Thursday, August 29, 2013

Full Term

Tomorrow I will be full term, 37 weeks pregnant.  Finally, the end is in sight.  My body is gearing up and progressing well (4cm).  I'm glad to know all the contractions I've been having day and night, which have become increasingly more uncomfortable the past few weeks, have actually been doing something!  Unfortunately I know from last time that the progress doesn't necessarily mean much for either early delivery or fast labor.  37 weeks may only be the beginning of full term, but I'd still like to think I don't actually have three more weeks! And surely it couldn't be more.

Actually the end has been a little more tolerable this second time, I think because the whole rest of the pregnancy was more miserable.  But I wouldn't be at all sad if baby was a bit (weeks) early.  I may have mentioned before that I don't exactly love being pregnant.  Unfortunately, general intolerance with being pregnant doesn't seem to make baby in more of a hurry to come.  Just ask my cousin who has been miserably sick for the past 39 weeks.  I'm just super glad to not still be nauseous and throwing up all the time!  I'll take an awful lot of back aches, sleeplessness, heartburn, contractions, fatigue, and general aches and pains over being sick.  Still, there are times in life when three weeks seems like a very long time.

My cool belly henna
I have had a couple of wildly productive weeks in which I accomplished all five of the items I mentioned in my last post: got henna, borrowed baby items, bought cloth diapers, wrote newsletter, and ate more guacamole.  I even did a few other things as well, like made cloth wipes, packed a hospital bag, bought a big sister present for Juliana,  painted a big sister shirt and little sister onesie, and hung out with my very pregnant friend and very pregnant cousin, speculating how much longer pregnancy would really last.

In preparation for labor, I have been re-reading Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and contemplating how cool it would be to meet Ina May (a legendary midwife).  I also created a birth plan, which wasn't too hard since it was very similar to my last one.  The term "birth plan" still seems a little off, since the years in China have left me skeptical of plans in general - how often do things actually go like we expect?  I appreciate the idea though - an opportunity to contemplate and discuss your childbirth goals and ideals. 

Everything didn't go exactly as I imagined when Juliana was born (she was face-up so I had a lot of painful back labor, there was meconium in the fluid so they had to check her out and I didn't get to hold her immediately), but in general I was still able to have the kind of birth I desired.  Before having Juliana, I really hadn't thought much about childbirth until meeting with my midwives and taking a course geared toward natural childbirth.  Since then, childbirth has become a topic of particular fascination for me.  I love learning about the ways our bodies are created for birth and hearing positive birth stories.  I have come to view childbirth not just as something to get through with as little pain as possible but as an important, powerful experience in itself which results in a beautiful new baby.  Not to mention the end of being pregnant!

This time I already know one "hitch" in my plans beforehand.  I tested positive for group B strep (a bacteria up to 30% of women carry off and on, without actually being sick), which mainly means I will need to go to the hospital soon after labor starts to receive antibiotics.  I would have preferred to labor at home for a while before going to the hospital, but it shouldn't make a huge difference.  I should be able to create a comfortable laboring environment, and I feel confident in my midwife not pressing for unnecessary interventions.  I'm also not excited about being hooked up to an IV while receiving the antibiotics, since it will be harder to move around, but I'm glad it won't have to be the whole time.  Fortunately the baby's odds of receiving the infection are very small, 1 in 4000 when the mother receives antibiotics.

Aunt Becky's hand-sewn quilt with animal pictures she drew (she made a similar one for Juliana with pictures from children's books)
I still have a few more projects to keep me occupied as I wait for baby, but all of the vital things have been accomplished.  We have a car seat to take baby home from the hospital.  We have a baby sleeping basket in case baby actually sleeps on her own sometimes, and we have a bed rail for co-sleeping.  I have washed all our newborn clothes and blankets.  Baby also has a couple of really cute new blankets from Grandma Yaya and Aunt Becky.   I have a bunch of washed newborn diapers and some cloth wipes made.  I am working on a cloth book with pictures Juliana has drawn for baby, things like "babies with lots of tails" and "roads with tape."  It's supposed to be a present Juliana can give the baby, even though it will take a while for the baby to care.  We already have a big sister present for Juliana which is the important one.   So anytime baby wants to come she can just come right ahead.  Anytime baby, anytime.
Grandma Yaya crocheted this Noah's Ark afghan

Monday, August 19, 2013

Shī Shì shí shī shǐ ("Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den")

By Kevin

One of the frustrating things about learning Chinese for a foreigner is the number of homophones (or homonyms, if you prefer) -- words that sound either exactly the same or nearly the same. In English we have plenty of homonyms. I'm sure English learners struggle with "two," "too" and "to," but it's nothing compared with Chinese. 

The number of homonyms make it easy to misunderstand Chinese when hearing a word or phrase taken out of context.

