Team Lai

Friday, February 25, 2011

My PAT Posse

Look at that PAT bus in this photo. Look at how clean it looks. Look at the people boarding the bus in a neat, orderly, speedy fashion (they're so fast they're blurry). Those people look like they would probably smell pretty good. Even up close. They look pretty happy, too. That bus must have pulled up to that stop right at its scheduled time. And, now that I'm looking more closely at the photo, I notice that there's no sleet, rain, snow, or hail pummeling the nice folks at the stop, either. This is obviously Not. My. Bus.
Now, let me state right here for the record, that I LOVE public transportation. In my dream world, there would be no private vehicles. Well, presidents would have them - can't imagine Obama on my bus - but normal, everyday folks like you and me would not only not have a car, we would not even have the slightest need or desire for one. The public transportation system would be so fast, efficient, convenient, and cost-effective, people would laugh at the thought of owning their own vehicle. "Hahaha! What do you mean, 'my own car'? Why on earth would I want the hassle of owning and upkeep on my own vehicle when I can take the bus, train, light rail, or metro so conveniently?"
So why do I put up with public transportation in its current state? Three reasons: 1) Cheapness 2) Laziness and 3) The Empowering Feeling of Moral Self-Righteousness. According to my calculations, it would cost me over $1,000 per year to drive my own car. (and this was even before gas rose to its current $3.59.9/gallon). Even imagining some future scenario in which $1,000 is "not a big deal" to me, I'm still so super cheap that I would suffer the bus for that thousand bucks. Let's imagine me smashed into an amazingly over-crowded bus nose-to-armpit with one of my fellow travelers - my mantra? onethousanddollarsonethousanddollars onethousanddollars and I'm cheap enough that it pulls me through. Now, the laziness is just me being too lazy to drive my own car. Why drive when I can sit like a chauffeur-driven princess, reading my novel or gazing at the scenery? And finally, I do love the moral self-righteousness that using public transportation provides me. I don't feel as lofty as I did when I was a bicycle commuter but this is almost as good. I look for any opportunity to slip my affinity for public transportation into a conversation. A co-worker asks, "So, which lot do you park in?" and that is always a good segue. "Oh, hahaha [little self-deprecating laugh here] I don't drive to work. [pause for dramatic effect] I take the bus." And I can just see the other person thinking, "Huh, she must be a lot tougher than she looks."
The best and worst part of the bus is, of course, the people. This includes the driver (my regular driver who I adore since she always greets me like an old friend, "How you doin' today sweetie?") as well as the other passengers. There are the run of the mill irritating people - the ones who listen to their music too loud, the ones who talk on their cell phones too loud, the ones who take up two seats, the ones who argue with the driver, the ones who smell like dog/cigarettes/fried food/BO - and then there are the crazy people. There's only one recurrent crazy lady on my bus and I know that I should feel pity for her. I do feel pity for a lot of the elderly passengers on the bus. But the crazy lady just absolutely overwhelms me with the scope and breadth of her craziness.
The thing is, there are just too many well-meaning folks who somehow just by looking at her don't realize the extent of the craziness and they actually respond to her attempts to engage them in conversation. As soon as some poor sap responds to her query, "And what did you have for breakfast? Did you have breakfast today?" next thing you know she's taking the whole bus on an edge-of-your-seat ride into Crazytown. We've barely passed three stops and she's off on, "Do you know how to not get pregnant? Do you know what you should do to not get pregnant?" (Nevermind she's 75 if she's a day) To which some fool will actually respond, "No, how's that?" "Well the thing is, you have to stop masturbating. That's the thing. No masturbating. [pause] It's a pity." All delivered in sing-song crazy talk that nothing can block out. Her other favorite topics are: defecating in a can, how she got her boyfriend, and why she missed her period (too much masturbation?)
But then there are other folks on the bus that I really enjoy and their mere presence on the bus reassures me that all is right with the world. Russian University of Pittsburgh professor who uses his little laptop the whole way into town, great big friendly guy with the mustache, giagantic woman who stands in the aisle wearing giant headphones and knitting, blind guy with the walker, coffee-sports page-sunglasses guy, and my new best bus friend, Joe. Yes, we've formally introduced ourselves to each other. We've taken our bus friendship "to the next level" as they say. I see Joe every Wednesday when he takes the bus into town to the University of Pittsburgh to take a class. He sat down next to me one day as I was reading "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" and said, "I didn't like that one as much. I couldn't get into it," and thus began our bus frienship. I look forward to our book chats every week and, in fact, it was Joe who introduced me to the library book club that I joined last month.
Oh, there are days when I'm freezing and the bus just doesn't come or the days that I miss the bus by a matter of meters and I'm left at the curb with tears of frustration stinging the backs of my eyeballs or the days I grit my teeth as the crazy lady just goes on and on. There are those days. But then I think about how I'm saving my wallet and saving the world and I go back to squinting at the horizon waiting for my bus and it's all worth it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Black and Gold, Baby!

