Tuesday, May 27, 2014

That’s New

My friends, I have been desperately scrambling to find something to write about, obviously to no avail. I’ve written in depth looks at topics I’ve written about before. That type of writing does not come easily to me. I struggle for every word. Catchy phrases just won’t allow themselves to be caught or committed to print. Ultimately I shelve the entry for another time when my head decides to cooperate with me desire to write. Much as I’d like to post as often as I did in the early days when everything was new, I simply can’t bring myself to write for the sake of filling a void.

That makes me seem like one of those artistes that will/will not commit some deed for the sake of her art, doesn’t it? I’m not trying to put on airs; I’m just trying to be sincere.

Truth is nothing earth-shattering is going on. Funny I should say that from China, where just a few days ago a 5.6 magnitude quake rattled Yunnan province in the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately no deaths, but there were some injuries.

Life is good, life is sweet, life is rockin’ and rollin’ along. My health is much improved since I found out produce was trying to kill me and I now avoid it at all costs, even though I miss the crunch of vegetables and summer fruit is in season. What could be better than a chilled slice of watermelon on a hot day?

My classes are going well. I found my groove about 2 years ago and now no longer suffer anxiety at facing a class. I have enough material prepared to see me through several academic years. Being as I do not teach a structured curriculum, figuring out what to do with my students for 90 minutes per class used to be a challenge. Not anymore. Teaching has not become boring, but it is nothing to write about.

You might have also read that I’ve taken up bike riding for fun and fitness, and to outwit death. I say that tongue in cheek but sometimes, it is literally a life and death proposition to ride a bike on the streets of Wuhan. So far, the furthest I’ve ridden in one stretch is 35km. I’m aiming for 50km this week. While riding is exciting for me, I’m fairly certain you might grind your teeth and roll your eyes should I write entry after entry about my sore knees, my tanned arms and how I cannot seem to find a horn or bell loud enough to announce my presence on the street.

So if all is well and life is moving along, why do I take to the keyboard today? Because I finally have something new to report!

It was a wonderful day. The weather service predicted rain but all we got was mugginess, making me sweat while standing still. Yesterday I stayed home all day because of heavy rain but today I was going out. That’s a pattern I’ve followed since I’ve been here: home one day, out the next.

I hadn’t been to Walmart in a while. Since I got my bike, to be exact. I decided that would be my destination today. I wanted an insulated lunchbox so I could pack picnics for my all day rides, and I needed some new socks, and I wanted… it was nice just to go and look around.

After Walmart I set my sights on bus 777. I always ride that bus from Metro to the bus that takes me home, but I’ve never ventured past Sha Hu station, where I change buses. There was still about half the route to be run. Time to enjoy my old form of entertainment: seeing where buses go. It was a nice ride but nothing spectacular, other than the fact that I got very hungry and developed a craving for Burger King.

One can’t find BK all over the place in Wuhan, like in the states. There are only 2 locations that I know of, and they are almost literally around the corner from each other. I was nowhere near that corner. Also, I had no cash, so I would have to stop by the ATM. That part was easy: the bank and BK are on the same street, within a block of each other. And only about 2 blocks from Sam’s house. Quick change of bus, and I was there!    

My poor friend! He’s been so busy we’ve not had time to visit. Because I was in his neighborhood I contemplated inviting him out for coffee, or stopping by his house but then considered how overwhelmed he is with work this time of year and decided he probably would enjoy rest more than a visit. Such were my thoughts as I took my money from the ATM, ambled down to BK and enjoyed a tasty burger and a cool 7-up.

Before getting on the subway headed home I decided it would be a good idea to transfer the money I had in my pocket to my wallet. I had slid the cash in the side pocket of my cargo pants because it was quicker than tying up the ATM by whipping out my wallet and storing the bills. As I delved into my pocket I realized my bank card was not there.

OH, NO!!! What did I do with it? It only took a few seconds to realize that I had left it in the machine, and another moment to authorize panic at the thought that the next customer could easily have cleaned out my bank account. Retracing my footsteps proved fruitless: of course my card was gone. Cursing my absent-mindedness, I sent Sam a message, telling him what happened. I also told him to feel free to call me an idiot.

