BMW

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One of the biggest challenges about China so far has been working out how to transport ourselves from point A to point B without having an accident at point C (point C being anywhere and everywhere between point A and B). This is particularly challenging when it’s just me and Baby A hitting the town.

There are a few options - none of them great.

1. Taxi
Pros:
  • Taxis are cheap as cucumbers. The average journey costs me about €2, even if we’re traveling quite a distance.
  • They’re also often the quickest way to get around if points A and B aren’t linked directly by public transport.
Cons:
  • Taxis are deathtraps. By law, there have to be seat belts and, in defense of taxi drivers, the belts are always there - but often the things you plug them into aren’t. The middle lap belts are never there and they’d be the most useful for strapping Baby A down as I reckon side-impact is the biggest crash risk (my thoughts are all sunshine and rainbows sometimes…). It’s not feasible to bring a carseat with us when we go out because they’re too big to carry - plus the whole no seatbelt thing kind of rules that one out. The taxi drivers are also, for the most part, homicidal maniacs. They weave in and out of lanes on the motorway, often missing other cars by millimeters. They speed down the wrong side of the street as if laughing in the face of serious bodily injury. They break lights. They appear to make a sport of attempting to run over pedestrians especially when pedestrians are crossing the road at a green man. Being in a Shanghai taxi is not unlike being in Grand Theft Auto, without the theft and without the ‘just a video game’ aspect. They’re also icky - like the petri dishes of the transport world harboring infection and disease in their rickety, sticky unwashed cabeese. *shudder*.
  • Do you need more? If the fact that taxis are like rollercoasters with the bolts loosened isn’t enough to rule them out, I have more. They’re impossible to get at rush hour. You can’t book them in advance. The drivers are obnoxious and frequently shout at me if they don’t like where I’ve asked them to take me. I do not like being shouted at, even when I haven’t a clue what they’re saying, I still know that it’s shouting. I want to learn good Chinese for the sole purpose of throwing years of pent-up taxi rage back at them. Just you wait, when I get to the chapter that teaches me the vocabulary to say “you are going to go straight to Buddhist hell for endangering the lives of innocent passengers with the reckless and feckless showboating you claim is driving” I will be hopping into the next available taxi to practice my homework.
  • Baby A hates taxis. He won’t sit still in them (considering he isn’t buckled down in any way this isn’t surprising). He keeps reaching for the door handle and screaming his head off which gives the unfortunate impression to passers by that I’ve kidnapped him. Thankfully they’re not too bothered with white women kidnapping white babies here in China. I tried giving him the iPhone to amuse him during one particularly trantrummy journey with the result that he threw up all over me, all over himself and all over the taxi. As luck would have it, the taxi driver was so busy shouting abuse at the world around him that he didn’t notice the sound or smell of baby projectile vomit until after we’d exited his vehicle. By then we were far away and I was comforting a sobbing Baby A with vows that I would never make him get in another nasty taxi again.
  • Enough? I think so.

2. Metro
Pros:
  • It’s fast, it’s clean and it’s easy to navigate without Chinese.
Cons:
  • There are only ‘up’ escalators and no ‘down’ ones so maneuvering Baby A and his hotwheels can be tricky. I think I’m setting records for number of steps a baby has been bumped down in a buggy. Most of the time, I lift him out and put him on my hip holding him with one arm while I lift the buggy with the other arm. You try doing that with a 13kg thrashing toddler, a 5kg buggy, flip-flops and wet steps.
  • During rush hour, the metro is jim-jammed so the buggy has to be folded with one arm (while carrying toddler who refuses to be put down) and slung over shoulder like sawn off shotgun. With no free hands, it’s harder to control Baby A when he tries to rip the earrings clean out of the ear of the woman standing beside us. Thankfully, they’re clip ons.

