Sunday, September 26, 2010

Last week’s worth

I had written the first few paragraphs of this post in Word (VPN, you damn dirty three-letter word!!!) last week, but strangely enough, as in when Sir Murphy comes a-knocking, the word document got corrupted, and I lost that whole draft, and now have to re-write from scratch. Everybody say…. 'DRAT!'

And so here goes my summary for last week (as usual, started drafts on 19 September, and goodness knows when it will go onto my blog…), with quite a lot of on-goings, not least my birthday celebration(s) (or the lack of it?) last Saturday:

On Tuesday (14th), it was another day of Home Alone for me as Nainai had left early in the morning to go to the hospital with Yeye to get his test results (clear of all problems after his surgery last year – yaaay!), and it was a no-brainer breakfast of yogurt and cheese as I got ready to head out. I was trying to book a cab at the same time as she was getting up, and with the lousy reception at our house, I could only make out that the driver was stuck in a jam but would be on the way (though he sounded hesitant when he remarked that he would need to wait for 30 minutes till we were ready – I had specified when booking that I needed the cab only at 9:40am what…).

And so we quickly got ready to go out to Peapod Baby at Huamao Apartments just next to Shin Kong. I had read from a posting on BeijingMamas that they were offering free art/craft classes at this new edu-centre, and since I already have Rosabelle on music, I wanted her to have more structured art/craft classes, and thought she (or maybe I) could pick up something valuable from the session.

However, by the time we went out of the house, our taxi was still nowhere to be seen – he claimed he was still stuck in a jam and asked me to wait, but it was already 9:50am, and classes were starting at 10am. Luckily there was a taxi coming in and an old grandma got off, giving us a free taxi for us to hop onto (if you don’t stay at Hou Xian Dai Cheng and try to catch a cab in the mornings, you don’t know how scary it is, especially with child in tow). So as I got on, I called the ‘caught in jam’ driver and apologized that I need to forfeit the booking, and he seemed quite happy. I’m not surprised if he was lying and already have another fare in the taxi since he did not want to wait 30 minutes for me, and at the same time did not want to reject me and get a complaint/bad record since he had already accepted the booking. A.ny.way.

When we got there, it was already 10:15am, and I wasn’t really expecting much since it was in an apartment, but it was plain to see that it was a start-up with no frills. First off, no socks provided for adults (or kids) – how hygienic can it be for the kids when they sit/crawl all over adult feet stains? Then, Shannon (she is a very nice lady though, and I feel bad about being so frank, but hey, it’s my blog!) asked if I brought spare clothes for Rosabelle to get dirty. Erm…no… this is just a trial, and don’t you guys provide these kinds of things? She handed me a set of clothes belonging to her daughter Tegan (a week younger than Rosabelle) and I just draped the T-shirt (which was strangely slightly damp…) over Rosabelle’s dress. When we went into class, there was just another kid (an older boy of about 2 years 3 months) and his Taiwanese mother – they seemed to be friends of Shannon’s, so it was more like a get-together for them than anything else.

Tegan and this boy had already started on mixing flour and food colouring in their basins on their respective tables, and Rosabelle wasn’t very sure what to do with the cup of flour in her hand. Instead, she was more attracted to the basin of soap water at the side for washing up – now that’s when I got worried as the kids could have slipped on the water – there were no towels until Shannon pulled one out, nor any anti-slip mat at this makeshift wash area. After some time, I decided to take Rosabelle’s own socks off as I did not want her to get them dirty from all the ‘paint’.

Shannon offered a variety of painting tools like brushes, scrubs, spoons and what-nots, but I’m not sure I was comfortable with the lack of structure in the class. Maybe that’s the way it should be with kids – letting them do their own thing, but it was pretty costly (RMB160 per lesson) for something I can be doing in my own home (albeit under safer conditions…), and maybe at a friend’s house.

Rosabelle ended up doing some window scrubbing (just as well, as our apartment had the window cleaners hanging outside that day and she saw the man peering at her as she looked out our window, haha!), played with the window decals, and wandered around the small place – basically, anything and everything other than playing with her own basin of flour and colouring.

