January 28, 2012:

Happy year of the dragon! We returned from Thailand on January 20th. On the 22nd, we went to Shanghai to spend a night at the Hilton with the Mitchell Andersons and the Von Burens. It was a good way to see a lot of fireworks with a little less noise.
School starts the day after tomorrow. I'm ready to go back, and think the spring semester will fly because it's just about like starting over in August after such a long break.
While we were in Thailand, we saw a ton of our old friends from Dhaka Days. First, Arrastias were at our hotel when we arrived. We did a lot with them. Then we saw Curtis and Denise May/Hendricks, Lissa and John Lalonde, Jane, Tim, and Sarah Florea, Karen Sexton, Carla Magenheimer, Tiffany and Steve Goulet Augeri, and Chris Steffens/Lisa Bauman. We also saw Nancy and Katie briefly. Nancy was sick, so we didn't see them very much.
We spent some time with the Littles after most people had moved on, and then we went to Pattaya. We had a couple of outings with the Westbrooks while we were down there.

November 14, 2011:

Wow, I finally figured out how to get back into this wiki! I hope to update this based on brief notes from Mom's, Ann's, and Libby's visit last April.
Can't believe I couldn't get into this.

March 6, 2011:

It's been ages since I've written; having a VPN that allows me access to Facebook makes this less necessary for me, but I like the idea that I have some sort of record of what happens here.
I've been thinking about writing about some of the food here. We are still really enjoying our new hometown. It has a blend of modern western style comforts from home, a range of Chinese and Asian (Korean and Japanese) restaurants, and many choices at the wet market.
I recently bought dumpling wrappers and used them to make little Mexican appetizers, filled with cream cheese, cheese, and chicken. I put the wrappers in mini-muffin tins, filled them, and baked them. A great little nibbly with some salsa for dipping.
We've also been making an effort to keep a stock of fresh fruit on hand. Chinese strawberries are fantastic, firm and sweet. We had homemade strawberry shortcake with fresh whipped cream last weekend. I had to buy strawberries twice to accomplish it because the first batch got devoured plain before I managed to whip up the shortcake. The yellow plums were also delicious. There are a ton of green leafy items at the wet market that I can't identify, so starting to sample them is also on my list.
Spring seems to be near. Tia's big swim trip to Manila and her MUN trip to Nanjing have both been successfully completed, and my junior volleyball league tournament was yesterday. Drew will be in Shanghai from Tuesday to Friday for a PowerSchool conference, and then the time will fly until Mom, Ann, and LIbby arrive for our spring break.
Today, we're planning to go out for groceries, perhaps lunch at a new restaurant, and then tonight we'll have crock pot jambalaya.

January 2, 2011:

Hello Everybody and Happy New Year!
I woke up with a rumbly tummy so I didn't get to go downtown to the bar " The Drunken Clam" that had kindly offered to open early so we could watch the Rose Bowl game. Drew went to watch the first part. After two hours, he had seen the first 25 minutes, (the bar uses a VPN and streaming technique that can be problematic) so he came home before it finished. We have found repeats on our ESPN channel so we're watching now.
Our holiday was pretty low-key, but fun. We spend time playing 'Texas Hold'em" and watching a lot of DVD's. We spent two nights in Shanghai, checking out People's Square and the museum there, along with some malls and markets. We played laser tag at an arcade there; very fun!
Both girls are now the proud owners of hamsters, much to the chagrin of cat Melvin.
Except for the visit to Shanghai, I completely blew my plan to do a few cultural things during the holiday. The girls and I are planning to go to a Broadway review of several musicals if I can get anybody in the ticketing office to answer the phone.
The weather at the beginning of our holiday was unseasonably warm, and we managed several days of Ultimate on an open field near our house. Lately the weather has been much chillier, although still warmer than Iowa or Minnesota with a lot of sunshine. I enjoy our apartment which gets a lot of sun throughout the morning and mid-day. Melvin also likes to soak up rays while sleeping on our bed or on cushions in the living room.
We have four weeks of school and then it's time for Chinese New Year and our much-anticipated trip to the beaches of Phuket. I used air miles to book our flights and spent a lot of time trying to book suitable, but cheap hotels. We'll see soon enough!
I am still enjoying our new lifestyle and the balance between school and home that has developed. It has been rewarding to see how well the girls seem to be adjusting and I think that they have a more normal situation, as well, since they actually have chores and can strike out on their own.
I have newish photos on FB.
I hope that you all enjoy health, wealth, and happiness in 2011!

