Summer Fun

Nama Mama(6)
Summer seemed to take longer than usual arriving this year, with lots of rainy chilly weather stretching through June and into July. But finally, that dry heat that we have come to know and love finally arrived. We’ve been taking advantage of getting out of the city and enjoying it on the weekends.

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One weekend we went to K’s village especially to take his parents on a picnic. We arrived in the village the night before. The next day we took his mom and her sister, as dad wasn’t confident in his hill climbing abilities. During our picnic the two ladies in their 70’s took off up the closest hill and disappeared for two hours. They finally came back with iris bulbs and smiles. They spent the rest of the picnic weaving long grasses into children’s crowns which A wore with happiness.

Nama Mama(9)
Last weekend we went to the village again, and on Sunday headed to Linxia in Gansu province to stock up on blanket materials. That particular day was a special Muslim holiday, which mean most of the city’s shops were closed (as most of Linxia’s population is Islamic). We contacted our supplier and he was kind enough to come and open up for us, and we were very grateful.

While we waited for him to arrive, we wandered around the nearby remodeled tourist attraction, showcasing traditional Linxia culture and architecture. Though it was a long drive to Linxia, and my bad tooth was aching, exploring the traditional architecture put a spring back in my step. It is one of my very favorite things to do, and I have not done it in a long time.

Interestingly, after swishing bai jiu (rice liquor) around in my mouth several times, it started to feel better, and has been pain free since. Chinese alcohol for the win!

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The following day was second eldest niece’s wedding! I had been looking forward to attending even though it was going to be a town wedding in a hotel (I’ve still never attended a Tibetan village wedding except my own, and mine was not that traditional for a wedding, I’m told)

First we arrived at the groom’s family home in Jianzi (a town sort of nearby) and were ushered up to the sixth floor of an apartment building. Upon entering, it was like being transferred to a house in the village. All the walls were wooden in the traditional style. There were beautiful carpets atop kangs (built in traditional style beds), and on top of those were wooden tables laden with all the best of Tibetan celebratory foods.

I along with the kids was ushered into one of the two bedrooms to snack and chat with other women and children, while the (important) men were gathered around the tea table in the living room. Events like these are often sex segregated, so I just sat and ate my dumplings with no thought to being able to talk to my husband until we left.

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It was at the hotel dining room that I started to feel queezy, and the thought of more food did not appeal at all. I managed to see the most important parts of the celebration before needing to excuse myself. I spent the rest of the party in the outer hallway by the window being gawked at by little kids.

Nama Mama(7)

Despite my recent ailments, I’ve managed to have a lot of fun in the sun this summer. It’s actually been harvest time here since the beginning of August. There are some big agricultural changes in recent years, most noticeable is the availability of rental farm equipment. It is revolutionizing the village harvest. A big difference from when I first started visiting.

Soon the trees will start changing color to yellow and it will be my two favorite times of year, moon cake time and raspberry picking! It is going to be great, you’ll see. I am even going to make a pie.

 

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Wheels

Nama Mama(1)

Ever since it had become apparent that home ownership was not in the cards for us in the near future, we had been thinking about buying a car instead. Having a car would help our life in meaningful ways. It would make it easier for us to go and get blanket materials and have our own schedule on such trips. It would of course make travel to the hometown and surrounding areas much more comfortable with our bigger family (taking the bus now is quite crammed if you can imagine). And maybe someday we would be able to use our car for other purposes.

So we started taking trips to the second hand car market recently, and after a few trips we decided to stop hemming and hawing and just go ahead and buy the one we liked.  Now we have wheels!

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We haven’t even had it for one month yet and it is already such a learning experience. Owning a car in China is much different than owning one in the US where I am from.

One of the things that is different is that there are very few “old” cars here. I think the oldest cars available at the market were 7 or 8 years old! China has rules about old cars and people don’t like to drive old cars anyway because of “face” (something akin to embarrassment).

Another things is there are few cars available in colors other than white, black, or gray. I do not know why that is. When I ask people, they tell me people here like those colors best. I think it probably also has to do with availability. There just aren’t many other color options. Can you guess what color our car is?

Nama Mama(4)

So we have been enjoying our new wheels, traveling to the hometown with friends and most recently, taking loads of stuff to our new rental apartment. It is unfortunate that we have to move so frequently but at least now we can do so on our own terms.

Our new rental is in my very favorite building in Xining, and some of my best friends have lived in it before.  It is much closer to the center of town, and within walking distance of my husband’s office. Though we will pay slightly more in rent, we will save much more money and time by living there by being able to eat lunch at home, and by not needing long commutes.

It also happens to be in the Tibetan area of town, so we will be able to walk to Tibetan restaurants, shops and places with Tibetan dancing!

