1. 1. Game Activities
  2. 2. Physical Activities
  3. 3. Educational Activities
  4. 4. Kitchen Activities
  5. 5. Grocery Shopping/Malls

This content was automatically generated by gpt-4-turbo-preview (No human review). The original post is in Chinese.

During my parents’ and brother’s stay in the US, aside from taking them out during the holiday weekends when we were free, we also arranged numerous family activities for rainy days and evenings. Especially after the Christmas and New Year holidays were over, we had to work on weekdays, leaving only the evenings to spend time with the family. Moreover, with winter days ending early - it gets dark around 5 PM - it was practically impossible to engage in outdoor activities after work. On the other hand, my parents couldn’t drive in the US, limiting their activities to the vicinity of the neighborhood. Hence, it became necessary to organize self-entertaining activities to keep them occupied while we were at work. This blog post focuses on sharing activities suitable for the whole family to enjoy together at home or nearby, during rainy days or after dinner.

Note: We rented a two-bedroom, two-bathroom Airbnb house for my parents, about 5 kilometers from our place. We continued living in our original apartment. Maintaining this distance was crucial for improving the quality of life. Otherwise, living together in one apartment for more than a month could adversely affect work and rest. Moreover, the lack of privacy and space can be suffocating.

Game Activities

Playing games is indeed the simplest way to experience joy together as a family. Frankly, conversing with my parents can be somewhat challenging due to significant differences in opinions, and cultural and educational backgrounds. Our conversations tend to be superficial, revolving around what we ate, what we did, or the weather, without delving into any serious topics. In fact, we consciously avoid discussing certain topics to prevent arguments. But playing games is a safe, relaxing, and joyful activity. Typically, after dinner, we would spend 1-2 hours playing games before returning to our own home. Here are some of the games we played:

  • Pictionary
    • I highly recommend this game, as it had us laughing the loudest. Our family of five split into pairs, with the fifth person acting as the referee. Preparations included cutting up slips of paper with words, drawing them from a bag to decide what to draw, setting up a scoreboard on Google Slides with a timer, and then projecting it onto the TV in the living room for the referee to update the scores. All we needed to buy was a whiteboard, markers, and an eraser. Through this game, I discovered my brother is actually quite good at drawing, with a strong capability for observation and abstraction, albeit a bit slow. This game also sparked in him a desire to express through drawing, as he spent the following days drawing various things on the whiteboard, often Ultraman cards.
  • Nintendo Switch: Mario Kart, Mario Party, Super Mario, Just Dance
    • We spent most of our evenings playing Nintendo Switch games in the living room, for which we bought an extra set of controllers to allow up to four players. My dad likes Mario Kart, while my brother enjoys Mario Party (dice-rolling and board game features). I prefer the team mini-games within Mario Party. We also played the classic version of Super Mario for several days.
  • Foosball
    • Our apartment’s community center has a foosball table, which is very fun to play with. It gets very intense with four people forming two teams. My brother got so upset over losing a few times that he cried.
  • Memory Matching Card Game
    • This game tests memory and is more commonly played by children. It consists of many animal cards, and players flip them over according to their memory. It can be played by two or in a group. We made animal cards ourselves and wrote English words on them, helping my brother learn many animal names in English while playing. Amazon also sells game cards.
  • Gomoku, Playing Cards
    • Mainly for my parents and brother to entertain themselves.
  • Codenames
    • This game is a bit challenging for children since it requires reading. So, it was mainly the four adults playing. Before each round, we’d teach new words to the kids. We searched online for a platform and used four electronic devices, one of which was cast to the TV in the living room, for gameplay.
  • Children’s Mobile Phone - Mobile Games
    • Initially, my dad gave my brother a spare phone to play freely. We noticed he constantly played mini-games on WeChat, like “Planet Merge” and “Plants vs. Zombies.” These games are fine, but they often feature inappropriate ads that cannot be skipped, even offering rewards for watching them, making the kids reluctant to skip. We set the WeChat to youth mode, only to find all mini-programs became unusable, which seemed too drastic. Therefore, we set up a “children’s phone” for my brother with Google’s native kids mode, limiting usage to 1.5 hours per day and setting ourselves as monitors. We downloaded YouTube Kids and high-quality games like Monument Valley, which don’t require watching ads.

I later realized we could have bought some inexpensive musical instruments, like Yamaha recorders at $9.9 each, allowing my dad to teach my brother. It would’ve been a fun way to pass time and enjoy. Initially, I only thought of drawing and totally overlooked music. We considered watching movies, but couldn’t think of any that the whole family would enjoy. Later, we contemplated educational documentaries for kids, but since we don’t have children ourselves, we aren’t familiar with such content and had to research it specifically.

