Arrived in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

After hearing about Mongolia for almost a year, today was the day, I got to see it first hand.
Here are some photos from our drive to the hotel.
These cows were eating along side the only road into town.

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Nice to see a blue sky

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Not sure what this store sells.

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Mark’s company is in a new building in town, right on the main street. I was so happy that Suladda, a co-worker from Bangkok is here, so we went for a coffee to chat about the differences from Thailand and China. (last two pictures)

A man in traditional clothes

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Another man

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Food Safety/Cooking Oil

In my blog about the “fake eggs” I showed a picture of a woman pulling some empty plastic jugs down the road. I had heard about people recycling cooking oil and selling it as new, and since it contains carcinogens and other toxins it can be harmful when consumed by people. They actually call it “gutter oil”,meaning people scraped it from the gutters to reuse it!!,
Today the China Daily newspaper stated that producers and sellers of “gutter oil”, could face the death penality. China is trying to crackdown on food safety, and make the country safer.
Police have busted 100 gutter oil manufactures since August and arrested 800 suspects in 135 cases in the campaign.
According to a law amendment enacted in May, criminals convicted of food safety crimes that cause death can be jailed for at least 10 years. Life sentences and the death penalty could also be handed down.
Two men were executed in November 2009 for adding melamine to milk products. It was the country’s most notorious food safey scandal, as 6 babies were killed after consuming the tainted formula.
Looks like China is trying to make all food safe to eat, with the strict policies they have put in place.
Let’s hope it works!

A new hobby

Yesterday was another learning experience for me, and perhaps a new hobby to keep me busy.

Elizabeth introduced me to a friend Elisa (a fellow Canadian), who has done needlework for over 30 years, and was willing to teach the two of us. She was happy to share patterns and supplies with us, for our small beginner projects.

Many years ago, I did some cross-stitch pictures, but the pattern was printed on the material. This new project will have me counting squares and adding some very pretty beads.

First we looked threw a couple binders to see which project interested us.

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Elizabeth and Elisa looking at patterns

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Just some of her thread

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And some of her beads

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I wanted an easy project to start on, ensuring I would finish it.

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A picture of my project

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The pattern

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The supplies

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Now, to get started

Fake eggs!

Last week I was fascinated by this story in the newspaper, about fake eggs. Almost 3,000 eggs were removed from a supermarket after a shopper complained that the ones he had bought were fake. If it turns out that the eggs were artificially made, the supermarket will be fined.

An inspector thought they might be fake because of their abnormally large size, and the flexibility of the boiled yolk which was like a rubber ball. The yolk was smaller than usual and it bounced on the floor three times. It was revealed that there are many ways to mix chemicals to make a bogus egg. AMAZING!          Some of the material is edible, but does not contain the nutrition of a real egg, but some of the chemicals are not edible. The eggs were discovered after a few children got sick after eating them.

An associate professor on nutrition wondered whether it was profitable to produce a fake egg, which is what I wondered, as it takes very refined techniques to create a rough surface with lots of tiny holes to make an eggshell.

I have heard of many fake things here in China, but this was the first about eggs.

This lady was dragging these plastic jugs down the back alley, to refill with???????

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There has also been many stories about people reusing oil, and trying to sell it as new!!!

My volunteer partner, Snipper

Yesterday I met my new volunteer partner, Snipper. He is a 23 year old horse, that is only found in China.

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I was able to watch Priscilla (bending over) the founder of HOPE, and Sara her horse handler, groom the two horses.

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HOPE  stands for Horses Offering People Enrichment

Horses Offering People Enrichment

HOPE is a therapeutic riding (TR) program that serves special needs children in Beijing, China. At HOPE the treatment involves a licensed physical therapist who conducts a therapy session with the child on a horse. The child, as the rider, responds to the movement of the horse.  The therapist pays attention to how the horse’s movement affects the patient and then directs changes in that movement pattern to help the patient work on functional goals.

Why do therapy with the horse?  The horse, at a walk, provides the rider with symmetrical movement at the pelvis that is similar to a typical human gait.  This experience can help improve the child’s ability to walk.  Further, when the horse walks, each hoof hits the ground at a different time, and with each step the rider must work to maintain his/her balance on the horse.  Together these movements promote the patient’s balance and coordination skills.  Finally, the horse’s walk is consistent, frequent and predictable, all of which are important when learning or refining a motor skill.