December 18, 2010:

I have gotten several emails from people who have checked here but haven't seen any updates. I stopped writing when my FB got re-activated, sorry about that!
Here is a very general update of our life here since October 9:

After our fall break ended, Nancy and Katie came for a short visit. We had gorgeous weather so we got out and about quite a bit. Nancy had several Starbucks opportunities. and Alena and Katie spent time with Alena's new friends here. The same day that Nancy and Katie went to Shanghai to visit their uncle Leo, Lissa and John Lalonde came to Suzhou for an all-too brief visit. We met them downtown for a quick meal before they took the train back to Shanghai, where they were visiting their son.
The next big event after the Dhaka visits was figuring out what to do about our first Thanksgiving away from Dhaka in six years. I am coaching girls' JV BB, so I wasn't able to sign up for the school's Thanksgiving dinner in the canteen. Since that wasn't going to be an option for the whole family, we chose to reserve a Thanksgiving dinner at a nearby restaurant, "The Pig & Whistle". We had a nice meal--not exactly text-book style Thanksgiving dinner, but there was a half a turkey and a lot of baked ham along with gravy, vegetables and fried potatoes. We got to take away our leftover meat and I made several more dinners with it--a turkey stew in the crockpot and ham quiche. It was a relaxing evening with no clean-up involved. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we were invited to a Thanksgiving dinner by our Wisconsin colleagues. They provided the turkey, stuff, potatoes, etc. and everybody else contributed. One of the PE teachers brought a DVD of a classic football game. Alena asked why they were watching a football games . . . if we're not careful, she's going to lose her passport. Drew had to go to a chess tournament at school that day--he took a bus at 6:30 a.m. and wasn't home by 7:30 p.m., so he never did make it to the potluck. That was a little sad, but he enjoyed his tournament.
After Thanksgiving, Alena' play "Prime Time Crime" was up. It was a cute melodrama. She was a ballerina in the opening scene on the first night, then other students rotated into her role. It was a good production. Tia's swim meet was next--the last of the season. She enjoys her team and is planning to go to Manila in February for a meet.
I had several more BB games and a shopping trip to Shanghai's fake market, and that about wraps up big events.
Our move here constantly reminds me that everything is relative. I have a colleague who moved here from Nevada, who thinks it's dirty and there's too much concrete. I sent her a link to a news report about the water in Bangladesh. There were several pictures with the article. I think that she now understands why I think this place is pretty clean and nice!

Tia continues to go to gymnastics downtown with a 7th grader. Alena is enjoying floor hockey immensely. She has joined a band and dropped out of the middle school choir. She plans to re-join choir in grade 9. It's hard to believe that we'll have a high schooler next fall. Time keeps flying by.

That was our fall in a nutshell. There have been lots of different dining adventures, a few little adventures on public buses or roaming around downtown Suzhou, or trying to figure out how to make our heaters work.

This morning finds Drew and me home alone since both girls had sleepovers to celebrate the first day of winter break. They have read all of the information about how teenagers find their peers more important than their parents.

I hope this finds you all doing well and staying warm. Happy Holidays and all the best for 2011!

August 1, 2010:

Today we arrived in Suzhou, our new home. We were met by a vet who helped us put Melvin into quarantine for seven days. We then were met by our apartment agent Dina, and jammed all eight of our suitcases and all of our carry-ons into a Buick mini van. There were three seats left after that besides the driver's, so Tia and Alena doubled-up on one seat in the back. The agent had to ride back with somebody else.
The drive from the airport took about two hours but it was smooth sailing with no near accidents along the way.

We were all pretty shocked by the size of our apartment--it was even smaller than I had imagined. Alena can barely walk around the edge of her twin bed without hitting the walls. I have no idea how our shipments are going to fit into the space. The furniture and finishings are pretty nice. It feels as if we're living in a camper compared to our last place. I keep reminding myself that we are here to have more to do outside of our house.

We unpacked a bit and then my principal showed up to see how we were settling in. He invited us to join new teachers for supper down at 'Zapatas', a Mexican restaurant down by the lake. We went and it was tasty. The people were friendly, but it broke up soon after we arrived because everybody was jet-lagged.

