People We Meet

The "School Trip"

flower
1. I know I swore I'd never write about anything pertaining to goldfish again but, as I'm discovering, goldfish are to young children what fixie bikes are to hipsters.  
2.  A flurry of white feathers just fluttered down outside my living room window.  If I lived in a different country, I might investigate but as I live in China, I think it's best not to.  Also, set to the background sound of the soprano practising her aria across the road in the Shanghai Conservatory of Music...the moment was quite dramatic, and weird.  

So, last week I received an email from Little A's school informing me of the upcoming school trip and inviting me to attend.  As is normal with Little A's school, the information provided was minimal.  They would be going somewhere with "rollercoasters, water-rafting, gold-fishing and vegetable-picking".  The thought of a clutch of 3-year-olds on rollercoasters and rafts in China (the 'in China' bit is important) set my A-dar blasting. (A-dar is the implant in my head that senses when Little A should not be doing something).  

The school, while encouraging parents to go, weren't too happy about me bringing Snugglepunk along as well.  They suggested I leave him at home (strapped into his highchair for the day with a supply of rice crackers perhaps?) and told me that it was too dangerous for a 1 year old (but not apparently for 3 year olds who are famous for being significantly more mature and world-wise than 1 year olds).   It's not that I particularly fancied the idea of juggling two small children for the day, one of whom likes eating rubbish and the other who likes picking sticks off the ground and swishing them around in the faces of other young children while shouting 'I'm a pirate, ARGGGHHH...me hearties".   But,  I didn't want Little A to miss out on whatever it was that was happening and I certainly was not going to let him go under the supervision of the school which is well-meaning but generally chaotic and disorganised.  

So, yesterday Little A, Snugglepunk and I set off on the school trip with two bags, one pram, two slings, two packets of baby wipes and about 300 rice cakes.  It is impossible to have too many rice cakes.  

Little A goes to an "international" school but it seems to be 90% Chinese.   It's also supposed to be bilingual but I think it's bilingual in the way that all the Chinese kids speak Chinese and all the English speaking kids speak English and I don't sense a whole load of crossover.  Little A never speaks Chinese in front of me so I’m never too clear how much he actually speaks and understands…more than me probably.

We took a tour bus an hour north of Shanghai which wasn't actually an hour north of Shanghai at all because it was still Shanghai...so perhaps better to say an hour north of my Shanghai.  I had very little idea of what kind of place we were visiting, so at least my expectations were low.  I had been on enough school trips with Little A to know that we needed to pack a lot of food.  The school provided Little A with a "packed lunch" consisting rather randomly of two bottles of water, a banana, four mini "croissants" (i.e. bread rolls shaped like croissants) and two bread rolls shaped like bread rolls.  I seem to use an inordinate amount of "quotation marks" when writing about China - maybe because things are often claimed to be things that we later find out are not the things they claim to be at all - if you get me.   Little A and Snugglepunk had polished off the bread roll extravaganza before we even arrived so it's just as well I had also packed three tupperware boxes of sausage pasta, apples, juice and the 300 rice cakes.  Small boys are hungry - I know this from experience.

We arrived at what seemed to be some kind of park.  It was immediately clear that it was a very Chinese destination i.e. it was packed full of people and the bins were overflowing at 10am.  The first mass activity of the day was a trip to the toilet (this is, after all, a class full of 3 year olds).  The toilet was a ceramic trench with small dividers along the wall.  There was no flushing, no water, no doors, no toilet paper.  I've spent time in China so I was vaguely ok with this and knew that it was best not to dwell on it, not to breathe and not to touch anything.   I'm seasoned at the way of the squat trench.  Little A however was having none of it and refused to step near the trench.  "I don't want to fall in", he said wisely and went outside to find a less offensive tree upon which to relieve himself.  I made a mental note not to drink water again for the rest of the day.  

The whole thing was a bit mental.  There was a lady with a microphone and whistle whose job appeared to be to corral us like cattle.  She also had a faded red flag raised high in the air that we were supposed to follow through the crowds of people and children all in their own groups, with their own red flags that looked entirely identical to our red flag.   Every time we weren't doing what we should, she would start piping on her whistle and rabbiting down the microphone in Chinese.  She was Captain Von Trapp in the squat body of a middle-aged Chinese tour guide, with a voice like a round-saw cutting metal.   