So, a funny thing happened when we moved from Taiwan to Pittsburgh: We became Steelers fans. Well, actually not "funny" - particularly not to my hometown Browns fans - maybe "unexpected" is a better word. But, just to try to set the record straight a bit, I was never a Browns fan so, while I did live in Cleveland during my formative years, I'm not as traitorous as I'm made out to be in some of the FB posts of my highschool classmates.

We moved here right at the beginning of the 2009-2010 football season and at first, I was only dimly aware that games were being played and won and lost because I had many, many other things on my mind at that time. Things like learning the ropes at a new job, getting kids registered in school, finding my way around unfamiliar streets, making friends, crying, yes, I remember I cried a fair bit during those first few months in PGH. "More important than Steelers Football?!?" you ask incredulously. And all I can say in my defense is that I was not yet, at that time, enlightened to the joys of Steeler Football.

Well, unenlightened and we hadn't bought our house yet, either. It turns out that if you want to purchase a residential property within 100 square km of the city of Pittsburgh, you need to first sign a Steelers Loyalty Agreement or they won't sell you a house. It's a law. But this was before I'd even heard about any of that.

Then, one Thursday afternoon in the fall of 2009, Jay comes home from school and he's extremely excited. He's the child after all, that when the teacher says, "Now, don't forget children, tomorrow for art class you must bring to school one magenta crayon, a glue stick, some glitter, a letter-sized envelope, and a lock of your mother's hair." The first thing Jay does when he gets home is assemble the necessary items - sometimes neatly tucking them into a ziplock bag - and carefully place them into his backpack so that he won't forget them in the morning. That's Jay.

So he's just about bouncing off the walls when he gets home that day and he keeps repeating, "Black and Gold tomorrow Mommy! Teacher says tomorrow's Black and Gold!" No amount of interrogation on my part can get any details. "I dunno. Teacher just said, 'Black and Gold.'" It wasn't until the next morning when I walked Jay to school and saw the swarming sea of Steelers-clad children, teachers, lunch ladies, bus drivers - hell, even the principal out on the playground. And then there were the "Steeler Nation" banners and Terrible Towels hanging from every window of the school. I look at Jay, "Oh, I get it. Black and Gold."

This year, the brain-washing seems to be even more institutionalized. Jay's wandering around aimlessly singing a tune as he often does and I just happen to catch the refrain, "Here we go! Here we go! The Steelers are going to the Superbowl!!" He has such a lovely breathy little-boy voice that I love to hear him sing. I wasn't aware that he knew the Steelers song however, so I asked him where he'd learned the song. "Oh, they play it again and again and again every day at lunch."

The next day, Rudy starts the dinner conversation with, "So they were playing this Polamalu footage on the TVs at lunch today..." What?!? TVs in the lunch room - that's the first shock - and not only that but the TVs play a continuous reel of Steelers highlights footage?!? Really?!? This is what my tax dollars are funding?

So anyway, there's really not any way to avoid being a Steelers fan here. And, again in my own defense, I do have some solid, concrete reasons to be a Steelers fan:

1. Hines Ward

2. The Bitchin' Black and Gold color scheme

3. No cheerleaders

4. No human mascot

5. No animal mascot

6. Great fans

7. Fantastic sense of community

Oh, and look, there just happen to be 7 things on my list which, as it turns out, just happens to be one more than the number of Superbowls that the Steelers have won. My whole team had their hopes up sky-high when we 'burghed up in our Steelers gear last night and headed over to my friend Allison's house to watch the game.

First off, Jay hadn't been feeling well all day so his status for game day had been questionable from the moment he'd woken up barfing Sunday morning. Nevertheless, I got the mini-egg rolls (our "culturally appropriate" snack for the party) set up on a platter, grabbed the Giant Eagle giant Steelers chocolate-chip cookie and a bag of chips and we hustled ourselves off to Allison's house.

