Recent market conversations…

Every time I go to the market without L, I get asked where she is…even though my answer is ALWAYS the same (“Her Dad is watching her”), it often seems as though the ladies there think that *this time* I might JUST have decided to leave her home alone by herself.

When I go to the market with L, she’s the subject of a lot of fussing and clucking and cheek rubbing. Lately she’s FINALLY started to be willing to talk with the ladies…I do think they were starting to have trouble believing me that she talks ALL DAY long at home.

Last week, a particularly vicious mosquito bit L 5 times on the right side of her face. I went to the market, and of course, everybody needed to know what happened. I told them, “A mosquito bit her.” The next thing I knew, I was being chastised…”What? Weren’t you even paying attention at all? How could you let that happen!!!” I told them that I think it happened while she was asleep, and the ladies all said “Oh, you let that mosquito in your house and it got her…you need to pay more attention. Babies have sweet skin.” I wonder…do they think I invited the mosquito in to feast on my little girl’s sweet flesh? :) (I know, they don’t really think that, but this kind of “关心” on L’s behalf did serve to make me feel a little bit guilty about the bites.)

Usually when L comes to the market with me, she’s in the baby carrier. It’s just so much more convenient than carrying the stroller down (and back up) four flights of stairs when I’m just making a quick trip to buy some veggies for dinner. Yesterday I got told, “You really need to let her walk. She’s never going to learn to walk if you keep using that thing!” I tried to explain otherwise, but it seems that my vegetable seller really might just believe that I keep L in the baby carrier all day long, every day.:)

In the end, it doesn’t really matter too much to me what people think, but I sometimes do wonder what impressions my neighbours and the people around me get from things that I never even stop to think twice about (like using the baby carrier). It would be interesting, I suppose, to be able to see myself from their point of view. It’s also a reminder to me that lots of the things I see every day (and which may have even served as a basis for my impressions or assumptions about China and Chinese people) could potentially be the quirks of an individual, or a family and not some widespread cultural difference (as I am prone to assuming). When one is really trying to learn about a place and a culture, it’s a good reminder to be humble…because, try as I might, I can never really see the whole picture.

No offensive

L and I have recently started having play dates with other babies and moms. Yesterday we met up with a new Chinese friend and her 11 month old baby. This mom lives on one of the university campuses that is a short walk from our apartment… there is a lot less traffic on campus, and a lot more trees…which makes it a good place to go for a stroll. While we were waiting at the place we were supposed to meet our friend, L played the role of “foreign super star baby.” People gathered around us, making clucking noises at her, touching her hands and face, and saying over and over “Bee-yoo-tee-full.” At one point we must have had about 10 people leaning over her, all trying to get her to smile (which is, fortunately, not too difficult to do).

Once our friends got there we found a little clearing where some other moms and babies had gathered. I was telling her about the scene she’d just missed, and my friend said (in Chinese): “She is beautiful. She is much, MUCH more beautiful than you.” Then in English, she said “No offensive.” :)

I thought it was funny. I wasn’t offended, as I know that L is more beautiful than me (and want her to be). I just wouldn’t have ever said it that way myself. Yet another example of how the supposedly indirect Chinese are often very, very direct.

November 10K

Just a short post to update on the goal that I had set back in August of running a 10k on the treadmill at my gym by mid-November. The “race” was last Friday, November 14th…so this post is a little overdue.

Anyway, running the 10K (that’s 6.2 miles for you non-metric users) went really well. I’ve definitely gained a lot in endurance and stamina throughout this training process, even if my overall pace for the 10K is a bit slower than for the 5k I did in August. I’ve also been quite excited to realize how well having a specific goal and training plan really helps me stay motivated on a day to day basis. Other than a few days that I was out with a cold back in October…I really didn’t miss any runs! But the biggest surprise of all for me is that somewhere between the end of the 5k and the completion of the 10k, running actually became very enjoyable for me…and something that I would look forward to!!! My time for the 10K was 55 minutes 25 seconds…for a pace of 8 minutes 56 seconds per mile. I’m very satisfied with my time, especially since I had set a goal of 55 minutes or so for the race. Overall, I do believe that would be slower if I were running outdoors…the treadmill really helps me to push it and keep up the pace more than I might if I were pacing myself on the ground outside.