As class ended (or did it even start at all…), we ventured around a little – there were only two other rooms – one as their office, and another pantry where we sat around and had drinks (and Rosabelle enjoyed the dried blueberries snack), and an open space they have for maybe Kindermusik classes (as we saw and also read the familiar materials there). Shannon also offers Kindermusik classes, and although she has reduced her prices since, prices are about 15% higher than what I pay now (before my discount with Familier VIP card), and with no other facilities for us to enjoy, it would not have been justified for us to sign up at all, no matter how close this place is to home. (Sorry, Shannon, I hope you do not have to read this – you seem really nice and I wish you best in your venture but hope such constructive feedback lets you know what you are up against!)

And so we ended our affair with Peapod Baby as abruptly as we had started it.

After that, we headed next door to Shin Kong Place for a quick stroll around (their indoor playground that was open to the public now admits if you show a receipt for the day – quite good, I think…). I asked my girl if she wanted an early lunch, since she only had dried blueberries as snack, and with a positive reply, happily made our way to Crystal Jade at the top level.

Now, I’ve tried Crystal Jade countless times in Singapore, and quite like it, but in China, it really is over-priced and when it first opened, I remember going with Vanessa and Wayne with high expectations for delish dim sum, but all I can remember now is the massive bill that came with forgettable food (i.e. I can get better grub for more reasonable prices elsewhere). But hey, today was my special day with just me and my girl, so I decided to give us (me) a treat. We got seated in a nice corner and luckily there was pencil/paper (for taking orders) on the table to keep Rosabelle occupied in her high chair as I ordered our food. In retrospect, I ordered a tad too much for a woman and her girl, but hey again, it’s not everyday we come to Crystal Jade, right?

During lunch, Rosabelle was really reasonably behaved, especially after a lot of psyching where I will tell/remind her that it was just Mummy and her today, with nobody to help me, so she has to be a big girl and listen to me. She’s quite a sweet/sensible/obedient child, generally. Until she decided that she wanted to wake this little boy sleeping in a stroller up. It was my fault for pointing out to and telling her actually. See, Rosabelle has a very bad habit of purposely shouting when you ask her to be quiet. Like when I told her to be quiet as Didi in the stroller is sleeping, she turned around, shouted 'Ah! Ah! Ahhhhh!!!!!!!!’ until I felt all eyes were on me, and the poor boy woke up crying – the grandmother looked none too pleased but the mother was smiling at us.

Oh dear… The meal then thankfully went on quite uneventfully (other than the RMB168 that came at the end – 15% service charge was included as well) and she enjoyed, and even very neatly (i.e. no spills) fed herself the meat dumplings, along with mushrooms and vegetables I had cut up for her. She also enjoyed the char siew bun (actually just the bun, and not the meat, portion) and the egg tart (again, actually just the crust, not the egg, portion – she bit around it and let me eat the rest, heh!). Thinking she would also like some dessert, I let her try some of my almond paste, but she did not seem to take to it –maybe it was the gooey consistency she’s not used to. Anyway, like I said, I ordered slightly too much, so I let her at her grapes dessert (which I brought), as I proceeded to wallop up all the food (save for one char siew bun left – a woman can only take so much char siew bun at one sitting before getting quite sick of it…).

We both then made our way home, where she had a long nap and woke up, ready to head out close to 6:30pm when the rest of the kids were all already heading home. At the lift, we met her favourite older playmates Mai Dou, Wei Wei and Qi Qi ready to go home, and decided to follow them on to Mai Dou’s house to play. At his house, they played the usual stuff and had loads of fun, but how did two girls end up going home in Mai Dou’s clothes? At first, Wei Wei requested to get changed into his singlet as she was wearing a rather warm/uncomfortable tight shirt. Mai Dou refused to give Wei Wei the singlet, insisting on giving it to Rosabelle instead. He must have predicted something, because not even 15 minutes later, as Rosabelle was trying to hide his water bottle from him, with the lid open, she spilled the water all over her back and shorts as she was sitting down. So she really had to don Mai Dou’s singlet and Thomas the Train briefs, haha! That’s how she looked in her fake leopard prints – tres cute…
And her trying to figure out how to put her own pants back on later…
The next day, on Wednesday (15th), I scheduled to go for my long-overdue haircut/colour (the last one was in May – horrors!). As my hairstylist could only make it at 6pm, I left home after I nursed her (she had already slept earlier, but woke up crying saying ‘不要妞妞姐姐', and when I probed, she said that the girl pushed her – heh, must have been recollecting and having nightmares of a past incident) and thankfully went back to sleep. I left at 5:15pm to head to Workers’ Stadium area, thinking I would be in time, but hell no, I have been away from the workforce, and mad evening peak hour jams, much too long, to underestimate it. I reached only at 6:15pm, with a taxi driver who can count as one of the more memorable ones in my China life…

