Sunday, August 26, 2007

Eli and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial



Before we entered the Vietnam Veteran’s memorial, I read the kids the riot act, explained to them what it was, said it was like visiting a church or synagogue, or graveyard and that they had to be quiet an respectful. We walked in and they behaved.

There were two ladies, mother and daughter, trying to reach up high to make an etching of someone’s name, but they couldn’t quite reach. I asked if they needed help. They thanked me and said yes. Becky, Anna, Michael and Jacob continued on, but Eli stopped with me. I stood on my tiptoes and struggled to etch the name, which the women said was a relative. Meanwhile, Eli was reading names. He understood what they represented and he became sort of awestruck at what he was seeing:

“I see an Eli!”
“I see an Alan.”
“Dad, there’s a Michael and a Jacob.”

I finished, the ladies thanked me, and Eli and I continued on. He asked me if we had any relatives who died in the war. I told him no. He asked me why there were flowers and flags left along the bottom of the wall. I explained that people who knew and loved the soldiers left them in respect of their memory.

He said, “Dad, even though we didn’t really know anyone, could we leave a flower for them, too?”

I was touched, said, “Eli, that’s a really nice idea but I’m not sure where to get a flower, or if we’ll be able to come back here. We can look, though.”

We walked out. The others were waiting – Jacob and Michael had just breezed through, seemingly unmoved. I saw some wild daisy type flowers growing on the lawn and told Eli he could pick one and put it on the wall. He plucked two and I walked back with him.

“What do I do, dad?”

“Put it down on the ground and say a prayer for one of the soldiers, or even for all of them on that section.””

“How do I say a prayer for them.”

Big gulp.

“Well, you might say something like this, ‘God, please grant peace to these soldiers, who gave their lives for our country, and for their families, who miss them very much.”

“Do I say that on the inside or outside?”(He meant out loud or to himself.)

“Inside is fine.”

He very meticulously placed a flower into the crack of the wall, and another on th bottom and shut his yes for a few seconds. “Ok,” he said.

I gave him a big hug and we walked out.

Pictures from the Trip -- DC














I have lots of pictures from our trip to DC, but oddly not enough of our kids with the Moy children. This was the only stop on our 2,000-mile-plus journey that did not involve visiting family. It was about reconnecting with our friends Kathy Chen and Kin Moy and their kids. They were our first friends in Beijing and all of us welcomed a chance to catch up, but especially Jacob, who has talked about Andrew almost every day since he moved back last summer. But it was also about connecting with something deeper – what it means to be an American.

We wanted to go to DC initially because we thought the kids could really use a dose of American history and knowledge. After two years studying in the British curriculum, Jacob knows a lot about ancient Roman, Greek, British and Chinese history but his knowledge of American history and politics was decidedly lacking. We realized that months ago when he blinked and looked blankly when we asked him about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

He has improved since then because we got some books, (and aunt Judy sent a bushel-full after her spring visit). Still, he needed more American knowledge, and so did Eli. I hoped that bringing them there would help them really understand what it means to be an American. I know that sounds grandiose, pompous, maybe even absurd... but I really hoped that seeing these sites, they would feel some of the power and patriotism they inspire in so many and which it’s really hard to just impart.

It’s easy to be cynical about politics and particularly the presidency and all its accompanying pomp, particularly now. But I think it’s important to reign yourself in and allow the children to feel some uncomplicated pride and patriotism. They have plenty of time and brainpower to become cynical later in life. I still remember visiting DC when I was about 9 and feeling an incredible urge of patriotism. I want my kids to have that as well.

What I didn’t really realize, however, is how powerful my own feelings would be. I looked up at the Washington Monument, lit up at night and felt awed. I turned to my right, looked across at the Capital, lit up at night, and I teared up. That surprised me, but it was only the beginning. It was our first night in DC and I felt some form of hoper emotionalism for the entire visit.

We took the kids to see the White house at night and I felt pride and I reflected on the fact that there is no White House in China—people there have no idea where the leaders live. Their residences are secret, sealed off, heavily guarded and shrouded in mystery. That symbolizes something, and so does the ability to come late at night and stand behind an iron gate gawking at the president’s residence. So too does the protestor silently smoking a cigarette underneath the clapboard “end nuclear proliferation” sign, an outpost supposedly manned round the clock since 1982. You can argue about the futility of such a gesture but after living in China for a few years, it’s hard not to appreciate their right to do it and the potency of their mere presence.

