A Foreign Baby in Tianjin Pt. 1 – is this our future?

While we were in Canada having our baby, some Mandarin school classmates of ours stayed in China to have theirs (I think they’re finishing up their second year of full time language study). I asked them in an e-mail about anything we ought to know before we bring L back to Tianjin in September, and their reply is… I’m not sure how to feel about this yet! Some of it I expected, but other parts (like #3 & #5) — wow. Here are some excerpts (I added the headings and rearranged the order a bit):

1. Benefits

Having a baby in China has its challenges but such a great experience. Our son has opened so many doors for us in getting to know people and the culture here in ways we did not expect. It is so wonderful to see him bringing joy and delight to people also and to see faces smile when they see him. We don’t mind photos taken of him either.

(Photos? Ha, you mean, like this?)

2. Rock Star Babies

We knew that we were going to generate a lot more attention with our son but did not expect just how much. People here LOVE babies and foreign babies are a great source of curiosity. It seems that everyone wants to have a look. At the hospital where we gave birth, every nurse came in wanting to look, other patients and their relatives and friends wanted a peep. It happens on the street and in shops, at the local clinic where we get immunisations, in our xiÇŽoqÅ« (neighbourhood)… pretty much everywhere. He is the little foreigners’ baby and is the only foreign baby in our local area (as far as we can tell) and is pointed out as such with ‘look at his big eyes, white skin’, etc… Because we are a mixed couple, people also want to look to see who he most resembles. For the first four months (he is now just over 5 months) just until recently almost everyone who was Chinese said that he was too small. People have asked to hold him and want to hold his hands or touch his skin… this is tricky.

People always ask, “How old is your baby and how heavy are they?” They will no doubt make comments about L’s size and in comparison to other babies. Babies here are FAT, well not all but they adore fat babies and aspire to having a fat one. We have seen very obese looking ones. I have been told because they look cute and also because they seem healthier looking. What they don’t tell you is what goes into the baby. Many if not most feed their babies on formula thinking it is best. When our son was 3 months old, a lady came up to us in a restaurant to tell us that we can now start feeding him sugared water!!! I assume she thought, just like many, that he was too thin. He was definitely not thin, weighing in at 3.8kgs at birth!!!

We ALWAYS get asked… where was your baby born, did you give birth naturally or have a cesarean, do you breastfeed or use formula, do you prefer boys or girls and how many children do you hope to have???

We have chosen to carry him in a sling or the baby bjorn or sometimes if it is too hot we just carry him in our arms. The sling and baby bjorn also creates attention and people either think it is not good for the baby or it is a novel, very convenient way of carrying a baby.

3. Bad Parents!

Things that we would think was ‘normal’ like taking our son out after the month inside was considered wrong! We were constantly told to go home, we even had a couple of complete strangers yell at us and tell us how irresponsible we were. Even though he is almost 6 months, we still get comments but better now. These experiences have made us think twice before leaving the house. Early morning is a good time to go for walks and generally that time is acceptable and we have also gone for walks around after dinner and that is mostly Ok. It is so hot now anyway that we stay indoors a lot…

4. Free Advice

Our son has eczema. This means he often has red patches on his skin especially cheeks and chin. We often have people commenting and telling us what we should do and what to eat and what not to eat, etc… Some have responded with pointing at him and looking in horror. Most often people comment out of concern and we appreciate peoples directness with us. You can tell the difference between people who care and those who don’t.

5. Health Hazards

Having a baby makes you realise just how many people here smoke! It is hard to avoid in restaurants and well pretty much everywhere.

The local Chinese clinic […] You can get a brief consultation but the clinic is mostly always busy (unless it is raining outside… this we thankfully discovered this week), ventilation poor, noisy and very crowded. If you have a foreign baby this attracts A LOT of attention so everyone crowds around while you are having the consultation, it makes things tricky. Hygiene at the local clinic is below what we would consider ‘standard’, nurses don’t use gloves and we have never seen them wash their hands. My parents visited us for a month in May and accompanied us twice. They saw mothers letting their babies wee into the hand basin (which incidentally has a sign all about the importance of hand washing) and were aghast. They pleaded us to never go back!!!

