Enter the Bear


You know what this blog needs? A birth story.

Please come back...I promise no-one eats their own placenta. In fact, I vow not to mention placentas at all. There. How can you resist an offer like that? It’ll be edifying and fun.

Ok, lets crack on. So in the autumn of 2016, I found myself ‘with child’ as the virgin Mary says. My joy was short-lived. I had morning sickness so unwavering and unrelenting that I would often cry with the thought of another day of work, children, house, awakeness. The exhaustion was crushing and never-ending - no amount of sleep filled my cup. People would sit beside me on the DART carrying with them viscous haze of cigarettes or perfume and I would have to clear my mind and think of a cool, mountain spring to stop me vomiting all over them. In work, I would hold on to my desk as the floor seemed to slide off to one angle and then retch violently into the bin. I don’t remember much - I think I blocked it out.

I’m writing this to formally note that the term ‘morning sickness’ is offensive to those ashen faced women who want nothing more than to crawl into bed and be knocked unconscious for months at a time. It implies that you wake up in the morning, feel a wee bit off-form for about ten minutes and then continue on with your day bathing in the warm light of that special glory reserved for those who are creating life. There is no glowing. There is only grinding, interminable nausea that sucks the joy out of every single thing in your life. But you’re not allowed to talk about it because your pregnancy is still supposed to be a secret at the point when you most want to turn into a mushroom and melt back into the earth. You continue as normal - working, commuting, cooking dinner (my kids ate sandwiches for dinner for three months) - because you’re only pregnant and you’re supposed to just get on with things. I deeply resent the ‘get on with things’ attitude attached to pregnancy. I’m making an actual human being - let me have a goddamn nap under my desk.

Sozfest. Got a bit carried away. Ok so let’s do what they do in the movies and skip over the next six months with a cheery montage of fun pregnancy activities which include standing precariously on a step ladder in dungarees with a paintbrush, running on a beach (*snort*) and sitting on the floor of the kitchen by the light of the fridge eating pickles and ice-cream. A more realistic montage would involve shots of me napping on the train, napping in the bean bag, napping on the floor of the children’s bedroom while they cry...the pickles and ice-cream scene can stay too - that happened.

This did not:


Nor did this:


Taking up the story again two days past my due date. I have just spent half an hour googling whether tom yum soup has ever induced labour...followed by whether tom yum soup is safe in pregnancy. I should have done both these things before I ate the tom yum soup. I also googled “Is back pain plus exhaustion a sign of impending labour”. It turns out it’s just a sign of being 38. I decided to go to sleep. I awoke two hours late with a sharp pain my cervix. One only really knows where one’s cervix is when the fecker starts doing something. For years, decades even, the cervix stands immovable and silent, like a stone wall, and then, as if the baby inside had silently whispered “open sesame” from the depths of his amniotic bubble, it starts moving. It’s not unlike a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In the dim lighting of our bedroom, Mr Oh does look a bit like Harrison Ford. I wake up to tell him I’m in labour. He mutters something inaudible that sounded a bit like “ok so” and started snoring. Indy would never have done that. I gave him a sharp, accidental kick in the upper thigh. It had no effect but to make me feel slightly better. Feeling underwhelmed by his reaction, I went downstairs to sulk/labour in the bean bag alone until morning.

The morning came, and I was still having contractions. Mr Oh remained deeply unmoved by the seismic event I was experiencing and pottered about the house making tea. At 10am, he decided to take Little A to his swimming lesson. I reminded him of the fact that I was in labour. He reminded me of the fact that my last labour went on for three days, it was incredibly boring and there were not enough snacks. He left. I made a sandwich and pulled out the TENS machine.

A TENS machine is a little device where a set of electrodes are attached to a labouring woman’s back and when she presses a button, the machine sends an electric pulse along the wires, into the electrodes and into the pregnant woman’s internal organs. I did not make this up. It is supposed to help with the pain of contractions. It is rooted in the well-known medical theory of distraction through electrocution. Every time you get a contraction, you press the buzzer on the hand-held taser and electricity courses into the kidneys. Imagine stubbing your toe, and as you’re reeling from the pain, someone slaps you in the face - that’s what a TENS machine is like. Super little device - it just confuses the pain out of you.

Mr Oh came back from swimming to find that I had not, in fact, given birth in the driveway. I was a bit disappointed - it would have been one hell of a ‘told you so’ and I am so not above having a roadside birth if it would bestow upon me enough martyred righteousness to power a decade’s worth of marital arguments. Instead, he found me bouncing on my swiss ball, still very much pregnant, electrocuting myself at irregular intervals and cursing.

He had the good sense to deposit Little A and Snugglepunk with the grandparents. I took this as a sign that he was ready to focus on the birthing of our child. I soon discovered that it was actually a sign that he was ready to focus on garden maintenance. By the time the front and back lawns were mowed, my contractions had become very painful. I handed him my phone and assigned him the job of timing the contractions while I paced up and down the back garden in the hope of regularising them. They say that once you cannot keep walking or talking through contractions, you’re seriously on your way to having a baby. After a series of contractions that fully stopped me in my tracks with a pain so intense that I could barely breathe as it exploded through my body, I wanted information on the interval between contractions and details of whether they were of regular duration and spacing. I looked up at Mr Oh, who was as you will remember tasked with compiling this information, and found that he had set my phone down on the path and was himself, on his hands and knees, trimming the edge of the lawn with a pair of kitchen scissors. It was unclear whether the stream of expletives that subsequently emanated from my person were as a result of the piercing contractions, the electrocution of the organs or the fecklessness of the husband.

At 3pm, I told Mr Oh that I wanted to go to the hospital. He said “No, it’s too early”. I thought (or maybe I said), “What would you know? You’ve been fixated on the grass for the last three hours, you wouldn’t notice if I was crowning on the patio”. I accepted that it was probably too early - my contractions weren’t yet regular but they were very strong. And I wanted to go to the hospital - I didn’t care if they sent me home again - I didn’t really want to give birth in the driveway, not even for the mother of I-told-you-so’s. And so we got into the Oscartavia (which is Little A’s name for the Skoda Octavia) - Mr Oh, me, the hospital bag and a giant pink birthing ball wedged into the back seat. And off we hurtled to the hospital, which was about 30 minutes away.

It was 10 June 2017, one of the hottest days of that year. The air-conditioning in the Oscartavia was broken so I had rolled down all the windows. As we approached the hospital, I felt relief wash over me. And then, as we zoomed right past the hospital door, relief was replaced with panic, disbelief and a soupcon of homicide. “What are you doing?” I demanded as the hospital faded in the distance behind us. “It’s too early”, Mr Oh said, “we’re going to Dun Laoighaire”.

“We are in my...oh, another contraction...” and I started hollering out the window.

Dun Laoighaire is a picturesque seaside suburb, 30 minutes south of the hospital. I think it’s a nice place but I did not want my baby to be born there, mainly because there is no maternity hospital in Dun Laoighaire. There is ice-cream, however. And Mr Oh suddenly had a hankering for ice-cream. As we got further and further away from the hospital, I contemplated opening my door and rolling out onto the road, but I was, at that exact moment, the wrong body shape for rolling. So, I sat in the car as we drove to Dun Laoighaire, gripping the edges of my seat as my labour marched onwards, blithely unaware of Mr’s Oh’s treachery and deceit. When we got there, the place was, naturally, jammed with people and the traffic slowed to a crawl. Tourists sauntered past the window, inches from me as I was loudly vocalising each contraction. Mr Oh tried to close the windows, presumably to stave off the mortification of your pregnant wife birthing in front of strangers. I did not give a flying fox who heard me so the windows stayed down. It was at that moment that I looked him in the eye and said ‘Take me back, now’. He looked longingly to the right as we approached the ice-cream shop with a long queue of people snaking along outside it. “Are you sure you don’t want to stop?” he said. To this day, I don’t know if he was joking.

We reached the hospital at 5pm...two hours after we left our house. Mr Oh still thought they would send me home but we were not only admitted but brought straight up to the labour ward and assigned a midwife, who confirmed that I was ‘definitely in labour’. There was an hour of gas and air (very disappointing really, I expected so much more), more electrocution and a lot of chanting birth meditations like ‘it’s not pain, it’s power’ (it is pain, in case you were wondering...lots and lots of pain). I was busy ‘breathing my baby down’ as they say when I hit what is known in the business as ‘the transition’. It’s the part that feels like you’re either going to die or are possibly, already dead. Gas and air was abandoned, the TENS machine was ripped off and I started cursing at everyone - Mr Oh, the lovely midwife, anyone who tried to talk to me. It was also the exact point when Mr Oh said, “I need to go and feed the parking meter”. My head whipped up, and my eyes locked on his. In a voice that I do not recognise as my own, I said “you can get clamped, or you can get divorced”. He chose clamped. It was the correct choice.

45 minutes later, I took a break from screaming my head off to tell the midwife that I was going home as I didn’t want to do this anymore. Apparently, this is really common in childbirth and is a sign that the baby is about to arrive. Sure enough, 2 minutes later, there he was.

It’s always a shock when the baby arrives. Right up until the very last moment, I never actually fully accept that there will be a baby. It’s not fear, it’s just that there is some kind of unseen curtain between pregnancy and birth - something inexplicable and dense - like a wall of tumbling, blinding light. They say that labour is the closest that you can come to death in a regular, ordinary, daily kind of way. There’s something about it that is not just primal but unearthly. There is no-one and then there is someone - a small, new, slightly blue someone.

I called him Bear.

That’s not his real name, the name he knows and already answers to. It’s his blog name. I called him Bear after Bear Grylls - because he’ll basically have to raise himself in the wild surrounded by predators and rely on his wits to survive. Such is the way of the third child.

I’ll stop now, before we have to talk about the placenta. Mr Oh did not get clamped in the end. Every time we talk about that trip to Dun Laoighaire, he has a look in his eyes that says “I told you so”. He’s too smart to actually say it out loud, but I know he’s thinking it.


Guess Who's Back?


So I took a break to have a sandwich and suddenly it’s two and a half years later...*ahem*...sorry folks. But in my defence, I have been busy. Ok, that’s a crap excuse. I’ll flog myself later but first let me catch y’all up (I’m in one of those moods where I speak only in my “southern belle” accent, I would therefore appreciate it if you could, in your head, read this entry as if you were born and bred slightly west of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Damn, I’m starting to sound Welsh again, this always happens eventually).

So, quick update on what I have been doing between 10 December 2015 and today.

