Friday, October 28, 2005

Maylin's third birthday party! (no photos yet)

Yesterday was Maylin's third birthday and I think she had a great day! In the morning, Daddy blew up the balloons and I decorated our main living space with them. Maylin said, "attention!" ("be careful" in French) when I was balancing on the back of the sofa, sticking balloons up near the ceiling. Later, Maylin helped me make the frosting for her yet-to-be-made cupcakes. She dumped in the sugar and helped me with the mixer. I cleaned the house, and baked and decorated the chocolate cupcakes up to a half-hour before the party. The last half hour was reserved for planning out the activities. Our unutilized, boarded-up fireplace became "Puppet Place" for anyone interested in playing with one or more of Maylin's many puppets. This later went relatively untouched. "Playdoh Corner" was popular with two guests. One boy was there by himself for half of the party. "Jumping Pixieland" was where you could play a game that allowed you to catapult pixies (cute little wooden ball heads with solid-colored pointed hats) into their corresponding colored holes in the box. Maylin bonded again with one of her friends there with the pixies.

Maylin's five male guests joyfully arrived with their Mommies, and one specially-invited "Auntie." There was the possibility of four more boys arriving, but they were all on vacation. Why all the boys? I don't know any girls and Maylin hasn't gotten close to any girls at school yet. Ever since I was a little girl, I thought boys were more fun anyways.

No one wanted their face-painted, despite the beautiful job I had done on my own, with Maylin's direction -- a red heart on one cheek, a blue balloon on the other, and a butterfly on my forehead. Most of the guests gravitated to Maylin's room to play with her toys. Initially I was worried that we wouldn't have toys that would interest all the boys, but they did find our huge train set, several balls, the Toy Story 2 character, Buzz Lightyear (or as Maylin calls him, "Bug's Lifeyear," as a tribute to another Disney-Pixar film), and a funny-shaped kitchen timer that we inadvertently lifted from IKEA recently. Maylin didn't do any real playing, just held her balloon and followed everyone around the apartment quite contentedly. And the boys were quite well-behaved -- some a bit energetic, but that's normal. I really liked how they created a parade with a ball or balloon in each child's hand.

Cake time! Someone brought a candle-sparkler which we lit first -- everyone oohed and ahh-ed. Then, Maylin's birthday candles as we sang "Happy Birthday" (in English). Maylin tried unsuccessfully to blow her candles out (bad angle) so Mommy had to finish the job. We also lit a crazy flower candle from Taiwan that was given to us from one of my uncles there. You heat the center to set off the sparkles, and then the red plastic flower blossom opens up to reveal little lit candles on each petal. The flower turns while playing an electronic "Happy Birthday" over and over again until people start feeling sick. The kids loved that.

I had decided earlier that the kids would eat their cake on the floor on top of our new Nemo party tablecloth. They ate their cupcakes and gummy candies on Winnie-the-Pooh plates and napkins, and drank apple juice from Pooh cups. How happy could you be?

Presents! The boys helped Maylin open them with much gusto. She got two different toy ponies with accessories, two big puzzles, and two books. Maylin went after the ponies right away -- so did the boys. It's funny how much she likes horses -- maybe because she's born in the year of the Horse?

After the kids left, after dinner with Mommy and Daddy, Maylin got her final presents from her parents -- books, computer games, a CD, a Barbapapa backpack, and a plush ScoobyDo. I think maybe I overdid it with the presents, which I had collected over several months. I won't allow myself to buy her least not until Christmas.

Spam comments -- begone!

Hello, Everyone! As you've probably noticed, I've been receiving crazy spam from people trying to sell electronic wheelchairs to others who want to share white chocolate fondue recipes. They need to do a little marketing research to figure out to whom they should target their comments. I am going to heed my brother's advice and block all comments from now on. Sorry, friends and loyal readers. I will get a new blog address which I hope will stay pure from spam comments but will allow you to leave comments at the same time. Keep tuning in for blog updates!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Taiwan trip highlights (draft + photos)

Photos are here!

Taipei 101

The tallest building in the world since 2004 at 508 meters. Fastest elevators, too! Great to be able to see all of Taipei and its surrounding lush green mountains. Saw two bridges named the MacArthur Bridge and the Second MacArthur Bridge in English -- in Chinese, the White Bridge and the Green Bridge. Not too creative. Taipei 101 houses a large shopping center that gets more expensive as you ascend the escalators. More affordable stores on level 1, name brands on level 2, and couture on level 3!

