Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pure Decadence

If I told you that I was experiencing native life in China, I would be lying. We're staying in a 5-star hotel, eating at 5-star restaurants and meeting at Beijing University (the Harvard of China.) There is nothing pedestrian about this trip...and I'm kind of okay with that :)

We checked-in to our rooms and noticed the luxury right away. There are feather pillows, down comforters and a bathtub with a retractable divider from the main area so you can see the television while you lounge. They even provide three complimentary bottles of water a day, as well as all the amenities you could ever dream of, including a beautiful comb made of wood.

Our meals have been at some of the nicest restaurants in town. Course after course is deposited in front of us, each beautifully presented. There were all sorts of interesting dishes laid before us. On this trip, I tried unpeeled shrimp, jellyfish, rabbit, and a variety of unnamed fruits. At the tea house in the Olympic District, I ate a soup made from some type of bark that was supposed to make me more beautiful and drank tea that was supposed to make me look younger. I almost asked for seconds when the traditional Chinese dancers came out and gave a performance for our benefit.

The next night, we ate at a restaurant which is famous for its Peking Duck. Again the courses flowed, one after the other. The table was full of sea cucumber, duck liver, orange chicken, ground duck, jellyfish and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Finding a Diet Coke here is almost impossible, but the peach nectar that they offered at dinner was a welcome substitution. With all of the great company and delicious food, the meal carried on well into the evening. Afterward, we went out for a foot massage.

While I miss my family greatly, the decadence of this trip is not lost on me. I understand that when I return home this all ends and it's back to dishes, laundry, and responsibility. I'll embrace that with open arms, but until then, I'm going to enjoy every minute of this!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

No Blogger for Me! - Brought in from Facebook Notes

Well, I tried to make an entry in Blogger about my day yesterday, but was greeted instead with an unfriendly screen that forbid me to continue. I don't read Chinese, but I can only assume it says something like "Wait until you get back to your own country to practice freedom of speech."

Fortunately for me, I realized that I can write it as a note in Facebook until I get home :)

It took me a while to recover from the queasiness of the plane ride, in fact I'm not sure I have yet. My first night's sleep was incredible, in a beautiful bed with goose down pillows and comforter. I had pampered myself the night before with a bath from a luxurious tub where I watched tv and had a cup of tea. In the morning, I had just started to stir when I got a call from my travel-mates, Mike and Toby, that they were ready for breakfast.

The breakfast buffet was so tasty. There were pieces of fried dough with ground meats in the middle, fried buns wrapped around ground meat, and ground meat surrounded by pasty and fried. They had a rainbow of juices and tasty gelatinous treats. It was so yummy that it gave me hope for the cuisine of the day.

We met Andrjez and Steve downstairs and decided to share a cab to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden city. The cab ride was long, but the company was great. The first hour or more after we arrived was filled by picture-taking and getting our direction. I was prepared for large crowds and shoulder to shoulder sight-seeing, but instead saw a desolate and quiet downtown area.

After navigating through Tienanmen, we headed to the forbidden city, but first, a bathroom stop. The public restrooms were actually fairly clean. I wasn't shocked to find that I was expected to squat over a hole in the ground (I had been told about it before I arrived) but I was surprised to see that there was no place for toilet paper, nor were there any hooks to hang our belongings. I was a little concerned about how clean the floors were, so I opted to skip the preemptive potty break. After that, it was back on the sidewalk to the palace.

At the gates of the Forbidden City, many people stopped to take pictures of the buildings and all of the guards. We stopped momentarily and a Chinese native grabbed Mike and asked to have his picture taken with him. Mike politely agreed, and I laughed hysterically. When he realized that I was included in the bargain, he asked me to come join them for the picture. After trading off with his friend for one last shot with the blonde and the red-head, they shook our hands and set us free. It was very odd, like a mixture between being a celebrity and a sideshow attraction.

Once inside the gates, the professors left us, and Mike and I explored the Forbidden City alone.

Alone is just the term I would use, too. There were so few people in most of the areas, that we were able to get several pictures without any passers-by. It was almost creepy how easily we could navigate the area...that is, until we reached the Emperor's bedroom. Throngs of people gathered to oogle and photograph the ancient boudoir. Once satisfied with the peek, the crowd moved on and traffic dispersed.

I was a little disappointed with myself for being so jaded by it all (excuse the pun) but years of seeing all the sights in pictures and on television took some of the awe away. It was fun to be in the images, but it felt very normal, not at all surreal.

Early in the afternoon, we left to get some lunch, then decided to take a bus back to the hotel. The bus ride was about 18 miles and took a little over 2 hours. The highlight of that trip was the end, where a very cute Chinese girl came up to Mike and struck up a conversation. She helped us locate our stop and gave Dalby her card, asking us to call her if we needed anything while we were in Beijing. She then gave him a great big smile. She was obviously into him.