The first "activity" (I'm starting to think I should just put quotation marks around the whole entry), was the "playground"  which was, in fact a dated and decrepit amusement park.  We had a jolly little ride on a squeaky train before Little A spotted a large swinging pirate ship and demanded that we go on it.  I looked at the swarming mass of Chinese tweens pushing and clambering to get on the ride, which looked a bit rusty and didn't appear to have restraints and tried to jolly him off in the other direction.  The only other rides were a spinning one with water guns and bumper cars.  Little A took one look at the cars and said "I wanna drive car!".  I thought "Well, that's not possible, he's only 3...surely he wouldn't be allowed on the bumper cars" but, you know, it's China so I don't know why I thought that, of course 3 year olds can go on the bumper cars!  In fact, it turns out that 1 year olds are also allowed on them but some maternal instinct at the back of my spine must have kicked in because I decided that Snugglepunk was a tad too young to be bashed around in an electrified vehicle.  My Chinese friend Kitty offered to take Aodhan on the bumper cars.  While he was at first delighted, his joy turned to horror as he realised that the cars were crashing into each other and he started to get panicked.  Kitty, however, managed to drive around the little bumper car arena in smooth circles avoiding all other cars and people while Little A sat frozen in terror beside her.  

Thankfully, activity 1 was now over.  Activity 2 was a "boat" ride.  The "boat" was a series of bamboo poles tied together with benches strapped on top.  The "life jackets" were pieces of orange material stuffed with something that may or may not have been buoyant.  Apparently they also have no problem with one year olds on floating bamboo rafts although they had neither child nor infant versions of the possibly-though-not-necessarily-buoyant "life-jackets".  Not wanting to be the neurotic foreigner who wouldn't participate, I gingerly stepped onto the raft clutching my two children, and chose a bench towards the back.  Just after I got on, about 6 other families pushed their way onto our raft, including one that wedged themselves onto our bench.  The gondolier-man shouted "too heavy!" so two more men jumped on.  He shouted "too heavy!" again.  I was about to volunteer to get off as the raft started listing precariously to one side and then, Tour Guide Von Trapp herself hopped on, shouted at the man with the pole and off we lurched into the middle of a lake of unknown depth.  I looked down at the bamboo poles that separated us from the water and saw that they were now submerged and water was starting to pool around my shoes.    If I had a picture of my face at that moment, I am entirely sure it would have been ashen.   It's not that I can't swim, I can swim just fine, but the two little boys can't swim and didn't have life jackets, and the raft was slightly submerged with one side rising up out of the water.  I was the only person concerned, apparently, as everyone else was chattering away and Tour Guide Von Trapp blew down on her whistle in a moment of, what seemed from my panic station at the back, to be exuberance and joy.  Snugglepunk started to squeal and try to wriggle out of my arms.  I forced a smile and looked down at Little A beside me.  With my best jolly voice I said, "Isn't this fun?  A boat!".  He looked up weakly and said, "I want to get off".   I nodded, gripped his hand and started trying to remember what I had learned in those two lifesaving classes I did when I was 14.  Thankfully, it was a short boat ride.

Swiftly moving on to Activity 3...fishing.  Sorry, "fishing".  Fishing consisted of a series of large plastic tubs filled with water and terrified goldfish around which dozens of crazed children with nets were wedged, frantically trying to, ehm, fish.   When a fish was caught, it was squeezed into a container of some kind, usually a waterbottle the diameter of which was less than the diameter of the fish itself.  Sometimes they didn't bother adding water - it was grim. For proof - see picture below.  I'm not big into animal welfare but even I was slightly horrified.  Even so, I gave Little A a net, squashed him in between some older kids and let him loose, knowing that the freaked out fish were all huddled together in the centre of the tub, beyond the reach of his little arms.  He caught nothing.   Eventually, Tour Guide Von Trapp got on the whistle again and we all assembled under her frayed red flag.  Little A looked around...all the other children had goldfish.  He looked at me plaintively, "Where's my fish?", he wailed. And in a very Augustus Gloop fashion, he threw a net at me, pointed to the tubs and screamed "GET ME A FISH.  NOW!".  My little tyrant - so cute.  
 