TR can be a powerful therapy tool. Often children have a special relationship with the horse that facilitates communication skills.  And, the horse’s  movement provides a rich sensory experience which can promote sensory integration processing.  Many children can benefit, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) as well as those with no specific physical disabilities, but with global developmental delays.

The information was taken from her webpage.

I met Priscilla a couple weeks ago, and after she mentioned she was looking for volunteers, I figured it was a good learning experience.

Tom drove me to the remote stable which took 45 minutes, which gave me time to review my Chinese for the evening class.

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Next week the students arrive, so I was taught how I can help facilitate each child’s learning experience. I will walk beside the horse along with Priscilla, while she engages the children in varying activities. I will be making sure of the child’s safety on the horse. I will work with 2 students once a week, for an hour each. I am looking forward to working with children with special needs again, but not the sand/dirt.

P1020500 I have a pair of cowboy boots here, which needed a little work done inside. Tom took them to a shoe shop while I was in my calligraphy class to get them repaired. I was thrilled to get them fixed for the grand total of 30 cents. Hope it doesn’t get too windy or rain!!!!

Writing my Chinese name

While teaching at the Migrant school the students thought it was important for me to have a Chinese name. After much discussion they came up with the following name.

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The first word (Zhou) sounds similar to Joan, (Xue) means snow, since I am Canadian, and (Qin) a famous Chinese writer. I enlarged the picture, but the characters are all very tiny.

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I asked Xieman to write it larger for me along with the order that the strokes are made, which is important to learn.

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I practiced the first word, continually trying to paint it smaller.

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This is my “chop” with my name Joan written in characters. Looks much easier! I was born in the year of the rooster, hence the rooster on top.

CHOPS & SEALS FROM TIMES OF OLD

A “chop” (or seal) is an artifact from ancient Chinese times that surprisingly survives to this day.

After the Chinese language appeared in its written form, Chinese writing was an exclusive activity belonging to the world of scholars and well educated government officials.

Some surmise that the tradition of using stone “chops” or seals came about as a result of the predominant illiteracy of the Chinese population of old times (thousands of years ago). Of course some people (businessmen included) were illiterate and could not affix their name to the contracts written during the course of their business dealings. A stone seal was the perfect answer to this dilemma.

A seal was a kind of old-fashioned rubber stamp. It was crafted usually from a choice piece of beautiful or precious stone which bore a flat smooth edge. Upon this edge was carved the business man’s name (or family name, or a symbol) in an ancient Chinese typeface.

After a contract was drawn up and approved, the parties in agreement would dip the flat edge of their seals in bright red ink – signifying a signature written in red blood!.The seal bearers would then press the flat ink-bearing edge against the contract paper. By affixing these stone “signatures” upon the paper, the contract was as good as signed.

Another benefit that a stone seal provides is a continuously consistent image of the constituent’s signature “set in stone”. In other words, the signature rendered by the stone was difficult to forge. Usually only one stone was created per person or family, thus further reducing the chance of forgery. Taken from Yahoo

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While working on this project I listened to the music from the movie, “The Last Emperor” for inspiration.

Blue rose on Valentine’s Day

Yesterday, during my Chinese class I learned the meaning of giving a blue rose on Valentine’s Day. I heard they could cost as much as $30.00 a piece, but today I heard that was a bargain as years ago they were double that much.  I did a little research to find out the meaning of the blue rose (for hopeful love).

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The Blue Rose

A folktale from China

Retold by Rose Owens

There was once an Emperor who had but one child—a daughter.  She was his pride and joy, his treasure.  He cherished her above all else.   As he became old and his health began to fail, he realized that he might not always be there to care for and protect this precious daughter.  He determined that it would be best if he were to find a husband for his daughter.

When it became known that the Emperor was seeking a husband for the Princess, many men found their way to the palace to request his daughter’s hand in marriage.  The Princess pleaded with her father.  “Father, let me remain with you to care for you.  I have no wish to marry and leave you.”  But her father was adamant.  Finally he said he would allow her to name one qualification that her chosen husband must meet—be it wealth or looks or special ability or whatever.  The Princess said she would name that qualification on the morrow.

That evening the Princess went to the garden to talk with the gardener’s son—her childhood playmate.  “If I say my husband must be handsome, he might be handsome but have a cruel heart.  If I say my husband must be kind, he might also be terribly old.  Oh what qualification should I specify?”

As they discussed the problem, the Princess and the gardener’s son determined that it should take the form of a test—difficult but not so difficult as to be impossible.  “And it must be ambiguous,” said the gardener’s son, “ so that it is up to you to determine if the man qualifies.”  Late that night they finally determined what that qualification must be.

