The Foreigner Must Be Crazy
Friday, 20 February 2015 Filed in: Ayi | China | Snugglepunk
I have spent quite a lot of time on this blog outlining the weird and wonderful things that Ayi does. On the weird side of things we have the daily afternoon showers and the high volume, wordless, tuneless singing she does when she wants to calm Snugglepunk down. I often think she's just trying to drown out the sound of his crying with her own, similarly screechy, noises. On the wonderful side of things we have ironing.
It has occurred to me recently, however, that craziness is a two way street. Ayi thinks that most foreigners are a bit odd but she thinks I - in particular - am as mad as a box of frogs. Sometimes in my normal day to day existence I catch Ayi looking as me as if to say, what the hell kind of weird shit are you up to now? Examples include:
1. Cold Water. Chinese people drink their water warm or hot. They do not drink cold water because they 'know' that it is bad for your health. It probably stems from boiling drinking water first to get rid of germs but somewhere along the line and the message just comes out as 'COLD WATER BAD', particularly for women, and even more particularly for pregnant woman. During the summer, I'd be standing in the kitchen in the 36 degree heat chugging down a pre-chilled bottle of ice water and Ayi would shake her head at me. "Baby cold", she would say and walk out of the room as if the sight of me drinking cold water offended her sensibilities. She wasn't the only one though, I was thrice refused cold water in restaurants by wait staff who were concerned for the health of my unborn child. If I had been sitting there downing shots of vodka and smoking Double Happiness cigarettes they would have been less horrified.
2. Bread. Ayi does not understand bread. What's to understand? She isn't against it, she says, she just couldn't eat it every week. She's also a little bit confused by sandwiches. The Chinese for sandwich is San-ming-zhi and, as 'San' means three in Chinese, they naturally assume that a San-ming-zhi would have three slices of bread. Ayi thinks I'm doing it wrong.
3. Breastfeeding. Now I don't think the Irish are in any position to be taking the moral high-ground on breastfeeding as we shamefully have the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. But, in China, breastfeeding is solely for very young babies (maybe only in the first few weeks, if at all) and peasants (they have a lot of peasants which is why their breastfeeding rates are quite good). The day Ayi turned up to be interviewed a year and half ago, I was breastfeeding a feverish, naked 14 month old. Ayi was genuinely confused as to why I might be doing this given the fact that I could presumably afford both clothes and formula. I've also realised why Chinese babies are fat. Every time Snugglepunk cries, Ayi hands him to me and says "Hungry" even if I fed him five minutes ago. If he was bottlefed, she'd have him on at least 15 bottles a day. I don't have the heart to tell her that he's not always hungry, he just doesn't like her singing.
4. Pollution. It took me a long time to convince Ayi that the air was polluted. When it's windy and the leaves blow up in the air. That's pollution in Ayi's head. It took me months to convince her that if the air was polluted outside that she couldn't take little A down the lobby to play. Our conversations would go something like this:
- Me: The pollution is really bad today, why are you in the lobby.
- Ayi: Pollution outside. We play inside.
- Me: But the lobby door is wide open and the air from outside is coming inside.
- Ayi: *blinking*
- Me: ...so the pollution is also coming inside...
- Ayi: I close door.
- Me: *sigh*.
At first, Ayi thought this whole pollution thing was just another crazy laowai (foreigner) obsession like wine and seatbelts, but as the pollution situation worsens the Chinese media has started to admit that on really bad days it's not just 'very cloudy'. Ayi has started to think that maybe pollution is something worth worrying about. Every day I tell her the Air Quality reading and, if it's high, she likes to ring her husband and shout at him about the pollution - insisting that he keep their young granddaughter indoors. No doubt he now thinks she's crazy.
5. The Sun. If you see loads of umbrella's popping up around Shanghai, it's either raining or it's not raining at all. Chinese people (especially women) fear the sun in the same way that I fear tigers. They don't want to tan because then they look like peasants (there's an overarching theme here of being seen to be peasanty). There is an old Chinese story about Yi The Archer shooting down the 9 hot suns in the sky and only leaving one. I think if Ayi met Yi The Archer she would beat him over the head with his own bow for leaving the last one up there. She told me last summer that, when picking Little A up from kindergarten, she would take a taxi home on rainy days (fair enough) and also on sunny days (huh?). She told me that the sun is bad for children and adults alike and neither her nor Little A should be exposed to it. You'd think I was asking her to drag him home through a haze of toxic gas (oh wait...).
4. Babywearing. Despite the fact that the Mei-Tai form of wrap is a traditional Chinese carrier, Chinese people do not carry their babies in slings, at least not in the cities (again...peasanty). Ayi tells me it's bad for his back, he should be lying down flat. While she was never totally happy with my slings and carriers, at least most of them had straps, buckles and other things indicating that they were official contraptions of the western people. She is not keen at all on the new wrap which is just a very long swathe of fabric that I tie around me and Snugglepunk. I've tried to show her a few times how he can't fall out but she is unconvinced. Given her lack of faith in the whole wrap thing, I probably should have waited until she was out of the house before trying to wrap Snugglepunk on my back for the first time. What started out as a calm and methodical exercise soon deteriorated into chaos. I lifted Snugglepunk onto my back and started to wrap the fabric around us, Ayi jumped up and started holding him up by the bum screaming "Wo haipa!” (I'm scared!) repeatedly until Snugglepunk was also screaming and I couldn't get the wrap wrapped around because Ayi was batting it away from the baby and wailing in my ear. She needed to sit down for 45 minutes after that incident with her head between her legs to recover. Occasionally she would look at me and shake her head mournfully. I think I'm breaking her soul.