Archive for » August, 2012 «

It was last Saturday morning.

“Mom, we would like to make our Christmas card this year.”

I looked up, and found my two children’s faces beaming at me, anxiously seeking my approval for a fun project. They wore the kind of expression that tells me that they are on to something. Something totally spectacular or horribly mischievous…

It was a mystery to me too that they were thinking about Christmas already. But my mind was quick to embrace their offer. Every year, we make our own Christmas cards and send them to our family and friends. I was getting bored with this holiday tradition.

Each year, hubby and I select the most ordinary red holiday background for our card, then we select a few pictures to put on it.

Despite the considerable amount of time we spent on our picture selection process, we always end up with pictures with the repeating theme. It always included one picture of the four of us, all smiling, and most importantly, all open eyes. One picture featuring the kids in a tight embrace. Then a few pictures of our kids showing off their athletic skills in various winter and/or summer sports.

My two children are blessed with creativity, and they are becoming increasingly computer savvy. I foolishly thought that they are the prefect duo to bring fresh designs to our tired annual Christmas cards.

That Sunday evening, we had just sat down at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants for dinner. It was one of these exceptionally loud, but small restaurant.

“Mom, do you have pictures of us sneezing?” my 12-year-old yelled across our not so big table.

??! My brain deemed necessary to cast doubt to my hearing.

“What?” I asked.

“Do you have pictures of US…” my 12-year-old then very deliberately pointed at each of us one by one, “sneezing?”

“Sneezing??!” me.

“YES! Sneezing.” 12-year-old acting out a fake sneeze to assist my poor hearing.

“Why?!” I was deeply baffled.

“BECAUSE! We want to put pictures of us sneezing on our Christmas card!” my 9-year-old chimed in excitedly with big wide eyes, as if not wanting to miss out on taking credit for being part of this scheme.

Christmas A-Choo!

Who are these kids with such madding minds?! It is one thing that they are capable of absurd ideas, but they fully intend to implement them! Just imagine…if they had found the sneezing pictures sitting somewhere.

I stared at my children, looking horrified, as my mind posted images of us at various stages of sneezing resting on a shining rectangular red card adorned on a refrigerator door. Our card would bring holiday punishment to all those that have ever known us.

Fortunately, there was never any danger for all of us at stake. I don’t actually possess the requested pictures of us sneezing. But for extra precaution, I immediately fired the two of them from this project.

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Category: Humor, Kids  Leave a Comment

My newly minted middle schooler got into my car.

“How was the first day of school?” I turned and asked anxiously.

“GREAT!” came the loud and decisive answer.

I sighed a huge sigh of relief, having remembered how confusing and stressful the first day of a brand new middle school had been for me.

I drove off, leaving the chaos of the first day of school pick-up frenzy in the distance from my rear view mirror. I instantly felt calm.

“So, tell me about your new teachers.” me.

“I don’t know any of them that well yet. But they are ALL very strict!” 12-year-old.

“All of them?” me.

“All of them. They all spent the day giving us their rules. And they all have different rules! So I will have lots of rules to remember, and I will have to be sure to remember the correct rules with the correct teacher!” 12-year-old.

The kid seemed to have it all figured out! I thought to myself rather proudly.

“That’s okay. We are not afraid of strict teachers.” I threw in my encouragement.

“Both of your 5th and 6th grader teachers were very strict. They both were great teachers, and you loved them.” I added.

“But I DO have a problem.” 12-year-old said dramatically.


“What’s that?” I looked into the rear view mirror.

“My backpack.” 12-year-old.

“The Zuca?” I asked.

The Zuca

We bought this beautiful and mighty Zuca backpack to help our child start the new middle school right. It cost us a small fortune too. What could be wrong?

“It is too big.” 12-year-old.

“That’s the whole idea! It is a large capacity backpack, so you can easily fit in all your school stuff, including your textbooks!” me defending the Zuca.

It is also on double-stacked big rollers, and one of its specialties is that it can even be rolled up and down the stairs.

“My Language Arts teacher requires us to put our backpacks under our chairs within 10 seconds. No backpacks are allowed anywhere else in the classroom, definitely not in the aisles. She said it is for safety reasons.” 12-year-old.

“The Zuca can’t fit under your chair?” me.

“It can. It is just very hard to get it in. It took me a whole minute to put it under my chair. I timed it myself.” 12-year-old.

“Did she complain about you?” me.

“No. She was at the door greeting new students when I was putting my backpack under the chair. But a minute is way longer than 10 seconds. I don’t want to make her upset everyday with my backpack.” 12-year-old.

“Humm…let’s give it a couple of days, and see if she really mean 10 seconds.” I wasn’t giving up on the Zuca just yet.

