Ya Ya 姥姥

l, I'm sittin' here, la, la
Waiting for my ya ya
-Lee Dorsey

Come January, we usually get out of Beijing. No thanks dreary winter. Catch you later icy winds that cut like a knife. Gotta fly smog. Every winter, at least for the last three years, we beeline a plane to sunny California.

But not this year because...we had a baby! And brand spankin’ new babies don’t travel well. Fortunately, brand spankin’ new babies have an inexplicable power over grandparents. Suddenly, a fourteen hour flight across the Pacific Ocean doesn’t seem so horrible. Worrying about lung disease from breathing in Beijing’s notorious smog falls to the wayside. Morbid fear of squatty potties in poorly ventilated bathrooms turn into a minor nuisance.

Ahhh, the alluring power of a completely dependent, milk fragrant, fresh faced newborn.

So this year, California came to us.

My mom (aka Yaya) arrived the evening of January 20, one day after Dumpling's due date. The bulk of her luggage were goodies for the three of us: pink and white girly girl clothes for our sweet Dumpling, about three pounds of See's chocolates to sate sweet Dumpling's parent's sweet tooth, as well as tortillas, Paul Mitchell mousse, Keen sneakers, and Better Than Bouillon.

Dumpling meets her Yaya!

My parents already had planned to visit in April when our Dumpling would be a cooing, chub cheeked four month old. My mom, however, came as soon as she could upon hearing I had gone into early labor at 34 weeks.

As soon as she could turned out to be a month and half later. Getting a China visa isn't simple like going to the nearest Safeway for a gallon of milk. Obtaining a visa is a process involving hiring an agency or making a couple trips to the China Consulate in San Francisco. Furthermore, tickets using her flight points weren't readily available. So Yaya arrived just as everyone was leaving for the Chinese New Year Festival.

Goody for us. Beijing's cacophony settles to a hum during this time of year. Eerily empty subways. Short waits for a table at our favorite Korean BBQ joint. Stress free crossing the street. Yaya didn't get an opportunity to get suffocated in a sea of people, thus missing out on an authentic China experience.

But she didn't come all the way to Beijing to for an authentic China experience. She came because the grandma in her couldn't stay away. She came to see her brand new spankin’ new grand-Dumpling. She came to cuddle her and spoil her with attention and love.

And Dumpling was in Yaya heaven. She spent the week cradled in Yaya’s arms and snug against a warm body. BirdMAN and I got some Yaya love too: use of the hotel swimming pool, gym, room service, and hotel buffet breakfast (unlimited watermelon in the winter!). On the smoggy days, we hunkered down in our house or Yaya's plush hotel, taking turns holding Dumpling and watching her sleep. On nice days, we took Yaya to some of our favorite places to eat: Yunnan food, Mr. Shi’s Dumplings, Wagas for California fresh cuisine, Starbucks, and of course, a Beijing brew at Great Leap Brewing.

The week was over in a flash. Thankful my mom made the long trip for only a week's visit, I tearfully said goodbye. I liked seeing my mom with her one and only granddaughter. It was really sweet. I never imagined that having a baby around could make you so sentimental!

So Yaya packed her bags and California was gone.

But California will be back! We're looking forward to the next set of visitors heeding the alluring power of a completely dependent, milk fragrant, fresh faced newborn baby. Yes, Dumpling's Moomoo, Aunty Coco and Uncle Kyle will too head our way. We can't wait!

Chinese word of the blog: 姥姥 lǎolao
English translation: maternal grandmother

Yunnan food! Our favorite. Yaya tries stinky tofu.
Mr. Shi's dumplings do not disappoint!
Our Dumpling gets some dumplings
Yeessss! Room service. Thank you Yaya!
No chai tea lattes found in China Starbucks. Hot chocolate will have to do.
Dumpling misses her Yaya


First Day of My Life 生日

Yours was the first face that I saw
I think I was blind before I met you
I don't know where I am, I don't know where I've been
But I know where I want to go
-Bright Eyes

Hi World! My name is Dumpling. My parents expected my appearance in January, but you know what? Womb life is just a little too humdrum when the world outside just seems so interesting.

