The Foreign Service lifestyle offers an array of benefits: my housing is paid for (and if I could just sell that lovely Victorian home that sits on a water fountain bearing cul-de-sac in south Nampa, I’d be debt-free), I get to travel to Bangkok in October for training (and I thought it was awesome when Marsing sent me to Baltimore for teacher training), and I can afford a housekeeper to come in twice a week to make quick work of the floors, bathrooms and kitchen (personally, it is not having to do dishes that makes me the most happy; for Thad, I think it is not having to clean toilets.)
These fabulous perks all do come at a cost though- the separation from friends and family. A trip from the home we own in Nampa, Idaho (again, it is lovely and for sale!) to Chengdu would look something like this:
*30 minute- drive to Boise Airport
* 4 hours- Boise Airport to San Francisco Airport (as direct flights are nearly impossible, plan to be routed through Seattle or Salt Lake or Denver)
*14 hours- San Francisco Airport to Beijing Airport
*3 hours- Beijing Airport to Chengdu Airport
So, not factoring in layovers, to get from our home in America to our home in China, we are looking at a minimum of 21 ½ hours.
Luckily, the wonderful World Wide Web has made the globe just a tad smaller. In mere seconds, I can connect via Skype with my parents and friends, through Facetime with my brother and on Facebook with my sister and former students. This easy (and fairly reliable) connection to home makes communication much more comfortable, as we can talk whenever we feel like it or can match up schedules, giving it an ease that the rare long-distance call of not-so-long ago didn’t have. (I remember when my brother was serving his mission in Argentina and we got to talk to him on the phone twice a year- Christmas and Mother’s Day. Because the occasions were so rare and the time so limited, it was almost as if there was a checklist of what we wanted to tell him about from home and questions we had about his home. The calls were imbued with a certain amount of pressure to “get it all in,” because once the receiver was back on the cradle, there wouldn’t be another conversation for months to come. That stress has disappeared, knowing that I can talk to my mom for twenty minutes today, but when she forgets to tell me the story about the squirrel scrapping his road kill buddy squirrel off the road outside Idaho City, she can call back tomorrow and give me the gory, and yet hilarious, play-by-play of that lovely sight.)
One great part of this easy access to family and friends is the ability we have to keep in touch with our ever-growing number of nieces and nephews. With eleven in total (but with no guarantees it is a final number), there is always someone with a birthday or a dance recital or a new school year staring. It has been nice to be able to be a vicarious part of those events through laptops and iPads.
There is one niece in particular with whom I have been having an on-going discussion. Keira is the youngest of my older sister’s three kids. She turned four this last spring and has what is bordering on a clinical obsession with Hello Kitty. (The fascination goes to the point of there being a bit of a blurred line between her own existence and that of the furry white cat. I think she may, at times, think she actually *is* a bow-wearing, mouth-less cartoon creation.)
Now, keep in mind, I live in the land of Hello Kitty. (Okay, Japan probably out-kitties us, but we are a close #2, with Hello Kitty adorning everything from entirely pink and white cars to cakes in the bakery and clothes on grown women.) Because we live in the Shangri-la of a four-year old with a personality more dramatic than that of a Hollywood soap opera star, Thad and I have decided to use this opportunity to create a little ruckus on the other side of the world.
This all started with a box of Hello Kitty cookies that Thad found at the little grocery store outside our back gate. We came home and took pictures of us noshing on these lovely little strawberry icing filled treats and emailed them to Keira’s mother in hopes of stirring the pot a bit.
Boy, did we stir!
Apparently, the photographs were greeted with great exasperation, some full-body couch collapsing and a bit of anger that we would dare eat Hello Kitty.
Of course, I couldn’t let such a budding star wither, so a few days later, I found a rather large Hello Kitty shaped marshmallow, stuck on a stick, much like a lollipop would be. This small purchase again came home for photographs of its demise to be taken and sent through cyberspace to Keira. Again, these pictures met with extreme levels of consternation and anger.
But, at this point, with her little four-year old brain reeling, Keira came up with a plan. She may not be able to physically stop the torture of her favorite fictional character, but she could undertake negotiations for the cruelty to come to an end.
Knowing that I lived in a Hello Kitty laden world, dictating to her mother, we embarked upon a serious business negotiation as to how she could get some of the pink and white swag swiftly out of China and safely into her home. Facebook’s chat box facilitated this every-so-serious deal as we went through what she was offering and what she could get in return.
While the haggling had to be paused several times as she scurried off to her room to dig through her toy chest in search of possible offerings, in the end we had a deal. I am currently awaiting a package from Idaho that must include a Keira-colored picture of Hello Kitty riding a dolphin (this was a sticking point, as she was initially unsure of her blue crayon status), a Madagascar movie giraffe toy from her McDonald’s Happy Meal, and a half-used Hello Kitty pencil she got as a Valentine’s Day gift. In return, I would put together a Hello Kitty care package of treats from my end of the world.
These negotiations took place about two weeks ago, but between work and visitors, today was the first chance I had to actually go out and do the shopping to uphold my end of the bargain. (You may be asking yourself, how today, a Wednesday, did I have time to go wander the streets, looking for the fluff-filled shops that would be necessary to meet my obligations? The answer is: fire. The consulate here in Chengdu had a small fire in the basement last night. There were no injuries, but we were all given the day off as smoke was cleared out of the building and clean-up was completed. It was like having a snow-day in August!)
I have been told that Keira’s side of the deal was posted late last week and is en route, so it is time to get mine on the way as well.
Not working today ended up costing me a lot of money, as I found a variety of cool things I wanted to send home to the young, dramatic one. (Of course, it would be the horror of horrors if I sent a package to her without including goodies for her two older siblings, so the shopping had to branch beyond Hello Kitty and in to things that her brother and sister would also like.) For the most part, I got the Kitty swag at a local department store, but my downfall came when we went to a book store. I was having a hard time coming up with gift ideas for Kelsey, a newly minted middle schooler. Everything I found just seemed to “cutesy” for someone wanting to be a little older and tougher. Thad suggested Chinese school supplies, which is perfect! What 6th grader wouldn’t want to sport a notebook covered in Chinglish verse? Awesome!
Today’s big lesson: I have no self-control in bookstores, regardless of whether or not I am literate in the language of their goods. I went in to the store planning to get a couple of notebooks and maybe a pencil case. I came out with a bag filled with ten books, a whole pile of notebooks and a few pencil cases to boot. And that haul is what I ended up with after forcing myself to walk away from the piles of beautiful picture books, translated American classics and brightly colored board books for babies. I could easily have spent twice as much money, but at one point Thad gently pointed out that it was hot on the second floor and maybe it was time to make an exit and get some fresh air. (This was a subtle hint to step away from the books!)
After checking out with what had to be the world’s angriest cashier, (seriously, she dumped my basket upside down and then proceeded to scan and chuck each item in Thad’s general direction!) I schlepped my Harris Teeter canvas bag, filled with Hello Kitty paraphernalia and Middle Kingdom school supplies, back, block after block, to our apartment. Thad offered to carry it for me several times, but the straps digging in to my shoulder served as penance for the damage I did to our bank account. (It couldn’t be helped! There were awesome books in that store that *needed* to have new homes with our family in the States.)
So, to make a long story short, because Thad and I decided to harass a four-year old over her current cartoon fascination, I now have a box of Chinese goodies ready to mail to Idaho tomorrow and I can’t wait for my shrewdly negotiated care package to arrive in its place.
She might be fruffy and fluffy and dress like a ballerina that got mugged by a clown, but Keira has a bright future ahead of herself in the business world. It’s kitty-eat-kitty out there, but she can hold her own!