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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day Trip to the Watercube and Bird's Nest

With the new freedom of having a vehicle, the boys and I set out for
town with the plan of seeing Joanne for lunch and then finding
something to do for the afternoon.

We ended up heading to the Olympic Park.

Good times, lots of people and good stuff to see. I will plan ahead
and take the bathing suits next time.

Phelps'House!

Seriously?

Bennett will be traumatized when we return home and nobody really pays attention when he walks by.

God Bless America!

Nomination for "Worst Dad Ever" Photo Contest

"Yes boys, that is the coolest water park I've ever seen.  Sorry."

The only mention of Phelps in the joint

Bennett: "Sorry lady, I'm done; no more photos today."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hot



I woke up before the rest of the house on Saturday. I felt good! I got out of bed and went downstairs, quietly, trying not to wake the boys or Joanne. She deserved to sleep in a little before we left. I made a cup of coffee and sat on the couch. Grabbing my iPhone, I checked the time; it was just after 7am. I thought, I'm just going to enjoy the quiet morning for a few minutes before I pack. I feel so good. This is going to be a great day. My heart tapped a calm dub dub as I sat and enjoyed my cup.



At about 8am we left the house for the second time. We had gotten to the exit of the compound on the first departure before turning around, realizing that I had forgotten to pack swimming goggles. That wasn't too big of a deal; I just wanted to get this adventure started.

“C'mon, we can do this, all we have to do is get to highway G1; it goes all the way there, right?”

“Right,” Joanne replied, “but where's G1?”

dub dub dub

True, we didn't know where G1 is, but I thought at some level it might impress Joanne that I just thought, “we can drive East on the 5th Ring and run into it, right?” She was skeptical, directions are always her domain.

Later that day, after realizing I was correct, I think she did say, “when did you get good at directions?” As I said, that is typically her domain, along with the long distance driving. That's right, even with the broken elbow* she drove us all the way to Běidàihé and back - 600k - over a two day period.



I finished my cup of coffee and got up off of the couch at around 7:15 that morning. Now, possibly due to the influence of the morning coffee, the passive dub dub from was a more brisk, dub dub dub. I was excited, we are going to the beach, today!

We had grand plans: get up, pack, and roll out early, not even telling the boys where we were headed until we arrived. I went from room to room, throwing bathing suits, pjs and a change of clothes for each into the canvas bags. Those canvas bags, the white ones with the boys names embroidered in blue, have been to a lot of beaches and today they would be set down on the sand along the Bo Hai sea.

As the tired-eyed boys excitedly slammed the doors shut, Joanne backed the van out and said, “so, what are we gonna do about finding G1?”

“eh, not sure, but I think I can find it, it's got to be a big road. Don't worry, I'll just call the hotel and get directions.”

We stopped outside of McDonalds at Euro Plaza, and while Joanne took Parker inside to get some to go breakfast, I called the Best Western Qinhuangdao. The first three transfers were fruitless, as apparently there were no English speakers on duty that day, but the fourth was a kind man offering his assistance and his best attempt at interpreting my ridiculous Chinglish.

“Hello sir,” I said, “we are coming from Beijing and want to come to your hotel, can you tell me how to get there?”

“No problem, just go to the bus depot and take the bus to Beidehe.”

dub dub dub

“Oh no, sorry sir, I mean, driving.”

“Oh, no problem sir, tell the driver to go to Beidehe.”

Dub Dub Dub

“No, I AM driving.”

“Oh, eh, I don't know sir, maybe you can get a map?”

Dub Dub Dub

“Yeah, thanks.”

I tried, really hard, not to curse when I explained my phone conversation to Joanne when she and Parker returned with the McD's bags. I was talking loudly though; the boys were fighting over the last hashbrown in the bag so I had to talk over them. I think two out of three were crying. Dub Dub Dub.

Calmly, she decided that we should just go back home to River Gardens and ask the front desk for help, “they are usually helpful.”

I took one of those woosah deep breathes. Joanne looked at me with the eyes, the ones that say, you alright dude? Chill.



Steven was working the River Garden desk at 9am that morning. “Hey Steven, we are trying to get to this hotel,” I said, pointing to screen of my iPhone. The hotel guy's condescending map comment aside, I had downloaded the Google map directions to my iphone the night before, but I didn't realized until we were loaded in the car for the second time that the directions were all in Chinese characters. I don't know any characters. “Steven, can you just tell me which roads these characters indicate?”

“Well sir, you know, it may be easier if you just go down the the exhibition center and take a bus...”

Dub Dub Dub, woosah.

“I am driving, Steven.”

“Oh, really?  Oh well, okay, if you're going to do that,  let me go in the back and see if I can find it on the internet.”

