Fall and Friends

WWAM Bam Photo 2

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!

Raspberries 18 Nama Mama
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.

Stateside Interlude

Lake Huron Sunset 2018

I’ve been back in America for a little over a month. I was forced to return to my homeland to attempt to change my visa type to the only one that could possibly make sense in our current situation: The Visiting Family Visa. Good news! It was issued to me without any fuss. Well, no fuss at the consulate anyway. This trip I had to spend almost a week near Chicago, relying on the kindness of friends and navigating some of America’s great train systems in order to affordably make everything come together.

After everything was finished with my visa, I headed east to be reunited with my family. Being back with family is always a relief. Finally I can be with people who have known me most of their lives, and communication is not a problem at all.

Michigan Pine Cone 2018

I wasn’t able to bring KL with me this time, and that was a big disappointment for everyone. I am very sorry that it didn’t work out that she could come (with my pregnancy and how things worked out time-wise in China, it didn’t work out to bring her), but it has been easier for me here being without her, especially when I was navigating cities and trains. I’m hoping that next time we visit, all four of us can come and enjoy a nice holiday.

Blueberries 2018

During my time with family and friends, I’ve gotten to do a lot of wonderful things (frankly, I am continuously spoiled). Summer is an excellent time to be in Michigan. Here are some of the things I’ve had a chance to do since I’ve been home:

*visiting relatives
*eating hamburgers
*browsing library booksales
*seeing ‘The Lion King’ musical!
*thrift store shopping
*blueberry picking
*visiting lighthouses
*eating Michigan ice cream
*watching Netflix
*getting online work done
*enjoying so many foods and snacks I seldom get to eat

Nature's Eye 2018

All too soon my long and strenuous journey back to China will begin. It is always hard to say goodbye to friends and family here and seems to get harder each time I visit.

But my small family is waiting for me, and missing me. Everything has been set up for our move back to Xining. K has a job, we have a nice rental apartment (with half of our storage stuff also there, just waiting for me to go through it when I get back (my poor poor husband!)), and our blanket business, just waiting to kick into high gear upon my return. I’m excited to see what we can do when I get back.

For now I will enjoy my last few remaining days with pot lucks and card games.

Big News!

New Old ArchitecturePlease excuse the long absence of updates. Recently I have not had as much energy as I usually do, and you will soon know the reason why! But now it is time to update this blog again, so here I go!

Summer has again arrived in Guangdong, providing copious amounts of rain from typhoons, lots of cloudy days, and increasingly hot weather. Like I told K it would, the smaller bedroom with the good A/C has become my favorite room in our apartment. (He for some reason prefers to sit in the living room with a slightly broken fan aimed in his direction, I am not sure why.)

Big changes are coming yet again because of some big news!

Pregnancy Announcement

That’s right! I am pregnant! K and I are both happy about the news, though it does change our life trajectory once again. At the end of this school term we will be returning to Qinghai, in order to be close to his family and to be able to focus on our blanket business.  Never have I been more motivated to do my best in a creative endeavor.

One thing I find interesting about the big news is that while I have been bursting to share the news since the moment I knew, K has yet to say anything to his family. When I asked him why, he said that Tibetans don’t generally share news with people if it will not change anything about their daily lives.  Tibetans also do not generally share pregnancy news anyway because anything could happen. It’s interesting; in my culture I would be scolded for keeping something this exciting to myself, and in his culture he would be scolded for sharing!

Sweet Potato Gao

Since my time in Guangdong is now limited, I’m trying to soak up all the good and beautiful things about it before I have to leave. These include tangible things like beautiful tropical flowers and beautifully recreated traditional buildings, and intangible things like convenience and autonomy. When I think back to my year here, I always feel grateful for B. If it was not for her, I would not have been able to heal, lose weight, or find some joy in my profession in China.

Well, as I finish my cold bubble milk tea, I’ll also finish this post. Once I am living in reliable wifi, my updates should not be so few and far between! Also there will be a lot more action on all things Blanket business! Stay tuned!

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Restful Holiday

Daliang Big Gate New Year Nama Mama
I didn’t want to believe B when she said it can get cold here. In fact in summer I couldn’t comprehend it. But sure enough, this winter there have been cold snaps that made me have flashbacks to my time in Jiangsu. Sometimes the temperature was down to 5 degrees Celsius. With no indoor heating and homes that are designed to keep in the cold, that was quite uncomfortable. Thankfully these periods were relatively short, and now the weather is much more comfortable.

We’ve been here as a family now for a couple of months. We were mostly spectators to Chinese New Year, choosing not to go out and do anything to celebrate it except visit a local flower market. K discovered how to take the bus to the nearest Vanguard Supermarket, and just as in Jiangsu, that has been our most adventurous weekly travel destination. Ah the joys of frugal living.

