Tag Archives: Chengdu

Smiling Baby

21 Jun

I am Chinese and my husband is Lebanese-French. We live in Chengdu, China with our 7-month-old daughter Mina.

When she was born I chose to stop working and be a SAHM (Stay At Home Mom), because I have a few SAHM friends around me, they take great care in raising their children and they turned out wonderful.

I don’t want to miss any part of Mina’s childhood. There are not many full-time housewives in China though. The liberation of women was so thorough during Chairman Mao’s era that it was such a glory for women to work that no educated women would dare stay at home.

“We didn’t send you to university knowing you’d end up a housewife!” My parents will never understand my decision.

I decided not to ask my parents to live with us as everybody in China does after the birth of a baby, so I could have private time with my husband. Here, we believe baby is the most important thing in a family, which means after a baby is born, the entire family gathers around the new parents and baby to help. It is common to have the grandparents, usually from the mother’s side, staying with the couple for 1 year or even longer.

I also decided to breastfeed Mina after reading some English pregnancy books. The breastfeeding rate in China is low, partly because the advertising and promotion of formula is strong, and most women return to work 4 months after giving birth. Luckily, I have 2 friends who are breastfeeding their babies. They encourage me and have armed me from head to toe with breastfeeding equipment, books, and they have shared their experiences with me.

I even tried to minimize the help I needed. It is not expensive to have domestic help in China. Hiring an ayi (nanny in Chinese) to help with the baby and housework is easy and normal. But I thought that it would be uncomfortable to have another person walking around the house all the time and I was sure I’d be able to handle a baby myself.

And then…..I was exhausted to death the 1st  two months after Mina was born! I struggled with breastfeeding, there was no milk, there was too much milk; Mina had strong reflux, we had to hold her upright for 20 minutes after each feed; I didn’t know how to make her sleep: I rocked her, I fed her, I strolled her. She cried and cried.

Liu Yan and Mina

Luckily my mom insisted to help me with the cooking, so when my husband went to work, I didn’t have to starve.

And forget about the quality time I thought I’d have with my husband. If I don’t yell at him, it’s “quality time”. We were exhausted to a point (with me panicking all the time) that I was considering a 24-hour nanny.

Well, things got easier as time went by. The annoying reflux was gone after 2-months, Mina gradually developed her routine and started to interact with us. My milk supply regulated and I am enjoying being a mom more and more.

Today, I am thankful to my daughter for coming to my life. She has allowed me the privilege to love devotedly and unconditionally. And what a wonderful feeling that is!

Without her, these 7 months would have been like any other 7 months, quickly forgotten in the currency of time. She takes me back to the starting status of life, getting up at sunrise, sleeping at sunset, observing and learning about “new” objects. I am so happy that I took the time to stay with her, quietly watching her grow up.

Mina is turning out to be a very happy baby, active and playful. She smiles all the time. She is the center of attention when we walk around the neighborhood, as all passers-by marvel at the Smiling Baby.

I don’t know whether it’s just her nature or from my mothering, perhaps partly both. But that doesn’t matter. This mother is very proud. And all the struggles seem a distant dream, well, until she wakes up at 3 o’clock in the morning.

——————–

Liu Yan, contributing author at Multicultural Mothering, is 30 years old, born in Leshan, China. She used to Work as an English teacher, newspaper editor and translator. Now she is learning to be the mother to her daughter of Chinese / Lebanese blood with French Culture in the crazy fog of Chinese modernization.

Cool Doctor

1 Jul

It was on the 1st day of my 16th week, a Sunday, that I felt like my water broke; and then I bled buckets. I thought I was in the clear – I was in the second trimester after all.

I called our doctor.

He was at the Chengdu People’s First Hospital as quickly as we were.

On a Sunday, my friend’s 10 year old son fell down and seriously hurt his arm. She called our doctor. He happened to be 5 minutes away, playing basketball. He rushed over.

Another Sunday, a cat bit me. I called him.

When Rahul developed a rash and there was no way I could make it to the clinic before they closed, he came by after work; had a look and didn’t charge us a cent.

Our super cool American doctor, yoga student / teacher, surfer, slam poetry enthusiast, friend has answered many calls from me during my pregnancy and later, as a new mother.

It was the same a couple of months ago when Leila rolled off our bed. They were jumping and playing; we were laughing. After the thud, there was silence. Now it must be said that my kids have fallen on their heads before. MANY. times. So for the first few seconds I didn’t think anything of it.

Then, Maher who was closest to Leila, picked her up. Her pupils had rolled back. An impulse to throw up seemed to start at her toes. I saw the panic in Maher’s face and breath. I insisted on taking her in my arms. By then, she was limp.

“Leila’s OK. You’re OK Leila.” I repeated over and over as I walked around. Rahul was dead silent.

