|A-yi introduces Juliana to her new motor toy|
The afternoon we returned from Thailand our a-yi (babysitter) came by to see Juliana. Obviously she had missed Juliana during our three weeks away, and while Juliana didn't come running and squealing like usual, she was excited to see her a-yi as well. A-yi came in the door out of breath, not just from climbing to the sixth floor but from climbing to the sixth floor carrying a very large motorized riding car toy, her very large present for Juliana.
Gift giving is definitely an important part of Chinese culture. You bring fruit or flowers when visiting someone's home. You bring back small trinkets or a local “specialty” from traveling (something we totally forgot about this year in Thailand). At Mid-Autumn Day, you exchange moon-cakes with practically everyone you know. As teachers, our school would always give us a Christmas/New Years gift, and our students would give us presents at the end of the year. Lots of gifting going on. But usually the gifts are pretty small, a couple of dollars worth of fruit, not a fancy toy that probably cost $50. So we felt a little awkward about this gift and wondered what was behind it.
Juliana had no such hesitation. Who cares about the reason; she just got a giant new toy! She climbed up on the seat (backwards), played with the moveable armrests, opened the storage box to examine the instruction packet and wall charger, fiddled with the handle bars (I guess it's actually a giant motorbike), and of course, pushed the buttons that made the very loud noises.
|Climbing on the car (backwards)|
One button made car noises, an endless grinding turn-over sound, like a car that may or may not start. A loud horn. And of course, a button that plays loud, barely identifiable children's songs. Juliana loves it. She was excited to hear the ABC song, probably her current favorite, right up with Old MacDonald. It wasn't until a few days later I realized that while the first part of the song is fine, once it gets to “O-L-N-O-M,” it's all downhill from there.
The car also has a little foot petal to activate the motor and made a little jump forward whenever Juliana accidentally stepped on it. The car even has a little seatbelt! Amazing. But did I mention that it's very large? It's really an outside toy. And we live on the sixth floor. The thought of carrying Juliana and a very large toy car down and back up all those stairs didn't really make me happy.
But she had the car, and I figured I'd better let her use it, so the next day I hauled it downstairs for her. I strapped her nicely in and showed her how to push the motor petal...and all she wanted to do was get out and run around. I thought, “I carried this all the way downstairs, darn it! Enough with your exercise – play with the toy! Play with the toy!” And then I let her run around because of course it was ridiculous. I called Kevin to come down and pick up the toy, and Juliana spent the next thirty minute happily wandering around on her own two feet.
The car was moved out to the laundry porch for storage, our catch all for objects we don't really know what to do with, and there I discovered its good use: occupying Juliana while I hang up laundry. She plays with her toy instead of trying to eat lead paint chips and I get the laundry up; a win-win situation.
|Finding just the right persona|
A few days later we discovered the reason (or at least part of the reason) behind this over-the-top gift; a-yi and her husband started their own business, so she won't be able to watch Juliana anymore. In typical indirect fashion, she didn't mention anything about this when she was with us; it only came out through our teammate's prodding.
So now we begin the semester a-yi-less. We are really sad to lose our old a-yi because she and Juliana loved each other. The first week Juliana cried when I left her; thereafter she cried when a-yi left. It's going to be hard to find someone else who connects so well with Juliana. But find someone we must, if we are going to be able to start meeting with tutors again, an intrigal part of our language learning. And that car is just not going to do a lot of babysitting for us.