23 May 2014

Saying goodbye to MI

Next week is LiLi’s last week at her Mandarin Immersion public elementary school in San Francisco. 

To continue Mandarin Immersion into middle school there are very few choices in San Francisco.  The public middle school that both Mandarin Immersion elementary schools feed into carries the Mandarin forward but at a huge cost:  electives.  SFUSD has decided that the kids will not have access to the traditional middle school electives since it is during that period the Mandarin will take place.  The school is also huge, over 1100 kids in three grades.  There’s one established private that has MI too, and at least one other smaller private newish on the scene.

Since the established MI private wasn’t for us, like many parents I had to decide between sending LiLi to the this large middle that carries forward the Mandarin but offers no electives or putting her in a smaller all-day-in-English school.  I chose the latter. 

I’ll supplement the Chinese, hire a caregiver who speaks only Chinese, and continue to spend summers in China.

We travel in three weeks. 

12 August 2013

Again: the air

Though there is a movement afoot to close the central city coal burning plants it hasn't happened yet to our neighborhood smoke-stack seen here from my rented bedroom window.   We've been asking random locals and it seems that this little plant is indeed burning coal to run the air conditioners we all use in this crazy hot and humid weather.  It's been in the high 30s (or 90s F) and about that in humidity as well.  Walking outside feels a bit like walking into the steam room at the gym.

There were many reports about the bad air setting records earlier this year.  I was trying to find stats on how many days were hazardous but I am not sure who is compiling that data or how to get my hands on it.  In any event, the air is bad and people are leaving BJ because of it.  Us, too.  

Though LiLi got into an excellent and close-by private international school, though we found a rockin' light-filled apartment in a complex we've coveted, though we're in a 'hood where we already know people including LiLi’s BJ bestie, I feel we simply cannot stay.  

Last week, while LiLi was in camp and I scouted apartments with friends, we had some blue-sky days.  My friends said if the sky stayed blue that week they figured I'd sign on to BJ for another year or two.  But the sky didn't stay blue and yesterday we had thick and gritty air that left us all feeling sick by the end of the day.  We hunkered down indoors with the air filter running at its highest setting.  It seems insane to sign on to living here when our other option has AQIs of around 35. 

I love BJ and the excitement of a city this large.  I love the center of the universe feeling.  That things change on a dime.  That we have a global community (our friends are from:  BJ; other parts of China; Ghana; Iran; England; France; America; Australia).  That traveling to other Asian countries is easy and inexpensive from here.  I love my plan to host regular foodie pot-lucks.  When we lived here in 2012 the food I missed most was Mexican so I envision hosting dinners where someone would bring salsa, someone else guac, someone else quesadillas, etc, and another time doing Malaysian, or Indian or other foods. 

But I can do that in San Francisco and I’m not sure why I don’t think of it there.  Maybe because life there already has so many layers to it.  So many obligations and so much pressure.  Even though daily life is hard in China, there’s a way in which it is not so complicated.  It feels cleaner.  It feels clearer, even through the smog.  

31 July 2013

Back in the Jing

We got into BJ last Friday evening after a five hour delay on United's 889--most of it onboard--turned the 12.5 hour flight into a 17 hour one.   Despite that, and an entire cup of water spilled in my lap early on, we did okay on the flight and even slept a little.  We missed dinner with my 36-hours-overlapping-in-BJ brother's family but my BJ-for-the-summer niece met us at the airport to help with the five suitcases (five!) filled with loads and loads of gifts and supplies for our peeps here.  

It immediately felt great to be back in BJ.  We're staying at friends' apartment East of the park.  We lived on the West side last year so it's very familiar territory and we love it.  On Saturday we're moving to a service apartment in the Lido area of Beijing  where LiLi and a buddy will go to a day camp while I do some networking and catching up with folks.