As always, it’s Sam to the rescue! In a matter of minutes he and a sweaty Baby Erica appeared. While she and I reacquainted and played Sam took charge, leading us to the bank branch around the corner. Although the teller couldn’t help me she instructed us to call the customer service number, where an English speaking representative would handle things.

I probably don’t need to go into detail about how the matter was resolved but I want to emphasize the lengths the bank went to help me.

The first thing they said was that, if there was no activity on the ATM within 30 seconds while my card was active, my transaction would be closed/cancelled and the machine would retain my card. I breathed a sigh of relief: if memory serves, the ATM lobby was not crowded. I don’t recall anybody immediately behind me. Sam went further: “If your account has been cleaned out, we’ll call the police. They will use the bank’s surveillance video to see who came in behind you and the bank will assist in identifying the thieves.”

From there it was a simple matter of providing proper identification – my passport, which I did not have with me. However, because Sam is required to register all foreigners with the appropriate authorities, he has copies of all my documents. My passport number was as far away as the next computer terminal. He logged onto the government website that lists foreigners, found my information and provided it to the waiting representative.

I should tell you there is a slight problem with my bank account. Because it was opened by the school, my information was not entered into the bank’s computers correctly. In spite of
Sam’s best efforts, the problem persists. Therefore they could not use my name, date of birth or phone number to access my account. Only my passport number would unlock the needed files.

Customer Service called me a total of 5 times in two hours to update me on the situation and to ask if I wanted my account frozen for 5 days. Mind you, all of this took place on Sunday afternoon. They called me again this morning while I was in class to let me know my card had been retrieved from the machine. At that time this courteous representative also gave me instructions on how to reclaim my card. I was astounded by the level of service I got, on a Sunday afternoon, after 5pm when all the banks close, and the prompt follow-up, at 9AM the next morning.

As for Sam: we did get a visit in, in spite of my best intentions to leave him resting with his family. At the time I called he was in the park, teaching Erica how to skate. Over coffee he showed me pictures of her wearing all the protective gear you can think of. There she was, adorable in her color coordinated helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, gloves and skates. The blue of her safety gear went well with her pink outfit and Sam’s selflessness went a long way to ease my desire to kick myself for being so absent minded.

See? All in all, a good day!     


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mothers' Day

The first thing that comes to mind when writing this entry is: should I write “Mother's Day” or “Mothers' Day”? As this tribute is for mothers far and wide, it seems the proper grammatical spelling would be the latter. However, the Internet being rife with accolades in recognition of female parents just now, I see plenty of both versions. Which one is correct? Or is it: “Mothers's Day”? Can somebody clue me in?

1994 was a terrible year for Team Krejados. In the first week of August our house burned down, my long estranged mother was diagnosed terminally ill and, in the aftermath of the fire, our neighbors pilfered everything that was not ruined and shot my dog. I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about Mothers' Day, 1995.

It took the insurance companies more than a year to settle my claim and pay out. During that time, kind and not so kind people took us in. For a longer stretch we stayed with my then significant other. He turned out to be no so significant and really not so kind, but that's another story.

My Monster-Babies were tweens at the time. Talk about troopers! They mourned their losses but, other than a significant weeping session in the aftermath of their loss they soldiered on much better than I did. I had more on my plate, such as: where to live? How to feed them (always a question)? How to replace all that we lost? Living hand to mouth as we did at that time I questioned: where will the money come from for school clothes and supplies?

And grieving the impending loss of my mother. True, we'd not been in contact for more than ten years, but, no matter whether your mother is your best friend or refuses to acknowledge you, there is never ever enough time. At the very end of my mother's life I found I had so many questions, so many regrets. Why didn't I try harder to reach her? Why didn't I compromise more? What will this world be like without her in it?

Those questions and my guilt tortured me during long nights, while I pounded away on the factory production line. Rushing 'home' in the morning to get my babes off to school, and then nightmare fraught sleep, only to wake up unrested and wondering what was going on overseas, where my mother lay dying and I had no money to go to her.

Life goes on. No matter what thoughts plagued me or how quickly my mother was spiraling to her death, I still had kids to take care of. Not just putting food on the table and sending them to school. Motherhood is so much more than that. Their social and spiritual development, guiding them to a happier place than we were at when the house first burned to the ground.

We went on outings. Not expensive ones: we were the masters of cheap or free entertainment. Sometimes all we did was take a drive or walk around Walmart or the mall, and as long as we were together, that was good enough for us.

