Back to the country for preschool

My husband is originally from a small farming village, despite this, he won’t admit he’s a 农民 (farmer). There is a negative connotation to it, and it’s something that he has worked to overcome. There are many things that I wanted over the years that he said no to because it’s too country (no shabby chic here ). This is why it is ironic that we chose a preschool on a ranch.

I fell in love with my son’s preschool as soon as I saw it. It’s a no tech preschool with old brick buildings on lake with horses. They guarantee kids will go home dirty and tired every day. I was sold. 

I kept waiting for my husband’s reaction though. When we looked at pediatricians, he chose the one with shiny granite and computers just because it looked fancier than the other choice. What would he think of 50 year old buildings and chickens? Well, he has really changed. 

The guy who grew up in the Chinese countryside moved to the big city for college, and an even bigger city for work, then to America only to send his son back to the country! It is kind of hard to explain to our Chinese family. While Kai’s cousin (also 3) goes to the most expensive, fanciest preschool in their part of Qingdao and comes home with English work, Kai is going to learn to grow vegetables and fish. Mostly we just send them pictures of him riding a pony. A 3 year old on a pony makes everything better. 

I don’t want to psychoanalyze my husband too much. He’s either now really confident and fully Americanized or nostalgic for his childhood. Either way, it’s kind of funny to think about. My husband brags about the rustic school even though it is definitely not the same kind of preschool our Chinese friends send their kids. 

I like the idea of our son having similar (but arguably much better) experiences as his father, and I can’t wait to see how my baby grows and gets his hands dirty!

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My Bilingual Baby

I always knew my son would inevitably be bilingual, what surprised me is that neither of the languages is English and the challenges that has presented. My baby boy is three now so he’s still developing his language ability but is quiet conversational and talkative at this point. Somehow or another, he has grown up in America learning to speak Mandarin and Shandonghua.

The fact that my son doesn’t speak my language was kind of alarming. Seriously, how did that happen? Didn’t I read stories to him in English? No, not really. For the most of his babyhood, he was more interested in chewing on the book or flipping through the pages than letting me finish a sentence. I used to take him to story time at the library but that wasn’t enough. Didn’t my family speak English to him? Yes, but they rarely saw him. My friends? Wait, most of our friends speak Chinese; when did that happen? We didn’t not expose him to the world around us, but without being in daycare, his world was mostly our home and we simply don’t speak much English at home.

Not a big deal though, he will learn English when he goes to preschool, right? My first realization that my son doesn’t speak English was at the playground. He was 2 and there was a bigger 2 year old blocking him from going down the slide. The older kid was yelling at him and Kai had no idea what he was saying. Both toddlers ended up frustrated. Upon continued observations, I realized that my outgoing baby boy clams up with English speaking kids. He is very outgoing and talkative with Chinese speaking kids. In fact, he seems to come alive whenever we are in China and everyone speaks his language. This brought up two points – 1. He can quickly discern which languages people speak. 2. Not speaking English might hinder his socialization. It also affects my family. My mother has seemed to use it as another excuse to ignore him, my father gets frustrated and yells at him when he doesn’t understand, and my brother just seems sad he can’t interact as well with his nephew. Most strangers just shrug and say he’s shy when he doesn’t respond.

While it is sad that he doesn’t speak my native language, I’m utterly perplexed that he speaks my husbands. How does a child growing up in America end up speaking Shandonghua? My husband and I speak Mandarin at home. I used to speak English when it was the babies and me, but with Kai speaking to me in Mandarin, I speak it back. My Inlaws don’t speak Mandarin though. For almost half of his 3 years, my Inlaws have lived with us off and on. Apparently their influence is stronger than that of the English world around us. We also regularly video chat with relatives back in China who also only speak Shandonghua. He has not spent much time in China at all, but his language ability seemed to blossom when he first went. Chinese people seem to interact with (strangers’) children more than in the US. Among the Chinese community here, hearing him break out in a dialect is kind of an oddity.

Actually, having him speak Chinese at all is an oddity. Around here, most Chinese kids my sons age speak primarily English. My son’s closest friend is also half Chinese and a couple months younger than him. His baby years were primarily speaking Chinese. Just like Kai, his first words and sentences were in Chinese. His friend actually lived in China for almost a year before he turned 2. Then one day he turned it off and started only speaking English. That seems to happen a lot. A lot of our friends complain about their children refusing to speak Chinese. If our friends are any indication, this preference for Chibese won’t last.
We will wait and see what happens when my Chinese speaking son starts preschool in a couple weeks.


