29 January 2012

Arrived: 0 more days

We got to PEK a tad late and felt like we could have flown on even longer, cleared passport control quickly, collected our luggage and cleared customs with no issues besides the fact that we had too many bags to maneuver easily.  LiLi’s new Ayi and her bright English-speaking college-student son were there to meet us holding a sign.  I stopped at the airport ATM and got some RMB.  It’s always tough to decide how much cash to carry around but I knew we had the taxi and then whatever expenses at our friend’s place for a few days. 

We had to queue up for a taxi and the announcements in Chinese and English were informing us that it might make sense to take some sort of van shuttle because there were fewer taxis owing to the Spring Festival.  It’s my understanding that it’s the largest human migration in the world, that movement from the City to hometown during these two weeks of Chinese New Year/Spring Festival.  After quite a long wait during which I chatted in English with Ayi’s son and she chatted in Chinese with LiLi, we finally made it to the front of the line and got two taxis.  There ensued a loud debate between the taxi drivers and the apparent queue manager, only somewhat less loud from Ayi and her son, about whether instead of the roughly rmb 120 fare for the cabs whether we shouldn’t pay rmb 500 for a van whose boisterous driver joined the fray.  After what seemed to be a long long period of indecision (possibly mine, in my zombie state it was tough to say at what point I was to assert myself) we opted for the taxis and, with me, LiLi, Ayi and some bags in a cab driven by a maniacal woman, and Ayi’s son and more of our bags in a cab driven by a very loud and angry man, we set off for our friend’s place in Wangjing.   

We found the apartment complex with little difficulty and went underground to the parking garage in search of a lift.  The complex was many buildings that were apparently connected underground so locating the proper building (numbered with letters and numbers and a few dashes too) was no small feat.  There was much speeding down aisles of parked cars the wrong direction, slamming on brakes, reversing quickly, K-turning, and whatnot.  It seemed like an unnecessarily stress-inducing exercise.  I called our friend who recommended going back outside and up to the main gate but neither cab driver was interested in doing that and eventually we were put out of both cabs next to a very run down looking warren of deserted hallways one of which lead to a locked elevator vestibule.  I called our friend again and read the series of numbers and letters and dashes and she said she would find us, she was coming down.  Before she got there, though, a woman opened the door coming out, and so we began to move the five suitcases into the vestibule and onto a lift. 

We were nearly on the elevator when our friend found us.  Boy, was she a sight for sore eyes at that point.  We rode up to their floor and wheeled the cases into their enormous two story, very clean and lovely four bedroom apartment.   The girls went crazy with greetings and then a suitcase explosion occurred.  American Girl dolls and clothes were found and carried upstairs to the bedroom porch area playroom.  Most apartments still have the porch areas off the bedrooms or living rooms where laundry is hung to dry, things are stored, sometimes washers or pantries or other life things are kept.  In these modern apartments those “porches” are really rooms that run the length of the apartment and are glassed in on both sides so that the living spaces get their light and air from the porches.  Our friends’ kids’ playroom was this space that ran the length of the kids’ bedrooms.  And each of those kids also had A.G. dolls and stuff so LiLi fit right in.  The kids met last summer when we were staying in the same service apartment close to GuoMao (where the subway lines 1 and 10 cross; near the BJ World Trade Center) and were excited to be together again.

So.  We arrived.  I find myself walking around and stopping dead in my tracks.  Looking up.  Looking around.  And thinking:  we did it.  We are here.

We now live in Beijing. 

27 January 2012


Rough couple of days getting out of San Francisco.  Lots of gnashing of teeth, tears and intense time compression.  An incredible amount of work to get the house cleared and closed up.  Gave four huge bags of foodstuffs away and threw out a decade’s collection of spices and baking supplies.   Hired a task rabbit and our 10:1 packing rate put me to shame since I couldn’t help stopping, standing rapt next to a box of old letters, reading.   What is it, that thing where decade by decade the very same bits of random paper survive moves, remodels, manic episodes, and then one year the handwriting alone makes you stop and catch your breath.  Pen on paper from someone who between the last such sort and this one has died.   How can I not stop to read to look for signs of impermanence.    