The next morning the Princess told her father, “I will marry the man who can bring me a blue rose.”

The neverending stream of suitors ended for none could find a blue rose.

A wealthy merchant, not wanting to waste time looking for the blue rose, went to a flower vendor.  “I will give you a bag of gold if you can find me a blue rose,” he said.  After a long, fruitless search, the flower vendor gave up.  He bought a strong dye and dipped the stem into it. The petals of the rose turned a pale blue. “Keep the rose in the vase with the dye,” he told the merchant, “until just before you give it to the Princess.”

The merchant brought the rose to the Princess.  The Princess reached out and took the rose from his hand.   As she looked at the rose, a drop of blue dye fell from the stem and puddled in her hand.  She looked at the bluish-green leaves and then looked into the merchant’s eyes.  He could not meet her gaze.  “I cannot marry you,” she said.  You have tried to deceive me.  I would have a husband who is true.”

There was a handsome young warrior who would marry the Princess.  He was strong and powerful.  None dared to stand against him.  The young warrior went to the king of a neighboring kingdom.  “Bring me the blue rose,” he said, “or I will kill you and half the people in your kingdom.”  The king, who valued peace and did not wish to fight, presented the warrior with a blue sapphire that was carved in the shape of a rose.

The young warrior presented the sapphire rose to the Princess.  She looked into his cold eyes—eyes that were as hard as the rose of stone.  She said, “I cannot marry you.  I must have a blue rose that is real—not one that is cold and hard.”

The youngest of the king’s advisors also sought the Princess’ hand.  He conceived a clever plan.  He commissioned an artist to make a blue bowl.  On the side of the bowl was painted a blue rose.  The rim of the bowl was edged in gold.  It was fragile and delicate—a thing of rare beauty.  The young advisor presented it to the Princess on bended knee.  The Princess looked at the bowl and looked into the eyes of the young man.  “Marry me, Princess,” he said, “I will help you rule your kingdom.”

The Princess shook her head, “I must have a rose that is real.”

That evening the Princess sat in the garden talking to the gardener’s son.  “None of them could bring me the blue rose.  I must marry someone who will be honest and true with me—as you have always been.

He cannot be hard and cruel.  I need someone who is kind and patient—as you have been.

I do not want a husband who seeks only for power and riches.  I want one who will value me for myself—as you have. . . . .”

“Princess,” said the gardener’s son.  “Tomorrow I will bring you the blue rose.  Wait for me in the blue room just before sundown.”

The next day when the sun was almost gone, the Princess sat in the blue room.  The gardener’s son approached bearing a plain white rose in his hands.

“But it is a common white rose,” said one.

“He is the gardener’s son,” said another.

“Surely the Princess will send him away,” said a third.

The gardener’s son knelt before the Princess.  Through the blue stain glass windows, the rays of the setting sun shone touched the petals of the white rose.

As the Princess reached out to take the rose, a murmur arose.  “He is only the gardener’s son.”

“The rose is not truly blue.”

The Princess stood.  “My people, let me tell you what I see.  I see a young man who has always been honest and true.  I see a young man who has had the courage to be patient and kind enough to wait until I knew what was in my heart.  I see a young man who values me for myself.  In his hands he hold a gift of love.  And it is blue.  And if you cannot see that the rose is blue, I say that you are colorblind.

The old Emperor took his daughter’s hand and he took the hand of the gardener’s son and joined them.  And the Princess married the gardener’s son and they lived happily ever after—not because this storyteller said so—not because that’s the way that love stories should end.  But because the Princess and the gardener’s son knew that their happiness was in their own hands and that each was responsible for making sure that the other was happy.

Retold by Rose Owens

Copyright 2000

Since I already have a Valentine, I don’t think I will be getting a blue rose, but a dinner out works for me.

I would like to thank my mom for sending me a Valentine across the ocean, and for the cute little one I received from Xieman, along with the figurine from her sister. Also a beautiful one from Elizabeth.

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Street vendors selling Valentine balloons and roses.

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Wishing a Happy Valentines’ Day to everyone.

The air that I breathe!