My friend Nicole, who also ran the 5k with me in August, kept going with the goal for the 10k and completed it on Saturday the 15th. She finished with a great time of 1 hr 7 minutes and 8 seconds. I’m totally impressed, as the area she runs has lots of hills and gradual inclines! Best of all, her wonderful husband and daughter cheered her on…they stopped at a few of the places they knew she would run by and cheered for her, and then when she arrived home they had stretched a “finish ribbon” for her to break through. I just thought it was so awesome to see the ways that they encouraged her throughout the process.:D I can’t wait to visit her when we are back in North America for the spring and go for a jog together…I can just imagine that the smell of the fresh air and pine tress will make the run even better!

Now…there were a few others who had planned to participate…but I’m not sure if there were any others that completed the 10K over the course of that weekend. If you did, just add your time and a bit about your run to the comments!!!

Help Me Name the 10K!!!

Last month after I posted about running the 5K, a number of people expressed interest in joining in on the 10K I’ve got planned for mid-November. Doing the 5k together with friends that live across the globe was a really fun experience, so I’m hoping that we can get even more people involved with the 10K!

So here’s the info:

Plan to walk, speed-walk, walk-run, run-walk, or run 10K anytime between Friday, November 14th and Sunday, November 16th. November 16th is the day of Ruth’s marathon, so I thought we could all join in on the same weekend! Feel free to do this wherever you usually run…outside in the forest for those of you that have that option, or indoors on the treadmill (like me) for those of you who fear the pollution.:D NO registration fee required…;)

If you’re interested in a training plan, check out these links:

Sporting Life Canada (has plans for walking, walk-running, run-walking, and running all for the 10K distance!) Running (Beginner Plan) Running (Advanced Beginner Plan)
– This is the plan that I’m following, albeit slightly modified to allow me to have weekends completely off.

Runner’s World 10K plan

Hal Higdon’s 10K Training Plan

And now…MOST importantly…our race needs a NAME!!! I’ve had little success coming up with one on my own, so please help me brainstorm below in the comments section!

Our Cross-World Friends 5k Run

jessrunningpeace.JPGIn keeping with the theme of August around here, which seems to have been all things Olympic, six weeks ago I decided to take up my own “Olympic” challenge – to begin training for and run a 5k “race.” Seeing as there were no local 5k’s scheduled, I decided I’d just make my own…to be run on the treadmill at the gym. Yes, I know that the air outside was good enough for the Olympic athletes to breathe…but they were only here for a month. Since I live here and value the long-term health of my lungs, I decided to stick to the indoor running for now, but to try and tackle a longer distance than I had previously ever run. I had run more than 5k (3.1 miles) distance wise, but always with some (more than a few) walking breaks in the middle of it. So the goal was to run 5k without stopping…and, if possible, in under 25 minutes.

I’ve never been a runner…I took it up a few years back, just to see if I could “learn how” to run or at least learn how to not HATE running. I got up to distances of about 2 miles…though not loving it, I at least learned to tolerate it (and love the feeling AFTER the run). Then we graduated, moved away from the school’s gym that we always used, and then came to Asia…which meant that when we joined the gym in February, it had been at least 2.5 years since I had run at all. It was much easier to pick back up than I thought it would be…so I’d already been running several times a week when I decided to challenge myself to this treadmill 5k.

jess5kwave.jpgI was inspired by my friend Ruth…a mom of three kids who will hit 40 this year, and is in the middle of training for her first marathon (26 miles). She already ran a half marathon on July 4th this year. As I started to think about my running, it seemed like if she could run for that long, I surely could try to do a 5k!!! Then I decided to try a 5k, with the goal of doing a 10K eventually (now scheduled for November). So the training began. And as I trained, I told Ruth about it and she decided she would run it with me but in Texas.

