Berry Picking, Perms and Esprit Shoulder Bags

It’s tough to be in your tweens (although that wasn’t a word when I was that age)/early teens, when your list of “wants” far exceeds whatever small allowance you receive. I remember being about twelve and decided that I *must* have a perm for my super long hair before the new school year started, but there was no way I could afford the $80 to get it done at a mall salon, which is what I wanted more than anything. Cutting a deal with my mom, she offered to pay half, but that still left me with a $40 bill, which was unheard of in my twelve-year old budget.  Plus, I was still dying to join the ranks of the cool kids with their Esprit shoulder bags, not to mention wanting a Trapper Keeper to organize all of my classes, now that I had different subjects to keep track of.  With my shopping list quickly growing, I realized that doing a few extra chores around the house was not going to cut it when it came to my funding needs, so I decided to branch out.  Berry picking sounded like a great way to make some summer money and hang out with friends, especially since the berry patch was owned by my best friend’s mom. Candace and her brother had been picking berries for their mom for some time, but as summer rolled around, they offered to let me in on the gig, which meant I could finally get some cold hard cash flowing into my pink, Velcro-closing wallet.

Little did I know at the time, berry picking began when the sun came up, meaning that I had inadvertently agreed to getting up before the chickens throughout my summer break! Since the berry patch was about a fifteen minute walk from my house and we needed to be there at sunrise, I rolled out of bed, threw on some shoes and headed down the hill, water bottle in hand, when I would much rather have been curled up under a blanket, snoozing away for a few more hours. (Going down the hill in the mornings was fine, but trudging back up it late morning, when the sun was out in full force was not nearly as idyllic.)

The other young berry pickers and I were paid by the flat, rather than an hourly rate, a great way to discourage the ever-present threat of a berry fight. (Hey, you put a bunch of 12-15 years olds in a patch of staining blackberries at the crack of dawn and it is bound to happen at some point.) We were paid at the end of each shift, which was definitely encouragement to show up again the next day, as the immediate thickening of my wallet reminded me that I was inching closer to those start-of-the-school-year goals. (Eventually, I did get the much coveted perm and an off-brand Trapper Keeper, but sadly, I was never able to strut the halls of Jefferson Junior High with an Esprit bag slung jauntily over my shoulder. Even after a summer of berry picking, it was not in my budget. Harsh choices were made. Perm, in. Esprit bag, out.)

I hadn’t thought about my berry picking summers in a long time, until recently it came to my attention that the countryside surrounding Chengdu is filled with strawberry farms, which come into season starting in late February. After getting these tidbits of information from several different sources, I decided that it was time to dust off the berry-picking skills and organize a CLO outing to one of these farms.

But, like most CLO outings, our trip became a bit more of an adventure than I had anticipated. We loaded onto a huge bus in the early afternoon, for what was supposed to be about an hour ride outside of town. At about the hour mark, we reached a small village that had several signs up, advertising strawberry fields. Feeling confident that this would not be another endless trip like when we went to the Bamboo Sea in the fall, I announced to the bus we were almost there, just as the driver pulled off to get directions to our final destination. (This is common here- for drivers to have a general idea of the location, but then stop to ask directions multiple times as the destination approaches.)

Hubris- always a downfall!

When we made a U-turn and head back the way we came, I thought we were just retracing a bit of our route to go down a road more suited to our large vehicle (the original one was dirt, muddy and full of huge holes). Boy was I wrong! Apparently, it was decided (without consulting the trip planner- myself!) that we could not get to the original farm with our full-sized bus and we would go do a different field. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but the newly decided upon field was on the other side of Chengdu, a hour away!  After a series of back and forths, there was nothing to be done but to continue on to the newly appointed patch.