Finally, she came to. And then she cried her heart out for the next half an hour. Rahul looked at me. “You want to give her a kiss?” I asked. “She’s OK now.”

He nodded.

Maher handed me my phone. “Call the doctor.”

It was 7:30pm so I sent him a text message first explaining that it was an emergency. He replied immediately. He was on leave, but I could call him in a few minutes.

“It’s normal to pass out for a few seconds after a concussion. Watch her closely for the next few hours. If she throws up, slurs her words, or is suddenly lethargic, take her to the hospital. The emergency department at the First hospital can do a head  CT scan. Also, wake her up a few times during the night and see if she can make eye contact.”

She seemed OK. But she couldn’t keep her eyes open. I’d seen this in the past where a surprise hit to her head or elsewhere left her fatigued. But she seemed to be slurring her words. After a bit of back and forth, we decided not to spend the night in uncertainty.

In the mean time, we reached Marwan, Maher’s brother, and Liu Yan, his Sichuanese wife. My basic Chinese isn’t sufficient to deal with the hospitals here in Chengdu. Liu Yan could lead and translate for us.

At 8:30pm we followed Liu Yan and Marwan into the Chengdu People’s First Hospital. I pushed the stroller. The children were in their pyjamas busily pointing out ambulances, doctors, and nurses. Maher rushed off to find a bank machine.

Liu Yan asked around for the doctor on duty.

After fifteen minutes or so, a doctor led us into a bright little room with a bed and other hospital equipment. It smelled like medicine. Leila and Rahul panicked. “I don’t want injection mum, I don’t want injection.”

“We don’t deal with children here. It’s too much radiation to do a CT scan for a child just like that anyway, and there is no MRI machine. Go to Hua Xi (the main provincial hospital in Chengdu).”

“Won’t you even do a basic eye-contact and reflex check, to see if she is OK?” Marwan barked.

Liu Yan translated.

He refused.

I walked out coolly.

If it’s Hua Xi hospital, it means a long night for sure. It’s a nightmare there – there are thousands of people from all over the province of Sichuan seeking attention day and night.

“Let’s go to the Woman and Children’s Hospital.” I suggested. “Certainly they will see Leila.”

Not many cabs drive by the massive, but suburban Chengdu People’s First Hospital. Business Opportunity! Some guys hang around the hospital gates in their cars offering rides for money. We didn’t’ bother with negotiating the price; we dumped our stuff into the back of one little car and drove to the Women and Children’s hospital.

On the way, I called our doctor; apologised because it was almost 9pm. He couldn’t believe that the emergency doctor hadn’t even looked at Leila and didn’t mind her traveling half way across the city without confirming her stability. I remembered that Leila had a minor IVH (Intraventricular Hemorrhage) at birth, particularly common for babies born prematurely or at low birth weight. Leila was both.

“Well, since she had no issue with it later on, there’s no relationship with tonight’s fall. But yes of course the risk now is that she might have a brain hemorrhage. Let me know how it goes.”

I was having a déjà vu. After my big bleed at 16 weeks, the First Hospital sent me to the Women and Children’s Hospital. As we walked in, Maher, Marwan and Liu Yan also had flash backs of that day and the two weeks I spent there. Same gang.

It was not a pretty sight, even outside the hospital gates at 9pm. There were men carrying collapsed pregnant women on their backs; babies heads wrapped in bandages with Intravenous (IV) tubes stuck into their scalps. That’s how fevers are dealt with here – with an IV. And when it’s children the needle goes in the head.

Liu Yan and Marwan discovered that the Woman and Children’s Emergency Department only sees babies with colds and fevers.

With the children already asleep in the stroller we decided to walk to the Hua Xi Hospital. It’s only fifteen minutes away. That’s when I told the gang that our doctor was going to be transferred to Shanghai. Maher and I shared a wordless sense of helplessness at that news. And I didn’t stop thinking about it all night.

Despite directions from friendly doctors and nurses, after an hour of walking through many sections of the massive provincial hospital, going back and forth between locked doors and sections that looked exactly like the previous one, we made it to the Emergency Department. Once the paperwork and payments were sorted out, we waited.

The waiting-area is nothing more than the sidewalk – off a busy street with no escape from the second-hand smoke. We gulped down the bottles of water that Maher bought us from a little corner store. Liu Yan and I tried to figure out what a couple of kids in school uniforms were doing out at the corner store at 10pm,  gorging down instant noodles. Visiting hours had probably just ended.

1466 finally showed up on the screen. Leila woke up when I unbuckled her. She clutched me with her life, and repeated, “No doctor, no injection mama.” Marwan stayed with Rahul in the brightly lit hallway while the rest of us went into the doctor’s office. There were 10 other patients in there listening in on our conversation. They joined in the conversations at times.