Tug tug on my shirt sleeve. “Dad, you alright, you've been waiting a long time, mom wants me to get some hot chocolate for the ride, um dad, are you listening?”

“What, uh, yeah, what is is Parks?”

“Dad, I need money. I don't have any money; can I have some money?”

I breathed out, “uhmugud.” I am not sure if it was audible. I know Steven couldn't hear it anyway, as he was still in the back, googgling it, no doubt.

“Sure Parks, just a second, Steven will be back any minute.”

Fifteen of them. Fifteen minutes of shifting my weight back and forth, tapping my fingers on the desk, calling into the back for Steven to just give up on it.  Fifteen minutes of looking out the window at Joanne sitting in the driver's seat and Parker tugging and asking and...DUB DUB DUB.

I looked up again and Joanne was no longer sitting in the driver's seat, undoubtedly having moved into the back seat to referee some argument between Devon and Bennett. She is good at that, she calms them with hugs. Can you blame them though? At this point they had been awakened early on a Saturday, teased up with anticipation of some great adventure, and had been in the car for almost 45 minutes; we still hadn't left the compound.

Eff it, I thought.

“Alright Parks, forget this, let's go pay for the hot chocolate.” We walked across the lobby to the coffee shop.

I chinglished, “Dough chow tien?” pulling out my clip of cash.

“Jioshrtsi quay.” She spoke too fast for me to understand, so I waited for the cash register display.

“What?!?” DUBDUBDUBDUB “Ninety Seven for one black coffee and three hot chocolates?” I wanted to curse, or at least say “freakin'” as in Are you freakin kidding me? I stopped myself, but I was being loud again.

If this timid woman in the barista in training shirt had just said “woosah”, I probably would have broken out into laughter, but she didn't.

“Three Latte's and one Cafe Americano?” she said pushing the cups toward us.

DUBDUBDUBDUB

“Lattes? No, not lattes, hot chocolate, for kids! Hai za! C'mon!”

I could feel Parker's pout behind me, “I knew we wouldn't get any hot chocolates today.”

AHHHHHHHHH!

The hiss of the latte machine sounded like the steam coming out of my ears as she now scrambled to make three hot chocolates to replace the Lattes. I thought, why the hell is she making the milk that hot?

I threw 97RMB on the counter, directed a, “c'mon, you got what you want, now stop pouting,” toward Parker and headed for the car. Parker carried the hot chocolates in one of those cardboard carrying trays, and I walked quickly, trying to formulate an apology, or at least reassign the blame, for leaving Joanne in the car with the impression that this was just a quick in and out stop for directions. As I was nearing her window and mouthing “sorry”, I was called from behind by Steven.

“Eh, sir, I found this on Google, but the printer ran out of ink, so I couldn't print the map, but this has the directions.”

I gave him a whatever dismissal and I took the papers.

I heard the first scream as I muttered, “thanks.”

Hopping to the door and pulling it open, I looked in on the scene. Parker had his hands in his hair covering his ears and screaming repeatedly at the top of his lungs, “SORRY, I am SO SORRY.”

Devon writhed, holding his shirt away from his belly crying, “it buuuurns, it burns.”

The brown liquid covered Devon, the floor of our new car, the ceiling, the back of the driver's seat, and the seat in which Devon sat. I never even got the nerve nor saw the point in asking what happened, but I gather that Parker handed them to Devon a bit recklessly causing the tragedy.

In one motion Joanne was unbuckling and hurdling into the back seat yelling at all of us collectively. But she settled on, “why would that...why would she make it that hot? What the hell?”

DUBDUBDUBDUBDUBDUBDUB

We got in the car and drove home to get Devon an ice bag, the clock on the dashboard read 9:14. I looked at my angry face in the mirror.

We cleaned the car, re-walked the dogs, contemplated on whether we should continue this trip at all, and eventually, after about 15 minutes of mostly silent work, we left for the third time on our beach trip to Qinhuagdao .

Still bitter I snarled, “you know, we need gas, I don't even know if we will make it to the gas station.”

DUB DUB DUB

Joanne flashed a smile when we pulled into the gas station; the needle on the gas gauge was below "E", but she cooed, “You know, some day we will laugh about this.”

I huffed.

I hissed back, “Not Today.”

DUB DUB

I waited, breathing heavily, childishly holding onto my disappointment in the morning's events. After a suitable amount of bitterness and silence, and the return of a peaceful dub dub, I ventured a peace offering, “I love you! And, well, at least we have this?” I unfolded the paper that Steven had printed out for me.

I looked at it, feeling my heart rate rising again, “What the man?”

