Saturday, 05 July 2014
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.
Wednesday, 16 April 2014
Uh oh, I forgot to write. Actually, I didn’t forget at all…I was just too tired. Blogging is lower than sleeping on my ‘to do’ list (but higher than tweezing eyebrows). It’s actually China’s fault. Its language is too difficult and I need every spare second I have to learn how to write “starch” in Chinese. This was a word we learned in class today and it almost sparked a riot as it turns out most people didn’t even know what it meant in English and felt unmoved to commit it to memory in Chinese. I will admit that ‘starch’ (or 淀粉 as the Chinese say) wouldn’t be on my top thousand most useful words to know but I am somewhat surprised that this was the word upon which my fellow classmates chose to fixate. I would have thought that the chapters in which we were instructed to learn the words for ‘greasepaint’, ‘chrysanthemum’ or ‘turtle’ would have provided a more natural point of complaint. Actually, I use the word ‘turtle’ quite a lot in my every day dialogue as Little A has a reptilian bath pal that goes by that moniker (well, it’s more like ‘too-too’) but I also use the word ‘teletubby’ on a near daily basis and yet feel no need to be able to say it in Chinese. Despite this, I do know the Chinese word for Teletubby as Ayi helpfully told me yesterday (unsolicited) but I have mostly wiped that conversation from my memory as I object to the notion that La-la is called something different in Chinese i.e. something other than La-la.
So, big news here in Shanghai…Little A has learned to speak. Mostly English, some Chinese, a bit of Random. He’s been saying ‘Mama’ and ‘Daddy’ for a while. Sadly, he seems to be slipping away from ‘Mama’ and towards ‘Mammy’ without taking into consideration my firm belief that I am not a ‘Mammy’. Don’t see myself as a ‘Mummy’ or a ‘Mommy’ either so hoping this is one of the words he sticks with the Chinese for (conveniently ‘Mama’). His first few words after that were generally unsurprising - bottle (bobo), no (nononononono), food (foo), raisin (ray-ray), bath (ba), Teletubbies (la-la), water (wawa), the aforementioned turtle, all types of vehicles (choo-choo, ka, baish), a whole host of body parts most of which are contained in the lyrics of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, doggie, bird, socks and also the one word that highlights his Irishness…tea. He’s also got a few odd ones in there - ‘umbrella’ (bella) is a favourite and for a while I thought he was saying ‘cheese’ but eventually realized, to my horror, that he was actually saying ‘Jesus’. Have made strong mental note to watch my language. The word ‘uh-oh’ is also a good one and covers a multitude of sins, many of which involve food in places that are not designed to hold food e.g. my pencil case. He can also count up to six, but excluding five (wah-too-sree-foe-sis).
There are a few Chinese words in there. He says ‘xiexie’ which means thank you (because clearly only the Chinese speakers in his life intend to teach him manners). The Chinese think he’s hilarious and he says ‘xiexie’ to pretty much everyone he comes across in the hope that after he says it, they give him food. They often do so it isn’t a bad strategy. Bizarrely, if I tell him to ‘say thank you’ he says ‘xiexie’ so I think he knows that they mean the same thing. He also says ‘shou’ (hand) in Chinese as well as ‘duzi’ (tummy) and ‘meimei’ (younger female friend/sister). And tonight when I said it was time for bed he said ‘bu yao’ which means ‘don’t want’ which now means he has two languages in which to say ‘no’. Great.
It’s a pretty limited dictionary for the moment but as long as people know when he wants ray-ray (all the time) then he’s happy. He had his first full-blown toddler tantrum this morning in the kitchen because I wouldn’t give him ray-ray for breakfast and tried to pawn him off with some other kind of foo. I tried to compromise by adding some ray-ray into his other foo but this was not the correct thing to do as I subsequently discovered when faced with the full force of his outrage that I would desecrate a ray-ray by mixing it into other foo. He spent a full twenty minutes in complete meltdown - head back, red face, wailing RAY-RAY over and over again while shaking the table with his hands. I was totally mesmerized and transfixed by the sheer depth of his raisin rage. It seemed limitless. I think I might have been slightly less amused by the whole thing if it had happened in public or if I had been under huge pressure to get out on time. Presumably the public meltdowns are coming to a supermarket/restaurant/bus near me soon. I don’t think I’ll mind too much though because everyone is staring shamelessly at him/us anyway - although the floor is very dirty in China so I hope he has the good sense to tantrum upright.