Transportation notes

Crossing busy intersections is safer with the new walk signals (countdown and little animated running man who runs faster as it nears zero!)
Seatbelts required in front, but still not in back
Children's car seats not required
Most cars are taxis
Mopeds and scooters everywhere, making the streets dangerous for everyone; child passengers on mopeds look especially dangerous


Night markets
Pet store
Mall obsession
Betelnut vendors

Window on China

When I was in Taiwan the summer of 1996, this was simply a little place of little wonders -- miniatures of monuments and notable buildings in Taiwan, China, and a few highlights from the rest of Asia. I had nice memories of this place and thought it would be nice for the whole family to go. I was surprised to find that Window on China had greatly expanded, but I think, to its detriment. It turned into an amusement park. And with the summer over, the park was desolate, with much of it under repair, including its large wooden roller coaster. The rides area was very spooky with no one around (we also happened to arrive near closing time), but at least the miniatures were still marvelous and entertaining. I especially liked all the moving exhibits -- the airplanes at Chang Kai Shek International, the loading docks with the moving cranes,...

Xinzhu trip

Hualien trip

Eating with relatives

Taiwanese hospitality

Last day

I am my daughter's imaginary friend

Maylin is addicted to the movie Ice Age at the moment. She seems to think that the character, Manfred the Mammoth, is real. She has renamed him "Big Elephant." Yesterday morning, she wanted Big Elephant to come over and play. I tried to explain that he was just a character in a movie, but she was in denial. She started throwing a fit, so I said I would call him to see if he was available and, of course, tell her he wasn't. I called Big Elephant and he said he didn't feel well but would drop by after Maylin went to bed. She wasn't too happy about that, but her fits ended. Later, she had this crazy idea that I could play the role of Big Elephant. I spent a whole afternoon as Big Elephant, speaking in a low, more masculine voice and carrying a trunk which was actually my arm extending out from my nose. She was very loving towards Big Elephant, with lots of hugs, and built train tracks and castles with him. Very early this morning, half-asleep, Maylin cried for Big Elephant. He came a snuggled her in bed with his trunk. She calmed down. I'm not sure who she loves more -- Big Elephant or Mommy?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

You have a big problem...

Yesterday, someone buzzed my apartment from the foyer downstairs. They wanted to get into the apartment. Something about a big water problem in my kitchen. I was a little wary since I didn't think I had a big water problem and because one of my female neighbors said there was a man trying to get into her apartment repeatedly by asking her to take a survey. After much questioning and verifying that they were in fact from the apartment rental agency, I buzzed the men in. It turns out I did have a big problem, but I just couldn't see it. Under the sink, hidden behind my collection of plastic bags to be reused was a horribly corroded pipe fitting linked to my dishwasher. This must have lasted for many months without my knowledge because they had me look into the courtyard at the area below my kitchen window. Major water damage. Fortunately, our insurance will cover it. I probably wouldn't have discovered this for much longer if the cafe below us didn't ask for an investigation into their resulting problems. I feel so bad for them. I need to go apologize for my ignorance today.

Update: The cafe didn't suffer any damage. I realize that our kitchen is above the building's trash room, so no big deal.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bread dough, jogging, and rabbit a la mustard

It's 6:21 am and there's a strange noise outside my window. I look out and I see a strangely-shaped, very clean white truck labeled "Campaillette" on the front with the familiar bakery logo. The Campaillette is the name of my favorite baguette in the bakery downstairs. If I didn't see the logo, I would've thought it was an odd gasoline truck.I see a man in a dark navy one-piece uniform take large bags of flour into the bakery's back door which seems normal enough. But the truck has large tubes coming out of its huge, nearly cylindrical container, with one of them running into the bakery. I have no idea what could be coming out of those tubes! Is it some secret yeast mixture that makes the bread taste good? Is it milk? Is it gas to run the ovens? It seems creepy to me. Surely, a little bakery shouldn't need hundreds of gallons of something liquidy out of a big truck like that. Gosh, it might be the actual bread dough itself. I never did see the mixers in the bakery. Ovens, yes -- mixers, no. The bakers do have a hidden room that might contain mixers, but very likely, large vats of pre-made dough. Hmm...if I'm right about this, I might not want the bread from downstairs again.

Yesterday, I did something that's miraculous for me. I ran around our arrondissement for half an hour. I cannot remember the last time I ran. Maybe it was a few months after Maylin was born. But I never made a habit out of it. I might have jogged once and said, "This hurts. This isn't for me." But now that I'm having trouble squeezing into my jeans again, I'm determined to develop some regular exercise routine. Running doesn't require much equipment (just shoes, really), can be done at any hour of the day, and burns a lot of calories in a short amount of time. In the past, my left foot would be in pain after a jogging session because it was always land hard and flat on the ground (my arches are nearly nonexistent). But yesterday, my feet felt pretty good! And I surprised myself with my endurance. In the past, I've gotten out of breath quickly after some running, but my lungs felt pretty good this time. None of the asthma I had before. At 9 am, I ran to Parc Monceau (I heard about the cute firemen who run there at that time, but sadly, I wasn't impressed) but lost my motivation when I joined the joggers there. I just can't run in a loop. I need a destination. I did half of the park's perimeter and ran back home. Running home was easy. But when I got home, I had to put my head between my legs to prevent myself from passing out. I'm definitely not used to exercising this rigorously. But I think I'll try it again. Maybe today if my legs aren't too sore.