August 2, 2010:

Today we were taken to school by bus. It was a late pick-up time so it was a relaxing start to our orientation. More soon! We arrived at school and had a tour of the facility. It will take me several weeks to figure out how to get anywhere. There are several wings, so for me, not having any sense of direction is going to make life challenging. The classrooms are big, the pool is nice and the theater seats about 600 people. There is a lot of outdoor space that I've barely seen. It's really hot, but I don't seem to mind the temperatures here as much as in Dhaka. Drew and Alena both find it harder to handle. We had a human resources meeting and then lunch, and then we were taken on a bus tour of some of the main shopping areas and places of interest for settling in. There are many malls and commercial districts. After our tour, we set out to get our new cell phone prepaid cards and phones. We found China Mobile after quite a long walk, and got down to business. At the end of our time which included typing in passwords over and over for each subscriber, the workers rewarded the girls with two sun parasols. We were happy with the exchange. But, there was more! Then they loaded us down with 48 cans of Coke in re-usable shopping bags, and then they added two bottles of laundry soap to our booty. This changed our original plan of catching a cab to the mall since 48 cans of Coke are rather heavy. We asked the young man who had helped us get our cards if we could catch a taxi outside of the store, and he ran off, apparently to hail us a cab. We tried to follow him, but couldn't find him. We caught a cab instead, took our loot home, and set out again for InCity, a very modern mall. We went to the BestBuy and spent a small fortune on phones, not because we had to, but because that is what we do. The price range was from 400 RMB to 4,000 or more. We were actually pretty conservative in our purchases, but I'm sure other places had better/cheaper prices. Alena and I have the same phone with different covers and Tia has a touch screen. Drew has a slider. We hit the Walmart to see what we could see and pick up some clothes hangers, then we went to a nice little bread store to get the girls some snacks, and returned home to play with our new purchases. Drew and I left the girls home and went for a little evening out at Singa Plaza, which is an expat hangout down the road from our house. It has a ColdStone Creamery and some shops and pubs. It is an easy walk and the girls don't even have to cross a road to get there, so that will be a popular destination for them, I think.

August 3, 2010:

Today the girls and I went on a tour of the Humble Administrator's Garden. It was hot and a little crowded, but very pretty. We ate lotus seeds which are very healthy. After the tour we had a meal in a restaurant that served Northern Chinese dishes, one after the other, on a Lazy Susan. There were no explanations, but my new colleagues and I had fun trying to guess what each dish was. There was a bowl of what seemed to be pickled tripe, some vegetables, and a variety of meats and seafood--the baby squid was one of my favorite dishes, along with two beef dishes. One was a bit like beef ribs in oyster sauce, and the other was close to a Sauerbraten sauce, sort of cut like Osso Bucco before it's cut into the little round pieces with the bone down the middle. The girls sat at the kids' table and left a ton of food behind. They have found a gaggle of other new teachrs' kids so it's working out really well. We dropped them off with four extra girls at our apartment and went on a tour of a building that explains the history of the Industrial Park. When I got home from that tour, another couple, Lara and Paul, and I walked all of the girls down to ColdStone for ice cream. After the other parents had picked up their children, we went to a DVD shop. We stayed in that night and watched our bad DVD's with delivered pizza. The pizza delivery saga took a while but it was tasty and again showed me how friendly and helpful the people here seem to be. Time to get ready for school again!

August 4, 2010:

Today we started out early (7:25) to go to the central health screening facility, a step in along the way to getting our work visas. The worst part was having to fast (no coffee!). I reminded myself of Gramma Kamps's entries about her check-ups when she arrived on Ellis Island, which kept everything in perspective. After we finished our check-ups, we came back to the school, had lunch, and then took a tour of Tongli, a 'water town'. It was supposed to be one hour from Suzhou, but our buses got lost and we drove in circles for an extra hour. One advantage to having no sense of direction is that I didn't notice we weren't going anywhere! The town was very interesting, but it was extremely hot and humid. After a short hour's drive we were back home and getting ready to meet other new teaching families at a nearby Mexican restaurant to celebrate one couple's son's 17th birthday. It was a really lovely evening. Julie had bought a special cake in honor of the occasion and the staff served it with 'Happy Birthday' streaming in through the speakers. A short five minute-walk later, we were home getting ready for bed.

