Thursday, May 31, 2012

Realistic Swings & Dirty Feet

W.C. = "Water Closet" = Public Restroom

Morning at the Park

It went something like this.

Our house helper was over, doing my laundry and dishes. Willow is obsessed with Ayi. She follows her around everywhere. All Ayi has to do is look at Willow, and the girl goes bazerk with laughter and smiles. I spend the whole time that Ayi is cleaning trying to field Willow and keep her out from underfoot. 
So, after 'fielding' the baby for an hour, I decided we would leave the nonsense and go outside. We went to the little play set by our building (literally a hop, skip and jump from our door), but no one was there. I send Willow down the slide once. There was a maintenance worker there, washing the play set with a dirty rag. She was nice, but it was a little awkward. Not ready to go back home, I started walking towards the river. I remembered that they finally installed some swings at the exercise park. It strikes me as odd that most of the parks here, whether they are for playing kids or exercising adults, do not have swings. Willow has never really been in a swing before. As I walked towards the river park, I decided that I would swing a little with Willow on my lap. 

As we approached the park, we saw several old ladies, who must have been in their 90's, exiting the park. They were pushing their wheelchairs and walkers very slowly, and somehow made it off of the sidewalk and onto the rode. One cackled at Willow and asked how old she was. Another almost got hit by a bus. The last  one stepped off of the curb without breaking anything--she was so frail it about gave me a heart attack when she stepped off the curb. 

Once we entered the 'park' (with all the exercise equipment), we headed towards the swings. The swings were in sight, about a hundred yards away. A woman with a stroller and a baby who was a little smaller than Willow were walking towards us. Of course, Willow was excited because she loves babies and small children. There were a lot of children, babies, and toddlers at the park at that moment--more than usual. I let   Willow admire the baby in the stroller, and asked the appropriate questions: age/gender. I started to answer her own questions, but quickly got lost in a sea of unfamiliar vocabulary. Before I could say, "repeat that" or "I don't understand", another lady popped up next to us with another similarly-sized baby. She, however, had excellent English. 

Her son's name was Bryant. He is eleven months old. 

She was from Shenyang, but had lived in Seattle, L.A., or Chicago for the past fourteen years. She was highly educated. She had two children, and worked in America with a green card. 

She became my personal translator for the next half hour. 

I'm not sure how many people crowded around us, but since the park was crowded with all ages--we had anywhere from five to thirty-five people around us at any given time. She found out lots of basic information from me, just from casual conversation. Every time a Chinese person would ask me a question, she would politely answer. I could tell she was giving out more and more information, and she learned more about me and Willow. I could understand a little of what she was saying. It was one of those comical, surreal moments. 

Topics the bystanders found interesting: 

What does your baby eat?
How much Korean do you know?
Does your baby know three languages?
What does your baby eat?
Does your baby drink formula or breast milk? 
Why are your baby's feet so big? 
Are you mixed-blood? (I know...there really aren't any euphemisms in Chinese) 
It is unusual for you dad to be Korean and your mom to be American
How long have you been in China?
Why is your Chinese so bad?
Does your baby wear diapers? 
Is your baby cold? (because she was wearing shorts) 
Is your baby hot? (because she wasn't wearing a hat) 
Do you take care of her by yourself? 
How can you take care of her by yourself? 
Where was she born? China or America? 

These are questions that I have to answer almost on a daily basis. However, usually, I don't know how to respond--and sometimes I have no idea what they're saying at all. I was so thankful to have such a kind translator. She had FLAWLESS English. She spoke without an accent, and used great vocabulary. And even though she was definitely Chinese, I could tell that she had assimilated a lot towards Western thought. So, not only was she smart and kind, but she was very understanding too. Normally, I would have fled such an overwhelming situation, but it felt so nice to be represented clearly. For people to understand who I am, who Willow is, and not to leave thinking I'm the village idiot. 