It was during such an outing at Walmart that my kids were inspired. The upcoming Mothers' Day tribute heralded by advertisements and placards enticed them to place a ring on my finger, one with their birthstones on either side of mine. The price tag of $99 daunted them somewhat. How could they afford it on their paltry $2 per week allowance? How could they save their money in time to place their order so that, on Mothers' Day morning, they could slip that band of gold on my finger? And how to manage the surprise of buying it without me present?

The poor kids were disappointed before they even got started. I couldn't bear the look on their face, and I couldn't stand for them to feel so dispirited. I enlisted the help of my S. O., telling him about the ring, and working out a payment plan so that the kids could buy the ring and 'pay back' the money from their allowance. Of course, I gave him the money that he would front for them.

One afternoon he took my kids for a ride, telling them I had to get some more rest. I'm not sure how they worked things out but, that evening when they came home the kids were acting sly and not at all despondent. S.O. wouldn't cough up any details. I was happy that, for the first time in a long time my kiddies were excited and happy. I'm guessing they had no idea I was behind the deal.

I'm guessing I'm blowing that secret now.

Mothers' Day 1995. Probably the best Mothers' Day I've ever had. S.O had taken the kids back to Walmart at some point in time to pick up the ring. Bless their hearts: they could barely wait till after the traditional Mothers' Day breakfast to present me their gift! Like excited puppies they pranced and skittered and yammered, wishing I would eat faster. Unlike excited puppies they did not pee everywhere. I enjoyed their sweet torture, prolonging it by exclaiming over and savoring every bite.

I had hardly conveyed the last morsel to my mouth and lowered my fork before my daughter snatched my plate and my son handed me a midnight blue velvet box. I feigned shock and awe, but the love was real. I assure you: I could not have loved those two any more than I did at that moment.  How their eyes shone! They were so proud to be able to give their mother something so beautiful, so precious, so lasting, so real. At that moment I knew I was the most loved mother in the world. They slipped the ring on my finger: a perfect fit. The rest of the day was a blur and I did have to go to work that night, but that moment shines in my mind as one of the best of my life.

That gift was all the sweeter because these kids had suffered a devastating loss, yet they wanted to do their utmost to give me a beautiful, meaningful gift. How they carried on in the face of everything they had to deal with is a mystery. They are truly proof that children are resilient, but I can see even today how that period in their life affected them. Although it was a terrible time and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, I have to say that it made them stronger and adaptable.

Two more significant events of that year. My mother succumbed to pancreatic cancer one day after her 59th birthday. Fed up with guilt and remorse I picked up the phone, tremulously dialed the overseas exchange and her number, which I still had committed to memory. She accepted my birthday wishes happily enough but, after she learned who I was, she hung up on me... and died the next day. It took me a long time to find peace after that.

The second one is that my Babes and I reestablished ourselves in our own place, and not a minute too soon. Things had become unraveled between me and S.O. There was a measure of unfair treatment toward my kids; my greatest grievance. Although I was and still am grateful to him for putting us up while we waited for the insurance company to pay out, the living arrangement was definitely more beneficial to him. By the end of things I couldn't wait to get my kids out of that environment. We soon put that rough living experience behind us and moved on to other rough living experiences.

Incidentally: he pocketed the money my kids gave him as payment for the ring. Not exactly a shining example of honor and loyalty, wouldn't you say?

I still have my ring. When I gained so much weight as a result of thyroid disease we had the ring enlarged. Thin as the band was, it was potentially ruinous to do so but I could not imagine not being able to wear it. I still wear it today. It is my most treasured possession. Upon my death it will pass to my beloved granddaughter.

Even though it is about Mothers' Day this entry is dedicated to my children, for having enriched my life a thousand ways, not the least of which are my beautiful grandchildren. I pay tribute to my kids for shaping me into the person I am today. Far be it to say that I identify myself through my children, but a lot of my identity is wrapped up in being their mother. Everything they taught me, all the joy and some of the heartbreak they brought... can't be a mother without a measure of heartbreak, can you? In fact, can't be a mother without children, can you?

I'll take my accolades this year, as I do every year. But, at some point my children are going to have to realize they are the ones that deserve the praise. I am reminded of that each day I slip that gold band on my finger. 

Happy Mothers' Day to all!