What I Did Last Summer

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And...we're back!    We've all returned to Shanghai - Little A has returned to school - I've returned to checking the air quality every hour,  retching on the street (the sound of spitting does it to me) and screaming "Don't touch that!" at least five times an hour.  Summer is officially over! 

When I first arrived here, I heard about the total mass exodus of expats from Shanghai during the summer.  If you're foreign, have children and are able to - you leave - for months if you can.  It all sounds a bit decadent at first but after I did Summer 2014 in Shanghai, I swore never again.  It's 40 degrees, 100% humidity, the pollution sticks to the sweat in your hair, there are still no parks, the schools are closed, everyone is gone. In summer, the Chinese to French person ratio in my neighborhood skyrockets and the sock-less Vespa riders disappear from the roads. So, this year, we left too.  

The prospect of two months of clean air made me happy to unprecedented proportions.  So much so that I was willing to do that journey again - you know the day-time one that I do on my own with the two boys that lasts 13 hours and then the Heathrow transfer and then another hour long flight?  Yeah, that one.   Mr Oh looked a bit terrified for me as he waved goodbye to us at the airport.   He was following us a month later.  No, I didn't feel sorry for him.  He had a month of partying, fabulous dinners, lie-ins and lazy weekends to look forward to.  I had a month of laundry, and solo-parenting ahead of me, plus that awful journey.   In reality, he appeared to do rather little partying and spent his weekends sitting forlornly on the sofa playing his guitar into the middle-distance.  

And the journey was fine.  Once you accept that you will spent 13 hours being bitten and crawled upon by a 10 month old, wrangling three people into a dirty plane toilet at regular intervals, bribing an almost 3 year old with snacks and endless TV and trying to stifle the sobs of boredom and frustration that are welling up inside you like a tidal wave of volcanic emotion.  Once you make your peace with that - it’s totally doable.  It also makes you feel like a superhero (only when it's over though, during the actual journey you will feel like a human dishcloth - damp with sweat, fear, breastmilk and the various bodily fluids of your small children).   

If anyone would like further information on flying solo with young kids, please see my earlier post
here.  

We had an amazing two months in Dublin, London and the south of France.  Snugglepunk crawled on grass for the first time ever.  Little A dug potatoes out of the garden and learned that not all dirt contains nuclear waste.   We went for walks, ran over sand dunes, swam in the sea (France), paddled in the sea until our feet got headaches (Ireland), climbed walls, visited castles and playgrounds, ate food that was high-quality and healthy (Percy Pigs are made from real fruit juice) and did all the things that we can't do in China.  We saw some friends - not as many as we would have liked but Snugglepunk isn't a fan of the car, much like his brother before him (
see previous post on baby car-travel trauma).  

I even became a Godmother for the first time (Hiya Baby T!) which was amazing.  Our boys don't have a lot of experience in churches (they are, however, incredibly well behaved in Buddhist temples).  After Baby T's christening, Little A ran up to me, pointed at the altar and said "I want to go up there and sing Let It Go".  I said "Let's go light some candles for your great-grandmothers instead who are, at this moment, turning in their graves".  Little A said "Ok, that sounds fun."  He lit six candles and promptly blew them all out.  I had to hold my hand over his mouth as he started to sing Happy Birthday to the lady statue.  I looked over at Little A's own Godmother and sighed...she's got her work cut out for her.  

Mr Oh joined us in London and we all spend the next 3 weeks jetting around Europe consuming our body weight in ice-cream and raw meat.  We were able to travel back together to China although I noted that Mr Oh brought his book with him on the plane which I thought was hilarious. 

So 7 weeks later, here we are.  Back again.  On return, we spent 7 full days tortured by jet-lag and children who tag-teamed night time waking so that I never got any sleep.  Just when I thought they’d fetch a good price on Taobao, they all started sleeping again and I got bronchitis.  Ah China bronchitis...it's good to be home. 

Footnote: The title photo appears courtesy of the London Massive (i.e. my bro and sister-in-law). It’s not really courtesy of them because I haven’t asked them if I can use it yet. In fact, I only realized they probably took the photo when I noticed that it appeared strangely unwarped - which is unheard of in any panoramic iPhone shot that either me or Mr Oh have attempted. Our panoramas look like a bad dream. The London Massive, however, know how to work their iPhones - this is how we know it was them.