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In other news, Adventure Wednesday with my new friend “K” have been wonderful for getting out and exploring the city. It’s nice to have another foreign friend to hang around with who likes photography and exploring. When it is the two of us (plus PY), the attention from local people feels less (or perhaps more spread out), so being social is less daunting. With the coming end to the school term, those will be coming to an end for a while, but I hope they can resume in the fall.

We’ve started to have real sheepskin and lambskin blankets made! It is so exciting and educational to try new things. Our blanket business is doing well even though it is summertime.

K and I, and our business are going to be featured in some videos! We had a lovely time taking our good friend and Youtuber M and her family to K’s village, where we got to experience some local traditions, and were also interviewed. She has a wonderful artistic video style and you can check out her channel at Miriam in China.

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KL will be graduating from kindergarten soon, but she will need to take one more year of kindergarten before she can enter first grade. I mull over our options and opportunities daily for this extra year. I have it in mind to send her to the village kindergarten for a year. There are many pros and cons to this, and we haven’t made any final decisions yet. Here are my thoughts:

Pros: Improved spoken Tibetan and she could learn some writing and reading
She would be immersed in Tibetan village culture
She would likely learn some traditional songs and dances

Cons: Away from her family for long stretches of time
Given (money for) junk food whenever she wants it
May undo some of the hard work I have done re: her behavior

We live in Xining which is an overall Han Chinese city. There are no Tibetan kindergartens or schools in the city. While I am happy with her progress learning to speak Mandarin, of her three languages, Tibetan is now the worst. Also she has had little exposure to Tibetan language and culture. She will start primary school in Chinese in Xining, so there isn’t a danger of her Mandarin suffering. This might be a good chance for her to catch up with her father’s language and culture.

Spring in the ‘Ning

Kunlun Bridge for Nama Mama

This year, spring in Xining was a fragrant natural masterpiece with pink and white blossoms at every turn. Purple lilacs made the air smell like perfume. The weather has been getting very nice and sometime even hot. Our family has had many opportunities to get out and enjoy nature, which has been lovely.

We’ve taken a few trips to the hometown recently, during holidays and weekends, to help out, to visit our tailor and to enjoy the countryside. I find myself appreciating being back in Qinghai. It’s seasons, scenery, and diversity really make me feel warm even the weather is chilly.

Blossoms for Nama Mama
I’ve made a new foreign friend “K” from England. She gets me out of the house once a week and we go exploring around the city. I pride myself on knowing this city pretty well, but last week we found a traditional Chinese Guild Hall I had never even heard of before! It was beautiful and wonderful! I will definitely be visiting it again.

Though my FB may make it look like I am always on the go, I actually spend most of my time at home with PY. Recently I have been sorting and packing everything up for our next move (Yes…we will be moving once again…)

We have a plan to rent a larger apartment this time, and hopefully do something useful with it. It will be in a more central area of the city which will be much easier to get to places and meet friends.

Roof Tiles for Nama MamaThis summer is going to be busy. I’m sure I’ll have quite a lot more to say in my next post!

Losar (Tibetan New Year) 2019

Nama Mama (1)Happy New Year Again! After the resolution making and counting down that happens just before January 1st, we get to experience another New Year here, the one that jives with the Chinese lunar calendar. This Tibetan New year was probably the best I’ve ever experienced, and there are a few reasons for that:

1. I went to the village with a different attitude, reminding myself that the best course of action was to not make any plans or have any expectations, just go with the flow.

2. We borrowed a car, which allowed us to come and go as we pleased, and it was much more convenient, especially with an infant.

3. This year Bawu (Grandpa) turned 80 years old, so it was extra festive in the family house

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It seems that every year I have the opportunity to experience different things. Some years I attended the bonfires, others I have seen the play that is put on. Sometimes I participate in the tsampa cleansing ritural (rubbing roasted barley flour mixed with butter, cheese and water on our arms and face to take away the bad stuff). I’ve been able to see the drum dancing, and watch the creation of the orge-like tsampa creature that later gets tossed into the river.

This year I was able do some different activities. It is customary for households who have a member that turns 70, 80, or 90 years old in that year to give money to the village children. On one of the mornings, children wear their best Tibetan clothing and go around to all the households with these elderly folks to collect money (usually ten yuan for each kid).

Previously I had not been told about this custom, and this year I was able to participate on behalf of baby PY. With our babies and KL in tow, I followed a niece from the village from house to house and collected money for the baby and encouraged Autumn to do the same. What an interesting tradition!

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While I didn’t see the drum dancing this year, I did have the very special opportunity to follow the dancers up to the incense offering place at the foot of the mountain. Usually women are not allowed to take part in this activity, so I felt very privileged to have the chance to observe it. It is only because I am a foreigner that it was ok.

Nama Mama (1)
Since we had a car, we took some side trips on our way back home. We went to visit a monk friend, went to a big stupa (pictured above), and went to Rebgong and Gomer village. It makes me think that having our own car would not be that bad after all!