I was reminded of this when going through my Chinese flashcards the other day. On my phone, I often use a flashcard program called Memrise to help me remember vocabulary. I have it set up to sometimes play the audio for a word, then ask me to provide the definition. When you don't know the context of how a word is being used (like, say, in a flash card program), sometimes it's hard to guess its meaning. A simple word like shī could mean "teacher" (师), "wet" 湿 "poem" 诗,  "lion" 狮 or "corpse" 尸. And  if you aren't careful to listen for the intonation of each word, it might be impossible. Change tones and you could wind up with "time" "ten" "true" "stone" "food" or "to know." And that's just with the second tone - there are more than. There's even a famous Chinese poem concocted to show the limitations of pinyin (courtesy of wikipedia) that only uses the sound "shi":


Shī Shì shí shī shǐ

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.Shì shì shì shì.
In characters, it looks like this:
石室詩士施氏,嗜獅,誓食十獅。氏時時適市視獅。十時,適十獅適市。是時,適施氏適市。氏視是十獅,恃矢勢,使是十獅逝世。氏拾是十獅屍,適石室。石室濕,氏使侍拭石室。石室拭,氏始試食是十獅。食時,始識是十獅屍,實十石獅屍。試釋是事。
Translated, it means: "Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den"In a stone den was a poet called Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.He often went to the market to look for lions.At ten o'clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.Try to explain this matter.

Even compound words made up of two or more characters can sometimes be difficult to guess without context. When the audio for shí jiè appeared in my context, I had to think carefully. After all, there were four different words I'd learned with similar pronunciation. With this exact pronunciation, it can mean "season" (时节) or "the 10 commandments" (十诫). With different intonation, " shì jiè" can mean "the world" (世界 shì jiè) or "field of vision (视界). And shījié (失节) means disloyal, whereas shǐjié ( 失节) is a diplomatic envoy. My dictionary lists at least 13 different meanings for "shi jie."

Often this is one of my biggest difficulties when conversing with a Chinese friends. I might think I understood what somebody was talking about, but then find myself suddenly confused. I'd look up a word that I thought I understood and discover that it has a homonym that has a completely different meaning, which I was unsure of. It's one of the reasons one of our teachers, when we came to China assured us that "the first ten years (of studying Chinese) are the hardest." 

Chinese people often ask me why I don't listen to more Chinese radio or watch more Chinese television (I really should, but my listening level is closer to Juliana's than that of an adult, so her cartoons are somewhat suitable for me). The puns are one reason. It's just harder to catch those things when someone's speaking fast and I can't interrupt them to ask a question to clarify meaning. Hoping that we'd have enough Chinese to understand a Chinese cross-talk program (a popular category of skit) after two years of study is clearly a stretch. Chinese humor is all about puns and wordplay. And more and more, the internet is filled with it. 

Last semester, my tutor pointed me to an assortment of relatively obsolete characters, which are gaining new life on the internet. One example is the character 囧, pronounced jiong. On the internet, it's basically transformed into an emoticon to express embarrassment. Look at it -- it's a bit . But even more, people have been using words that sound the same as a word that has been put on a blacklist by the government, trying to convey an entirely different meaning. 

This article gives some perspective: 

According to Moser, the Internet has become a place for people to play with the Chinese language. Puns and wordplay have a long history in Chinese culture. Chinese is the perfect language for punning because nearly every Chinese word has multiple homophones. Homophones are two words that sound similar but have different meanings like hare that rabbit-like creature and the hair on your head. In Chinese there are endless homophones.
“Because there are so many homophones there’s sort of a fetish about them,” says Moser. “As far as the culture goes back you have cases of homophone usage and homophone humor.” Many times forbidden or taboo words in Chinese are taboo precisely because they sound like another word.
A good example of this is the number four, which in Chinese sounds like the word for death and the number eight, which sounds like the word for prosperity. Moser has a Chinese aunt who used to work for the phone company and she could make money selling phone numbers. People would beg her for a phone number with a lot of eights. “People would actually give her gifts or bribes for an auspicious phone number,” says Moser.
Today, wordplay online has less to do with getting auspicious numbers and more to do with getting around censorship. Moser cites an example of a recent phrase he saw online mentioning the Tiananmen Square incident – only the netizen didn’t use the words “Tiananmen Square” or even 6/4, which refers to the date the incident took place. Tiananmen Square and 6/4 are both censored online. Instead the netizen referred to the “eight times eight incident.” Moser was confused when he first saw the reference. “And then I figured out, eight times eight is 64,” says Moser.
The Internet is ripe with clever examples of how people evade the censors. However, censorship is just one reason netizens play with words online. Another is the very technology that enables people today to input Chinese characters onto their cell phones and computers.
Jack Wang explains how he types Chinese characters with his phone. He uses an English keyboard and uses the pinyin system. Pinyin is the method for converting Chinese characters into our alphabet. For example, the Chinese word for “today” is 今天, which is rendered into pinyin as “jintian.”
Wang types the English letters “jintian” on his phone. As he types the first three letters, “jin” a list of Chinese characters pops up on the screen. Each different character sounds just like the word for today, “jin” but means something completely different. Wang points to each possible character and explains its different meaning: gold, clothes, only, and finally 今, the character for “today.”
Everyday, people are typing in a word like “today” and seeing all of the potential homophones for that word. This says David Moser has fueled wordplay like never before.
“I think that’s given rise to a lot more puns then would normally have been uttered in the earlier days when you had to just pull everything out of your head,” says Moser.
People have gotten even more creative playing with this input system to intentionally create new Chinese slang, translating English phrases into pinyin and then into Chinese characters. The meaning of these new words can seem random but they’re not. For example the Chinese character for glass, 玻璃, pronounced “boli” has come to mean “gay man.” Turns out, the slang term actually comes from an English phrase, “boy love.” But netizens have abbreviated the phrase into the English letters “B L” and then they looked for a similar abbreviation in Chinese, typing “B-L” into their computers and out popped the character for glass. “Suddenly the word glass was being used for male homosexuals,” says Moser.
Beating censors sounds like a great idea for proponents of free speech. But I think it probably only works for native speakers. For us foreigners trying to learn Chinese, it's a recipe for disaster. If Chinese people start using Chinese characters to convey meanings that are completely separate from their literal meaning, the likelihood of me catching it is next to nothing. Unless I have someone "in the know" to explain that someone is describing that man as a "bottle" means he's homosexual, the meaning will completely fly over my head. I'd probably guess they mean the man is weak, or easily breakable. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