No sooner had we walked in the front door of Allison's home, when the smallest member of my team tugs urgently on the sleeve of my Hines Ward #86 jersey and hisses, "Bathroom! Mom! Bathroom!" I hurry him upstairs where he promptly vomits copiously into Allison's toilet. Very neatly, I add with more than a touch of pride. I have trained him well. Anyway, now's clutch time. After he's all barfed-out and ready to rejoin the festivities, I pull my injured player aside for a serious talking-to, "Look Jay, do you want to leave? Do you want to leave now? It's totally okay if you want to go but look, if you want to go, we leave now. Right now. Because I love you. You know Mommy loves you, right?" Feeble nod. I continue. "But, here's the deal, buddy. Mommy's not leaving after kick-off. Seriously. Go now or stay until the bitter end. Even if, God forbid, there's overtime. So, are you in or out?" He's in. We rejoin the party and he starts wolfing down chips and salsa. I'm dubious about the wisdom of this and so offer up to him a bit of motherly advice tinged with many bad college experiences. "Chew it up very carefully. Just in case you see it again. Know what I mean?" Another nod.

So, the best part for Jay (other than getting to play with and pat a real, live dog) was that a Superbowl Miracle occurred last night. After another fairly large-scale gastro-intestinal event, he continued to chow down on chips and salsa, chicken tenders, chex mix, and cookies all washed down with a couple of glasses of rootbeer. And he was fine. Completely cured. Go figure.

So, in the end, the Steelers didn't win. But we got to spend a thrills-chills-and-spills (luckily not on Allison's carpet) evening with our fantastic new Pittsburgh friends cheering on our team. And, as they say, there's always next year!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Happy New Year 兔 You!

So, I was strolling along in cyberspace the other day and what did I trip upon but my old blog! Apparently, once you put it out there, it will just exist forever on the internet no matter how long you ignore it! Well, I started reading a few old posts and I actually found myself LOLing. Not a smile-to-myself or an inside-my-own-brain chuckle, but honest-to-goodness LOL amusement. All these crazy things from my Life in Taiwan remembered. Oh my gosh! I forgot how Jay used to say "buttass!" all the time!

It made me wish whole-heartedly that I had kept this up over the past few years. (As many friends did suggest at the time...) I wish that I had my observations and musing from the last 5 years. It's all a blur to me now and it would be nice to have recollections of my experiences and feelings at the time.

The thing is, we're not in Taiwan anymore. We left Taiwan in June of 2009 and we've ended up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Jason applied for his green card, we packed up, sold, or gave away all our stuff - including our beloved Mitsubishi Spacegear - and hopped on a plane with the maximum luggage allowance allowed.

We arrived in Cleveland and I had only one thought in my mind, "GET A JOB!" We arrived in the US on June 29th and I gave myself an ultimatum: get a full-time job in my field -with benefits - and start by the last day of August. My memories of that summer are: sending out resumes, doing phone interviews, doing campus interviews and lying on the bed in the guest room clutching at my abdomen and whimpering in fear of the unknown. Long story short: I got a position at a university in Pittsburgh and I started on August 26th. A full 5 days before my own deadline.

After the job was taken care of, next we needed a house. Jason's full-time job became finding us a house. Which he did. Jason found, negotiated, and sealed the deal on our lovely four-bedroom home. (lots more whimpering in fear on my part) I'm not all that enamored with home-ownership but I do like not having to shout, "Be quiet! The downstairs neighbors can hear you! Stop running!" I still yell, don't get me wrong, but that's one less thing to yell about.

Once the house was taken care of, Jason set out to find a job for himself. He found a job right away (after a grueling 2-week search) as a bilingual IT support customer service representative at a big company downtown. The only drawback is that he works nights. Although there are many benefits to working nights, too (somebody home when the kids get home etc.)

The kids enrolled in school and love the leisurely, homework-free atmosphere of the US schools. "And the girls have really big boobs, too!" Indeed. This is what we moved here for.

So, on this first, auspicious day of the Year of the Rabbit, I will attempt to resurrect this poor, neglected blog and start recording all of the craziness of our life here in our new hometown.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back in the Bubble

Well, here we are back safely enveloped in the big boring bubble which surrounds the land of my birth. Don't get me wrong - there are things that I LOVE about life in the bubble. It is very safe for one thing. So safe that Nothing Ever Happens. Which, again, is good - for example, I haven't been nearly run over by a motor vehicle since we touched down in L.A. I haven't had to outwit a pack of feral dogs, either. No unmarked manholes without their covers, come to think of it...No, the only things that seem to happen here are routine, pleasant, and enjoyable.