This morning, which having crossed the International Dateline is really yesterday morning now, was very hard.  I’d stayed up until around 2 doing laundry and taking care of desk things, paying bills and pulling together data for my tax accountant and finishing the actual luggage packing.  We’re allowed six 70 pound cases total and we wound up with five.   Five bags!  I used to be a traveler and would go off to explore with only a backpack and maybe carry-on-sized bag.  I’m not sure if it’s age, parenthood or profession that has changed all that.  Combined with bringing several months’ supply of Trader Joe’s kid’s multivitamins for our friends and us, plenty of Peets coffee and even a few bottles of wine.  Well, you see the problem.  So there was that.  Then there was the last culling that resulted in several additional packed boxes and bins needing to be carried down to my basement.  My former partner was there to drive us to the airport so luckily he schlepped the stuff down this morning while I did the last minute house-cleaning stuff and tossed out fridge and pantry food.  LiLi was revved up and helped in between doing handstands and flips all over the house. 

So now we are enroute.  So far it has gone pretty smoothly.  We used miles to get business class seats and they are the lie-flat variety so it is comfortable and we can sleep.  LiLi is loving having her own little sleeping pod and screen though I have to say there has been little sleep going on but lots and lots of moving the seat upright and then flat, foot rest up and down, and lots of clicking of the remote too.   The kids’ video section is quite limited and the battery of her laptop is low.  I brought three of her favorite books and gave her one before we got on the plane, one just now,  and have one left.  I didn’t bring  enough for the return flight but by then her tastes will likely have changed and she’ll also be reading more age-appropriate books in Chinese. 

Five more hours and we’re there. 

23 January 2012

2 more days

I got up at 5 to continue packing.  LiLi got up at 6:30.  Movers came at 9.  We weren't ready.  Cleaner came at 11.  We weren't ready.  LiLi accidentally packed her needs-safe-deposit-box new piece of jewelry inside its jewelry box inside a plastic bin inside the basement.  Which bin?  Well, one of about 100.  Mama, IIDSSM, did quite well to not COMPLETELY LOSE IT at that point.  In the end, the jewelry was found and tomorrow we go to the bank and visit the safe deposit box in addition to getting travelers checks.  

Unfortunately, the schedule on a giant whiteboard propped up on chairs in our kitchen cannot accommodate an hour or two of sideways motion (not to mention sobbing) so the rest of the day had an unfortunate edge to it.  Add to that the piles of stuff out on the curb waiting for Recology include an old piece of furniture emblematic of my long-over marriage, getting soaked and ruined in the rain waiting forlornly for someone reading Craigslist Free to rescue it.  As if that's not enough, it's New Year's Eve to the Year of the Dragon and our friends in Beijing report having been up all night with the firecrackers (apparently allowed inside the 4th ring road only during this two weeks).  LiLi already had her NYE shower and hair washing and it's my turn soon.  We actually scheduled the cleaner a day early because though she wanted to come tomorrow I checked in with my oh-gosh-bad-luck impulse to see if it was just silly superstition or if I really believed it and guess what, I did.  So she came today.  

These last days have been intense with goodbyes and seeing old friends including some soul connections whom I feel profoundly lucky to know, have known.  I've already been so so fortunate in this life to live with this amazing human being who is only eight, in this fantastic City, in this 112 year old house.  Maybe the planning and packing to leave, the leave-taking, the leaping, maybe it's all just an opening of the conduit to all that is human and aware, awake and alive.  So so so alive.  

