From Zaijian to Aloha and Back Again

I love the idea of having an R&R. It’s brilliant. I work in a stressful job (okay, my job is minimally stressful, on the average day, but my location definitely can bring on the headaches) and as a “reward” for that, I get a plane ticket to either Sydney, Australia or anywhere in the US. Fantastic! (Side note from my previous life: teachers should all get a once-a-year R&R!)

Originally, I thought we’d opt for the koala bear option, but once I discovered how incredibly hard it is to get to hold one of these cuddly little creatures, I was less enamored with the idea.  (Plus, out of KL, we’ll be even closer to the land of the Vegemite sandwich, so we’ll probably make that trek in 2015.And I *will* find a way to hold one. I will.) So, with no need to exclaim, “Crikey, mate!” we set our sights on another land of blue skies and sunshine- the Sandwich islands.

The sunshine I had been dreaming of met us at the airport when we touched down at 8AM, nearly an hour before we took off from Chengdu that morning. (Oh, the magic of international dateline time travel!) I couldn’t wait to see everything the islands had to offer, but within hours my lungs rebelled against the clean air. After flying all night, we checked into the hotel, filled up on a giant plate of IHOP pancakes and then decided to take a nap for a few hours, rejuvenating our batteries after seventeen hours in airports and airplanes. In the space of that two hour nap, I went from healthy and full of energy to having a throat that felt like my pancakes had been made of porcupine. Not a good sign. By the end of the day, I had a full blown cold. I swear it is because my body is so used to a certain level of pollutants that it can no longer function correctly without at least triple PM2.5 digits.

While my cold was bad enough that had I been home, I probably would have called in sick to work for two days in a row, there is no calling in sick on vacation! I had sites to see, stores to hit up and a hair appointment that was not to be broken.

Luckily, we were able to wander around Honolulu for a few days before boarding our cruise ship, so I nursed the worst of the cold on solid ground. (Buying out the clearance rack at Old Navy was some great retail therapy that I am sure boosted the powers of my Target OTC cold medicine.)

Next up: cruise time!

With my purple flower lei draped haphazardly around my shoulders, Thad and I posed for what would be the first in a lovely series of cruise-forced photos. (Each time we got off the ship, there would be someone in a random costume, lining up guests for photos. One day it was a dolphin in a coconut bra, while another day it was a giant, squishy pineapple. These pictures were then developed and for sale on the ship for a mere $12 each. It’s too bad they were so pricey, as Thad and I made ridiculous faces in each and every one. It would have made a fantastic photo album.)

For the next seven days, we cruised the Hawaiian Islands. From snorkeling at Molokini, where I spent an hour following my favorite fish, trading “favorites” each time I found one that was more awesome to watching whales breech and tail slap their way across the bay, our first outing was fantastic.  I have the swimming skills of a house cat, which means I wasn’t able to dive several feet below the surface of the ocean, but Thad said he could hear the songs of the humpback whales that we shared the area with that day.  I did learn that snorkeling with a clinging cold can be a bit, well, gross. Put your entire nasal system inside a tight-fitting plastic mask and then float face down for an hour. Things drain. It just happens. But, I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to float with the fish because of a bit of congestion.  Ick. I know.

The cruise was filled with four-course meals (I had dessert every night!) and nightly shows heavy on the choreography and hits from a handful of decades ago. (Side note: there was a group of deaf vacationers on our cruise who attended these shows each night. I was mesmerized by their interrupter. She rocked out to musical hits through the decades and Polynesian war chants alike.)

Wandering through lava beds at Volcanoes National Park. Kayaking up a river to swim in the pool below a waterfall. Hopping through tide pools to visit sea turtles on Kona. Quietly walking the memorial at Pearl Harbor.

R&R is definitely full of rest and relaxation, but it wouldn’t be a fantastic vacation without days full of activities and adventures. Really, I’m up for just about anything as long it is warm and there is sunshine involved. Blue skies, golden sunshine and a touch of color on my skin- that’s what I needed after an already long winter in Chengdu. (As I write this, our AQI has been over 400 for more than twelve hours. And this is why my lungs didn’t know what to do with fresh air.)

I do have to wonder though, will I want to R&R in Alaska once we move to Malaysia?