Normally, I would deal with this like a good parent, gently talk to him about his tone and help him deal with and understand his emotions.  But I had been in that godforsaken park for 3 hours, I was sweating, Snugglepunk was screeching for food, i had at least 7 mosquito bites and all my good-parent-motivation was drowned in the lake.  I picked up the net and took myself over to the fish tub.  After a minute of failed fishing, I gave up.  The net was too small, the children were pushing me and the fish were wiley.  Unable to face the prospect of Little A's inevitable meltdown and the ensuing chaos, I looked desperately around for a solution. Kitty pointed to a man with a barrell.  I gave the man 20 kuai (€3) and he gave me a little fish box with a handle and there were 7 little fish inside!  A failure for parenting, perhaps, but a triumphant win for my afternoon sanity.  Predictably, Little A was bored of carrying the fish approximately 3 minutes later so I was left to juggle baby in sling, fish in hand, buggy in other hand and small child trailing behind me whining that he wanted to go home.  

Activity 4 was "peanut picking".  Despite the fact that I had three Epi-pens in my bag, I did not feel like bringing my nut-allergic baby "peanut picking", quotations marks or not.  Instead I spent 45 minutes milling around the rubbish strewn entrance, waiting for the group to finish the final activity and watching my children lick the railings.  

Eventually it was over and we were back on the bus.  Some parents had to take another bathroom break before we got back on the bus.  It had been 4 hours since we had last been to the bathroom but I was holding it in.  Kitty came back looking shell-shocked. She didn't want to speak about it.  And she's Chinese - that's saying something.  

On the bus, Little A turned to me and said. “I had a great time”. Confused I asked, “Did you like the bumper cars?”. “No.”, he said, “They were dangerous”. “Ok, did you like the boat?”, I asked. “No”, he said, “That was dangerous”.

“So, what did you like?”, I asked again. “Mummy came”, he said, before falling asleep against the window. Sniff.

So now we have our four fish, plus the seven from the school trip, two of whom are already dead.  Current fish count: 9.  

Likelihood that I'll never mention fish again in my blog: low.  

fc




Comments

Wuxi Hookers

Let us say that you’re in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China. I know, why would you voluntarily be in Wuxi, right? I think we know how I feel about Wuxi - but just suppose you’re a German engineer and your company has sent you to spend a few long, desolate months in the town Lonely Planet described as a “typical Chinese urban wasteland”. I thought that was quite a polite depiction actually, I would have been less forgiving.

Anyway, you’re depressed (and why wouldn’t you be?). You’re desperate. You’re lonely. Did I mention that you’re a man? You probably also have a substantial pot-belly (if you haven’t already wasted away from abject melancholy). So, one night, you think you’d like a little company. You sit down in front of your computer and you google “Wuxi hookers”. What do you find? Well, you find a few gaudy looking sites promoting the many charms of young, nubile Chinese women in a similar state of desperation (although their desperation is driven by circumstances more fundamentally unpleasant than yours). You open a few and consider their offerings. Unconvinced, you click on the 7th or 8th link in the search results. You find yourself, not on a website selling sex at very reasonable prices but rather surprisingly on the blog of a pregnant Irish woman in Shanghai. You have no idea what happened. She doesn’t appear to be located in the immediate vicinity and she may or may not be an actual hooker. There are no photos by which to assess her suitability. She is likely to be overpriced anyway - European mother type is a very niche market. Either way, there is no contact number so you read a bit and learn all about gestational diabetes, toddler tantrums and the trials of hiring home help in Asia.

This maybe-hooker’s blog makes you think about your own wife and six children back in Gelsenkirchen - oblivious to the depths of your misery and isolation. You suddenly feel shameful and homesick. You abandon the idea of engaging the services of a hooker and decide to watch Despicable Me 2 on HBO instead.

And that, my friends, was my good deed for the year.

It is an alarming reality that if a person searches for ‘wuxi hooker’ on Google they will find my blog. It is alarming both for me and also, presumably, for them. At least it’s not the top result but rather a little way down the second page. This said, at least one person looking for a hooker in Wuxi has instead ended up reading my blog. I have been reliably provided this information by Google Analytics.

