Wednesday, 21 October 2015
1. I know I swore I'd never write about anything pertaining to goldfish again but, as I'm discovering, goldfish are to young children what fixie bikes are to hipsters.
2. A flurry of white feathers just fluttered down outside my living room window. If I lived in a different country, I might investigate but as I live in China, I think it's best not to. Also, set to the background sound of the soprano practising her aria across the road in the Shanghai Conservatory of Music...the moment was quite dramatic, and weird.
So, last week I received an email from Little A's school informing me of the upcoming school trip and inviting me to attend. As is normal with Little A's school, the information provided was minimal. They would be going somewhere with "rollercoasters, water-rafting, gold-fishing and vegetable-picking". The thought of a clutch of 3-year-olds on rollercoasters and rafts in China (the 'in China' bit is important) set my A-dar blasting. (A-dar is the implant in my head that senses when Little A should not be doing something).
The school, while encouraging parents to go, weren't too happy about me bringing Snugglepunk along as well. They suggested I leave him at home (strapped into his highchair for the day with a supply of rice crackers perhaps?) and told me that it was too dangerous for a 1 year old (but not apparently for 3 year olds who are famous for being significantly more mature and world-wise than 1 year olds). It's not that I particularly fancied the idea of juggling two small children for the day, one of whom likes eating rubbish and the other who likes picking sticks off the ground and swishing them around in the faces of other young children while shouting 'I'm a pirate, ARGGGHHH...me hearties". But, I didn't want Little A to miss out on whatever it was that was happening and I certainly was not going to let him go under the supervision of the school which is well-meaning but generally chaotic and disorganised.
So, yesterday Little A, Snugglepunk and I set off on the school trip with two bags, one pram, two slings, two packets of baby wipes and about 300 rice cakes. It is impossible to have too many rice cakes.
Little A goes to an "international" school but it seems to be 90% Chinese. It's also supposed to be bilingual but I think it's bilingual in the way that all the Chinese kids speak Chinese and all the English speaking kids speak English and I don't sense a whole load of crossover. Little A never speaks Chinese in front of me so I’m never too clear how much he actually speaks and understands…more than me probably.
We took a tour bus an hour north of Shanghai which wasn't actually an hour north of Shanghai at all because it was still Shanghai...so perhaps better to say an hour north of my Shanghai. I had very little idea of what kind of place we were visiting, so at least my expectations were low. I had been on enough school trips with Little A to know that we needed to pack a lot of food. The school provided Little A with a "packed lunch" consisting rather randomly of two bottles of water, a banana, four mini "croissants" (i.e. bread rolls shaped like croissants) and two bread rolls shaped like bread rolls. I seem to use an inordinate amount of "quotation marks" when writing about China - maybe because things are often claimed to be things that we later find out are not the things they claim to be at all - if you get me. Little A and Snugglepunk had polished off the bread roll extravaganza before we even arrived so it's just as well I had also packed three tupperware boxes of sausage pasta, apples, juice and the 300 rice cakes. Small boys are hungry - I know this from experience.
We arrived at what seemed to be some kind of park. It was immediately clear that it was a very Chinese destination i.e. it was packed full of people and the bins were overflowing at 10am. The first mass activity of the day was a trip to the toilet (this is, after all, a class full of 3 year olds). The toilet was a ceramic trench with small dividers along the wall. There was no flushing, no water, no doors, no toilet paper. I've spent time in China so I was vaguely ok with this and knew that it was best not to dwell on it, not to breathe and not to touch anything. I'm seasoned at the way of the squat trench. Little A however was having none of it and refused to step near the trench. "I don't want to fall in", he said wisely and went outside to find a less offensive tree upon which to relieve himself. I made a mental note not to drink water again for the rest of the day.
The whole thing was a bit mental. There was a lady with a microphone and whistle whose job appeared to be to corral us like cattle. She also had a faded red flag raised high in the air that we were supposed to follow through the crowds of people and children all in their own groups, with their own red flags that looked entirely identical to our red flag. Every time we weren't doing what we should, she would start piping on her whistle and rabbiting down the microphone in Chinese. She was Captain Von Trapp in the squat body of a middle-aged Chinese tour guide, with a voice like a round-saw cutting metal.