nicoles-5k-010.jpg And then I told my friend Nicole about it…and she decided she would also run it with me, but in Washington. And thus, our Cross-World 5k Run was born!!! It was so encouraging to know that I had friends in other places training and planning to run with me. We planned to try and run it at the exact same time…but that’s kind of difficult to coordinate due to both time differences and to the general unpredictability of life, especially for Ruth and Nicole, who are both mothers. As proof of this unpredictability, one of Ruth’s kids came down with a stomach bug in the week of the “race”…and then passed it on to Ruth. In the end, we all ended up running it in the same 24-hour period, which counts as “at the same time” in my book.:D

jessrunningpose.JPGEven though we all participated in this “race” the goal was not to compete against each other, but to race against ourselves…to challenge ourselves to run harder, faster, better…and to enjoy it! Nicole and Ruth really got into the spirit of it and made “race numbers” for themselves. While running, we all had our challenges to face…Nicole raced while dodging middle-school kids who were playing football ON the track. Ruth, still in recovery from the stomach flu, had little energy with which to race. I, being a little nervous and excited about my first “race”, overestimated my beginning pace and went a little too fast…which meant that I hit a wall at about 2.5 miles and felt like I was going to throw up and pass out if I didn’t slow down a bit. But we all made it…and I can honestly say that I really enjoyed it for the first 2.5 miles. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that way before about running…and definitely not for that long.

I reveled in the feeling of how natural it felt to run, and felt my heart resonate to the the lyrics of “Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot. “I dare you to move…like today never happened before.” And I felt bold and proud…that I had dared myself to move and to take on this challenge…and that today, on this new day that had never happened before, I was both living out that dare and enjoying the results of it.

Now…none of of us are in the league of the Olympic 5k ladies, but then again…almost nobody is in their league. Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia ran the 5k in 15:41.40 in Beijing this year, which is pretty darned impressive. That’s a 5 minute 3 second mile pace!!! But we all did really well….Nicole finished in 27:12, Ruth in 30:28, and I finished in 25 minutes even. I am so proud of us all, for taking up the challenge and for finishing it (even with the flu and football players on the running track!!!), and am especially thankful that I have the kind of friends who are willing to both encourage me in this kind of challenge and participate in it themselves!



Please stop paying attention to my…

Just when I start to think that I’ve gotten used to something over here, a whole slew of things will coincide to test that assumption and prove to me that I’m not nearly as used to (whatever) as I had thought. Sometimes this “whole slew of things” doesn’t all happen to me, but is shared experience spread out among myself and friends. I’ve mentioned before here how people, especially salesladies, like to make comments about body shape and size…sometimes grabbing and touching as well, to illustrate the point. I think I have discovered now that it’s not just salesladies, its women over a certain age (about 40 years old)…and it just so happens that most salesladies fall into that range.

All that to say, recently there was a weekend in which the experiences of myself and several of my friends proved to me that I’m not nearly as used to these comments as I had thought. While at the gym, a good friend had the following experience (quoted from an email to her family) which sort of seemed to kick off a whole weekend of people paying entirely TOO much attention to foreigner’s body shapes…especially the hind end. :D

On that day, my friend said:

One of the many people who decided to converse with me (that day) was one of the cleaning ladies. She is really nice and I usually say some little nothing to her most days, even though her accent makes her hard to understand. Here’s my favorite paraphrased and truncated excerpt of her conversation with me: “WA! Your face is getting really thin. But your butt, back here (pointing in case I wasn’t sure which butt she was referring to), is still very big. Why don’t you try to lose some weight back there? It’s not very attractive. Everyone says. (I LOVE that part) Do you understand me when I speak Chinese? (She asks this 2-3 times every time she speaks with me) You’re upper body is thin too but, aiya, that butt….” I said something like blah blah genetics blah blah taking time but on the inside I was laughing really hard.

It should be noted that my friend is of a pretty average size for a North American…curvy, but not to an unusual extent. I’m proud of her for being able to laugh it off at that point…that’s how you know you’ve started to get used to this kind of comments. When I first came, comments like this made me want to go home and cry. Now, I’ve also gotten to the point of laughter most of the time…however, when the comments keep rolling in, all in a short period of time it gets a little harder to just shake off.

Later that afternoon, I went to the mall below the gym looking for some summer clothes. I located a rack of capri pants that were on serious sale, and started looking through them. As I was looking through them, the saleslady came over to me…and trying to be helpful, picked up a pair of shorts from the rack of MEN’S shorts. Assuming that I didn’t speak Chinese, she pointed at me, pointed at the shorts, and then pointed back at me again. Meaning, in the universal language of “gesture”: “I recommend you try these.” Not only were these men’s shorts, but they were the BIGGEST pair of shorts I have ever seen in my life. I’m not exaggerating in the least when I say that I could have fit my whole body (with room to spare) in one leg of these shorts. Um, thanks for the recommendation, saleslady. So, I finally managed to say something along the lines of “Hey, those are men’s…and they’re way TOO big!” To which she replied, “Well, you definitely can’t wear those pants that you’re looking through, there aren’t any big enough for you!”

