Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chinese Wedding Weekend

With the wedding couple
Several weeks ago when we bought tickets for our trip to my friend's wedding, Kevin made the mistake of telling Juliana, "We are going on an airplane!"  Juliana immediately went to the door to put on her shoes and started crying when she learned we weren't actually going at that moment.  So when the time for our actual trip came, she was pretty excited.  Fortunately the previous --- flights haven't yet dimmed her enthusiasm, and this trip we managed to include planes, trains, buses, subways, vans, and taxis (plus our friends' car which she called a taxi too, because she doesn't realize some cars aren't taxis.  30 hours of total transit.

On Thursday we got up at 5am to leave for the airport.  We spent a 5-hour layover in Xian mostly hanging out in the comfortable chairs in Dunkin Donuts.  We even formed a little bed for Juliana where she rested for approximately 3 minutes.
Juliana "resting" in the airport

When we finally arrived in Nanjing that evening, we went to eat at a Mexican restaurant (because you know, there is one) then headed to our $18 hotel where we spent a rather restless night.  The next morning we caught an early train to Taizhou, fortunately just 2.5 hours away.  Our train went through Yangzhou, my first city in China.  I marveled at the way trees and grass sprung up from the ground as easily as dirt does in Ningxia.  I've gotten used to living on the edge of the desert, and it really was surprising to see lakes and rivers around every turn.

My friend's fiance met us in Taizhou, his hometown where the wedding would take place.  He took us in his month-old personal car to meet up with the rest of the family.  Unfortunately the car's brand-new GPS was missing several of the new roads so it took quite a while to find the way.  Juliana was almost falling asleep when we arrived at the restaurant where my friend Candace, her family, and her fiance's family were waiting.
Candace and her family
Every area in China has some different dishes and variations of flavors, and I was looking forward to some Jiangsu province style food again.  We did have good food; unfortunately most of the ordinary foods we liked to eat weren't on the fancy menus.  First we had the meal with the families where the table was filled with so many dishes they had to be double stacked.  Then was the pre-wedding banquet - not a formal affair but still feeding close to a hundred people.  And of course the fancy wedding banquet.  One night Wu Wei's mother did cook us food at their home (6-7 dishes plus bowls of noodles and zongzi) and that we especially enjoyed.
Eating dinner at Candace's new apartment
Except Juliana, who didn't want to eat much of anything.  I figured she was probably tired from travel and not used to the food, but the next day she threw up most of the morning.  The night before we had been out in a moderate breeze so of course everyone said, "Oh no, she got too cold last night!"  As we all know, cold (in this case about 70*F) is the source of all disease as well as most other misfortunes.  Fortunately the wedding wasn't until the evening and by then she had recovered to her full level of normal excitement.   Which was good, because she was the flower girl!
Juliana at the pre-wedding banquet, still not feeling so great.  But she was still ready to get out of the hotel!

When Candace asked if Juliana would be the flower girl I wasn't really sure what that would entail.  A traditional Chinese wedding celebration revolves around the large banquet with some ceremony and performances included, but more and more western traditions have been picked up.
The wedding car

Some of the traditions had been fulfilled earlier in the day, when the families lit off lots of firecrackers (probably the ones we heard starting at 6am).  Before the pre-wedding banquet Candace's fiance had gone to pick her up in the wedding car.  He then carried her up to their third floor apartment.  I told him to be glad he didn't live on the sixth floor like us!
The banquet hall
The wedding was a dinner banquet.  For the first part of the ceremony, Candace dressed in a western style white wedding dress.  Her father walked her partway up a raised glass aisle, situated in the middle of the banquet tables, where she was met by her fiance.  Juliana and a 4 year old flower boy processed in front of them tossing flowers from their baskets.  The lights were darkened, spotlights flashed around, and multicolored bulbs lit up under the aisle - a bit of China flair added to the western tradition.  I wasn't sure how Juliana would do throwing flowers since she wouldn't practice walking down the aisle without holding my hand, but I guess walking together with the little boy gave her confidence.  She did great and tossed her flowers with utmost diligience.
Juliana and the flower boy lead the way down the aisle