3. Bus
Pros:
  • It’s so cheap as to almost be free. Depending on the class of bus, a journey either costs us about 15c or 25c.
  • It’s a fun place to hang out and meet old Chinese people. Baby A is a big fan of old Chinese people and they’re exceedingly fond of him - even when he pokes them in the eye. He stands on the seats, shrieks and generally comports himself like the Queen of Sheba in small boy-child form. The Chinese think he is hilarious with his shouting, pointing and general mayhem. They pick him up and pass him round. Sometimes it’s hard to retrieve him when our stop comes up - too much fun is being had on the 8am party bus. As we’re alighting he often waves magnanimously and blows kisses to everyone. He’s going to be so disappointed the first time I take him on Dublin Bus.
Cons:
  • The buses are not buggy friendly so I have to carry Baby A on a hip-shelf or sling. He’s not exactly lithe. The Chinese though are very aware of this and I have always been offered a seat. As soon as I get on the bus, some young Chinese student bounds out of his/her seat and offers it to me. It’s a far cry from the way things are done in Brussels, or even Dublin.
  • The stop information is all in Chinese so it can be difficult to work out where you’re going if you don’t read any Chinese. My reading is coming along quite well so it doesn’t bother me so much. I’ve never seen another foreigner on the bus - I think they mostly stick to taxis and metros. Lots of foreigners also have drivers. Sometimes, on my tired days, I dream of being chauffeured about the place by my own private driver but then we’d miss out on all the buscapades and I would miss out on developing my language skills to the point where I could hold conversations like:
    • OCP (Old Chinese Person): What a cute girl!
    • Me: He’s a boy.
    • OCP: Are you sure? He looks like a girl.
    • Me: Really? He’s definitely a boy.
    • OCP: Does he speak Chinese?
    • Me: He doesn’t speak anything. He’s only 14 months.
    • OCP: Are you sure? He looks about 3.
    • Me: I’m sure.
    • OCP: I think he speaks Chinese. He said ‘mama’. ‘Mama’ is Chinese.
    • Me: *Silenced*
    • OCP: (To Baby A in Chinese) Say ‘mama’.
    • Baby A: Mama.
    • OCP: He speaks Chinese, I told you.

4. Walking
Pros:
  • It’s free. It’s exercise. Baby A likes it. It’s a good way to discover things.
Cons:
  • It’s not a good idea to do too much of it on a bad air day.
  • Crossing the road is like running through no man’s land with a team of robots throwing car shaped rocks at you (see point on taxis, also applies to all other cars and buses). Even when you have a green man to cross the road, cars turning in any direction from anywhere - as long as they’re turning - can drive through the pedestrian crossing. Supposedly, the pedestrians have right of way but there’s no point in playing chicken with a gold-plated hummer when all you’ve got in your defense is the moral high ground and a biting toddler. A few times, I’ve defiantly taken the chance that no-one really wants to run over the foreign mother with the young child but I should probably stop playing Russian roulette with Baby A’s life and just play it safe.

Conclusion:

There’s no simple way to get around Shanghai with a toddler. It all depends on where we’re going, what we’re doing at the other end, what the quickest way of getting there is etc. We get the bus every day to and from playcare. We usually get the metro if we’re going somewhere a bit further afield and we walk if we’re within walking distance. It takes a bit of planning and a bit of lifting but it’s always a more interesting experience - good and bad - than life with a driver and car. The only thing I generally don’t do on my own with Baby A are taxis - for reason I have extensively outlined above.

As our Shanghainese estate agent, David, told me once when I asked him if he had a car, ”You know I only use BMW….Bus Metro Walk”. Works for us too.

Cultural Observation Point: While I am always offered a seat on the bus or metro when carrying Baby A, no one has ever offered to help me up or down the stairs when I’m struggling with the buggy. I’ve thought about this and have come to the conclusion that it’s probably because, unlike on the bus or metro, there’s no sign on the wall telling them that they should.







Comments

The Creepiest Place in China

P9255470 - Version 2
“The fading summer sunlight creeps across the desolate, concrete landscape. Empty, cracked buildings lie abandoned - forgotten relics of the communist heyday. The dusty wind scrapes past rusting bars and empty cages. In the distance, the broken-down sounds of an off-key fairground ride send a menacing chill through the air. The two women shudder as they push their small children down the unmarked paths, desperately searching for the exit. From behind a squalid cage, a deranged monkey hisses at the small group. The children recoil in fear as their mothers frantically push them around the next corner…another dead end. A low growl emanates from behind a low stone wall - someone, or something, is watching them.”

Should anyone want to make a movie of our recent trip to the Shanghai Zoo, that would be the opening scene. Stephen King could do the script. I’d like to be played by Emma Watson - she should get working on her North County Dublin accent. The movie, which will be a bit like The Shining meets Madagascar, will have to have to be altered slightly from real events. I don’t suppose anyone will go to see a horror movie where all the main characters, at the end of the film, get on the metro and go home to nap having exhausted their supply of raisins.