With her help, we were deposited right in front of the Lakeview hotel. I was absolutely exhausted, so I went up to take a nap before heading out for the night. Unfortunately, I couldn't get myself to wake up again! I ended up sleeping clear through the night until 2 am when I awoke completely refreshed and ready to play. Everything around was dark, so I decided to contact my family and video chat with my boys instead. I was really grateful to see how happy they are, and even happier that they grew tired of watching me in the webcam in less than 10 minutes. It let me know that they aren't missing me too badly.

Now, here I am, nearly 6 in the morning, and ready to start another fun day! Yay for Beijing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The waiting is the hardest part

Ever since the first time I can remember flying, I've hated it. I have what I will refer to as the 'Acme Complex.' I know that people fly all the time, and the vast majority of those flights make it safely...but somehow I feel like if I look down, all that magic will drain and we'll suddenly fall from the sky, just like Wile E. Coyote has done so many times.

I admit that this thinking isn't limited to flying. I feel the same way about gravity to some extent...and molecules. 'Looking down' is obviously metaphorical for looking too deeply into the things that seem impossible. And somehow, I have no fear that my atoms will rearrange and very little fear that we will all suddenly be flung from earth.

In any case, the jitters that I get before a flight are inconsolable. I tell myself over and over that I'm gonna be fine and hear great friends reassure me that nothing's gonna happen. I know that, but we don't *know* that. So, anyway, here I sit, waiting in the airport.

The steps up to this point were mildly stressful, but only enough to be fodder for some good stories. I managed to get both my passport and visa inside of a month's time. My debit card was turned off because of a database leak, and a new card reissued, but that card wasn't here yet yesterday...I took care of that. I found out last week that there was no room reserved for the night that I arrive, but a friend took care of that, too (thanks Toby).

The most difficult thing so far is saying good-bye to my boys. I've never been away from them this long...or even half this long... and my heart is hurting already. They'll be with their Aunt Randee during the days and their daddy at night, so I know they're well taken care of, but it still pains me to go so long without having the chance to hug them. I've got several pics on my computer & iPod and I even printed some out so I can look at them on the fly.

As I was kissing them good-bye, acting like it was no big deal, Jackie asked me to please stay with him. I told him I couldn't, but he'd have so much fun with his cousins. He then informed me that he was coming with me. I smiled and told him that mommy only had one ticket, but I would be back in a week. Hopefully his brother will remind him that mommy's always thinking of them and I'll be back as soon as I'm able.

Well, that's the scoop so far! Stay posted and as time permits, I'll write more!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Abandonment issues

I'm so heartbroken about this, I can barely stand it. If you want to read the story I'll be talking about, I've posted the link at the bottom.

Before I start, let me just say that in general, I am for the safe-haven laws that make it legal to leave unwanted babies at state-licensed hospitals without legal repercussions. I think it's a positive alternative to abortion and a safe alternative to tossing newborns in a dumpster. The fact is, unplanned pregnancies are scary and inconvenient and can be tragic. Hormonal young mothers don't always think clearly and in my opinion, it's better to have an unwanted baby left in a safe environment than fed to the metaphorical wolves.

With that said, I'm seriously disturbed by the news that in Omaha, this law extends from newborns to 18 years of age. In fact, in the last year, nearly 18 children have been surrendered to Omaha hospitals. My disgust for this comes not from the law that allows teenagers to be abandoned, but the parents who have taken advantage of it. Most of the parents who have used this 'service' list uncontrollable behavior as their reason for leaving their children behind. I say, it's really no surprise that a child would act up if you're the kind of parent that would abandon your 14 year old daughter because she has a hard time listening.

I think our dollars would be better spent advertising free in-home guerrilla counseling (think Supernanny) than advocating abandonment.

While safe-haven is a brilliant alternative to ending the life of a baby, the consequences of a misbehaving teen aren't quite as dire. In that situation, both child and parent could benefit society much more if they can be taught the skills to cope with their dysfunction, instead of running away from it.

Restrictions on Voting?

I received an email today from my dear friend Zach, with a link to this video. It's basically a puff piece from 20/20 illustrating why many of today's youth shouldn't be voting.

In the same email was this response - a parity for sure - but still rather negative and the subject is more a refutation of the video above than a logical argument about why everyone should indeed be encouraged to vote.

The 20/20 video blatantly suggests that voters who don't know enough about the way the political system works should stay home on election night. It's degrading the value of the "naive" voter...a voter who still believes in their country even though they don't understand the inner workings. It insinuates that if someone doesn't understand politics, they can't possibly have a credible opinion as to who should be leading the country.

In the video, someone likens uninformed citizens voting to uninformed friends giving medical advice. In my opinion, that comparison should be made about giving advice on choosing a doctor. We aren't going to be performing the surgery ourselves, we're merely helping to decide who we trust to do it.

Do I think that the country would be better off if everyone who voted took the time to familiarize themselves with the issues at hand before they cast their ballot? Absolutely. But elections are about choosing someone to represent *YOU* and your beliefs. In this country, you're entitled to believe whatever you want to believe, no matter what your level of education. If you want to write in Santa for president, go ahead. Sometimes it's the believers who get the most done.

In conclusion, democracy works best when it remains democratic.