“No. This backpack is also not good for me during lunch.” 12-year-old grew adamantly against the new backpack.

“How does your backpack bother your lunch?!” me.

“In middle school, we have to carry our backpack with us everywhere we go. We can’t just leave it in the classroom all day like I used to in my old school anymore. So, I have to bring it to cafeteria.” 12-year-old.

“It came with huge wheels, you don’t have to CARRY it.” me.

“All the other kids carry their backpack on their backs, so they can carry their lunch trays with both hands. I had to carry my lunch tray with both hands, and still have to pull my backpack!” 12-year-old exclaimed.

I imagined my 12 year old balancing a lunch tray with hot food and cold drink, and struggling with the shining Zuca. My sympathy for this poor child was very mild.

Later in the day, I picked up my 4th grader from our elementary school. And I immediately asked, “Tasterbach! How would you like to swap backpacks with your sister?”

Tasterbach was grinning big. My baby was thrilled to have the big new Zuca.

On the second day of school, my 7th grader greeted me at our pick-up spot wearing the old backpack, and carrying some notebooks and binders using both hands.

“This backpack is too small. Every class requires its own notebook and binder. I can’t fit it all in.” 12-year-old.

Our baby's old backpack

So much for free hands to carry the lunch tray.

That night, we had a family discussion surrounding the backpacks.

“What’s wrong with this backpack? This is obviously the most ideal backpack of the three.” my husband pointed at an old dark gray and green backpack.

“Both of its pouches are broken.” I answered.

“Is that all?” hubby laughed.

“The side pouches are for snacks and water! Very important.” me, examining the gray and green backpack.

“Maybe you are too old for snacks now.” I thought out loud.

“NO!” both kids shouted back at my suggestion.

“You should use my old college backpack. It is huge. It is the best!!” hubby, as he run off to find his old treasure.

He came back with a very old blue backpack. An enormous old backpack. The kind that you can go overnight backpacking trips with.

The really old college backpack

“NO!” 12-year-old.

“Look! It can store all your things and more, and it has no rollers, so you should be able to easily squeeze it under your chair.” Hubby grew very excited for the prospect of putting his old college backpack back into commission.

“NO!” 12-year-old.

“But this is the best backpack ever! I love this backpack.” hubby shook both hands at it.

“NO!” 12-year-old.

“Why not? I bet you can’t even buy one like this anymore.” hubby began pleading like an used car salesman.

“It is too old.” I finally chimed in, “And too big!”

For now, we settled on the old gray and green backpack with the holed side pouches, and will go to a bag store over this weekend to find the backpack that is just right.

The backpack with holed side pouches

School started a week ago, and the backpack is the only matter that we had to fuss over. This school year is off to a great start.

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Category: Humor, Kids, Parents  One Comment

“So! What did they like the most about the U.S.?” My sister asked enthusiastically over the phone.

I had just returned home from our two week tour of the Western US, and after a long and restful sleep in my own bed, my mind was still groggy from the road trip.

I flipped through the scenes from the past two weeks in my head, and this image had topped the list.

Clear blue sky

“Our blue sky.” I answered her.

“What?!” my sister sounded as if she heard me wrong.

“Our big blue sky. Our fresh air too.” I replied firmly.

“What….Isn’t their sky blue too?” my sister sounded disappointed. Clearly, she felt deprived of a proper answer.

“No. The cities in China are badly polluted. Their skies are usually brown there.” me, remembering my trip to China two summers ago.

The Brown Sky of Xian

“Really? Brown sky?” my sister.

“Yes, their city skies are usually in shades of light brown. But they can sometimes see a faint blue in the sky, especially right after a rain storm.” I tried to make the images of China a little less dreadful to her.

Sure, our beautiful cities, gorgeous coastline, quaint Wine country, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, etc. easily impressed and won them over, but it was the things that I have taken for granted that made their trip an impressionable one for me.

“Jenny. How come I don’t hear any ZhiNiao here?” Benny, my cousin’s best friend asked me on their second day in America.

Ah.. the ZhiNiao….my mind traveled back to Hangzhou, China.

Westlake, HangZhou

We had just flown into Hangzhou from Taipei. That afternoon, we went for a walk around their famous West Lake. We heard this constant sound coming from the trees.

Having just arrived, we were easily fascinated by everything. The four of us took great trouble to isolate one of the sounds, and traced it onto a tree, and found the bug responsible for the noise. We pointed it out to the kids, filmed it, and snapped pictures of it.

