Saturday, March 31, 2012

Juliana Goes to the Doctor

Juliana climbs on the chairs in the Pharmacy Hall waiting area. (Unfortunately the little camera phone lens was dirty so the pictures are really bad.)

This morning I took Juliana to the doctor about her persistent cough. Whenever I have to go to the doctor in China, I think with fondness on doctors' offices in America. The quiet pediatrician's office with the clean waiting room and private exam rooms. Maybe half a dozen other people around.

In China most doctors don't have private offices, so you go to the hospital for everything. It is usually crowded, a little (or maybe a lot) dirty, and has an old, dark smell. Our local hospital isn't bad, but it's definitely not a cheery place either. Something like a cross between a old jail and a state-run nursing home. My tutor accompanied Juliana and I to help with translation (since our textbooks teach words like “amphibious” and “reptile house” but not medical terms). As we pushed our way into the crowd waiting to register/pay, Juliana was already getting antsy in my arms, saying, “Down! Down!” I put her down and she immediately took off for the door (smart kid), nearly running over a dog and nearly being run over by a massive stretcher.

After paying about a dollar to see the doctor (okay, China doctors have their benefits), we went down to the pediatric area. It was pretty easy to spot because of all the crying babies buried under layers of quilts. Today was a particularly busy day at the hospital as it was Friday and just before a holiday. One good aspect of the crowdedness though – it meant the good doctor was in! If no one is waiting to see the doctor, it probably means they aren't worth seeing.

Juliana spent the waiting time climbing up and down on the metal chairs, watching the other kids, and trying to dart off down the hallways. She has gotten really fast! Finally her name was called and we went in to see the doctor. This was actually a unique experience because the only ones in the examining room were us, a doctor and a nurse; the rest of the crowds peered through the open door trying to find out what was wrong with the foreign baby. Most of my hospital experiences have involved 12-15 people crowded into an exam room, even sitting next to me on the exam table while the doctor asks all kinds of questions about bodily functions and announces your ailment to the room.

Since Juliana obviously wasn't going to cough with a doctor around, I managed to record her cough beforehand so the doctor could hear it. She pronounced it bronchitis, and even knew how to say bronchitis in English, which was good because my tutor had no idea. She wrote out a prescription and we headed over to the pharmacy room. Don't think Walgreens. Think...old shabby bus station? I can't really think of a good American-analogy.
Waiting to buy medicine (some of the crowd had already cleared out).

The pharmacy room was crowded with well over a hundred people waiting to buy medicine. First you stand in line to pay for the medicine (you pay for almost everything at a hospital upfront). Fortunately my tutor stood in line while Juliana ran around the waiting area, amusing nurses and patients. This medicine was some of the most expensive we've gotten in China – almost $10. After paying, we waited at another counter to get the medicine (which turned out to be a useful, non-banned antibiotic, and actually what we needed). Juliana had just about had it with the hospital by this point, and I don't really blame her. She struggled and cried until we finally got outside and then she fussed most of the way home. She must have been pretty tired because in the afternoon she took a two hour nap, which is about twice as long as normal. Meanwhile, I went and learned about confusing Chinese grammar until I my brain turned inside-out.

The good news is, hopefully Juliana's cough will finally get better! The other good news is that it's finally the weekend, and next week we have a three day holiday! Woo-hoo! And after the holiday – we have a new ayi! Things are looking up.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why bother with toys?

Juliana's list of items that are more fun than toys.
  1. A large package of diapers
  2. A laundry basket
  3. Laundry (clean or dirty)
  4. Wash clothes, rags, dish towels
  5. Any box larger than herself
  6. Any box
  7. Plastic containers
  8. Phones
  9. Anything that looks like a phone
  10. Remotes
  11. Spoons, ladles, whisks, knives (she wishes)
  12. Large water jugs
  13. Shoes, the bigger the better
  14. Shoes, the dirtier the better
  15. Hats, gloves, face masks, ear muffs – preferably someone elses
  16. Keys
  17. Computers
  18. Any electronic object (the more expensive the better)
  19. Any object with buttons
  20. Grown up books
  21. Make-up brush
  22. Mama's hairbrush
  23. Lamps
  24. Broom and dust pan
  25. Pieces of paper (the more important the better)
  26. Pencils and pens
  27. Purses, bags, backpacks, grocery bags (reusable, not plastic)
  28. Any type of food
  29. Anything packaged
  30. Curtains, blankets, and pillows
  31. Moveable and/or climbable chairs
  32. Drawers and cabinets
  33. Water in any location (the more fully clothed the better)
  34. Yogurt container with small hole and straw
  35. Tissues
  36. Anything in her diaper bag
  37. Stairs
  38. Anything small enough to choke on
Which leads me to wonder...why does she have so many toys??