Saturday was a bad air day where drizzling clouds trapped the smog so we all felt headachy and sick by the end of the day.  That combined with jetlag caused the "why would anyone live here" feelings to arise.  But Sunday was relatively clear and I forgot again.  It's been 100 degrees or thereabouts, smoggy, humid and generally miserable all week.  This is why many expats go to their home countries for the summer, or to Bali.  At the moment it's not bad though:  BJ AQI 110; SF AQI 78.

We've seen most of our inner circle by now and I'm in the process of making networking appointments for next week.  I feel like I could easily stay forever.  Life is hard here especially for me and my bad Chinese, but there's a way in which life in America is difficult too, with complicated layers of responsibility and pressure.  We're lucky to have the opportunity to experience both and we don't have to decide anything long term, at least not right now, not today.  Today is okay. 

03 July 2013


We went to the Chinese consulate in SF today to apply for our visas.

Not changed yet.  The forms are essentially the same for now but the requirements and processes are expected to change, well, as of yesterday.  New categories including the M, R, Q and S visas.  If you're going to work on a work permit, you'll also now need a certificate of no criminal conviction.

Forms.  The forms can be saved and then typed and printed.  You still need your old visas along with one passport photo.

Return flights.  Last year we didn't need to show our return flight but today we had to go to the nearby J-town UPS store to print a copy of our tickets leaving China.  Many countries require proof that you plan to actually leave at some point but this was a first for me from China.  Of course, after last summer's crackdown for "illegals" in Beijing, it's not surprising.   It was a hair-raising period for me, but I didn't blog about my concerns or share them with LiLi, and then the 100 days passed.

Strategy:  It used to be that the visa line was around the corner outside the SF China consul and that the best strategy was to go 20 or so minutes before opening in the morning or right before the end of the lunch break to minimize the wait.  But today, maybe because it's the week of US holiday July 4th or maybe because folks still think there is a lunch break, there was zero line outside and inside the wait was only about 20 minutes.  The hours are now 9 to 2:30 with no lunch break.

We go back next week to pick up our passports hopefully sporting their brand new visa pages.  We travel in three weeks.

30 June 2013

Sharks and shark fin soup

From a friend:

Souring on Shark Fin Soup


15 June 2013

Putting our eggs in the English basket

I’ve not written in months because I’ve been in America struggling with the question of whether to return to China this summer or not.   Or rather, whether and for how long to return to China.  

In January, unbeknownst to anyone, I got us two frequent flyer tickets SFO-PEK for late July.  Two tickets.  One Way. 

The thing is, while LiLi’s San Francisco public Mandarin Immersion school has improved, in fact she’s not getting as much out of the Chinese half as she would in China.  The English half also improved, hugely.  I’ve been thinking that we should be putting our eggs in the English basket since, after all, she’ll be doing middle school and high school in America.  I know this is the struggle of many, many parents including many parents from our international bilingual school in China.  While I’m far from resolving the conflict, I’ve become clear about one thing:  LiLi’s education is the priority.  

The problem is that if I could choose, setting aside school, I would choose China.  It continues to call to me.  Nevermind that in America I live in an incredibly beautiful city, near amazing beaches, with decades’ old connections and deep friendships, in a coolly imperfect 113 year old house in which we’ve recently uncovered a trap door, and that we breathe 43/17 AQI  (now 170 in BJ which isn’t too bad, well, for BJ).  

I don’t mind hanging out with uncertainty but have been mystified as to why the Going was so clear and the Going Back is so not. 

Over the months of pondering I’ve simultaneously been searching for return tickets.  Last week some seats opened up for two days after school starts in August.  I got them despite their terrible routing (overnighting in Vancouver!) so we’d at least have the choice to come back to SF without having to pay summer fares.

I get to put all decision making on hold for a couple of weeks though because this weekend we’re off to Alaska to meet up with Grandma.  Maybe spending the summer solstice above the Arctic Circle will be illuminating.  

In the meantime, my soundtrack for uncertainty includes this tune from The Hereafter, Back Where I Was.