The first "activity" (I'm starting to think I should just put quotation marks around the whole entry), was the "playground" which was, in fact a dated and decrepit amusement park. We had a jolly little ride on a squeaky train before Little A spotted a large swinging pirate ship and demanded that we go on it. I looked at the swarming mass of Chinese tweens pushing and clambering to get on the ride, which looked a bit rusty and didn't appear to have restraints and tried to jolly him off in the other direction. The only other rides were a spinning one with water guns and bumper cars. Little A took one look at the cars and said "I wanna drive car!". I thought "Well, that's not possible, he's only 3...surely he wouldn't be allowed on the bumper cars" but, you know, it's China so I don't know why I thought that, of course 3 year olds can go on the bumper cars! In fact, it turns out that 1 year olds are also allowed on them but some maternal instinct at the back of my spine must have kicked in because I decided that Snugglepunk was a tad too young to be bashed around in an electrified vehicle. My Chinese friend Kitty offered to take Aodhan on the bumper cars. While he was at first delighted, his joy turned to horror as he realised that the cars were crashing into each other and he started to get panicked. Kitty, however, managed to drive around the little bumper car arena in smooth circles avoiding all other cars and people while Little A sat frozen in terror beside her.
Thankfully, activity 1 was now over. Activity 2 was a "boat" ride. The "boat" was a series of bamboo poles tied together with benches strapped on top. The "life jackets" were pieces of orange material stuffed with something that may or may not have been buoyant. Apparently they also have no problem with one year olds on floating bamboo rafts although they had neither child nor infant versions of the possibly-though-not-necessarily-buoyant "life-jackets". Not wanting to be the neurotic foreigner who wouldn't participate, I gingerly stepped onto the raft clutching my two children, and chose a bench towards the back. Just after I got on, about 6 other families pushed their way onto our raft, including one that wedged themselves onto our bench. The gondolier-man shouted "too heavy!" so two more men jumped on. He shouted "too heavy!" again. I was about to volunteer to get off as the raft started listing precariously to one side and then, Tour Guide Von Trapp herself hopped on, shouted at the man with the pole and off we lurched into the middle of a lake of unknown depth. I looked down at the bamboo poles that separated us from the water and saw that they were now submerged and water was starting to pool around my shoes. If I had a picture of my face at that moment, I am entirely sure it would have been ashen. It's not that I can't swim, I can swim just fine, but the two little boys can't swim and didn't have life jackets, and the raft was slightly submerged with one side rising up out of the water. I was the only person concerned, apparently, as everyone else was chattering away and Tour Guide Von Trapp blew down on her whistle in a moment of, what seemed from my panic station at the back, to be exuberance and joy. Snugglepunk started to squeal and try to wriggle out of my arms. I forced a smile and looked down at Little A beside me. With my best jolly voice I said, "Isn't this fun? A boat!". He looked up weakly and said, "I want to get off". I nodded, gripped his hand and started trying to remember what I had learned in those two lifesaving classes I did when I was 14. Thankfully, it was a short boat ride.
Swiftly moving on to Activity 3...fishing. Sorry, "fishing". Fishing consisted of a series of large plastic tubs filled with water and terrified goldfish around which dozens of crazed children with nets were wedged, frantically trying to, ehm, fish. When a fish was caught, it was squeezed into a container of some kind, usually a waterbottle the diameter of which was less than the diameter of the fish itself. Sometimes they didn't bother adding water - it was grim. For proof - see picture below. I'm not big into animal welfare but even I was slightly horrified. Even so, I gave Little A a net, squashed him in between some older kids and let him loose, knowing that the freaked out fish were all huddled together in the centre of the tub, beyond the reach of his little arms. He caught nothing. Eventually, Tour Guide Von Trapp got on the whistle again and we all assembled under her frayed red flag. Little A looked around...all the other children had goldfish. He looked at me plaintively, "Where's my fish?", he wailed. And in a very Augustus Gloop fashion, he threw a net at me, pointed to the tubs and screamed "GET ME A FISH. NOW!". My little tyrant - so cute.