Saturday, March 24, 2012

18 Months

It's hard to believe Juliana is already a year and a half old, although she definitely isn't acting like a baby anymore. She is developing all those wonderful and not so wonderful traits of a toddler. Some recent developments...
Juliana loves going outside, and she has perfected her Chinese squatting skills. (She doesn't usually wear a helmet; we're getting ready for a bike ride.)
Motor Skills
Juliana likes to climb up and down the stairs to our apartment (with a helping hand). She chants “yi, er, san” (1,2,3 in Chinese) as she climbs, and sometimes she makes it all the way to the 4th or 5th floor before getting tired! She loves to run around outside and climb up and down ramps and curbs. And she still breaks into dance whenever she hears music.
Her fine motor skills are still the more advanced. She's got her block sorter down, and loves putting any kind of small objects into small places. She can spend half an hour clipping the hooks on her high-chair straps.
Working on her rock-star persona
Juliana's speech has really taken off in the last month. She now has words for most of her favorite things. She can count to three in Chinese and sometimes says numbers in English too. She loves the ABC song and can say ABCD, plus a few others like YZ. She can point out her facial features and major body parts, plus her “bee-bo” (belly button). Juliana can only say about a dozen Chinese words, but there are some things she only knows in Chinese. She hasn't said “dog” in a long time, but she sees a dog she says, “gou!” And she's very good with her tones.
Rescuing dolly after she "fell" (with help) into the clothes hamper
She has been doing a lot more imaginary play especially with her dolly. She likes to include dolly in all kinds of daily activities: giving her food, dancing together, wrapping her in a blanket, brushing her teeth, and giving her lots of kisses. She also likes to give dolly rides on her push/ride train, then knock the train over and cry “OH NO!” as dolly flies off.
Helping sweep.  I have no idea what her expression is, but it's pretty funny.
She can spend the most time on her big lego-like blocks. She also loves to play with non-toys: plastic containers in the kitchen, pieces of paper, boxes, and my clothes. She likes to “help” with things like sweeping and hanging up laundry. Depending on the day, she's getting much better about playing on her own and entertaining herself.

Despite the fact that every hour or two she walks to the kitchen door saying, “Eat, eat?” Juliana has become a much pickier eater lately. She is currently in love with yogurt, and throughout the day she walks to the fridge saying “Yo? Yo?” She consistently eats cheese, bread, oatmeal, sweet potatoes and applesauce...almost everything else is hit or miss. She has even rejected bananas, a previous favorite. She's gotten picker about Chinese food too, although she still loves tofu and rice. She also still enjoys nursing every morning and at bedtime.
Being tortured by mommy with a washcloth

Personality and Temper (ah, Temperment)
Juliana's life is very dramatic. She's probably not different from an average toddler in that regard, but she rarely leaves you to wonder how she's feeling. Particularly if she is tired, a small frustration like blocks not going together or not getting food at the exact second she requests it can cause her to wail in distress. Most of the time she doesn't seem to feel too angry, just like, “The world is ending!!!” Sometimes she throws herself down on the ground and bangs her head on the ground just gently enough to not actually hurt. She likes to do this in front of the mirror so she can stop and check herself out every so often. Sometimes I want to laugh; sometimes I want to bang my own head on the floor.
Kisses for the baby in the mirror

Juliana is still a definite extravert. If she spends most of the day surrounded by people, she is bouncing with energy by nighttime. She is having more chances to be around other kids, and when we go outside people call out, “An an!” (her Chinese name). She likes to talk to family on Skype and starts saying, “Hi! Hi!” and practicing her biggest smile before the computer is even set up.