1. I did make a lot of sandwiches, that was no word of a lie.

2. I bought a house. Irish people are very into home ownership. I think it may surpass both the weather, and sliced pan as far as national fixations go. I may have gotten married and had children (yes, I know the order is wrong) but home ownership is like hardcore adulting. I am definitely a grown-up now...maybe I have to stop wearing the green crocs first, but I am very close to full-scale maturity.

I should say that ‘we’ bought a house. I could never buy a house on my own. Firstly, I couldn’t afford to buy anything more than a well-appointed garden shed on my single salary. Secondly, and equally important, I needed Mr Oh to do the actual house buying which appeared to be inordinately complicated and time-consuming (and mostly dull). Mr Oh had a long list of criteria that he was looking for in a home so it seemed logical that he would take the lead. He wanted four bedrooms, a moderately proportioned garden, an easy commute to work, local amenities etc. I just wanted a roof, walls, enough garden space to grow a small fairy village, and to sleep no more than 300 paces from the sea.

The only problem we had with the house buying plan other than budget, Mr Oh’s unreasonable and lengthy list of criteria, and the severe lack of housing stock in Ireland is the small issue of the fact that we were not actually in Ireland. We were in China, where the internet has to creep through a gazillion firewalls to eventually flop lazily into your computer and then wants to take a nap before you try to do anything else with it. Thankfully, houses are not bought over the internet on the basis of fastest fingers. Mr Oh spent months scouring the property sites looking for suitable homes. There wasn’t much out there. Occasionally, we found something we liked - sent out some obliging parental scouts to assess the properties - and, once, we got caught up in a bidding war by email which was great fun. It mostly consisted of me sitting in my pyjamas in Shanghai drinking wine and shouting “ten more grand” at Mr Oh, who thankfully had more sense than to treat the bidding process like a souped up episode of The Antiques Roadshow. It was a relief when, after a protracted process of submitting increasingly unjustifiable offers on this particular house, we were finally outbid (I must have run out of wine and gone to bed). Sometimes we drive by the house that we lost and I am hit by a (small) wave of guilt that the current owners and winners of the bidding battle, paid a lot more for their house than they would have if we had just gone out for dumplings that night.

Eventually, and just when I was starting to think we would never find the right house - we did. It has four bedrooms and a moderately sized garden. It is accessible by public transport. There is a fairy garden. And it is no more than 300 paces from the sea.

Yesterday Snugglepunk, who is now almost four and really living up to the ‘punk’ part of his name, used the horn of his toy rhino to gouge out several pieces of plaster from the landing wall. Where once I would have been consumed by fear for ‘the deposit’ and the almost certain loss of the deposit that seems to follow when one has small, destructive, selectively deaf children...on this occasion, because it’s our own house, I just shrugged, smiled benignly and threw the rhino out the window.

3. We left Shanghai and moved back to Ireland. A lot of things went into boxes. They then went on a ship and about six months later they came out of boxes. Mr Oh still thinks I own too much stuff but I have whittled down my possessions to such an extent that the only two items of frivolity that I insist on hauling around the world with me are a pair of small clay elephants and a ceramic pot filled with tiny flag-shaped badges from different countries. He will someday admit that, while we do seem to have a lot of stuff, most of it, while not exactly his, is used to house, clothe and maintain humans that he created. Minimalism is for people who don’t have children.

4. I went back to work. After four years of not working outside the home (and not really working that much inside it either because the ayi did that), this was a bit daunting. On my return I discovered that, in my absence, the entire office had been updated to a new version of Windows so I spent most of the first month trying to figure out how to attach files to emails and wistfully wondering if my children were thinking of me as they toddled around their creche. They weren’t.

5. I made a new person. It would be pretty uncool if I just announced his arrival into the world with fewer characters than I dedicated to describing the attempted suicide of our pet goldfish so I will postpone his formal introduction until the next entry.

So, there you have it. House - country - job - human - sandwiches. That stuff takes 2.5 years.


The Last Post I'll Ever Write About Goldfish

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.  

Pasted Graphic


What I Did Last Summer

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

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).

March of the Philistines

My soul is a cultural wasteland.  I don't read books that were written more than five years ago.  I hate the theatre (one-man plays, in particular, make me want to claw at my brain).  I don't see the point in concerts  - if I want to listen to Chopin, I'll do it from my kitchen while drinking wine and eating leftover Shepherd's Pie.  To Mr Oh's dismay, I don't even like gigs, unless there are seats, and wine.  I'm not fond of museums or galleries (no seats, no wine).  I quite like old churches (seats and sometimes wine), but that's about the limit of things I'll traipse out to look at.  My cultural aversion is such that I may be the only person to visit Beijing and not bother going to the Great Wall.  We did go to Tiananmen Square - big square, not much to see.  And we stood outside the Forbidden Palace (I took a wild guess that seats and wine were not among the forbidden enjoyments inside).  

In Shanghai, there isn't much to see by way of culture anyway.  The city itself is the attraction - the people, the alleyways, the buildings, the street food, the smells...ok, maybe not the smells...but the rest of it is pretty great.  Mr Oh is a bit more into seeing 'stuff' than I am and a few weeks ago,  in a rare show of spousal compliance,  I agreed to accompany him to the Shanghai Museum to look at stuff.  There were a lot of vases.  And people looking at vases.  It did not change my opinion on museums, or vases.  

But, there is one museum that I have been waiting a long time to visit - the newly opened Shanghai Natural History Museum.  If there is one thing that will make me leave the house with two children before 8am on a weekday, it's a building full of dinosaur bones and stuffed monkeys.  There aren't many things happening in Shanghai that appeal to an almost 3-year-old boy - so tales of long queues and massive crowds be damned - we were going to the Natural History Museum whether it was any good or not.  

In my experience of Chinese museums, the verdict tends to fall more heavily on the 'not' side of things.  China has a particular skill when it comes to tourism fail.  I once visited a limestone cave somewhere in Jiangsu Province to find that it was covered in pink neon strip lighting.  Places of interest are rammed with gabbling tour groups, the members of which are so busy documenting their experience that they forgot to have the experience in the first place.  If you don't have a video of it, it didn't happen.  Chinese tourists also seem to be of the view that if there aren't another 15,000 people doing the same thing as you, at the same time, it's probably not worth doing, or videoing.  

We tend to avoid anything touristy in China - partly because it's always aiming for, but never quite being, any good.  And partly because Little A and Snugglepunk usually become the attraction, and without swift intervention, get swallowed by a sea of people, documenting them, touching their heads and trying to pose for photos with them.  Only yesterday, a woman in a park got quite angry with me because I refused to let her hold Snugglepunk, as if he were some kind of communal baby I was failing to share with her.  And the day previously, as Mr Oh and Little A were crossing the road, a man crossing in the opposite direction reached down and touched Little A's face as he walked past, like rubbing a good luck charm.  He's lucky Little A didn't bite him.  He's lucky I didn't bite him.  He's particularly lucky that Mr Oh didn't notice it happening.  I'm going to have to consider hanging a sign around their necks...No Touching or Feeding The Foreign Babies.  

Anyway, we were willing to brave the early morning start, the unwanted attention, the queues, the crowds, the public toilets, the likelihood that it would be terrible - all in the name of culture, stuffed monkeys and Little A's love of dinosaurs.  

We got there half an hour after it opened.  The queue was long, snaking back and forth in front of the building (which was pretty swish and fancy).  Now if there's one thing the Chinese do not like doing, it is forming an orderly queue.  Everyone's a queue hopper and we had only been in the queue for a few seconds before people started pushing past us towards the front.  I stuck out my elbows and gave one pushy granny a good dig in the ribs. Undeterred, she plowed on past me and I was, at that moment, unwilling to take her down with a full force body slam.  She was probably 90 so I would have had an unfair advantage.  But the next guy wasn't getting away so easily.  I put my arm out as he tried to sidle past me and in my best angry Chinese said 'Nuh-uh Mister, get to the back of the queue'.  He was apologetic (I hate it when they do that, it ruins my flow) and was like 'I'm terribly sorry but I have to get there" pointing to some people ahead of me.  I was still a bit suspicious and questioned him 'You got some pengyous in the queue ahead'.  He nodded furiously "Yes, my wife and son".  Wife and son were waving at me at this stage.  Darn - I thought - as I waved him past - I'm too soft for this.  Just as I was pumping myself up with an internal pep talk on the importance on being firm with the queue dodgers, a fight broke out behind me.  One old lady was pushing another one into the railings and kicking her feet as she tried to sneak down the line.  I was quite relieved.  I'm not cut out for assaulting the elderly.  

The queue moved surprisingly fast and we were through the front doors in no time.  There was a totally ineffectual and token security check as is customary wherever groups of people gather in China.   There's a lot of waving around of metal detectors and patting down of bags without any real purpose.  It's always unclear to me what they are looking for...semi-automatic machine guns perhaps.  You'd probably root those out in a bag pat.  

The new Natural History Museum is a pretty impressive building.  It's all glass and shiny and no one is spitting on the floor.  There's English everywhere and big sign saying "Extrance" (seriously, you spend millions on a state of the art fully bilingual museum, with totally perfect English at all the exhibits, and a big Extrance sign over the door....sigh).  

After that though, it was actually very good.  I mean, it was totally mobbed naturally but it was really impressive.  There were realistic life size dinosaur models that moved and roared so Little A spent much of the visit screaming and wailing 'I wanna go home' and 'Don't let the dinosaur eat me!'.   There was one random floor where a sad little canteen sold illuminous mystery meat on a stick and viscous liquids of indeterminate composition which reminded me that I was still in China, but other than that, it was a top class international offering.  So often when reading reviews of hotels or attractions on TripAdvisor, you see phrases like 'It was pretty good, by Chinese standards' or 'The zoo wasn't totally depressing...there was a nice bench and one of the penguins seemed relatively healthy'.   So, it's nice to see somewhere that really is good.  Not just China good - but actually good.  Yeah there were still masses of people walking around with their smartphones stuck in front of their faces videoing the whole thing and there was one particularly boring exhibit on the native wildlife of the Shanghai area (presumably before the only wildlife were rats and over-dressed poodles) which had the familiar dated and slightly faded feel of other Chinese museums (it was strangely comforting)...but there were all kinds of animals and dinosaurs and loads of bones and enough stuffed monkeys to make a taxidermist cry.  

I was exhausted.  Mr Oh was delighted. Little A was traumatised.  Snugglepunk was fairly unfazed. We would totally go again. Early.  


How To Survive A Moth Invasion

My friend Sabrina is scared of butterflies and moths.  I have to admit, I have not always thought this the most rational of phobias. Sabrina has held my hand as I've yelped my way through turbulent flights without batting an eyelid, but I've seen her shudder at a butterfly motif on a purse.  I now think she was on to something.  

