When you dare take your week-old infant to the neighbourhood vegetable market in China

The days following a birth are up and down, so Jessica tells me. Some days it’s all, “I love my baby!!! I love my kids!!! I love my husband!!!” while on occasional days the smallest criticism can provoke tears. Jessica was feeling good and feisty today. She was also tired of sitting inside and so decided to brave our neighbourhood streetside vegetable market for the first time since giving birth — with our 9-day-old son in a Ergo carrier.

baby_in_the_marketShe knew it’d be pushing the buttons of every Chinese auntie and grannie in sight and generate non-stop commentary from the moment she stepped out the door (because she’s done it before), but she didn’t care. Besides, it’s not like she hasn’t already been accused of being an evil stepmother. ;)

Here’s what she was repeatedly criticized for during her fifteen minutes in the market:

  • being outside
  • bringing the baby outside
  • wearing short sleeves (it’s 20’C and sunny at the end of May)
  • buying tomatoes (they’re a “Cold” food, as in Traditional Chinese Medicine theory “Cold”; eating “Cold” things is exactly what post-partum women aren’t supposed to do)
  • being so thin and losing weight since the birth (how much weight exactly?)
  • being too active during pregnancy and not eating the right things (and that’s why he’s so small) (he was 3kg at birth)

She opted not to mention that we’d already been to Beijing and back for an embassy run. ;)

This is our third time to have an infant in China, so none of this is a big deal and it’s completely understandable. It’s certainly not our first time to draw a crowd with a foreign baby or receive well-intentioned-but-unsolicited-and-annoyingly-personal criticism (criticism often conveys concern or interest in China; it’s not usually meant to be mean). But it’s still kind of funny, especially because her sister-in-law is here from the States to help out — a ‘fresh’ foreigner encountering China for the first time.

Way back when we were preparing to bring our first infant to China, Australian friends who’d had their kid in China around the time ours was born in Canada sent us a list of everything we had to look forward to/brace ourselves for. It’s still funny (and full of valuable information)!

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Not in my backyard

Shǐ just got real.shijustgotrealOne of the side-effects of planting lots of trees around your building is that it attracts people looking for some token privacy. I think I can emotionally empathize with these neighbours now.

Maybe it’s like gun laws in the USA; the people who would actually heed these signs aren’t the ones making the problem. But at least acquiring them lets off a little culture stress steam. I’ll put them up, along with some “Don’t throw garbage” signs, but our real plan is to make our own sign that says something like, “If you need to use the bathroom, you’re welcome to ring Unit 101.” The culprits are workers who are temporarily in the neighbourhood on a job (construction, installation, etc.) and who literally have nowhere to go. So we don’t really hold it against them, but I’d rather not have the ground literally right outside our windows used as a bathroom (or for naptime).

Neighbourhood nightlife

This is one of at least four regular exercise dance groups in our neighbourhood.guangchangwudark
This kind of mass public exercise dancing is called guÇŽngchÇŽng wÇ” 广场舞, sometimes literally but confusingly translated “square dancing” (think Tiananmen ‘Square’ as in plaza, not line dancing and square dancing). In larger public spaces a block or two away, hundreds of people do this together.
guanchangwulight Cold and darkness doesn’t stop them from snaking slow circles around the public spaces in our neighbourhood, but this night at least one of the lights was working.

When China’s air pollution confuses my preschool students

Sure, we cry too much about the air pollution. But this one’s darkly humourous, I promise.

I routinely ask the oldest classes, “How’s the weather?” while pointing out the windows. And they automatically take a glance and usually reply, “IT’S SUNNY!!!” (“Sunny” is their favourite. But they can do cloudy, raining, windy, snowing, hot, and cold, too.)

So today I ask them. They glance out the windows. “IT’S…” A couple weak “sunny”s peter out among the 30 students. They can’t tell if it’s sunny or cloudy.

Because even though it’s bright outside, THEY CAN’T SEE THE BLOOMIN’ SKY. There are no clouds, but it’s all grey, and where’s the sun?

Later I check, and every air quality monitoring station in the city is maxed out at 500:

Below 50 is “good”. At 100 we close all our windows and turn on all the DIY home air purifiers. At 300 the preschool cancels all its outdoor activities.

At 500… AIRPOCALYPSE! ;)

Free Chinese Sidewalk Calligraphy Lessons

Our daughter gets some pointers from a friendly security guard in Qingdao’s Licun Park (李村公园).
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The brushes are made with reused materials: plastic pipe, sponge/foam, plastic water bottle, and a couple small nails.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year 2015!

Some Christmas-y photos from our final month of 2015 in China.

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Chinese Sunday school kids sing at the annual Christmas party/show.

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We’ve appropriated traditional Chinese decorations as Christmas tree ornaments.

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Mulled wine, 2015.

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Every year we put up new door couplets and a new 福 at Christmas/New Year’s, right around the time people start thinking about getting ready for Chinese New Year. It’s actually a little early for this, as these are CNY decorations, but our family basically has a giant long winter holiday season from Advent through Chinese New Year each year.

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We played Santa around the neighbourhood this year with over 60 Christmas cookie packages.

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In exchange for the cookies, he gave our daughter a live octopus.

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The real Chinese nightlife

Nightlife in China, Qingdao-style:
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Little groups like this are sprinkled throughout our neighbourhood in the after-dinner hours. I’m sure we weren’t the only one hanging our beer on the wall.