Finally, *hours* after our departure, we disembarked the bus at a strawberry farm filled with row after row of greenhouses. With cameras flashing, as the huge group of foreigners arrived, we were led to several greenhouses on the far side of the fields, where we were greeted with row upon row of fresh, ripe, wonderfully sweet smelling strawberries. I filled a basket about halfway, really just for something to do, as I hadn’t intended to buy any at all, but watched as families with several kids ended up with multiple overflowing baskets of delicious fruit. The kids may not have loved the long bus ride, but once they hit the ground, the boredom of the commute was long-forgotten, lost amongst the sticky red fingers and high-pitched giggles.

While this round of berry picking didn’t yield a perm (thank goodness!) or a fancy Trapper Keeper and I do still slightly covet that Esprit shoulder bag, it did give me a week’s worth of strawberry mini-muffins and another great CLO outing bus escapade to add to the ever-growing stack of misadventures in the Middle Kingdom.

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Rolling the Dice

There are a lot of things in my life as a middle school teacher that were unique to that world. For instance, in “regular” life, it is rare that someone comes running up to you wanting you to help someone who has fallen down (okay, probably more likely been pushed down if it was in middle school) and needs help. This might happen once or twice in your entire life, but it was a daily occurrence when I was on playground duty. I always asked “Are there any bones showing?” before getting too close to the scene of the crime, as I don’t deal with gruesome injury well. (If the answer was yes, I quickly told them to go find Mr. E, the fantastic 7th grade teacher who taught next door to me. He was much better equipped to deal with strangely protruding limbs than I was.) Or, it is rare that in daily life I have to question why someone randomly fell out of their seat in the middle of a presentation. (As I type this, I am picturing myself sitting in my weekly section heads’ meeting and having one of the senior officers just tip out of his/her chair for absolutely no reason at all. While it is a hilarious image, it just doesn’t happen, and yet in middle school, this was a weekly, if not daily, incident.) In that “real” world that kids so desperately want to join, I never have to get someone’s hair unjammed from her locker, tell someone to go put the praying mantis back outside where it belongs or wonder who took a bit of the doughnut on my desk (Ethan S., I’m looking at you!)

And while I mourn the loss of these ridiculous moments, because I loved (nearly) every minute of teaching 8th grade, I’ve discovered my current life brings with it its own set of unique happenings that never would have been a part of my Idaho –life. Of course, there is the First Lady introduction from a few weeks ago, but there are also the days like last week when I had to do the check-in of shame because I forgot my badge at home. (I was laughed at by the Marine who checked me in and scoffed at by the one who checked me out. Remember guys, I’m the one who brings you coffee and treats on many mornings!)

As we prepare for our imminent departure from Chengdu though, there has been several other Foreign-Service-real-life-moments pop up. (In case you are marking your calendars, we’ve got six weeks left in the land of pandas.) First of all, we got our housing assignment in Kuala Lumpur, meaning our home for the next two years was determined by the notes we put on a piece of paper and the opinions of a committee in KL. I’m happy to say that I am thrilled with the thought-process of that board, but it is strange to think that just a few bits of information on a single sheet of paper determine where we will reside for two years. I’ve nary a complaint about the beautiful townhouse we will be moving into in July, but I understand how it can be a frustrating process if one doesn’t love their assigned housing. In the States, I would never have given a short survey to a random group of people whom I had never met and asked them to find a house that would make me happy. But, in the Foreign Service, no one blinks an eye at it. (As a matter of fact, some of us send many-a-night with our eyes wide open, not sleeping as we excitedly anticipate housing news.)