Physical Activities

  • Cycling
    • We initially had two bicycles, eventually giving one to my dad. He liked cycling to 99 Ranch Market for groceries, approximately a 25-minute ride. He particularly enjoyed this because he could freely buy cigarettes and alcohol, feeling independent in the US. Once, after work, I went cycling with my dad around the neighborhood. Inspired by seeing a little girl cycling behind her mother, he suggested teaching my brother to cycle in the US. We specially got a child’s bike, and my dad taught my brother to ride in one morning. For the next week or two, they practiced cycling around the neighborhood. Before leaving, I took my dad and brother out for an 11.5 km bike ride.
  • Badminton
    • Lacking a proper court nearby, they mostly played without a net, even mainly on the cement ground in front of the house. Several times, after my afternoon runs, I found them playing badminton. We also played in the park with family on weekends.
  • Table Tennis
    • On rainy days, we took my parents to the community center, which had not only foosball and table tennis but also many borrowable board games. We played table tennis two or three times, which was quite fun.
  • Swimming
    • The neighborhood where my parents stayed has its own swimming pool and a hot tub (Jacuzzi). We showed them the pool on their first day. Though the pool water wasn’t heated in winter, making it a bit cold, the hot tub’s water was warm, suiting children for bathing or playing. I also took them swimming in UCI’s fitness center pool, which is heated and catches the sun in the afternoons, making it comfortable to swim.
  • Rock Climbing
    • I took my dad and brother to try the climbing wall at the school’s gym. The climbing wall is free to use, including free climbing gear, and has dedicated time slots for kids, with staff available to help. My dad tried once and didn’t enjoy it much. My brother went during the children’s slot and climbed five walls (top rope, rainbow), enjoying it and proud of reaching the top. This activity showed my parents that indoor wall climbing (Top Rope) is a safe sport.
  • Slackline
    • I also borrowed a Slackline from a friend, which is essentially a line tied between two trees, attempting to balance and walk upon it.

We planned to go camping, borrowing sleeping mats from a friend, and buying an extra tent. However, it either rained or was too cold on some weekends. Considering the high Airbnb cost at an average of $150 per night, leaving the house empty for camping felt wasteful, so we eventually didn’t pursue it.

Educational Activities

  • Telescope
    • We have a tripod-mounted telescope, which we used to show them the moon one evening. The craters on the moon were very clear. We had also planned to go stargazing for the Milky Way, but Irvine’s light pollution is severe, requiring a 2-hour drive to darker areas. The outdoor cold in winter and my family’s early bedtime, along with weather uncertainties like rain and cloud cover towards the end, prevented us from going.
  • Microscope
    • I had a microscope, which we used to show them observations of hair, tissue paper, onion skin, sugar, and salt.
  • ChatGPT
    • One evening, we showed them some ChatGPT use cases by casting it onto the TV, providing them a glimpse into the latest technology.

Kitchen Activities

Family kitchen activities not only kill time but also result in delicious outcomes.

  • Making dumplings (even making our own dumpling wrappers)
  • Baking egg tarts (buying tart shells directly from 99 Ranch Market)
  • Making cupcakes (requires an electric mixer and “cup” molds)

Grocery Shopping/Malls

Another activity my family enjoyed was grocery shopping, given one of their main reasons for visiting the US was to cook for us. I took them to these supermarkets and malls:

  • 99 Ranch Market: Mostly visited
  • Costco: They found the huge store and shelves quite unique
  • REI: Went shopping for clothes, shoes, and other equipment before a road trip
  • IKEA: I enjoy browsing IKEA
  • Target: Purchased my mom’s SIM card
  • Apple Store

The above summarizes most of the family activities we arranged. Given my parents’ lack of English proficiency and their low self-motivation for activity planning, they struggle with searching online for local attractions or using Google Maps and Apple Maps effectively. Lacking their own travel research or places of interest, my dad would resort to playing games on his phone, and my brother started to use his phone excessively. This is precisely what we wanted to avoid, as bringing them to the US involved great effort and expense, not for them to play on their phones or feel bored. Therefore, we painstakingly organized the aforementioned activities.

Regarding their US trip, what preparations we made, the efforts involved, the interesting events that occurred during our time together, and the challenges faced will be discussed in the next blog post.

  1. 1. Game Activities
  2. 2. Physical Activities
  3. 3. Educational Activities
  4. 4. Kitchen Activities
  5. 5. Grocery Shopping/Malls