The couple exchanges vows

After walking up the aisle, the couple exchanged vows and wedding rings.  Together they lit some type of firecracker/candle and prayed for good fortune, then filled a tower of glasses with champagne.  Candace went to change into a traditional red qipao and meanwhile the lights came back on and the banqueting started.  When she returned, the second part of the ceremony involved calling the new in-laws "father" and "mother" and receiving lucky money from them.
Praying for fortune
Calling the in-laws "mother" and "father", receiving an embrace and lucky money

Each table was first filled with cold dishes - cold meats, cucumbers in garlic, hawthorn jellies, "thousand year eggs"... after a few minutes the servers started bringing in the hot dishes - all kinds of meats, several fish, shrimp, soups, and a few "fancified" vegetables.  Dozens of dishes later, the large baozi (steamed buns stuffed with meat or vegetables) signaled the last of the dishes.  Just like at any banquet, one of the most important parts is toasting all the appropriate people.  Approximately every two minutes someone would stand and toast someone else at the table.  Of course no celebration is complete without lots of alcohol and smoking.  I was grateful for the banquet room's high ceilings which kept the smoke from getting too thick around us.
The banquet table...before the dishes really piled up

While everyone was banqueting, the couple and the husband's parents moved around to toast every table and the performances started.  An opera singer dressed in a fancy traditional dress sang and danced...which was a little strange because it was actually a guy (in the past all opera performers were men).  Several other singers sang and strutted to very loud music.
The opera singer

Then suddenly, the banquet was over.  Everyone started leaving their tables and three minutes later the room was practically empty.  It's truly phenominal how fast a room can clear in China.   I've never seen anything quite like it in America.
The decorated bridal chamber

The couple would spend their wedding night in their new home, their bedroom beautifully decorated with a red bed-covering and red 喜喜 "double happiness" decorations, but there was no honeymoon for them.  The next morning they saw us and Candace's family off, then Candace had to return to Changzhou, 2 hours away, where she still lives and works as a teacher.  She hasn't been able to find a decent job in Taizhou, so she and her husband will live apart for the forseeable future.  Candace is a high school teacher, so she is incredibly busy getting her students ready for the all important college entrance exam.  She often works from 7am-10pm teaching and supervising students and only has a day off when the students are allowed to return home a couple of times a month.  It seems like a difficult way to start a marriage, but in China it's not a terribly uncommon situation.
Juliana having fun with a new friend while we wait for our delayed flight

It was a tiring weekend.  The next day we took a bus to another city and then caught a bus to the airport. Our flight back delayed 1.5 hours so we didn't get back until 10pm Sunday night.  But I'm really glad I got to see Candace again, meet her family, and attend her wedding.  I also got to see two other former students, Candace's classmates.  They had certainly grown up a lot since I met them as little freshmen almost 8 years ago.
With two other former Yangzhou students and their husbands
Getting a little tired of all the pictures
Juliana was quite a hit.  She was getting pretty tired of all the strangers getting in her face, touching her, and trying to pick her up but we tried to shield her from some of the more aggressive attention (why does sneaking up and trying to swoop up a kid from behind seem like such a good idea to everyone?)  Our friend was concerned about all the attention, but we assured her Juliana is pretty used to it by now.  Overall she handled it well, and she came off with a lot of loot, including but not limited to:
-One poofy flowergirl dress complete with hairband and pink elbow-length gloves.
-One moderate sized Snoopy stuffed animal.
-Three small stuffed teddy charms.
-Candy, crackers, nuts, chocolate, and various other snacks.
-A bouncy ball that flashes bright lights
-A plastic fan
-And to top it off, one GIANT stuffed bear which our friends presented to her as they saw us off to the bus station.  It's as tall as Juliana and twice as wide.  Kevin had go out and hunt down a rice bag to pack it in so we could check it on the way back.
Juliana's new giant bear
All in all, it was a good trip and we got to experience a much more traditional Chinese wedding than the last one.  My friend was endlessly grateful that we came, and 387 other people are endlessly grateful for the cute pictures of the 洋娃娃 "foreign doll" they will now post online.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Feminine Greatness

We have a book called Nurse Nancy which Juliana likes to read almost as much as much as its companion Doctor Dan. It was written in 1952 and starts out: "Nancy liked to play with dolls.  She liked to play Mother.  She liked to play Teacher.  And best of all, she liked to play Nurse." Of course there are lots of good reasons to be mothers and teachers and nurses, but it's an interesting reminder that not so long ago, these were some of the few acceptable roles for women. One day Juliana picked up my book about women in leadership and started reading, "Nancy liked to play with dolls, she liked to play mommy, she liked to play teacher..." And not being familiar with irony, she didn't know why I was laughing.