So on the evening of December 5, as my mom sat down to eat a bowl of fried rice and watch TV, she felt a gush of clear fluid running down her legs. Time to jet to the hospital.

We were quickly admitted to the labor and delivery room and the on-call doctor confirmed that the amniotic sack-- a sterile wall protecting me from viruses and infection-- had indeed burst. Although labor hadn’t yet started, I was fully in position, my mom’s body pulling me down further into her pelvis, the water draining. Ready or not, here I come.

My early arrival wasn’t quite on the agenda. My parents hadn’t packed a thing for a hospital stay. Baby clothes, blankets, and supplies were packed away in the closet. The diapers were on order. Mom still hadn’t completed her cleaning-this-and-that-before-baby-comes goals. But what can I say? I like surprises.

In her typical fashion, Mom worried. I was too little, not ready for life outside the womb. In his typical fashion, Dad saw the glass half-full. They were going to see my face finally!

December 7 at 1:54 am, 26 hours after arriving at the hospital, including roughly 3.5 hours of hard labor, I entered the world kicking and screaming, my lungs expanding and contracting like on an engine on full throttle. As it turns out, even though not fully cooked at 4.2 lbs and almost 19 inches long, I came out pretty much good as done. But I still need to gain some weight. Supermodel skinny legs aren’t really my thing right now.

After a day and a half in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) just to monitor my breathing and body temperature, 3 days of intravenous antibiotics, a few stints with phototherapy, lots of diaper changes and a week of sleep deprived nights for Mom, we are ready to pack it up and go home. While hospital life was sweet-- room service, room cleaning, a friendly nursing staff eager to get Mom and Dad ready for caring for a preemie baby girl at home, a spacious room and all the time in the world for family bonding-- life at home will be even sweeter!

Hi World. I am here!

Chinese Word of the Blog: 生日 Shēngrì
English Translation: Birthday

Me and Mom get a brief moment together before going to NICU
...four hours later in the NICU
I have got duck lips down
After one week in hospital, we outta here!


The Heat Is On 暖气

Some like it hot, and some sweat when the heat is on
Some feel the heat and decide that they can't go on
Some like it hot, but you can't tell how hot till you try
Some like it hot, so let's turn up the heat till we fry
-Robert Palmer

Let’s rewind a bit, shall we? Let’s go back to the last few weeks of October when nighttime temperatures dropped to freezing and our living room seemed to be equally cold. As the ginkgo leaves were transitioning from green to golden yellow and slowly descending to the ground mixing with the red, orange, and brown leaves of other ill-fated trees, we layered on the thermals, sweats, socks and sought warmth under blankets while sipping hot water looking forward to November 15-- the hallelujah day of joy-- the day China turns on the heat.

Way back when in the1950s, China drew an invisible and somewhat arbitrary boundary stretching east to west. This line is called the Qin-huai line, drawn roughly along the Huai River and Qinling mountains at 33 degrees north latitude [1]. This line is the great determinant, the Great Divide, between those who sleep with a single blanket and those who snooze under an electrically heated one.

Throughout populated areas north of the Great Divide, pipes snake in and out of people’s homes. During warmer seasons, these radiator pipes collect dust and provide not-so-attractive wall adornment. During the cold months, from November to March, these dusty pipes fill with steam turning otherwise austere homes into sanctuaries of warmth. China’s central government thus exercises control over yet another aspect of daily life: the indoor temperature.

Unfortunately, winter pays no heed to man-made lines. Residents just south of the Great Divide, particularly those living in mountainous areas, gear up with long underwear, sweaters, down coats and socks-- the same amount of clothes worn inside or outside. In more isolated areas, people huddle near a pile of hot coals or fireplaces, while well-to-do city dwellers crank up electrical room heaters taxing the stressed out electrical grid.