August 5, 2010:

Today was another early start since the other half of the new teachers had to go to the health screening center. The people who had already gone for screening stayed at school and received our laptops for the year. Alena and Tia had their placement tests which took most of the morning (Math was hard), then had a swim before lunch. After lunch, a group of them went by taxi to one girl's house for the afternoon. We had a canal tour in the evening, dinner at Singa Plaza, and then called it an evening.

August 6, 2010:

Today was a day at work. We arranged to have Feng, our ayi, visit the house. We met her when we came home, she is nice and did everything we had had a receptionist at school tell her to do and more. We showed our apartment to another teacher and visited hers. We came home, ordered pizza for the girls and then went to Singa Plaza to have a beer and dinner with other teachers from school.

August 7, 2010:

Kathy and Kirk came to visit. They arrived by train (260 km/hour!) and then taxi. We walked to the lake district to have lunch at Zapatas, and then mosied around the lake, stopping at Crowne Plaza Hotel to check it out. It's a beautiful hotel with a ship/maritime motif. From there, we caught taxis to Times Square, a huge mall complex that includes an amusement park overlooking the lake. All four kids were disappointed that we wouldn't buy entrance tickets, but it was nearly 5:00 by the time we were there, and the Mitchell-Andersons had to catch their train back by 7:00. There is a huge ferris wheel and a loopty-loop roller coaster, among other rides. We watched the rides and then headed back along the lake toward town. It was a beautiful, hot day and I really enjoyed having the wide open park with sidewalks to stroll along. We caught taxis back home to have a little rest, and then went to Casa Zoe's for a snack so Jordan wouldn't starve on the train. Drew and I might go back to the lake to watch the light show, but it does feel pretty good to be stretched out after hours of walking!

So, we made it out to the light show and it was quite something. colored lights on the water, sprays of water shooting into the air, undulating in time to music. There were thousands of people so I alternated between watching the show and watching the people out on the terraces. We were upstairs on the patio of Zapatas. After one beer, we started making our way back home. The crowds and traffic leaving the light show reminded me of a city in the US after a sporting event since we were all streaming out, some to cars, some to public transportation, and some walking. The show takes place every Friday and Saturday night, so I'm sure we'll be seeing it again.

Drew has MobileMe account and when we get albums loaded, I'll post the link. Hope all's well for everybody.

August 8, 2010:

It's official, we've been here a week. So far, so good. Today the girls and I tried a nail spa since we received a free gift certificate. We were all suitably impressed. Instead of a bunch of ladies running around with jugs of water for pedicure bowls, there were sinks installed in the floor, hidden by upholstered footstools when not in use. We chose our nail polish colors from a booklet that was a bit like one for paint samples. We had lemon shaken iced tea and snacks at the Starbucks downstairs, and then walked home to see Melvin after his week-long absence. He was in pretty good shape and didn't seem too upset with us. We then went out to some nearby shops for a few staple food supplies. Afterward it was about time to get ready for our first all-staff BBQ. It was held behind the pool, which opened out onto the playground area. Everybody has told us to enjoy the blue skies while they are around because they are very rare. I told some people we brought the sunny skies with us from BD. We met a fellow Iowan, from Ida Grove, no less. He teaches in the elementary school. I figured out which on he was when I heard him talking about all of the food that contained marshmallows. at a reunion he had attended. Marshmallows in food is definitely a midwestern thing. We came home to do more laundry (in a teeny tiny machine, that's a constant activity--as soon as one load air-dries, start the next.) Tomorrow school starts in earnest for all staff, and the students arrive the next Monday. Drew has some photos on Aperture so I'll make some albums to post. It seems official that we'll be moving by Sept. 1st, but we'll see. We'd like to stay in this area, but we would definitely benefit from a little more space.

August 9, 2010:

