Thursday, May 31, 2012

Les Miserables -

I'm a little obsessed with this trailer. I watched it about twenty times during Willow's nap. Then after she woke up, we watched it about twenty more times together. She really enjoyed it for some reason and was "singing" along. It's more like yelling in happiness than singing. 

So happy that they are finally making the musical version of Les Miserables into a movie--I have high, high hopes. 


Realistic Swings & Dirty Feet

W.C. = "Water Closet" = Public Restroom

Morning at the Park

It went something like this.

Our house helper was over, doing my laundry and dishes. Willow is obsessed with Ayi. She follows her around everywhere. All Ayi has to do is look at Willow, and the girl goes bazerk with laughter and smiles. I spend the whole time that Ayi is cleaning trying to field Willow and keep her out from underfoot. 
So, after 'fielding' the baby for an hour, I decided we would leave the nonsense and go outside. We went to the little play set by our building (literally a hop, skip and jump from our door), but no one was there. I send Willow down the slide once. There was a maintenance worker there, washing the play set with a dirty rag. She was nice, but it was a little awkward. Not ready to go back home, I started walking towards the river. I remembered that they finally installed some swings at the exercise park. It strikes me as odd that most of the parks here, whether they are for playing kids or exercising adults, do not have swings. Willow has never really been in a swing before. As I walked towards the river park, I decided that I would swing a little with Willow on my lap. 

As we approached the park, we saw several old ladies, who must have been in their 90's, exiting the park. They were pushing their wheelchairs and walkers very slowly, and somehow made it off of the sidewalk and onto the rode. One cackled at Willow and asked how old she was. Another almost got hit by a bus. The last  one stepped off of the curb without breaking anything--she was so frail it about gave me a heart attack when she stepped off the curb. 

Once we entered the 'park' (with all the exercise equipment), we headed towards the swings. The swings were in sight, about a hundred yards away. A woman with a stroller and a baby who was a little smaller than Willow were walking towards us. Of course, Willow was excited because she loves babies and small children. There were a lot of children, babies, and toddlers at the park at that moment--more than usual. I let   Willow admire the baby in the stroller, and asked the appropriate questions: age/gender. I started to answer her own questions, but quickly got lost in a sea of unfamiliar vocabulary. Before I could say, "repeat that" or "I don't understand", another lady popped up next to us with another similarly-sized baby. She, however, had excellent English. 

Her son's name was Bryant. He is eleven months old. 

She was from Shenyang, but had lived in Seattle, L.A., or Chicago for the past fourteen years. She was highly educated. She had two children, and worked in America with a green card. 

She became my personal translator for the next half hour. 

I'm not sure how many people crowded around us, but since the park was crowded with all ages--we had anywhere from five to thirty-five people around us at any given time. She found out lots of basic information from me, just from casual conversation. Every time a Chinese person would ask me a question, she would politely answer. I could tell she was giving out more and more information, and she learned more about me and Willow. I could understand a little of what she was saying. It was one of those comical, surreal moments. 

Topics the bystanders found interesting: 

What does your baby eat?
How much Korean do you know?
Does your baby know three languages?
What does your baby eat?
Does your baby drink formula or breast milk? 
Why are your baby's feet so big? 
Are you mixed-blood? (I know...there really aren't any euphemisms in Chinese) 
It is unusual for you dad to be Korean and your mom to be American
How long have you been in China?
Why is your Chinese so bad?
Does your baby wear diapers? 
Is your baby cold? (because she was wearing shorts) 
Is your baby hot? (because she wasn't wearing a hat) 
Do you take care of her by yourself? 
How can you take care of her by yourself? 
Where was she born? China or America? 

These are questions that I have to answer almost on a daily basis. However, usually, I don't know how to respond--and sometimes I have no idea what they're saying at all. I was so thankful to have such a kind translator. She had FLAWLESS English. She spoke without an accent, and used great vocabulary. And even though she was definitely Chinese, I could tell that she had assimilated a lot towards Western thought. So, not only was she smart and kind, but she was very understanding too. Normally, I would have fled such an overwhelming situation, but it felt so nice to be represented clearly. For people to understand who I am, who Willow is, and not to leave thinking I'm the village idiot. 

