“I have to get out of here”

Colin and I have high tolerances for discomfort fostered over years of traveling on 3rd-class trains to stay in 1-star hostels. But age or having a salary or the combination thereof are apparently making us soft.

Air quality in China is not very good: some days the sunlight takes on a distinctly orange tint. We have top-quality blue-ribbon air filters in all of the rooms of our apartment, but we also wanted some plants for their added filtration and general zen.

At the end of a metro line, the Lingnan Flower Market spreads out several blocks with individual vendors selling not only apartment plants, orchids, and small trees, but also ceramic planters, bamboo fencing, silk flowers, water features, and popsicles. An old hanger is filled with nothing but cut flowers. Lovely, no?

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Colin took this photo.

The narrow roadway that cut through the market was busy with rumbling trucks delivering plants and silent electric scooters delivering people. Motorcycles with trailers honked their annoyance at pedestrians with nowhere else to walk but the gutters. I had not yet acclimatized to the intense heat and humidity, and the tarpaulin coverings we walked under kept off the worst of the sun but also trapped some of the heat. I was melting.

“This isn’t fun anymore. I want to leave.”

Fast forward to last weekend and our first trip to the big-box store that has been described as the German Costco. A cart each, we loaded up with the greater variety of imported goods: canned tomatoes, pickles, Campari. I noted a gallon of ketchup and 10 kilos of mozzarella, but mostly it was just normal amounts of product at a significantly cheaper price than I can get at the supermarket in our underground mall.

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Can I interest you in 2 kilos of cream cheese?

 

The noise level increased as we approached the frozen section and met a crush of carts and people and women shouting into microphones about… frozen shrimp? Pork dumplings? There were samples of hard-boiled eggs and children playing foursquare with a ball from the outdoor section. Colin looked nauseated by the onslaught and not any better by the time we’d navigated to the dairy. I grabbed my butter for baking; he got his milk for yogurt-making.

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“Do we need anything else?” I eyed the Mission tortillas even though we have no appropriate beans or cheese. “I don’t know anymore. I have to get out of here.”

So we’ve gotten soft. We need cool, calm, quiet environments where there is no risk of being mowed down by teenager with scooter or granny with shopping cart. No problem.

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Old Friends

Our arrival in China has been smooth. From being fetched at the airport to signing up for our own library cards at the top-notch library just a short walk away, everything has gone as expected—some traffic here, a typhoon there, but really well on the whole. Some old friends here have eased our way.

It hasn’t just been the friends from C’s initial training class that we’re overlapping with, though picking their brains has helped enormously. It has also been the familiar sounds and flavors, the feeling of warm rain, of being curiously stared at. The scent of a specific kind of fried chicken took me right back to our night market in Taipei, even as we took a pedestrian overpass above an eight-lane road in our neighborhood.

In meeting new people here, they often want to know, First time in China? And I can see why. This place is foreign from the U.S. in a multitude of ways, sometimes delightful, sometimes frustrating. Our Taiwan frame gives us a reference point on so many of our initial experiences here.

So even though this city of over 15 million makes me feel like a country mouse, and it’s been over 7 years since we left Taiwan, and that technology here lets one pay with the swipe of a phone or hail a taxi with no Chinese ability whatsoever, we have found old friends here, and old friends are nice to have when you’re so far from home.

Summer Vacation: Suchitoto getaway

Two years and three weeks ago, Colin and I threw a big party and said some vows, so three weeks ago we celebrated by visiting a tiny mountain town with stinky lake and one of the best hotels in the country. Suchitoto is only about an hour and a half north from San Salvador and has the distinction of being one of the few towns spared during the civil war, so its streets are cobblestoned and its buildings are one-story and surround small courtyards. We walked from the indeed lovely hotel to the lovely plaza in front of the church. That Friday was a national holiday, Father’s Day, so the plaza was full of families enjoying shaved ices and snapping photos. We had a decent lunch on the square and did a bit of souvenir shopping, picking out a new hammock and a clay pitcher.

Our guidebook, an old copy of Central America On a Budget, suggested walking down to the lake, so we set off in the heat Saturday morning, but about 20 minutes in and soaked with sweat, it occurred to me that our book never would have considered that we might be able to drive our own car down. The lake and its recreation area, once we got down there, proved disappointing. Not actually all that stinky, but definitely nicer to look at from afar. After about 15 minutes spent watching the small ferry boats from a park bench with an empty, open-air food court behind us and a curious family next to us, we took our leave. A dip in the hotel pool and a couple hours reading in the courtyard seemed a better use of our time.