J-Mo and Babybel (*not their real names, thankfully) were our companions for this bizarre outing to the land that everyone forgot. We had read that the Shanghai Zoo was the best in China, and as far as Chinese zoos go, the least disturbing to foreigners. I had underestimated how low the bar was in that respect.

First of all, there appeared to be very few people in the zoo - this should have been the first clue. There were some children but the visitors seemed mostly to be hipster teenagers looking to ride the bumper cars on water. There also weren’t very many animals. We did a lot of walking and found a lot of buildings but most of them seemed empty. It was probably a good thing because the animals we did find were pretty miserable looking. The flamingos seemed happy enough - I mean, I can’t imagine flamingos need a lot out of life in order to be relatively satisfied - some water, some land, some company. There was a cross looking tiger in a small room pacing back and forth (which J-Mo said was a bad sign). As I held Baby A up to the glass, I noticed that the putty between the large panes of glass was deteriorating to the point were there were some small holes. I don’t like there to be small holes between me and tigers.

It kind of went downhill from there. It was eerily desolate, the cages didn’t look secure, the animals looked craven and insane. I’d be insane too if I had to put up with Chinese people torturing me on a daily basis too. The behavior of the other zoo visitors was shocking. We saw someone throw a big stone at a tiger in an open enclosure in order to get him to move. We saw people heckling and whistling at the animals, rattling the cage doors and banging on the glass. We also saw a group of boys giving bottle of soda to a little monkey in a cage and laughing while he drank it.

I hope Baby A and Babybel are young enough to forget what they saw. In reality, they were actually more interested in stealing each other’s raisins than the animals.

In the movie, the zombie monkey will escape and kill everyone in sight (except us - we can’t die because we have to get the metro home).


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Paracetemol, Pandas and Parties


mrpanda

I’ve got a new design for my blog! It took me hours of blood, sweat and Visa to sort it all out but I think it looks pretty good.

I have a few hours on my hands today as Baby A is sleeping for Dublin. He has a fever. It’s the first one he’s ever had so naturally I wanted to ring an ambulance to take him to the nearest emergency room. I didn’t. Mostly because an ambulance was likely to cost me the best part of €1,000 as they’re all privatized. Plus from the look of them, you’re likely to come out of them worse off than you went in. I’d trust a blind Vietnamese rickshaw driver to transport a patient more safely. Can I put a price on my baby’s health? No, but Calpol is cheaper and more effective - plus I brought it in industrial quantities in my suitcase. I only brought two pairs of shoes with me to China because I needed six bottles of Calpol. Mother of the year, right here.

There is a hospital a few doors down but it appears to be only for people with ‘diabetic foot disease’. I’d rather not take him there. The patients - the ones with diabetic foot disease - like to lounge about on the benches on the neighborhood park with their lower limbs in various states of bandage or removal. When all the benches are occupied by sleeping amputees in gaping green gowns, the diabetics lie on the ground instead. It’s like a zombie apocalypse down there. I don’t take Baby A to the park either.

I think Baby A’s fever could be down to teething. Alternatively, he might have picked something up at yesterday’s birthday party. Thirty screaming children running around the place touching surfaces and sneezing on each other is baiting a pandemic. It also convinced me that I am never going to host a children’s birthday party. It was like a midget zombie apocalypse powered by Energizer. Baby A has just started to walk so he toddled around after the older kids who trampled mercilessly over him and whacked him indiscriminately with spongy objects (his idea of a good time). There were small styrofoam balls on the floor that the toddlers were trying to eat, there was cake on the wall, there were pizza crusts in the ball pool, the dads were drinking beer outside and ignoring the whole thing. So overwhelmed was the birthday girl (who was turning four) that she spent much of her own party cowering in a corner buried under a pile of presents and looking shell-shocked.