My story began six weeks ago.  I was looking for icing sugar at the back of (my incredibly well stocked) food cupboard.  My hand came across something webby and sticky.  I immediately thought...tarantula!.. and had fleeting visions of it scampering up my arm and under my jumper.  The fact that tarantualas neither scamper nor build webs was irrelevant.  

Unwilling to leave the tarantula colony in the food cupboard indefinitely, I had a cleanout.  I found an ancient opened packet of peanuts that appeared to be covered in small cocoons.  I had a little peep in and a few small moths fluttered out and into the kitchen. Relief washed over me.  Moths are fine, I thought.  I can totally do moths.  Oh, the stupidity. 

Obviously, I threw out the offending peanut package and transferred anything already opened into those airtight lockable plastic containers.  I bleached the cupboard and off I went on my merry and vaguely smug way. 

I saw a few moths the next day, maybe one or two.  I dispatched them to the moth-afterlife.  The following day, I found a few more buzzing around the kitchen and then the next day, even more.  I decided I needed to call a man with some kind of moth death chemical...so Ayi and the insect man were left to sort out the problem while I went out for a walk with Snugglepunk.  I really thought it was that easy…and that I would arrive back to a moth-free apartment. It never occurred to me that I can’t always just hire people to fix things for me. Apparently there are some things I need to sort out myself. Is that the moral here?…Although you have to wonder what Beyoncé does when she has pantry moths.

On reflection, leaving Ayi with the insect man was a bad idea.  He just sprayed some 'medicine' in the cupboard and said that my food was too old and needed to be thrown out.  When you have spent six hours surfing the internet in Chinese for a packet of self-raising flour, you are reluctant to then part with the self-raising flour unnecessarily and without a good fight.

But the moths kept coming.  I took each container out of the cupboard and checked the seal and contents for moth eggs, or cocoons or anything.  I took all the dishes and plates out and put them through the dishwasher.  But every time I opened that cupboard I would find small moths hanging out on my Le Creuset ramekins as if they were beach loungers.  

And then they started popping up in other parts of the kitchen, in other cupboards, cupboards without any food in them.  I went to Google for answers.  Mistake.  I was inundated with desperate accounts from people who were losing the battle with pantry moths, who had to sell their houses or gut their kitchens.  I started panicking.  

As I panicked, the moths kept coming.  Little A and I would chase them around the house swatting them with tea towels.  Mr Oh knew there was a problem when, one evening, Little A (who has eyes like a hawk) shouted "Moff Mommy!  Kill it!! Kill de moff! Look, Daddy, moff dead".  I got a stern look and was forbidden from further involving the toddler in my pursuit of moth genocide.  

The moffs were everywhere.  I wouldn't see any all day and then could walk into the kitchen at about 5pm in the evening and count ten or so on the walls and cupboards.  Sometimes Mr Oh would come home after the children were in bed, and find me perched on a stool in the kitchen with the tea towel in hand as my eyes flickered from wall to wall, cupboard to cupboard.  Sometimes he would come home to find me taking apart the whole kitchen and stuffing everything that would fit into the dishwasher and spraying everything else with bleach.  But the moths kept coming.  

Then about two weeks ago, I gave in.  Broken by the moths that would not die, I agreed to get rid of all my pantry items.  I cried as I poured hundreds of euro worth of hard-to-find grains, flours, seeds and other dried goods into the bin.  I felt a little bit better about it when I found a moth cocoon nesting in the organic baby pasta I had hand carried back from Ireland in my suitcase (luckily had not fed it to Snugglepunk yet…)

We put everything through the dishwasher again.  Ayi was confident that the moth problem was over - she had been harrassing me for weeks to throw out the grains (she just doesn't appreciate how hard it is to find almond flour in China).  

She was wrong though...the moths kept coming, although they weren't in the food cupboard anymore.  They were somewhere else but I don’t know where…I had cleaned and washed everything. I even cleaned each slat in the window blinds, one by one. Every cupboard and surface was emptied, it’s contents washed and its surfaces bleached.  

I killed every single moth I saw, on sight.  Little A would shout "Chongzi!" whenever he saw one (Chinese for insect) and then I would have to usher him out of the kitchen while I "helped the moff to sleep".  

Did you know that one female pantry moth can lay up to 400 eggs?   No?  I did.  So when I saw two moths getting it on, on the ceiling above my fridge last week, I was overcome with fear and rage.  I stood on a stool and swatted at them.  They tumbled together behind the fridge.  I imagined 400 moth cocoons colonising the dusty spaces behind my fridge. Mr Oh and I moved the fridge and used flashlights to search for the remains of what Mr Oh had at this stage dubbed the Romeo and Juliet moths. We hoovered and bleached.  No sign of the love-moths.  Eventually they were spotted (still engaged in procreation) on another part of the wall.  They are no more.  My home was saved from their particular plague of offspring.

Was that the end of the moths?  No.  The moths kept coming.  But they came less and less frequently.  I haven't seen any in two days now (will probably find six tonight just because I said that).  

So, the moral of the story is keep all your dried goods in air-tight containers and don't make fun of your friends who have stupid phobias.  If you ever see a small moth in your kitchen...kill it, throw out everything you own and bleach the bejaysus out of everything else.  Or move house.  



I’m back. I’m sorry. Turns out that pregnancy is exhausting. Chinese is exhausting. Toddlers are exhausting. When given the choice between sleep and writing…I chose sleep. Ok, sometimes I chose watching Borgen. After two seasons of Borgen, my Danish vocabulary now includes the words for ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’ and ‘Prime Minister’. I have a long way to go before I’m conversant but the Danes seem to have lovely English so I might just learn the word for ‘bacon’ and leave it at that. I don’t actually know very many Danes and I’ve never been to Denmark so I’m thinking I should probably stick to the Chinese considering the fact that a) the Chinese do not have lovely English and b) I live in China. This may necessitate replacing my new hobby of watching engrossing Danish political dramas with something more conducive to Chinese language learning. Watching Chinese tv perhaps? I could get into a Ming dynasty Chinese soap opera? Or a talent show looking for the voice of Chinese folk singing? They appear to be my only two options.

So, update on life. I am now 33 weeks pregnant and I finished my exams last week. It all got a bit uncomfortable towards the end. Not even stealing the better chairs from neighboring classrooms could make sitting through a 4 hour lecture on Chinese grammar bearable when one’s inner child (actual inner child) is kicking one’s bladder. It also became increasingly difficult to navigate the squat toilets when one’s legs were not capable of lifting both one’s self and one’s inner child back up from the squatting position. A few times I had to hang onto the wall for support and, if we’re honest, the last thing one wants to do in a Chinese university toilet is touch the wall.

The excellent news is that I passed all my exams with flying colours. It’s all a bit suspicious though. I managed to get 95% in my oral exam despite not actually being capable of speaking on my randomly chosen topic (‘the benefits and disadvantages of the internet’) for more than one out of the five allocated minutes. I think, given the Chinese approach to pregnancy, I got 90% just for turning up at the exam in such a clearly advanced state of pro-creation and an extra 5% for saying “Ni hao”.

Whether I deserved it or not, it’s now over and I am positively rolling in free time and unallocated minutes. The only problem is that I’m now almost entirely devoid of energy, mobility and comfort. Also I installed this game on my iPhone called Two Dots. Don’t do it. I haven’t been this addicted to a game since the Angry Birds Christmas Special. I need someone to delete it from my phone and then change my App Store password before I can re-install it (“Mr Oh, this is a hint”).

In other news, as well as an incredibly successful Chinese scholar, online gaming addict and immobile penguin…I am also now a diabetic. It is a well known medical fact (statistically proven) that every time I go for a pre-natal check-up without Mr Oh, they find something wrong. So when I rang him from the hospital telling him that I’d failed my glucose test for gestational diabetes, he actually thought I was just playing a nasty trick on him designed to elicit maximum guilt and sympathy. Even I would not sink that low - well, I would but on this occasion there was no need as I actually did have diabetes and, as my doctor put it, ‘not even the borderline kind’. I failed spectacularly. My body apparently has just given up processing sugar. It now courses wildly through my bloodstream straight into the arteries of my unborn child.

Thankfully, gestational diabetes is both temporary and not really that bad. I have to test my blood sugar levels four times a day and eating has become a complex game of beating the numbers but at least I don’t have to take insulin. I’ve discovered multiple ways to cheat diabetes. For example, I can eat dessert if I slip it into a meal laden with protein and fat e.g. avocado, ice-cream, Babybel. Yum. Spoon of nutella, spoon of cashew butter. Yum-yum. When I finish with the diabetes, I may have coronary heart disease.

Essentially, I’m living off guacamole, natural yoghurt and cheese. There are worse ways to pass a few months. My inability to eat anything other than dairy products and chickpeas has led to a complete cessation of weight-gain. The baby is gaining weight which is good but I’m not which means that the part of my body that will remain part of my body after the baby has exited my body is getting lighter. I was concerned initially that I should surely be gaining some weight in pregnancy but my doctor tactfully reassured me that I put on more than enough weight in the first two trimesters to sustain a litter of baby elephants through the final few months.

So, there you have it. Life update complete. Also I shaved Little A’s head when Mr Oh was having a lie-in one morning. He now looks like a mini Navy Seal. It suits his commando personality. Nice haircuts are for toddlers who don’t pretend to parachute jump off the highest piece of furniture they can find on every given occasion. Nice haircuts are for toddlers who don’t smear mushy be-honied Weetabix on their heads as a primitive signal to their mother that they have finished eating. Nice haircuts are for toddlers who will sit in a chair long enough for their entire head to be evenly cut by a man wielding scissors - toddlers who don’t throw a tantrum halfway through the process and emerge with an asymetrical mop reminiscent of 1980s underground pop culture. Nice haircuts are not for Little A.

The Best Laid Plans...

P1176347 - Version 2
I’m not sure what the end of that saying is. If I were writing it, it would be “The best laid plans…will be thwarted by your toddler”. I make plans every day - all of them doomed. I plan to get Little A up, dressed and out within an hour. Then, invariably, one of the following (or several of the following in any combination) will happen:
  • Banana mushed into hair;
  • Bowl of half eaten Weetabix turned upside down on head;
  • Refusal to wear socks;
  • Removal of nappy while mother looking for trousers;
  • Peeing on socks once nappy removed;
  • Throwing toothbrush of mother into toilet;
  • Picking toothbrush out of toilet and trying to brush teeth with it;
  • Throwing self on floor and going totally limp when mother trying to leave house;
  • Adopting plank position and going totally rigid when mother trying to put in pram;
  • Screaming as if skin were on fire because banana is being washed out of hair;
  • Screaming for new banana.