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R & R and a Few More R’s

R & R.

Rest and relaxation. (It serves as a much-appreciated break from work and the daily stresses of living abroad.)

Recovery and rejuvenation. (It serves as a much-needed break for our lungs. For a few weeks while we were in Idaho, I didn’t taste the air once!)

Running errands and retail therapy. (I definitely did my share of shopping while I was home. Neon colored running shoes, a brightly colored purse, a rainbow of tops and a raspberry-colored skirt all squished in to my suitcase next to the new tri-barrel curling iron and hot curlers, to make the trip back to the Middle Kingdom.)

But, getting home from being Stateside for a few weeks requires a bit of readjustment.

Of course, there is the unavoidable jet lag. Our original journey was to be twenty-eight hours from wheels-up in Boise to touch-down in Chengdu. After a problem with the plane at LAX and a transfer to a different aircraft, we left Los Angeles over two hours late, which caused a chain of events that pushed our twenty-eight hour trip to closer to thirty-three hours. Wheels finally met tarmac in Chengdu at 2:30AM, meaning we finally fell into bed at 3:30. The good thing about that terrible arrival time was that for the first night, there was no need to fight the sleep. We dropped our suitcases at the door and were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows. Too few hours later, my eyes popped open and I was wide-awake. Granted, 8AM is a normal time to roll out of bed on a weekend, but not when it was pushing 4AM before sleep and I were reunited.

I had great plans to battle the tiredness, trying to avoid the lingering effects of cross-hemisphere travel. Needless to say, by noon, I had given up all attempts at starting my week off on a normal schedule. I considered putting more effort into the fight, but then decided one of the great thing about being a grown-up (other than getting to eat frosting straight from the tub without getting in trouble) is I make my own bedtime. If that means the blackout curtains get drawn at noon for a four hour nap, then so be it. A comatose nap I will take! Throughout the rest of that week, I slowly pushed bedtime (and as a consequence, waking time) back later and later. A week of Chengdu under my belt and I was back to a normal sleep pattern!

It wasn’t the jet lag that was the biggest adjustment coming back though. That one is expected. It was the milk. Yes, you read that right- the milk.

While I was home, I enjoyed a lovely bowl of Marshmallow Ladies each morning. (These are the generic Lucky Charms, officially branded as Marshmallow Maties, but my four-year old niece is convinced they are Ladies, so that is what we go with.) Each morning, after filling my bowl with cereal, I turned to the fridge which always housed several gallons of fresh, 1% milk. This was milk that required refrigeration. This was milk that went bad if left on the cupboard for months (or days, or hours.) This was milk that was a perfect companion to freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

This was not China-milk.

Over our first eight months in Chengdu, I had gotten used to the taste of boxed-milk. I have a case of it delivered to my house occasionally, which sits on my cupboard. I transfer small boxes of milk to my fridge as needed. This milk is sufficient for topping a bowl of cereal, especially if I drain the excess off the side of the spoon using the edge of the bowl as a guide.  It is not a respectable substitute to accompany freshly baked brownies. Needless to say, my taste buds had quickly reverted to their love of American milk upon arrival in the US and the conversion back to boxed milk has been a little rough.

Now, with my sleep schedule back to normal (normal is relative, as I am usually curled up in bed under a pile of blankets by 9PM, giving me a good hour or two of reading time before it’s lamps-out time)  and my taste buds realigning to the flavor of never-go-bad milk, I’ve hit the ground running on a variety of projects at work.

Settling in may be done, but it isn’t slated to be long-lasting. The suitcases may be recently stowed in the closet, but they won’t be collecting much more than a light coating of dust. In just two weeks, Thad and I are flying to the Maldives for some highly-anticipated sunshine and blue skies. I’m already planning THAT readjustment period to include soothing a sunburn and cleaning sand from the nooks and crannies of our baggage.  And if that’s “readjustment,” I’ll adjust, readjust and then adjust again!