The photo itself was taken at Uisneach, the sacred and mythological centre of Ireland. We spent a morning on this hill looking at bulls and sacrificing our hangovers to the ancient gods of Ireland. (The hangovers were courtesy of my cousin Jude and her new husband Trevor who had the most amazing wedding in a field…as you do).
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The Curious Case of the Circling Flies

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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.



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Being Enormous

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I’m finding it harder to write my blog. Not because I’ve lost interest in it or because I don’t have the time - it’s just that I don’t have very much to write about. I’ve written about back pain, bloating, hormones, cereal, milk and Percy Pigs. Really, what more is there? I can no longer tie my own shoelaces. Is this newsworthy?

New things don’t really happen to me from one day to the next at the moment. I am essentially immobile. Mr Oh drives me in and out of work. Going across the road at lunchtime to get a sandwich makes me so tired I have to nap under my desk afterwards. My colleagues have taken to waddling down the corridors after me in mock baby penguin formation and I am told ‘You’re enormous’ at least once a day (Really? Am I? Compared to what - a baby elephant?....a sumo wrestler?... or just a woman who is not 33 weeks pregnant??).

This week I was sitting in a meeting beside a middle-aged man I had never met before whose first words to me were ‘You must be overdue. When were you due?’. I assured him that if I were overdue I would be at home munching on raw chillies and pineapple and not sitting beside him contemplating the outline of a strategy paper that would be written, discussed, commended and then promptly forgotten about until it was decided in five years time that we need a strategy paper at which point the entire process would begin again like an incredibly boring re-run of Groundhog Day. Such is the perpetual cycle of public sector strategising. I actually didn’t say any of those things to him. I just gave him a weak smile and said “I’m not due for another seven weeks”. Had he known me better, I’m sure he would have told me that I was enormous. Had I known him better, I would then have growled at him.

Despite the tone of the paragraph above (and maybe the one above that as well), I’m not actually grumpy. Although I am in a state of deep discomfort on account of the kung-fu water balloon compressing my internal organs, I’m pretty zen and relaxed. Mr Oh pointed out that I’m the first person he’s known who is literally engaged in naval-gazing for much of the day. I like to sit on the sofa and watch my bump move around. Little limbs push out here and there and slide under the skin like the sandworms from Dune. I play the baby music and talk to it about important things like sandwiches and celebrities. I’m also watching my bellybutton slowly disappear - I reckon it’s just about ready to pop out (too much information?)

I wonder if the baby knows that there’s a world out here. The only world it knows is inside me. It probably thinks I’m its god. Or maybe it thinks I’m its captor - it feels like it’s trying to get out sometimes. I think it likes me in general, I feed it custard on demand.

People say nice things to you when you’re pregnant too. The man in Cafe Sol told me - after he’d seen me leave the back of the queue one day because the wait was too long - that I didn’t have to queue for my maple pecan pastry in the morning - that I could just walk right up to the till because I have priority. The man giving out the free Metro paper on the corner presses the pedestrian button when he sees me coming so that the lights change on time for me (at least, I think that’s why he does it but it never works). A junkie shooting up outside my local Tesco asked me if I was having a boy or a girl. Taxi drivers give me blow by blow accounts of their wives 6-day labours. My favourite comment (although not pregnancy related) came from an elderly British gentleman I was speaking to at a lunchtime business reception last week. I was standing with a glass of sparkling water and when a photographer came over to take our picture, the man said ‘Lower your glass, dear, or people will think you’re a lush’. I thought this was hilarious, particularly as he was completely serious (I did lower my glass though).

So besides work and home, the only places I go at the moment are Tesco, yoga and Eurobaby on the Long Mile Road (had never been to the Long Mile Road before - very disappointed - expected it to be like the Vegas Strip but turns out just to be an industrial estate with a roller disco). Babies, it turns out, need a lot of stuff. We’ve put the bed against the wall in the spare room to make way for all the stuff. Baby now officially has more possessions than Mr Oh. Baby’s possessions though are generally smaller than Mr Oh’s, but not that much smaller because, as you will recall, I’m enormous.

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