New Year Display in San Hong Qi Nama Mama

Now that holiday is over, we’ve settled back into a nice routine. We found a good kindergarten for A. It’s a bit of a trek but its good exercise. We’re trying not to think about how it’s going to be once the weather gets really hot. She is happy there and doesn’t give us any trouble in the morning to get her ready. She really likes the sweat towels that the kids here wear (to make sure their backs don’t get cold, er summin), and wants to wear one all the time.

Hundreds of Goldfish in Daliang Nama Mama

Last Saturday I took them to a big Buddhist temple. The weather was amazing! We had a really nice time there. I tell K that this is the time to get out and see things. Once it gets hot, the only place we will want to be is under the air conditioner.

K has been busy experimenting with his skills here. He’s taught himself to make some handicrafts with our new sewing machine. I’ve been so proud of him, not only has he mastered table runners, but he’s figured out how to make clothes. We all have some additions to our wardrobes! For a person who has a lot of trouble buying clothes in China, this is especially exciting!

Eventually we will expand our blanket business to include other Tibetan style crafts, so we are researching and developing that now. He’s also mastering the art of yogurt making. Hopefully soon he will be able to start regularly selling yogurt in our community. He is a jack of all trades.

That’s all for now, take care everybody!

Year in Review 2017

It’s that time of year again. Time to reflect on the past 12 months, think about life in general, and make some promises about the next 12. It’s time for the end of the year recap, and this year, just like the past few years, has been quite an adventure.

Losar 2017 Nama Mama

This year didn’t have a good start. I was just preparing to leave a miserable job and situation in rural Qinghai. It was a relief to leave that school, but instead of renting our own place for a while (like I expected) we instead went to stay with K’s relatives for a couple of months.

Those were some of the hardest months of my life. The stress of everything eventually led to me having an anxiety attack. Finally after two long months, our little family moved to our own place in Xining, where KL would resume kindergarten and K would continue his work with the milk factory, occasionally staying in the grasslands sometimes for a week at a time.

Xining Handicraft Seller Nama Mama

I needed time to heal. During our half-year stay in Xining I did not get a job outside the home. I couldn’t get a work visa anyway, and a similar soul-destroying job like I’d had for so many years before would have finished me. So I “rested” (though taking care of a three year old can hardly be considered a holiday) and tried to find ways to earn a living that didn’t require me to teach.

One thing that I started was submitting my photos to stock photography websites. I spent many hours in front of my computer typing keywords and titles. Some were accepted. Many more were rejected. I went out with the purpose of capturing desirable stock photos. I learned a lot and it changed the way I took photos.

All that hard work was not wasted. Soon I started getting the odd commission here and there. Then the amount per commission started to increase. Now I have a way to earn some passive income. It is really exciting!

Blankets Nama Mama

The other wonderful thing we started was our Shema-lep Tibetan Style Blanket business. It was something that we had been toying around with since Jiangsu (Where K made our first blanket) and finally I couldn’t bear to put it off anymore. I started a WeChat group of potentially interested people, showed K (who had a very difficult time believing something as “ordinary” as a Tibetan style blanket could be a desirable product (can you believe it?)), and finally he agreed to seriously start the process.

We’ve hired and trained tailors, and sold more than 50 custom ordered blankets, all with very happy recipients. Now K is really eager to keep it going, and we are going to try despite the fact that he will be moving to Guangdong next month.

Guangdong Orange Flower Nama Mama

Despite having a growing business, we knew that our current situation wasn’t stable. It was a “waste” of my earning potential to not work, and K could no longer stomach our nomadic and rent-paying lifestyle. He encouraged me to move to another place where I could earn money faster. Somewhere away from Qinghai, where it was easier to get a better visa type or at least be closer to Hong Kong for visa runs.

If the idea was for us to move together, I would have been more ok with everything, but since the milk factory had potential to be a stable and enjoyable job, K was reluctant to leave it. I was encouraged to do things the Tibetan way: leave your family and go to where you can earn more money. I hated it and fought against the thought, but in the end I agreed to do it. I couldn’t see any better solution to our pressing financial problems.

Locks in the Buddhist Temple Guangdong Nama Mama

Fortunately, because of my network of WWAM friends, I had the opportunity to go to Guangdong and work with B. It was difficult to leave my life in Qinghai to start over yet again in a different place in China. Bitterness and resentment about my decision combined with stifling summer heat made me a fairly useless new recruit. But B and her team were welcoming, helpful and patient. Most of all, it was such a relief to finally be around someone who could really understand my situation.