A ZhiNiao looks like a giant fly. It is black, a little bigger than a thumb. It even has thin, see-through wings, like a fly. However, I formed an suspicion that it cannot fly. It seemed to just stay in one spot motionless, to fulfill its sole purpose in life, which is to scream loudly all together, all day, all summer long.

Our initial fascination with it very quickly faded, yielding to annoyance. By the following day, we felt a certain hatred toward the ZhiNiao.

“There are no ZhiNiao here.” I answered with relief.

“You don’t seem to have mosquitoes here either.” Benny.

“Right, we don’t have mosquitoes here.” me.

“Do you have cockroaches and mice in your house?” Benny.

“No. Not in my house.” me.

“I think your God, Jesus, must personally live here in America!” proclaimed Benny. “All the good things are here. All those bad things are with us in China!”

We had a good laugh.

I considered the 9-hour drive to Vegas, then the 8-hour drive from the Grand Canyon to Southern California, torturous. But my guests loved it.

“Why?” My sister had asked.

Fast Freeway

“Our roads are wide and straight. There was no traffic. They have never driven so fast before. Slower moving trucks always moved out of our way to let us pass. And our highways are free.” me. Taking a breath, I continued, “Even 5 or 6 hours into the middle of nowhere, our roads are still smooth and wide, with clear and constant highway signs to keep you from being lost, and to warn you to slow down for any upcoming curves.”

“Oh, and they loved the roadside scenery.” me.

“What roadside scenery?” my sister. We are all familiar with the boring dry hills that line the highway to inland destinations.

“Seriously. They thought the scenery on our road trips very beautiful.” me.

It was a few hours into our drive from the Bay Area to Las Vegas. Hubby was driving. The kids were in the back seats playing on their iPhone and iPod. I was trying not to doze off.

“It is so beautiful here!” our walkie talkie sounded off in Chinese. The minivan my cousin was driving was right behind us.

“This is beautiful?” My baby looked up from her iPod, sounding disbelieving, then went back to playing on it.

“What’s beautiful?” I asked over the walkie talkie.

“Just look how open the space is! And those enormous golden mountains in the distance. Very beautiful!” came the answer. So, they were not being sarcastic.

A couple of more hours of driving, we came upon more vast open valleys, and another set of imposing golden brown mountains looming large in the distance. At the edge of the valley, these golden mountains also took on a hue of purple and blue.

Majestic roadside landscape

“Can we pull over for a quick stop?” my cousin’s voice sounded off from the walkie talkie.

“Why? Something wrong?” I channeled over.

“The scenery here is too beautiful. We want to stop and take pictures.” walkie talkie.

“No! We are on the freeway! You can’t just stop here and take pictures.” me.

In the days that followed, they registered several complaints to me about missing those photo opportunities.

On day 8, we were driving under an all-powerful sun from the Grand Canyon to Huntington Beach, California. We made a potty stop at a random restroom. I was standing under a tree waiting for everyone to come out of the restrooms.

“Holy Cow! You have hot water running in the faucet too.” My cousin came out looking all amazed.

We were traveling somewhere in close proximity to the Death Valley. The temperature was well over 100 degrees. Hot water was hardly a treat there. It was a punishment.

Unimpressed. I just stared back at him.

“And this place is so deserted. How does the restroom stay clean, and WHO put all that toilet paper in there?!” cousin.

I chuckled. In China, people have to carry toilet paper packs with them everywhere.

On our grand Vegas casino tour day, we were licking gelato at The Venetian’s indoor St Mark’s Square, and watching other tourists on their Venetian canal boat rides.

“They do a pretty good job giving you that Venice feel here.” I said to Nancy, my cousin’s wife.

“Maybe even better than the real Venice…this St. Mark’s square is spotlessly clean, and has A/C. Plus the real canal water at the real Venice can be smelly.” I added half jokingly.

“Why do you guys still bother to travel overseas? You have everything here. And your country is so beautiful.” Nancy said to me in all seriousness.

Before this trip, I often thought that America has little to offer to its tourists. Being such a young country, US has little history, and no ancient sites to rival the likes of The Colosseum and the Great Wall of China.

After spending 2 weeks with my cousins and their friends, I got to see America for the first time through their eyes. I came to the realization that I thought wrong! America is a fascinating country for its visitors.

In the two weeks just in the West Coast alone, we went from the beautiful city of San Francisco, to the rocky coastal waters of the Monterey Bay, to the sun drenched valley of the Napa Wine Country, to the great casinos in Vegas, to the breath-taking Grand Canyon, and finally the world-class amusement theme parks of Southern California. Every day awarded a complete different experience to my guests. Each day was so distinctive that it made the previous days seem so distant and remote.