Today was our first all-staff meeting day. We had a mixer/getting to know you activity and then the new staff was introduced. We had meetings pretty much all day. Tia and Alena continue to enjoy the sweet life. They had to do some Chinese lessons before they could start socializing, but then Tia went to her friend's apartment, where there was a bunch of other new teachers' kids. Alena joined her later and then they all went to Cold Stone. Three taxis cost them 30 RMB. Then Alena went from Cold Stone to meet another new friend by having the new friend talk to the taxi driver (she speaks Chinese, obviously--the new friend, that is.) That cost Alena 30 RMB or so, and the trip back home was another 26. Alena's figured out it could get expensive. I told her to start watching where she is because some of the places they are going to by taxi are within walking distance OR there are public buses. Right now we're all being lazy because there is this great system in which you just give cab drivers these 'idiot cards' (the foreigner is the idiot, not the driver!) and the driver can read the Chinese and whisk you off to your destination. Taxis are reasonable, but they start at 10 RMB when you get in. So if you drive one block and arrive at your destination, it's the same as driving several blocks or even kilometers. After school, I went back to our friends' apartment to see their space, and pick up Tia. They have a bigger place with a front balcony and a garden. The inside could use a facelift but it's definitely bigger. The agent called and has two different apartments lined up for us to look at tomorrow. They are in the complex across the street from ours so we can't complain since it's basically the same neighborhood. If either of them is bigger and not completely weird or moldy, we'll probably be moving quite soon. Alena and I went to INCity, the nice mall that also has a Walmart, with another teacher. She has just started teaching overseas and is alone here. I was explaining that to Alena, and Alena said, "Well, if she's been in New Zealand, she's been teaching overseas." Thank goodness she was joking. Tia is spending the night at her new friend's house. Tomorrow we have more meetings and then the apartment visits.

Check this out:


August 10, 2010:

After a busy day of workshops and professional development, we came home to visit a few apartments with our agent. The first one we saw was in a neighboring apartment complex, and it had an added study room. It's a little run-down, but overall the space is MUCH bigger and the location is just next door to the one we are in and where we were hoping to remain. The agent then showed us one that is farther away from the area we like that only had three bedrooms and was on the first floor. We opted to not visit the next apartment they were going to show us because it was smaller than the first two. When we got home our current landlord visited us. He was very helpful and willing to work on things, so that makes me feel better about having a colleague move into this place. I then visited another teacher's apartment in our current complex, and she has three nicely-sized bedrooms, an oven, and a laundry room that is as big as Alena's current bedroom. We are thinking the fourth room trumps a nicer apartment in terms of fittings and furniture, especially since it's in the area we like.

Drew made us ham sandwiches, and that was pretty much our evening.

August 11, 2010:

Today was a full day at school. After school we found out that we actually did get our new apartment. Tia and I went to the nail salon, Drew and Alena went to try to fix her phone at BestBuy in the mall. Even though we had a service contract, they weren't able to get any service because they have to take it to the Samsung service store first, since it is under 15 days old. If Samsung gives us a quality certificate, then BestBuy will either repair or replace it. We met two other teachers and one teacher's daughter for supper at Casa Zoe's, and that was our day.

August 12, 2010:

Today was new student/family orientation, so Tia and Alena came along for the whole day. We attended the introductions and tours, and there was a nice reception with coffee, juice, fruit and pastries in the rotunda at the end. The rest of the day I had a few short meetings and worked on getting ready for my first units. I finally got access to the information session, so I was able to see how many students I have. I found some nice materials to use with the grade 7 autobiography unit in the elementary library, and wrote my welcome letter. Tonight we are going to go grocery shopping and then maybe even cook our own dinner. A little hard since I shipped all of my kithen utensils. I might have to break down and buy a colander and no-stick spatula.

August 15, 2010:

Yesterday was 'reception day', a chance for returning students and their parents to visit the school and meet their homeroom teachers. It's traditionally on a Saturday so working parents can attend. Most students arrived alone, so I hope this tradition can be altered. . . I only met about half of my homeroom. After the morning session, a school bus transported us back home and Drew and I went to InCity mall to deal with Alena's phone. We turned it in to be replaced or repaired at BestBuy and also looked around the mall at other shops. We looked at appliances and I think that after we've moved, we'll get a crockpot and a rice cooker. That will allow me to use some of my oven recipes even though I don't have an oven. We bought some bamboo spoons and a spatula to enhance our kitchen adventures, checked out a store called Muji, which has a lot of Japanese style furniture and very nice natural cotten sheets/bedding. After I know the actual dimensions of our new beds, I'm going to go drop a small fortune there. We had a little snack at an Italian diner in the mall--a small pizza, a large bottle of beer, and a glass of wine, all for under $6.00 (34 RMB). We had met another new family while at the mall and decided to meet at Singa Plaza for dinner, so we went there around 6:00. It's obviously a pretty popular thing to do on a Saturday evening because we saw a lot of other school families in the same area. I had a Greek Salad, Tia had tomato soup and a gyros sandwich, Alena had a cheese pizza, and Drew had 'jambalaya spaghetti'. We are finding that the tomato-bases for pizzas and sauces can be very sweet. I haven't miss yet with salads. After dinner, the four kids from age 17 to 6 went to ColdStone and we parents went for a cocktail at a pub next to the restaurant. The other family is from New Zealand and this is their first overseas job, so it's been interesting to talk with them about their impressions. Everything is relative to what the previous lifestyle was, and for us, this lifestyle is much easier. The culture, on the surface, seems very similar to home thanks to all of the malls and Western-style restaurants and shops (PIzza Hut, KFC, Burger KIng, to name a few), but the structure and customs are quite different so we'll have to be careful not to be fooled. For example, here it is very bad form to show any anger. The more somebody smiles in an argumentative situation, the more angry he actually is. The best approach to a situation is to ask politely for the other person to help you solve your problem. This approach isn't my usual one, but I'm trying to remember it.

