Happy New Year and End-of-Year Updates

Well, hello, you all!

I went a little blog-MIA for a while, which turns out to have been a very good choice. My administrative role at Soochow University turned into a major project management role, which turned into a traveling and cat herding position. I got back in mid-December from a 2 1/2 week concert/ audition/ recruiting tour to Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing. And within 1/2 a day of my return, I went back to the airport to pop over to Ohio to shop, visit family, and make the final arrangements to bring my critters to China. 

It was my first time to many of these places, so for that reason, managing the recruitment tour was awesome. And I've done a lot of planning and organizing in many of my past career incarnations, so I know I was a good point person for handling and planning a lot of the logistics and press materials. But, wow, was it exhausting, and completed on a way-too-abbreviated timeline. Never again.

Gangnam  Street Vendors in Seoul. So many fruits and dried fish. 
Singapore views. There's a pool and casino on the top of that boat shaped thing.
View of Hong Kong from up on the Peak. I was so glad for a relative day off during the trip with Rob to show off my sister and brother-in-law's ex-city of residence.
Hong Kong's Peel Street. It's steeper than it looks.
Beijing Bell Tower near the hutongs where we bought a bunch of great little percussion instruments.

As soon as I got done with the tour, I hopped on a plane to go to Ohio for a preplanned pick up trip for the animals. Really sucky turn of events was that my grandmother passed away the day before I was due to leave. Really wonderful turn of events was that the memorial brought ALL of my dad's side of the family together, including all four of us siblings and cousins minus one. The family time was beyond a gift, and exactly the kind of joyful reunion my grandmother would have treasured. We won't talk about the inappropriate high-five I gave my cousin in the funeral home on accident. 
Four siblings and a Dad photobomb. I couldn't love it more.
One of many Euchre games in the hotel lobby. My cousins were all learning at a second game going on behind me.

Rob has been finding balance between school administrative work, creative work, personal projects, and time with new friends. It's been a heck of a year and, in true Rob Fashion, he broke down the year's highlights with a soundtrack and top 10 list. It's a pretty good one. Check it out HERE! (Actually, if you're in the mood to music-nerd out, do yourself a favor and keep track of his blog in general. Good creative stuff and lots of geek-talk)

I returned to China with the dog in baggage and the cat as cargo, so, as of Christmas, my critter kids are finally here and home for good. I'm still working full days until Soochow's Holiday Break (which centers around the Chinese New Year) in mid-January. And Rob is heading back to America for a few weeks to visit with friends and family, but I'm staying in China! A quiet house, no real responsibilities, a schedule that is really all my own. I can't wait! Most of our friends on faculty are leaving to go elsewhere for all or most of the Holiday, but at least one of my Office colleagues is a Suzhou native, so we're here together. Oh. My. Gosh. Girl Time. And loving on my critters. 

My babies in their new apartment. The adjustment is slow, but going okay.

The whole fall season of blogging was also relatively piddled away due to a few things- 

1. My computer is getting scary slow and can't hack photo editing and uploads very well anymore. I'm grateful it's lasted our family for 4 years of intense use (Rob's DMA studies and music writing software, then on to me this past winter and all my literally thousands of photos), but it's time to say hello to a new computer instead. 

And the big (well, still relatively little) 2. There's a kid on the way. I was keeping it pretty quiet from colleagues through December so I didn't get the wilting flower treatment during the Tour, because there's really nothing more degrading for a capable person than to be babied when you're conscious about not hoisting heavy crap and wearing sensible shoes during early pregnancy. Aside from a little help lifting my suitcase and avoiding sushi and wine, I didn't want to detract from what had to get accomplished during our travels.

A Mid-May kid! We are  both so happy and I'm pleased as anything that this bump finally looks like more than a big lunch. 

So, joining the crew in the middle of May, there's now a little 20-week dumpling that has made my pants tight and my bathroom runs frequent. And aaaanyone who's known me for longer than a minute knows I've been impatiently waiting for mommyhood, so I'm so thrilled about the opportunity to experience this crazy journey in our new international home! 2014 is, somehow, going to kick 2013's ass in the big, cool, exciting life changes department. 

Bonus, we're not finding out the gender- how many huge, awesome surprises do you really get in a lifetime?!- but Rob is still really pumped about a gender-neutral dinosaur theme. It's the most lovely thing.

Dear friends, Happiest New Year to you all. All best to each and every one of you as we step into this fresh start and the new year.



Heeeeey, guys.

Lot's of good stuff happening. 

First, we're in our new apartment now. The landlord is young, accommodating, funny, and took great care of the place (his mom and dad were living here before us). It's smaller than we wanted, a little more expensive, but it's going to make for a much better first year. Oh, and we bucked up a little cash for an Ikea run to make it feel more like it's ours. Rugs, a few pillows, a repeat of Rob's favorite lounge chair (he was SO sad to sell the one we had in Houston), a little storage, and some lamps.  Photos? Soon.