The next day, the same friend quoted above and I decided to go clothes shopping. We went to a favorite local market that sells mostly clothes that were intended for export (meaning: they often have clothes in foreign sizes!!!). My friend found a pair of linen trousers she wanted to try on and asked the lady if there was a place where she could try them (most of these shops hang up a sheet behind which you can try on clothes, but this one didn’t have one). The saleslady took one look at her, looked at the trousers and said “Nope. You can’t wear those. You’re too thick back here” and proceeded to pat my friend’s butt. Then the saleslady pulled a pair of trousers (five or six sizes bigger) off the rack and said, “Here, try these.” These trousers were obviously far too big, and my friend said so. However, the saleslady just shrugged her shoulders and turned to the next customer. We gave up on the linen trousers and went to the next stall. As if that part of her body hadn’t garnered enough attention in the preceding 24 hours, within five minutes of this conversation, a random passer-by also happened to run her hand over my friend’s rear-end.

There were more incidents that factored into this particular weekend, concerning both myself and several other friends, but in the interest of brevity (ha! no hope for that!) I’ll spare you all the gory details. Suffice it to say, it helped me realize that I’m not quite as used to all this commenting as I had thought. The occasional comment is easy to laugh off (which is progress), but by the end of a weekend which seems like it has been chock full of comments toward yourself and your friends…it gets much harder and more frustrating.

Now that time has passed (and the comments have gone back to normal levels), the humor in all of this has returned. I don’t want what I’ve posted above to be taken only as a vent though, because it actually has triggered some interesting thoughts and important realizations on several levels. I hope I can blog more about some of this stuff later on, but for now, I’ll just list a few of the thoughts below.

1. The notion of customer service in China is entirely different from in North America. In China, the customer ISN’T always right. Salespeople consider themselves to be experts in their fields and the “service” they are providing is that of telling you straight out what you can and can’t wear (and why). There is no need to flatter and cater to the customer’s whim…because with a population this big, the loss of a customer or two is no big deal. This can be a jolt for the foreign customer…who expects not only to be fawned over a bit, but is also not expecting (what she considers to be) personal comments regarding body size/shape.

2. It seems like a possibility that body shape/size/looks may be, particularly for older generations, a less important factor in self-worth than in North America. I was telling a friend of ours who is Chinese (born and raised in Taiwan) but completely bi-lingual (educated in international schools and graduated from college in the US) about these incidents and she said that she feels like these women are that direct about body shape/size because to them, in the end, it really doesn’t matter as much. Somehow less of who one is is invested in their shape, size, or looks…and that makes it okay to make comments about things that are obvious to everyone. This is an interesting idea, especially juxtaposed against the things that I hear from my young Chinese friends which indicate to me that, even if the above has some truth to it, body image and looks have shifted to become more important somewhere in the last several decades.

p.s. To top it all off, when I told my teacher (who has heard about this same phenomenon from many students) about all the comments/touching incidents within that one weekend she first sympathized (she gets comments from salesladies too), but then responded with the following “说实在的,我有的时候也想摸一摸你们的屁股!” or roughly, “Hey, to tell the truth, sometimes I want to feel your butts too!” Hilarious…though I still haven’t quite figured out whether this is just plain curiousity speaking, or because patting someone’s butt is some kind of affectionate gesture…or quite possibly, it’s a mixture of both.

Some of our best experiences with this are below:

How to treat your mother in law’s son

I thought that with yesterday being Mother’s Day, this conversation I had with my teacher last week might be interesting and timely to blog about. I’m really thankful for the wonders of the internet, which make it possible to stay in touch with our families even from far away. My conversations with both Moms yesterday reminded me of how wonderful it is to have good relationships with both the family I grew up in, and the family I’ve been welcomed into since marrying Joel.