Google Analytics, for those of you who aren’t familiar with this most interesting and useful of things, is a free service where Google keeps track of how many people read my blog, where they’re located and how they come across it. In the beginning, almost everyone who read I’m a Grown Up had a direct link from me and at least 90% of these people were my mother. Now, as I write more about random things, the blog is starting to pop up on people’s search results. This means that more and more of the people who read the blog have never met me and have no idea how small my feet really are. People have read my blog in such far flung places as Peru, Iran and Kenya. A special big shout-out to my peeps in Russia’s Sverdlovsk Oblast.

And while the majority of people who stumble across my blog ‘organically’ i.e. via a search engine, have their privacy settings set-up in such a way that I can’t see what it was they were looking for in the first place…a few people (less than 5%) don’t have this feature activated and have given the Google (and me) full-access to the nature of their queries. This is a bit like looking into a stranger’s brain and, sometimes, it’s really quite disturbing.

For example, in the past six months, people searching for the following pieces of information have ended up at my blog:

‘wuxi hookers’
- the reason for this is presumably because I have mentioned both ‘Wuxi’ and ‘hookers’ at some point although, I would like to stress…not at the same time. It is very possible that after this entry, I might be the top result for ‘wuxi hookers’ in the future. Yay. My one piece of advice for people looking for a hooker in Wuxi is not to bother with the internet - just go down to your hotel bar and sit there for five minutes. Much more efficient.

‘can you eat percy pigs when pregnant’ - now while I have discussed both Percy Pigs and pregnancy extensively in my blog, I will admit that I have never directly addressed the question of whether they should be consumed during pregnancy. And for all those hungry ladies out there with a sugar craving I would like to put your minds at ease…of course you can eat Percy Pigs when pregnant. They are, after all, made from fruit juice. At the risk of insulting my readership I would also like to note that this was a pretty stupid question. If you can’t decide yourself whether or not it’s safe to eat Percy Pigs when pregnant, are you sure you’re ready to have a child?

(In a similar vein)
‘I am in my 33 weeks of pregnancy is custard and cake healthy for me’ - eh, no. Custard and cake is not suddenly healthy just because you’re pregnant although it’s unlikely to put your unborn child at risk unless, perhaps, you have gestational diabetes like me. Again, are you sure you’re ready (mentally equipped) to have a child? Are you the same person who was asking about Percy Pigs the previous week?

‘beak ka av neck sneer’ - I have no idea what this means but can only assume that it is Klingon which, bizarrely, does go some way to explaining why it might lead to my blog.

‘can you rub cod liver oil on your face’ - this is a perfectly valid question and I’m going to say that it’s a matter of personal preference although my own personal preference would be that I don’t smell of cod liver throughout the day.

‘flies and cool rooms’ - this is no doubt related to the post I once wrote on why flies circle in the middle of rooms. I’m afraid some things are just destined to be mysteries.

‘i am a 26 year old woman and for the past three days i have been extremely tired, fatigued and crave soft serve ice cream’ - this is like the story of my life, except for the 26 part.

‘how to let my inner child shoot herself’ - oh dear.

Based on the analytics provided by Google, I’m not exactly overwhelmed by the calibre of person reading my blog. Present company excluded. I love you all. xxx
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111 Boxes

huaihai

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.
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BMW

P9225430
One of the biggest challenges about China so far has been working out how to transport ourselves from point A to point B without having an accident at point C (point C being anywhere and everywhere between point A and B). This is particularly challenging when it’s just me and Baby A hitting the town.

There are a few options - none of them great.

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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







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The Creepiest Place in China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Paracetemol, Pandas and Parties


mrpanda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CareBearBigWish_CBStare

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

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

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




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Ma-sa-ji

foot-massage-3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harry

th


There’s a new man in my life - Harry. I first came across Harry when we walked in through the door of our temporary apartment in Shanghai. Harry was lounging on the sofa slurping on one of those iced milky coffee things. It was not immediately clear who he was. He bounced off the sofa in his surfing shorts, flip-flops and t-shirt and bellowed ‘Hey guys!’ followed swiftly by ‘Hello cute baby!’ (presumably at Baby A). We still weren’t sure who he was but he hung around for the best part of an hour before leaving with a reassuring ‘You got any problem, you call me, okay?’. Okay.