The next day we returned to the Washington Monument, eventually going up. But not before strolling the mall, visiting the World War Two memorial, walking the mall and entering the Lincoln Monument. It’ s place I was particularly moved by on that family trip when I was a kid and again on several subsequent visits. I looked forward to sharing it with my kids and hoped that they would feel some of the power that I have experienced.

I really can’t say whether or not they did feel that awe. I had a hard time keeping them interested in the Gettysburg Address, which I read to them. But a few things happened over the days that made me feel at least like some of what they were seeing and experiencing was sinking in. I am going to write a whole other entry about Eli and the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, but there were also a few things Jacob said…

A few days after we saw the white House protestor, Jacob said to me, “Dad, you know that guy sleeping in the little box outside the White House to show George Bush his war is wrong?” This was not what he was actually doing, and we didn’t say it was – it was Jacob’s own interpretation—but I just said, “Yes.” “Well,” he said, “I think he’s doing the right thing.”

I also had tried explaining our system of government, the three branches checking and balancing each other to prevent a dictator or monarchial rule. I had no idea if that sunk in. But here in Beach Haven the other night the kids were about to go to the arcade. Jesse, 15-year-old cousin, was leading them and
we made it clear he was in charge.

“He’s the president,” Jacob said. ‘Yes.” Then Jesse’s 12-year-old sister Emma said, “I’m the vice president.” And Jacob and, “There is a court that’s not controlled by Congress…”

“The supreme court?” Jesse asked.

“Yes. I am a judge on that, okay?”

Okay.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pics from the Trip -- Bolivar








We were supposed to have five days in the country but it rained and rained and rained some more. think Noah. So we headed into the city (Pittsburgh) after two and a half days or so. Still got some soul nourishing in.

Jacob, Michael and Dixie fished like Ahab, then smoked their catch. Nothing as surprising or satisfying as watching Jacob eat a big plate of smoked torut and bass -- which was delicious, I must say.

Pics from the trip -- Kennywood





We snagged nephew Michael Langwald from Michigan and kept him for a fun week. These pictures are from the legendary amusement park Kennywood. I did not take enough pictures in Pittsburgh, which is looking as lovely as ever.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Last week's column


How Cash Cools Tempers
In Chinese Traffic Mishaps

August 17, 2007

Ever since I got my Chinese driver's license, I worried about getting in an accident. The packed roads and erratic driving made me fear for my and my family's safety. But even setting aside those primal fears, I had other concerns.

I have heard stories of Westerners being surrounded by crowds and harassed in the wake of accidents. A Chinese-American colleague of my wife, Rebecca, told me that once, years ago, she got into an accident with a pedestrian. She got out to check on him and was surrounded by a crowd of people demanding that she give him money. Her feeling of being taken advantage of was particularly acute since she felt fairly sure she hadn't really hit him -- that he slapped the car and fell over. After much discussion, and feeling very intimidated, she eventually drove him to a doctor, who declared him unscathed.

If that could happen to her, fluent in Chinese, I wondered what would happen to me. I also recalled a conversation I had with an American woman giving me a ride home within weeks of my arrival in Beijing. She told me that her husband's employer, a Fortune 500 company, gave her an emergency number to call and instructed her to lock herself in her car and wait for help to arrive in the event of an accident.

There are plenty of opportunities for confrontation since law and custom dictate that following an accident, the involved cars do not budge until the police arrive to photograph and document the scene. I often see two cars stopped, and the drivers discussing the situation -- usually calmly, sometimes aggressively. I have also noted that these drivers occasionally wait hours for the police to arrive -- and that they will not move an inch, even if traffic is snarled for miles.

In my first seven months driving here, I piloted a beater 1992 Jeep Cherokee with more dinged than smooth surfaces and had no problems. Within two months of buying a new car, however, I backed into a compact car, looking right over its low rear end as I attempted an absurd reverse merge onto the busy Jing Shun Road. The driver charged at me, waving a cigarette and screaming, but I quickly calmed him by accepting responsibility and assuring him I would pay. His rear panel was badly dented. In America, it would be a $500 repair; I had no idea what it might cost me in China.

I called Rebecca's office, where the office manager told me that someone would come help me. I handed the phone to the other driver. He didn't want to wait for anyone to arrive from downtown and just wanted 300 renminbi (about $40). I only had 250 renminbi on me, which he accepted with a smile and a friendly wave good-bye. A small crowd watched all of this from a distance. They never pressed forward, and I never felt the least bit threatened. It seemed like a good deal and I even felt bad I didn't have 300 renminbi on me.

