug over her shoulder.
I have the watch baby assignment.

The clothes are a big hit, selling at 15 yuan each, or $2 each.

Yue Li multi-tasks, feeding the baby while giving change.

Some of our neighboring sidewalk vendors.

A bong bong with fruit.

Homemade .... something. Pretty popular, I saw plenty of people go by with this for their evening meal.

The greens guy.

Mom and daughter resting
Nail supplies.
Looking down the sidewalk toward our spot on the right.  We're just beyond the rack of pajamas.  

Across the sidewalk from us.

Fruit stand and balloon lady.

Socks and underwear.

The shoe woman is next to us. I helped keep good relations by buying a pair of flip flops.

Skyler shows up on his new (used) motorcycle.

Pajama man strolls through.  Very common to wear pajamas in public here, more on that later.

I amuse myself by taking pics of the cute babies out with grandparents and parents for their evening walk.  Check out this gal's hairdo.

Sooo cute!
After an hour we pack up and leave.  Yue Li is quite pleased with her take, and hopes to do it again tonight.


CHINA - Trip to Chengdu May 29th-31st

 My photos could not do the bullet train justice: The stations and the trains are futuristic - for lack of a better description.  I feel like I'm in a science fiction story on another planet.  Everything is so huge - the train stations were bigger than many international airports in the U.S.

Our train was full.  Sky estimated it held 1300-1500 people in sixteen cars.

It's 315 kilometers to Chengdu. It takes two hours.  Here we're traveling at 195 km/h.

Ever the thrifty woman, Yue Li saw no reason to get Xing Xing a seat  - after all, she spends most of her time standing up or sitting on laps.  

The advantage of traveling with "locals".  The kids pick a hotel that caters to the Chinese - nice, clean and $25.00 a night.  Of course, I can't tell you the name of it, and if I go somewhere I either take their business card or take a photo of the front - in case I get lost and need to show someone what it's called.

Our mission on this trip was to get Xiao Yang's U.S. passport.  Here Mama and Baba discuss their appointment with the Consulate the next day.

I could not take photos of the U.S. Consulate, but let me just say things have changed a lot in the last thirty years.  When I was a girl, our foreign embassies and consulates, like most country's, were prominent, flag bedecked structures with lots of pomp and presence. Now they are hidden - often in high-rises, like the Canadian and British Embassies in Chongqing, where you can't stop on their floor in the elevator without clearance from below or using a key code.  Our consulate in Chengdu is still a compound with structures, but the security is amazing, and there is one small single U.S. flag hidden partially behind some trees.  We could not take anything into the building like bags, only the papers needed for the appointment and a diaper bag for the baby.  Which was x-rayed and inspected, of course.

The appointment went smoothly and Xiao Yang's passport will be ready in a few weeks.

Chengdu is more "westernized" than Chongqing, and offers several western food restaurants and other establishments.  Here at the Bookworm, a bookstore/restaurant/bar British chain in China, Xing Xing and I wile away the day while Sky is visiting friends and Yui Li and baby shop for clothes for her shops.

Chongqing does not have a place that offers more than a shelf or two of English books - here they have a whole section of children's books.

The Bookworm is a strong supporter of Chinese and ex-pat writers, and published one of my short stories in their bi-annual publication, The Mala Literary Journal Volume 2 Issue 1.

At "Grandma's Kitchen" another restaurant favorite.

In the hotel lobby, waiting for baby to nurse before we get a taxi to the train station.

We're all exhausted on the way home.  I got the single seat on the way back, and Sky suggested they cough up the extra $10 (half-price) for Xing Xing's ticket next time.


Lots of countryside and farmland between the cities.  To this non-farmer, it appeared most of the crops were rice and canola.