Several old men without shirts talked with Willow. One gave her a purple wild flower. An opera singer stopped by (some of the exercisers sing traditional music while exercising--haven't figured out the reasons behind that yet). Lots of other babies and their moms/grandmas/ayis. Everyone was very nice, and I kept wishing that I had my camera. There are so many interesting moments that I miss the chance to document. 

But I also learned some things from my self-appointed translator. 

We talked about international travel with infants. We both fly Korean Air, so we gave each other tips and shared our love for that company. She told me that she brought two suitcases of just diapers for her baby--they are in Shenyang for a few weeks to visit family. I thought that was funny, since diapers are probably cheaper here. I bet she buys the nice kind that can't be found here...

We talked about Chicago weather, Chinese language being offered to high school students, why she isn't becoming a US citizen, the area where her in-laws live, how she's helping her kids become bilingual. 

It was interesting talking to her about parenting. The way Chinese people parent is vastly different than how Western parents go about it. I'm sure most people know this already. There's the stereotypical 'tiger mom' that has made its way across the media. Here are some broad generalizations I've made: 

Chinese Parenting Looks Like...

 --Only one child: usually leads to spoiling because one child has two parents, plus four grandparents who all take care of him/her. 
 --No diapers: they are potty trained from an extremely young age. Although, it's not 'really' being potty trained. They can 'go' wherever they want--whether its the side of the road, or a garbage can in the grocery store. 
 --Formula fed babies, almost exclusively. It's very rare to find babies who are breast fed without any kind of supplement. The women are taught that breast milk is not enough to keep a baby nourished. 
 --Less Safety Conscious: everything is a bit chintzy, flimsy, cheap...don't trust anything! Yet, car seats aren't really emphasized. The only time a saw a car seat in use, it was place forward facing in the front seat. Oh boy! More often, you see families crammed onto a scooter or bike together. Lead paint is used everywhere. It's mostly a pretty dirty place. 
 --Never say 'no' to their children 
 --Emphasis on study, not play: even at a young age, kids are encouraged to stay neat and clean all the time, and learn from their baby flashcards.

I think Western parents will shake their heads at this list, and think that it is so 'wrong'. 
It was interesting talking to my new translator friend, because through answering the questions of the bystanders, and then translating what she said so that I could understand, I learned that she had rejected most of her culture's philosophy on parenting. 

He baby wore diapers.
She didn't have parents or in-laws to lean on for daily, built in child care. She didn't pay for a nanny or day care either. Here was a Chinese woman who took care of her own children and enjoyed it! She supported my decision to stay at home with Willow, and said that parents raising their children on their own is the most healthy and natural thing to do. She said that most Chinese mothers probably wish that they could do it, and feel jealous because they never get to hold their own babies. 

She breast feeds her 11 month old baby still, and enjoys it. He doesn't eat too much solid food yet either. She had two kids and was happy with that decision. She seemed so assimilated to Western parenting, it was so intriguing! I wanted to keep talking to her, but I could tell she needed to get going. What an interesting lady. She loved China, loved Shenyangren too--but I could tell that she loved America as well. 

As I was finally making my way towards the swings, I commented, "I wish that the parks here had baby swings". I'm apparently pretty bitter about this--motherhood is bringing out new forms of culture shock.

To which she responded, "I guess [China] does what is most realistic. Everyone can use these kinds of swings. Not everyone can use a baby swing". 

Light bulb.
Now I understand. 

Later, I was letting Willow crawl around at the playground. It was a little wet and dirty because it rained yesterday, so she was getting a little muddy. I shrugged it off saying, "That's what summer is for". My friend who was there with her daughter laughed and said, "That's the difference between American and Chinese parents". Of course, via Willow's example, the other toddlers at the playground insisted on being barefoot. 