Recently, the topic of “mother-in-laws” has come up a few times in conversation. The girls from GAO pretty much unanimously declared that the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is the one that tends to be the most problematic in Chinese families. Some of the tension in this relationship is inherited from the days when women in China really did marry OUT of their families and into their husband’s family…a girl might never see her own family ever again! At the same time, even though she had married into this new family, she would likely still be considered an outsider. As sort of “low woman on the totem pole” in her new family, one of her main jobs would be to serve her mother-in-law and make her happy. The Chinese mother-in-law (at least in ages past) had a reputation for being pretty demanding and difficult to please…after all, she had once been low woman on the totem pole as well, and had risen through the ranks to become mother, mother-in-law, and hopefully, grandmother. It seems this could all get pretty political, with both mother-in-law and daughter-in-law triangulating and manipulating to keep son/husband in their corner.

Obviously the dynamics of some of this has changed over the centuries, though I think it still probably carries influence at some level. Chinese mothers and sons are also noted for their particularly strong bond…in some ways, being limited to one child may have actually strengthened this already traditionally very strong aspect of family relationships. All the love and care that might have been given to multiple children in previous generations is now lavished upon the one son, who is the hope and future of the family.

Last week my teacher was telling me how relieved she is that she has a good relationship with her boyfriend’s mother. She feels like her boyfriend’s mother has potential to be a kind and good mother-in-law, and she hopes that their relationship can remain close. She also remarked that another change to family dynamics in recent years is that many Chinese mothers, limited to only one child and having born a son, seem to have yearned for a daughter. With this kind of mother-in-law, the son’s wife may have a greater chance of being treated as the daughter that she never was able to have, and there is a stronger possibility for having a better relationship. “However,” my teacher said “I still would never, ever, in the presence of my boyfriend’s mother, ask him to get up and get me a drink of water.”

My lack of understanding at the significance of this must have been obvious, because she proceeded to tell me the story of a classmate who made exactly that mistake while visiting her boyfriend’s parents. The classmate asked her boyfriend to get her a drink of water, and the boyfriend (foolish boy) asked his mother to get him a drink of water (intending to give it to his girlfriend). At the classmate’s request the mother’s eyebrows furrowed a little bit, but at the son’s request the air turned icy-cold, the silence was deafening, and the earth stopped spinning. Mother rose from her chair, stalked off to the kitchen and poured a glass of water. Returning to where they were sitting, she placed the glass (with a resounding, final THUNK) on the table in front of her son. The message was clear and did NOT need to be explained. But since you’re probably a waiguoren reading this and might not understand why a glass of water should be such a big deal, I’ll share the explanation my teacher gave.

First, the girlfriend made a big mistake in front of her potential-future-mother-in-law by not showing her boyfriend the respect he deserves. Taking into account that this mother has sacrificed many hours cooking, cleaning, and otherwise looking out for and taking care of her son, a request like this on the behalf of the girlfriend makes it seem like she’s not the kind of girl who will take very good care of him. Add into the mix that it’s apparently not uncommon for some Chinese mother-in-laws feel that their son’s wife/girlfriend has “stolen away their precious son” (yes, my teacher really said that), and the future potential mother-in-law becomes aghast that this son-stealer, this interloper is not only too lazy to get her own water, but also expects the precious treasure of a son to serve her.

Secondly, the boyfriend made a REALLY big mistake by passing the request on to his mother. In effect, he turned the “natural order” of things (daughter-in-law serves mother-in-law) completely on its head, and basically asked his mother to serve his potential future wife. He really should have known better. Of course, being used to having his mother do everything for him…he might not have stopped to consider that it might be a problem to ask her to get a cup of water for his girlfriend. Till of course, the earth stopped spinning for a minute, and then in one giant moment of awkward clarity, both my teacher’s classmate and her boyfriend realized the magnitude of their error.

So, when considering how to impress your future-Chinese-mother-in-law, remember that among the things you JUST DON’T DO is ask your boyfriend or her to get you a drink of water. Best to get it yourself, and on the way ask everyone else if they want any…just to show how extra good and helpful you would be as a wife/daughter-in-law.

All that said, it’s not like we in North America have gotten in-law relationships all worked out either…the abundance of mother-in-law jokes and stories that get told provide ample testimony to our own problems in this area. Still, whether it’s this kind of conversation in China or a mother-in-law story from a friend in the West, I always end up very thankful that both Joel and I have really good relationships with each other’s moms.