Archive for September, 2009

Language signposts

Today I (JM) bought and installed a wireless internet router in our household. All in Chinese.

Am I fluent in networking language in Chinese? No. Did I understand every word in the process? No.

Does the router work? Yes!

This makes me think that a new and useful fluency grade should be added to the language scale:

Elementary –> Beginner –> Able to install networking hardware –> Native Speaker

So somewhere along the last year and a half, I’ve traveled up the scale to this indeterminate point of fluency in Chinese. I don’t know what’s next on the scale. Maybe I’ll finally figure out what the mystery meat is on the local menu.

Then again, maybe I don’t want to know.

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The hair loss diet

This morning Leo’s nanny was interested in the Muesli cereal we sometimes have for breakfast. She wants to recommend it to the old woman she also works for.

"I think it would be good for her."
"Why?"
"I notice that you guys don’t lose your hair. When I sweep there’s no hair on the floor. But we lose our hair all the time. I think your diet probably helps your hair stay in. You guys like to eat a lot of healthy food. That’s probably the reason."

She went on to show me the front ridge of her scalp, and what she considers to be a patch of missing hair. I suggested maybe it was genetic, which she also took into advisement, but she still wants to recommend the cereal to her other client.

Hey, it’s cheaper than Rogaine.

Misplaced Sunday

Today was Sunday- day of rest, right? No work, just time to relax with family and recharge for the week.

Not so. Today China went back to work. Liz had Chinese class at 8am as usual for a weekday, even though it’s still Sunday. This is all part of China’s custom to consolidate days off around a holiday, which in this case is Thursday’s National Day Holiday. By working today, everyone gets this Friday off as a trade, making a 4 day weekend. Not bad, especially since there will be even more days off for Mid-Autumn Festival, which is October 3rd. Only in China do they contrive a way to turn four days off of work into an 8-day break. But some weekend days have to go in the process.

My American sensibilities rebel against this delayed gratification! Today is Sunday- give me Sunday!

What do you like?

I just gave a round of speaking tests for my students, one on one interviews. Some were more adept than others, both at understanding the questions and giving accurate answers.

JM: "So, what are your hobbies?"

Student: *blank stare*

JM: "OK, what are things you like to do?"

Student: "I like sex."

JM: *stifling urge to laugh aloud, gives deadpan response* "Really?"

Student: "Yes." *making music instrument sign with hands* "I play sax for many years."

JM: "Oh! That’s great. I like music too."

Points for entertainment value: 10. Points earned toward test score: 1 (hey- at least he gave an answer!)

Fat follow up

The morning after Liz’s post about people assuming she was getting fat, Leo’s nanny arrived for work as usual at 8am. She said, "I was talking to the shopkeeper down the street. She said, ‘You know that foreign mother of the child you watch? She’s become so fat!’"

Liz and I started cracking up. Ayi continued, "I told her it wasn’t fat- only that you’re pregnant again!"

It’s so true- people will presume exactly what they will here, tactfully or not. Liz’s Chinese teacher, who had seen Liz in class for two weeks already, was flabbergasted when Liz asked for leave to keep a prenatal doctor’s appointment.

"You’re pregnant?? I had no idea! I mean, I thought since you already had a baby, you were just still fat." [Keep in mind Liz is 6 months pregnant, packing a volleyball below the belt!]

So be advised, people will notice you here, welcome attention or not! Good motivation to pass on those extra dumplings..

I just thought you were getting fat!

The news is officially out that I am pregnant. At almost 6 months along, I think it’s pretty hard to miss my bulging belly, but apparently for many people here, it’s not obvious. A few people have made extremely blunt comments when I’ve seen them, such as, “You got quite fat over the summer!” or “Oh, I just thought you were fat now!” I think it’s a combination of both the fact that the Chinese are not shy about calling a spade a spade and letting people know that they are fat, along with the fact that people don’t expect me to be pregnant again because I already have a child. These comments have made me laugh, and yes, I must agree, I am getting a little fat (let’s face it, it’s not all baby).