Other ridiculous plans I make include:
  • Finishing a book that is not either Dear Zoo, Noisy Pirates or Where’s Spot;
  • Getting through a day without having my glasses knocked off my face by an angry swipe;
  • Going out for dinner without secretly wishing I was already in bed asleep;
  • Blow-drying my hair (I think the last time I properly blow-dried my hair was June 2012);
  • Doing fun, crafty activities with Little A that do not end up with Little A’s mouth turning green and/or blue handprints on the sofa.

What I need are fewer plans and an ability to be fully functional on four hours sleep. I read on some website that, when you become a parent, “Happy Hour” is the hour between when your child goes to bed and when you do. I’d say right now, it’s more like a Happy Quarter Hour. There have been times of late when I actually go to bed earlier than Little A.

Luckily for me, at some stage I managed to convince Mr Oh that putting Little A to bed is a daddy duty. As a result, I’m usually done parenting at 8pm (and ready for bed) and Mr Oh is in full command of the ship. Now Little A has generally been a good sleeper. A bath, a massage, a bit of dancing (he likes Daft Punk), a book, a bottle and he’s out like a light until morning. It was for this reason that Mr Oh felt fairly secure making an arrangement to meet friends in the pub at 10pm last Saturday night to watch the rugby. Oh, the plans…they’ll be our downfall. The toddlers, you see, they sense the plans. And they do not like them.

That night, Little A did not go to bed in time for Mr Oh to watch the rugby. He refused and, really, what can you do with a child who refuses to sleep? They can’t be forced to sleep, they can’t be reasoned with and, sadly, they can’t be drugged. There’s nothing for it but to wait until they themselves decide they’ve spun it out long enough to thwart your beloved plans. In this case, that was around 2am (nowhere to go at 2am).

You may ask what I was doing while Mr Oh’s one night off a quarter went drifting off into the abyss. The truth is that I was asleep and not particularly inclined to be awake. Would I not take over for a few hours and let the poor man go out and enjoy himself? Well, I would have except for three things:
1. Just the previous night I myself had been on Little A duty as Mr Oh had a “work dinner” (the “quotes” do not in any way imply that his “work dinner” was anything other than above board - it’s just that all-you-can-eat sushi isn’t what I’d describe as a tough assignment). I, too, foolishly had plans for that particular night - I planned to sleep. As midnight approached, I was lying in my bed while Little A sat by my head, pulling my ear and singing ‘La-la eh-oh’ repeatedly for the best part of an hour while using my forehead as a drum.
2. I was coming down with a head cold which was kindly given to me by Little A some days earlier when he decided to put his banana (that he had been chewing) into my mouth by way of showing me that he was finally grasping the concept of sharing.
3. I was feeling nauseous on account of the second baby which is proving that it is perfectly capable of thwarting plans despite the fact that it is unborn and about the size of a lemon.

I think that it’s safe to say we are doomed to be thwarted for the next five to ten years at least.

Morning Orchid, Soaring Dragon

PA285675 - Version 2
When you born, you are given a name and you usually get to keep your name throughout your life, if you so wish. You can change it if you want to - either because you got married or just because you fancy being called Rainbow Kettlefish - but you generally get to keep it if you like it. There are two exceptions to this:
1. When you go to the Gaeltacht and they morph your name into something three times as long and impossible to spell (Caoimhe, it took me six years to learn where those slanty bits go in your name - sometime I still check on Facebook); and
2. When you move to China.

Take Silvio Berlusconi, for example. Silvio Berlusconi is Silvio Berlusconi wherever he goes. When Silvio goes to London, they don’t start calling him ‘Silas’ (that’s the English version of Silvio, who knew?) - no, they call him Silvio Berlusconi as his mother intended. Even the good people at Telefís na Gaeilge (as it was known back in the day) knew that you do not f*** with the name Silvio Berlusconi. As my friend BMcG noted at one point when listening to the news in Irish one day, all you really hear is “Nyaca nyaca nyaca nyaca nyaca nyaca Silvio Berlusconi nyaca nyaca nyaca nyaca”. It counts as Irish if you say the foreign name in a culchie accent, apparently.

Were Silvio to travel to China, however, or even appear on the news here, he would no longer be Silvio Berlusconi simply because those sounds do not exist in Chinese. I’m sure there is a far more technical way of explaining it but essentially the problem is that there are no letters in Chinese - there are only words - small words that are put together to make bigger words. You cannot break the language down smaller than the word. You could try to make an approximation using the available words. My attempt is Sha-li-yu Bao-li-kao-ni but it could well mean ‘pink bucket in slime cucumber’ - this is a very risky approach. The better option all round is to pick a new name entirely - one that captures the essence of your being. Silvio could, for example, be Qian Feitu (roughly translated it means Money Gangster but it sounds better in Chinese). They couldn’t pronounce Elvis in China at all so they call him Wang Mao (King Cat). Honestly, if you say Elvis, they haven’t a notion but Wang Mao is very famous in China.

I was given my Chinese name - Bai Xiaolan (白
晓兰)- when I first came to China. It means ‘white morning orchid’. Apt, non? This isn’t just some make-up name either (well, it is) but it’s on my official Chinese Government issued ID. I picked it for many reasons, but mostly because it’s easy to write. Mr Oh had to get one as well when he came and seems to have ended up with Dai Feihong (戴飞鸿) which is proving to be an interesting choice. The first character Dai is the only Chinese family name that starts with D so it seemed appropriate even though it’s so complicated it just looks like a big black squiggle. This is Dai a bit bigger:

I don’t know how he’s ever supposed to learn how to write it. I’m definitely not taking his name now.

Mr Oh has Dai Feihong printed on all his business cards. Whenever a Chinese person spots his name, they laugh. Initially this was confusing to him. He thought maybe he had been accidentally named the Chinese equivalent of Toy Bear. We had a Chinese student once in our school who was called Toy Bear and had to be gently encouraged to change it before he moved to London with his job. Feihong, it turns out, means “goose swan”. It isn’t exactly kick-ass but it’s hardly cause for mockery. After some investigation, it turns out that the laughing was on account of
this man, Wang Feihong, a Chinese martial arts folk-hero. In China, it’s like giving someone your business card and saying, “Hello, I’m Chuck Norris”.

It doesn’t end there. Little A needed a Chinese name too. One of Mr Oh’s colleagues volunteered to help me out in choosing one. His family name would be Dai, the same as Mr Oh’s, so it was just the given name I had to pick. I suggested that maybe it could reflect his personality (active, strong, stubborn, fiery) and also give a nod to the fact that he was born in the year of the Dragon. She suggested the name Teng Long which means ‘soaring dragon’ and we settled on that. It’s a bit of an adult name though. As Little A’s Chinese teacher said to me “It’s a big name for a little boy”. While he’s still officially called Teng Long, his teachers and ayi all call him Xiao Long (Little Dragon).

It was only at the weekend when we discovered that Xiao Long is a very well known name in China. The man they know as Li Xiao Long, we know as Bruce Lee.

We’re going to get a goldfish and call it Jackie Chan.

Yi Jia Jia Ju

I’ve moved house/country four times in the last 2.5 years so I’d like to think that I’m something of an expert on hauling oneself and a pile of one’s unnecessary belongings across the globe. At this stage, even my furniture is cross with me. There are many things you can do to prepare for a move, facilitate a smooth transition and reduce relocation stress. I’m a pro - I know all the tricks. There are only two things that are set in stone when it comes to moving house: 1. You will be shocked at the amount of useless stuff that you have accumulated in the previous location and 2. You will, upon arriving in new location, go straight to IKEA to buy more useless stuff. There’s no point in fighting it - some battles cannot be won - IKEA is inevitable.

I honestly do not know what happens if you move to a city where there is no IKEA. I shudder to think. It hasn’t happened to me since I moved to Wuxi in 2002 and anyone who knows me will know that I do not have good things to say about either Wuxi or 2002. Wuxi means ‘without tin’ which isn’t a very auspicious moniker if we’re honest. If you start naming towns based on what they’re lacking, it doesn’t bode well. I wonder if it’s too late to change Wuxi’s name from ‘without tin’ to ‘without IKEA’ (Wuyijiajiaju) - it’s a bit of a mouthful so I fear I might meet local resistance to the idea. Just as well I don’t plan going there ever again.

I digress. The point is - IKEA cannot be avoided. And why should it be? It’s bright, clean and has everything you didn’t even know you needed at affordable prices. Baby A didn’t know he needed a toddler sized baby rattan armchair, but he did. I don’t know how we ever lived without it - all toddlers should have one. In Singapore I made three visits to IKEA after the move. In Brussels, we made three trips out to the IKEA in Zaventem overall. We’ve been to IKEA twice already since we moved to Shanghai and I’ve had that feeling in my bones that the third trip was becoming more likely. Mr Oh thought my bones were lying to me and put it down to a touch of gout, but he was wrong. He fought it - by God, he fought it but in the end, as I’ve already said, IKEA is inevitable.

The problem isn’t really IKEA although anyone who’s been silly enough to try to go there on a Saturday afternoon (i.e. me) knows that sometimes maybe the problem is IKEA. The problem, this time, is China and IKEA - they don’t really get each other. For the Chinese, shopping is something you do online (Taobao) or at your local hole-in-the-wall random dude. IKEA is therefore not so much a place for buying things as a venue for hanging out with your extended family drinking tea and taking selfies in the show kitchens. And napping…it’s impossible to see a sofa or bed in IKEA because they’re usually all occupied by three generations of Shanghainese taking a communal catnap. I see the logic - why would IKEA put beds there if they didn’t want people to sleep on them? The result though is akin to walking through one of those Halloween house of horrors with the lights on. Everywhere there are bodies, progress is slow and at a few points along the defined trail, you’re actually a bit scared.

It doesn’t help knowing that, if you put your toddler down for a moment, he gets picked up by a curious Chinese person who thinks he might be part of the showroom. “See the Europeans live in their natural environment” - I’m sure it says that somewhere. You can see why Mr Oh wasn’t keen to repeat a Chinese IKEA experience. I had to be firm and told him, in no uncertain terms, that a visit was absolutely necessary. He asked me to define what it was that we needed so desperately. “Oh, you know…” I said, “sticky things, boxy things and those brightly colored roundy things”. He couldn’t argue with that.

We went last Sunday evening. We were clever about it. We skipped the showrooms. Chinese people don’t actually buy anything in IKEA so the tills are fairly empty. They only use the downstairs area because it’s the shortest route between the Swedish dream rooms and the 10c ice cream cones (also very popular). We were in and out within a reasonable time frame. There was a tense moment in the boxy thing area where the human equivalent of a 10 car pile up seemed to be taking place but we discovered that IKEA has these random little escape doors between different areas so you don’t actually have to follow the circuitous arrows (although I’m very law abiding so this option hadn’t occurred to me before). Well, I never! It was like straight out of an Enid Blyton - in kitchenware one moment and then - through the magic door - and pop out right at lighting! Incroyable!