The pleasant and confident doctor who examined Leila said she was fine for now. Considering she only fell off a bed, it can’t be higher than a metre, so she should be OK. However, we must watch her closely for vomiting, lethargy, headaches, and so on for the next 72 hours. He gave us an express ticket – valid for 3 days –  to have a CT scan if the need arises.

Maher and I slumped into the back seat of a cab, holding our children; we were exhausted but relieved. Marwan decided to walk home. Liu Yan opted to go with us, it’s a long way back.

The next morning I received a message from our doctor; he wanted to know how Leila was doing.

I am grateful that he was present that night, and before. And especially for his friendship.

Maher and I live in Chengdu with our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul.   I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until Our Little Yogis became the teachers.

Wemember Me

29 May

Our first day back in Chengdu after a month away.

Leila hesitates before descending a slope.

Leila: Mum. [Re] Member me, I fall down here?

Me: How the hell did you remember that? I remember Leila!  A few months ago, you fell down this steep slope.

Leila: I cry mummy.

Me: You’re bigger now. You can do it this time.

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Maher buys bread at a bakery / café. We wait outside, with Rahul asleep in the stroller.

Leila: [Re] Member me, yesterday, I eat cake with you here. Inside.

Me: Oh yes now I remember! You and I came here one afternoon.  Many months ago.  We shared a piece of cake.  You chose it.  We sat there. (I point at the corner table.)

Leila: Big cushion, mama.

Me: Yes that’s right! We put a big cushion on the chair so you could reach the plate.

Leila: No Wrahul, No papa.

Me: That’s right, it was just the two of us.  You and I, together.  Rahul was at home with papa.  And before we left, you chose a cake for them.  And the ayi
(aunt – woman behind the counter), packed it in a box.

————————————-

As we walk by our favorite Japanese restaurant.

Leila: Hey mum!  Wemember me, Wrahul, you, papa, Imad, Pascaline, Liu Yan, Marwan go here to eat.  We sit down. We eat a lot.

Me: Yes my love, we ate here many times.  We sat together and ate lots of noodles, fish, and spinach.

Leila: Many times.

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Leila looks at the weighing scale.

Leila: Wemember me, I baby, I lie down here.  And Rahul also.

Maher: Oui, bien sur mon bebe, je me rapelle!

Leila: Wrahul cwy, Leila cwy.

Maher: Oui c’est vrai, quand vous etiez tout petits vous pleuriez quand on vous pesait.

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At a fountain in our housing complex.

Leila: You wemember me, Leila and Wrahul sitting here, on the step.  Wrahul stick. Leila eating.

Me: Yes I remember baby girl. You were sitting next to each other.  Rahul was playing with a stick.

 

 

Maher and I live in Chengdu with our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul.   I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until Our Little Yogis became the teachers.

 


Dragon / Phoenix Twins

27 Feb

“Are they Dragon Phoenix Twins?” I am asked every day, everywhere, and by everyone around me in Chengdu.

“Yes, they are,” I reply.

“Waaaaa” they exclaim with glee, and huge smiles,

“You are very lucky. How happy you must be.”

Twins generate as much or dare I say more excitement here in China as anywhere else; in particular, the Dragon / Phoenix (boy/girl) combination. The ancient Chinese emperor was symbolised by a Dragon, and his wife by a Phoenix.

Since boy / girl twins have the honour of being called the Dragon and the Phoenix they are at the top of the hierarchy, the best outcome possible, and so the highest blessing.

Total strangers seem genuinely happy for me, and always remind me of the gift of having them. They smile, caress the children, and try to carry them. Almost without fail I am told: “How cute, what curly hair, and big eyes they have.” This line sometimes reminds me of the scene where the wolf pretends he is Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother.

But I have yet to come across someone who is envious or jealous. This is amazing considering the one-child policy in China.

Quite the opposite in fact. People here associate twins with joy and luck to such a degree that almost no one seems to realise that at times raising two same-age babies can be tricky and tiring.

Our ayi (nanny ) once asked, “Isn’t it strange that out of all the people who stop to talk to you and the children, no one ever mentions how much work it must be to take care of them?!” This came up on a day when both L and R were sick and in need of extra attention. My husband was out of town for work. Our ayi and I were exhausted and had to laugh at that thought.

Only once, a mum playing with her 2-year-old son in the kids area of a neighbouring housing complex asked if I wasn’t exhausted taking care of two.
Almost immediately, the 3 mums around us responded for me: “It’s pure joy to have two, and especially if they are a Dragon and a Phoenix.”

Had my Chinese been better, I would have answered myself: True I complain at times because I am tired from lack of sleep, or irritated by L and R’s constant hair pulling, biting, snatching… but man am I happy to have my Dragon and Phoenix.

