Monday, March 29, 2010

11 Random Comments

by Ruth
1. Last week when I went to the supermarket, my taxi driver actually looked in his mirror before changing lanes. I was shocked and amazed. (The general rule is that you're not responsible for whatever is happening behind you).

2. I played some different kind of music for my freshmen class and they were supposed to identify which type was which. Didn't do so well...many of them thought the opera was folk or country and the heavy metal was jazz.

3. Speaking of music, I am enjoying the sample selection on my new ($15) Chinese mp3 player. It has all the classics: Beyonce, Backstreet Boys, Michael Jackson, Linkin Park, John Denver. Really, what more do you need?

4. Still speaking of music, we are so sad to have lost we lost our huge resource of free, legal music downloads.

5. My students were talking about popular hobbies in class today. For children, one of the hobbies they mentioned was "lighting things on fire." For adults, numerous people said, "drinking." Cool.

6. Today as I was leaving my office hour, "Shoe Boy" (whom we met when he came up and asked to borrow Kevin's shoes) asked me, "What do you think of pole dancing?" I said something like, "Umm..." There doesn't seem to be quite as much of an immediate pole dancing-stripper association here because I have heard people mention it before. But still, he says, "I was thinking that I want to learn pole dancing, but a Canadian teacher said it's not something that guys do unless they are gay." I was like, "Yeah...I think it would be very strange for you to do pole dancing." And then I giggled half the way home.

7. And the really bad thing about this, Shoe Boy had already talked to Kevin about this, and was apparently not satisfied with his "Don't do it!" answer. Or his Canadian teacher's suggestion. So there's a good likelihood that he'll go on and do it anyway.

8. Our students are all quite excited about the pregnancy. When I made the announcement in class, I explained that we'd be having the baby in the States and would be coming back here afterward and bringing the baby with us. I've already had to re-explain this several times. I think once they heard, "I'm having a baby," everything else just became white noise.

9. Now each week when I walk into class, my students stare intently at my stomach, trying to see if it's gotten bigger. I find this slightly unnerving, but I'm sure I'll get used to it quickly.

10. My students are all extremely concerned about my health and give me lots of advice. I actually haven't gotten much crazy advice...yet, anyway. People are very concerned about my using a computer or mobile phone. I'm sure they'd flip out about the microwave too, but they just haven't thought of it. And I'm certainly not going to tell them about drinking cold water. The horror.

11. I have reason to believe that some of my students are rather foggy about how this whole baby process works. I think some of them still don't quite understand where babies come from (even if they are already having sex). One of my students asked when the baby was going to be born and I said September. She said, "THIS September?" They're just so cute sometimes.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Today I was flipping through National Geographic and noticed a short little article about none other than Kudzu! If you live anywhere in the southern US, you already know exactly what I'm talking about. If you are from somewhere else where this blessed little vine doesn't exist, read on and you will be informed. Here is what it said:

"An Asian vine with flowers that smell like grape drink [can't say I've noticed that], kudzu enticed Americans at a Philadelphia exhibition in 1876. In the 1930's Southerners started planting it to halt soil erosion. They stopped in the 50's, when they realized that the hardy perennial, which can spread up to 60 feet a year, was out of control. Since then, the vine has swallowed 150,00 acres a year--eight million U.S. acres total."

The article showed a little map with kudzu areas highlighted in green. The entire state of Georgia (and of North Carolina) were solid green. Yup, that sounds about right. 8 million acres! Apparently researchers have found some kind of fungus that seems to kill it. They are planning to mix it with herbicides to make it safe enough for people to use.

I have long been of the opinion that kudzu could be a great topic for a horror movie. Preferably a 1950's horror movie. I mean, "The Blob"? Come on. This would be much more interesting and believable. Some mutant strand of kudzu that spreads so fast people wake up and they are trapped in their kudzu covered houses. Stand too close to a tree and you'll get eaten alive. This is good stuff here. Fortunately, Weinan's semi-arid climate means no kudzu, so I'm safe. However, the rest of you might want to look out.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We're Having a Baby!!

by Ruth

And in case you're a little slow on the uptake, the picture should help you out a little bit...supposing you can figure out what it is. Sure, it's not the clearest, but still pretty amazing to see, since the baby was only 3.7cm at the time. It's still probably only about 3 inches long and already has fingers and toes and fingernails and eyelids. Now that is pretty amazing! It has been really exciting to see the baby and hear the heartbeat and find out that everything is looking really good.

Now let's see, you might be interested to know that the baby is due about September 23 (my sister's birthday!). We are planning to stay in America a bit longer this summer and have the baby in Georgia. It will be really nice to be near family, friends, and good medical care. And then, after however long the doctor says is necessary for recovery, or however long it takes to get a baby passport, visa, and plane ticket, we'll be headed back to China.