I managed to thankfully (or not?!) hail his cab as his previous fare, seated at the back, was getting off at the front of my block. Seeing me stand outside as he was returning her change, he asked me to sit in front. Now, I don’t normally like sitting in front with the driver, as I prefer my own privacy at the back. This was really a wrong call/decision on my part – I at first saw him dangling a lit cigarette out of the window and asked if he could put it out, which he nicely enough agreed to. Then I noticed that in the hot summer heat, he had unbuttoned his shirt to expose his whole midriff (he’s quite erm… fat). Oh well… after I asked him to head to my destination, he asked where I was from (my dang accent gave me away?), and when I said Singapore, he started singing some Zhang Di songs, saying that the singer had sung some song about Singapore after he went there.

And then he started practising his English with me. No, make that showing off. He could speak considerably well – maybe at most about 5-6 sentences, like ‘Where are you going? Would you like the taxi? Let me take you to the airport. Thank you very much.’ There were some areas when I had to ask him to repeat his heavily-accented Chinglish but kudos to him for trying so hard. However, my journey took a whole solid hour, and you can imagine my own patience wearing thin after hearing so much of such Chinglish. He seemed mighty proud of himself (rightly so?), but I sure almost cringed when perhaps in his over-zealousness, he used the back of his hand to touch mine when he was enthusiastically saying something (he did not repeat that act, so I don’t think it was all that intentional).

And then, 15 minutes into the trip, he asked if I minded if he smoked (of course!), and if I sat at the back instead, can he still smoke (of course NOT!). He proceeded to take a half-eaten apple out of the dashboard (which was in front of me) and munched on it. Now, probably to take his mind off the cigarette, he was spitting non-stop out of the window. The aircon wasn’t on, and normally I would request that taxi drivers do so, but (1) he was like spitting once every 10 seconds and (2) he was perspiring so heavily and using a towel to wipe off the sweat from his face/belly, leaving the towel on the dashboard, so much that I could smell a foul smell coming from the towel, I swear! So, in the interest of not having to put up with a sweaty towel smell throughout the journey, I kept my windows wound down as well. I almost cowered into a corner for fear of the towel swatting into me!

Maybe to take his mind off cigarettes, he also started singing, but this triggered a hacking cough (phlegm, followed by even more spitting) - *faint*. I sure was glad when the journey was over…

When I reached Tony Studio, my hairstylist Zhao Ming was working on somebody else, so I got my nails done first. I noticed that they had Lenovo laptops all over the place for customers to make free, full use of, so I even attended to my emails as I got my nails done. Nice, and so tai tai right? (Except for when I needed to use the toilet after my Olive take-out, I found the toilet bowl choked and brimming with toilet paper…ewwww…. And nobody came to clean it up even after I told them about it – I had to hold onto my pee till I reached home!) However, all these came with a price, a very very high price, for that matter. Apparently, according to the manicurist, Tony Studio had risen prices from September 1st, with highlights/colours/perms going up by an average of 30%! Also, my diamond card status (according me 25% off) that I paid RMB9,800 cash upfront for, can only be renewed if I pay RMB49,800 – yep, you read it right, close to RMB50,000, or maybe 10x the average high-end monthly salary of a white-collar worker here. Crazy much, right? Apparently, many of the stylists were calling their regulars on August 31 to quickly get down to top up their memberships, but as Zhao Ming only comes to the salon when he has customers (most of the time, he is on the road following artistes for their programmes), he missed out on that. Now, I just have to see where my remaining RMB6,000+ is going to take me.