Second, I'm working for the School of Music doing English documents and liason-y stuff. It's still kind of confusing and I don't know what the long range plan is, but at least I am useful on a small scale. And maybe I'll be able to help kickstart a more effective system for the administration over time. And my co-workers are lovely, so that's a plus.

Third, I think our shipment will be delivered in the next 2 weeks. We tried to to the paperwork for customs on our own, but it's reallyreallyreally complicated, so we gratefully accepted the help of a logistics agent who managed another faculty member's import. Long story short, we would have paid the same amount of money to travel back and forth to Shanghai to pick up  a paper, have it stamped in Suzhou, take it back to Shanghai customs, bring a new form back to be filed with Suzhou customs, pick up an approval and take it back to Shanghai... so we might as well pay someone to navigate the red tape on our behalf. P.S. this will be a story aaall by itself.

Fourth, it has been getting more and more pleasant outside and the best is still to come. We discovered that many of the rooftop accesses are unlocked and open, so a great evening view of the area has been a real treat. A group of professors are planning to split the cost of a barbeque. 

Fifth, on the whole, we're loving the company and contributions of the majority of the new team. There are two people who have awfully skewed expectations of what they should and should not have a say in regarding planning, what should be just given to them (services and comforts), and how little they should have to try out the culture for themselves. I really hope the dynamic shifts with them and they find a "happy place" because the rest of the faculty is full of good attitudes, a willingness to dive in and do, and are happily fumbling their way through Chinese cultural conventions. We've had some crazy-fun card game evenings and potluck parties and laugh-filled impromptu meetings with a bunch of other professors, so getting this program up and running might be tough, but it's going to be good. Good peeps. 

Sixth, we're ready to start rolling on planning for getting Miles and Eddie over here. I am beyond excited. It's been way too long as a non-pet-owner. Scratching a soft doggy head or rubbing a little cat chin when you're having a crappy day is the best remedy.

Seventh, I think I might be managing the whole two-week international recruitment tour for the School of Music in November and December. I'm making arrangements for concert venues and travel, but I think that also means I get to tag along. Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, HongKong, Shanghai, and Beijing.

Check in with you guys later!



Top 5 Things That I Wish I Could Find in Suzhou

5.  An Online Distributor of Books

I didn't realize how on-the-ground everything in China was.  The majority of shopping I ever did was online.  Many books (mostly academic ones) that I am interested in or that I need to teach a class aren't available in China and are ridiculously expensive to ship from the states.  It makes you plan very far in  advance which I suppose is a good thing.  But, when you really need something you are either out of luck or have to be willing to pay. 

4.  Bourbon (specifically Makers Mark or Bulleit)

I knew there would be Scotch.  I knew I could find Jameson every once in a while.  Bourbon was my biggest question since for the last 2 years, it is all I've been drinking.  I've only been able to find Four Roses Bourbon in Suzhou.  I've found Maker's Mark from an online distributor in Shanghai but who knows if it is legit or not.  I think I am going to try out Four Roses to see if it is any good before I spend the money on Makers. Over here it goes for about $32/bottle.  I just haven't developed a taste for Scotch yet and there is something very comforting about sitting down with a glass of bourbon.  

3.  Gillette Gel Deodorant

So stick or gel deodorant just isn't a thing over here.  It is all spray. I've been using the same deodorant for probably 15 years or more. Luckily, we anticipated this and we bought a stupid amount of deodorant that will be arriving in our shipment.  But, who knows if all that will last me until the next time we are in the states or until the first person comes to visit us.  

2.  An Online Distributor of Electronics (like Sweetwater.com)

Sweetwater.com is where I've bought nearly every piece of electronic equipment I own.  Instead of a large general distributor here, there are many smaller distributors that only sell certain brands.  So instead of making a large purchase from Sweetwater I have to make many smaller purchases of all of the different brands from different distributors.  Major inconvenience and also much more expensive.

1.  Pilot G2 0.7 Black Ink Gel Pens

This seems like a stupid little thing. But, I wrote with those pens everyday of my doctorate.  They feel good.  The ink thickness is perfect.  I only have 1 left not really thinking about it before I left.  

Moral of the story:  Every time we come back to the US we are taking a checked bag that we can fill with stuff to bring back.  


Nearing the One Month Mark

We're into week four and it's been a weird couple of days. I won't go into details, but it turns out our funky Chinese apartment is not funky and Chinese, it's simply shoddy, cheap, and lazy. We held our tongues for the first few weeks because we didn't know any better, but a friend invited us up to see her place for comparison (different building in the complex, different landlord), and we are being charged a little more money for a little more space, buy WAY WAY WAY lower quality of everything. I was willing to put up with some of the quirks since I assumed it was just the Chinese cultural norm, but it turns out it's just lazy crap. We're a little upset.