This was all before the arrival of Mr Panda - the obnoxious, French magician dressed in a creepy bunny outfit who kept snapping at the children for not paying attention and complaining about the heat (why is someone called ‘Mr Panda’ dressed like a rabbit anyway, and why is he French??). Mr Panda clearly had not grasped that the average age of his audience was approximately 24 months and that the 25 seconds of captive attention they gave him had maxed out their concentration reserves for the week. “Aye cannut wuhk in zis heeet. I weel nut begeen unteel ze cay-os iz over. Humf.” I think the fact that his first three balloons burst as he was trying to wrangle them into impressive inflated sculptures just pushed him over the edge. We left just before he started a full scale, giant panda bunny meltdown. The kids loved him though - the screaming, angry French bunny thing didn’t phase them. Baby A was standing in front of him in awe. He was a giant bunny/panda after all. Who cares if he’s cursing in French?

Whatever about moving to China, there’s no culture shock quite like finally realizing that you’re an actual, real live parent and that your future is filled with mayhem and sprinkles.
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Neighbourhood Nudity

skyline
Honestly, if I see another Chinese man walking around with his shirt hoiked up and his belly poking out, I’m going to walk up to him and rub it. No, actually I’m not, because that’s icky but I really don’t understand this need that Chinese men have to walk around with their tummies on display as if perhaps they might suddenly break from the crowd, pull their shoulders back and start doing the Carebear stare in the middle of downtown Shanghai. If you don’t know what the Carebear Stare is, see photo below, that’ll clear it up (I’m all about the pictures this week).

CareBearBigWish_CBStare

For some reason, I find the pulled up shirt more disturbing than no shirt at all (I also see plenty of this). And it’s not the young, lithe, Sino-pop youth that are flashing their pot-b’s to all and sundry…it’s the paunchy and the elderly than are most prone to this kind of behaviour. I think they ostensibly do it because they are too warm and it seems like a quick, convenient way to cool down without having to invest in a hand fan. My view is that it’s some kind of middle-aged mating call. “Look at me, I have many dumplings.” Some ladies might like that kind of thing.

That said, Chinese fat bellies are not shunned by society - quite the opposite in fact - to be chubby seems to be quite the attribute - a source of pride. Maybe it’s because Buddha is a portly, half naked, man figure. In China, it’s ok to say that someone is fat. People tell me that Baby A is fat all the time. Baby A smiles and nods cheerfully so I don’t think it’s giving him a complex. It certainly hasn’t put him off his food anyway. He responds to the compliment by intermittently pulling up his t-shirt on the bus, thus allowing older ladies to admire his well-tended tum-tum.

I’m waiting for the day when Mr Oh starts roaming the streets with his t-shirt knotted half way up his torso and his solar plexus exposed for public viewing. I might have to fatten him up a bit first, no point showing your belly if you don’t have a substantial offering. A bit of fake tan should sort out the milky sheen too.




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A Good Air Day

Pasted Graphic


Huzzah! It’s a good air day (see smiley face above)! I used to wake up, pick up my phone and check my email, my Facebook and the Irish Times before I did anything. Now I wake up and check the Shanghai Air Quality, my email and that’s about it. I still check Facebook but not until I’ve turned on the VPN which I use to vault the great China firewall. Any interest I had in Irish news (which was minimal if we’re being honest) has been superseded by interest in the toxicity of the air I’m breathing. Today, thankfully it’s not so toxic (although at 50, it’s on the border of being not that great).

air_quality_index

The nice people at the American Consulate in Shanghai provide the data. They have a hi-tech wand or something that analyses his kind of thing. They probably have an attaché whose job it is to measure the air quality. I imagine he’s not too popular with the Chinese - they like to provide their own stats on the level of pollution. They have a website dedicated to providing accurate and timely data on the pollution levels around China (http://datacenter.mep.gov.cn/report/air_daily/air_dairy_en.jsp). I wonder, though, why I’ve never heard of any of the towns for which they provide data - it seems that they’ve located their pollution collection wands on the tops of mountains, hundreds of miles from the nearest metropolis. It is reassuring, however, to note that if I should even visit Sanmenxia in Hunan Province, the air quality is likely to range between ‘good’ and ‘very good’. The American Consulate in Shanghai is located about 500m from our apartment so I reckon their wand is of more use to me than any of the randomly placed Chinese ones.

It is also interesting to note the existence of what could be described as ‘pollution spin’. Zigong in Sichuan Province has, according to the Chinese website, an AQI of 147 today. This, the website tells us, is ‘slight polluted’. If we look at the handy chart above, you can see that 147 falls in the menacing orange bracket and is classified as ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’. I think ‘slight polluted’ is more friendly.