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I live in Chengdu, China with my husband Maher and our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul. I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until our little yogis became the teachers. Our Little Yogis

An Orange, 3 Mandarins, and 2 Sesame Candies

20 Feb

An orange, 3 mandarins, 2 sesame seed candies, 2 mango candies, 1 Dairy Milk bar, 1 yogurt drink pack, an apple, many cookies, 2 chocolate wafers, yaoyao rides –colourful, musical, electronic animal rides- and many more things that I can’t even recall, have been gifted to Aarav – my 19 month old son – mostly by ayis(aunties) and sometimes by shūshus(uncles). Ayis often say how cute he is and give him something from their bag, to show their love.

I took their words seriously. My son must be an outstanding and beautiful little guy. So, wherever we went, I kept collecting the goodies and saying thanks for such wonderful comments. Hence, I was looking forward to such compliments and brief talks, when we went on a short trip to Hong Kong and Australia; but not a single person stopped by our side to flatter my boy. Was it the rain in Hong Kong or the hot summer in Australia?

I was really becoming uneasy with all of this. In a Melbourne elevator, we met a Shūshu from Beijing. He smiled when he saw my son and took out a strawberry milk pack from his bag. He gave it to Aarav and said he is very “kě’ài” – the Chinese word for cute.

I finally calmed down and told myself that my son is still kě’ài and I should not worry at all. Back in Chengdu, the ayis and shūshus continue to make him feel special by showing their affection.

After giving birth to my son in India, when I joined my husband in Chengdu, I was really worried about how well I would do? As it is my first experience as a mom, I read a lot about raising a child. I also had long chats with my sisters, my mother and my friends back-home. But when it comes to local conditions and survival strategies, then my good friends in Chengdu have been a great guide to me. However, I never realized that I would get great advice and tips from nǎinais – meaning grandmothers – who are total strangers to me.

When I am out with my son, nǎinais often hold him. In the summer time I receive suggestions like, “He weighs good. But he is red, so give him much more fluid and try to take him out without a diaper because it is very hot.” They would check if he had his meals on time and what his favorite foods are. They do not like the idea of Aarav being a vegetarian little guy. They would strongly suggest that meat is a very important source of protein and that he needs it very much at this growing stage. But they do not insist.

Being out with my son in Chengdu and interacting with ayis, shūshus, and nǎinais is very interesting. I get a good chance to see others’ perspective on raising children and yes, to continue listening to how “hao kě’ài” my baby boy is!

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Deepty Tiwari is a contributing author at Multicultural Mothering. She has lived in Chengdu for the last year and a half with her husband and son. She used to work for United Nations; since becoming a mum, she is also a freelancer for humanitarian development projects.

Lei La the Lao Wai

16 Feb

This evening my children and I spent a couple of hours running and playing at a neighbouring housing complex. A friend joined us. While the children were playing on the slides and mini monkey bars my friend stayed close to them, allowing me to respond to a text message on my phone.

A little girl accompanied by two men came over to play. Through the chatter, I heard Rahul say, “Ni hao shu shu,” (hello uncle), as he typically does when a Chinese man engages in some form of communication with him, or if he instigates the conversation himself.

Leila chimed in with her Ni hao!

One of the men asked how old the children are. My friend responded with the whole “They’re two and three months old, they know mandarin, yes they’re twins, not only that, they’re dragon / phoenix twins,” spiel.

“These foreign kids are the same age as you. Why don’t you play with them?” the man asked the little girl. He was beaming, bouncing internally, and obviously over-excited by the situation.

The little girl joined Rahul and Leila.

At one point the man shared the bars with Leila to stretch is his hamstrings; still smiling, he asked her, “Ni shi bu shi lao wai?” (Are you a foreigner?)

I was stunned.

“Lei-la,” she responded.

My daughter’s dignified response, albeit due to her ignorance impressed me.

Should I intervene? I wondered.

“Ni shi bus hi lao wai?” he repeated.

I couldn’t believe it.

“Lei –la,” she enunciated.

My friend, who is of Chinese heritage and fluent in the language explained that she is called Leila.

I wanted to say something; at least ask how he expects a two-year- old without the slightest notion of this concept or of the word at all, to respond. I mean he insisted.

But his “blissful” demeanor made me think that he obviously didn’t think it strange at all to ask this of a two year old, let alone ask it.

Or was he making fun of us because he thought I had no idea what he was saying? I have no idea.

I joined the group and a few minutes later Rahul and Leila were chasing me around the play area. The man told the little girl to join in, to chase “the two little foreigners, and the big foreigner.”

We ran and played.

