Archive for February, 2009

Eating Bitter

The time had come for me (Liz) to finally see a dentist here and get my teeth cleaned. It had been well over a year (sorry Dr. Gormley – I know this doesn’t please my old wonderful dentist in New Haven!). But things have been rather busy this past year and I thought regular flossing and brushing would do the trick until we got settled.

As I was leafing through some resources looking for the vocabulary to talk to the receptionist to make the proper kind of appointment, my ayi asked why I was going. I told her I needed my teeth cleaned. She said, “Open your mouth, let me see.” So I did, and she promptly exclaimed, “Your teeth look great, no need to go!” Thank you Dr. Ayi!

I went against her advice and made an appointment for the cheaper kind of cleaning (ultrasound vs. some other kind of fancy cleaning that I didn’t understand). I’ve always had my teeth cleaned in the old-fashioned sharp metal pick and mirror way, so I chose the cheaper option and went in for my appointment.

I had the exam first with the dentist, who proclaimed that my teeth looked great and had a fairly complicated conversation where I was trying to explain what kind of dental work I’d had done in years past (my vocabulary lesson hadn’t gone this deep, so I was basically making stuff up and gesturing in my mouth a lot). After that, her assistant, who had been very sweet and kind – began touching my hair and saying to the doctor, “She is just so pretty – LOOK at her hair and skin.” Which was very sweet, but a little funny. I don’t think it had registered that I could understand her or else she really was just a little overcome by my apparent dazzling beauty :). The dentist gently reminded her that I understood and that it was time to let the teeth cleaning begin.

Enter two wonderful dental hygienists, who began by telling me that if anything they did was uncomfortable, I should tell them. I agreed, calmly reassured by the fact that getting my teeth cleaned had never been painful for me in my life. That was about to change. They began the ultrasound application – which consists of a vibrating small metal point doing something to get all the bacteria and plaque off of my teeth. Youch! As they cleaned my front teeth (the most sensitive) I began to motion and make sounds of discomfort. I thought to myself, “Well, they said to tell them if it’s uncomfortable, maybe something is wrong!” The pain is like the kind of eerie icky feeling you get when someone scratches their nails on a chalkboard, only the chalkboard is in your mouth. I expected them to immediately stop and assess the situation. Their only response to my flailing around was to say, “Mei guanxi!” over and over. This means, “No relation” literally – which in this situation meant, “There’s nothing wrong with a little pain, sit back and take it like a Chinese.” I felt a bit betrayed by their earlier overtures to let them know at the slightest discomfort.

Afterward, I found out via the Internet that ultrasound cleaning can be a little painful. But at the time, I thought they were a little cruel to lead me on like that.

I must say though, after I got home I looked in the mirror and my teeth have never looked better. Whatever they were doing sure worked! I’ll be back for more and this time, I won’t be complaining.

This leads me to an observation about the Chinese resilience… The Chinese can take pain. They go through many medical operations and procedures without anaesthetics because it’s too costly. They live in huts, in back rooms, in the cold, without heat, giving up meat and other luxuries – to save enough money to send their children to school and to provide for the future. In their own language, it’s known sometimes as “eating bitter.” They can eat bitter better than any people I’ve ever met. Their history and development as a nation has required much sacrifice and suffering, especially over the last 200 years.

Maybe I can learn from this – but for now, I will know how to interpret “Mei guanxi” and be on my guard for overtures to ease my discomfort here!

The REAL Reason

I was explaining the post-hoc fallacy to my students last week. It’s a logical fallacy that occurs when you assume that because X happened before Y, X necessarily caused Y. I asked my students to think of an example of this faulty form of reasoning. One of my very bright students, after thinking long and hard, slowly and very earnestly answered thus:

“For example, if a person catches a cold after going swimming, they might think that they caught a cold because they went swimming before they caught a cold. But they would be wrong.” (long dramatic pause here) “They really caught a cold because… they weren’t wearing enough clothes. ”

If you’ve read our blog, wearing enough clothes (the definition of enough clothes is however many layers you can stuff on your body and still walk around) is a very big deal here. All colds are caused by not wearing enough clothes. My son has a little cold right now, and our ayi secretly asked my husband if I put enough layers on him the day before he caught a cold. (She’s smart enough not to ask me that question directly!)

Well, I did what any teacher would do, and praised my student’s wonderful example while smiling inside. I decided to save the lecture on germs causing colds. She was very proud of herself, as was I!

One year and counting!!

Today is our one-year anniversary for arriving in China! We are thrilled, and also amazed at how quickly the time has gone by. A lot has happened in a year’s time. We arrived here not even knowing how to order a bowl of noodles. Now being able to chit chat with vegetable farmers in the market represents a huge step forward.

We’re excited to begin our second year of residence here in Nanjing. All potential travelers, please look us up!

Animal intelligence

We are proud to say that Leo is now as smart as a dog!

He has been watching his baby videos a lot lately, one of which explains basic body motions: waving, jumping, spinning, etc. One day we told him to sit down. He looked us straight in the eye, and sat down on the floor.

We have a baby who can follow directions on an animal intelligence level!

But what is even better is that Leo is as smart as a Chinese dog. When Leo climbs on our chair, his nanny tells him in Chinese, “Climb down!” He understands her! In fact, he understands many of her directions, including to give her a kiss, to come over, and even when not to do something.

He must have heard this last one a lot, because now he repeats the words himself, in Chinese! “Bu yao!” – the most important word that children learn in early years – “No!”

Leo has a big head start in a language that has taken us full time study to grasp even a beginner’s command. We’re eager for him to graduate to full rational speech, a bilingual one at that!