According to the Americans, Beijing is currently experiencing at AQI of 179 (Unhealthy) which makes me happy I don’t live in Beijing because I’ve never seen their AQI drop below 100. According to the Chinese, the most polluted place in the country is the aforementioned Zigong, which is just scraping under the ‘unhealthy’ category. I wonder if the Chinese would consider repositioning their wands? I feel like they’re missing some key cities.

Despite the existence of these handy apps and websites, I don’t need either the Chinese or the Americans to tell me how polluted it is outside. You can taste it. It’s like a soup. Some days it’s a light broth, like a teaspoon of Bovrilmonoxide in a steaming vat of hot water. Other days, it’s like a muggy, cyanide stew. The air is thick with the smell and taste of it. It’s like that time Mr Oh accidentally liquidised Baby M’s silicone dummy when trying to sterilize it in boiling water. He let the water boil down and eventually the room was filled with the thick fumes of melted plastic gone airborne. That’s what it’s like on a bad air day here, like somebody is melting China’s dummy. Thankfully it’s not Mr Oh this time.

The most recent update tells me that Shanghai AQI is up to 55 now complete with sad face (see below) - so much for my good air day.

photo


If we’re getting the American sad face at 55, I wonder what happens if the AQI reaches 300 (probably not much because the Americans will have cleared out and abandoned post at that stage). Maybe the Americans can manage their updates remotely from their tropical beach in Guam and the face will do this:

Panic_Emoticon-vlp78j-d


The Chinese website classifies an AQI of 55 ‘good’. I like their optimistic approach - it’s a damn sight better than waking up to sad faces every morning.



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The Fan Man


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Baby A has known ten different ‘homes’ in the last four months. He is essentially a vagrant. He must wake up every morning and wonder if he’ll go to sleep that night in the same cot, the same house, the same continent. I’m not sure, at thirteen months, he fully understands the concept of travel, especially if it takes place in something other than his pram. When we go in the lift, he thinks I’m just annoyingly choosing to stand still in the tiny room again. He has no idea that he currently lives thirty floors up in the air.

I feel that Baby A needs some stability in his life. A constant. Something that he can derive comfort from when he feels unsure - something soft and portable. A sponge perhaps? Or maybe something more purpose built. Baby A, sadly, has no interest in cuddly toys. He likes distinctly uncuddly things. His first attempt to bond with an inanimate object was earlier in the summer in Cork when he took a liking to a wooden spoon. He crawled around with the spoon in his hand, ate with the spoon in his hand and went for walks with the spoon in his hand. At night, Mr Oh would creep into his room about half an hour after he fell asleep and gently pry the spoon out of his clenched fist in order to prevent him from inadvertently poking himself in the eye in his sleep. We tried to replace the spoon with a soft stuffed dog (he likes dogs). It didn’t work. I’d give him the dog and he’d throw it at my head. He would then shout until someone gave him the spoon.

When we left Cork, we had to leave the spoon behind. It was then that Baby A became attached to a green and yellow plastic spade. Same story. He would wake up from a nap with spade marks on the side of his face from sleeping with the object of his affection gripped tightly under his head (because he suspected his daddy of daylight spade thievery). One sad day, after weeks of being crushed under the iron grip of a willful baby, the handle of the little green spade cracked and that was the end of the spade. We gave him an identical blue and red spade but he was having none of it. In the time honored tradition of communicating his displeasure, he threw the blue and red spade at my head.

On arriving in China, Baby A quickly took up with a plastic fan that we got free in Din Tai Fung. It has barely been out of his sight in three weeks. He likes to swan around playcare with it in his hand like a baby Karl Lagerfeld. He stands at the toy kitchen mixing invisible soup with a plastic ladle while fanning himself (and occasionally, if he’s in a giving mood, anyone who stops by to play with him).

I wish he’d just find a stuffed dinosaur or something that he likes instead. You may think that a plastic fan is harmless, but it’s not. Earlier this morning, Baby A crawled over to me to give me a big hug and a lovely kiss that smelled distinctly of puke. I spent the next half an hour gingerly exploring the apartment looking for the inevitable puddle of regurgitated croissant that no doubt came up when he accidentally stuck the handle of the fan too far down his gullet. It was near the front door under his walker.