Normally, I would deal with this like a good parent, gently talk to him about his tone and help him deal with and understand his emotions. But I had been in that godforsaken park for 3 hours, I was sweating, Snugglepunk was screeching for food, i had at least 7 mosquito bites and all my good-parent-motivation was drowned in the lake. I picked up the net and took myself over to the fish tub. After a minute of failed fishing, I gave up. The net was too small, the children were pushing me and the fish were wiley. Unable to face the prospect of Little A's inevitable meltdown and the ensuing chaos, I looked desperately around for a solution. Kitty pointed to a man with a barrell. I gave the man 20 kuai (€3) and he gave me a little fish box with a handle and there were 7 little fish inside! A failure for parenting, perhaps, but a triumphant win for my afternoon sanity. Predictably, Little A was bored of carrying the fish approximately 3 minutes later so I was left to juggle baby in sling, fish in hand, buggy in other hand and small child trailing behind me whining that he wanted to go home.
Activity 4 was "peanut picking". Despite the fact that I had three Epi-pens in my bag, I did not feel like bringing my nut-allergic baby "peanut picking", quotations marks or not. Instead I spent 45 minutes milling around the rubbish strewn entrance, waiting for the group to finish the final activity and watching my children lick the railings.
Eventually it was over and we were back on the bus. Some parents had to take another bathroom break before we got back on the bus. It had been 4 hours since we had last been to the bathroom but I was holding it in. Kitty came back looking shell-shocked. She didn't want to speak about it. And she's Chinese - that's saying something.
On the bus, Little A turned to me and said. “I had a great time”. Confused I asked, “Did you like the bumper cars?”. “No.”, he said, “They were dangerous”. “Ok, did you like the boat?”, I asked. “No”, he said, “That was dangerous”.
“So, what did you like?”, I asked again. “Mummy came”, he said, before falling asleep against the window. Sniff.
So now we have our four fish, plus the seven from the school trip, two of whom are already dead. Current fish count: 9.
Likelihood that I'll never mention fish again in my blog: low.
Tuesday, 22 September 2015
I'm just going to get the bad news out of the way at the beginning...Orange and Other Orange are dead. They were as happy as two fish in a giant blue-lit filtered tank when we left for the summer. Mr Oh also did a stellar job at remembering to feed them occasionally when he was in Shanghai on his own. When he was due to join us in Ireland, he brought the fish into his office where they died. I don't blame them. Offices are no place for fish (or people really). Whenever I used to go into the office every day, sometimes I felt a bit green around the gills too. I didn't die though...I just had a string of children, moved to Shanghai and refused to go back. If only that option were available to pet goldfish.
Orange died first. I didn't ask how but I know that he made at least one attempt at fish suicide before his eventual demise. Other Orange did make it back to us at the end of the summer, but he didn't look great and it was clear that his time on earth was limited. Little A was delighted to be reunited with Other Orange and did ask me a few times where Orange was (actually he calls all fish that are not the one he is looking at at that particular moment 'Other Orange'). I dealt with this skillfully by looking at the ceiling and saying something reassuring like "Oh, you know...here and there..".
Then one morning, Other Orange was gone too. Mr Oh got up early and disposed of his body. That morning, Little A stood on his small giraffe stool, staring into the empty bowl from a variety of angles, as if Other Orange might be wedged under a pebble. "Where has Orange gone?", he asked (still flexible with the goldfish names). I took an executive decision that this would be a good time to discuss death with the 3-year-old. I think the clearer and more forthright we are about these issues the better. I looked Little A in the eye and I said, "Other Orange died". Little A looked at me for a long time with what I recognised as his thinking-hard-face (eyebrows scrunched, mouth slightly open, head cocked slightly to one side). I stood panicked in front of him - a million thoughts and regrets running through my head. Do we discuss heaven? Should I tell him that Daddy threw Orange in the black bin out the back? What if he cries? What if I cry? What have I done? Can I run away now? etc etc.