Months later I had a less happy experience. I was driving down a small road alone with 6-year-old Eli and Anna, then 3. My merge onto Jing Shun was blocked by a stream of buses, so I stopped and was there for two or three seconds before I was slammed into from behind. The impact was relatively mild, and the kids were a bit stunned but totally unharmed. I walked back to check on them, and then got out to inspect the damage.

The car that hit me was a late model VW sedan, the driver a guy about my age who looked solidly middle class. We grunted at each other, I checked my bumper, saw that it was bruised and scraped but not badly damaged, said "mei wenti" (no problem), waved at him and turned back to my van, ready to drive away. Because the rear car is always at fault in a rear-end collision, if I said it was OK, then it was OK. Or so I thought.

He replied, "wenti wenti," (problem, problem) walked to the front of his car and pointed to the right front panel. Above the wheel were a crumple and a small tear. I called Rebecca's office manager again, explained what happened and asked her to talk to him.

Her report back to me: "He says it was all your fault. You stopped suddenly and were in his way." She said I should wait for the police to arrive and sort it out, but I dreaded the delay. She said I could surely pay him off, but I refused. This just wasn't my fault.

As I stood there, cars were swerving around us at absurd angles to get onto the main road, and I thought it was a dangerous and vulnerable position; I didn't want to be rear-ended again. So I moved the car, just a few feet up and over onto the shoulder, to free the lane and allow access onto Jing Shun. It seemed the sane thing to do.

Before I got back out, I told Eli we had to wait for the police and he burst into tears. "Just drive away, dad. Don't let them get you." I assured him that I wasn't under arrest and the police would just take pictures and he calmed down a bit. The other driver, however, had grown agitated, apparently by my violating protocol by moving my vehicle.

As I stepped back out, he returned, speaking rapidly. I couldn't understand him, so I called the office manager back, they had a long conversation, and then she told me that he wanted 500 renminbi. We both agreed that was ridiculous; maybe he thought I was toast since I had moved. She advised me to wait for the police.

"But they'll just blame me anyway," I said.

"Probably so," she agreed. "But your insurance will pay, not you."

"In America, if you are rear-ended, it is always the back car's fault," I said.

"You're not in America."

"I know; I want to know if that is the law in China as well."

"I don't know. I don't drive here. I'll find out and call you back."

Our conversation was interrupted by a scream from within the car. I ran over and found Eli beating Anna over the head with a Luke Skywalker figure. She had spent the last 10 minutes provoking him until he couldn't stand it any more. This was an untenable situation. I took 300 renminbi out of my wallet and handed it to the guy, telling him he wasn't getting a penny more.

He did not object. I felt slightly abused, but happy to be on my way home for less than $50.
* * *

Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published. Read comments by readers on my last column about bargaining at Beijing's Silk Market.

As a Westerner who visited Hangzhou to train my client's Chinese office, your column brought back memories of our time in the markets. You definitely aren't alone. One of the Chinese women who helps us out says she feels "dirty" after a day of shopping -- she and most of the girls never go to the markets to shop, unless with visitors. One of the men who is an expert bargainer (his parents used to run a stall in a rural market) regularly gets yelled at after helping visitors get bargains.

That being said, there are some great prices available. My custom suit cost $120 and my silk tie to go with it cost a buck!

-- Charlie

My New Year's resolution is to embrace custom clothes.
* * *

Damn! I thought they meant it when they said "special deal just for you" at the markets when I lived in Hong Kong.

When I told my Beijinger wife about you doing better than the Chinese, she showed her skepticism by saying "check the quality".

-- Paul Hamill

Please tell your wife that my buys were definitely on par with Sue's, except where noted (her scarf was nicer).
* * *


Your article made me reflect on the ups and downs of finding bargains -- shopping in street markets can range from enjoyable haggling with the establishment of instant "friendships" to full-on battles ending with a death wish. I have wonderful memories of street market shopping in various countries throughout the world, though. This stands in stark contrast to my shopping experiences back in the U.S., unremarkable for the experience and focused purely on the end result. I often enjoy stepping across the border to Shenzhen -- I find that a day of rigorous shopping helps to develop the negotiation skills I use in my daily work.

-- Rick Abelmann

That's an interesting point. These markets are definitely basic training for day-to-day life in China, but they can also harden you a bit too much.