She has her moments, but most of the time she is really fun to be around because she has such a zest for life. She smiles and laughs and gets excited about all kinds of little things. She has the greatest little dimples. She has started giving kisses (to us, her stuffed animals, her books...) and they are so sweet! Since she can say, “I see you,” I thought I'd try to teach her to say, “I love you.” So far she has only managed, “I-you.” Oh well, maybe next week.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The thing about plans is...

One month later finds us ayi-less once again.

Today our ayi told us she didn't want to watch the children (Juliana and our teammate's kids) anymore. There is no such thing as two-week's notice; this morning we heard she was quitting and this afternoon we saw her for the last time. That's just how things work. Everything, it seems, is last minute.

It was a little rocky from the start. We thought our new ayi was doing just fine, but she was not very confident in her child-watching abilities. She was always afraid that something would happen or the kids would get hurt. This was not helped by two kids having some minor bumps-and-blood falls on the same day. In the end, she felt like it was more than she could handle. She was exhausted and she was worrying all the time. It's just as well that things ended now before the kids got too attached. If ayi did not feel comfortable it will be better to find someone else. But still. Juliana had finally gotten used to ayi and stopped crying whenever we left her. I don't want to start this all over again.

This could happen to anyone, anywhere, and frequently does. But sometimes I feel like turnover and instability and ambiguity characterize our lives here. It's only been seven months since we uprooted and moved to this new city with new role, found a new ayi, and settled down. Except there seems to have been a lot less settling that I would have liked. Things are still changing all the time.

When we first came to China, we were told two characteristic phrases we must grasp to live in China: “Tolorate ambiguity” and “plans cannot keep up with change.” These truly have been themes just about every year (month?) of the past seven. You'd think we'd have gotten them down by now, but somehow they always crop up and surprise us once again.

Why do we think that things will stay the same? Why do we still make schedules when we know they will change? Why do we still settle in when we know we will soon move again? Why do we still get thrown off by the unexpected?

The train is three hours late. The bus route unexpectedly changes. Your school tells you, “Oh yes, tomorrow is a holiday.” Your teacher/tutor/student calls a two minutes ahead of time and says, “Sorry, I can't meet.” Your friend shows up at your door just as you were about to go to bed. Your leader tells you, “We will have a banquet and you must come. It's in half an hour.” Your internet/power/water stops working, but it's no big deal because it will work again in a few hours or maybe tomorrow. You go to the hospital and the doctor says you need an IV right away except the one person in charge of IV's has just gone home for the night. Your renter tells you they will move out in two days. Your landlord tells you your building may or may not be demolished soon. Your ayi tells you she can't work for you anymore starting today.

These are all things that don't phase Chinese people because that's just how things work. They don't have to remind themselves that “plans can't keep up with change” because it's already imbedded in their mindset. They don't expect to be in control. It's just we foreigners who have a problem, who still delude ourselves into thinking we can control our own lives.

And you know, I do constantly remind myself that these are the small things. Half of everyone I know is having their world turned upside-down by much more devastating changes. Death of parents. Death of friends. Cancer. Threat to personal safety. Trying to explain loss to your preschooler. Mysterious illness. Injury.

Most Chinese have already made the important realization that they can't control their own lives, but they may not realize their life isn't a whim of chance, governed by fate and more powerful people. It is an intricately woven, delicate web. A careful mixture of pain and loss and joy and gain. The hang-ups, the detours, the dead-ends, the unexpected change of course are all just part of it. Either we fight the whole way, or we accept and wonder at the mystery. And I guess that when we see it in the end, we'll realize that's what makes our our lives look like something beautiful.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Obvious Brilliance

So smart she can already read upside-down

Our friends babysat Juliana the other night. They said they showed her the bookshelf in their office, the bottom shelf filled with children's books. Instead of picking one of those, she chose a Dorothy Sayers book from the upper shelf and sat down at the kids desk with it, then carried it around for a while. I have always suspected brilliance.