———————————-
I’m Zambian; I live in Chengdu, China with my Lebanese husband Maher and our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul. I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until our little yogis became the teachers.
Our Little Yogis:(http://natashadevalia.com)

Values Made Easy

5 Feb

Multicultural or Multiconfused? Speaking for myself of course, I’ve never had to pause so long or think this hard about a simple question. “So where are you from?”

My response, “Ummm well, I’m Indian but have lived in the United States for most of my adult life, and I’m here now in China”.

My confusion does trickle down to my children A & A who are three and a half, and nine months old, respectively.  I find myself at crossroads several times a day about simplest of mothering issues. I was raised a certain way, I believe, think, and act differently from that, and my style of parenting is still being defined as the needs of my kids change.

I used to be a strong propagator of creative parenting, which spurred from the techniques I would use as a teacher for children with special needs. I would cater my teaching style to individual children and their ways of learning, which involved tons of creativity from me as their teacher. Before I became a mother I often wondered about how fabulous it would be if I had kids of my own. I imagined spontaneously taking my kids to the zoo,  or to museums to teach them about animals, or taking long walks during the fall and collecting leaves of different colors, then going home to make a scrapbook out of them, and a billion other ideas.

But reality sinks in and those ideas remained just ideas. Lunch at 12 every day, and three-hour afternoon naps become the biggest priority of my role as their mother and those spontaneous visits to the zoo and walks become short little trips that were pre-planned and orchestrated for months before they actually took shape.

I have to confess that I am grateful to my state of confusion now because it is that which has introduced them to 3 cultures. And I have to thank my husband’s constant curiosity for change and his power to convince us that this global diversity is very essential in defining and molding our kids’ lives. I love mothering the multicultural way. It has opened a window for me to bring back the creativity I thought was lost.

My children will be different everywhere they go. They’ll have experiences to share that very few kids their age would have had. They will learn languages, see and experience life in a new light.

China and its proximity to India, both physically and culturally has helped me teach values such as sharing and curbing the need for over indulgence in my 3 year old son. We now take those walks more out of necessity than for leisure, and they give me the time and patience to talk to my kids like I have wanted to. I am learning from mothers from all over the world here in Chengdu and it has opened my mind to a large extent.

My recent trip to India allowed me to teach my son the need to give and share.  He, like a typical American born child didn’t grasp the concept of what it feels to not have or to go without.  The concept of sharing was a very abstract one for my son.  I seized the opportunity to help him understand this concept during one of our many cab, auto, and train rides in Mumbai.

For those of you who might be wondering what I am talking about, little kids are often used as tools to bring money to impoverished homes. It is a common sight at almost every traffic light or crowded train compartment across Mumbai. A little child not more than 2 or 3 years old stretches her arms out for money or food or anything that you are willing to share.

When my son saw this for the first time, he looked at me questioningly – a hard situation for me as a parent to explain poverty to him. I told him these kids didn’t have a toy or candy, and they were wondering if he would share his with them.

So at his request we decided that we’d carry a little something with us the next time we traveled. I was taken aback at his gesture of kindness; he picked out his favorite candy and put it in my purse.  He was enthusiastic to pass it out and see how it lit up the little boy’s face at our first traffic light. He was willing to bring his favorite dinosaur toy as we were stepping out to run an errand.

This was the beginning of a big learning experience for him, and me.  He would leave a little bit of his pasta or a few slices of his pizza when we went out to eat at a restaurant just so that he could share it with some little boy or girl he might run into.

Surprisingly, he was more willing to share his favorite toys with his little sister. That was unimaginable just a few weeks prior. I had to step back and watch my son grow up right in front of my own eyes; it was a heart wrenching moment for me.

Different cultures bring diversity to us in amazing ways. My trip to India was life altering. I didn’t anticipate a big life lesson that he’d be learning during this trip. I was hoping for him to get some exposure to his mother tongue and meet family that he’d never met. We won’t forget the looks on the little children’s faces when he handed out those treats to them.

There was no difference between him and those kids; in his mind he was just sharing his stuff with them. He didn’t have a clue about the social or economic differences that existed between them.

I cherish my life here in Chengdu everyday; I am no longer scared about how my kids will adjust to the new place, new environment, and everything else around them that is new. I know they will be just fine and because they will be fine, so will I.

By Renuka Venkataraman – contributing author here at MM.

“I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I lived in Dallas, Texas for almost 15 years and worked as teacher for special needs kids for 10 of those years. I moved to Chengdu in September 2011 with my husband, two kids and our miniature Daschund Zen. I’m looking at motherhood under a very different light here in Chengdu. It has brought a sense of positivity and purpose to my life in many ways I can’t wait to experience and share with all you other Multicultural Moms.”

Permission to Give Birth – Part 2

31 Jan

At my 37 week check up, my doctor told me, “Your water is low. Your hips are wide. I think I am going to see you before your 38th week. You are going to give birth.” We walked out of her office feeling skeptical. This lady was strange  sometimes..