I fear though I may be fighting a losing battle. A generous passerby gave him a second plastic fan this afternoon. He’s discovering that it’s hard to crawl with a fan in each hand so he’s taken to sitting in the middle of the room waving his hands about like a baby-proofed Edward Scissorhands - see photo above.

Tomorrow morning we take up residence in our new semi-permanent apartment. It’s a very exciting step for us (even if we won’t have any furniture until our shipment arrives in October). Finally, Baby A will have a home - probably the first home he’ll remember when he’s older. I’m hoping to lose both fans in the move. If he needs a comfort item, I’ll be standing by with a stuffed dinosaur.

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Ma-sa-ji

foot-massage-3


The main reason I wanted to move back to China is that I resent paying €70 for a bad massage. Hmmm, I think I might submit the previous sentence to middleclassproblems.com. The Chinese are wrong about many things - pig organ soup, spitting, construction safety, Westlife, street peeing etc - but they understand the many and varied health benefits of regular massage.

We’ve been here for over a month now and, before last night, I had only had one massage. It was a foot massage (start small) and it didn’t work out very well. The massage itself was very nice but unfortunately it left my foot muscles so relaxed that, on the way home, through at dark alley at 11pm my ankle gave way and I tumbled onto the concrete in front of a handful of semi-amused construction workers who were washing their undies by a tap. Hardly swanlike. At least they didn’t laugh. I decided to pretend that I intentionally decided to aquaint myself with the dirty, damp alley floor as part of normal ‘laowai’ (foreigner) activity that was so sophisticated as to be unknown to them and therefore beyond their comprehension. I think they bought it. I scraped myself off the ground and, with as much dignity as I could muster, limped exuberantly home with blood streaming down my shin and a grin plastered on my face.

The injury - both physical and mental - had by last night faded sufficiently for me to reattempt a Chinese massage. I thought it better to stick to the foot massages for the time being. During my first stint in China in 2002, I went for a full-body massage with the blind masseurs who are well known for their skill in the area. They are strong and the massage is not for the faint hearted. As the masseur pressed his elbow into my lower back, I knew I had reached the limit of my pain threshold. He’s blind so grimacing to indicate discomfort was not an option and he didn’t speak any English. I tried to use my feeble Chinese to communicate my wishes. I said ‘zhong yidian’ - which I thought meant ‘too strong’. I couldn’t understand it when he just kept going and, if anything, seemed to be intent on tormenting me. I winced with the pain and repeated ‘zhong yidian’ but he didn’t let up. I spent the rest of the massage sobbing quietly while the blind man drove his thumbs into my tender, silently screaming spine. He must have thought I was so weak and foreign that I couldn’t even handle a little tiny bit of discomfort. The Chinese, I knew, firmly believed that a massage must be painful for it to be good. Who am I to argue with hundreds of years of blind massage knowledge? It was several weeks before I realized, in conversation with a colleague, that what I should have said was ‘yidian zhong’ - too strong - rather than ‘zhong yidian’ - stronger. The poor man probably through I was some crazy laowai trying to punish myself. Sometimes a little bit of the wrong language is a dangerous thing!

With this 10 year old memory still far too fresh in my mind, I resolved to stick to the foot massages until I was ready to take the step up to a full-body. That way you can at least kick them if they hurt you. It’s hard (and wrong) to kick a blind man when you’re lying on your tummy with your head stuck in round toilet-seat-shaped hole.

Mr Oh was kind enough to mind the mini-him while I toddled off for some me time. The price of an hour’s foot massage in my local place here is 120RMB, about €15. It’s not the cheapest in town but it’s good and, to be honest, if you go any cheaper you could get more than you bargained for. It’s also a great opportunity to practice my Chinese and my grasp of the language is better than it used to be (if it fails, there’s still the kicking option).