Yesterday she said (or at least repeated) her first string of of words. Juliana and I were hiding behind our bedroom curtain and Kevin peered around the edge and said, “I see you!” And Juliana said, “I see you!” Then she repeated it about five times just to make sure we knew she had gotten it.

I think this phrase came easy to her because she has a book called Peekaboo Kisses, where on each page it says, “I see...(open the flap)...fluffy kitten kisses” etc. For a while she was only interested in the squeaky mouse page, which has an actual squeaker inside. But now she brings us the book saying, “I see, I see.” As she opens the flaps and we say “furry puppy kisses,” she bends down gives each animal a big kiss. The last page has a mirror and says, “I see you.” She especially likes that page and gives herself several kisses.

After a period of being far too busy to sit through a book, Juliana has renewed her interest in reading. She still prefers the books that “do” something or involve a song. She can spend a long time opening the flaps on her animals book. She has already rough-handled most of the moving parts out of her Tails book. She imitates the sounds of Wheels on the Bus and Quiet LOUD. She tries to sing along to Jesus Loves Me. In boring books that just have pictures, she flips through the pages as fast as possible.

The past few days she also loves to look at her baby book. She points at the top shelf where I keep it out of harm's way and tries to say “book,” which is some kind of word with a resemblance of the “b” sound. She leafs through the pages saying, “Baby. Baby. Baby. Mama. Da-di. Baby!”

In a final sign of good taste, she loves I'll Give You Kisses (formerly Smile for Auntie), my favorite baby book, in which an overbearing aunt tries everything she can think of to get the baby to smile, but the baby won't smile until he finally drives the aunt away. Classic. Juliana is already working up the perfect mix of brilliance and twisted humor.
Pausing to pose with her toys

Thursday, March 1, 2012


When my good friend from Yangzhou sent an email saying she was married, I thought, “What??” She had told me months ago that she had broken up with her boyfriend, and though we had talked several times since then, she never mentioned getting back together with him or that she was thinking about getting married. It's funny the things Chinese people sometimes don't tell you. In her email, my friend said she wanted to explain it all but thought it would be hard over the phone. Besides, she was only “technically” married.

In China there are two phases to getting married. The first is the legal marriage, getting the actual wedding certificate. The second is the big ceremony/banquet celebrating the wedding. These two events can take place close together or may be months, sometimes even years apart.  The families must find an auspicious day for the celebration, based on the birthdays of the bride and groom, and sometimes must save money for the elaborate banquet.

When I talked to my friend a few days later, she said the wedding celebration is more important and when people are socially considered to be married. Therefore, she celebrated this Spring Festival with her family instead of her husband's. Once a woman is married, she is considered to have joined her husband's family. While this doesn't have all the ramifications of the past, it does mean that she will spend holidays with her husband's family.

One of our tutors got married last year and this was her first year to spend Spring Festival with her husband's family. Since her own family lives elsewhere and she doesn't get to see them often, she was missing them. She was glad to see her husband, however, because he lives in Beijing, 700 miles away. Even though they have been married for a year, they only see each other every few months. The last time she went to spend the weekend with him, as soon as they met up in the train station he was called away for work, so she didn't get to see him after all. Once my tutor finishes graduate school in a year and a half, she will move to join her husband.

My Yangzhou friend is hoping to find a job in the same town as her husband, but she's not sure if it will happen. Right now, her quasi-husband comes to visit her most weekends. He and another man he works with make the several hour drive together to see their wives. My friend is a high-school teacher, however, which means she is incredibly busy and barely has time to see her husband when he's there.  In addition to teaching classes and overseeing study times, she is responsible for a group of boarding students.  She often works from 7am-10pm with a brief mid-day rest.  She told me that next month she will be even busier than before. Her students are studying for exams so they will only be allowed to go home once a month. Thus she will also have only one day off a month.

She was originally thinking of having the wedding ceremony this summer, but now she said it will probably be next New Years. “I can't even find time to take the pre-wedding pictures!” she said. She is hoping that once they are married-married, they will be able to live in the same city.