I am usually very pleased with what Zhao Ming does for my hair, especially in the colouring. However, this trip was an exception. I spent the same amount of time I usually do (about 3.5 hours), and told him that I wanted something that I had done previously – with a base blue-black, to colour the whole inner, lower slab of hair red, so that when I let it down, the ends will be red, and when I tie it up, you can see the whole red portion clearly as well. However, after they blew dry my hair, I did not see any slabs of colouring, nor any obvious chunks at the ends. I only saw slivers of red underneath. He was previously telling the colourist to make the rest of the highlights hidden and subtle, because the back will be loud and obvious. But I did not see this effect at all. Thinking it was the lighting, I left it at that, but found it quite strange that he did not use a mirror to show me the back view (as he usually does). Or maybe because they close at 10pm and I was one of the last to leave (lesson learnt – don’t go at such hours or you won’t have time to re-do/touch up anything even if needed!). In my haste to settle the bill, which came up to close to RMB1,700 after discount, I forgot that they have a promotion for free haircuts in your birthday month. Dang… I only remembered in the car and decided that it was just my bad.

When I reached home, Rosabelle was happily playing along with Nainai. She had woken up crying and asking for me, but when Nainai reminded her that I had gone to get my hair cut (I was telling her beforehand that when she awakes, I will not be at home, to be a good girl and eat dinner well), she remembered and stopped crying, heh! Apparently, she was most cooperative, playing by herself as Nainai prepared dinner to feed her, and was on her best behavior ever. At least there were no accidents/mishaps (like the other day when she was lying on her belly on the floor and suddenly lost her balance, banging her own face on the floor and cutting her lower lip slightly), though sometimes I worry when Nainai starts speaking to her in Chinglish, like saying 蝙蝠 (bianfu) instead of ‘painful’ – she does make good attempts at English, and I must give her top marks for trying, but you can imagine my horror when I heard my girl going ‘’bianfu’ one night – I quickly corrected her!

Back to the topic of hair color, even my mother-in-law asked why I did not colour my hair, and Wayne thought the colour wasn’t all that outstanding, considering I paid premium prices for it. Sigh! I deliberated for a few days before deciding on the second day to send Zhao Ming a message telling him that in my years of letting him style my hair, this was the first time I was dissatisfied, and that the colouring did not have the effect I want, and suggested it might be a case of his staff at Gongti branch being less competent than the ones at the Xin Dong An branch he used to be with. He apologized in his SMS back to me, and said he will look into it, and though I wasn’t expecting an offer of a re-do, it would have been nice. Sigh! I just have to make sure I am even more demanding and make my displeasure heard there and then, because after you pay and leave the salon, it’s adios amigos! Oh well, at least it will give me reason to go back more quickly for my next visit (well, I need to use up the remaining value, right?).

To detract a little, still on the topic of hair, doesn’t Rosabelle’s hair look very brown here? (Angeline recently sent me this photo from her camera from the catch-up we had in June.)
Back to this post -- as I was in the taxi on the way home that night, Wayne called me to say he was picking Vanessa up. She was in town for a whirlwind (one-night only) trip to sign the lease for her new apartment, recce some kindergartens for Rachel, and maybe do 1,001 things before they come back to Beijing next month, yaaay! It was a nice and quick catch-up when she came to our house for a chat, and it made Rosabelle excited as she very nicely and sportingly sang songs for Vanessa, and even used her Hello Kitty camera to take photos of her. (She can still remember it to this day, saying 'Rachel Mei Mei, Vanessa Ayi, sit here, cheese’, as she pointed to the dining table chair Vanessa was sitting on that night.)

By the time we got Rosabelle settled into bed, it was way past 12, not ideal at all as we needed to get up and leave early for Kindermusik lessons the next day.

Surprisingly, in the morning of Thursday (16th), she woke up at 8:10am, and when I asked if it was because she was excited about class (I was reminding her the whole of the day before), she started grinning and actually danced from side to side as she was sitting on her bed. Haha! This meant that she could eat breakfast at home first, and we could leave at the same time as Wayne as he left for work. As we waited at the lift, she remarked, ‘take so long’, making us laugh, as she was mimicking me since I always comment how long the lifts take. Since our car cannot go on the road Thursdays, we took a taxi and got there with ample time to spare. Rosabelle even broke into a big grin as we got off the taxi, as she could recognize the building and that we were going for class.