Dub Dub Dub

I bit my lip and shook my head, halfway smiling; I was no longer angry, but now simply resigned to defeat, “this is the exact same thing I showed him on my phone. So baby, can you read Chinese characters?”

Joanne turned up the tunes and we followed our noses around the 5th ring road until we saw the sign for G1.




We laughed a lot that day; as usual, she was right!



*in her second bike accident since being here, Joanne fractured the tip of her radius at the elbow. Read about it at her blog 20to2012

Monday, July 18, 2011

Qinhuangdao

A few shots from our weekend trip to the beach.

Random Owling!

Speculation Meat


Sunday, July 10, 2011

You Very Easy

This week Joanne and I had an appointment to get our driver's license. Fortunately, we didn't have to answer any of the renowned crazy Chinese Driving test questions.

Instead we had to give our red cards to a guy; he then gave them to another guy.  That guy then drove us to The Hospital of Chinese Medicine.  He told us to pay a lady 10 RMB, then he walked us past about 100 Chinese people who were waiting in line, and he showed us to a room.  Joanne and I commented on how the room smelled like sickness, and the hallways outside of the room were buzzing with people apparently awaiting some type of medical service.  After a few minutes of standing there, our escort walk out of the room, and seemingly went to get the doctor, as they both walked in together just a moment later.  The "doctor" entered; he wore a threadbare white doctor's coat which we could see right through - clearly he had no shirt underneath.  He also was wearing red slippers.  He looked us over as we stood there around the eye chart.  We had been told that this trip was for the eye test, but didn't know quite how the process would work.  The doc looked at me, then pointed to a colored card on his desk.  Our guide, who was now also serving as interpreter, turned to me and said, "do you know what that is?"  He also pointed to the card. 

"That's a six," I said. "Lio."

"Oh you speak Chinese?" The interpreter asked, making me feel like they had been talking about us the whole time, but only now realized that I may know what they were saying.  

"No, but I can count to six: yi, er, san, si, wo, lio."
The doctor looked at our guide/interpreter and asked, "Mei Guo Ren?" 
"Due."  Correct.
Wham, he slammed the red stamp onto my form and picture; by identifying the number 6 on the flash card, I had passed.
He turned to Joanne, and pulled a second colored card out of his desk.  
"What do you see?"
It was a dog. 

"Gou," she said. Pronounced Go oh.
Wham!

As we walked out of the hospital, passing the masses of Chinese still waiting on line, the diplomatic escort turned to us and said, "Mei Guo Ren, you very easy; Chinese, not too much."

--
Paul Koch (@pkoch9999)
+151 1692-2787

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Behind the Flag

It is a surreal experience celebrating the 4th in a place where freedom and independence are hardly evident and are not even understood by many. 
 
We had the honor of spending our 4th with the Marines.  Parker, Devon and Bennett played all day with the soldiers who are assigned here on the detail of protecting the Embassy.  The off duty Marines convoyed out to River Gardens and we had a festive cookout with friends.  They played in the pool, watched movies, and drove around the neighborhood in the tuk-tuk to watch the fireworks.  The Fireworks!!! The middle-of-the-street, "unofficial" 4th of July Celebration in River Gardens.  Management said that they had no permits to celebrate the 4th of July and that the government certainly wouldn't approve it. "But," she explained, "if you show up at the gate to the compound just after dark, there will probably be some fireworks to see - " wink wink.  The local guards only wanted beer in exchange for the show, and huddling over a large bundle of fireworks, they lit the fuse and got away, and as they ducked an ran from the explosions, ash rained down on top of all of us.  Bennett grabbed his ears looking wide-eyed, terrified; Joanne mama-screamed, "this is totally unsafe."  I cowered at the loudness of the first shots, and then as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see the makeshift launching pad no more that 30 feet away.  We grabbed the boys and ran for it!! .  While the Marines hung in close, fingers in ears, the Koch's watched the rest of the fireworks from a much safer distance.  

That whole day, as these young servicemen tossed our boys around in the pool, and we ate, drank, and had a fun time together, I felt swelling pride in the unique freedoms we have as Americans. Freedom and Independence are true blessings and maybe it takes a view from the other side, one where freedom is non-existent, to know just how good we have it. God Bless America, and those who protect our freedom!


  
--
Paul Koch (@pkoch9999)
+151 1692-2787

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Champ is Here!

Joanne worked all day in the kitchen, packed it up, and hauled her
Molasses Muck to the Embassy for the 4th of July party and 3rd annual
US Embassy Chili Cookoff.

To the dismay of the other entrants, the newcomer won the red apron!

Friday, July 1, 2011

My New(old) Ride


Handshake agreement to buy this rig.  The freedom of having wheels coming soon.  Chinese Driver's License on Tuesday!

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