A Picture and a Phrase Book Saved My Day

This ATM ate my debit card…It lives inTerminal 3 of Beijing Capital Airport.

My heart stopped, then beat so hard I could hear it. I didn’t want to leave to get help: what if it gave my card to someone else? I tried to to ask for help (any Mandarin I might have been able to pull up in calmer circumstances had evaporated so this was harder than it sounds). I did have the presence of mind to take this picture.

One helpful soul pointed to a phone number on the screen. I called it, pressed the number to get an English speaker…and got a recording in Chinese. Finally, I got out of the way and watched. After two people successfully used their own ATM cards (and didn’t get mine back) I sought out the airport’s help desk.

I showed the woman at the help desk this picture and she called the number they had for that bank. Her reply was that  no one could help me until 9:00 a.m. I was told I could come back then and she would call for me, or I could go downstairs to the branch ofice that would open at 9:00 a.m.

I sat on the end of my luggage cart (I travel pretty light so there was room) right in front of the door to the branch office, by now it was around 8:00 a.m.  Since I had a little time, I got out my trusty Lonely Planet Phrasebook and found this phrase: “the ATM took my card” (qukuanji chile wode ka).

When the armed guards with the bank employee bringing in a suitcase walked around me I didn’t approach them, but didn’t budge either. The next emplyee that came I did approach: I just said “excuse me” (I tried to learn some Mandarin before the trip but it always evaporated when it would be useful) and pointed to the phrase in the book. She seemed concerned and went in and brought out another employee. I was able to show him this picture on my camera screen and zoom in to read the ATM identification number. He went off and was soon back with my card.

If I understood (a big if) the reason for the ATM’s appetite was a safety feature: I had tried too many times (I couldn’t get English instructions to come up on the screen and kept guessing wrong about what stuff meant).

All of this happened before 9:00 a.m.  I caught the first bus of the day to the south train station. I got where I was going as if nothing had happened!

I LOVE the US Postal Service!

I love the US Postal Service!!!

We take the US Postal Service for granted, and often grumble about it, but it may be that the ability to send things to people and know they will get there without tampering, prying, or undue delay is a big part of what makes the “first world” first.

Today the world is a smaller place than it was when I was a student in Boston, MA back in the early eighties. My family is all on the west coast and the cost of homesick phone calls was a significant part of my budget. My own son has lived, and is living now, in places much farther away. To call him in China using Skype costs next to nothing (1.1 cent per minute). I can send him pictures in no time using email and, if he happens to be someplace with broadband or wifi,  video chat with either QQ or Skype for free.

But getting a physical package or letter to him is another story.

In Japan, 2007-8, we had no problems, the US Post Office has a flat rate box that would get things to him in less than two weeks. In Kenya, 2011, we were told: “don’t even try” for anything more than a greeting card, and “nothing is private”. You sent mail care of someone who had a post office box in town, usually a family member or friend who either lived in town or went there on market day. They would deliver when they got a chance.

China has a postal system but folks don’t seem to have mail boxes or regular delivery. Both DHL and the postal system need a phone number, which they call and arrange a meet for delivery.  I am sure that any package just left would be viewed as abandoned and taken. Experience has shown that DHL, in spite of what is advertised and charging a pretty hefty premium ($210 versus $85 for the same package) does not get things there any faster.

Back to the good old USPS.

 

 

 

A Sweet Holiday Tradition

For the first time ever I went to see the Gingerbread Villages displayed at the Sheraton in downtown Seattle each holiday season. It made me sorry I haven’t got there till now. I almost didn’t make it this year. Saturday I went downtown to do it and the line and crowds overwhelmed me and I left. Today it wasn’t crowded and most of the people there seemed to be from preschools and daycare centers. The young children added to the sense of fun, and it was easy to see over their heads for a good view.

Each “village” is based on a song. The details in each were both fun and amazing.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

 

O Little Town of Bethlehem

 

O Christmas Tree

 

Mele Kalikimaka

 

Walking Dogs in the Desert

Another metaphor: which way do we go? Ginger wants to head north, Sammie wants to head south.  Both directions have good things to smell, jack rabbits to chase. How do we choose?

For me either direction is fine…so long as we all go in the same direction. As long as we are leashed together we need to add that component to any decision, or we will wind up wrapped inelegantly around the creosote bush. The way we generally choose is whichever dog pulls the hardest picks the path.

This often happens in my life. I am more about process than direction. I can see the advantages and disadvantages to both sides and I get pulled along in whatever direction someone else wants to go, usually working as hard as I can to keep us from getting tangled up in leashes and creosote bushes.

This past year I traveled to Desert Hot Springs, California 6 times. My grandmother lives there. I flew round trip in January to take my grandmother to have a kidney stone removal procedure…the second procedure that didn’t work. I flew down in March to be there for her birthday, then drive home with my father who had spent a month or so down in the Palm Springs area. I drove round trip in July to bring grandma (plus dog, Ginger) up to Seattle to visit family during the hottest part of the year. Another driving round trip to take her back in late August. Two more flying trips this fall, the first to check on her after she came out of rehab for a broken arm and the second because my uncle was dying.

I feel a bit like I am wrapped around the creosote bush.  The question is not just which way to go, but how to untangle myself first. Do I cut the leashes and not worry about the others (or, perhaps more accurately, worry but try not to care overmuch) or patiently (or not so patiently) untangle things? Once free, I need to figure out which way to go.

The Cat’s Anticipation

The cat looks as if she is trying to catch Santa in the act. But really she is watching the bird feeder. Is this a metaphor for the Christmas season? I wonder sometimes about how we value belief in something we know is not real. What drives us?

It must be pretty important since we, as a society work so hard to keep up the Santa Claus type magic at Christmas idea. Families will go into debt and do without basics the rest of the year to keep up the idea that magic can happen.

In my family we always had Christmas stockings as a special thing, in some ways it was the most special, as we came of age we shared in stuffing stockings and it was a creative and fun part of the holiday.  thinking of something that would fit into the stockings (ours were not as over-sized as those on the market today) that would intrigue or delight the recipient. That was not my husband’s family tradition and he rarely puts anything into stockings. So when our son went off and in years we are alone the only thing in my stocking was the candy, nuts and orange that I put in all the stockings. Even though I knew there would be nothing, knew there was plenty for me elsewhere, and that I am greatly loved, I still felt a little sad and neglected that first time. The last few years I have resisted the urge to fill my own stocking so I wouldn’t have to go into the kitchen and check on breakfast while everyone else was opening their stocking. This year it will be just the two of us here on Christmas morning, I think we will skip putting stockings up altogether. Sacrilege!

 

Xingfu means blessed.

Xingfu means happy and blessed in Chinese. Even though 2014, the year I started this blog, was a busy and, at times, difficult year that is the word I thought of for this space. Mama not because I have many children but because I seem to fall into a caregiving role. Sometimes I feel like Mama to the world.

The name XingfuMama means Happy Mama with undertones of being blessed.

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