When we finally went home, Willow was exhausted from all her social interaction and playing. Ayi was astonished at her dirty legs and feet. Sometimes it's a blessing not to be able to understand everything she is saying! I washed her off, fed her lunch, and put her to bed. 

It's just a little dirt. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Growing, growing, growing

That's all she's up to lately.


She has learned to drink out of a straw. In China, all the yogurt is in liquid form, so instead of eating it with a spoon, you drink it with a straw. She's a huge fan of yogurt for breakfast. 

I can't get over how old she looks in this picture! 

Adam and Willow dressed up in support of Donald Driver during the season finale of Dancing with the Stars. Of course Adam was extremely exuberant when Driver won. 

A little difficult to see, but this is what Willow's hair looks like after a bath---actually, this is what her hair looks like after she's had a bath and stands in front of the fan. Her mohawk was standing straight up! 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Next Year

Coming off my last Little Women post, you might be surprised that work for next year's play is already starting. But no. Little Women was a ten month project for me. Four months for the students.

Today, we announced next year's production to the students.

Announcing the next play to hit the stage,

Concise little article about why the Pygmalion ending is so much better than the My Fair Lady conclusion. Let's not be so Hollywood.

Where to find a hat as epic as this?

Little Women--Wrapping it Up

It's been a week since opening night, and I feel like I'm still recovering from Little Women. It was a crazy two weeks leading up to the performances--I was at school 12 times in less than two weeks, which is quite a feat when you have a baby who still nurses five times a day. Even though it's been nearly a week since the show closed on stage, I've still been working on wrapping things up. Handing out reimbursements, getting reimbursed, closing the account, the cast party, putting stuff away, bringing my excessive amount of things home that I used for the play, putting that excessive amount of stuff away...Yesterday, I spent several hours organizing the mess. Now, I have a clean guest room--which had been piled high with drama stuff. And an organized closet--which had been floor to ceiling full of stuff. De-cluttering, cleaning, and tidying up. It feels good.

These pictures are from one of the dress rehearsal days. I had to bring Willow to school at 2 o'clock. Adam has a planning period during that time, so he came and visited us when he heard we were at school.

Willow was over joyed to see her dad! She loves him so much.

The set pieces coming together. 

Lots of little touches here and there to make it look more 'homey'. It was my life-sized doll house.

Program cover. I became obsessed with this clip art and had it put on everything. I wish that it had been on the tickets too, but I found it after those had been printed. 
It was on our posters too--I just found out (from looking at the bill) that the reason my pile of posters never dwindled was because 250 had been ordered. I had asked for 50 copies....oh well. 

Willow ready to go to school on Friday afternoon, dressed up for Opening Night.

Dave helped a lot with tech again--seriously, I don't know what I would do without him! He is very experienced, and always finds great sound effects and music.

Opening Night jitters. I was so nervous for them! They did a great job overall, and it was a successful performance--but I still caught all the mistakes that were made here and there. I'm sure it was all the tension and pressure they were feeling--never having had a 'practice performance' before opening night (like we usually have). And never having gone through the entire show in one shot (which probably made me more nervous than it made them).

We used a little room backstage for special make-up. We had a few costume racks in the activity room. The doors were plastered with stars that had each cast and crew member's name and role/job. You can see on this particular door is a tiny star--it has Willow's name on it! Hannah, the assistant director, was so sweet to do that! :) We also did hair and make-up in the activity room. The supplies were set up in stations--we used the ping pong tables. haha! Had chairs moved in the room for the kids to sit on--vast improvement from previous years when they had to sit on the floor. 

Since I had a poster surplus, we hung one for each cast/crew member so that they could write encouraging notes to each other throughout the production weekend.

The Johnson family on Saturday night.

Like I've mentioned a hundred times before, I'm not allowed to post pictures of students on the internet. But I'm going to go about this in a round about way and send you to this blog. The writer's daughter was in Little Women--she is a great blogger, so you should check out her other posts too! :) Also, for my American friends/family, if you want to see pictures or videos of the play when we visit this summer, I would love to show off! I think these kids are the best and love to prove it.