In the Land of Biscuits


Let me begin with a shocking confession: it has been days - days - since I last ate guacamole.  As I think about it, it seems a little sad but I haven't actually missed it too much.  We can in fact buy guacamole in Georgia, but one of the real benefits of California is knowing people with avacado trees in their backyards.  It's probably the reason so many people live there despite the crazy gas prices.  That and something about the good weather.

I have been surprisingly lax in my avacado consumption, but I have had some really good biscuits and cornbread so it probably makes up the lack.  Somehow biscuits just taste better in the South; it must be the humidity.  I've actually been enjoying this thick, Southern air, even though I've grown accustomed to drier climates (after 24 years of humidity, can you believe I've lived in semi-desert areas for the past 6 years?).

After two weeks of relative health we all succumbed to colds once again.  Juliana bounced back pretty quickly (she has an enviable immune system), but after more than a week Kevin and I still show no signs of improvement.  My last cold/sinus infection lasted 4 weeks, but Kevin usually gets over colds pretty quickly.  Apparently our sinuses are experiencing some severe reverse culture shock.  So while August in Georgia is usually a bit oppressive, right now walking around in a giant humidifier is pretty soothing.

The day after we got to Georgia I got to see my midwife and was reminded of how much I love her.  She chatted with us about my cousin (whose baby she delivered 4 years ago), her husband and son's recent trip to China and how she has somehow ended up with a large Chinese clientel - both graduate students at UGA and people from Shanghai coming to have their babies in the US.  She answered our questions and talked about how much she likes second births.  She joked about only accepting second time moms because the labors are usually so much faster and you already know what to expect.  The practice now has three midwives on rotation including a new one we'll meet next visit.

Other than the doctor's visit, we really haven't been anywhere or seen anyone except my family since coming back.  One day we'll get over these colds, hopefully in time to see my cousin and good friend before they have their babies the beginning of next month.  Two of my sisters are at home, though, and Juliana is having a wonderful time bossing everyone around.  She would definitely enjoy communal living.

In between resting and blowing my nose (I'm really enjoying tissues with lotion - good job America), I also unpacked our suitcases, something I never quite got around to in CA.  All our clothes are nicely organized on closet shelves like we actually live somewhere!  I also made several to-do lists, including things we should probably do before the baby is born.  By the time I made the lists I was too tired to actually do anything on them, but at least now I feel organized.  Top on my list of things to do, once I actually get feeling better:
-Get henna (priorities, right?)
-Borrow baby stuff (she may end up in our bed for the first months anyway, but it would probably be good to get the carseat before she comes)
-Buy baby diapers (we bought some super cute one-size cloth diapers in China, but since they'll probably be too big the first month or two, we're planning to buy some newborn prefolds as well - still cheaper than a couple of months of disposable diapers)
-Write a newsletter (It hasn't been the greatest year for newsletters, but we should probably write one in between the last "guess what we are having a baby" and the next "guess what she's here".  What can I say...there's been maybe one month out of the last eight that I haven't been sick.)
-Eat more guacamole. (That wasn't actually on my to-do list, but maybe I should put it there.  I have really been slacking off.)

Next update: Why I love Midwives, The Benefits of Tissues with Lotion, or A Social Commentary on the Giant Size of American Shopping Carts.  Or perhaps I will just write a newsletter.