The other (seemingly) crazy FS-thing we did this week was buying a car. Yes, you read that right. We bought a car, sight unseen. (Okay, a little sight seen, through a series of emailed photographs.) Last year, when we got our placement in KL, we decided that we definitely wanted a car so that we could get out of town on the weekends, go to the beach, hit up Singapore, etc. With that in mind, a few weeks ago, I started scouring the weekly newsletter from KL, in search of a car that would fit our needs and not break the bank. (Diplomats don’t tend to give great deals on their cars, as they always think they can sell them for what they bought them for. This actually holds pretty true in a lot of places, but it means bargain-shopping for a vehicle takes some patience.) But, last Wednesday, a new car popped up in the Malaysian Monitor that was just what we were looking for: an SUV with good clearance for the crazy rainstorms that hit the city on a regular basis and the less than smooth roads that permeate much of the country outside the city, and that came with a price tag that fit within our discussed budget. Knowing that vehicles like that get snapped up quickly, I sent an email to the owners that very day. After a series of back and forth emails about price, photographs, contracts and money wiring, today we signed the sale agreement and I sent the down payment to the current owners. After less than a week of negotiations, we will have a car waiting for us when we get t Kuala Lumpur this summer. (This should also serve as incentive for friends and family to come visit!!) In the States though, I can’t imagine buying a car 1) in such a short amount of time, 2)with just a few pictures as reference (I did Google the make and model extensively) and 3)with no test drive. My fingers are crossed that this world of “corridor reputation” is a great incentive for people to be upfront and honest in their dealings. (I tend to assume everyone is to begin with, but know that is probably a naïve way to approach the world. I can’t’ image purposefully screwing someone over, so it is hard for me to picture someone else doing the same.) For better or worse though, we will soon be the proud owners of a Nissan X-Trail!

While I no longer have to look the other way when a 6th grader comes to me with a newly lost tooth in his hand, wanting me to “look, it’s so cool!” and I don’t get the pleasure of asking why anyone would think it is a good idea to leave their schoolbag out in the rain all weekend, I do get to play what amounts to a single hand of poker for my housing and roll the dice when it comes to major life purchases.

Foreign Service, you provide a strange life, but never a dull one!

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Putting the “Fun” in Funicular

Often, I reference my non-existent bucket list and my lack of New Year’s resolutions, but one thing I do keep track of is my modes of transportation. I love to rack up as many different ones as I can in a single trip, but am more exciting when I can experience a brand new one. Our long weekend in Hong Kong (it’s Tomb Sweeping Day in China) gave me the chance to do just that- ride a funicular! How have I never done this before? It was a weird cross between a trolley car and a roller coaster, having the size and speed of the trolley, but the steepness of that initial assent to the peak of a roller coaster. Since our funicular was red, in my mind, all I could think of as I watched it make its trips in and out of the station was Mr. Roger’s trolley car (although ours had a black roof, rather than the ever-memorable yellow one in the Neighborhood.) Still, I couldn’t wait to take my place on the wooden bench and steel my abs for the ascent that pretty much crushed all of my body weight onto my backbone.

Up and down Victoria’s Peak on the funicular was definitely worth the hour wait on the bottom and the shorter, but much windier/rainier wait on the top. (We somehow made it to the top just as a crazy rainstorm hit the peak, with the wind pushing the rain UP the mountain and enshrouding the whole thing in a massive cloud.)

The weekend was one of “rides,” although not all were as fun as the funicular. (Come on, it has fun in its name. How could it not be fantastic?) Sadly, death-defying-cable-car swinging –from-a-not-nearly-stable-enough-metal-rope has the word “fun” nowhere in its description. But, on it I went. At the other end of the ride was a beautiful, bronze, sitting Buddha that I absolutely wanted to see, but getting there was a mental challenge, to say the least. I don’t do heights. It isn’t a conscious choice to not like them, but more in lines of a phobia- I know it isn’t rational and yet when my pulse starts racing and my stomach churns, threatening to bring breakfast back and my palms get clammy, there is little I can do.

After waiting two hours in line to get tickets for the cable cars, it was finally time to head to the top of the mountain. (Who waits two hours and then pays money to be terrified? What a ridiculous idea! Plus, it didn’t help that for the entire two hours, I had to watch the cable cars going up and over the mountain, reminding me of just what I didn’t want to do.) When we got to the ticket counter, we could choose between the glass-bottomed cable car or the standard one. Thad was really leaning towards the glass bottomed one, but I convinced him that if I were going to go on this death trap, I’d rather go on one where I could at least stare at the floor and pretend I was on level ground the whole ride up, rather than being able to see my death hurtling towards me. So, standard carriage, roundtrip it was.