I recently saw a post about a photographer who was planning a photo shoot for her 5 year-old daughter. While most ideas she found for dressing up your daughters were related to Disney princesses, she decided to do a shoot with her daughter dressed up as different female role models from history like Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, and Helen Keller.

I started thinking about how I appreciate all the good female role models Juliana has as she grows up. Of course it's great if she wants to be a teacher and mother (I happen to enjoy being both), but I also want her to realize she's got all kinds of choices. I'm grateful for her aunts who have stepped into areas that are still not exactly female-dominated. The one who is a surgeon, the one who builds houses, the one who is starting at a theological school. I'm grateful for her extended family of "aunties" who have earned PhD's, lead in their workplaces, and head off to all kinds of new countries.

I'm also grateful for the teachers, mothers, and nurses that she'll know - people who chose these vocations because they love and excel at what they do. Women who are molding and caring for the current and future generations. Those who show that being a mother isn't a waste of intellect or loss of self but rather a chance to be a part of something greater than yourself. Those who realize that sometimes teaching someone else can be a lot harder than just doing it yourself. Those who work long, hard hours with little pay because they care about the health and well-being of their patients.

I'm excited to teach her more about strong females throughout history as well as modern-day heroines. Girls fighting for a right to education under oppressive regimes. Women working to lower maternal and infant mortality and stop female genital mutation in Africa. Women who have escaped sex slavery in Asia and are now helping others avoid being entrapped.  Women who are themselves impoverished helping others in greater poverty. While in the West we enjoy many equalities our predecessors strove for, I want her to remember that girls in much of the world still grow up without many of the opportunities she enjoys. When I look at the women around the world standing strong in the face of amazing odds, I have to wonder at the phrase "the weaker sex."

I'm excited for her to learn about the female biblical heroes as well. Sarah, who also walked in faith with her husband Abraham and put up with some real crap along the way (remember the whole "Just say you're my sister" - twice!!) Deborah who lead the entire nation of Israel. Jael who spiked the enemy leader with a tent-peg (which you have to admit is a pretty cool way of taking matters into your own hands. :) ). Mary, who was entrusted with bearing and raising the Son of God. I'd say that's pretty impressive. The unnamed woman at the well who shared the gospel message with her entire town. The group of women at the tomb who were first to realize and spread the news that Jesus had risen again. The Bible is full of examples of strong women who lived by faith and served God in sometimes in rather unorthodox ways.

I'm glad Juliana has so many options in her future. If her current interests are any indication she may grow up to be a dancer, a doctor, a mother, a railway engineer, an architect, whatever you call a person who demolishes things, a chef, a singer, or most likely a dictator. I'm not really concerned with her chosen profession (well, dictatorship aside) – I just look forward to seeing her follow her awesome role models into the path of womanly greatness.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cross-Cultural Parenting

Parenting in another country can have it's challenges, particularly in a culture where criticism is a primary form of showing concern.  While we get lots of comments about how pretty Juliana is (fair skin and blue eyes are a big hit), we also get lots of comments about our bad parenting.  "Your baby is less than 3 months old and is OUTSIDE?  Are you trying to kill her?  Quick, go home!"  "Only two layers of clothing?  Aiya!  Where is her giant quilt?  She's going to catch a cold and die!"  "Is that cold milk she is drinking?  That will kill her for sure!"  With our crazy parenting, it's really amazing Juliana has lasted this long. :)  Now that I am used to it and understand it more, the comments don't usually bother me too much, though we all have our less-than-awesome parenting days when it would be really nice if someone would say, "She's wearing the exact right amount of clothes!  Good job!"

One of the great things about parenting in another culture, though, is the perspective.  We freak out about a lot of parenting things in America and constantly search for The Right Method.  But when you realize a billion people are doing things completely differently, it does make you think.