It’s a bit weird, but they always give a male therapist to female client and vice versa. I used to ask to have a female therapist but I think I got a reputation as a bit of a lesbian as a result so I’m willing to bow to cultural norms on this one. My nice massaji-man, No. 58 as he introduced himself, and I were getting along quite well and, as he worked on my shoulders, he tried to convince me to go for the oil foot massage instead of the normal one as apparently I was very stiff. The oil is a swizz. They charge an extra 50 RMB for it and it was not immediately clear how rubbing oil on my feet, as opposed to the standard cream, was going to help my muscle tension. I told him it was too expensive. He was unrelenting and I knew he was going to annoy me about this until I agreed to go for the expensive option. In his eyes, I was a rich foreigner and therefore ripe to be ripped off. Using every ounce of Chinese vocabulary available to me I told him my sad story. I have no job. My husband, he works but he doesn’t allow me to have massages very often and would angry if he knew I had paid for an upgraded version. No. 58 nodded sympathetically. He suggested that I just don’t tell husband that I went for the expensive version. I sighed. “But when I go home, he will count my money and, if he learns that I have spent more, he will be rageful”. I blinked and sniffed a bit. “All day I stay at home carrying the very heavy baby - this is why I am so tense and my husband, he gives me small money but very watchful. Always watching, always counting money.” I looked away. He didn’t ask me again. I think being a downtrodden, abused housewife is a role I can work with. At least he doesn’t think I’m a lesbian.

Mr Oh thought this was hilarious. I’m going to bring him along next time - to deposit me at the door, scowl and give me my little money for my cheapest-on-the-menu massage. Catherine 1, China 0.

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Separation Anxiety

babya


Before Baby A happened, I honestly did not understand this whole crazy, emotional motherhood thing. Mr Oh and I said things like “the baby will fit into our life, we will not become totally baby focussed”. We were like Tweedledum and Tweedledee bouncing along aimlessly in the forest of dumbass.

I now sit nervously in the café beside the creche straining to hear a sound that might be the sound of my baby not being entirely happy. I am that woman. I am quite disappointed in myself but also kind of amazed that I’m so weird and insanimommy. Baby A is totally fine in creche - or ‘playcare’ as well call it here in Sinoland. He’s not crazy about the other babies. He doesn’t quite understand why they have to be there but he likes the stuff. They’ve got good play-kitchens, solid walkers and drawers full of plastic bouncy nondescript colorful things - winner.

I’m very lucky we’re not in Ireland. I don’t have to go back to work and drop him into the icy cold waters of 8-6 creching with no warning. He’s in playcare now from 8:30 to 12:30. I go with him for an hour, leave for an hour then go back and stay with him until he’s too tired to steal the other kids’ sippy cups (this happens at about noon). I’m in the playcare so much that some of the other toddlers and I have bonded. We hang out reading stories and having tea parties. Baby A mostly ignores me. He occasionally makes the food sign so that I bring him peeled tangerines, but otherwise, I’m superfluous to his needs. I could probably duck out for the whole four hours and he’d be fine. But I stay. I don’t think I’m ready to accept that he’s okay without me - that he can be happy, and develop and exist without me.

I read somewhere (when Baby A was very small) that parenthood is, from birth, a continuous process of letting go. That was a bit of a shock - I thought he’d be with me most of the time until he was thirty. I felt like I’d just got him, I didn’t want to start letting him go. I still don’t. But I realize also that he’s bored with me and, for him, I need a life outside of him. Just a small one, nothing too crazy - I don’t want to party in stilettos or even drink not-in-my-pyjamas - I maybe just want to go to the supermarket without the countdown to meltdown. I would quite honestly like to stand in the tea aisle and think about what kind of herbal infusion I would like. I could even pick up a box or two and look at the ingredients. I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I had enough croissant to last another 6 minutes.

The problem with playcare is not Baby A - it’s me. I might want to stand in the tea aisle for two minutes without being harried by a perpetually hungry, pre-verbal megalomaniac but any more than two minutes and I’d miss him. I miss him when he sleeps. I miss him when he’s out of my sight at all.

I like to think that the difference between me and the crazies is that I’m playing a long game. I don’t want to be insanimommy any more than I want Baby A to be tied to my apron strings (if all my aprons weren’t in the faraway shipment, alternatively he could be tied to the drawstring of my linen jammies or the brassy chain of my faux Chanel purse). He’s going to go to playcare and I’m going to do other things - like study and exercise and maybe drink in something that are not jammies (although hopefully not when he’s in playcare because that’s too early, even by my standards). He’ll still love me when he’s older. He’ll still ring me twice a week and he won’t roll his eyes when I talk. He’ll be well balanced and confident and secure, even though I left him for an hour a day when he was 13 months old.

I’m upping it to two hours a day next week. I may have to be flexible on the phone calls.

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