Little A looked at me and said "Where did Orange dive to?". A big wave of relief washed over me. The universe was giving me a life raft and I was going to take it. "Ehm...the ocean", I said with my best knowledgable look (which is not be confused with my making-it-up-as-I-go-along-look, to which it bears a startling similarity). "Like Nemo?", Little A asked. "Yes", I responded, "Just like Nemo."
"Oh", Little A said, apparently satisfied. "Orange has gone to play with Nemo and Nemo's Daddy in the ocean". I nodded persuasively.
"I want to buy a new fish", Little A announced. I was still nodding.
That afternoon, I set off across Shanghai with Snugglepunk, Little A and Ayi on a fish buying expedition. I had to buy more fish before Little A starting poking holes in my ocean diving story. The place one buys goldfish in this part of Shanghai is the Flower, Bird, Fish and Cockroach market. I don't think that's its official name, but it should be. It's an airless, windowless maze of tiny ramshackle stalls heaving with various things that move and swim and squelch and slither. The floor is slimey and it's best not to look down generally. Also best not to wear flip-flops but I'll know that for next time. With Snugglepunk on my hip and clutching Little A's hand in a vice-like grip to stop him running off to pet an iguana, we inched our way along the narrow alleys - Ayi leading the way, Little A trying to break free from me and me trying not to think about what just touched my foot. Snugglepunk was sitting happily aloft having a good look around and saying 'F-f-f-f' every time he saw a fish, which was every half a second.
Once we located goldfish corner, Ayi turned to me and said "No talking". I nodded and whispered "get 4 fish". Ayi then commenced to shout and point while I pleaded with Little A not to touch anything, not the floor, not the insects, not the slime covered fish tanks, not the birds, nothing. All I wanted was to get out of there with a few fish and no microbes of mutated tropical disease clinging to my children. We came home with 8 fish, 3 kg of gravel and big, pink plastic plant. I'm still not sure about the microbes.
We didn’t really get very imaginative with the fish naming. One was called Orange, one called Little Orange, then there was Other Orange 1, Other Orange 2, Other Orange 3, Black Fish (who was not orange) and Burt Reynolds.
The fish have not fared terribly well. One jumped out the first night. I found his lifeless fish-corpse lying on the floor in front of the tank. Mr Oh disposed of the body. Another was found floating in the top of the tank several days later. Mr Oh is a very good sport about his unsolicited role as fish undertaker. Things seemed ok for a few weeks and then I noticed that the fish all seemed to be infected with some kind of fungus that causes their fins to rot and open sores to appear on their body. I bought fish medicine but, alas, no amount of modern medicine could help those poor fish. One more died last night and Mr Oh bludgeoned another to death this morning to put him out of his misery. We're down to four fish and one of them has an ulcer on his head so I imagine he's next. It's become a real problem because although Little A's counting skills are rudimentary (he just counts the fish every time he sees them so at one point he thought there were 23 fish in the tank which, incidentally, is as high as he can count), even he will notice when we're down to three fish.
I need to source disease-free fish in China. I think online might be the answer. I am certainly not going back to the cusp of creepy-crawlie hell that is the slime market. I might try Taobao. I didn't think live fish was the kind of thing you would be able to buy online and have delivered but then I remembered that this is China...everything can be bought online and delivered. Even a live fox (see below, poor fox looks none too happy about finding itself in the online Chinese marketplace).
I should really just abandon my dreams of having a fish-filled house and just stop buying fish but the boys love them...and i have the stupid tank now. I promise I'm going to stop writing about goldfish soon.
Thursday, 26 September 2013
“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).
Thursday, 26 July 2012
I am vexed. The flies fly into the house. They congregate in the centre of rooms and fly in small circles for hours on end. There are dozens of them. They give the living room the air of slaughter-house - it’s not a good vibe. I can’t figure out why they fly in circles under the lights…the lights are not on. They don’t really fly anywhere else. Sometimes perhaps in small circles around the pineapple, but mostly it’s in the centre of the room under the light.