We emerged triumphant, laden down with inevitable, unavoidable, irresistible things and without too many injuries. Feeling quite pleased with self, I let Baby A down just beside the food section to stretch his legs a bit while Mr Oh loaded up the bags. I turned my head for a moment to check out the Swedish biccie section and when I whipped my head back around, literally about two seconds later, Baby A was standing in the middle of the mayhem, not two feet from me, with an untouched IKEA ice cream cone in his hand and look of shock on his face. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know who gave it to him or why but from this day forth, I fear my son’s happiest memory of China will be set in the aisle at the far side of the cashiers in IKEA Shanghai. If the look on his face was anything to go by, that memory will be hard to beat.


111 Boxes


The temperature has dropped ten degrees in the last few days. Baby A is cutting molars and his gums look like a war zone. Mr Oh has caught some Chinese version of the Ebola virus and is wracked with fever and inexplicable pains - apparently the worst thing about being sick is my insistence on sticking a thermometer in his ear every ten minutes. I like the beepy noise. He should be glad I’ve chosen technological gadgetry over accuracy when it comes to determining his core body temperature. As the Belgians will tell you, there’s only one way to get a truly accurate reading from a thermometer.

In other news, our shipment arrived. It was a bit of a shock. I had presumed it had sunk (Mr Oh only wished it had). For the last two months we had lived very well without the 111 boxes that arrived in our apartment on Saturday. “I wonder what’s in them all”, I mused as I gazed upon the stacks of unopened boxes that littered our heretofore minimalist abode. “Your crap”, Mr Oh said pointedly. I think his tone was a bit harsh. At least I brought useful things into our marriage - a full set of cutlery and crockery, a dining room table, a bed, a sofa, a tv, a giant bean bag. He brought a guitar and a lifetime supply of cod liver oil.

I have to admit that some of it was unnecessary. An x-ray of my foot, for example, did I think I’d need that in China? {Post-script - Mr Oh has asked me also to mention the Wedgewood pot filled with novelty, flag badge-pins and the set of ornamental granite elephants}. The problem is that my parents don’t want my crap either - they have four children, all of whom have now moved out of the family home while forgetting to bring any of their stuff with them. I think they brought it on themselves - if they wanted an uncluttered house, they shouldn’t have had grandchildren. Poor parents, no sooner had the youngest one moved out, than they had to start filling the house with travel cots, high chairs and prams. In response, they built a gym/shed in the back garden where they go to burn off the stress of not being able to live in a stark and graceful manifestation of Swedish design.

I realized, as we unpacked the boxes, that you could psychoanalyze our personalities on the basis of what we brought to China. I am responsible for the 7 large boxes of effervescent Solpadeine, the 150 doses of Dioralyte and the seemingly endless amount of Motillium. I’m either sickly, hypochondriacal or expecting a lot of hangovers - possibly a mix of all three. Mr Oh brought over six deodorants and at least a gallon of Savlon in three different configurations - liquid, cream and dry spray. Based on this one might conclude that he fears uncleanliness and germs (coincidentally those are two things that China has in abundance). Baby A brought a lot of stuff that he is no longer interested in or no longer fits into. He’s afraid of change.

Despite the piles of unsorted clothes and the question of where we’re going to put everything, unpacking all our not-entirely-necessary stuff has been fun. The one truly useful item I found was our baby carrier which has meant that I can bring Baby A to playschool on my back and no longer feel like the 13 kilo toddler is pulling my spine out through my abdomen. The downside of this is that he gets up to all kinds of stuff back there and I can’t see him (although I do carry a little mirror in my pocket so I can occasionally take a peek). This leaves me very little control over who pokes and prods him or pops walnuts in his mouth. He seems to like it though and generally falls asleep on the bus ride home.

The Chinese on the bus are even less convinced by the wisdom of my parenting choices than they were before. I was standing on the 911 bus yesterday with Baby A on my back in the sling. I was being offered a seat at least every 30 seconds and was trying to explain that I couldn’t really sit down without squashing the baby. There were two OCGs (old Chinese grannies) who were particularly vexed by this arrangement and the conversation went something like this:

OCP1: Here (offering me her seat) - sit down.
Me: No thanks, I can’t sit down.
OCP1: But he’s tired.
Me: Yes, he’s asleep.
OCP1: You must sit down - he’s tired.
Me: I’m not sure I understand.
OCP1: He’s not comfortable.
Me: He’s asleep. He’s comfortable.
OCP2: His socks are too tight.
Me: What??
OCP2: (lifting a limp toddler leg and pinging his socks down to rub a sock band mark) See? Blood problems. His socks are too tight. Not comfortable.
OCP1: (tutting in agreement). Not comfortable.
Me: He’s asleep!
OCP2: You must sit down.
Me: Ok. (Sitting down and perching very uncomfortably at the edge of the seat so as to avoid crushing Baby A’s chest).
OCP1 and OCP2: (simultaneously smiling and nodding). Yes, he’s comfortable now.

The Shanghainers


Yesterday, Baby A and I went to work with Mr Oh. Work consisted of getting up at 6am and boarding a bus to a Chinese tourist water town with a group of 20 other people. Half of the group were students of Chinese literature from Fudan - one of China’s top universities - with the other half comprising the world’s leading Joycean scholars.

Baby A and I could pass for neither. We were too old and too young, respectively, to pass for Chinese literature students or, indeed, students of any kind unless one of us is remarkably prodigious and the other is *gasp* mature. Although, physically we may have blended passably with the other group, the fear there would be that someone might start a conversation with us. “Have you read much Joyce?”, they might ask. “No” we would reply (or I would reply because Baby A would be busy rubbing bean paste from the cake that one of the students slipped to him along the seam of the Joycean scholar’s trouser leg). “Have you read any Joyce?” they might continue, deflated. “No”, I would reply. They would be disappointed. This would be before they noticed what Baby A had been up to. Disappointment would turn to barely concealed rage. I would apologize profusely and reach for tissues. Baby A would cackle and then, as I was trying to wipe bean paste from the fabric, Baby A would grab the loose skin on their face, just below their eye, and gouge tightly with his unkempt claws. It would be ugly - people would cry.

I thought if I were, however, to deflect all talk to Joyce - Baby A and I might be in with a chance. I could go in on the offensive. “So, have you read Incy Wincy the hard back wipe-clean tab version?…Sublime”. Baby A and I would then break into a round of Incy Wincy Spider. I would do the hand movements and Baby A would bounce up and down in his pram like the conductor of the New York philharmonic. The scholars would be confused and, later perhaps, moved by our touching rendition. No one would cry, unless they were tears of joy. Ok, Baby A might cry but it would have been unrelated to Incy and possibly related to the unexpected loss of the bean paste cake which I would have grabbed out of his sticky hand in the preceding moments.

The reality about Joyceans though is that they’re really, really into Joyce and not that much into Incy Wincy. Joyceans are intense and focussed and random. I say random because they’re not who you expect them to be i.e. they’re not all David Norris. We met a very nice Korean lady who was a Joycean scholar. I wanted to know how and why she decided that that was what she wanted to do with her life and career. Does she read it in Korean? Maybe Joyce is more appealing in Korean than it seems to be in English. I didn’t ask her, I was terrified of mentioning Joyce in case someone thought this was an invitation to start a Joycean-type conversation.

One of the Chinese professors on this unusual outing had recently translated Finnegan’s Wake into Chinese and apparently it shot to number 2 on some Shanghai bestsellers list. I secretly wonder if it was the Chinese Joycean Scholars bestsellers list. Not having read it, I’m in a weak position when it comes to criticism or sarcasm, I admit.

I decided to hang out with the students mostly and let them fawn over Baby A and feed him cake. It seemed like the better option. At one stage as we wandered about in the sweltering mid morning heat looking at an ancient Chinese building, I looked over to see two young, very intelligent, serious, Chinese literature students fanning my 12 month old son from either side of his pram as if he were Tutankhamun himself. I made a mental note that the child needs to be socialized in a normal environment before he comes to believe that he’s immortal.

Mr Oh, during this excursion, was taking a different and not altogether unsuccessful approach. Having actually read some Joyce (albeit not a whole lot) he was taking the little nuggets of knowledge available to him and wringing ever single nano drop of conversational kudos out of them, with gusto. As he wandered around the alleys of Zhujiajiao discussing the merits of The Dubliners (and not much else) he did seem vaguely convincing as a Joycean scholar.

As to why an international band of Joycean scholars, a handful of Chinese literature students, a diplomat, a hausfrau and a baby were meandering the streets of ‘Shanghai’s Venice’ together early one hot August morning, I’m still not sure, but it was a good way to spend a few hours.

I’m still recovering from the fact that this town, Zhujiajiao, is considered a suburb of Shanghai and yet we drove for over an hour on the motorway to get to it. That’s a story for another day. The mind-melting giantness of China is not an issue I’m ready to tackle before lunch but I would like you, my faithful reader i.e. Mom, to think about that for a minute. An hour - on the motorway - still in the suburbs - not even left the city. Bonkers.


Mommy No Sleep


I spent weeks researching how to manage jet lag in babies. I asked people, I made schedules, I had a system. Turns out, babies cope with jet lag pretty well. There was one night of wanting to party at 3am and then, last night, he slept through like a clockwork orange. Sadly, the same can’t be said for adults.

At 2am, Mr Oh was reading the imaginatively titled A Short History of China which he reckoned would help him nod off but which, despite its lack of titular titilation, he was still reading at 4am. I was tossing and turning for hours until insanity seemed to take hold and I started mumbling in my best faux-Confucius impression “Body ti-yard, mind wi-yard”. On occasion, I would leap out of bed to look something up on the internet and return half an hour later for another futile attempt at falling asleep.

I tried to count slowly in my head but what started out as “One…two…three…” became “Twenty four - I wonder if I can buy sweet potato here - twenty five - stop thinking about sweet potato - twenty six - focus on the numbers - twenty seven - twenty eight - mmmm, sweet potato salad - twenty nine - no more sweet potato - thirty - thirty one - thirty two - I should google where to get sweet potato”.

I think it was almost 5am before I finally fell asleep. Baby A had, at this stage already been asleep for six hours. Four hours later he was up again, bright as a button and ready to play. I groggily picked him up and was wandering about our serviced apartment looking for the iPad with which to amuse him when the doorbell rang. This was surprising because a) it was 9am on a Saturday morning and b) we don’t know anyone in China. With Baby A slung across my hip, I opened the door and was confronted by three small middle aged Chinese ladies. On seeing Baby A they let out a chorus of ‘Waah, oooh’s and Baby A, feeling the love, gave them a wave along with a general shout of welcome and the three of them toddled right past me into the apart.