So, cut to Wednesday of last week, when we wrote a point by point email to the School of Music assistant who has been busting her butt getting everyone settled (Poor girl). We toured a smaller place (2 bedrooms) in a different building of our same complex on Saturday and met the landlord. He's young, energetic, very accommodating, and the apartment will be fixed up for us as soon as his parents move out in September. It's a little smaller than we were hoping (well, it's a really great size, we were just really hoping that we'd find a perfect place with plenty of room to grow so we could stay longer than just a year) and a little more pricey than we really wanted to pay, but it's very nice, tidy, and we won't have to shell out for a crap ton of furniture.

I have no pictures. I didn't want to be rude. But, imagine a perfectly nice apartment with a good sofa and a great view. We'll move in September. Whooooopie!

Other disappointments: the realization that the quoted price from a pet relocation company doesn't include my critters' airfare, bumping the total up to around $4,000 USD. Ouch. The realization that a bigger percentage is being taken out of Rob's wages for tax than we were really expecting. Which makes saving for bringing the critters over a whole lot harder. The realization that the digital recorder that Rob needs to record source sound material for his electronic music compositions is way more expensive over here than in the states. I could go on, but it's depressing.

The big-time good stuff: most of the new faculty members are arriving and everyone is seriously great. We've hosted card game nights two Sunday evenings in a row, which has been incredibly entertaining. Several family-style meals to get to know everyone. Eating ourselves silly, but walking over 3 km pretty easily just getting from our place to the bus and from the bus to wherever we're eating, so we aren't packing on the pounds yet. Exploring some of the more famous parts of town. We have good days and some bad days, but I think most of that will pass once we get into a routine and get a few paychecks into our account, which will alleviate most of my cause for worry and bad days. It's all uphill from here! 

Exploring Pingjiang Road with Lucas (who we've really enjoyed getting to know and wander around the city with)

Binglin Library at Soochow University's Dushu Lake Campus. Until the School of Music building is completed next year, administration and some of the classes will be housed here. Pretty cool building, huh?

We've had so much good food, it's ridiculous. And most of it is really inexpensive.

Dangfanzhimen Fountain light and laser show. Holy Chinese Experience, Batman.

One of our many big group meals. I love it.


Apartment Assessment

Our apartment is filled with truly hideous and unbearably cheap furniture.

At the recommendation of a few colleagues, we'll be socking away money for the next few months to, first and foremost, get my critter kids over here, and, secondly, save enough to buy a bunch of IKEA furniture from the Wuxi store and have it delivered. And lemme tell you why:

Rock hard Chinese-style bed. I was expecting it, and I knew it would be only modestly countered by buying local cotton-batting mattress pads. We currently have two sets on the bed, which I had to saw to the proper width with a crazy sharp knife my brother gave to me. It's still lumpy in the middle and only kind of comfortable
Solution: Ikea 5+ cm mattress pad with foam.

Rock hard, narrow, red-fabric-with-dog-print fabric sofas. x2. Can't/won't do more than 30 minutes of sitting on them because my butt goes numb. And Rob can't lay on them- he sprawls off the length and teeters off the width. 
Solution: Buy a sofa. For the love of Pete, buy a squishy, module-based sofa that will be deep enough, soft enough, and long enough. Babies will be in the 1-2 year plan, so I'll need a cuddling spot. Perhaps a few side chairs, too.

Wardrobes that are only as tall as I am, cheap, crappy particleboard, and not even deep enough to hold the ragtag group of crappy hangers left for us. Oh, and a purple fabric wardrobe with plastic pole connectors, one of which split already, so it's lurching perilously forward.
Solution: Wardrobe and drawers. Duh. (PS- do you think we should go for this solution or this one? Need some opinions!)

No bookshelves, terrible TV stand, and an abundance of tiny, short desks. 
Solution: Nix the desks, which are so poorly constructed, I can't even stand it. Replace the TV stand with something better, perhaps with storage that might fit something, anything. And a few bookshelves to store the collection of music and art nerdery that is coming in the next few months by freight. 

Lots of faux wood floors and bright fluorescent lighting. Critters click-clacking around and way-too-bright evening lighting isn't going to be ideal for the long haul. 
Solution: I've picked out a few sensible low-pile rugs and we'll scatter some floor and table lamps around.

Complaining out of the way- at least it's a furnished place. It simply won't work if we'll be around for many years, but we aren't sitting on the floor or sleeping on nothing but 3 cm pads. And the price of rent is very good, so I'll make it all work until we can afford to make a swap.

Perks: TONS of green space around our apartment. A bus stop so convenient, it's scary (3 short stops from campus, 3-4 lines to take us to the bigger supermarkets, 2+ options to get us either to Old Town and other shopping and restaurant areas, or to the Metro line, which makes traveling into town a breeze), three plazas within a 4 minute walk with restaurant, veggie and fruit market and convenience store options. Very attentive landlord and very sweet repair guys so far. Aaaand, since the complex is very new and will be developed like crazy in a few short years, perhaps the promise of a lot more developed amenities and conveniences.

Oh, and I have several pipes running through my kitchen and around the perimeter of the living room. That's a neat feature, right?