Two days later I had a problem - I couldn’t work out how to dry the clothes in the washing machine. I called Harry. Harry came over later, I found him in the living room. I don’t think he knocked first. He just arrived in our living room and was poking around the place when I happened upon him all bouncy and Asian-surfer-dude. I brought him in to look at the washing machine. He fiddled around with it and squealed ‘Wha you do wrong, I dunno, I tole you how to do it. You need to do it like I say.’ I said I did it exactly how he say but it still no dry clothes. ‘Ay yah, I dunno. I cannot work this type of thing. I no do laundry. I know wha you need - you need muzzah *guffaws*. Muzzah do laundry!’. He disappeared then and came back half an hour later with a big metal railing which he told me I could hang my clothes on….”like Chinese muzzah”. Then off he wandered, not before pinching Baby A’s face and shouting ‘So cute baby!!’ far too loudly in his ear.

He is tall for a Chinese man and has a look about him as if he might ‘work out’. If they ever did The Real World, Shanghai - Harry would be in it. He doesn’t look like a Harry - he should be called Brad or Chad or Logan - something suitably flippy. Harry is flippy. He’s also very camp but I can’t decide if this is a reflection of his sexuality or just the number of hours he has spent watching Katy Perry videos.

A few days ago our internet was down, for the third time that week. Reluctantly I called Harry. He appeared in the apartment again some time later. I knew he was there because I heard a long, high-pitched ‘Helllloooo cute babeeeee’ emanating from the living room. Baby A was in the process of scurrying under the coffee table to get away from him.

I explained the problem we had with the internet. Harry flung his hand up to his forehead and threw his head back in anguish. ‘Why? Why? Why’ he wailed, somewhat unexpectedly and, I thought, unnecessarily. “I don’t know why this internet box no work. Every time I come look at it and it just no work some time later. I no understand why some things not good things. Machine is like people. Sometimes they just die. You think they ok and then they die. No one understand.” I nodded. “This box”, he continues, “it like broken person. It want to die. I no understand why”. We stood in silence for a few moments (it seemed like the right thing to do).

Suddenly Harry perked up. “You do like Harry way, okay? Take power out and then power in. Harry way make ok. Box might die, but you can make work again. Okay ba-bye”. And off he went.

We’re still not entirely sure who Harry is or what Harry does. We hope he’s not coming to our new apartment with us though. To be fair to him ‘power out, power in’ i.e. turn off/turn on, always seems to fix the internet.

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Tai-Tai Rage





depositphotos_4826596-Chinese-love-symbol


We have seen quite a few other ‘foreigners’ on our ramblings around our new home city. I wouldn’t say that the place is saturated with westerners but you see quite a few in Italian restaurants and in the more shiny parts of town. They’re certainly not a rarity…but I haven’t really seen any foreign children. Perhaps it’s because families tend to live in Pudong, the more suburban, recently developed area of Shanghai as that’s where all the international schools are located. Maybe it’s because it’s sweltering outside and most sensible Europeans, Americans and Kiwistralians have sent their children back to more temperate climes for the sweaty season. Maybe it’s because I’m not looking in the right places, or looking at all.

We did come across another non-Chinese couple of complex provenance who had a daughter about the same age as Baby A as we were getting pizza last night. They had been in Shanghai for about a year or so and when I told them that we had only been living here for four days, the mother - let’s call her Melinda (because I can’t remember her real name and she looked like a Melinda) pursed her lips together and winced, “Good luck sweetie, that’s all I can say”, she trilled. I politely moved away. She floated past our table on several other occasions throughout the evening and we attempted a few other strains of conversations, all of which left me cold. She told me about a good playgroup she attends, adding “and it’s fairly Chinese free” as though she were outlining the facilities. I was tempted to point out that she was in the wrong country if avoiding the Chinese was a life goal of hers but I suspect she already knew that. I mentioned that I was thinking about looking for a kindergarten for Baby A and asked her if she knew of one. She told me at length how she believes it’s more important for a mother to stay at home with her children for the first three years of their lives and how she would never leave her child for others to look after. As if to neutralize the possibly offensive nature of everything she had just said, she added ‘but that’s just my opinion’.

