Bone Crushing Jade

Tonight Jason and I went on a hot date to dinner and to the Taipei Jade Market.  Taipei has a huge jade market located near the AIT (aka the U.S. embassy) where Jason works.  I told Jason that I wanted to get some jade bracelets before I return to the States next month.   The Taipei Jade Market is located under a raised highway, along with a flower market and art market.  During the week the location is a parking lot, but on the weekends it turns into a bustling market full of all sorts of plants, art and of course, jade.

Truth be told, I have never bought jade before and I have no idea what makes a good jade bracelet.  The one thing I can tell you is that most jade is green.  However, the color ranges from a dark emerald-green to a green so light that it is almost white.  There were even some vendors selling red, orange and purple jade.  But I wanted traditional green jade.  So I walked up to one vendor, picked up a bracelet and asked, “Duoshao qian?” With my tone-deaf Chinese, it’s possible that instead of asking “how much?” I may have actually said “cow dung?”  He seemed to get what I was asking though and he grabbed his calculator and showed me that the bracelet was $450,000 NT.  If that amount seems exorbitant, it is.  That comes to almost $15,000 U.S.  Jason and I looked at each other, rolled our eyes and I said, “Are you sure you don’t mean this?”  Then I grabbed the calculator and punched in $4500 NT (about $150 U.S.)  He took the calculator from me and said, “No!”  And then he punched in 450,000 again.  I looked at him and said, “Your jade is more expensive than diamonds!”  And with that, Jason and I walked away, shaking our heads.  I’m pretty sure that vendor was smoking something; possibly cow dung.

We perused a few more tables until we came to one with a sweet looking little lady.  I picked up a bracelet and asked “Duoshao qian?”  She picked up her calculator and punched in $3000 NT. (Just a little less than the $450,000 NT the last guy was asking.)  I then tried to put it on my wrist.

I need to pause here and say that the bracelets I was looking at were made from one round solid piece of jade.  There were no clasps on the bracelets.  I had to be able to fit my hand through the circle to put them on.  And therein lies a bit of a dilemma.  See, in the U.S. I’m actually small to medium boned; but in Asia, I’m mammoth boned.   As a result, my hand was way to big to fit through the vast majority of the bracelets which were rightly made for teeny-tiny Asian women.

So the woman handed me a bracelet and told me that it should fit me.  I tried it on, but could quickly see that my hand was not going to fit through the hole.  She then grabbed a plastic bag and told me to put my hand in it.  Now a quick word of advice:  if you ever find yourself in any sort of market under a raised highway and a tiny Chinese woman tells you to put your hand into a bag, DON’T DO IT!!!  Not having ever received this advice, I ignorantly stuck my hand into the bag, at which time, the woman shoved my hand, bag and all, through the bracelet.  It was the most excruciating 20 seconds of my life!  I was writhing in agony the entire time.  Unable to speak because of the pain, I looked over at Jason and with my eyes, begged him to stop this madness.  Mercilessly, he just laughed at me.  When the torture was finally over and the bracelet was safely on my wrist, I looked down at my hand, afraid to remove the bag for fear that my hand was completely mangled.  Luckily, my hand wasn’t mangled, but it was bright red and pulsing.

I turned to Jason and cried, “Now I’ve got to get this thing off!”

He replied with a snickering, “Uh huh!  Did you bring the camera?”

“Really?!  You want to film this?!”

“Uh huh.”

That man is seriously warped.

Regardless, I still had to get the thing off and the mere thought made me want to cry.  And all the while, the woman continued to try to convince me that this bracelet was the right size for my huge hand!  I spent a minute or so gearing up for what was to come, then stuck my hand back in the bag and told the woman to take the bracelet off me.  She then started the painstaking process of removal.  Again, I writhed in pain and opened my mouth in a wide, silent scream.  And all the while my husband stood next to me laughing.  This time, I honestly thought she had broken a couple of bones in my hand.

Luckily, I have no broken bones.  But now, four hours later, I have three big bruises on my hand, lingering pain and three lovely jade bracelets.



Holding Babies

Every mom remembers that moment when the doctor places their first child in their arms.  I’m going to be perfectly honest here, that moment was a little uncomfortable for me.  My oldest daughter was born a month early and I wasn’t quite emotionally ready for her when she was born.  When I was on the delivery table and the doctor told me to go ahead and start pushing, all I could think of was, Just hold on a second here!  I’m having second thoughts on this whole motherhood thing.  I’m not ready to start pushing because I’m not ready to be a mother yet.  Let’s all just take a little break here and discuss this like adults.