For example, co-sleeping certainly happens in America, probably more often than people admit, but it's still a taboo issue.  Even setting aside safety concerns, the social aspect is often viewed as a little "out there."  When I told people Juliana slept in our bed about half the time for the first year, they tended to look skeptical or scandalized.  "You will never get her out of your bed!  How will she ever learn to sleep on her own?  She's way too dependent on you!" 

On the other hand, when Chinese people found out that Juliana started sleeping in her own bed in a different room at just 1 year old, they were equally skeptical or scandalized.  "What if she needed you?  Wasn't she scared and lonely?  How did you ever get her to sleep by herself?  What if she kicked off her blanket during the night and DIED of cold??"  Chinese babies almost always sleep with their parents, usually until they are a toddler or preschooler.  Kevin's teacher still slept with her 5 year old twins (and was understandably a bit jealous of our sleeping arrangements).  The concept of making babies independent or self reliant is completely foreign. 

When Juliana was still waking up constantly during the night at 6 months and a year old, I felt like it was unreasonable - why wouldn't she sleep??  Many Americans expect their babies to start sleeping through the night as early as 3 or 4 months.  When I told Chinese friends that Juliana was still waking up during the night at a year old, they looked like they didn't understand the problem. "Of course she is!  That's what babies do."  The cultural expectations are completely different.

Another obvious area of difference is in potty training.  We have recently been working on potty training with Juliana, now 2.5, a pretty average time for an American child.  The average Chinese child, however, starts potty training closer to 3 months of age.  This practice is similar to what we call Elimination Communication (EC) or infant potty training in the States (although it's likely you've never heard the term if you don't operate in natural parenting circles).  The parents or caretakers look for signs that the baby is ready to do his business - squirming or grimacing, for example - then holds the baby over the toilet, a pot, or pretty much anywhere outside.  The baby learns to recognize their whistle as a sign that it's time to go.  Once babies reach toddlerhood, they squat down on their own or with some help from parents.  Split-pants make for easy potty access. 

Some Chinese parents use diapers at night or occasionally when going out, but it is still very rare to see a diapered baby.  In fact, diapering your baby is mostly viewed as a sign of laziness. People have been expressing surprise and disapproval at Juliana's diapers since she before she was a year old.

When I first moved to China, split pants instead of diapers seemed backward.  We in the US are certainly more advanced than that!  I still have some issues with it, like seeing a bare baby bottom sitting atop the table where you are about to eat is a little disconcerting, and I do wish people would move their baby directly out of the doorway before having them pee.  But as time has gone on, and especially as we have begun the potty training process ourselves, I have started to think the Chinese (and really the majority of the world) have something here.  No doubt they look at American toddlers still in diapers at 3 years and think, "Man, we are certainly more advanced than that!"

Not to say that I judge parents whose toddlers are still in diapers at 3 or after.  I truly don't.  I really do think a lot of kids aren't ready until then.  But I think the biggest reason is our whole system isn't designed to prepare kids for potty training early.  Many American doctors say that children don't physically have any kind of control until at least 18 months, which seems ridiculous when I look at 6 month old Chinese babies who obviously do have a measure of control.  I think it has more to do with our cultural ideas of what potty training means and when it is done.  I have read that the US actually potty-trains later than anywhere else in the world, and that potty training has become a lot later since the use of disposable diapers.

I'm not saying we should all ditch diapers - that's obviously not going to happen for many reasons.   One big reason is that diapers are convenient.  It's difficult to pay attention to your baby's potty cues all the time, and it requires a lot of individual attention.  We did a little EC with Juliana starting at 5 months, but only a very part-time.  She would use the potty when she woke up, after nap, or sometimes at diaper changes, but we never did much more than that.  I'd like to do a little more with the next baby, but we'll see.  I will be even more busy with a preschooler running around too, but we will be using cloth diapers next time, so there will be a little extra motivation of saving on diaper laundry.