The three unknown women all split in different directions - one into the kitchen - one to the bathroom and the third started heading down the corridor to where Mr Oh lay in a sleep-deprived haze. I shouted that he should get up and a few moment later he emerged in a stumbly fashion from bedroom and collapsed back onto the sofa for several minutes before enquiring as to why there was a Chinese woman making his bed at 9am on a Saturday.

While Mr Oh was unsure about the whole thing, Baby A was totally invigorated by the sudden arrival of company. He scurried on hands and knees down to the bedroom and was quickly swept up in the arms of two of the ladies who poked and pinched him merrily as he giggled away. They chattered away to him in Chinese and he, in return, shouted and them loudly in a Maoist fashion. Eventually, Mr Oh and I, sensing that we were getting in the way plucked Baby A from his coterie of admirers and hauled him (still shouting away) out of the apartment in search of breakfast. By the time we returned, an hour later, the ladies were gone, the apartment was spotless and Baby A was ready for a nap. A successful Saturday morning in Shanghai.


Urban Zen


When Mr Oh was in college, he spent one summer in America working in a furniture moving company. In his more wistful moments, he often reminisces about these days and has, as a result, developed a deep-seated love of moving furniture. When the professional movers came to Stoneybatter to pack up our stuff, Mr Oh could be found trotting around the house after them like a love-sick puppy handing them tape and unfolding boxes.

With the same passion that he loves moving furniture, he also hates the furniture in our rented apartment. It’s black and square and ugly - even I’ll admit that - but it’s functional so it doesn’t really bother me. Mr Oh is always thinking of ways to get rid of it and has hidden quite a lot of it in the small cave in the basement. Every now and again he will try to convince me that the side-table, or the TV table or the dining room table would be better off out on the balcony. On Sunday, he tried to make the point that the standing lamp in the living room should be taken away.

“But it’s useless” he argues.

“It’s a lamp” I say, I use it to see.”

He’s not convinced so I have to launch an impassioned stand in defense of the lamp. He eventually backs off but not before he’s managed to magic the coffee table out of the apartment without me noticing. Where am I supposed to put my computer now? Or my tea? The ground, apparently.

So last Sunday, the day I had ear-marked for decadent lounging, he tells me that we need to reorganize the apartment. I thought he just meant rearranging the presses or something but he had already done that last weekend (see photo above). He tells me that the Feng Shui in the living/dining room is bad. I’ll Feng Shui him.

His new plan involves moving the sofa 90 degrees, the dining room table 45 degrees, rearranging all the ugly furniture, spiriting away the TV table (which I suspect is the ultimate goal of this endeavor) and lugging the fridge to the other side of the apartment. I point out that the fridge door won’t open if he moves it to the other side of the apartment. He says “I will remove the fridge door and re-hinge it on the other side”. The upshot of this is that I spent much of my afternoon holding a fridge door while he tried to unscrew it from the fridge with his new bendy screwdriver. So much for decadent lounging.

When my holding-fridge-door services were no longer required, I disappeared into the bedroom to put Baby A down for a nap (that’s a whole other story). An hour later I emerged to find everything changed. He told me to be careful of the fridge door and something about needing to buy a drill.

Half an hour later, there was a deafening clatter as the fridge door fell off. Baby A, who had been napping, thought the world was ending and started screaming accordingly. A jar of peanut butter rolled over and tapped me on the foot as if to say “Hello, where do I go now?”. Luckily I have a back-up fridge…formerly known as the dairy fridge (or the kosher fridge as Sabrina calls it).

“Can you fix it?”, I ask Mr Oh.

“Ah yeah”, he says confidently, “shouldn’t be a problem”.

This would have been reassuring were it not for the fact that he was, at that exact moment, holding the door against the fridge and securing it in place with packaging tape while balancing the freezer door on the top of his shoe.

24-hours later the fridge is fixed, the living room has Feng Shui, Mr Oh has a shiny new Black & Decker drill and everyone is happy. The TV table has gone missing in the move and I suspect it is unlikely to turn up again, thus following in the tragic footsteps of many a doomed piece of furniture that had the misfortune to offend Mr Oh’s aesthetic sensibilities. I will think of it fondly (although not so fondly that I would bother going down to the basement to haul it back up).


My Teenage Baby


When Baby A was born I looked forward to his toddler years, his childhood, cuddles and games, cartoons and adventures. But alas, Baby A has decided to skip all that and become a teenager at the tender age of four months. I know this because:

1. He wants to party all night and sleep all day.
Once I made the mistake of gloating, “My baby sleeps through the night at only three weeks”. I should have known that kind of bad karma was just going to come back and bite me on my smug new-mamma ass (which, incidentally, is bigger than it used to be). I really thought that I had the sleeping thing cracked…but Baby A had different plans. Where once he slept for a full 8/9 hours at night plus a few good long naps at either end, he has now taken to waking every three hours and demanding booze…I mean, milk. Then it takes me two hours to get him back to sleep because he wants to play, sing songs and lick my face. This is apparently called the Four Month Sleep Regression but I’m pretty sure I did something similar when I was 16.

2. He has an eating disorder.
Baby A has recently discovered his hands. He likes to jam them into his mouth and stick his fingers down this throat. Inevitably this results in his last meal exorcising itself from his stomach and splattering itself all over the nearest newly-showered human. This is deeply shocking to Baby A who thinks that someone has stolen the food right out of his stomach (he suspects the squeaky donkey). After he has finished expressing a suitable degree of outrage at this unwittingly self-inflicted indignity, he emerges from his cocoon of rage to flash me the ‘feed me’ eyes. And thus the cycle of binging and purging continues.

3. He doesn’t speak to me. Mr Oh when he comes home from work, at which point he lights up like a glow worm. All I get through the day are a series of demands (“Milk…now…I want miiiiiiilk…right now…why don’t I have milk…I hate you”), protests (“I will not sleep…I don’t care if you think I’m tired…I’m not…and I’m going to wail for the next 45 minutes to prove it”) and sulks (“If you won’t feed me I’m just going to close my eyes and silently moan until my daddy comes home”).

4. He thinks he’s a grown-up.
He has started trying to eat things that are unsuitable for a baby i.e. things other than milk. I’ve had to increase the levels of vigilance when holding him on my lap at the dinner table. I look away for one minute and the next thing I know he has a piece of salmon hanging out of his mouth and a smear of chill-miso sauce on his forehead. He looks at me innocently, as if perhaps I hadn’t noticed that his left hand is buried deep in a bowl of basmati.

5. He deliberately tries to thwart me at every turn.
“If I arch my back just so, grab my left foot with my right hand and throw my head over the back of the changing table…let’s see how you get me into the babygrow then.”

6. He likes things that are bad for him.
Knives want to be hugged, glass wants to be head butted and carpets want to be licked. I haven’t caught him drinking jagermeister in a field yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

7. He wants to run away.
If only he knew how to crawl.


S**t my Fiancé Says


99% of Twitter is painful - a mass exposé of the boringness of other people’s thoughts…in bite-sized form. Blogs, other other hand, are an exposé of the boringness of other people’s thoughts…ad nauseum. I apologize for that.

No-one writes anything interesting on Twitter, not even Stephen Fry who is surprisingly not funny in mini. It’s a tricky medium for comedy. The one person who has it nailed though is Honest Toddler. Sometimes I wonder if I find it funny because Baby A will one day be a toddler or because I have the undeveloped sense of humor of a toddler…but I think that it’s just f’hilarious.

Some examples of Honest Toddler tweets:
"If you love someone let them go." What kind of nonsense if that. If you love someone pick them up.
How would you go about fixing a house plant if someone accidentally removed all of the leaves? No judgement please.
How am I supposed to learn my numbers when she keeps using 1, 2 and 3 as threats?
How many times does a grown up need to yawn in the morning before they have enough oxygen. Drama.
If I were meant to wear pants I would've been born with them on. Science.

There’s another one called
S**t My Dad Says. This guy posts the insights of his old, grumpy, objectionable father e.g. “You can't come...Because it's not a vacation if my family is with me. I could vacation in my fucking house if you people left it.”. Apologies for the crude language but I actually could not find an example that didn’t have a bold word in it.

Anyway, I would never write a blog or Twitter feed mocking my father, mostly because he would likely come over here and beat me with fishing tackle. Plus, a lot of what my dad says is either about economics or ancient Greece - sometimes the two of them together and, forgive me, but
S**t That Parmenides Said just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Mr Oh, on the other hand, says all kinds of things…some of them very odd. I feel it is my duty to record some of his out-loud-thoughts so that when he’s old and the doctor suspects he might be suffering from dementia I can say ‘No, he’s always been that way”.

Last night when I tried to give him Baby A:

  • “I want to hold the baby, I do, but not when he’s a screaming ball of rage….like the Ukraine when its oil has been cut off.”

Also last night:
  • “Will you tape the Antiques Roadshow for me? But don’t tell anyone.”

Out of the blue (while wielding a q-tip with a guilty look on his face):
  • “I’ve decided to refrain from sticking things up the baby's nose.”

During the car journey from Maastricht to Brussels:
  • “Have you ever thought about what you’d like your name to be if you were German? I’ve given this some thought and I’d quite like to be called Georg Boomgaarden”

During the same journey:
  • “Do you know what’s cool? Imagining that we’re doing this journey on a galloping horse.”

When confronted with a whole squid in a tapas restaurant:
  • “Calamari is a fish? I thought they were like o-shaped floaty things”

In the labour room:
  • “I’m just going to lie down here and go for a nap…I’m exhausted”.

And my favourite, one morning at 8am:
  • Mr Oh: I think you need to feed the baby. He hasn’t been fed since midnight.
  • Me: I fed him at 3am and at 6am.
  • Mr Oh: But I wasn’t awake.
  • Me: That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.


The Day After The Day That The Baby Did Not Arrive

Pasted Graphic

Baby Hu is late. I blame Mr Oh who is generally late for everything and has a peculiar relationship with time. He has little regard for temporal strictures and the sanctity of scheduling. In contrast, I am paralyzed by anxiety at the very notion of not being unnecessarily early for everything. I wonder if this baby has any of my genes at all.