I called MY MOM this morning, and it was easy-lemon-squeezy. Then Alena and I went to a nail salon. The salon is much calmer and nicer than the ones we went to in Bangladesh, but also more expensive. I think it's still cheap by US standards--80 RMB for a manicure, but I don't know since I never have manicures in Iowa. We wandered home, stopping in a little bakery along the way, and picked up toast bread, little spice-bread-type muffins, and some other bread. I will need more Chinese to be able to make sure what I buy is what I think I'm buying; we thought the muffins were chocolate. They were tasty nonetheless. This afternoon I am hoping to drag everybody out for a walk along the lake, but it is awfully hot so there's no big hurry. Tomorrow is our first day of school with students.

August 17:

We have two days of school under our belts and we've all survived. I was nervous, but the girls handled their new school's first days well. The first day was hectic because of the scheduling system used by the school. I have a lot of new procedures to get used to, but being in the classroom was nice. I have pictures of the girls in their uniforms from their first morning and will post them soon. We all get picked up by bus, Drew takes the earliest bus at 6:53, I go at 7:20, and the girls take a bus at 7:45. The girls leave school by bus at 3:30, and Drew and I take a bus at 4:00 or 5:00. On Monday and Tuesday nights, Tia and I went out to local shops to get ingredients for our supper. The first night, Tia made chicken with yellow peppers and tomatoes over pasta with carrot sticks on the side. Tonight, she made beef and mushroom in cream sauce over rice. I steamed broccoli and carrots to go with it. She is enjoying the chance to cook and is doing a great job. Alena does her homework instead and then does the dishes. Life has changed for the Cover Girls :)

Some topics I'd like to eventually write about include shopping at the local wet market, dogs, and babies. I get a kick out of all three of them. Right now I'm responding to the emails I assigned to my grade 7 students as homework, so I'd better get back to them. Hope all's well.

August 22, 2010:

We have moved into our new apartment! Friday after school, we met with our agent, wheeled one set of suitcases across the road to the new compound, signed all of the paperwork for the new apartment, and then started wheeling full suitcases over to the new place, empty ones back to re-fill. I didn't think we had added much stuff to our collection but we were trying to keep the suitcases light enough to manage going over curbs and bumps, so it took at least eight trips. Tia hurt her foot when she slipped at the previous apartment after about the second load so she was out of commission for most of the night. Both girls were troopers and helped a lot. Alena was very sore by the end of the evening. We brought Melvin over in our last load of the night. He seems happy with his new digs. Drew and I went to Singa Plaza for dinner after we had finished but the girls stayed home and ate noodles and things, and worked on sorting out their rooms. On Saturday, Drew and I had to meet the agent again to sign out of the first apartment and turn things over to the single teacher who took it from us. Then we did some furniture shifting and sorting, along with buying a few things. Both girls had friends over on Saturday. Tia's friends were from Canada, C-Singapore, and the US. Alena's were from C-Switzerland and USA. In the evening, Tia went on a sleepover and Drew and I met former colleagues from our Moscow days for dinner at the Mexican restaurant near the lake. They also now teach here. We caught up about a lot of our mutual friends and colleagues and saw some of the light/water show. Alena walked down to Singa Plaza and got herself a take-out pizza and then watched DVD's at home. It's nice that it is quite safe here and she can do that, even after dark. It's now Sunday evening. Alena and I went for breakfast with some teachers and then Tia, Alena and I went out to check out a furniture market to see if we could get a mattress pad for Drew and my bed. They were pretty expensive and I didn't see a way to explain the delivery process, so we left, went to the DIY (Menard-ish place), bought some supplies, and then went back home. I put up the new shower curtain and put up my new curtain rod but I'm waiting for the shipment for my shower curtain from Bangladesh (made from a sari). We kept working on some household chores and then went to the InCity mall to look around, get Alena's phone switched back into English, and then we had dinner at the Italian place. It was packed! Obviously a popular spot for dinner. It was tasty and cheap and fun to watch all of the people. I dropped off everybody else and kept the cab so I could deliver a key to a friend's house so our ayi could pick it up. Our ayi (maid) works mornings at my friend's houses and afternoons at ours. Hopefully she'll find our new place tomorrow! The cab driver was very helpful and followed my pointing very well, especially since I was talking on my cell phone to my friend, finding landmarks, and then pointing as she told me which way to go. The guards didn't want to let us wait in the compound but they got a good laugh out of my pantomime about having to wait for five minutes for my friend to come down. I realized that this is about the first time since Moscow that I haven't known any of the language OR been in an environment that speaks a lot of English. People here speak more than the people in the big city that is nearby, but speaking the language would be a huge advantage and it's on my to-do list. I hope I'll have time this week to post the first day of school photos and to fill people in about the babies, dogs, or the wet market.