I have spent hours trawling the internet looking for an answer to this question. If Yahoo Answers is anything to go by, it seems that I am not the first person to wonder why flies fly in circles in the centre of rooms. I wonder what was wrong with those other people? At least I have an excuse - I’m pregnant, housebound and my world is about to be irrevocably altered. It is therefore natural (and acceptable) for me to flail in a puddle of inane and pointless thought. The other people who think about the flight path of flies are, however, I suspect, insane.
Despite my level of research, I have not come across a conclusive answer to my question. Suggested explanations vary:
- Flies fly round and round because they are searching for a perch as it is the best position to fight off a rival and for attracting a mate. (I would prefer if flies did not mate in my living room).
- Flies can’t hover so they circle. (Interesting but doesn’t explain why the circling always takes place right in the centre of the room nor why they just don’t fly in a random pattern).
- If they flew in a straight line, they would fly into the wall. (Fair point).
- They are dumb and they have small brains. (So, it would seem are most of the people trying to answer this question)
- Because they queue up before the lights get switched on in the evening, like for a night club where people rock up really early. (Plausible)
I didn’t get to conclude my research because I had to go back to the hospital today. Because I’m overdue, the midwives wanted me to see a doctor in the hospital so I had to go to the general outpatients clinic. I have been spared this ordeal up to now because I am on a special scheme called Domino which has meant that my ante-natal care has been entirely taken care of by a team of very lovely midwives and also by my very lovely GP. I haven’t had to see any other doctors. I have been sheltered and swaddled in a cocoon of loveliness and warmth. Today my fluffy bubble was rudely and violently burst. Kind of literally too.
I had an appointment for 1.40pm - so naturally I showed up at 1pm and was told that I was number 19. All fine so far. The waiting room started to fill up and by 1.45 there were no seats. The nurses asked that all non-pregnant people stand up and give their seats to the pregnant. By 2pm, there were no seats for even the pregnant people who started to line the corridors in various states of giantness. The hospital was starting to look like a refugee centre, there were babies and buggies and screaming children and heavily pregnant women fanning themselves as they slumped against walls. There were nurses shouting out instructions and handing out cups for urine samples. The toilets were overflowing. By 2.30 they were on number 6. I wanted to cry (and then I saw that the woman standing beside me was number 71 and I felt a bit better).
Across from me, three pregnant teenagers were discussing how they couldn’t wait to get wasted after their babies were born. Since falling pregnant, they had only been drinking cans and were looking forward to some vodka cokes. I wasn’t judging them - I despise the baseless teetotal nazi school of prohibitionist pregnancy advocates. I think replacing vodka with cans is displaying a measure of responsibility (although it really depends on the number of cans they were talking about…). No, what I found disturbing was not the fact that the pregnant tweens were drinking, but rather the fact that I rather fancied the idea of a vodka coke right about then. I don’t even like vodka but I’d just seen a ‘doctor’ emerge from one of the examination rooms and I really wanted to walk up to him and say ‘Despite what you clearly think, growing a beard does not make you look old enough to be a doctor so take off the stethoscope, tuck in your shirt and go out and play in the sunshine’. The thought of trusting my unborn child to the obstetric insight of Baby Doc Trotsky was enough to make me want vodka, with coke. Or - if I was allowed to choose - a margarita - on account of the sunshine.
Thankfully, the child prodigy was not the doctor who eventually emerged calling my number. Instead, I had a suitably professional looking non-man doctor who ushered me into a room, administered a very unpleasant membrane sweep (don’t google it, it’s not fun) and sent me on my deeply un-merry way within 5 minutes without a whole lot of chit-chat other than to tell me that if I failed to birth naturally, I would be induced next Wednesday. As I left they were at number 23…and I felt particularly sad for poor number 71 who was still standing against the wall in the corridor and would probably remain so for several more hours.
Mr Oh made me sandwiches and I have returned to the bean bag to ponder how much pineapple I need to eat to avoid induction and/or ever having to go back to the public outpatients clinic.