Several old men without shirts talked with Willow. One gave her a purple wild flower. An opera singer stopped by (some of the exercisers sing traditional music while exercising--haven't figured out the reasons behind that yet). Lots of other babies and their moms/grandmas/ayis. Everyone was very nice, and I kept wishing that I had my camera. There are so many interesting moments that I miss the chance to document. 

But I also learned some things from my self-appointed translator. 

We talked about international travel with infants. We both fly Korean Air, so we gave each other tips and shared our love for that company. She told me that she brought two suitcases of just diapers for her baby--they are in Shenyang for a few weeks to visit family. I thought that was funny, since diapers are probably cheaper here. I bet she buys the nice kind that can't be found here...

We talked about Chicago weather, Chinese language being offered to high school students, why she isn't becoming a US citizen, the area where her in-laws live, how she's helping her kids become bilingual. 

It was interesting talking to her about parenting. The way Chinese people parent is vastly different than how Western parents go about it. I'm sure most people know this already. There's the stereotypical 'tiger mom' that has made its way across the media. Here are some broad generalizations I've made: 

Chinese Parenting Looks Like...

 --Only one child: usually leads to spoiling because one child has two parents, plus four grandparents who all take care of him/her. 
 --No diapers: they are potty trained from an extremely young age. Although, it's not 'really' being potty trained. They can 'go' wherever they want--whether its the side of the road, or a garbage can in the grocery store. 
 --Formula fed babies, almost exclusively. It's very rare to find babies who are breast fed without any kind of supplement. The women are taught that breast milk is not enough to keep a baby nourished. 
 --Less Safety Conscious: everything is a bit chintzy, flimsy, cheap...don't trust anything! Yet, car seats aren't really emphasized. The only time a saw a car seat in use, it was place forward facing in the front seat. Oh boy! More often, you see families crammed onto a scooter or bike together. Lead paint is used everywhere. It's mostly a pretty dirty place. 
 --Never say 'no' to their children 
 --Emphasis on study, not play: even at a young age, kids are encouraged to stay neat and clean all the time, and learn from their baby flashcards.

I think Western parents will shake their heads at this list, and think that it is so 'wrong'. 
It was interesting talking to my new translator friend, because through answering the questions of the bystanders, and then translating what she said so that I could understand, I learned that she had rejected most of her culture's philosophy on parenting. 

He baby wore diapers.
She didn't have parents or in-laws to lean on for daily, built in child care. She didn't pay for a nanny or day care either. Here was a Chinese woman who took care of her own children and enjoyed it! She supported my decision to stay at home with Willow, and said that parents raising their children on their own is the most healthy and natural thing to do. She said that most Chinese mothers probably wish that they could do it, and feel jealous because they never get to hold their own babies. 

She breast feeds her 11 month old baby still, and enjoys it. He doesn't eat too much solid food yet either. She had two kids and was happy with that decision. She seemed so assimilated to Western parenting, it was so intriguing! I wanted to keep talking to her, but I could tell she needed to get going. What an interesting lady. She loved China, loved Shenyangren too--but I could tell that she loved America as well. 

As I was finally making my way towards the swings, I commented, "I wish that the parks here had baby swings". I'm apparently pretty bitter about this--motherhood is bringing out new forms of culture shock.

To which she responded, "I guess [China] does what is most realistic. Everyone can use these kinds of swings. Not everyone can use a baby swing". 

Light bulb.
Now I understand. 

Later, I was letting Willow crawl around at the playground. It was a little wet and dirty because it rained yesterday, so she was getting a little muddy. I shrugged it off saying, "That's what summer is for". My friend who was there with her daughter laughed and said, "That's the difference between American and Chinese parents". Of course, via Willow's example, the other toddlers at the playground insisted on being barefoot. 

When we finally went home, Willow was exhausted from all her social interaction and playing. Ayi was astonished at her dirty legs and feet. Sometimes it's a blessing not to be able to understand everything she is saying! I washed her off, fed her lunch, and put her to bed. 

It's just a little dirt. 


  1. This was so interesting! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading, Lylli! Can't wait to see you in a few weeks! You are sweet to trudge through all my words... :)