Fear brings out the four letter words in my vocabulary. Going up, there was a lovely family (mom, dad and young daughter) who decided it would be a great idea to stand up and take pictures of the 360 degree views of Hong Kong. I get why they would want that, but come on people! Let’s not jiggle this dangling car any more than necessary. Get your ass on the tram, sit down and don’t stand up again until we reach the other end of the ride. No standing and repositioning. No posing for selfies by the door. NO MOVING! Luckily for me, this lovely family was deaf. That meant I could grumble away with a sailor’s tongue and native language didn’t matter. Their lack of hearing meant I didn’t even have to measure the tone of my tirade. Nice. (I was blown away by how many people in Hong Kong speak English and definitely had to sensor my random comments, which I can make loudly, with impunity in Chengdu. In Hong Kong, I had to be a little more careful about commenting on the hairstyle of the woman right next to me on the subway or deriding the etiquette of the oblivious middle-aged man who cut me off as we crossed the crowded intersection.)But seriously people, find your seat, put your ass on the bench and spend the next twenty-five minutes praying to whichever high power you believe in; whatever it takes to get us to the top safely!

I must admit, coming back down the mountain was a bit less harrowing. My adrenaline stores had been fully depleted on the trip up the mountain, so coming back down, I felt more resigned to my possible fate. If Death decided to come knocking at my door, there wasn’t much I could do to turn him away. My eyes were open (almost) the whole way down and my swearing was kept to a minimum, partially because I didn’t have the good luck to return with the deaf family and mostly because I tired and ready to move on to a new adventure. I had read the map/information handout about the Buddha entirely, front to back, every caption and asterisked bit of information as a distraction on the way up, so coming down I had no choice but to hang on to the center pole with white knuckles and scan the horizon for possible hazards, all the while keeping a keen eye on the cable itself. (How often do they check that thing for fraying?)

Since you are reading this, it is a fair assumption that I survived the cable car, a slight bit traumatized, but in the long run, none-the-worse for the experience. And while I have been on my share of cable cars in the past (you’d think I’d learn!), this was definitely the longest and earns a spot in my transportation annals.

It only took four years of China living, but we finally made it to Hong Kong! (Another check on the non-existent bucket list and no new stamp in my passport.)

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An Introduction That Wouldn’t Have Happened in Idaho

“Michelle, I’d like you to meet our Michelle.” That was my personal introduction to the First Lady of the United States last Tuesday morning. Pretty awesome! I’m not a bucket-list, resolution-type, but ever since the 2008 campaign, I’ve always admired Mrs. Obama for her outstanding education, her push for our schools to nurture healthier kids and her continual advocacy for young woman to be successful and strong and independent. (Of course, her amazing wardrobe isn’t hurting her cause, but there is so much more to her than her fantastic off-the-rack fashion.) To have the opportunity to meet the First Lady would definitely have been on my bucket list if I had one. Imaginary box checked on imaginary list!

(When I mentioned on Facebook how excited I was for this upcoming opportunity, I got mostly positive responses, but did receive one dripping in sarcasm about how “lucky” I was. I would just like to point out that I would have been equally as interested in meeting Laura Bush when she was First Lady of the United States. I absolutely love that her “platform” was literary achievement and how supportive she was of school libraries, local libraries and reading teachers. Her love of reading segued into a personal mission to improve literacy rates in low income areas and to get more books in the hands of more students. I may not have voted for her husband, but I respect her work and would relish the opportunity to shake her hand and thank her for making literacy a cornerstone of her years in the White House.)