Realizing that these thoughts were futile, I threw them out of my mind and obediently started pushing.  Ten minutes and a set of forceps later Cecily was in my arms.  Again, my reaction was a little strange.  Because she was a month early, Cecily was super skinny, weighing in at 5 lbs. 11 oz.  She had really long skinny arms and legs.  Her nose was smashed flat against her face and her ears were curled up against her head.  She had some pretty good bruising on her head where they used the forceps to pull her out.  When I got my first look at her the my only thought was, I just gave birth to a spider monkey!  

I think that the nurse could see that I was holding her a little awkwardly.  She took her from me, cleaned her up, ran the Apgar tests, bundled her up and handed her back to me.  At that point I felt that I bonded with my baby.  I had time to take a few deep breaths and accept the whole motherhood thing.  That’s when I fell in love with my daughter.  That’s when I became a mother.

Fast forward a few years to when I had my two sons.  I love baby boys!  They are hysterical!  They are especially hysterical when they come after an extremely feminine girl.  Little boys are all roly-poly.  Their little diapered behinds look so cute in a tiny pair of jeans.  They make little boy grunts that are so different from the sweet little dove coos that come from girls.  They’re so physical and they are always moving.  All of this combined makes it so sublime when they stop moving for just a few moments and sit on their momma’s lap.  When the only thing that moves is their big belly which goes up and down as they breathe.  That is a great feeling for the mom of a boy.  But unfortunately it only lasts for a few brief seconds and then they are right back to being roly-poly, physical boys.

One of my favorite things about my little boys was squeezing their little bum cheeks when they were in the bathtub.  I would say to them, “Someday you won’t let me squeeze your naked rumpy, so I have to get all of it in now, while I still can.”  Sadly, the day did come when I was no longer able to do this.  At 11 and 13, they don’t particularly appreciate my reaching my hand into their showers and squeezing their bottoms.  Sniff!

So, what got me thinking about all of this was today when my 6-year-old Elizabeth woke up with a fever.  She slept half the night in our bed between me and Jason.  This morning I asked her if she wanted some breakfast and she shook her red-cheek face.  So I picked her up and carried her into the kitchen, set her down on a bar stool and fed her breakfast.  But during that walk from the bedroom to the kitchen I thought how grateful I was that I could still carry my baby.  After about one more inch growth I will no longer be able to carry her.  It will probably be about that time that she will no longer want to sit on my lap.  That makes me sad.  I think that right there will officially end my tenure as a mother of little kids.  But for now, it’s the last thing I have to hold onto, both literally and figuratively.  For a few more months I can still carry my baby and hold her on my lap, feeling how perfectly moms’ and babies’ bodies mold together.

Once this is over, I will officially be an old lady.

(Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth.)

An Open Letter to the Makers of the Mitsubishi TC-CE5J Clean & Compact Vacuum Cleaner

Dear Sirs and/or Madams:

Your Mitsubishi TC-CE5J Clean & Compact vacuum cleaner does not suck.  Now before you commence a round of high fives, be aware that a vacuum cleaner that does not suck is actually a bad thing.  Your vacuum came to us as standard issue to U.S. State Department homes in Taipei, Taiwan.  As such, we didn’t actually purchase the vacuum with our own money, and I know that beggars can’t be choosers.  But come on!  Your vacuum doesn’t suck dirt, it doesn’t suck lint, it doesn’t suck gigantic dead bug body parts (which, by the way, we get a lot of here in Taipei.)  Your vacuum just doesn’t suck!

Now a word of advice: you could take a lesson from the makers of the Dyson vacuum cleaners.  Now there’s a vacuum that sucks!  The suckage on a Dyson vacuum is incredible!  Not only can a Dyson vacuum suck dirt, lint and bug carcases, it can suck Lego’s, dirty socks and rodents.  That is some major suck!

So kudos to the Dyson vacuum company for your sucky vacuum cleaners.  And Mitsubishi, your vacuums could really use some suck.

Respectfully Yours,

Erin the Foreign Service Blogger


I am white.  When I say that I am white, I don’t mean Caucasian (although yes, I am Caucasian.)  Rather, I am referring to the actual color of my skin.  Most Caucasians would be considered more “peachy-pink,” as my six-year-old refers to her skin color.  But unlike my six-year-old, I am not “peachy-pink”  I am white; ghost white (although I prefer the term “pastey”.)

Oddly enough, I don’t come from a family of “pastey” people.  In fact, you’ll be surprised to know that in one of her prouder moments, my older sister was named first runner-up in the Miss Coppertone Suntan Contest.  I remember as a child seeing her laying out in our backyard in the noon-day sun,  in a bikini, slathered in baby oil.  (Apparently skin cancer hadn’t been discovered yet.)