Rainy season

I was told when the rains started again back in May that they were coming late, and I could see El Salvador was parched and needed the relief by the time the rains were falling regularly. I am happy that it’s rainy season again because it makes our little garden happy, it makes the farms across the countryside happy, it makes the lakes and rivers happy, and it brings El Salvador back to the lushly green country we landed in a year ago. It’s a good thing.

It does also mean that our ceiling is leaking again, even though we have over a month of roofers up there after the last rainy season. It also, this time, means our little tomatoes aren’t reaching maturity because the daily pounding rains are too much for them to bear. And most annoying, it means the mosquitoes are out in force and have somehow breached our perimeter, such that I killed five inside the house yesterday and four so far today.

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Couldn’t hang.

Summer Vacation: Recent obsession

Hello world! I’m starting week three of summer vacation, and I honestly don’t have much to show for the enormous amount of free time I’ve suddenly been given. That’s OK, though. I’ve watched some Netflix, read some books, baked a LOT of bread, made some fancier meals, and gotten at least halfway through organizing some of this past year’s school materials to be better prepared for next year.

The first two weeks of vacation, and continuing into this week although to a lesser degree, have been set to the soundtrack of Hamilton, the musical. The Tonys happened the Sunday after the last day of school (do yourself a favor and watch this clip of their performance during the awards show) and so the hugely popular production resurfaced in my consciousness and, acknowledging I will likely never see the show live, I downloaded the original cast recording and blasted it three days straight while I cleaned my classroom. My pal, the third-grade teacher, wasn’t there to make fun or to see me tear up during “Burn” (it was an emotional week).

I tried to mix it up by listening to other musical soundtracks, but the thing that I can do while Colin is around is read 1776 by David McCullough, which follows Gen. Washington during the fight for American independence and barely features Hamilton. Oh well. A riveting story nonetheless.

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I also made this inspirational poster for next year’s second graders. It’s a lyric.

Late to the game, I know, but I’ve got a lot to catch up on coming out of the first year of teaching. So if everyone could stop talking about House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Game of Thrones, that would be great, thnx.

Pen pals

No excuses; no epic, sweeping catch-up post; no promises that this will be regularly updated once again. It’s bad blog practice if even Grandma has given up on you…

We’re doing a really fun (for me) project in class right now–my amazing former mentor teacher agreed to have her class be pen pals with my class, and my students are now writing their second letters to send off to their new Virginia friends. It’s funny to see what eight-year-olds think is worth putting into a letter to a near stranger. It’s funny to hear a comment come out of one child’s mouth and then see it appear in drafts of four other students. Everyone’s favorite movie is Star Wars.

My students lives are not so different from those of the Virginia students, but there are misconceptions on both sides: although the twins in my class at one point had a pet monkey, that was unusual even for here; and my students aren’t real clear about the different weather phenomena likely to hit the Mid-Atlantic region. Sports and games go by different names, but everyone loves art class. (Note to self: incorporate more art projects.) I can say with 100% certainty that more of my students have nannies at home, and also that even though I’m the one teaching at the international school, the Virginia classroom is more diverse.

Anyway, Vicky, I’m doing the best I can. It’s a lot to teach social niceties and grammar and handwriting all in one to the bunch I’ve got. Thanks for your class’s patience.

Priorities

Our days are filled with choices, most of them small. Eat breakfast at home and risk leaving late or take it on the road and risk spilling yogurt in my bag? Cut through the gas station to make my right turn or wait in line like a decent person? Grade papers, plan for tomorrow’s classes, or edit? Frozen lasagna or fried rice? Must I shower tonight or can I go another day? I’ll just check facebook real quick. I’ll blog… next weekend.

Some of the choices are easy: I will forgo mascara today because otherwise we will both be late to work. I will edit for my second job instead of going to bed because doing otherwise affects people and profits beyond me, as well as my professional options looking into the far future. Call Grandma every weekend. Make sure Cat has what she needs. Pack lunches the night before. Spend time doing fun, productive things with the husband.

And some of my choices are not the most responsible: I’m going to spend all of Saturday in the kitchen even though I really ought to figure out how to turn my students into competent readers ahead of their big test this week. Sure, one more glass of wine. I will do anything else before I workout.

My priorities tend toward short-term happiness, but that’s not totally cutting it anymore. This teaching thing requires a LOT of planning. This living abroad life requires regular maintenance of important relationships (and campaigns of persuasion to get people to visit). This getting older business is no joke and I should really choose to make an appointment with the med unit for a check-up. And to exercise.