* * *

Full contact sport is right! I shopped at the Yaxiu Market several times. I spoke only English, but started all my bargaining at 20, or lower depending on the item. I found the fleecing of foreigners and the counterfeit goods distasteful, but the bargaining can be fun. I was taught by other expats that it is important to enter into the spirit of the game and that there are some rules involved. Most importantly, don't start bargaining for an item unless it is something that you are willing to buy if your price is met! You are then obligated to buy the item.

-- Nancy

You are not the only one to point out this rule. That is what happened to Sue when the salesperson bullied her into buying the shirt she really didn't want.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Last column

THE EXPAT LIFE
By ALAN PAUL

Bargaining in Beijing
Is a Full-Contact Sport
August 3, 2007


Some people love shopping in Beijing's markets, huge, multi-floor buildings filled with stalls selling everything from counterfeit Western name brands to custom-made suits. I am not one of them.

While it can be fun and exhilarating, I find the experience tense, frustrating and exhausting -- especially at the giant Hongqiao (pearl), Yaxiu and Silk Markets, three of the city's largest, which all lack the charm of smaller, outdoor markets found all over the world, including China's interior. You can't browse because of the aggressive salespeople -- especially if you're Western -- and you have to negotiate the price of everything. If you get tired or lose even a little will, you immediately become a guppie in a shark-filled pool.

It's gotten easier to bargain as my Chinese has improved and I've become savvier, but I still largely avoid the markets. I don't need to enter them for staple products and other shopping options have improved since we arrived in Beijing. I usually visit markets only when dragged by visitors anxious to find a bargain.

To test just how much better my skills have become and how much I was taken advantage of compared with a native, I ventured to the giant Silk Market with Sue Feng, a Chinese Wall Street Journal researcher. We shopped separately, each armed with 500 renminbi (about $66) and a shopping list: a pearl bracelet; a "Polo" shirt; a silk wine bottle decoration; a child's silk dress; a silk scarf; and a kids' "North Face" jacket.

The markets are filled with counterfeit goods from Versace overcoats to Nike shoes, products I disapprove of though I can't say I always avoid. Gucci, Chanel and other major brands have successfully sued the Silk Market's landlord, with whom they have subsequently tried to cooperate to bring the problem under control. They have had almost no success.

Joe Simone, a friend and attorney for many of the brands, says a market like this would be dealt with by the police in most other countries, but in China they are leaving enforcement to "administrative authorities" who lack the power to investigate and arrest violators.

I certainly didn't note any improvement in this area since my first trip to China two and a half years ago when I visited Yaxiu with Andrew, a Chinese American friend who speaks fluent Mandarin. I was bewildered by the place but also fascinated by the immensity, the intensity and the huge range of products available. Nothing seemed impossible, but nothing quite seemed possible either.

Shopping at these places is a full-contact sport, with vendors screaming "good price for you" and sometimes actually grabbing passersby and yanking them into their stalls. I let Andrew lead the way. The starting prices were twice as much for me as for him, and I enjoyed watching him deftly handle a wide range of different sales techniques. Sometimes they seemed on the verge of throwing punches, other times a young lady flirted heavily, stroking Andrew's forearm and batting her eyelashes. None of this could surprise me now.

Sue and I bid farewell near a huge banner preaching against selling fake items, in both English and Chinese. It read, "Oppose to purchasing merchandise without authorization. Create a rational and fine shopping environment." There were thousands of fake goods a stone's throw away. We were also just beside the booth selling official Olympics merchandise -- the one thing you rarely see counterfeited in Beijing, an enforcement often used to illustrate that the authorities can have an impact when they make the effort. One vendor told me that fake Olympics goods are regularly confiscated.

I should probably have spoken only English to really gauge the differences between a foreigner's and a native's shopping experience, but I couldn't bring myself to abandon my best defense against the wolves -- my hard-earned language skills. I decided to be particularly aggressive, making lowball bids before salespeople could set artificially high starting points.

Rather than negotiating with the woman who offered me a scarf for 150 renminbi, I approached two young women at another stall and, speaking Chinese, offered 20. They laughed and said 60. I said 30. They said 40. "This is the usual foreigner starting price," one said, pulling back a scarf to reveal a 1,676 renminbi ($223) price tag. No one would pay that, I insisted. They smiled: "Someone does every day."

I asked who gets to keep the money if they make such an absurd sale. They answered in unison: "laoban" (boss). Joe had told me that many of these places are really exporters so I asked if I could buy 10,000 scarves. They said sure and took out a phone to call their boss. I said maybe next time and bid adieu.