Nama Mama (2)
On the last day of the 15 day New Year Holiday, we went to Kumbum Monastery. We went to see the amazing butter sculptures, and to visit another monk friend. It was another nice day, we avoided the crowds by staying on the upper roads and could watch the pilgrims and tourists in their colorful clothes below. When it was time to see the butter sculptures we were escorted down and got a great view that we could enjoy for as long as we wanted. We were so fortunate to have such a great opportunity!
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Can you believe that all of that is made out of butter? And that is only a portion of the two displays of butter sculptures!

Nama Mama (3) So like I said before, this Losar was the best I’ve celebrated so far. I’m so glad that I have the opportunity to share it with you!

Year in Review

Year In Review Post Guangdong Pickles Nama Mama

It’s that time of year again already, time to recap the 12 months in a short blog post. Many life altering things happened in 2018, most notably the birth of our second child “PY” in November. But let’s go back to the beginning first. In January of this year I was in Guangdong. I was excited because soon my family would be coming to live with me soon. I was busy making preparations with the help of local friends (and attending a local friend’s wedding!). Finally K and KL arrived, and we set about making a new tropical life together.

Guangdong Flower Market Nama Mama

We stayed in Guangdong for Chinese New Year, and went to a local flower market. Flowers and fruits are a big part of New Year celebrations in Guangdong so it was special to be able to experience this unique regional culture. People decorate with tall orange bushes surrounded by potted flowers. These could be seen all around. Too bad the oranges are inedible!

Winter was colder than I imagined, and there were days we struggled to stay warm enough. There is no indoor heating there and all buildings are designed to keep in the cold. Thankfully the cold days were few and it soon started to warm up again.

We enrolled KL in a kindergarten that was a bit of a walk from the place we lived. Every day we had to cross a main expressway to take her to school. Overall it was good to get some exercise every day, and KL enjoyed her kindergarten and continued to learn standard Mandarin despite being in the heart of Canton.

Panyu Trip March Nama Mama

Though our main purpose for being there was to save money, we did get out and travel a bit, not wanting to miss our limited opportunities to explore this tropical Asian place. Sometimes we went into the city for milk tea and exploring on Saturdays. Other times we visited the famous Buddhist monastery or the beautiful local parks filled with traditional Chinese architecture. We even traveled a little further and visited some reconstructed “old towns” and spent a holiday with a local family in Panyu. We learned a lot and enjoyed exploring and family time.

My SZ Friends Nama Mama

When it was time to leave Guangdong, I looked back on my time there, and though my bimonthly visa runs were tiring and strenuous, had I not needed to do them, I never would have met two of my very best friends. I now can’t imagine my life without C and C, and I miss them so much now that I’m far away. Thank goodness for technology and WeChat. At least we have that!

Aunt Cindys Quilt Nama Mama

In early spring, K and I found out that I was expecting. This news was quite the surprise and forced us to change our plans. We decided that it would be better for us to move back to Qinghai so that we could be close to K’s family, and to be back in familiar territory when it came to hospital checks and available help. That required me to change my visa type, and that required me to return to America. So that’s what I did. So in the summer of 2018, I went back to America, alone, and waddled around the Midwest, securing my family visa, visiting and staying with friends, enjoying family, and meeting an online friend for the first time who I’d grown very close to over the last two years previous.

This visit to the US was different from previous visits. I wasn’t able to bring KL this time so I was there flying solo. It made the trips to secure my visa much easier not having her there and I experienced some new things on this visit such as taking trains. I had the chance to do some wonderful things this time like see The Lion King musical with my sister and visiting lighthouses and blueberry farms.

All too soon it was time to leave my American family and reunite with my Asian one. After a long and tiring journey I made it back to Xining and promptly began my recovery from jet-lag.

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Upon my return, I found out that there is a raspberry farm right here in Qinghai! We went there after I recovered and found that not only were there rows of raspberry bushes for picking, but also many beautiful flowers, paths, tents, and a restaurant making special foods! After picking our two boxes, we shared a giant bowl of noodle soup for lunch. We also enjoyed the local specialty of 8 treasures tea. I plan to go to this farm every year!

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And of course, the most momentous occasion of 2018 is the birth of our second daughter “PY.”  It was an extended hospital and labor experience, one that I don’t wish to repeat (I think we’re done now haha) but all the waiting and pain were worth it. She weighed in at 6.6 pounds. I was induced at 38 weeks because it seemed that she wasn’t growing properly. We’re so glad everything turned out alright. Now our life has changed again in a big way.

I spent the rest of the year at home, trying to get enough sleep. I had another “modified sitting month” (as I like to call it), staying inside and at times being cared for by family members.