Recap of the performances:

Friday Night: lots of energy and nerves. some people were difficult to hear (we don't have microphones, so they have to project their voices). a few falling set pieces, including the coat tree which sort of broke. a few missed cues, some dropped lines. huge audience turn out. relatively unruly audience. girl wore roller blades. a bunch of kids in the front row were loud and obnoxious and kept standing up in their chairs and talking loudly. people were passing out yogurt and drinks in the auditorium (even though they shouldn't be eating in there). some people were asked to leave by the ushers because they were so disruptive. it was hot in the auditorium. the fog dissipated way too quickly in the scenes that needed it. some black outs were an eternity long because the girls backstage were not using the walkie talkies to call lights up correctly. started ten minutes late, because of a small crisis backstage--causing intermission to be shorter and the audience to be late for their buses home. there was no time for the cast to greet the audience because of this--which was disappointing because it is my favorite part of directing a show (to see the audience congratulate the cast/crew). found out just how LONG the play really was. over two hours! way longer than the last two years. the students were so happy to be done with the performance. it was a huge wave of relief to have one performance finished. since we had never been able to run the whole show before (a point of personal panic), I'm sure they felt an amazing sense of accomplishment to get through the whole beastly play!

Saturday Afternoon: we were harried in the beginning while getting ready. for one main reason--we needed more hands! on Friday night, we had several people helping with hair and make-up. on Saturday, we had only three people--thankfully a few moms showed up out of the goodness of their hearts--but we were still severely understaffed. for instance, i did four updos in less than an hour. they turned out pretty cute too, considering the amount of time I had--and I would have taken pictures to prove this point had i found a spare moment! we were all working as fast as we could, and kept asking each other, 'what time is it?' I kept telling myself to breathe--you can do this! during performances, one of my biggest responsibilities is making sure the show starts on time...only succeeded 1 out of 3 times...Overall, it was a much calmer, cooler, quieter performance, especially in comparison to opening night. it was nice to be able to watch the show in a calmer setting--far more enjoyable for me! and it was a thrill to watch the students performing even BETTER than the night before, even though there were only fifty people in the audience. even though there were less people in the audience, but they were extremely supportive. started on time, ended on time. adequate time for intermission. only two mistakes; one was pretty funny. the guy who played laurie was on stage when the lights came up, but then realized that he wasn't in that particular scene. He slowly walked of the stage, and i died laughing in the back row. I laughed quietly, of course. the students had to eat a very early lunch, so they were hungry by the time intermission came. i ended up buying them a bunch of food from the refreshment table--including fourteen hotdogs, which they devoured before act two started. Adam watched Willow at home, and then brought her to school as the first performance was ending.

Saturday Night: because the show is so incredibly long, we only had about forty minutes for a break before we had to start getting ready for the next show. the students ate dinner quickly--we had Subway delivered again (Subway on Friday and Saturday....) and then we started setting the stage, touching up hair and make-up, taking cast pictures, and meeting before the show started. It was a little emotional to know that this was the last show for several of the students, including four seniors who I've had the privilege of directing two or three times before. we had to start late again because one of the buses was several minutes behind schedule. list resulted in a shorter intermission because i wanted to make sure that there would be time after the show for the audience to greet the cast/crew. of course, a few days later, i received complaints that the intermission had been too short. sorry folks! can't please everyone, and the cast getting to see their friends and family after the show is more important than stuffing your face with hot dogs and popcorn. Adam recorded the evening performance, our friend took Willow home to put her to bed. It was the best performance in my opinion. another packed audience. they clapped, laughed, and gave the first standing ovation in SYIS drama history! i was literally exploding with pride for the students--jumping up and down backstage for them, screaming my head off. YAY! I was backstage at the end of the show so that I could give flowers to our lovely seniors after the curtain call. could barely get through my scripted speech because i didn't want to cry. then i made them do our little drama dance! haha, the girls were not happy about that. at least i joined them in the humiliation.