But back to our current First Lady…

Not only was meeting FLOTUS an amazing opportunity, but preparing for her visit was eye-opening and definitely a learning experience for me. (You know how the proverbial “they” say you should learn something new every day? In the couple of weeks leading up to her arrival, I feel like the fire hose of information was turned on full-blast, aimed right at my brain!) Over the course of fortnight, I had the opportunity to work with White House staffers and Secret Service agents and was lucky to have a good crew assigned to my various venues. Coming into this visit, I was worried that my lack of government experience, rural-Idaho nothing-is-every-super-formal background would make it difficult to keep up with what was going on, but the team I worked with was always happy to answer my million questions, walk through my site one more time and review my role on game day in detail. While the whole experience was definitely stressful and heartburn inducing, with a different team assignment, things could have been much more difficult. (As someone who is easily kept awake by stressful situations, there may have been a night or two that I downed a sleeping pill before crawling into bed. I wish I had learned that trick for the night before the first day of school when I was teaching!)

In the end, everyone at the consulate logged a whole lot of extra hours, but the FLOTUS visit went off beautifully. The First Lady was able to see the pandas, visit a local school, eat at a Tibetan meal (that was Thad’s venue!) and visit the consulate for a Meet and Greet event (my site!). (Yes, she did get to hold a panda. I’ve been in China nearly four years and have yet to hold one, so I am a tad bit jealous of that part of her trip. With just eight weeks to go, I’m not sure the imaginary panda holding box on the imaginary bucket list is going to get an imaginary check mark.)

It’s nice to be on the flip side of Mrs. Obama’s visit. It was a fantastic experience, but one that I’m glad has moved from anticipation to memory.

“Michelle, I’d like you to meet our Michelle.” This Idaho-girl will take that introduction any day!

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Don’t Fondle The Furnishings

Mental Floss is one of those websites that I read obsessively, until one day I don’t and then I forget it exists until it then pops back up on my radar and I start the whole trend again. For some reason it hasn’t earned a bookmark, which would help it avoid it inevitable demise in my mind.  But then again, not even BuzzFeed and those quizzes that I find oh-so-addictive is actually in my bookmarks. Instead, I occasionally see a BuzzFeed quiz pop up on my Facebook feed, take about twenty-seven different quizzes and then go cold turkey for a few weeks. (By the way, a few weeks ago BuzzFeed told me I should really be living in the Netherlands, which after our airport experiences there last fall, is totally spot on! I am pretty sure I secretly an Amsterdam-ian at heart.) I think I am a bit of a bookmark Grinch, as it is tough to make it onto my list. I have folders for “writing ideas,” “fashion,” “fingernails” and “exercise,” but outside of those categories, it’s pretty tough luck!

But, all of that is to say that this weekend, Mental Floss somehow popped back up within my internet surfing, with perfect timing, as I stumbled right onto an articled called “12 Chinese Travel Tips for Visiting America.” It uses Google Translate (always a scary proposition!) to translate Chinese website travel-tips for visiting the US. After reading through the list, laughing out loud at times (seriously, and not just LOL-style) while simultaneously scratching my head in confusion, I figured I’d share my thoughts for all of my Chinese readers (Okay, I have no Chinese readers. My blog, like most blogs, is blocked in China, so the only way to access it is through a VPN. The First Lady spoke about this very issue- not my blog in particular, of course, but of freedom of press/speech in her remarks to a group of students in Beijing today. Expect to see no changes.)

You can pop on over to Mental Floss to get the detailed explanation for each of these, but for my zero Chinese readers, here you go:

1. If an American Goes Silent, You’re in Trouble- I find this ironic, as the Chinese (at least in Sichuan) are *very* loud people. I can’t walk down the street here without hearing a little old grandma screech at her grandchild (not in an angry manner necessarily, it is just the tone in Sichuan!), be assaulted by someone on the subway hollering into their cellphone about the great stinky tofu they just had or enjoy listening to the couple in the elevator loudly discuss how tall I am.  I’d be worried if a Sichuan-ren went quiet!