So far, being pregnant in China has been pretty good. Some perks have included a definite seat on every bus (as long as I stick my belly out purposefully as I get on the bus, which I do, because frankly, I really do need the seat as buses here are really crowded and crazy!). The first time it happened, an old lady gave me her seat – one which frankly, she probably needed more than I did. But, as I’ve stated before on this blog, when in China, one does NOT argue with an elderly Chinese lady. You just agree and do as she says. So I sat down, hoping she’d survive the rest of the bus ride on her feet. About five seconds later, I heard a cranky groan and what was the equivalent of, “Oh for crying out loud, lady!” coming from behind me. I turned to see an older man (in much better shape than the aforementioned lady), get up and give his seat to her. I was relieved! People also mysteriously believe that if you are pregnant you become incapacitated here. I think because women only go through pregnancy once in China, people really milk it for all it’s worth that one time around. So people marvel at my ability to carry Leo, carry groceries, walk to the store, go to classes, walk anywhere really, exercise (this rarely happens purposefully if I’m being totally honest here), jog after Leo and play ball with him, etc… I am Wonder Woman here! It doesn’t take much, apparently.
Some things have been more challenging. Grocery shopping has become a pretty exhausting chore as I’m on foot and have no shopping cart, and Leo is now impossible to carry on my back along with all of the groceries. So I’m currently shopping for a good (and light) stroller, and meanwhile trying to schedule shopping trips when he can stay behind. I’ve also learned the fine art of bribing my child with treats so he’ll walk beside me and behave in the grocery store aisles. So far, so good. I’ve also received very few “Congratulations” from Chinese people here upon hearing the news that I am again pregnant. Usually people say, “Na hen xinku a?” which basically means, “Wow, that’s not an easy situation, eh?” This is a bit of a downer, as I’m overjoyed to be pregnant and wish to share that joy rather than be brought down a notch by the reminder that it’s going to be a lot of hard work. I know it’s hard work to have children, but I really like them anyway, thanks! I think people here are really trying to commiserate and relate, but it strikes an odd note with me. People know that we are here without our parents, and this already makes our situation very difficult in their eyes (I’m sure my mother is nodding her head at this!). Every child here has six adults looking after him or her – parents and both sets of grandparents. Seeing as we are already burdened with one child and no grandparents, another child seems unfathomable. Although I try to explain that in the US the grandparents do not raise the grandchild as in China, and in fact we do not think this is the ideal, it still causes some consternation and confusion in those not familiar with Western culture. We share with people that although both of us would welcome our parents to Nanjing if they wanted to be closer to us, they would still not assume the leadership role in raising our child (children) as is the custom in China. And furthermore, we’re pretty certain our parents would not want this responsibility, as much as they love our kids! These are interesting conversations and it’s great to have even more reason to have them now that I’m pregnant again.
We are also busy visiting hospitals and trying to figure out where to have this baby. This decision is still up in the air, and another whole post will be devoted to birth in China (if not more than one post, I’m sure). We’re hopeful to give birth in Nanjing, and will most likely decide in the next month or so.

The mystery guest

I (JM) have been playing my violin a bit more since our return, having purchased a new violin bow over the visit back home. Lately, one of the spare bows in my violin case seemed to be losing some of its hairs: after opening the case, some of its strands would be dangling away from the stick. I examined it on a few occasions, and thought perhaps it was catching on some edge inside the case, snapping a few of the hairs in the process.

Today I again noticed this problem, and it became obvious that these latest hairs were snapped a few inches down from the edge of the bow stick. I looked again, and there on the underside of the bow hair was a small larvae, complacently grazing on my horse hair!

This is the first time something like this has ever happened to my instrument, so of course I thought “Only in China.” Somehow the little critter worked its way inside my case, perhaps while it was open during my practicing, and found its way to an unlikely feast. It had been shearing the strands of hair for the last week at least, getting nice and plump in the process.

My immediate concern was that he might have found his way inside the wood of my violin- worm holes are an unlucky and expensive repair to need on an instrument. But so far no other signs of damage.

So I’m reminded once again that our life here in China is much more in tandem with the flora and fauna around us, welcome or unwelcome. At least the fall will bring lots of great produce at the markets, and a break in the summer’s heat. I don’t look forward to the chill of winter coming ahead, but we’ll enjoy this cool weather while it lasts, along with whatever critters it brings along with it.

But other would be bow-munchers beware, lest ye suffer the same fate as poor little Wormy!