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Let them have cake

My expat friends and I were on a never ending search for good bakeries in China. Whenever we heard about a new one, especially a foreign one, we had to try it. Every time it was disappointing. Even the most expensive and highly touted cakes missed the mark. 

This is to be expected though because China isn’t known for baking and convection ovens and cream aren’t exactly cheap. To give an idea of how bad the cakes are, we recently attended a wedding  in China where the couple had a gorgeous tiered wedding cake from a famous bakery.  My two-year-old, whose favorite word is “cake,” spit it out and left the rest of the slice untouched. 

 To put a spin on things, my Chinese friends in America always try to find good cake in America. They find American cake too sweet and too dense. I can understand that, I’m not a big fan of overly sweet cakes either. At least I thought I understood it.

A Chinese bakery recently opened up here and finally everyone has good Chinese cake. My Chinese friends are extatic and all recent birthday celebrations have included this Chinese cake. Finally, in America where there is easy access to the best ovens and amazing cream and butter and other bakers to learn from, there is lightly sweetened Chinese cake. 

This is where I am lost. This cake is also awful. Everyone seems to love it though. So much so that they are spending insane amounts of money on this horrible cake. 

The cake itself is spongy, yet soggy. It’s like biting into a memory foam mattress that dissolves with water. It also has a bit of a sour taste. To top it off, it has an oily icing that reminds me of eating finger paint. At first I thought the cake had just gone bad since we were at an outside party. Time and again, this cake is so bad that I can’t get it down and have to rinse out my mouth after coming in contact with it. Somehow, Chinese people love it. 

My conclusion, Chinese cake isn’t bad due to limitation of skill or resources, it is bad because it is catered to Chinese tastes. They like their cake so let them have it. I will never try to find a decent bakery in China again. 


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Teaching to use utensils

I do wonder what the age difference is in starting to use utensils in different countries. Chop sticks obviously take more skill to use than a fork therefore children learn to use them later on. I found it interesting that my Chinese friends’ children, who are under 3, still use their hands to eat. My baby boy has always copied us and has been using a fork and spoon for months. He tries to use chop sticks, but I’m afraid he’s going to hurt himself. I’m slightly inclined to buy him a shorter set without points, but he’s still a little young. Though my son started very early, his doctor expected utensil usage by 15 months.
My inlaws don’t eat with forks therefore they aren’t inclined to give baby a fork. If they do remember a utensil, it’s usually a spoon.
Today we had noodles for dinner and I couldn’t figure out how baby was going to eat them with a spoon. I went to get his fork and told Baba that you can’t eat noodles with a spoon!
He replied, “you can’t eat noodles with a fork either!”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Can’t teach what you don’t know.


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Hidden emotions boil under the surface and disturbing societal norms

Chinese people like to ignore emotions among other things. If an emotion or situation is unsettling, it is simply disregarded. It is funny how this mindset can rub off on someone making one believe that something shocking was really nothing. After coming back to the United States, where my memories were given a wash of American perspective, I have learned to deal with experiences that I was not allowed to process while living in China. There were things that deep in my heart I knew were very wrong, but so many people told me were nothing at all, that I swept away assuring myself that I must be mistaken for feeling anything.