2. They Don’t Realize How Weird it is to Just Call Them by Their First Name- I can see why this would be weird for a Chinese visitor. In the States, especially in the west, we don’t have a lot of strict protocol with titles. I love the advice that if one doesn’t feel comfortable addressing an American by their first name, they should just smile. That’s totally what I do when I can’t remember someone’s first name!

3. They Deliberately Do Their Own Laundry- Maybe. I think most of us would gladly let someone else do it if it were affordable. This suggestion obviously came from a website made for wealthier Chinese travelers who can afford to spend time in the US and apparently can afford an ayi at home. But, I do have to say, just last week my mom was commenting on how therapeutic she finds hanging clothes on the line, so maybe there is more truth to this than I know. (Personally, I hate line-hung clothes. Yes, the smell is nice, but I’ll just a fabric softener sheet in my dryer that smells like “sunshine” and avoid the possibility of a bee in my undies!)

4. They Don’t Know Anything about China but Don’t Let It Bother You­-Again, probably true, but don’t take it personally. American’s don’t have the world’s best geography skills. (Heck, we call ourselves “American,” forgetting that we share the continent with more than twenty other countries!)

5. Stop Everything, Listen up, and No Interrupting- “Americans also allow others to criticize the United States.”  Here is where the freedom of speech and press in the US really shines. I may not love the opinions being spouted on cable news, but I concede to them the right to spew forth. In China, taking a different opinion from the ruling party is likely to get your newscast shutdown. Sometimes I ask myself, in a sing-song voice, of course, “What would the fox say?” and then go looking for other options.

6. Don’t Get Too Close. They Might Knock You Over With Their Constant Gestures.- While I think I probably do gesture a lot when I talk, I think this heading is a bit misleading. The issue is less with about hand movements and more about personal space. It doesn’t exist in China. So yes, you are probably going to get smacked if you are right up on me while we have a conversation. There was one day when I was at Metro Supermarket with a new arrival, getting her a membership card. We were standing in line to fill out the paperwork, when I felt something very close to me. I turned around the there was a tiny old woman standing so close to me, it was like vertical spooning! And there was no need. She was the only other person in line, meaning she could have taken three steps backward and been fine, but if she had done that, someone else probably would have cut between us and she was not going to give them that option, so I was slightly molested as I waited patiently in line.

Long story short, Americans have rather large personal space bubbles. Respect them!

7. Handshakes: You’ll probably need a cheat sheet- I have never thought of handshake etiquette as being particularly daunting, but apparently it is. The only thing I would add to this advice is to firm up the dead-fish handshake that is so common in China. Americans want a firm, tight shake- none of this limp wrist, clammy palm stuff that passes in the Middle Kingdom.

8. If Their Haircut is Ugly, Make Your Eyes Bright and Say, “Cute!”-  Possibly very true. If I tell you your haircut is cute, there is a 95% chance that I do think it is adorable, but an outside, 5% chance that I think it is horrible, but can’t come up with anything else to say on the spur of the moment. But really, if your haircut is awful, you know it. Let’s just pretend together that it isn’t.

9. You May Not Fondle Furnishing- This one is endlessly baffling. I would love to see the original Chinese to see what word was used that earned the horrible translation of “fondle.”  What exactly is happening to my furniture?

10. Shorts + High Heels = Call Girl- I’ve really got nothing on this one. While I am not a fan of the shorts/heels look, I am not sure this necessarily the best way to pick out a “call girl.” (Who still calls them that?!) I am also confused by this heading’s details that tell visitors it is okay to wear a vest at any time. Is there something particularly strange about vests that we need to single them out for fashion-attention?

11. Show Humility to Ladies—They’re In Charge­- Yes.

12. You’re Doing a Good Job in Your Own Way- This one made me laugh because it comes across as horribly condescending, like Americans are a bunch of kids earning “participation” ribbons at the annual school track and field day. We’ve now officially been patted on the head by the Chinese travel agencies and can continue doing a good job, in our own little, quaint way.