It was a day of more dancing and singing where the teacher Yuliya even brought along her own daughter, and there was a new student (a British girl a day younger, and brought by the Ayi), but Rosabelle did not seem as cooperative as the last time (or maybe she had too little sleep). Maybe it’s because I overdid on the preparations/psyching up? We have the Kindermusik CD on at all times in the house now, at first because I wanted her to get acquainted with the music used during class, and she sure did get very happy and excited whenever she heard favourite tunes, singing along, grabbing the corresponding books etc. In fact, when I nurse her, she only wants Kindermusik music to be sung now, oh dear! In fact, the music has helped so much that when she is at times difficult/grouchy, I just need to break into one of her favourite songs for her to start smiling. Heh!

However, as Yuliya says, it doesn’t matter if they don’t follow/run away during class, as long as they exhibit some form of response later on, maybe at home, it is fine. It really depends on their mood, I guess. At one point, she was following Yuliya to a T, insisting that I also kneel on the floor like Yuliya when tapping my knees. Until now, she refuses to listen to any other CDs at home, promptly turning off the player when she hears something else (at least she does not cry/insist for us to play the Kindermusik CD).

After class, instead of eating the bananas I brought (not her favourite fruit these days), she was more attracted to the breads/cookies laid out – sigh, which kid wouldn’t… so I indulged her and let her feast on sweet breads, making her a very happy kid indeed! I don’t normally give her such treats, and once, when I got back from buying groceries and saw her munching on a big cookie, I was actually quite miffed that Nainai let her take it from another mummy. I quickly grabbed it away from her, saying that she will not be able to eat her fruit snack we’d prepared later. Luckily she did not go into a crying fit (in retrospect, snatching the biscuit from under her nose should have triggered a full-on tantrum and she really is a very good girl who just left it at that – thank goodness!). After that, I told Nainai that if other people were going to be pushy, she can just take the snack from them and keep it, but she has to help me stand by the rule that she is not allowed to take such sweets if she does not have her fruit first.

Whilst she was playing around after class, I enquired with the Familier staff about holding Rosabelle’s birthday party there. They have different rates for booking the room, the 1st floor, the 2nd floor, or even the whole place. With admission charges, F&B, rental fees, deco, cake and what-nots, the total bill for 10 kids and accompanying adults is about RMB2,800 (after membership discount of 20%). Gasp! I am likely to hold something at home instead, or maybe just make it a cosy family affair – let’s see how, it’s next month anyway… As we were discussing the package, Rosabelle was going around the place and playing on her own, and suddenly there was a black-out. Thank goodness for full-length windows, or it would have been pitch-black. Since we already had lunch out on Tuesday, we headed home for lunch instead.

On Friday (17th), it marked the start of rainy/wet/cold weather. We brought her to the supermarket as she carried her Snow White umbrella, and could only play at the lobby area after we reached home. Seeing that the lobby probably wasn’t as exciting as the new toys at home (especially the cash register I took out for her), she actually asked to go home, heh! Well, that’s when I dipped into my crafts box (containing odds and ends that would make a karung guni’s day), and came out with something inspired by the white kitten with blue eyes we saw the other day. As she was playing with her toys, I hastily drew a cat with blue eyes (albeit slightly over-rotund, but the whole idea was to get her to paste things onto its body, so the bigger the better).