Best to get as much immunisations as you can before returning. We have chosen to get him immunised at the local Chinese clinic which is an experience in itself especially if you have a ‘foreign baby’. We have been told by other foreigners that often the injections are ‘watered down’ so we have opted to get the imported stuff. This may not be true & I don’t want to be spreading untrue rumours. It’s just that our doctor friend told us this was happening where he is in China and we simply didn’t want to take the risk as immunisations wasn’t something to muck around about. We go to the local Chinese clinic and pay extra for the imported stuff. Unfortunately the imported stuff is very expensive.

6. Baby Maintenance & Accessories

You can buy lots of things here. My family sends us some trusted things but overall mostly everything else has been given to us from people here or bought. Tianjin has two very large baby companies with catalogues and internet sites where you can ring and order and have goods delivered the next day. Very convenient especially buying diapers, etc.

Anyone else want to share their foreign-baby-in-China experiences/advice/warnings? Seriously folks, we’re all ears!

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5 thoughts on “A Foreign Baby in Tianjin Pt. 1 – is this our future?”

  1. I had to laugh at the “bad parent” portion of this post! When I adopted my third daughter from China (6th child over all) we had to take several in Country flights. Turns out this baby, who didn’t like me at all, hated airplanes even more! She would scream the entire time from take off to landing. I spent hours walking up and down the isle trying to calm her, all the while having every single person on the plane come and give me advise. She was too hot, too cold, hungry, her clothes were too tight, too lose, I wasn’t holding her correctly, it was her ears (likely), she was constipated, she needed a new diaper, she shouldn’t be in diapers…..on and on. They probably would have died laughing if I told them she was my SIXTH child! ;o)

  2. From our friend Alicia in Brazil (via Facebook):

    I read their answers and could probably say almost the same things being here in Brazil. Generally, you have to remind yourself that it’s okay to be different and say thank you for their concern. After awhile, the people that know you see how you raise your baby and understand and stop telling you how to do it properly. Even sometimes they wonder why they do it the way they do. It’s funny but overall, the best thing about having a foreign baby is the amount of people that you meet that you probably wouldn’t have met in the first place. I wouldn’t trade it for the world…hope that the change goes well for you when you head back. I know L will do great! It’s you that has to figure out how to be content with the way things are done or not done when it comes to having a foreign baby. So good luck with the transition and I hope that you meet so many more people because of your precious girl.

  3. I laughed as I read this post, and I just have to say “YES!!!” to everything (especially #1 to #5).

    Some days I have *very* bad days because of #2, #3, #4 and #5, and I grumble about it a lot.

    To add to #2, Chinese caregivers (strangers we meet in the playgrounds) have a tendancy to criticise their little ones and praise mine, in front of the little ones. I fear this will make friendships harder for the little ones, as there may be jealousy/resentment etc. (This is one reason I like the kindergarten — the little ones play together on their own without any adult baggage.)

    I would also add that Joel, if you plan to do a lot of the baby duties (ie taking L out for walks etc on your own), be prepared for even more attention. Very often I get strangers coming up to my daughter asking her where her mother is (Mama is at work). I feel I get even more of #3 and #4 because I am a man (many Chinese seemingly don’t trust that a man can look after children!).

    In my experience, #6 is only partly true. Yes, one can buy a *lot* of baby things here, but it is often culturally very different. A number of (what I think of as) essential things we simply cannot get here in China and when we ask around the baby shops they have no interest in searching them out (so I stock up on them when we go home to New Zealand). Also, our locally-bought good-quality pushchair hasn’t nearly lasted the distance — local pushchairs are apparently built for Chinese families who don’t take their little ones out so often and so far!

    Well, I could talk all day about my Daddy-in-China experiences! (This is my life now … though I am really supposed to be a full-time student, with Chinese language and PhD studies!)

  4. My family is about to live in China for 4 years in Chengdu. We have a 2.5 year and 4 month old. I’m wondering what kinds of baby things are readily bought in China (cribs, jumperoos, exersaucers, diapers)

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