I had a generally good feeling about her when I met her. I felt I could trust her. She was gentle and kind, and at the same time, extremely professional and precise in her moves. My first visits to her office were so positive that I decided to give birth in China instead of going back home.

So why was I doubting her diagnostic now? 

 An American nurse who we had met during prenatal classes told us she didn’t understand why my doctor was saying that.

“Your water level is normal, your baby’s weight is normal. Nothing indicates that you are going to give birth early.”

So when 4 days later, at 11pm my water broke, my first thought went to my doctor. How could she have known? Was she that good? Simply luck?  But no, it couldn’t have been luck. Her smile seemed confident the day she predicted the birth date.

I decided to stay home, do my breathing exercises, relax and try to sleep in my own bed.

We checked in at 6 am. In the admission room, I reminded the nurse that I wanted a “normal check up”. Chinese nurses tend to prefer to measure the opening of the cervix anally. How they can tell the opening this way is still a mystery to me.

The verdict was….1cm. ” In 7 hours? This is going to take forever!!!!!!!”  I tried to hide my disappointment and sleep a little between contractions. Nurses were coming and going quietly. My eyes were shut but I could feel warm hands massaging my lower back along with comforting words in relaxing tones that I couldn’t always understand.

Two hours later, they checked me again .  3 cm. Then one nurse said, “We are going down.” I wanted to ask why. I was comfortable in my room. I didn’t want to move, but I didn’t have the time to say anything before a painful contraction left me with my mouth open. By the time we arrived to the upper floor I was screaming and begging for an epidural.

In the preparation room a nurse checked me. Again. Between 2 screams I dared to ask, “How many centimeters?”

She said “sì” (4 in chinese).

I signed the number four with my fingers, “Four? That’s it?” (I knew I couldn’t have the epidural too soon and wondered how long I was going to endure this pain before I could have some relief.)

“No, not sì (4), shí (10)!!!!” and she pushed me into the delivery room.

I barely had the time to ask myself if I was delirious from the pain or if she just had said  that I went from 3 to 10 cm in less than a hour?

Suddenly I saw someone dressed in blue rushing into the room, It was my husband. I didn’t recognize him. His hair and mouth were covered. I could only see his eyes wide open with excitement (or was it panic?),”The doctor came back 5 minutes after I had signed the papers for the epidural you asked for, he said it’s too late, you are going to give birth NOW.”

Ten minutes later, my baby girl was born.

The umbilical cord was cut within seconds; the baby was handed.. to the nurses.

As I watched my baby being wrapped in a soft fabric and then handed to my husband, I realised I had forgotten to ask for the basic thing: I wanted to hold my baby right away!

I realize now that this was not a typical birth. I am lucky to have delivered so fast without any drugs, have a doctor who listened to my strange/foreign requests in a country were c-sections and formula rules.

You can read about other birth stories in China here.

A few interesting parts:

 Women believe that they will run the risk of fewer complications with a standard surgical procedure than with a natural birth. However, according to the vast majority of medical opinion, a c-section is much more dangerous, with the death rate approximately 3x higher. Chinese women are aware of this, but they still believe that a c-section is safer, because a natural birth can lead to unanticipated complications that the doctor might not be able to handle. Basically, lack of faith in the hospitals and the doctors leads women in Chengdu (and perhaps other parts of China and the world) to choose the known path of surgery over the unknown path of vaginal birth.”

If I am going to have a scar no matter what, said one woman. I would rather have it on my belly than anywhere else.

Also, women believe that they cannot give birth, because Chinese women are naturally more frail and less able to cope with the trauma and pain of childbirth than Western women. 

Other reasons included choosing an auspicious day for the childs birth, the fact that c-section mamas have their own recovery room in the hospital and work. It is not uncommon for Chinese women to visit a fortune-teller and plan their birth around their prediction of what will be best for the child. In China, August 31 and the week before a holiday are big days for c-sections. Any child born after September 1 is technically one year behind in school and women fear that doctors will be unavailable during the holidays.”

Read “Permission to Give Birth-Part 1”

N. at 3 months with the nurse that held her first..

N. at 3 months with my doctor

 

Pascaline is greek, she lives in China since 2008 with her french/lebanese husband I. In 2011 she gave birth to N. at Angels hospital in Chengdu.

You Are My Sunshine

16 Jan

I sit in the darkness, my son nursing in my lap, my daughter lying beside me under a pile of warm blankets, holding my hand. The room is still as I sing the familiar lullaby lyrics I sing every night.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy, when skies are grey…

I treasure these words. How true they are, I think to myself, as I stroke my daughter’s silky cheeks and listen to my son’s soft, snurfling breathing against my sweater.