It is also very clean - no dingy haze clouding the horizon, no blowing black gunk out of my nose before bed. There's also very few mounds of dog poo on the sidewalk, I've noticed. Many more dogs, but all of them leashed and being followed by a pooper scooper weilding human. Limited amounts of trash strewn about although Jason and I both made the comment that there seems to be more than in the past...don't know what's up with that.

It is so very, very quiet here, as well. At night there are no car alarms, racing motor cycles, no cats-in-heat screaming bloody murder, no constant whine of cicada's wings....just birds chirping, breeze in the trees, and silence so unaccustomed that it rings in my ears and I make a dive for the TV remote just to relieve the silence.

Finally, the weather has been brilliant, as well. Cool and breezy. We're actually cold and huddled under comforters at night. The last few days before we left Taiwan were the kind where you can actually feel the little bubbles starting to form in your blood as it rises to the surface just under your skin and begins to boil. I don't sweat as much after an hour of Jazzercize (oh yes, what would a summer be without Jazzercize?) as I do just sitting in front of the computer at home.

The best part, however, has been just taking a break from school - well, not a total break - I was writing questions for a homework assignment last night as a matter of fact - but not the every day craziness of the last semester. So far, our trip has been just what the doctor ordered. I'm so happy to see everybody here. It seems impossible that for the majority of the year we are on the other side of the world. Very poor planning on my part, it seems.

In another few weeks the bubble will start to become a bit stifling but until then, I'm lovin' the bubble.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Graduation Day

I've been practicing the following imaginary conversation in my mind (sometimes out loud when nobody else is around) and I can almost carry on the conversation in real life without stuttering, stammering, or breaking down completely.
Rudy with Mom, Dad, & teacher Mr. Wang
Person: So, do you have any kids?

Me: Yes, we have three boys.

Person: That's nice. How old are they?

Me: (deep, steadying breath) Well, our eldest is going into....junior high school.

Person: Really? Wow! You certainly don't look old enough to have a child entering junior high.

(Ok, actually nobody ever says that last line but in the fantasty conversation that's what would logically follow.)

Yes, Rudy has graduated from elementary school and will begin junior high in the fall. The actual graduation ceremony was yet another bizarre cultural experience for me. I don't remember much about any of the past graduation ceremonies I have witnessed or participated in but I am almost positive that there was absolutely NO kow-towing involved. Rudy's ceremony kicked off with a kow-tow to the Father of the Republic of Taiwan and was followed later in the program by kow-tows to the teachers and kow-tows to the parents. (Okay, I admit it, I secretly liked the kow-tow to the parents part.)

While most of the girls were weepy and nostalgic, Rudy was fairly stoic throughout the entire program. When I asked him about it afterward, he just shrugged, "I'm not happy or sad, Mom. I'm just glad it's over." Spoken just like his dad.

We went out to Rudy's favorite restaurant, Tasty, and found that there were a few new items on the menu. My favorite new addition was: Mixed Greens Consomme with Shark's Lips. Jason says this is not an entirely accurate translation for what this dish actually is, but it sounds very interesting, doesn't it. Jason's mom came with us and it was a very nice way to celebrate Rudy's graduation.

Rudy will attend ZhiShan junior high school in the fall. It is right across the street from our apartment. In fact, if we could somehow install a zip-line from our balcony, Rudy could make it to school in under 10 seconds. I can't really believe that he is going to be joining the ranks of the gangly, squeaky-voiced, hair-sprouting, pimple-covered, quasi-humans that I see every day on my way back from picking up Jay from preschool. And God forbid he becomes one of the arm-thrown-casually-around-a-girl-smooching-on-the-way-home boys. Or possibly worse, cigarette-dangling-from-the-corner-of-the-mouth-racing-motorscooter-around-the-block boy.

I knew it was coming, but somehow receiving Rudy's junior high notification letter in the mail was a huge shock. My hands were shaking as I opened it and, for the first time ever, I wished that I couldn't read Chinese. Jason, thankfully went off and took care of the actual registration details. Theoretically, Rudy is supposed to be going to school for the entire month of August. But, since we're here he's exempt. Sometimes, I just secretly wish I could exempt him from the whole growing up thing.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Big Boy

This is all such ancient history by now I hardly remember the engagement (I was in a cold-medicine induced haze, anyway) or subsequent wedding. It's been so long that Judy is actually the size of a house, ready to pop with her first baby already. Yes, I'm finally going to be an auntie - not a Gugu (father's sister) which I would really like, but a Jiuma (mother's brother's wife). Which is all okay because Judy is expecting a girl. I'll finally have an outlet for all of the Hello Kitty things I've been wanting to buy all these years.