I went to pick up Maylin at school to bring her home for lunch yesterday, a Tuesday, but discovered that her teacher accidentally sent her to the cafeteria. Maylin only goes Mondays and Fridays. We went to retrieve her. I had no idea the cafeteria was almost right across from her classroom. I took a peek and saw about five low, round tables with about 12 preschoolers at each one quietly eating their kid-sized portions of some beautiful emerald-green steamed leafy vegetables (maybe a cabbage?). It was cute and amazing! About 60 little kids. Eating quietly. Eating vegetables! Unbelievable. There was only one adult in the room, too, who served the food by going around to each table with her food cart and spooning food onto everyone's plate. I actually felt bad having to take Maylin home. She would've probably eaten a gourmet meal if I didn't come to get her.

The previous day she did eat at school. I asked her what she had had and she said, "mac and cheese," which I thought was highly unlikely in France. I eventually discovered the menu for the week and found that they were actually served some tomato dish as an appetizer and were given "lapin a la moutarde" (rabbit with mustard) as a main course. There were three other courses after that! They train their kids to eat well here in France. It probably keeps their restaurants and their culinary culture alive. I should've signed Maylin up for a whole week of this fabulous food!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Your flight has been delayed for 10 hours

Typhoon season in Taipei is supposed to be over by October, but we were lucky enough to have our flight coincide with the last typhoon which hit the East coast of Taiwan. Unfortunately, we did not check to see if our flight would be in on time, so we found out about the 10-hour flight delay when we got to the airport. We briefly considered going all the way back to our apartment to chill out, but we let Charles de Gaulle International Airport put us up in a nearby airport hotel for our wait.

We got meal vouchers for our lunch, but couldn't locate the "real" restaurant at the hotel. We ended up eating in the surreal restaurant, which I call the "TV dinner restaurant." It was the most bizarre thing I had ever seen. Along one wall of the restaurant were refrigerated display cases of refrigerated TV dinners (in the U.S. they're normally frozen), desserts, salads, and drinks. At another end of the restaurant were the cash desks with about eight microwaves behind them to heat up your food. First, you take a plastic shopping basket in your hand, load it up with your desired items (we even found some red wine), take it to the cashier to pay, then go to a table to wait for your heated main dish, now out of it's cardboard and plastic container and onto a nice ceramic plate.

We were given only two meal vouchers and I thought we'd be able to get away with an extra basket of food for Maylin, since we did pay for three flights. A guy came around and checked everyone's baskets, and according to him, we had too much food for two vouchers. We explained the situation, but he said we'd still have to pay for the extra food. I was pretty pissed off and was going to ask for the manager, but John said it wasn't worth the headache. We got up to the cashier, who I think was the manager. She let the extra food go and we didn't have to pay a penny. Each voucher was worth 19 euros. This food was not worth that much. Come on -- a TV dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes, an inedible pasta salad, a little thing of rice pudding, and an iced tea comes out to 19 euros?! Give me a break. The hotel made quite a profit on us refugees.

Maylin did something really funny before lunch in our hotel room. John was taking a nap, but woke up when he heard Maylin pick up the room phone and say, "Hello. I want a pizza. Okay, bye." How hilarious is that? Our little girl ordering a pizza! She must have been hungry!

I also suspect that she scribbled some graffiti on John's butt while he was napping. She denied it, but I clearly saw zigzag lines in black pen ink on the backside of her father's underwear.

I was pretty exhausted by the time we got off the hotel shuttle at the airport around 6 pm. Try keeping a nearly 3 year-old occupied for about eight hours in a hotel with no pool, no kids' room...only a small TV that plays short Disney clips over and over again. I do always come prepared for long flights with fun things like PlayDoh, markers, coloring books, sticker books, and little toys. We went through it all.

Our flight wasn't until around 9 pm, but we were told to get to the airport at 6 pm. Some more waiting. We found a somewhat secluded area near our gate for Maylin to play in. She played with her dou-dou and we swung her around in the air numerous times. We went through security to get to our gate, and then I got hungry. But we only had one place to get food, now that we were past security. Great. I tried to buy a sandwich, but I wasn't allowed. I was asked which flight I was taking, and then was told to wait for the sandwiches -- they would be out later. But I could plainly see the sandwiches behind the glass. This was very strange to me. I was able to buy some chips, but that was it. I went back to my seat, but after another hour, I really needed some food. I sent John to get me a sandwich -- he was somehow able to buy two sandwiches and two drinks. While we're eating, we hear over the loudspeaker that there are free sandwiches and drinks for passengers of our flight. Geez -- now why wasn't I told that the sandwiches would be free? I know my French isn't that great, but I never heard the word "gratuit." There was a huge line for the food after that. John waited until the last minute to enter the line. He was able to get some wine and chocolate. Not bad.

Time to board. Finally.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Back from Taiwan

Hello, Everyone! All is well -- we went on a 2-week trip to Taiwan with my parents to see relatives. More later!