Anyone who has visited or lived in Chengdu knows that the skies here are grey—simply grey, or yellowish-grey, or grayish-grey, or whitish-grey. On a very rare occasion, they might even be described as bluish-grey, even sunny-ish-grey if you’re really, really lucky. But they are always and forever grey. It’s fog, it’s smoke, it’s coal particulate, it’s clouds…whatever the case, it’s grey.

My son has never seen his shadow, and on bright-ish days when the obscured sun “shines” in the midday sky, my daughter excitedly points and says, “Mommy, look! There’s the moon!” That’s exactly what it looks like, too.

It’s not easy living under a thick, grey sky…far from home, far from friends and family, far from like-minded mothers and parks and open spaces that stretch majestically beneath a clear blue sky. It’s not easy struggling day after day with a colossal language barrier and the constant challenges that come with living in a foreign culture. The skies can feel very grey indeed.

I hold my glass under the water dispenser and make frog sounds—gung, gung, gung, gung—to imitate the sound of the air bubbles as the water flows into my glass. My son, who is sitting on my hip, starts giggling, and before long the two of us are laughing ourselves silly.

You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you…

We head outside, and my son spots the gate guard at the entrance to our apartment complex. He is an older gentleman in a black police uniform, small in stature, with bright, mischievous eyes and a wide smile. His eyes twinkle when he sees us, and he growls a menacing growl; their daily game of chase begins. My son hides behind my legs, peeking out and squealing with delight. Soon all of us are laughing.

At the market, on the way home from preschool, by the fish pond, at the park, on the sidewalk, my children make friends. No matter that they speak only a handful of Chinese words. Everywhere they go people greet them, smile at them, offer them gifts, and laugh with warmth and friendliness. Barriers dissolve, hearts open. We connect with the most unlikely souls—construction workers, street sweepers, taxi drivers, fruit sellers, grandparents, noodle-makers, cashiers. The bonds are fleeting, but each is genuine and warm-hearted.

I often hear that children are the true ambassadors of peace in the world. I can completely see why. I am so grateful to tag along behind these two beautiful kids, their senses so vibrant and clear, their spirits ever buoyant, their hearts and minds so wide open. Without them, my feelings of isolation here in China would be so much more intense, and the grey skies above me would be so much more oppressive. Thanks to them, my days are flooded with the brightest, warmest sunshine.

Please don’t take my sunshine away.

 

For the whole song (I only ever sing the first verse), visit http://kids.niehs.nih.gov/games/songs/childrens/sunshinemid.htm

——————
Heidi Nevin, who is not normally this sentimental, resides in Chengdu, China with her Tibetan husband and two young kids, ages 4 and 1.

White Ghosts

12 Jan

One day about twelve years ago I was walking across an overpass in downtown Chengdu, when a small child saw me and shouted out “lao wai!” (old foreigner) His father looked at me and I expected him to correct the child, as parents often do, and tell him to call me “ayi” (aunty). Instead he leaned down, pointed at me, and said, “yes, that’s right, look at the lao wai’s big nose!”

I haven’t been called a big nose for a long time and I am no longer surrounded by crowds of curious onlookers as I used to be when I first travelled in China in the 1980s, but I still hear the word “foreigner” at least once a day, especially from children. And when I am out with my own children, people of all ages call out “xiao lao wai!” (little old foreigner) or “yang wawa!” (foreign baby). They all agree that the yang wawa are extremely cute. One woman stood next to us in the wet market and puzzled aloud how it is that foreign babies can be so cute, but all grow up to be so ugly.

I often wonder if I feel more foreign here than a Chinese person feels in a western country. I wonder if Chinese visitors to London feel unwelcome when no-one asks them friendly questions about how they like the food or tells them how well they speak English. London and New York, the western cities I am most familiar with, are thronged with people from every part of the world, and no-one comments on your race or even your language ability. People might ask where you come from, but no-one would ever call you a foreigner. The US and Canada, Australia, the UK and many European countries have such diverse populations that being British or American or whatever nationality is not generally associated with the colour of your skin, at least not in urban centres.

But in China you cannot be Chinese unless you are 100 percent Chinese. Recently I had a conversation with a taxi driver on this subject. He said he had noticed there are a lot more mixed marriages between Chinese and foreigners these days, and he asked me whether the children of these marriages are Chinese or not. I said it depends on many factors, such as where they grow up, where they go to school, what language they speak. He shook his head,

“No that’s not it. Are they Chinese or do they have the nationality of their other parent?”

I said that depends on what passport their parents get for them. Because the Chinese government won’t allow duel nationality, their parents have to choose whether they have a Chinese passport, or the other one. He shook his head again.

“No, I don’t mean language or passport or any of that. I mean, are they Chinese or are they not?”