Since Thad spends his days issues (and denying, don’t forget the denying) visas, this article struck home on many levels. A huge thank you to Mental Floss, who will now be back on my internet surfing schedule for at least a day or two, as you greatly brightened my gray Sunday afternoon.  Remember folks, no furniture fondling.

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The Newest Member of the Foreign Service in China has Arrived

Our new Ambassador to China arrived yesterday:

Welcome to the Middle Kingdom, Amb. Baucus!

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A Fantastic Five

As a firm believer in always looking on the bright side of situations and appreciating the small wonders on a daily basis, last Friday shaped up to be an absolutely fantastic day. One after another, little bits here and little bits there fell together to make it a perfect end to what was a super busy and tiring week. (With our big FLOTUS visit just a week away, there’s a lot of overtime being logged in Chengdu! I always know the stress is ramping up when I start to have dreams about work and Saturday night, all I dreamed about was the million ways my “meet and greet” event could crash and burn: kids out of control, a ballroom without air conditioning, forgetting flags, a podium, a stage…if it is a possible disaster, it has run through my head over the last week.) Regardless of my out of control stress-induced dreams,  last week ended on a series of high notes.

1) It was Friday! That in and of itself was a nice little gift, even if I did have to work Saturday morning.

2) When I got up and put on my brand new dress, I discovered it had pockets. This is about as great of a start to a new day as I can think of. I got the dress as a birthday gift when I was in Hawaii back in January, but it is just now starting to warm up to the point where I can consider busting out those summery clothes I wistfully bought in the middle of winter. So, Friday morning, the tags came off, the dress went on and EUREKA! Pockets!

3) Sunshine. Actual rays of sunlight were coming in the window of my office on Friday morning. It was absolutely glorious and I took every opportunity to get out and about that I could. I went to Noodle Alley for lunch, and then ran back out to go to the bakery for bread when my jinjiang rousi ended up being 98% green peppers and only 2% rousi! Later in the afternoon,  there was a pile of welcome packets that needed delivered to a hotel that is a few blocks from the consulate, so I jumped at the chance to deliver those. (I may have walked slower than necessary for that little errand!) All of this was done sans jacket! So nice. I had planned to walk home on Friday (about an hour walk), but my walking buddy was caught up in FLOTUS visit issues and my MP3 player was dead, so I did opt out of that chance at some sunshine, but still, skies were blue, clouds were white and the warmth of the sun on my skin was a much needed mood booster after the long, gray Chengdu winter.

4) Fridays are mail day, which makes them great on thier own, but then when your best friend gets a giant package filled with boxes of Girl Scout cookies from her mom, the day is pretty much made. She busted into the box while we were still in the mailroom, handing me a box of Thin Mints and one of Samoas. I sure did open up those Thin Mints, step outside into a patch of sunshine and enjoy what was possibly the best meal of the week!

5) Finally, when I got home from work, I opened the sliding glass door in my living room and the window that sits in front of treadmill and enjoyed a bit of fresh air. (And by fresh, it was pretty close to fresh! I think our AQI dipped down into the 60s on Friday afternoon.) It was nice to have a literal breath of fresh air coming in the window as I ran on the treadmill, rather than the status quo where I just pretend that the air being displaced by the air purifier is a breeze! And, after a winter of total lockdown, just a bit of new air circulating through the apartment put a smile on my face. (Granted, my face was red and my lungs were burning from the treadmill, but I’ll take that pain with the windows open any day!)
Any one of these things would have made my Friday magnificent, but when you add all of them together, it was one of the best “regular” days that I’ve had in Chengdu and it makes me glad that spring is finally showing her face. We’ve only got about ten weeks left in western China and if each of them has even one day half as good as last Friday, it is going to be an extraordinary end to our two year tour.

Now, enough of this jabber- back to FLOTUS planning!

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