I hate Shenzhen.
Not in the exaggerated lighthearted way people often throw around the term, but actual hate. I get angry whenever I talk about Shenzhen. I hate the city for so many reasons. I will not go in depth into all the reasons as that would take too long. Right now I will give one example of why I hate the city. I will give an example of how there is no morality or respect for women.
I lived in the electronic district of Shenzhen. If you know this area, then you know that there are almost no foreigners living in this area and almost completely occupied by men. The number of white women I encountered in the months I lived there could be counted on one hand with fingers to spare. Needless to say, I stood out.
It was a bright sunny day around noon and I was walking home from work on the busy sidewalk on my lunch break. Shenzhen is so very hot and humid that you start sweating as soon as step outside. To battle the heat, I wore dresses. That day, my dress had cap sleeve and came to my knees with modest heels to match. I had only been back in China for a few weeks at this point so I was not yet beaten down. I walked with a smile on my face, my head held high, and my long blond hair flowing down my back.
As I was walking, I overheard some men behind me talking about me. They were saying that I was Russian among other comments. This was a common assumption, but one that bothered me because it unfortunately came with the association of being a prostitute. I did not want that association. As the men walked a little faster to get a better look at me and continue their blatant conversation as if I could not understand, I informed them in Chinese that I was not Russian but American. Hopefully, speaking Chinese would stop them from being so rude as to speak about me as if I wasn’t there and correcting my nationality would stop them from assuming I was a prostitute.
I was stupid.
There were 3 men. They were middle aged and obviously transients to the city from their country-side, labor-worn appearances.
“She speaks Chinese!” one of the men exclaimed. Now I had really sparked their interest. They got closer and started to critique my appearance more. They told me how I didn’t look American because I wasn’t fat. They said they loved my blond hair. I kept walking assuring myself that I was in public in broad daylight, but I felt awkward.
They started talking about my pale skin. Then as one of men pointed out I was slighted tanned on my chest, he literally used his hand to point it out by brushing his finger above the opening of my button down dress.
I reactively swatted his hand away and looked the man in horror. The men smiled. I was feisty.
I started forward but was detained. The other men had grabbed my arms and my attempts to get away only brought them forward with me. Panic rushed through me. I momentarily looked around at the passersby who watched me with curiosity and pity. I had been in China before and I knew that no one would ever help a stranger; They would simply stop and watch. I had been in Shenzhen long enough to know that the police wouldn’t help, even if I had happened to see one in that very second. I was scared.
I fought against the three men as they started to pull me away out the crowds, move their hands towards forbidden places, and start to tear at buttons on my dress.
I am not a passive person. I have dealt with sticky situations before but never 3 men at the same time. I fought and struggled and squirmed some more. I finally got an arm free. It was enough freedom to physically assault one of my assailants. In all of the times I had been harassed in China, I had never physically punched anyone for fear of legal ramifications as a foreigner. I wasn’t thinking about that right then.
I could see the shock on the hit man’s face. Did Chinese women not fight back? Did he still think I was a prostitute and would take it as long as I was paid? I don’t know, and I didn’t stay to find out.
While the 3 men were momentarily stunned, I freed my other appendages and ran. I took off in my heels running through the busy crowd. I can run distance so I knew I would out run them. I ran as fast as I could and went a round about way back to my apartment in case they somehow kept up. I ran into my building and up the 9 flights of stairs. No one was following so I opened the door, went inside, and locked it. A million thoughts rushed through my mind, but I couldn’t sort through them and I couldn’t breathe.
I stood there in silence for a few minutes looking down at my partially unbuttoned dress.
Once I caught my breath, I pulled out my cellphone. I went through the list of contacts contemplating who to call and what to say. Should I call an American friend? Should I call a girl friend? Should I call the police? My employer? Who would help me and who would calm me down? My boyfriend was the logical choice so I called him.
I was calm up until that point. When I had to get the words out into the air to tell him what had happened, I broke down. Tears started streaming and that loss of breath came back. Worse of all, how could I, in my current haze, rack my brain for the right words in Chinese to throughly explain what I was feeling. My now husband, told me to calm down. When I finally did, I told him about the 3 men on the street. He asked me concerned questions like –
Was I hurt? No.
Was I actually raped? No.
Did they steal anything? No.
Well, what’s the problem then?
By the end of the conversation, he had convinced me that nothing had actually happened. My brain processed this.
I showered and changed my clothes and went back to work late from my lunch break.
I still wasn’t better when arrived. I just sat there staring at nothing. I told my manager what had happened. He asked accusatory questions like –
how could I let that happen? Well, there were 3 grown men and one of me.
Why wasn’t I more careful? It was broad daylight on a very crowded sidewalk.
He agreed to have someone walk me home from then on.
Despite having been provided with the knowledge that nothing actually happened, I still felt upset. I kept looking for someone to console me. I wanted someone to agree that it was horrible and should have never happened, but no one ever did. I called up one of my Chinese girlfriends and she came over.
I recounted the story to her. “That’s it?!” She said. “That’s normal to get catcalls and nothing happened. You shouldn’t have been wearing a dress!”
Every time I talked to someone about it, they said similar things.
Nothing happened.
It’s normal.
It’s my fault.
I shouldn’t have dressed up.
I actually started to feel guilty because complaining about some wandering hands was belittling women who had worse stories. All of my Chinese girl friends would tell me about getting fingered on busses or worse. It was normal. I needed to stop complaining. I was also making Chinese people feel uncomfortable by talking about feelings so much.
Slowly the words started to sink in and I started to ignore my emotions as irrational. Maybe it was my fault? I did encourage those men by talking to them. If it was my fault then I was going to take steps to change it.
My first thought was to get a taser. After finally finding where to buy one, one of my friends explained to me how they aren’t safe because they can be easily turned and used against me. Then I sought pepper spray. Why is it so hard to find pepper spray in China?! I finally found a can of pepper spray but it was huge and single use. It was made to be used by police to spray an entire crowd. One of the girls at work gave me a can of breathe spray and said that it worked just as well. I found that having anything in my hand that could possibly used as a weapon helped. Then on, I always carried my metal tea thermos or umbrella in my hand while walking. I averted my eyes and never smiled or looked at anyone.
I changed my physical appearance too. I went to Hong Kong to dye my naturally blond hair brown. I stopped wearing dresses. It was regularly over 100 degrees outside with the humidity and I always wore pants.
I couldn’t leave my apartment without someone with me. This meant that I didn’t go anywhere because I lived alone. With all of these steps I was only regularly harassed instead of being occasionally attacked. It all left a bad taste in my mouth despite everyone telling me it is normal and that I’m over reacting.
My boyfriend soon quit his job to start his business and moved in with me, which made things mildly better. I started to laugh off being solicited and made friends with some girls who regularly dealt with sleazy men by profession.
I stopped talking about it because it annoyed people and they thought I was crazy. Other foreigners didn’t even believe me because if they were women, they only knew the foreign area of Shekou and if they were men, they were oblivious to how women are treated in Shenzhen.
I lasted in Shenzhen for less than a year before we moved. With my boyfriend no longer working near the city, there was no reason to stay.