August 26:

We've had a busy week at school. Tonight is Parent's Evening, so we've been getting ready for that. On Tuesday, all of the new teachers and their families had to go to the Police Station right after school to register. We might be official! I realize I haven't posted any photos, so I'm hoping that will be a weekend project. Our new apartment didn't have internet, then it had one cable for all four of us, so I had to fight my way onto it. Now we seem to be wireless so it should work out better.
Things are falling into place and we're getting some routines going. Tia and I went out and got last night's dinner ingredients. She sauteed chicken thighs with mushrooms and then put cheese on top, made pasta and asparagus and salad with vinaigrette. Then Alena and I tried to make banana muffins with borrowed muffin cups. Our toaster oven is too small and is only 'on' or 'off', so the first four we tried burnt. I took them over to a colleague's apartment and tried the rest of them in her larger toaster oven and they turned out pretty well, so now I'm sure we're getting a bigger one.
I have to get ready for school now.

August 30:

We had a nice weekend. On Saturday, I accepted a last-minute invitation to go to Shanghai for the day. We took the fast train, and it was fast! At one point, the LED had us clocked at nearly 340 km. We went for a quick lunch, and then the women I went with had hair appointments. We checked out some shops in the area, and then went to another pedestrian district that had galleries, shops and cafes. At 6:00 we took the train back to Suzhou, and then the girls and I went to Singa Plaza for dinner. On Sunday, we took a taxi to old Suzhou to explore some of the areas there. We found pedestrian/walking malls, parks, shops, temples, and restaurants. we tested some foldable bikes, had some snacks at various places, and found a great bookstore/library/cafe. When we got home, we got takeout Papa John's pizza, and then got ready for another week of school. I think I've posted more photos on MobileMe.

September 12, 2010:

My posts have slowed down as my work schedule has ramped up!
This weekend was a pretty lazy one. Friday night, the school hosted a social for teachers from three other international schools in Suzhou and ourselves in honor or Teacher Day. We had snacks and drinks in the foyer of the school. I met the daughter of a former colleague who is still in Dhaka. I knew she was in Suzhou, but I couldn't remember the name of the school. I asked a woman I met and she pointed the daughter out; it turns out it was a person I had already been chatting with. We went from the social to a bar in the older part of Suzhou to watch the Vikings get beaten by the Saints. It was pretty fun any way. One of my colleagues is from Ida Grove. He is friends with the owner of 'The Drunken Clam'. There were people from the States, and from China and Australia watching the game. I think for some of them, it was the first time they had watched an American football game.

On Saturday, it was pretty rainy, so all that we did was order Papa John's pizza for lunch and I made a whole chicken in my new crockpot. Late in the afternoon, Drew, Alena, and I went to the DVD shop and to buy some bread from the bakery at Singa. Tia had a birthday party sleepover. On Sunday, we had a grocery delivery in the morning--we ordered heavy stuff such as milk, juice, and soda water. After that, we were waiting for Tia to get back home so we could go out. When she got home, she wasn't feeling well, so Alena and I went out alone. We tried the bus system. It works really well, except we hopped on the bus that was going in the wrong direction. It took us to the Cultural Center, so we checked out the IMAX cinema, the theater, and a very nice German Bierstube right on the lake. We're hoping to go to an acrobatic show there soon, and to a movie. The whole complex was very impressive.