I've been going through old baby clothes deciding which things I can bear to part with and then passing them along. Every time Jay catches me I get a good scolding. Nevermind he can't fit even one big boy arm in whatever little article of clothing it is - he yells, "I don't want to give Gugu's baby!" and then he insists on trying to put the clothes on himself.

Jay is actually now a 4 year old school boy. It was on his birthday that we started sending him to school (I know, what kind of mom does that?). He goes to the Season Arts Educational Institute. Sound hoity-toity? It most certainly is! Notice the little plaid uniform?

Since the first day was his birthday, we'd baked cookies the night before to send with him on his big day. I went early to pick him up in the afternoon and was peering in at him from the hallway when he sensed my presence. Apparantly, they'd just passed out the cookies and, seeing them brought about a huge wave of missing me and his eyes were still red and puffy from crying. He immediately noticed me and came screaming out of the classroom as if he'd been shot out of a cannon.
His teacher came out and chatted with me as I blinked back tears myself. She showed me pictures on the digital camera that seemed to show a happy and energetic Jay running around all day having a good time. I was reassured but it was still hard to have my baby off at school.
Now he looks forward to school and scolds Jason if he's not fast enough in the morning. "Hurry Dad! They'll have put the breakfast away by the time we get there!" It's too early to tell, but I might have finally given birth to a boy who likes school. He sings the songs he learns and tells me all about the things they do at school. He's even getting the hang of ABC's. Makes me feel like I'm getting my money's worth.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Limited Engagement (The Prequel)

This post will not be neither schmaltzy nor pus-filled - although I'm certainly not ruling out any other bodily fluids - consider yourselves warned. This one is going to be an exploration of cultural differences. After all these years and many unbelievable experiences - someday I'll write about giving birth in Chinese, now that is a tragically amusing story - this was my first time to attend an engagement party in Taiwan. Since they are traditionally held by the bride's family, I naturally did not have one (apparantly you get off the hook if you are more than 10 time zones away when your daughter is preparing to get married.)

Anyway, Jason's sister is getting married. After having my father-in-law raise his glass to her and mutter, "Here's to you sitting at your in-law's table next Chinese New Year!" every year for as far back as I can remember, she is finally going to tie the knot. She is, after all, thirty-two years old and for a Taiwanese woman that's a big Jeez-it's-about-time!

Seeing as I am a National Chinese Speech Contest Champion (she writes modestly) I was selected to give the speech at the engagement banquet. What better to way to make your banquet special than to have entertainment by a large-nosed, hairless ape that [gasp] speaks Chinese. That would bring the house down. I had prepared my heart-felt sentiments with just a dash of humor sure to please the crowd when the death flu struck.

I had a touch of it at the beginning of January (hence no posts). It was a weird thing where my entire body hurt. I walked around hunching in my clothes because the mere sensation of my clothing touching my skin physically caused me pain. For three days, my co-workers continually asked me, "Why are you all hunchy?" My teeth hurt, my hair hurt, my fingernails hurt - it was pretty miserable. But, after a few days I felt I was on the mend. I was, in fact, the last member of Team Lai to come down with this bizarre flu. It started with Jason on Christmas Eve - he almost ruined our Christmas dinner. We were at our favorite steakhouse and I had to shush him several times, "Honey, do you mind not moaning so loud? I'm trying to enjoy my creme broule." It worked its way through the boys and then, while it was at its most powerful, set to work on me.

I had probably destroyed all but a half dozen of the most diligent and powerful germs when I made my fatal mistake. I stayed up until 2 am grading papers and exams for three nights straight. That's all it took. Those few renegade germs staged a coup and took over my poor body in its weakend state. Fever, aches, chills, and phlegm. Mountains, piles, mounds, gobs of phlegm. So much so that I ended up in the emergency room at 3:00am on a Friday night inhaling vaporized medicine through a hookah pipe while fever reducer dripped through an IV into my veins. And so it was that when we got back from the ER at 5:30 am we had exactly two hours before we had to head up to Taipei for the Engagement Party.

I am convinced that this is retribution for my bitchiness while preparing my speech for the blessed event. "No, seriously Jason. You name one nice thing I can say about your sister in front of those people. One thing. I'm waiting. See? You can't think of anything either and she's your sister!! Honestly, I can't lie in front of all those people!" Seriously bitchy. But I got mine. What they say about payback and all.

As for the Twilight Zone experience that was the actual party. Well, you'll have to wait until the next installment.