We would be okay with having the baby in China – we know a lot of people who have (mostly in Beijing). But I admit I'm happy to not add “what if I have a baby in a Chinese taxi...or along side some random road with a crowd of curious onlookers...or in a local hospital!!” to the list of worries. Everyone knows that just because something is very unlikely doesn't mean you won't spend plenty of time worrying about it!

It's still hard to believe there is really a little baby growing inside of me. Sure, I can tell that something is wrecking havoc with my body, but it's hard to imagine how something that tiny can influence everything so much. In fact, the only area of your body I have been able to find that is not affected by pregnancy (at least not that I've read), is your ears. That's it. Everything else changes. A couple of the changes I think are more interesting (and not quite as gross) are:
-Your blood volume increases 40-50%. That's a really big percentage! And most of that happens in the first few months.
-Your cornea thickens and the fluid pressure in your eye decreases, so your vision may get blurry.
-You start inhaling 30-40% more oxygen.

You might not think this is as interesting as I do, but just imagine those and 500 other dramatic changes happening in your body over a short period of time. It's a little bit intimidating.

So, next year we are going to be back here in Weinan again. Kevin will still be teaching, but I will be taking care of the baby. It's a little bit of a strange concept to a lot of people here since generally the mother doesn't serve as the primary caregiver. A much more logical solution, in their eyes, would be (1) either of our parents moving in with us to care for the baby or (2) leaving the baby in America with either one of our parents. As excited as all our parents are for their first grandchild, I don't think they're cool with these options. Which is fine, because neither are we. You wouldn't think it, but when I'm telling people we are coming back here after having the baby, I have to include, “And we are bringing the baby.” They are usually surprised.

We are planning to tell most of our students this week. It should be interesting. :) I'm sure they will be very excited. This has been their dream for such a long time. More on their reactions to come...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


By Ruth

It seems like a lot of people I know (and by that I mean 3) who are around my age and write blogs talk about cooking. It always seems very impressive to me. They share recipes and show pictures of their latest baking creation and talk about cooking equipment I've never heard of. It's all very grown-up. So I thought I would try my own hand at it.

Cooking: A Personal History

I really did very little cooking pre-marriage. I was around cooking a lot, since my mom is pretty much the ultimate make-everything-from-scratch, 30 year expert kind of cook. And I was really into baking...brownies, cookies, bread. But cooking did not have the same appeal (probably because it doesn't involve enough sugar or carbs). I know I did eat during the two years I lived on my own in Yangzhou, but for the life of me I can't figure out what I ate. I do recall a lot of eggs and little packets of instant tomato soup.

Enter husband. He also somehow also managed to eat during his pre-marriage years on his own (and I really have no idea what). But somehow crackers and cheese or a bowl of cereal didn't seem quite substantial enough for dinner anymore. So I decided I'd better start cooking.

At first I was hesitant to experiment at all. In baking, I pretty much follow recipes. It's all about having good recipes. Though there has to be some kind of skill involved because somehow my mom and sisters and I all follow the same chocolate chip cookie recipe and they all turn out very differently. I was saying, I was very hesitant about experimenting. Now that I have become more comfortable with experimenting, a whole new world has opened up, and I am no longer able to follow a recipe (when cooking) to save my life.

I will usually start with a recipe. Sometimes I'm not even sure why, since I will disregard at least 90% of what it says. But perhaps it still gives me a certain level of security. For example, today I decided to make some bean soup, so I got out a basic bean soup recipe and proceeded to ignore it completely. Here is what I did instead.

A Not so Useful Recipe

Soak a bunch of beans (I used some unidentified large, white beans) in a bowl of water until they expand to about twice as much as you need.

Cut up a bunch of random vegetables (this time I used carrots, onion, potatoes, tomatoes, and a handful of extra green beans I had sitting in the fridge). Cut them as big or as small as you prefer, or just stop cutting when you get too bored.

Pour these into a crock-pot. Actually, by this point you'll probably have so much that you need two crock-pots. This frequently happens to me; fortunately my teammate has a crock-pot that she uses about once a year.

Dump some “essence of chicken” (something like bullion) into a bowl until it looks like enough. Add some garlic powder (just because I use garlic in everything) and then mix it up with some hot water...somewhere in the range of 4-8 cups, give or take a few. A few bay leaves, a bunch of pepper, a little more water later if it's looking low on broth, any other random spices that happen to look moderately compatible and then....

Voila! A pretty good bean/vegetable soup that is absolutely unrepeatable. It will probably turn out decently the next time you try to make it; it will just taste different every time. I suppose you could actually measure the ingredients you add, but that seems like a little too much work.

And for your future information, I don't highly recommend the large, unidentified white beans. They were too big and kind of bland, since they didn't soak up enough of the flavor. Next time I think I will go for the smaller, unidentified speckled beans.