So another crazy year has come and gone. Here’s to hoping 2019 is smooth, peaceful, and cooperative!

Fall and Friends

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It’s my favorite time of year, and I am glad to be back in a place where leaves change color and gourds grow (can you believe it? For the first time in Asia I found and purchased gourds!). We’ve had some opportunities to enjoy the changing of seasons in this chilly place as well as spend some quality time with family and good friends.

Monastery in Ledu Nama Mama.jpgThe week-long October National Holiday was just the right combination of traveling, staying at home, and spending time with family. At my urging,  we took a trip to a town I’ve never visited in Qinghai and went to a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery there. It was a very nice time with loud joyful singing in the mini bus, interesting conversations with monks, and my personal favorite, the paintings on the walls of the temples that went back hundreds and hundreds of years. (No photos though!) I’m always energized and rejuvenated by travel to interesting places so it really put a spring in my step.

We also spent some meaningful time with several of K’s family members. They came to Xining to enjoy brother and sister in law’s new apartment that they recently finished decorating and furnishing. The plan is to have his parents live there during the cold winters, and that plan has already been put into action. It will definitely be a big change for them. One nice thing is that our apartment is only a 10 minute walk away, so we can keep each other company and KL can stay with them when it is time for second baby to come.

WWAM Bam Photo 1 A niece of K’s got married a couple of weeks ago and KL and I had the opportunity to attend the wedding. I still haven’t ever attended a traditional Tibetan village wedding but this one that took place in the county town, was a bit more traditional than most “city style” weddings (of which I’ve attended many).

It was held in a beautiful hotel. Men and Women+Children sat at separate tables. How close to the front you sat depended on how close your relationship was to the bride or groom. The bride has many aunts, and we all sat together and ate happily at one of the raised side tables while we watched colorfully dressed children (including my own) run around all afternoon.

Tibetan Wedding Bride and Groom Nama Mama

Things have again settled themselves into a routine. The weather is very cold in the mornings and evenings. KL enjoys her kindergarten and is always happy to go in the mornings. K is settling into his job and makes good use of his free time, measuring, cutting and building things out of wood.

I’m busy at home working for our blanket business. Now that it’s getting colder, its the perfect time to order our custom Tibetan robe-inspired blankets.

I’m also taking the chance to meet up with my friends here. Soon I will be stuck in my apartment with a newborn, so I know how important it is to get out and be social now! And of course I have been nesting, collecting more baby clothes and items, and trying to get things finished so that I won’t have to worry about them after next month. I’ve been seeing the foreign doctor this time too, a very different pregnancy experience from last time. A much better experience than last time.

Very soon we will be welcoming a new member to our family. KL insists that it is a girl, and is very happy to have a younger sister to play with. Recently she has been telling me how she is a big sister and she will be a big help after the baby comes. I really hope so!

A Taste of Home on the Tibetan Plateau

Tibetan Tent in a garden 18 Nama Mama

Welp, I’ve been back in Qinghai for a bit over a month. Part of that time was spent in a state of fatigue and jetlag after an impressively tiring trip back across the globe. Part of it was spent settling into our new rental apartment (where I spent much of my time washing clothes and bedding from one of our storages). Part of it was spent traveling around the province trying to get my residence permit (which we were finally able to do, at the very last minute and after some worry).

But it wasn’t all just a daze of buses and laundry, we find a nice kindergarten for KL, (probably the closest one to our home that she’s ever attended), we met up with some friends, made a trip to the hometown, and perhaps most exciting, we heard about a Raspberry Farm in the next prefecture over. Can you believe it? An honest to goodness raspberry picking paradise! Of course we had to head over there as soon as possible. It did not disappoint!

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I was taken back to my childhood, putting more berries into my stomach than the pails and everything! And it wasn’t just an orchard, there were also fields of flowers, Tibetan style tents, and special foods. We enjoyed a big bowl of pulled noodles and delicious cups of 8 treasures tea. This is definitely a place we will visit yearly as long as it’s open. We even thought about starting our own farm in K’s hometown. Turns out local people are not so keen on this fruit. Mostly foreigners take advantage of this treasure.

Eight Treasures Tea 18 Nama Mama

Now that I have my residence permit, KL is settled into school, and K has his job, we can finally really relax and settle into a routine until baby #2 comes into our lives. K has been getting crafty in his free time, he’s built us a beautiful bookshelf (without a plan or photo!) and a small work table. Next he plans to make a crib. It is so inspiring to have such a creative and resourceful handyman in the house.

Our lives are going to change dramatically again soon, and I’m trying to ready myself for an infant. I’m getting as much uninterrupted sleep and time with good friends in before it’s time to be a perpetually tired hermit. Now it’s the October Holiday in China, when most people get a full week off. I’m hoping we will go somewhere nearby for a day or two, as it may be our last chance to do so for quite some time.