Even though I’m only one day overdue, the midwife asked me to come back into the hospital this morning for another assessment. She’s scheduled me to see the doctor later this week “on account of the baby’s size”. She chuckles quietly in a way that reminds me of Santa as she wraps measuring tape around my bump and announces “well, it’s a good size baby anyway”. I ask her if she thinks the baby is likely to be over 10lbs. I have to ask twice because she pretends not to hear me the first time and stares blankly at the wall as if singing internally to herself. When I ask again she looks away and busies herself fiddling with folders and pens while muttering ‘oh, I wouldn’t necessarily think so’ in a way that suggests she is evaluating how convincing she sounds and then spins back round to announce ‘but you’re very tall so I’m sure it’ll be no problem’. I’m not sure how being tall is going to help me birth a baby sumo wrestler. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten so much peanut butter ice-cream - this is all Mr Oh’s fault (although I’m not sure how).



Pasted Graphic

he sofa is now too uncomfortable and I have taken to my bed in near perpetuity. I continue to trudge bitterly into work each morning full of simmering resentment at the fact that almost my entire yoga class seems to have wrangled early maternity leave. What I need for this, apparently, is a touch of high blood pressure and a low lying placenta. Instead, I have the blood pressure of a pre-teen marathon runner and an inconveniently nuisance-free placental location.

I also have calves like tree trunks which are accumulating cellulite like it’s a flesh eating disease (I never claimed this was a glamour-blog), fat little fingers (the engagement ring has had to go into temporary storage) and a sharp pain in my pelvis of undetermined origin. None of these things are likely to warrant early maternity leave which is probably a good thing - what my calves need least right now is additional time in proximity to the Percy Pig stash (Mr Oh thought he had hidden it from me but it’s in the casserole dish).

Mr Oh is in the middle of exams at the moment and is studying for more hours a day than most people are awake. I use the opportunity of his short and infrequent breaks to demand cake. He has predicted my future mothering style to be combination of Mary Poppins, Marie Antoinette and Pol Pot.

I’m tired now - it’s time to nap. Tired pregnant woman is much like a grumpy carebear (see image above).

[After posting the above, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realised that I looked even more like grumpy bear than I had originally thought]


It’s uncanny. I’ll refrain from posting a photo of my enlarged calves.


I'm HuJ (and a bit ranty)


There is nothing on television! There really isn’t. It’s Friday night and I’ve got a choice between Celebrity Come Dine With Me (if you consider Rory McIlroy’s trampy ex-girlfriend a ‘celebrity’), the news (which I find stressful) and a type of This Is Your Life show hosted by Piers Morgan which is tonight featuring Ken Barlow from Coronation Street. It’s pretty grim.

I get very excited about nights where I have nothing to do and nowhere to go and then when I’m actually right slap bang in the middle of them I realise that I have nothing to do and nowhere to go and Ken Barlow is the best thing on telly. I feel like I should be gainfully relaxing rather than just lolling around the place like this. Lying lopsidedly on the sofa licking a large chocolate easter egg is not, I suspect, relaxation time well spent. [Just to explain myself, I was unable to break the egg open with my hands and it was too big for me to get a grip with my teeth and bite so I had to resort to licking it. The alternative was stabbing it with a pen which I thought might be perceived as uncouth].

My options of things to do are limited. I could watch another episode of The Tudors but there really is a limit to the amount of gratuitiously starkers Jonathan Rhys Meyers frolicking in a loosely historical context that a person can watch in a week. Everything else (reading, yoga, cooking, finally sorting out my online tax affairs) is too tiring. I’m fully updated on celebrity gossip (Brangelina is engaged - yawn), I’ve no particular desire to talk to anyone and it’s too early to go to sleep. I have no idea what to do. I feel like I’m wasting precious minutes of relaxation by doing nothing. Resting is proving to be stress.ful, I may shortly return to licking the chocolate egg.

I’ve also added ‘talking to unborn baby’ to my pastimes. The benefits of this are multiple. A - baby cannot talk back. B - baby cannot go anywhere. C - baby cannot slam doors or say ‘i hate you’. On the downside, baby can kick. Sometimes I get nice light fluttery kicks around the belly button (usually when baby’s father is around). When baby and I are alone, it likes to kick my bladder.

Despite my increasing suspicion that my baby is hyper-active, willful and unlikely to eat broccoli , I’m very fond of it. Baby (who we have this week nicknamed Hu Jintao) and I spend all day together and I think it’s starting to show signs of a personality. For example, baby likes milk, ice cream and dried mango. Baby does not like fish, loud noises or the bus. Baby likes swimming but finds walking tedious. It likes banjo music but not rap music. One might say that these are obviously things that I like and have nothing to do with the personality of my unborn baby. I’m not so sure. I now drink gallons of milk a day where previously I never drank milk. Even Mr Oh is shocked. He tried to prevent me from buying a 3-litre carton of milk last week on the grounds that ‘there are only two of us, we are not the target market for 3-litre cartons of milk’. It turned out that we needed to go back the next day to get another 3-litre carton of milk once I devoured the first one like a hungry lactose vampire.

It is interesting that the baby seems to react to different types of music. Some make it dance, or thrash about wildly in a type of early onset moshing, classical music seems to calm it down and whenever Mr Oh plays A Tribe Called Quest in a frantic and disturbing attempt to become a tall-white-beardy-rap-connoisseur I can hardly stay in the room so intense is my physical revulsion to the sound. This happens with all kinds of music with heavy beats and only the slight imaginings of a melody. While I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan of this type of music, I’ve never had such an inability to tolerate it before. My brothers went through a similar phase of loud politically incorrect noise adherence (albeit at a more age appropriate time in their lives) so I’m quite familiar with the genre. I have quite a soft spot for the Wu Tang Clan but these days I can’t play it out loud because I just don’t like it but strangely, I don’t have the same negative reaction when I listen through my headphones. My conclusion....baby does not like the Wu Tang Clan.

Baby Hu Jintao - so named because my bump is now HuJ(inTao) - is now fully formed but still has another three months of practicing his or her step dancing atop my bladder. I am slightly nervous about how much growing there is still left to do. I always knew that I was unlikely to be one of those pregnant women who looks like she woke up one morning and discovered, to her great surprise, someone had implanted a melon behind her belly button, but I really want to avoid the ‘inflated by a tank of helium and about to float off into to the stratosphere if not tethered firmly to earth’ look.

Someone said to me yesterday ‘Are you not due soon? It seems like you’ve been pregnant forever’. I was not offended, I too feel like I’ve been pregnant forever. I always knew that pregnancy lasted 9-months but what I never really considered before was that 9-months is essentially the best part of a year. I have now been unable to eat blue cheese for half a year. I originally thought that this - and a bit of tiredness and maybe some nausea - would be what would define pregnancy for me. No one tells you that it is entirely all-consuming and dominates every second of your life and thought process.

I usually feel ok waking up in the morning. I have to eat straight away, often having my breakfast at 4 or 5 am before going back to sleep because I get light headed and faint if I don’t get my mini-fruity-wheats straight away. I used to be able to run for the bus when we could see it coming down the road but now when Mr Oh turns to me like an impatient puppy wanting to break free from his lead and sprint so he’ll make the bus, I scowl at him and continue plodding forward at what is genuinely my top speed thinking he should be grateful that I’m walking at all and not lying down on the pavement for a nap which is what I would do if the pavement were warm and made of grass. The bus usually makes me feel nauseous and sometimes faint and by the time I get into work I’m ready to go back and would consider it if that didn’t necessitate getting back on a bus. Work itself isn’t too bad but by the end of the day I’m usually limping on account of the fact that one (or both) of my hips is trying to detach itself from the pelvis and fall away from my body entirely (this is normal apparently). Also normal is the heartburn, stomach pains, swollen ankles, lower back pain and constant desire to sleep. I always try to plan a dinner to make when I get home but its a 50/50 chance whether I have enough energy to do anything other than curl onto the sofa. Once on the sofa, it’s hard to get back up, not just mentally but because if Mr Oh is not there to physically ‘wench’ me up I have to perform this kind of scrabbling, rolling type maneuver which thankfully no other living soul has ever seen. When it’s time to sleep, I arrange an impressive collection of pillows like sandbags around and under my body in the hope that it will stop things aching and waking me up in the middle of the night. Mr Oh refers to his small remaining scrap of bed where he has to eek out a solitary and lonely slumber as the Gaza Strip. Sometimes he talks to me through the barricades. Last night, despite being entirely consumed by a mass of pillows, I still woke up at 3am to find that my entire left side from shoulder to ankle had gone numb. Stupid pillow fail.

The point of this rant is not to whine about the discomforts of pregnancy (well, not really). This happens to everyone and I am in no way unique. I only found out about it all though once I started reading about pregnancy and talking to women in my yoga class. I think there’s some oath of silence that women who have had children take, to never speak of it again, or maybe they just forget. I’ve already forgotten morning sickness. What I find amazing though is that despite the fact that I have the silhouette of an oversized pygmy buffalo hunter, the bathroom habits of an incontinent octogenarian and the mobility of a Soviet-era locomotive - I’m really quite pleased with pregnancy. As long as I get to rest a lot and drink my body weight in milk - it’s not too bad. We’ll see if this changes over the next twelve weeks or so...




99% of the time, living with a compulsive tidier is a wonderful thing. Bins are emptied at regular intervals, yoghurt cartons are washed and recycled, the tupperware is stacked in size order, dishes never pile up in the sink and everything is put away in its place (this does often lead to confusion as ‘its place’ is usually the last place I look for something).

It is fascinating to watch Mr Oh function and I am perpetually amazed by his constant zeal for order. I, on the other hand, try really hard to be tidy but, for the life of me, cannot seem to bring myself to put clothes on hangars when there’s a perfectly good floor right beneath my feet. Things remain where I drop them regardless of whether this is a suitable location or not. My headphones often seem to be in the fruitbowl, snaked around a satsuma. My earrings are in the pen drawer. My hairbrush is on the bookshelf. My socks are under a cushion (or at least one of them is). Once every few months, I will ‘deep clean’ my life, put everything back in a logical place, feel redeemed, washed, spiritually at ease and wait until - one by one - my headphones creep back to the fruitbowl, my tweezers into the hall, my teacup into the bathroom.

Mr Oh knows where everything is. His clothes are folded neatly. Actually, mine are folded neatly too because he takes them all off the clothes rack when they’re dry, and folds them into impossibly symmetrical shapes. He knows that I would leave them on the clothes rack for weeks and take each piece off as I needed to wear it, leaving behind random and progressively larger voids until the clothes rack was sufficiently empty to justify another batch of washing. He never gets cross about my lack of tidiness and he never gripes. Occasionally he looks shocked (and perhaps slightly traumatised) by the randomness and completeness of my clutter but he never says anything. He just tidies around me. This morning I watched as he shuffled my haphazard tower of bridal magazines into a neat, size-ordered stack. I would never have bothered doing it, but feel much happier now that it’s done.