When I picked up a pretty floral print silk dress, appropriately sized for my four-year-old daughter, the saleslady beat me to the punch, asking for 320 renminbi. I said 20. She said 150. I stuck to my guns and she offered 50. I got it for 30. Again, I spoke only Chinese. Handing me the dress, the salesgirl said, in English, "You tough."

These were good buys, which gave me an insurmountable lead over Sue, who paid 100 for a finer scarf, half the asking price. She paid 70 for the dress, down from 120. I had an advantage, having purchased many of these dresses before.

We both got pearl bracelets for 25, though hers included three strands and mine just one. I have no way of knowing the quality of either. The saleslady took out a knife to scratch powder off mine -- proof, she insisted, that the pearls were natural. Sue bargained down from 50, while I accepted what sounded like a fair price and the "no bargaining" line that came with it.

Sue haggled the silk wine bottle decoration from 25 to 15, while I paid 25, down from 45. Our deals were surprisingly similar for the "North Face" jackets, the first item I felt guilty buying; mine started at 650 and ended at 160. Hers went from 590 to 150. She negotiated an Oxford-style Polo shirt from 120 to 60. I took my short-sleeved Polo shirt down from 100 to 80, flattered by the saleslady's complimenting my Chinese and too tired to put up much of a fight.

Final tally: I spent 380 renminbi ($51) to her 440 ($59). She was a bit embarrassed, and I felt more relief than joy; maybe I'm not always getting ripped off after all. The anxiety I felt was not merely a matter of being a stranger in a strange land.

Over lunch, Sue related an unpleasant experience she had while waiting for me to finish up. She felt forced to buy a silk shirt she didn't want. After bargaining from 300 to 80, she tried to leave, only to have her exit blocked. The story reminded me of a recent visit to a local market in search of workout clothes. It is less intense and more pleasant than its larger cousins -- or so I thought. I bargained one woman down from 200 to 50 renminbi (about $6.50) then noticed that the stall next door had shorts I preferred. I went over and made the purchase. As I left, the first saleslady grabbed my arm and said, in English, "You a crazy man! You said you buy shirt from me, short from her."

"No, I didn't." I started prying her fingers off my arm, but she squeezed tighter to deliver a final message: "I hope you die in a car crash." It was nasty, vicious and unnervingly specific.

Sue told me that she had finally coughed up 80 for the silk shirt, then felt violated and wondered why she had paid the money. It's hard to leave the markets feeling unsullied; I'm not sure if I feel better or worse that this is equally true for Chinese natives.
* * *

Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published. Last week's column about my Chinese teacher Yechen's decision to be a monk drew a lot of mail, including a heavier than usual amount from Chinese readers. The column is also available in Chinese. Here is a sampling.

I just read your article in the chinese.wsj.com about your Chinese teacher leaving for spiritual pursuit. I have the same feelings towards today's world, especially the increasing materialized China, though I have not decided to follow the same path as he did.

--Edward
* * *

Your article touches upon something currently happening in China that is not recognized by the Western media or even by the Chinese. There are a lot of things going on in my country … but most articles are about the Chinese economy, products and government. Your article looked into the changing culture. Although I have lived in China a lot longer than you, I didn't know this was happening until I read your article. Thank you.

--Gong

Thank you for your kind words. As I've said before, it is particularly meaningful for me to hear from Chinese readers. I hope your experience in my homeland is as rewarding as mine has been in yours.
* * *


I read all of your articles in Chinese and really enjoy them. I am a Chinese native who just spent six years as an expat in California. Moving back to Beijing earlier this year made me realize I am Americanized.

-Si

I have several Chinese friends who have lived in America for a long time and struggled coming back here. It is something I hope to write about next year. Best of luck in your transition home.
* * *

I totally agree with Yechen about the disconnect between modern young Chinese and the proud ancient Chinese history. Most of my fellow Chinese-Americans in New York know nothing about Chinese history. I can understand that, but many young people in China also do not seem to respect their own culture, which I can't understand.

--Johnnie Chen
* * *

It is good to publicize this spiritual side of China, when most of what people read about is economic growth and the dog-eat-dog culture that gives rise to. You have been blessed to find a teacher and friend like Yechen.