Slowly I started to realize that it has been in Guangdong that true healing has taken place. Being removed from the intense sources of pressure in my life (my Tibetan family and their expectations, my husband, motherhood stress) was exactly what I had been needing. I came back to my old self, a self that I had not seen for the last few years. With support, understanding, and encouragement from B and our team, I’ve started eating much healthier for me (no wheat!) and I’m very satisfied with the results. I’m losing weight and feeling good.

Another wonderful thing that’s happened here is that I’ve changed how I think and feel about teaching. B said that in time I may remember why I originally liked teaching, and she was absolutely right. Working at her school has been such a life altering experience and I will be forever grateful to her for allowing me to do so.

Yellow Wall Blue Window Daliang Guangdong Nama Mama

I’m also really happy that I gave Guangdong a chance. There are so many beautiful things here, and such a rich culture. I feel like it will be a long time before I’m finished with China’s sweaty south. I’m excited that K and KL will be joining me here next month. They too can be charmed by Canton. It is very important for me to have my family reunited as soon as possible. I’m sure that the start of 2018 will actually be a positive one.

And how about New Year’s Resolutions? Hmm, This year I have only one. I want to start Bullet Journaling. (Yes, you can blame my recent obsession with Instagram for that.) I’ve purchased some really exciting and beautiful products, and once the New Year rolls in, I hope to be journaling away to my heart’s content (and sharing my creations with my IG followers!) You can follow me here.

So this year, 2017 probably won’t go down in history as one of my favorites, but it will be remembered as a time where I was asked to do really difficult things and came out of it better than when I went in. I think that’s all we can really aim for.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Exploring on Foot

Cone Incense in Guangdong Shunde Nama Mama
Hello everyone! I’m happy to report that temperatures have come down! It now feels like Qinghai at the hight of summer! Do you know what that means? It’s November and I still haven’t gotten out any of my warmer clothes. While the locals shiver in their jackets, I frolic down the streets of the nearby city wearing short-pants and t-shirts, taking photos.

This past month I have been really happy. Mostly because the weather is good enough that I can get outside and start exploring the world around me. And explore I have!  It’s been wonderful to get up early, go out with my camera and discover Guangdong. So far I’ve made friends with a family, watched a dragon boat race, and taken gazillions of photos of old houses and well kept ancestral temples. I’ve also joined a photography club that travels around this city’s villages and takes photos. They’re curious and happy to have a foreign member of their club.

Dragon Boat Races Beijiao Shunde Guangdong Nama Mama

So as luck would have it, I was able to go to a dragon boat race this year. Usually they are held in June during Duanwu Holiday. This town has theirs in October though, which is probably smarter, as the weather is much nicer.

I went there with my new friends who live in the town, a family with three daughters. I’ve been meeting with them to play badminton and to enjoy their delicious cooking. We all speak standard Mandarin together (poorly), which none of us is a native speaker. At least mine is good enough to go out into the world and make friends who don’t also speak English.

Window Guangdong Shunde Beijiao Nama Mama
Now that the weather is comfortable, I’ve been trying to get out of the house as much as possible. Not only to see the world but to make a separate life for myself unrelated to my work. Being at work, or nearby during off hours is a good way to get roped into working, if you’re not careful. I’ve discovered. That’s one of the dangers of working and living with your friends.

Things will be changing again in the next couple of months. K and KL will be joining me down here, probably in January, so I am preparing for that. I want to help him find a good job, find us a nice place to live, and secure a kindergarten spot for Autumn. Our family will be together again! And in another very far away and different place. Hopefully this will be the last leg of our nomadic journey, and we can work hard and save up quickly so that we can really settle down.

I’m optimistic about Guangdong. I wonder why I never gave it a chance before. It’s full of hidden treasures. It’s just the heat that has to be dealt with. Well, so far winter is fantastic!

Chinese Blue Journal Nama Mama
Another very positive thing is my job. I’m really starting to enjoy it. I even look forward to teaching certain classes! I think this is a major breakthrough when it comes to happiness and job satisfaction. I may come to enjoy teaching after all!

Unrelated, I’ve joined Instagram (properly). I’m having such an amazing time browsing through inspirational photos and following skilled and creative photographers. If you’d like to follow me my handle is shema_lep_tibetan_blankets . I post photos from all over China and Tibet. I also post photos related to our blanket business (which is chugging along!) and you can visit our website at shema-lep.com !

One concern we have when K moves here is who is going to do the legwork for the blanket business. We are still trying to figure that out. In any case, I don’t want to take a break from it. We’re going to try to keep it going. Our customers are all pleased with their blankets, and are happy that we are able to keep some plateau handicrafts alive.

So I was right, 2017, albeit toward the end, has been a time for improvements.