Finally I got it. It was a rhetorical question, with only one possible answer.

“They are not Chinese,” I said.

He nodded. “Right. They are not. They are hun-xuer (mixed blood). They cannot be Chinese.”

This is a concept I struggle with. Sometimes it feels like the elephant in the room of our peaceful, happy-go-lucky life here; an elephant that could potentially turn nasty. I know there are some fascinating anthropological studies about the construction of race and nationhood in China, but as I haven’t read them I am left puzzling over the tiny patches of the elephant that I can see. What I do know is that a random global event, such as the bombing of a Chinese embassy or the reaction of a London crowd to China’s Olympic torch, can ignite powerful nationalistic emotions across China, emotions that see me and my family as part of the problem because we are foreigners.

Once at Chengdu airport a man behind us in the queue touched my son’s hair. When my son turned around and saw it was a stranger touching him, he backed away and pulled a face. The man made a comment in Sichuan dialect that I didn’t understand, so the friend who was with me translated.

“He said, you westerners have humiliated us for hundreds of years and now your children are still humiliating us.” I must have looked shocked because my friend rushed to reassure me.

“Oh don’t worry, we don’t hate you. It’s the Japanese we really hate.”

It could take hundreds of pages to unpack that particular exchange.

No matter how long I live here, how well I learn to speak Chinese or eat with chopsticks or enjoy spicy food, no matter how many good friends I make, no matter if I marry a Chinese man and have hun-xuer children (too late for me to do this now, but I know many people who have), I will always be a lao-wai, a white ghost, a foreigner. A Chinese person living in the UK or the US must feel foreign too, must struggle with homesickness and cultural displacement and must often wonder if it’s worth it and why not just go home. But at least they know that if they choose to stay, their child will grow up to belong in their new country. My children won’t, not even my son who has never lived anywhere else and speaks Chinese with perfect tones. They’re not even hun-xuer, they’re just plain lao-wai. I worry about the impact it has on them, to be living in a world where they are outsiders. My older son is already clear in his mind that he would prefer to live in England or the USA where everyone speaks English and no-one stares at him on the street, or runs up to take his photo and tell him how cute he is. He has heard so many times what an advantage it will be for him later in life to speak Chinese, that he just ignores it now, and it does nothing to motivate him to study the language.

But perhaps being called foreign doesn’t have to be negative. After all it is a fact of life, akin to how Chinese people call a fat person a fat person, in an upfront way that western cultures avoid. We call someone fat behind their back but not to their faces. Similarly we don’t call people foreign to their faces but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the same feelings about outsiders. London and New York, Sydney and Paris welcome people of all races. Anyone can walk the streets of those cities without being noticed or commented on, as I suppose they can these days in Beijing and Shanghai. But once they move out into the smaller towns and the countryside, there people will start to notice and comment on their being foreign. Not to their face of course, but behind their back. Jackie Kay writes movingly about growing up 100% Scottish of Nigerian extraction in her memoir Red Dust Road. A Chinese friend told me that he loved New York because no-one paid any attention to him there, whereas in the Ohio town where he studied, shop-keepers struggled to understand him and he felt like a foreigner.

In multi-cultural western societies, ethnicity, nationality and cultural identity are of course also vast and complex issues, but we deal with them differently. In the west we are shy of calling people foreign to their faces, even as we struggle openly day by day with issues thrown up by the cultural melting-pot, in the press, in schools and in communities. Whereas in China, foreigners are openly labeled as such, with a prevailing attitude of friendly welcome, but with clear boundaries attached: no messy questions of integration and multi-culturalism. In both cases, when questions of national pride emerge, sinister undercurrents rise to the surface and play out in ways that are hard to fathom. For me, they are harder to fathom here than they are at home.

I wrestle with the choice I have made, to live in a country where I will always be a foreigner, but after all it is my choice. Some days I’m OK with it and others I’m not, but surprisingly I don’t mind being called a big nose. It reminds me of the time I went rafting with a group of my students in Taiwan shortly after a typhoon, and our raft capsized in the rapids and catapulted us all into the churning water. I heard the lifeguards shouting in Taiwanese, “get the big nose!” and I was the first to be hauled out of the water and dumped back on the boat. My students teased me that I was the easiest to find because my nose stuck so far out of the water. They also told me that I spoke in perfect Chinese for at least an hour afterwards. Apparently the cold and shock activated some dormant neurons in my brain and, huddling on the plastic raft with my friends, I experienced a brief period of total fluency, the closest I will ever come to being Chinese.

About me: originally from the UK, I first came to China as a student in the 1980s and my life has intersected with China one way and another ever since. For the past 7 years I have been based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province China with my American husband and our two sons aged 6 and 11. I work freelance for non-profit organisations and on my own writing, editing and translation projects.