As she loves to pull at/tear the toilet paper whilst seated on the toilet bowl (getting a lot of scolding from me), I decided to let it rip – literally – and tore some sheets of toilet paper for her to tear and paste onto the body. I explained that as the weather was cold, we needed to dress the cat up and helped her to draw glue all over the body as she proceeded to tear the toilet paper and bits of protective fruit wrapper to stick onto it. Very soon, she went on to even decorate its face, heh!
It was a very easy craft, and took me less than a minute to prepare, but it kept her occupied for awhile till lunch was ready, as we slowly adapted and I even cut out thread for her to paste as whiskers onto the cat (I first used the fasteners found on bread bags, but found they don’t stick on glue as the surfaces are too smooth).
In the end, she was very satisfied with her piece, and showed it off to all and sundry as she bragged about how she ’给猫猫穿衣服' that day.
On to other totally random things since this post is all over the place as well – she can now reply/proactively introduce herself at times, saying her name (石玥/Rosie), age (两岁/two years old), our names (女儿-石伟,卢小玲/daughter), where she stays (后现代城), and can even figure out that both Nainai and Popo are ‘grandmother’, heh! New songs include Somewhere Over the Rainbow (she was singing parts of it one night and it took me awhile to realize she was singing lines from this song!) 马兰花, and 丢手绢, a fun song that involves having the children sit in a circle whilst one of them walks behind them with a hanky in hand, and proceeds to throw it sneakily behind one of the children. The latter will quickly need to get up and chase him in a circle before the former sits in his place, or he will need to forfeit. I did not realize the song had a game attached to it, and only knew when we saw and joined in a bunch of kids playing the other day, heh!

Other cheeky/no-good antics she has been getting up to include mimicking Nainai and saying ‘你看,你看!', as the latter will always say when she does something wrong; pretending to look all sad (because it was raining one day and as you can imagine, the ledges were all very dirty, so I had to keep reminding her, albeit rather harshly, to keep her hands off them – she seemed quite down and when I remarked so, she turned out her lower lip and when she could not bear the pretence any longer, burst into a chuckle, heh!); and having a very weird habit of wanting to touch/fondle with corners of pillows, especially when nursing. Today, she took a balloon by its stick and accidentally poked her right eye with it, suddenly bursting out into a cry. For a moment, she could not open her eyes and was teary and crying, but after some rubbing, she was slightly ok (though her eye looked a tad red). Goodness – luckily it wasn’t anything major but I warned her repeatedly after that she had to be really careful when holding such sharp objects, can’t imagine if she was running with it…

However, there are times when she makes me gush and go all ‘proud Mummy moment’ with her – when Wayne was parking the car yesterday, I asked if she was ready to get down, and was surprised when she said, ‘No. Papa driving, cannot get down.’ (we always tell her that the car cannot start until she is all buckled up, and must not come out till Papa says ‘ok!’). When I was going to put on a diaper for her as we were heading out, she did not want to lie down and said ‘嘴里有apple’, then went on to lie down moments later after saying ‘嚼完了' (we always tell her never to lie down with food in her mouth). Today, she acted all Big Girl-like when a younger girl came by to play with her. Rosabelle hugged her, looked at me and asked ‘妹妹叫什么?', and then proceeded to give her cheeky faces and tease her, whilst kissing her all the time. So sweet – she even shared her balloon, and the leaves and stones she was holding, so like a Big Jiejie.

On the meals/foods front, she seems to like asparagus (can’t remember whether she tried it before), chomping on sticks of it over lunch outside the other day. She also had sardines for the first time when Yeye did not manage to buy the usual 嘎鱼 and got some sardines instead. After I searched for some recipes online, Nainai cooked it with onions/tomatos into a tasty dish and she loved it. Sardines actually have a lot of goodness in them, and I was not keen to give her canned ones (not realizing you can/should just buy your own to cook – haha!) since they are salty/have preservatives, but now she has an alternative to snow fish and salmon fish as well!

Speaking of meals, she is still a the stage where she takes an hour to eat her meals – I at times wonder if I am giving her too much (but she still eats, albeit with a lot of waiting in-between mouthfuls, and even finishes up the soups after). Thank goodness for occasional distractions like when the Boloni man came to repair our cupboard handle last week, she was watching from her high chair and even followed Nainai to say ‘谢谢叔叔。叔叔真棒!' – haha! The guy also noticed our hanging cupboard was distorted, and warned that I should not put heavy things in it (10 albums worth of Rosabelle’s photos – thus the weight), so I quickly transferred the lighter DVDs upwards instead. Can’t imagine if the whole thing comes crashing down on us – shudder!

And there you have it, a smorgasbord of randoms – did you miss me? Hahaha….

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