So, are you impressed by my culinary talent? Are you ready to run try my vague recipe? Well, all I have to say is that if you try my soup recipe and it doesn't work out, you probably just did it wrong.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Hard Parts

by Ruth

About a month ago I sat in an internet cafe in Thailand talking to my mom, finding out my grandfather had just died. I sat there at the computer crying, getting some weird looks from the loud European guys sitting nearby.

Just a few weeks later, using the internet in a hotel lobby in Frankfurt, Kevin learned that his grandmother had passed away. And then we had to hurry off to the airport to catch a flight.

Sitting in the internet cafe in Thailand, I thought back to three years ago, when I was in that same internet cafe trying to get a-hold of friends and family to tell them I just got engaged (to someone they had yet to meet).

“Hi, I wanted to tell you I'm engaged!! What? I said ENGAGED... Wait, the connection must be bad, let me call back...”
“Hi, I keep trying to call but am just getting voice mail. I have something really important to tell you so...I'll try back later...”

When you live on the other side of the world, when you are traveling almost a fourth of the year, these things don't always work out how you would want them to. You want your family to meet the man you are going to marry. You want to hear and tell important news in person. You want to be at your friends' weddings and meet their babies, or at least their spouses! You want to be there when someone in your family dies.

It's strange how I will come back to that internet cafe every year and it will hold memories of important times in my life. An internet cafe. Sitting there I thought, “This is my life. This is just how things happen.” It sounds depressing, but it actually wasn't a bitter or cynical thought. I guess it was more one of acceptance. I's okay. There are a lot of great things about our life, and this is one of the parts that is hard. It's one of the parts that will always be hard. I talk to people who have lived here for 10 or 20 years, and they still hate missing those important things happening back home.

Sometimes there is hardly even time for these things to seem real. You are so far away and everything is happening back at home. The rest of the family is gathered, the funeral happens, and you just feel so distanced from it all. You still expect things to be the same when you come back.

This is one of the hard parts of our life. And yet...and yet, it's okay.

Friday, March 5, 2010


By Kevin

Just starting to filter through the 1200 or so photos I took during our trip to Europe (and Egypt). I'll try and post them in groups by country. So far, I've got Rome. Click on the photo or follow the link to see more:

Eventually, I'll try and post a blog entry or two about the trip, but since classes start Monday (or so we're told...we don't actually have a schedule just yet), I'm not sure exactly when that'll happen.

An extremely brief summary of our time Rome: we managed to be wowed by thoughts of Gladiators fighting in the Colosseum, imagined Paul being imprisoned near the Roman Forum, pictured Casears living on Palantine Hill, were a bit freaked out by people bowing before the Pope at St. Peter's Basilica, marveled at the massive collection of both ancient and modern art at the Vatican Museum and the Borgese Gallery, breathed deeply under mostly beautiful blue skies, gawked at beautiful fountains and piazzas, ate excellent lasagna, spaghetti, tortellini and pizza and rode subway cars that were completely covered in graffiti.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


(Kevin and I outside of a big Gothic cathedral in Prague)

We're finally back in Weinan! We have been gone for years. Or 6 weeks anyway, but it feels like years. It was great to get to see so many places...the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Pantheon, the pyramids, Europe in general. Whether I actually get around to telling you about it is questionable, because what do you say, really? “Prague was beautiful. The pyramids were big. Such and such was interesting.” That's pretty boring. At some point we will put some pictures up online, but since Kevin took 1200+ pictures, it might take a while to go through them. In the meantime, I will try to fill up this recent blogging void a few random thoughts I had while traveling. The first, naturally, was related to traveling itself.

Sitting next to Kevin on our last flight back to China, I thought back to the first flight we took together. We already knew each other then, but I feel like our relationship was more or less founded out of those 12 hours together. It seems like a very appropriate start to our relationship, since we have since spent so much time in airports and on planes and traveling in general.

I started to wonder how many flights we have been on together and counting up in my head. There were so many that I kept getting confused and had to start tally marks on a piece of paper. Then I started wondering how many flights I've taken overall, and the proportion of pre-China to post-China travel. (It was the middle of a long international flight and I couldn't sleep and I had already watched several dumb movies, so what else did I have to do?) I'm pretty sure I've forgotten a few, but here are the results of my calculations.

1983-2005 flights (pre-China): 18 (half of these were from going to Laos)

2005-2010 flights on my own: 21

2005-2010 flights with Kevin: 43

Total lifetime flights:81

Total flights in the last 5 years: 64

That's a lot of flights. I can only imagine how much time we've spent in airports! Of those 63, about 19 were significant international flights (meaning somewhere between 5-14 hours). 78% of my flying has been done in the last 19% of my life. Hmm, which means I have spent 19% of my life in China (or traveling to and from it). Wow, I'm young.

So anyway, I thought that it was all kind of interesting and sad. Sad because unfortunately, I still hate traveling...