Thursday, 27 February 2014
I think China has blocked my blog. I hope it’s not because I dissed Eat, Pray, Love. Also, my VPN - the thing that lets me look up illicit blocked webpages - is down. Actually, the only thing I look at is Facebook but now I feel cut off from the world because I have no idea who got engaged, who is hungover or who took photos of their dinner. The religious quotations and political opinions I could do without - the dinner photos, however, are fascinating.
It’s just as well China has cut off my access to Facebook (and lots of news sites but I don’t notice that so much), I should be studying instead. I am, after all, a student again. As of this week, I am a student in Shanghai Jiaotong University where I am pursuing competency in Chinese - I may be there for some time. According to Wikipedia (which I never doubt) the university is renowned as one of the oldest and most prestigious and selective universities in China (sounds like they might have written that themselves…). Notable past attendees of SJU include Jiang Zemin (former President of China), Luc Montagnier (a Nobel Prize Laureate for the discovery of HIV) and Ding Junhui (China’s top snooker player).
This is my third time attending University and I’m discovering that, in many ways, it’s all pretty much the same experience. This being China though, in other ways, it really isn’t.
Similarities between my Irish and Chinese University experiences:
- There are a lot of nineteen year olds floating around the place. One of my new classmates told me how he had just ‘graduated high school’ last year (although it vexes me that Americans insist on graduating from school and don’t just leave noiselessly the way the rest of us do).
- I have already rekindled my doodling skills and, this afternoon, produced a convincing bunch of daisies in the margin of my listening comprehension book.
- While there is not a ramp on which people hang about posturing, there is a back stairwell where the Asian boys gather to smoke beside windows that they refuse to open. It seems Asian boys are the only people left who still smoke. Even the French have given up.
- There’s a lot of preening and make-up adjustment in front of the mirrors in the ladies’ bathrooms. The giggling masses are now comprised of Korean teenagers who look like dolls rather than Irish teenagers who look like hookers - it’s the same vibe though.
- I was given a student handbook during my first week. It outlined the history of the university, the ethos and the rules. The rules are a bit more far-reaching than I would have expected e.g. “students should not stay up late” and also a little more specific, e.g “students should not disseminate erotic, counter revolutionary material”. Ok then.
That’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Differences between my Irish and Chinese University experiences:
- I actually have to work. Twenty hours of classroom lessons a week plus another 20-30 hours of extra study just to keep up. Also, there are no G&T breaks when studying in the library on a Wednesday afternoon.
- There’s very little alcohol in general. I’d like to think this is because I’m pregnant but, really, it’s because it’s China. I’m fairly sure ‘no drinking’ is in the handy rule book too.
- The chairs are really uncomfortable and built for midgets..sorry, petite Chinese frames. It would actually be difficult to make a more uncomfortable chair without involving shards of broken glass. I’m starting to wonder if I’m actually at a re-education facility. After four hours with my legs crammed under the desk at a funny angle and my spine wedged against a rod of metal - I’m ready to stop disseminating all that erotic, counter revolutionary material.
- It’s hard to get a seat in the study room because all the Koreans use it to nap,
- It is I who am the mature student. I’m trying to revolutionize the species. I don’t ask too many questions. Sometimes I don’t do my homework (not really) and I try not to sit in the front row. I usually manage row 2, maybe row 3…the pull of the front increases with age.
- I am unlikely to marry one of my classmates.
- The toilets are the hole-in-the-ground type. It’s interesting. I had a unique experience there last week with a pregnancy bump on the front and a bag full of text books on the back. My squatting skills will be so much improved by the end of the semester that I imagine I will be able to compete for Ireland in Olympic women’s weightlifting. Do they have a maternity category?
- It’s ugly. Now I know most places are ugly compared to Trinity but I’m comparing it to UCD here. It looks like toilet, even on the outside. It’s ugly and dirty…but at least there’s heat, sometimes.
According to Jiaotong’s website, the campus looks like this:
However, the bit I see every day looks like this:
You should all be thankful I didn’t take a photo of the toilets. Instead, here’s a China-centric world map. Who knew Ireland was so close to falling off the edge?