After a snack, we went back the other way in a cab to check out the shops along the street we had originally set out to find. We found a little alley of 'farting monkey' souvenirs near the 'Master of the Nets' Garden, which we didn't go into since we thought the whole family should go together. We explored the area and then made sure we knew which bus to take back. Since we didn't have exact change for the bus, we took another cab. Taking the bus will definitely be a money-saver in the future, especially when it's only two people or if we're traveling alone--2 RMB each instead of 20 or so for the cab. We finished off the evening by making dumplings for the left-over chicken in the slow cooker, cookies in the toaster oven, and an episode of 'Ulgly Betty'. Now we're gearing up for week five of school. This week, the girls and I will all be off on camps from Wednesday-Friday. When we get back, Drew will be gone, at a conference in Shanghai. Time flies!

October 1:

Today was the 61st anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, and the first day of our fall holiday. It’s a nice touch that Drew and I will always have our anniversary off. This year we celebrated by having coffee with another family so that the girls could meet the family cats and learn what to do while cat-sitting. After that, we went to Casa Zoe’s for a late lunch, and then we came home and I made pork medallions in mushroom cream sauce with fresh rosemary and thyme for a ladies’ night potluck. I had forgotten all about our anniversary the day before when I agreed to go. :(. It was a nice evening, and Drew and I made plans to do some more special things to celebrate.

October 3:

Today we went as a family to buy some furniture at ‘Frank’s Place’, a store that has imitation antique Chinese style furniture. We got bookshelves and some cabinets so we can unpack our last boxes. They will be delivered tomorrow.

October 5:

Today Drew and I went with a friend and her Chinese speaking roommate to ‘Furniture City’ which is an area on the far side of town that has warehouse upon warehouse of furniture. We bought a little computer desk and a big wardrobe for our room

October 5: Today we met friends to go to the amusement park near the Times Square mall. The line for the roller coaster was incredibly long and slow, but in the end it was worth it. After the roller coaster, we rode a discomania ride. Then the four girls ran around going on whichever rides had the shortest lines and the adults went on a boat ride to Peach Blossom Island. When we got back from the island, we gathered up the girls and went for dinner at ‘We have and English Menu’ restaurant, which is a very convenient little place near our house.

October 7:

Tia and I took a trip back to ‘Frank’s Place’ to order another cabinet since we didn’t quite fit everything into the existing pieces. Then we went to pet street to buy Lazania. Pet street isn’t nearly as bad as some people had led me to believe. Most of the pets seemed well-cared for. There were chinchillas, all sorts of turtles and fish, hamsters guinea pigs, cats, dogs, and birds, to name a few of the pets we found. It was a little hard to find, a narrow area hidden behind a row of plant shops, but we came away with a tiny little hamster, a nice cage, bedding, and food for 115 RMB. The hamster was only 10 RMB . . .

October 9:

Tia and I went to Tiger Hill with Tammy. It was a 40 RMB cab fare away, but it was a very pretty spot. We paid to enter, paid to ride in a horse drawn carriage, wandered around the paths, and then ate some local fare at the stands. Tia wasn’t thrilled with her hot dogs. They were more like warmed-up beef sticks in terms of texture, but I think it was pork. I had some little dough balls cooked in round cast iron muffin-pan type deals, which were then slathered with mayonnaise and ketchup. Pretty greasy, but tasty.

Throughout our week off, we tried new restaurants, bought two more bikes, and played quite a bit of Ultimate. We found a field near our house that works well. I tried a public toilet and was amazed at its cleanliness. I was expecting to keep the public toilets here as a last resort, but the one near our field was really fine. Sorry it’s been so long since I wrote anything. I had planned to catch up over the break but I didn’t use my time wisely. I will post photos soon.

I nearly forgot one important event: Drew bought our proxy so we are back on Facebook! It’s very nice to see what people are up to again.
I just re-read earlier postings. I'm not sure when 'tasty' became my most used word. In terms of word choice, I'd give this a C-. I don't know what that translate to on an MYP scale . . .