Lombard Street, San Francisco

Valley of Wine


Grand Canyon

The Simpsons 3D Ride

Giant Redwoods Forest

As far as travel goes, I have often trumpeted that every time we return home from foreign destinations, even if it’s a wonderful trip, I always find myself appreciating America a little bit more.

It is interesting to note, that after seeing America through the eyes of my foreign tourists, the experience deepened my appreciation for this great country once again.

Our Flag

God bless America.

Related previous post:
Two-Week-Long Tour of America with Cousins Visiting from China-Part I

Two-Week-Long Tour of America with Cousins Visiting from China-Part II

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A Forsaken Old Farmhouse

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Preparing the kids for China

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Day 5 & 6:

We spent the next two days in Vegas, and for its first-time visitors, a tour of Sin City’s powerhouse casinos is a must.

Caesars Palace

After a filling brunch at the Mirage, we spent the day on a walking tour of The Venetian, The Palazzo, Wynn, Encore. Then we crossed the street to Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Cosmopolitan, and Aria.

They played the part of typical Asian tourists well, snapping pictures everywhere they turned. Sometimes, as they aimed their cameras at one marvel, their heads and eyes were already turned to be amazed with another. Who can blame them?

The Venetian's indoor St Mark's Square

The grand entrances, the casinos, the shops, the indoor gardens and water features, the walkways, and even every insignificant corner exploded with grand imagination and outrageous excess.

Wynn's indoor garden

That evening, I took them to be further wowed by the award-winning original Las Vegas Cirque Du Soleil show of Mystere. It was truly a circus fit for the sun.

The following morning, we abused the Bellagio Buffet with a two hour marathon eating session. Then as a proper tour guide might do, I gave them the rest of the day free. My cousin and his friend went to try their luck at the casino tables, as their wives went shopping at the Outlet Mall. Hubby and I, plus the kids, spent a relaxing day at the pool.

Day 7:

Happy birthday to my baby! Yes, it was my baby’s 9th birthday. We woke her up in our hotel room with our cheerful happy birthday song, and honored our baby with sprinkled donuts. Breakfast in bed is our family birthday tradition.

Our baby's big 9th!

After checking out of the Mirage casino, we were on our way to the Grand Canyon. We were headed for the South Rim, which is about a five hour drive.

We took a short detour to the Hoover Dam. Even though it was built in the early 1930’s, it still stood almighty and strong.

Hoover Dam

We arrived at the Grand Canyon around 3PM. We checked into the Yavapai Lodge inside the park, and quickly headed to the rim of the canyon.

The Grand Canyon took our breath away.

The GRAND Canyon

There are no words in our vocabulary that can do it justice in describing its glory, and there are no pictures that can do it justice to show its depth and grandeur.

It is almost unfair to Las Vegas; all its man-made wonderland only pales in comparison to nature-made wonderland.

We did a few hours of light hiking around the rim trail, and even ventured into the depth of the canyon on the Bright Angel trail. We found a quiet spot and waited to see its famed sunset, and saw the colors of the rocks change into a bright deep red. Yes, a ton of pictures were snapped here in just a few hours’ time.

That evening, we celebrated my baby’s birthday with a dinner party at the El Tovar Hotel’s restaurant’s private dining room.

Baby's Birthday Cake at El Tovar Dining Room

After a delicious meal, we stepped out to the rim again and tried to see the canyon in the darkness, and was disappointed that it was just that: a gigantic hole of darkness. But when we turned our heads toward the sky, a gazillion shining stars in the sky took our breath away once again.

What a grand place to celebrate a birthday!

Day 8:

Road trip from Grand Canyon to LA

We drove eight grueling hours to Huntington Beach, southern California.

Day 9:

The happiest place on earth

Disneyland! Yes, it truly is the best amusement park in the world. Even after a tiresome 8 hour drive the day before, we stayed until 10PM before heading back home.

Day 10:

We visited Universal Studios, and saw shows and enjoyed many rides.

Water rides!

Their new Transformer 3D ride is just amazing! Wow!!

Day 11:

We had a beach day on Huntington Beach. Their wives went shopping again at the nearby Fashion Island Mall. The rest of us spent the day swimming, boogie boarding, digging a giant hole and building a canal in the sand, and just relaxing.

Day 12:

We went to San Diego’s Sea World and saw Shamu.

Shamu Rocks!

Day 13:

They spent the entire day shopping at the Camarillo California Premium Outlet Shopping Mall, then onto Los Angeles International airport for their midnight flight home.

The four of us spent the day driving the 7 hours home, and got to sleep in our own comfortable beds to recuperate from their 2 week American whirlwind tour.

Related Post: Two-Week-Long Tour of America with Cousins Visiting from China – Part I
America, the Beautiful
The Big 8

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