Diaperless babies have gotten a good deal of press lately though from the New York Times, Slate, and NPR - articles that discuss a growing (though still very small) minority that use EC.  I think if Americans are still squeamish about breastfeeding in public, we aren't likely going to be ready for bare-bottomed babies.  And I'd rather we work on getting over our Victorian-era breastfeeding issues first.  Whether negative or positive, the general attitude of the articles seems to be, "hey, listen to this crazy thing people are doing now!"  Which is kind of funny to me since everytime I step outside I see diaperless babies.

I think that's what I like about cross-cultural parenting.  You realize that a lot of ideas that seem crazy or radical in America are just the norm elsewhere.  It doesn't mean that everyone else is right and we are wrong (I do get a little tired of hearing about the French and their perfect parenting methods...), and it doesn't mean that we are advanced and everyone else is backward (I get really tired of hearing that attitude!) it just means that just maybe there are a lot of different "normal" ways to parent. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Halfway Through, the Second Time Around

I have officially made it to 20 weeks, the halfway point in pregnancy.  It seems like a lot of people say the second pregnancy speeds by much faster, but I can't say I've found this to be true.  Of course, nobody ever says, "Time flies when you're throwing up all the time," so that could have something to do with it.  I am happy to announce that I haven't thrown up now for weeks, though!  I still have some bad days when I feel pretty sick, but most days I'm feeling more like my normal self.  I'm cooking again, able to eat a larger variety of foods, and getting the belly to show it.  Or maybe that's the baby.  It's really nice to enjoy food again!

Being pregnant the second time does have its differences.  For example, last time I didn't go to bed at 9pm, although I probably got more rest during the day.  I wasn't as sick last time, but when I was throwing up nobody was poking their head in asking to see my "hic-ups" and telling me to feel better.  Although I've been trying not to carry Juliana around much, I'm sure I'm doing more lifting this time.  And this time I get to enjoy Juliana's funny baby-related comments and wonder how she'll react to a brother or sister.

Last time I did a lot of walking and yoga, but I also made good use of our apartment's elevator.  I have been doing the same prenatal yoga video, but it is a little different with a small person holding your hand, trying to climb on your back, or crawling under your legs.  Maybe not as effective or focused, but definitely more interesting.  Sometimes Juliana does the yoga with me - her favorite pose is downward dog: "Now I'm a dog!"  For a long time, walking to class every day was about as much exercise as I could handle and I'm just getting back into walking or aerobics.  Living on the sixth floor has been helpful though!  If I want to get home, I don’t have much choice but to climb those stairs!

I miss some of the exciting newness of the first pregnancy, but I appreciate how much more familiar everything is the second time around.  I suspected I was pregnant almost a week before I got the positive test because I felt the same way as last time.  I haven't been worrying about every ache and twinge because I remember that it's normal.  I didn't start recognizing Juliana's movements until around 21 weeks, but this time I've been feeling movement for weeks already.  Lately the movement is more consistent and Kevin has already been able to feel some nudges from the outside.  I'm even getting some forcible jabs that make me think, "How did I miss this last time?"  While I'm still not huge, my belly has definitely grown faster.  Last time at 20 weeks most people who saw me still didn't realize I was pregnant.

When I was pregnant the first time we traveled to Beijing several times for prenatal appointments because I was concerned about getting the best care, I guess.  Looking back, I'm not really sure why it seemed necessary.  I now realize that most check-ups don't involve much more than a blood pressure check and listening to baby's heartbeat.  I weighed the cost and inconvenience of travel and decided our local hospital will serve just fine.  I do splurge to see the "expert" doctor at the new hospital though; it seems worth the $1.50.  Next week I will go back for an ultrasound (a whopping $15) and try to convince them to tell us the sex of the baby.  Chinese people aren't allowed to find out because of the overwhelming preference for girls, but they might tell us since we're foreigners.  I'm not counting on it, but it sure would be fun to know! 

While I still don’t know much about baby, I can make some speculations.  For example, she seems quite active compared to Juliana in-utero (who is now hardly the docile, sedentary type).  He also seems to be confused about what country he’s living in.  He loves Mexican food and all dairy while still being a bit skeptical of Chinese food.  Furthermore, she doesn’t seem to enjoy studying Chinese and is slyly undermining my efforts by sneaking away brain cells in the night.  Funny, huh?

Just 20 more weeks (or you might say, still 20 whole weeks!!) until we meet the little Ruvin in person!