15 January 2012

9 more days: still packing the house

Yesterday I turned the corner and though there is an unbelievable amount left to do, I can see now that it will be possible to do it.   I used to do project management type work where we'd set up a team to do a task that others said was impossible in the available timeframe.  It was exciting and challenging and sometimes I wondered whether we'd be able to pull it off myself.  But there was always a point where enough of the data gelled, enough of the teammates responded, enough of the pieces clicked into place where I knew that it was going to work.  That's what happened at home yesterday.  Even though my own bedroom floor is ninety percent covered in boxes, bins and piles and LiLi's bedroom is almost as bad.  Even though I literally cannot walk in my home office.  Even though we have barely begun to pack the main floor and the basement is not yet prepared to receive all the stuff.  I can tell now that we will finish this task.  Nine more days.

LiLi is going to school four days this week so I have the childcare coverage for all of my appointments (accountant; dentist; realtor; tenant family).  Plus, this is the week of goodbyes.  Some of the families at her school are doing a get-together for us on Tuesday after LiLi's last math club.  Other friends came to help pack this weekend (a measure of friendship being: what level of my own hoarding will I allow this person to see? turns out I showed all), others stopped by just to give us hugs.  Both teachers talked about doing goodbye parties in the classrooms this week.

It's bittersweet.  I am certain that this move to BJ is the right thing for LiLi and for me at this point in our lives and yet some people are painfully difficult to leave.   We spent last night's bedtime story time talking through the 'missing' feelings.  Heart-breaking at age 8.  Only somewhat less so in middle age.  Still, she's young enough to feel that as long as we have each other we can go anywhere and do anything.  A couple more years and it would be too late for this type of adventure.  (As it is, I'm thankful that we are not trying to leave in the middle of soccer season.  Dragging her away from her teammates might prove impossible.)  As we embark on this final push, we're doing so with hearts wide open, gratitude flowing, and about 100 more boxes waiting to be filled.

07 January 2012

18 days

I posted on my Beijing mom's group asking what folks recommend to bring from home.  Heard back things like first aid items, meds, fave cosmetics, deodorant, Peets coffee (okay, that was from  me), English books.  Very very helpful and may compile the list and post it later.  But one interesting thing also came out.  Some expats moving from Europe, North America or other places where their employers are footing the bill for the move, some of these expats move by container.  As in, a shipping container.  For those people, their lists include things like:  washer; dryer; beds; mattresses.  Holy toledo.  I had simply never considered that level of moving.  I'm not sure if I'd move appliances even if I could.  But I'd  be sorely tempted to move my soft and luxurious bed.

So we are under three weeks to departure now.  The list of tasks still seems to be growing.  Still working but ending both jobs shortly.  LiLi continues going to her San Francisco school, but seems to want to stop and I may let her once I'm not needing to be in the office anymore.  Am thinking though that having her around for errands, house packing, etc, might make matters worse and I can't very well let her watch TV for two weeks.  She'll help do her own room and choose the toys and books she wants to bring along.

LiLi is also busy learning her multiplication tables.  Here in SF, they're learning them in third grade.  In Beijing, I'm told, they know them before starting third grade.  So this has been on our list for a few months and we hadn't really prioritized it with so much else going on.  Fortunately, LiLi has decided on her own that she'll learn one set per day and she's been keeping to it.  Luckily for both of us she is both motivated and has an excellent memory.  I do recall being resistant to memorizing them myself.  Sitting at the kitchen table with my father going over my times tables because I had missed them in school when we were in Hong Kong that year, I recall crying because I wanted instead to be outside playing.  I went on to get my undergraduate in finance, though, so at some point my father was successful and math became fun again.  I sure hope math is fun for LiLi in China.  I'll be holding my breath a little for that one.

I'm writing in another screen the answer to the oft asked question, "Why Beijing."  In part, I want to capture my thoughts about  it now so I can compare them to how I feel in six months.  It might be, it will likely be, that my views today are borne of naivete and that once we're there living the grind my notions will change.  Anyway, stay tuned.