Lest you think I’m exaggerating my pastiness, here is proof:

1.  One time in college, a guy I was dating told me I would have really nice legs if I would only get a tan.

2.  Not long after Jason and I were married, we were out biking.  I was wearing shorts and a tank-top.  As car full of college students drove by, someone yelled, “Get a tan!!!”

3.  In my mid-twenties I was a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding.  The photographer was constantly moving me around in disgust because he said that I ruining the pictures of the wedding party because my skin was glowing.

4.  Another time, some of Jason’s relatives and I had a white leg contest.  I won.  First runner-up was Jason’s 90-year-old grandfather who died two weeks later.

Even if I try to get a tan, I can’t.  In college, (in one of my dumber moments) I went to a tanning salon with a couple of my roommates.  The workers told me that with the color of my skin it was recommended that I spend only 20 minutes in the bed.  I spent 30.  When I emerged from the tanning bed I was the exact same shade of albino that I was when I went in.  I should have demanded my money back.  That was my first and only time in a tanning bed.

My whole life I have been mocked for my skin color.  BUT NO MORE PEOPLE!!!!  Because apparently Asians consider pastey to be beautiful!  The whiter the better!  Here in Taiwan, many women walk around in the heat of the day carrying umbrellas.  Not to keep dry in the rain, but to keep the sun from beating down on their ivory skin.  Also, many women here wear foundation makeup that is four or five shades lighter than their actual skin color, to make them look paler.

And get this: a few days ago a woman actually said to me (to me, not my Miss Coppertone-winner sister), “You have such lovely skin coloring.”  It took me a moment to realize that she was actually speaking to me. (To me, the pastey one!!!)

So, to all of you Americans who had mocked me and my pastey skin my whole life and have called me “Casper” and “Corpse” and “Albino,” I have three words for you:  Neener!  Neener!   Neener!


My kids have been through a lot in the past ten months.  Last June, Jason was officially accepted into the Foreign Service and our lives have been a whirlwind ever since.

In August, my kids lost their dad for four months while he was in training in Washington, DC.  Plus they had to live with a whiny, frustrated, stressed out mom during that time.  In the midst of that, two of my kids went through periods of transition that are hard and frightening for all kids; Ben started junior high and Elizabeth started 1st grade.

Then in December, just before Christmas, their worlds were completely uprooted.  They said good-bye to their friends, their cat, their bedrooms and left their comfortable home and familiar neighborhood for a foreign country.  They went from being just like everyone else in white-bread Mormon Utah, to a country where they are the minority, they don’t speak the language and they’re stared at whenever they leave the house.

About the time they got over their jet lag, they started attending a private international school.  Whereas, public schools in Utah do their best to prepare kids for college, their private school in Taipei prides itself in preparing students for the Ivy League.  The amount of catchup my kids have had to do has been unbelievably stressful.  My 5th grader spends 1-3 hours a night on homework, while my 7th and 9th graders spend 2-5 hours studying every night.  Their self-esteems have taken enormous hits.  The academic competition they face each day is mind-boggling.

If that weren’t enough, the have faced prejudice for the first time in their lives over their race, their nationality and their religion.  One child has faced a pretty fierce bully.  During the first week of school, three of my kids came to me, independent of each other, expressing shock at the language that students use in the hallways; language that they had never heard in public school in the U.S.  Both of my sons have come to me, asking what words mean; terms that I didn’t know the meaning of until after I was married.

In the four months that we have lived in Taiwan, my kids have been more frightened and more lonely than they have ever been in their lives.  They have all come home from school numerous times in tears.  As a parent, it’s pretty tough to watch.

All of these trials notwithstanding, my kids are making it.  As a parent, I am in awe of their strength.  I don’t know if I could have faced the challenges they are encountering each day when I was their ages.  I am so proud of them.  They are brave, they are smart and they are good.

My book club is currently reading the parenting book Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters by JoAnn Deak.  Dr. Deak wrote the following:  The most healthy and successful human being is one who can deal with ambiguity, figure out how to negotiate situations where the path or outcome is not clear.  Probably the worst thing we can do as adults to handicap our girls [and boys, I might add], is to encourage them in any way to want or need things in total order or control.  They’re already inclined that way.  The best thing we can do is to help them learn to grow in a climate where chaos – internal or external – is always in the three-day forecast.

I tell my kids often that one day they will thank us for this experience.  I’m hopeful that they will, but maybe they won’t.  But I have to say that they are learning how to deal with ambiguity and chaos.  They are learning how strong they can really be.  They are learning skills that will make them better adults and more aware as human beings.  They are taking a crash-course in resiliency.

I’m proud to be their mom. (But, man am I stressed out!)