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A No Questions Asked Turtle Transfer

There’s an old saying about loving something and setting it free.  And while the sentiment has a lovely ring to it as it is plastered across the internet by lovelorn teenagers as a romantically font-ed tagline on heavily unfocused photographs of sunsets and seasides, I won’t get into the ethical dilemmas surrounding the possibility of setting free your captive-bred hamster into the wild because you love it, even though the closest thing he has known to freedom is rolling down the hallway in his clear plastic ball of fun, and the occasional crazy adventure as that ball cascades down the single step in to your 70’s style sunken living room. For some fuzzy little rodents, freedom may really be a quickly executed death sentence because the pine tree outside your house is home to a giant owl (possibly named Clyde) and the fields are full of coyotes and foxes, just looking for a nugget sized snack.

But I digress.

I have a new saying I would like to flood the internet with: If you have a slight fondness for something, but someone else has a true adoration for it, you should hand it over. No questions asked.

I have (okay, had, but we’ll get to that part of the tale soon enough) two turtles- Gong Bao and Ji Ding. (Their names together, literally mean “palace style chicken cutlets,” but are more commonly known in the US as kung pao chicken.) Last summer, as Thad and I wandered People’s Park on a humid Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but rescue these two little creatures which were being sold in tiny plastic bottles. (Click here for the full account of that Tilt O’Whirl and turtle filled day.) With my new family-recruits in-hand, we rushed home to get them out of their death-cages and into a big tub with water and a brick for sunning themselves.

Over the course of the last five months, Gong Bao and Ji Ding have lived in their tub, either on the living room floor, where if there is sunshine to be had, they will be the first recipients, or in the bathroom under the heat lamps that serve as a substitute sun. I feed them regularly, change their water a couple of times a week and occasionally giggle at they create turtle stacks. But really, that is the extent of our relationship. They are cute, but not cuddly. An undying bond has not been forged. I can only tell them apart because Gong Bao has a slightly darker colored shell and tends to be a bit less skitterish when someone comes in to share their bathroom space. (I don’t think Thad ever could tell them apart. Hopefully we never have twins.) They were slightly amusing, but that was the extent of my connection to them.

With our R&R tickets bought and travel plans completed, we needed someone to turtle-sit while we were out of town, enjoying the single-digit temperatures of Idaho for three weeks. Thad has a colleague in the consular section, one of the local staff, who used to have a tiny turtle, but it passed away this fall. She was devastated by the turtle’s untimely demise and they had talked about their mutual turtle-tending. If she were willing, we knew she would be the perfect sitter for our tiny reptilian friends. (Her devotion to her own turtle was so whole-hearted that she had her mom knit it a blanket and she took it on turtle-play dates with a neighbors turtles.)

When Thad approached her about watching the turtles for a couple of weeks, she was thrilled! She thanked him profusely for trusting her with them and told him on multiple occasions how excited she was to have them in her house while we were out of the country.

So, with that, the turtle transfer was made.

Fast forward three weeks.

We got back from R&R (had a great time at home but painful trips in both directions!) and were back at work. In the afternoon of that first day back, Thad and I got an email from our turtle-sitter that included the following pictures as attachments.

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She clearly cares about these turtles much more than I do. Yes, I like them. Like. To be honest, full days would go by that I wouldn’t even look at the undersized creatures. But obviously, this was not the case with their sitter. Not only did she say that she talked to them for two hours every evening, but she allowed them one hour of TV-time and they had an assigned bedtime. I’m not that strict when I babysit my nieces and nephews, let alone with the cold-blooded residents of my house!

After a short meeting in my office, Thad and I quickly came to the conclusion that the turtles should stay at their new home, if she would have them. There was no way we could, in good conscience, not allow her to have the little guys.  I have a slight fondness for them, but she loved them! When Thad asked her if she would like to keep the turtles, she got teary-eyed and thanked him over and over.

This all happened on Tuesday. On Friday afternoon, Thad got an instant message from this colleague telling him that she bought him a cake as a thank-you for the turtles. He, of course, told him that a cake wasn’t necessary and that we are happy for her to have them, but she insisted we take it home. In true Chinese cake fashion, it was light sponge cake covered in a super thick layer of fluffy frosting, topped in fruit. Always topped in fruit.

So, I send a plea out to all angst-ridden teenagers with basic Photoshop skills and access to whimsical pictures and fonts. Make this your newest post on Facebook, Pintrest, Tumblr, Twitter and Reddit:

If you have a slight fondness for something, but someone else has a true adoration for it, you should hand it over. No questions asked.

I did. It earned me a cake.