I have been meaning to write this post for weeks, but recently found an article to help explain the air pollution in Beijing. I have known it exists here, as many days it is quite evident when I look out my window and can’t see the building across the courtyard.  But a couple weeks ago I noticed I had a difficult time taking a deep breath, and one night woke up in a panic thinking I could not breathe. (It didn’t help that Mark was in Mongolia)

I made a trip to the clinic the next day where they took a chest x-ray, did some blood work, and put me on a nebulizer ( a mist inhaler) for 30 minutes. The doctor said that all the tests looked good, but prescribed a couple inhalers to help me get my breathing back to normal. He could not pinpoint the exact reason for this episode as I have never had trouble breathing. He mentioned the extremely dry air in Beijing, along with the heavy pollution, and maybe some stress on top of that could have precipitated the problem.  So for the first time in my life I used an inhaler and after a few days felt better.

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I also tried some traditional Chinese medicine recommended by a co-worker of Marks. It was weird to sip it from a tiny straw.

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So while we were in Bangkok we purchased a couple air purifiers to help clean the air in the apartment. They do sell them in Beijing, but are outrageously priced.

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So we have one in the bedroom, along with a humidifier to help with the dry air.

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The big one sits in the main room.

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The US Embassy has a pollution index that can be checked hourly to track the pollution. Below is the index, and it is interesting to see that Beijing is not in the green very often. I think for the month of October there were only 4 or 5 green days. When it gets over 300 the children are not allowed outside for recess. Just to give you an example of the difference, one day we checked the site for Utah which showed below 5, and it was over 500 here. You can also notice the difference between the US index and the China index.

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So here is a simplified version of  what they are measuring. The scales are measuring PM 2.5 which refers to particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less (1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter).

So these are not visible (so what am I seeing) but originate from combustion sources (ie. emission from motor vehicles, wood and coal burning, etc.).

PM 10 particulates primarily include dirt and dust created by construction or factories.

The interesting part is the suspendable particles (one that can hang in the air) are nearly half the width of a human hair, while PM 10 are small enough to be inhaled into the lungs, and PM2.5 particles are small enough to get absorbed into the bloodstream. Long-term exposure risks,,,,,,heart disease…… Good thing I am not living here forever.

Another graph listed the 5 countries with the worst PM2.5 Ratings

1. Beijing 2. UB Mongolia 3. Madagascar 4. Mexico 5. Kuwait

PM 10 Readings, Selected Countries

1. Mongolia 2. Pakistan 3. India 4. China 5.Republic of Korea

I guess China isn’t the worst with everything.

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So when I am at home in Utah, and people talk about the polluted air there, I smile and think you have no idea!

I think my engineer husband would be proud of my explanation.

I should say that I am feeling better, but long for the blue sky and clean air in Utah.

(Information taken from the Beijing Beijinger magazine)

Happy Birthday to my son

Today my dear son Matt, turns the big 30. I can hardly believe he has been in my life for the last 30 years.
He was such a sweet child, and a joy to be around.

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He is grown into a charming young man, that Mark and I are very proud of, along with his grandmothers.

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Thanks for being with me on one of the more important days of my life. Coming up on a year on March 14th, that we traveled to Canada to get my American citizenship.

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I was reminded while talking to Matt today, that it was 10 years ago exactly that we shared in the experience of volunteering for the 2002  Winter Olympics. Wish I had a picture to show, but they are all at home.

Thanks for being such a wonderful son to share in so many of my life’s memorable moments.
I am wishing you all best in this big year of your life, and especially hoping for great adventures in your new work place. Also sending lots of love.

The year of the dragon baby!

I just read this article in the China Daily and found it very interesting.

Monday February 6th was Lantern Festival, so the official start to the “Year of the Dragon”.

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China is bracing for a baby boom as couples look forward to having a baby this year.

They hope their children will take on the characteristics of the Chinese zodiac’s fifth creature. As a dragon they will fly thousands of miles overlooking everything on earth, be ambitious and powerful.

More than 36 million babies were born in 2000 – the last Year of the Dragon. That’s twice as many as in 1999, and 2001. It was very interesting for me to read that the birth rate dropped by 35 percent in 2003, the Year of the Ram, as many Chinese believe that children born in this year are overly cautious and indecisive, which decreases their chances for success in life.

The now pregnant women are looking into reserving hospital rooms, and are finding all the beds booked.

They are expecting prices to go up for diapers, clothes and even the price of nannies. And the education system will also likely experience strain. One school in Henan province said their was an explosion of new students in 2006, when the dragon babies born in 200 reached school age. The school’s seven classes overflowed to 130 students a class.

So with all of life there is good and bad. Good thing the children will have strong personalities traits to deal with the shortages that will be created from the time they’re born until they look for a job.