Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bad Air, 7 Days & Other Stuff

In the last couple of days, I have seen quite a few news articles about the recent high levels of smog & pollution and the very hazardous air quality in Beijing. 

The Washington Post reported on Monday that "Beijing’s municipal government reported air-quality-index levels as high as 500 Saturday night, on a scale by which U.S. experts consider anything above 150 to be unhealthy and anything from 301 to 500 to be hazardous. But that was just half the story, because Chinese monitors stop recording at 500.An air monitor run by the U.S. Embassythat sends out hourly tweets — and has been the subject of much official Chinese rancor in the past — showed the air quality topping out at 755, an astonishing level that the embassy called, for lack of a better description, “beyond index.”

This was the photo (taken on January 14th) that accompanied the Washington Post article:
I had been a little concerned about the smog and how it might impact our trip. A friend had visited the Great Wall in September and she told me the smog was so heavy that she could barely see 20 yards. Right before Christmas, I saw another friend who lives in Beijing but was visiting Bangkok and she told me that smog is so bad that often the children are not allowed outside at school. I can't imagine living in that! Fortunately, and most likely because of the snow that fell our first night in Beijing, we had relatively smog free days during our visit. The photo was taken by Jim on January 1st at the exact same place as the Washington Post photo. 
Although there is some smog in the photo that Jim took (and this was probably the worst we saw while visiting), it certainly wasn't as bad as the smog was this week.

Jim and Jan left to go back to Virginia last Friday morning. We had so much fun while they were here and did quite a bit around Bangkok and Thailand (which I will be posting about very soon). It was so sad to see them go but in just 5 more months, we will be on our way back to the U.S. and will be living less than a mile from them. 

In addition to getting the house back in order and catching up on paperwork and errands, we were busy with baseball and softball all weekend. Caitlynne's team won their game on Saturday by about 6 runs. Even with the time off for the holidays, they played really well. Christopher's team lost both of their games on Saturday but they were close games. He also played for another team in a game on Sunday and they won that game so he was happy to at least come away with one win from the weekend, even if it wasn't his team's. Try-outs for the Southeast Asian Youth Baseball and Softball Tournament (SEABYST) begin this weekend so, assuming he is selected for that team, on top of his BBSA practices & games, he will now add another two practices a week for SEAYBST. 

The kids went back to school on Monday and were happy to be back with their friends. I was happy to be able to get back into my routine as well. I love having them home but it is nice when they go back to school. They are both very excited about going on their class field trips during the first week of February. Caitlynne's class is going to a city that is in the very Northern part of Thailand. They are taking a train and I believe the journey is 11 hours. 

Some of you had asked about SayJon and how he is doing. Unfortunately, the Babies' Home has been closed for almost 6 weeks because of an outbreak of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease so I haven't seen him in quite a while. The Home just re-opened on Tuesday and I plan to go one day early next week.  Before the outbreak, he had been sick and was in the hospital for a while and then I was sick for a week or two and couldn't go to visit. I think I have only been able to see him twice since October. I really try to avoid going if I do not feel 100% because one of two things will most likely occur - either I will get sicker or he will get sick & then spread the sickness around the entire Home. 

The weather has been very nice the last 2 weeks. Last week while we were doing all of our sight-seeing around Bangkok, it was hot (low-mid 90's) but not too humid and there always seemed to be a nice breeze to keep things cooler. This week, it is definitely cooler (high 80's/low 90's), not as humid and the breeze is a little stronger. It has made for some great running weather and I am trying to take advantage of it before the miserable heat and humidity begins again in March. 

Right after the New Year began, I decided that I was going to not drink any alcohol for thirty days and today is day 7 of my abstinence. (For obvious reasons, I waited to begin the "cleanse" until after Jim and Jan left). I would like to lose a few pounds and really don't need those extra (and empty) calories. As *everyone* knows, the weight just falls off once you stop drinking alcohol. At least that is what I am counting on. 

Giving up the alcohol is definitely a challenge. I won't lie...I really (really) do miss my glass of wine in the evening. In fact, I miss it so much that I started to worry about it. I thought about this on my run this morning and came to the conclusion that wine has become to me like my morning coffee is. The minute I get out of bed and go downstairs, I get my coffee and go into the office to read through, and (my guilty pleasure!). At that time of the morning (4:15 am), it is quiet, the day is new and my mind is clear. For the most part, I am thinking happy thoughts - about my run, my walk with Sonder or anything special that I have going on or need to get done during the day. I am very calm and peaceful. (completely uneducated) theory is that my brain associates my morning coffee with a peaceful and settled routine and it is not so much that I *need* to have my morning coffee for the coffee itself but rather I want it for the feeling of comfort and contentment that it gives me. It is very rare when I do not have my morning coffee and, trust me, you want to stay far away from me on those occasions. Some nights I will say to Kevin before we go to sleep that I can't wait to have my cup of coffee in the morning. Truly, it is not the coffee I want (because, really, it doesn't taste all that great) but the feeling that I get when I have it. 

I am applying this theory to wine as well. See how easy that was? Kevin and I will have a drink (glass of wine for me, a beer for him) before dinner while we sit and talk about what happened during the day (or he listens to me rant about something or someone, in which case he has a couple of beers. And pulls out the whiskey bottle. Just kidding.). This time together is a special part of the day for me - my family is together, the house is clean, laundry is done and dinner is cooked. Life is good and I am content. According to my theory, my mind associates this feeling of contentment with having a glass of wine. Continuing along with my theory, when I don't have a glass of wine, then maybe subconsciously my brain thinks that I am unhappy or unsettled and is making me "miss" the wine when the reality is that I am missing the routine that involves the wine. Does this make any sense? If it does, I sure wasted a lot of my parents' money and my time getting a degree in International Studies when I clearly should have been a psychologist. Of course, Kevin has been gone since I began the "cleanse" so not only am I missing the wine, I am missing him. Anyway, day 7 without alcohol and I am holding strong. 

I am still deciding as to whether or not I should spend (waste?) part of my morning tomorrow watching Lance Armstrong's confession to Oprah. Notwithstanding the doping and lying, I am so disgusted with how and why his confession came about. The only reason I might want to watch is to see if he will honestly (is he even capable of honesty at this point?) and genuinely confess or will he do something along the lines of Bill Clinton. Remember these gems?

It depends on what the meaning of the words 'is' is." –Bill Clinton, during his 1998 grand jury testimony on the Monica Lewinsky affair

"It depends on how you define alone…" –Bill Clinton, in his grand jury testimony

"There were a lot of times when we were alone, but I never really thought we were." –Bill Clinton, in his grand jury testimony
Have a great Thursday.

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