When we were travelling in China, I would ask Mr Oh every few days to ‘OCD my life’, which meant he would take everything out of my backpack, organise it and replace it in such a way that I could find things again. It brought me immense joy.

This is not to say that I’m a terribly unclean person. I colour code everything. I put seeds, herbs, nuts and things into tupperware and write the contents on the side with CD-pen. I enjoy removing all the bobbles off my clothes with the little de-fuzzing machine. I have a fundamental appreciation of order - I just have no discipline. I get tired and overwhelmed. I put the headphones in the fruit bowl because I can’t remember where ‘its place’ is. When I fold clothes, they look lopsided.

In general, as I said, it is a wonderful thing to live with someone who enjoys tidying and organising and tilting things slightly to the left to make them look symmetrical. There is only one time, as far as I can tell, when living with a compulsive tidier is bad, and this is when one is baking.

I decided that we were going to make cupcakes for mother’s day. I have never been much into baking but thought that - as an impending mother and wife - it might be something in which I should obtain some degree of competence. (Ok, mostly I just had a craving for cake smothered in buttercream).

I had never made cupcakes before so I really wanted to get this right. I spent a week researching recipes on the internet until I found one the right one. I went to Kitchen Complements and invested in a cupcake tin, cupcake cases, cupcake glitter and little sugar bumblebees and ladybirds. I dragged Mr Oh around Superquinn painstakingly assessing different types of flour, the consistency of yoghurts and the saltiness of butter. I enlisted him as a sous-chef (more successfully this time), made sure he was in bed early the night before and woke him up at the crack of dawn on Mother’s Day to embark upon our inaugural foray into the world of baked goods.

In the style of a true television chef, I decided to make sure that all my required ingredients were prepared in advance in the correct amounts. I put on an apron. I cut things and weighed them and put them into tiny glass bowls. When everything was set out and I had welcomed my imaginary audience to my Sunday morning baking show, I began - with the help of my sous-chef - to make cupcakes. This went very well and within minutes, the cupcakes were goldening nicely in the oven.

I turned my attention to the white chocolate buttercream icing. I had chocolate. I had icing sugar. I had soft room-temperature butter...except that I didn’t because in a compulsive tidying fit, my sous-chef had put the butter back in the fridge. I took it out again and turned my attention to melting the chocolate. When this was finished I looked around to find the butter once again missing. He had put it back it the fridge again! He had to be distracted with chocolate and tea long enough for the butter to reach room temperature - luckily he is also easily distracted.

Ta da!




Dinner for Eight


I have learned that when hosting a dinner party for eight people while five months pregnant, there are a number of factors critical for making sure that you are the very best hostess that you can possibly be. Allow me to share some of these with you.

Prepare your menu a few days beforehand and work out exactly what ingredients and equipment you will need.
Choose a one-pot dish that will easily feed your mountains of hungry guests and can be prepared a few hours in advance so as to avoid last minute panics.
Ask for help from friends in bringing other courses. Note: when your lovely friend Eimear jokingly offers to make a giant swan-shaped meringue, best to laugh and thank her for the kind offer and suggest something a bit more low maintenance. Do not dare her to do it.
Go shopping the day before the party and stock up on everything you’ll need.
Make sure you have enough wine. A good tip is to estimate the number of bottles you think your friends will drink....then triple it.
Enlist a sous-chef to help you on the day. Perhaps someone you live with or to whom you are engaged.
Ensure that your sous-chef does not go on an all night bender the night before the dinner party with the result that he (or she, because this could happen to anyone) is hungover, unconscious and useless the next day when the cooking is taking place.
Ensure that your sous-chef does not continue drinking on the night of the dinner party with the result that he or she is hungover, unconscious and useless the day after that when the cleaning up is taking place.

I totally rocked the first six points but sadly fell down on points 6 & 7. In my sous-chef’s defence, it was not his intention to be in an alcohol induced mini-coma when all the serious work was taking place. He didn’t even go out until after I was safely tucked up in bed at 10pm. The next thing I knew, it was 3am and a homicidal maniac with one arm had broken into the house and was trying to kill me with a kitchen knife, or at least this is what I thought when I woke up in terror before realising it was just one of those incredibly vivid dreams that you’re supposed to get during pregnancy. The last crazy pregnancy dream I had was about skiing down a mountain made of soft-whip ice-cream with rainbow sprinkles which was infinitely more appealing (although slightly stickier).

I decided not to risk going back to sleep in case the next dream finished me off so I rang my absentee sous-chef and pretended not to sound like the insane, terrified, emotional wreck I was and calmly asked him when I might expect his return. He indicated that this might be shortly but it ended up being 5.15 am. I know this because I was propped up awake peering through the back window every two minutes for signs of homicidal maniacs.

On his return, the sous-chef was both profound, profoundly uncoordinated and within a very short space of time, profoundly dead to the world. Relieved that I was now safe to continue sleeping, I drifted gratefully back into slumber but, alas, it was not to be. It seems that people who have been drinking until 5.15 tend to snore and don’t wake up when you poke them (or when you kick them, pull their hair or pull back their eyelids and touch their eyeballs). I tossed and turned until 7 when I finally succumbed to sleep. At 7.30am the slumbering sous-chef’s phone alarm went off and he did not wake up to turn it off. I let it go to see how long it would take him to turn it off but after five minutes I gave up and turned it off myself. There was no more sleep and at 9am I hauled myself out of bed to begin the process of preparing a dinner party for eight people, sans sous chef.

Five hours later, a lovely boeuf bourguignon and two types of salad were prepared and my sous chef appeared in time to make me sandwiches and send me babbling and semi-hysterical back to bed for a few hours of rest before the dinner party which went splendidly in the end even though the sous-chef was incredibly hungover and the beautiful meringue swan was decapitated at some point on its journey from Eimear’s house to ours. Giant meringue swans do not travel well (but they taste just as good headless).

I could not stay cross with the sous-chef-who-wasn’t. The pain and misery of his three day hangover was enough punishment (plus I also told his mother on him).

PS - the photo above is what a swan meringue look like when it has not been decapitated. We didn’t take photos of our poor headless swan as it would have been in bad taste.


The Accidental Orienteer


This weekend I learned lots of things about my betrothed. At my uncle Declan’s 50th birthday party in Belfast, I learned that he has no difficulty holding a newborn with one hand and a pint of Guinness with the other. I’m not sure when this will come in handy...but I’m fairly certain that it’s positive. I learned that he can eat three bowls of cereal and still be hungry an hour later (interesting). I learned that he will do
anything to put off starting an essay, including the dishes (useful), that children are unafraid of him despite his size (good) and that when he grows his beard and hair too long he looks like a cross between Jesus, a tall monkey and a tennis player circa 1972 (odd).

I also learned that he cannot be allowed to undertake even the simplest of long journeys unsupervised. One would think, looking at any map, that the drive between Dublin and Belfast was relatively straightforward, if not, exceptionally straightforward on account of the fact that it’s essentially (if not entirely) a straight road from point A to point B.

We were driving back down to Dublin early on Saturday afternoon and I had made the fatal mistake of drinking two cups of tea before we left with the result that after about half an hour, I needed to pee again. I was trying to distract myself by putting new words to the Gummi-bears theme song when I noticed that we were not too far from Omagh. Isn’t that nice, I thought, I’ve never been to Omagh.

A few moment later, it occurred to me that I have driven between Dublin and Belfast hundreds of times without ever getting the opportunity to go to Omagh. I looked at the next road sign and realised that I hadn’t ever been to any of the places on it, except Donegal, I had been to Donegal and remember it because of the 7 hour journey from Dublin so I was pretty sure I didn’t want to go there this weekend. I asked Mr Oh calmly, ‘Are you sure we’re on the road to Dublin?’. He shot me a look of what I think might have been contempt and said, ‘Yes’ (I think he was rolling his eyes internally too). I thought, maybe we are on the road to Dublin, Mr Oh tends to know what he’s talking about and the fields outside the window do look vaguely familiar, they’re green and square and I’m fairly sure I’ve seen that cow before somewhere. I relaxed a little bit and then I saw the next sign, ‘The West’. I was very sure I did not want to go to the West. It was then that I started screeching.

Rather than come off the motorway and go back the way we came, Mr Oh thought that we’d take a detour and ‘triangulate’ to Newry to rejoin the Dublin-Belfast road - a decision which launched us on an hour long tour of the heartland of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. We drove down the Garvaghy Road which was fun. It was one of those places that I have often heard mentioned on the news but have never been entirely sure where they are on a map...like Srebrenica or Bazra.

Mr Oh seemed quite pleased with his scenic tour of sectarian hot-spots until I pointed out that I really really needed to go to the bathroom so could he please hurry up and get us to Newry. He started to slow down outside a petrol station and said ‘You should just go in there, I’m sure they have a bathroom’. I pointed out that the petrol station was draped in the Union Jack and adjacent to an Orange Lodge which seemed to make his reconsider the wisdom of pulling his southern registered car into the courtyard and idling in it for several minutes looking as he did i.e. bearded, papist and 1970sy.

I resolved to make it to Newry and we whiled away that part of the journey looking at scenes of pastoral hilliness where we reckoned we could afford to buy a rather generously sized house but would have to change our names to Nigel Patterson and Arlene Dobson (which I quite liked).

The rest of the journey was relatively uneventful and we made it back to Dublin before nightfall where we spent the evening watching Charlie & the Chocolate Factory followed by Tallafornia (which we pretend not to like but can’t stop watching).

Today turned out to be the first day of spring and the whole lack of hangover thing opened up to us an entire world of early morning (i.e. pre-noon) possibility. We decided to go running. Well, Mr Oh went running and I cycled alongside, jollying him along with motivational observances like ‘gosh, this is easy’ and ‘you look very pale in the sunlight’. He refrained from pushing me off my bike which I thought was damn decent of him but suspect this would not have been the case were I not pregnant.

As we arrived back to our little house, the woman in the flower shop across the street shouted out ‘Mr Oh, I have your plate and your cutlery’....that’s when I realised that there were some things about my betrothed that I would never learn.

Actually, that’s not true. The flower shop woman had helped Mr Oh with the roses on the day he proposed, even though he hadn’t bought them from her but from another flower seller on Grafton Street - who happened to be her sister in law bizarrely enough. So anyway, she helped him make the roses into a nice bouquet so he - just after we got engaged - ran across the road with breakfast for her which is why we now live in an Irish episode of Coronation Street. They’re great friends.

I don’t mind Mr Oh’s mysterious visits to the florist as he inevitably returns with pretty things for me...see below.