Mama Side Note:
  People comment, "how did you do this AND teach?" I would like to respond, "it was easy. i had help."  The reality is, how can I direct AND be a mom. This is the real tricky business! I don't know how people mother multiple children. Or...I guess I should say, I don't know how I could direct and be a mom to more than one child. It has been a difficult balancing act, and Willow was the victim of Little Women. I tried to do as much work as possible during the times when she napped, or after she went to sleep for the night--but towards the end, there was just so much to do. It's also tricky to find baby sitters here--although I had one friend who consistently babysat every Monday, which was a huge blessing. Going into this play, I thought it would be easier, since I wouldn't be teaching full time simultaneously. Although teaching and directing is difficult, at least I was at school all day. It's very hard to direct when you are stranded at home. There are so many issues that just can't be dealt with, and there are so many times when you have to rely on the good will of others to get things done.

One of the best moments--you know, one of those moments that makes everything worth it--I was sneaking my way backstage during a black out. The lights came up while I was still in the House, so I crouched in the front row. I looked back at the audience, at all their faces as they watched the story unfold before their eyes. Their expressions were priceless. Right there, my spirit soared, as I watched them transfixed and smiling. All the markets, the mafan, the frustrations, the thousands of emails--it all became so worth it. Vaporized by joy--or maybe I should call it relief. Nothing sweeter than a little validation.

Speaking of was a relief to have Anna helping out. She joined during the last few weeks of the play, and was able to stay backstage to help supervise operations back there. It was a relief to know that I could text her, "something's wrong with Jo's wig" in the middle of a performance, and know that she would receive the text and fix the wig before the next scene started. Not to mention, having full faith in the fact that she would have her phone on silent while backstage. So nice.

A little RANT:

Of course, we received compliments about the show. This year, we also had 'feedback' from parents. "Feedback" means 'complaining'. I can't call it constructive criticism, or even criticism--because that would imply that something could be done about the problems that were brought to my attention. I say this a bit snidely because if there are ANY problems, I am acutely aware of them before anyone else is and already scheming on how to improve the situation next year. Complaining and whining about how the auditorium is too far from the cafeteria is just obnoxious. As is complaining that the 'no eating in the auditorium' rule is inconvenient when you're hungry. Not to mention, it is ridiculous to complain about the length of the show and say that it is too long for babies/toddlers. Of course it is! I just rest in the fact that the 'feedback' is all stuff that I have basically no control over. If we can change it to make it better for the students, then we will next year. Such as bus stops changing to be more convenient. The bottom line is, I don't do this for the money, I do it because I love sharing theater with the students. They aren't doing it for money, or even to please their audience--they're doing it for the educational experience. It's for fun. It's not a professional company; we don't have a professional company's budget, facilities, or talent network---it's a fledgling school club. End rant.

To end on a happy note: I LOVED LITTLE WOMEN!!!!! Every minute, good and bad, will be cherished in my memory bank. Loved the chance to work with such a talented group of kids. Loved watching them grow. Loved seeing them explore new interests. Loved watching them in their element, and for others to see them in their comfort zone. Some kids don't excel in class, but are amazing on  stage--I want people to see this facet of the kids. I want them to be appreciated and accepted for who they are. The lady who recruited Adam and I to work in Shenyang was visiting our city and able to see the show--she thought it was great and had lots of encouraging things to say. She had seen our first play, which had been put together without a cent from the school, with a cast who had largely never done theater before. We've come a long way in three years! I swell with pride over these students! They were remarkably talented, focused, and so great to work with. In my opinion, this was the best acting, best backstage crew, best set, best costumes, best overall look, smoothest production we've had. It was a delight to be a part of! The students make the work worth it--they were a wonderful mixture--we had super talented kids, super hard workers, super encouragers, super clowns....I loved watching them share their gifts with others. It was beautiful.