I smiled and nodded. I have met people like her before - in China and in Singapore. They don’t learn the language, they don’t explore the culture or enjoy it, they look down on locals. They live in a total expat bubble, frantically blinkering themselves from the reality that they live in China. I suppose I’m not really one to judge them. I am fond of many elements of expat bubblehood and maybe they didn’t choose to be here. It annoys me though - that kind of negativity. It’s an -ism, like racism, but acceptable somehow, maybe because most westerners in China are a little bit guilty of it. It’s believing that we are better, separate, more refined, smarter because we’re western. It’s cultural imperialism. It’s ugly. But to an extent it’s also unavoidable.

It’s almost impossible to integrate into Chinese China - not without the language which is extremely difficult to master. And maybe even with the language, maybe even then it’s still impossible. And because we’ll never really assimilate because we, foreigners, by virtue of our foreignness are not Chinese - obviously.

I read an article today by an American man whose wife worked in the Wall Street Journal and he travelled with her to Beijing and was essentially the stay-at-home dad. A Chinese wife who doesn’t work is often referred to as a
Tai-Tai - this man, in his own words, was a Guy-Tai. The advice he gave to newly arrived expats in China was “surround yourself with positive people, and focus on what’s there, rather than what isn’t”.

I don’t think hanging out with Melinda is going to up my positive chi factor but I gave her my email address anyway. I can’t really afford to be batting away potential friends on the basis that I don’t like them. If we do become best buds, I’ll have to remember to delete this post - someone remind me.

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Babyoncé A

pappaodh


It’s 40 degrees in Shanghai at the moment. Melty. We cowered indoors until 5pm this afternoon…even then, it was still 40 degrees but there wasn’t much direct sunlight which made it more manageable.

We decided to make like locals and get the metro somewhere. Taxis are extremely cheap but we’re too hipster for personal transport. Actually, it’s more that they’re a pretty dangerous way to transport a toddler. No seat belts, no rules, no safe. As we won’t have a car here, I obviously can’t avoid using taxis altogether but I’m going to try to limit it to times of true desperation (rainy days and Mondays?).

Our journey today (3 stops, 1 transfer) cost the princely sum of 40p per adult. It was clean, fast and efficient. It was far nicer than either the New York subway or the London Underground (which are both quite creaky and dingy really). It wasn’t quite as nice as the Singapore MRT but nothing ever is. Despite being the most ‘western’ city in China - it’s still very much a Chinese city and the majority of transactions still take place in either Mandarin or, alternatively, hand signals.

Luckily, I came prepared. I had looked up the word for transit card online in advance and so was able to stroll nonchalantly up to the ticket booth and say in my best Crouching Tiger accent “
请给我两个交通 一卡通 two of your finest and most ubiquitous transit cards please (at least, that was the sentiment). The result was not, as I had expected, two lovely transit cards. The response was a blitzkrieg of rapid fire Chinese the only part of which I picked up was ‘no money’. This is where the hand signals really came into their own. Turns out you have to pay for the card, which doesn’t have any money on it, and then add money separately. Thankfully, I’ve been doing baby sign language for several months now and it all worked out in the end.

During our early evening meander around Shanghai, having successfully negotiated public transport like total pros, we stumbled upon a group of Chinese tourists from out of town. We knew they were Chinese tourists because all thirty or so of them were wearing matching light blue t-shirts and taking photographs of lamp-posts, paving stones and other Shanghainese specialities. As we reached about midway through their ranks, the inevitable happened, and all hell broke loose.

The first one to sound the alarm was a well-coiffed, middle aged lady who up until that point had been gazing aimlessly around. Once she spotted the golden locks of our little cherub she wailed loudly to her nearby companions ‘xiao pengyou!’ which translates as ‘little friend’ which I thought was terribly cute. With that, the hordes descended upon Baby A as if he were Beyoncé. He responded accordingly, smiling, posing and high-fiving - also as if he were Beyoncé.

Eventually, it all got a little intense. There were grown men, men with grandchildren, men who might have been powerful CEO factory overlords snapping away at a blonde toddler in a pram with their high-spec giant SLR cameras as if he were a superstar (see photo above). He’s always been our superstar…and now, it seems, his fan base is growing. We’re going to have to start managing his diva tendencies. He’s already demanding raisins on his Weetabix…whatever next?

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Mommy No Sleep

jet-lag


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.

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Being Enormous

Pasted Graphic 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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