July 4 weekend photos

The much-anticipated July 4 embassy party was a great success (as far as I could tell), and it broke tradition by not raining. Dozens of representatives were there from all of the American companies that have a presence here in El Sal, including all of the fast-food restaurants and both Miller and Budweiser. It was, truly, America’s best and brightest on display. Everyone was gussied up–I wore the dress I danced in at the wedding and Colin showed his red, white and blue spirit. There was a darn impressive fireworks show directly overhead, and a really fun band that unfortunately no one was dancing to.

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The next day was actually Friday, the federal holiday observing July 4, so we rented a car and drove out to the beach. We signed up through the embassy to have access to one of the many little beach clubs, and it’s a sweet little spot. Food, drinks, a couple pools, and loungers on the sand. The drive out there wasn’t even so bad (and can I just say how nice it felt to be behind the wheel again after feeling a little confined the last couple weeks); one needs to be alert here for slow-moving vehicles, including buses that stop on the highway, pedestrians or animals crossing the highways, and disabled vehicles that don’t get pulled out of the road until after the authorities arrive.

We spent the actual July 4 at a casual little BBQ at the embassy pool. It was a great time! There were tasty potluck contributions to eat, a few new people to meet, a sweet little sangria I made for the two of us, and then we got to leave early with our neighbors–perfect!

Jeez, this was like the weekend that would not end, because then on Sunday we went up the mountain with a few new friends for lunch. The restaurant we stopped at had a phenomenal view of the city and perfectly mediocre food. Then we took a hike–I was in sandals–to see the cauldron of the volcano. It was a popular spot, and there were a ton of Scouts running around with their troops. Good stuff. Next time we’ll skip the meal at the restaurant and try out the food the vendors were selling at the entrance to the park, if I’m able to convince Colin to try the street corn.IMG_2132IMG_2134  IMG_2185 IMG_2176 IMG_2161

 

Bit by bit

Poco a poco, we’re getting settled in. It’s been adjustment-times-two for us: adjusting to a new country and a new style of living. We’re installed in our over-sized home on the edge of town (visitors more than welcome!), Colin is finding his way at work, I’ve started Spanish classes. I think I’ve already said this but it’s worth repeating, everyone in the community has been so, so kind and generous.

Before we had our final timeline, Colin had been looking forward to celebrating July 4 in the States. I was too; I was hoping the timing might line up for one final crazy beach weekend with some college pals. Of course that’s not how things shook out, and now we’re here, volunteering to help decorate and to act as two of the many “hosts” during the big fancy work party, and also looking forward to the cook-out happening on actual July 4. I’m eagerly bookmarking recipes as possible side-dish options to contribute to the potluck, limitless options since our pantry is barely stocked anyway. I don’t quite understand how we can spend $50 at the regular supermarket and $200 at the PriceSmart and still feel like our cupboards are bare. I tried real hard–there were lists with menu ideas written on them!

We’ve been spending our recent evenings making plans to get out of town. Early August brings a nice fat week of vacation, so we’re scrambling to book an adventure before it’s too late. We realized we missed the boat on the Galapagos, and Argentina is awfully expensive at this late date. So we bought tickets to Peru! It’s not clear if we’ll be able to hike the Inca Trail, which one needs a guide for, but there are other ways to hike around Machu Picchu and so much other stuff to do as well.

We have also finally taken ownership of the car we bought down here. That doesn’t yet solve the no license plate or insurance issue, but like I said, poco a poco.

New place, new post

First update from our new home: We landed in El Salvador yesterday and were greeted at the gate by our first embassy friend, who arranged for someone else to grab our bags from the carousel while we waited in a private lounge. He gave us a quick tour and we stopped at a mall for breakfast, because malls are where it’s at, still, here.

For now we’re installed at a very nice hotel with a lovely little pool and strong wi-fi. We were able to stream a movie last night, no problem, and it’s a nice change of pace to do something relaxed like that (and the three-hour nap I took in the afternoon) after our rather frantic final weeks in DC. I feel compelled to explore the city, but movement is rather limited as we don’t yet have our car and walking and taking the bus is discouraged. That should change by next week, though; we’ll be moved into our house by then and will have our little SUV.

One of my greatest complaints at this point is that El Salvador isn’t showing any of the Women’s World Cup matches, so I think that means life is pretty good.

Heavy clouds over the city; view from our hotel window.

Heavy clouds over the city; view from our hotel window.