--Scott
* * *

Yechen sounds like a remarkable individual (as is anyone who can resist the pressures of his "clan" and financial realities of modern living to pursue their dream). Thanks for sharing a bit of his inspiring story with us and providing a hopeful ray that China will be able to preserve beautiful and endangered bits of her culture for future generations.

--Perry Goldschein

Yechen really is an amazing guy and I am very fortunate to have spent two years studying with him. It was really important to me to write about him and his decision.

* * *

The Buddhist practice is not only returning to China, but it is growing in the U.S., as well. As an American Buddhist, I recommend you take the opportunity to explore this great religion with your Chinese friends. You may find your teacher is also a Bodhisattva that had given you the opportunity to explore more than just a language. Learning the practice in China presents a very special opportunity.

--Arthur Hughes

I really enjoyed learning a bit about Buddhism from Yechen and visiting temples with him. I'm not looking for a new religion, though.

* * *

I just want to let you know that your kids will be fine from their experience as expat kids and they will be much more culturally rich and wise.

I speak this from experience, having attended Singapore International School for six years and making many friends who are now spread everywhere from Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Toronto, New York, Paris, Tel Aviv, Cape Town, Auckland, Singapore, and Bali. One thing we find is that if we meet each other again, the years just disappear and we quickly reconnect. Also many of us are very comfortable where ever our life takes us in this world - whether for business or personal. Maybe that is why many of us continue to excel in jobs requiring international exposure.

Your children will definitely eventually appreciate the experience they are going through and how it will make them better people.

--Bob Salem

I never, ever doubt whether this is worth it and I think that even the good-byes are good for the kids, in helping them understand the real emotional complexities of life. But it never hurts to hear reassuring messages from people like you -- so thanks.

Write to Alan Paul at expatlife@dowjones.com

Thursday, August 09, 2007

NBC.com stories now live

The first two are up, here and here,

Some of the pictures are pretty funny. I'm happy with how the stories read.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

back in the US of A

And all is well.

Jacob to me the other day: "Dad, America rocks."

I'll get some pictures up soon. Been great seeing so many people.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The World through Eli's eyes




Eli's bed




Chinese mattresses can be pretty unbelievable. They are often pretty thin pieces of foam stapled onto plywood and when you lie on them it feels like you are lying on… thin pieces of foam stapled to plywood.

Eli has been sleeping on one of those since we arrived here two years ago. We bought a bunk bed from our predecessors. Jacob abandoned the top bunk within a week, partly because he didn’t like being on the top but mostly because he immediately realized how much that mattress sucked. He started sleeping in the guest room, which had his old bed from NJ, which is quite comfortable.

Eli kept sleeping on the plywood, though and rarely complained. In the last few months, however, he started saying the bed was uncomfortable and who could argue? We kept meaning to get a new bed but weren’t quite sure what to do with the bunk bed.. then Jacob said, “why don’t we just get a new mattress for Eli?”

D’oh!

We measured.. size was standard.. so last Sunday we went to Ikea. Now, that is a trip. A whole other story. In fact, I am going to write a column about shopping at Ikea next year. It s hard to describe… so many people there. Think of the busiest Ikea you’ve ever been in and double it.

And Chinese folks just like to hang out there, too. I went to Ikea on a weekday a month or so ago. It wasn’t as crowded but there lots of young couples canoodling on the couches. Most of them live with their parent s and they don’t have a lot of places to get privacy.

A year or so ago when we bought Jacob a new bad there, I went to sit on one and there was a little Chinese baby sleeping in it. I went to try an office chair and they were all occupied by guys, just hanging out. Hilarious. We know a guy who works for Ikea and he said at first they tried to move people on and then they just embraced it, started putting magazines on the couches.

Anyhow, we went to Ikea, stayed on task and got Eli a new mattress, the same one Jacob has. When we got home and swapped them out, Eli was horrified and amused when he we removed his mattress and he got a look at it.

He kept saying, “I can’t believe I slept on that thing for two years.”

None of us could, really. He has been very happy on his new mattress.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Catching Up -- Anna's birthday








Some from her party and some from her actual birthday (or the day after, when we mistakenly celebrated). Oops.

Neighborhood Pictures: Little Rascals



Just catching up on photos from the year a bit.

These guys are so Little Rascals, it's not funny.

Eli with George Yardley and neighbor Lukano. Lukano is wild. He is 4 and roams all over by himself, including the Clubhouse. He rides his bike all over the compound by his lonesome. His dad is the South African naval attache to China. This summer they bought this wild two-seat bike/dune buggy thing from a departing family. It has been a big hit.