Over the years I had occasionally brought up the topic of the 3 men who almost did more and my husband tired of it. He didn’t understand why I kept bringing it up since it was so long ago. It kept popping up no matter how much I tired to bury it.
After we moved back to America, I casually told the story to friends and they looked at me in horror. They told me that it was a big deal and that I shouldn’t blame myself.
Now I was really conflicted. I had convinced myself that it wasn’t a big deal and now I was being told that it was. The more I thought about this, the more other buried memories and emotions surfaced.

Something did happen. What really happened to me is that I lost control of my life for a few moments or minutes or however much immeasurable time passed. I was held by three grown men whose physical strength overpowered mine. That was the moment when I was supposed to have a rush of adrenaline that was supposed to give me amazing strength to break free and save myself, but it didn’t happen. I felt how futile it was to struggle and realized I was utterly powerless. That is the rush of panic that I felt. That is what has haunted me all those years. That is the feeling that no one understood or let me talk about in China.

I’m angry at how these kinds of situations are handled. Even Chinese women treat it like it is normal and accept it so. The blame is always placed on the woman. Even with my American upbringing, I couldn’t escape my beliefs being reshaped by the norm. Enough people tell you something is normal and you believe it must be, but just because something is common does not make it right. Finally, Emotions are better dealt with than ignored.


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Sensing Toxins

I think I’ve figured out why so many mothers seem a little obsessive over chemicals and toxins their children are exposed to – pregnancy.

Pregnancy increases sensitivity to everything. I have a super sense of smell and can smell the tinniest hint of cigarette smoke or food gone bad. Breathing in a bit of windex is enough to make me light headed and need to sit down. I suddenly had to switch my laundry routine because the products I used before caused me to itch. Supposedly this increased sensitivity is supposed to keep the baby safer by being more aware of dangers. Either that or because a pregnant woman’s immune system is depressed, it’s a matter of self preservation. Either way, a pregnant body has toxin sensing super powers.

My brother kind of summed it up best. We bought new carpet for our house and I couldn’t be in the house for a few weeks to give it time to off gas. I checked on it a few days after the installation and just a quick visit gave me a headache and sore throat. My brother saw this and said that if I’m just more sensitive to it, that means that there is something being released by the carpet and he wondered what that meant for him breathing it in. Does not having a reaction make it any safer?

It has made me question a lot of products that I use. I’m definitely worried about what my baby is exposed to and that is making me a little crazy. I refuse to buy cheaply made products for baby. Everyone tells me that the baby won’t care, he will be comfortable in anything, but why would I give my newborn something that made me sick? Maybe in a few months I’ll change my mind and go back to chemical cleaners, heavily processed foods, and flame retardant man-made fabrics.


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Race – unknown

I’ve had quite a few people tell me that I am not in an interracial relationship and my baby isn’t of mixed of race. The reasoning is that my husband isn’t black. I find this kind of puzzling. Isn’t Chinese a different race? He speaks a different language, has a different cultural heritage, and is from a different geographical area. It seems more interracial to me than two people born in the same country.

The issue of race in America is complicated. It is probably a matter of perspective. The people who have told me race is only black and white have been people who classify themselves as either black or white. Plus I live in the south.

The government considers us to be different races most of the time. We are asked about race on standard forms where my husband and I check different boxes. If different race boxes are checked, doesn’t that make us interracial? I always thought an interracial relationship was one where two people of different races were in a relationship together. It apparently depends on which races are checked. Some are more applicable than others. Continue reading


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