Fast forward to now. Here we are at the verge of December paying no heed to the winter’s whim--wind, rain, snow, come what may--wearing T-shirts or single layers. Unless, of course, we have to leave our warm winter haven. In which case, we do layer on the long underwear, sweaters, down coats and socks.

Chinese word of the blog: 暖气 Nuǎnqì
English translation: central heating

[1] http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/chinas-unlikely-divide-over-home-heat

Ginkgo trees are my favorite! Sadly, these trees no longer have their leaves.

Early November and I can't wait for the heat to turn on!
Do the radiator pipes blend in with the furniture?

Radiator pipes are good decoration! Just don't forget to dust them.
This picture has nothing to do with central heating. On September 30, we celebrated 15 years of marriage. So I made a chocolate cake.


You're The One For Me, Fatty 你变胖了!

You're the One for me, fatty
You're the One I really, really love
And I will stay
Promise you'll say
If I'm in your way
- Morrissey

To the average American female reared in the midst of Seventeen magazine and celebrity waifs plastered on every form of media imaginable, weight and body shape can be deeply personal and sensitive. So what does western woman say if a friend has gotten a little rounder? Absolutely nothing. That’s the polite thing to do.

Not so in China. Noticing, after all, is caring. One time, I was out a with friend of mine. This friend is in her mid-fifties and adheres to an old-school way of Chinese thinking (for example, sitting in air-conditioning is like asking for imminent death). I only understand about 50% of what she says through her oily Hunan accent. But I 100% understood her say, “You’ve gotten fat!” to her neighbor whom we chanced upon.

The neighbor did not flinch. She in fact agreed. Yes, she had gotten fat. The pharmacy nearby happened to have a scale set right outside its open doors. What a perfect opportunity for the two old friends to compare weights. Never mind that one was about a foot taller than the other. I was glad they did not insist on weighing me. (Which by the way happened once. A shoe seller wanted to compare our weights so broke out the scale. Never mind that I was about a foot taller than her.)

Over the previous four years spent in China, “You’ve gotten fat!” has rarely been directed at me--until now. Well, I am pregnant. Of course, I am gaining weight.

I spent about a month during the summer in California. Over the course of the month, I went from 3 months to 4 months pregnant. When I came back to China, my thicker middle did not go unnoticed by the fruit and veggie lady, the nail lady, or the handful of friends who didn’t hear the news through the grapevine. So what did they say? “You’ve gotten fat!” After all, noticing is caring.

Well, fortunate for me, I had a good reason, so their comments didn’t sting so bad. I admit, I did eat my fair share of In n’ Out cheeseburgers and Chipotle burritos, but my expanded waste line was not necessarily due to overindulgence. I mean, seriously! I am growing a human.The first few times I heard “You’ve gotten fat!”, I would simply smile and say I was pregnant and then wait for the excited reaction followed by the inevitable unsolicited advice.

Then I got annoyed at that detestable sentence: “You’ve gotten fat.” Soon I found myself just nodding my head in agreement and letting it be. Eventually, they’ll figure out why I have become such a fatty. Now more than halfway through my pregnancy, I am beginning to look more pregnant than just plain fat. Even so, I still hear that detestable sentence, “You’ve gotten fat!” along with “You’re so big! You must be having twins,” or “Wow! You’re so big for six months. You should eat healthier food.”

Westerners tell other pregnant women, “What a cute baby bump!”, “You look great pregnant!” or “How wonderful the baby is growing.” That’s what people should say to pregnant women. Pregnancy means getting bigger, and that is a good thing. A human is growing en utero. A growing baby is a healthy baby. Telling a pregnant person she is getting fat or that she is so big she must be carrying twins makes no sense. And its hurtful.

Seems like every day someone tells me that I am big/fat or asks if I am having twins. I began to wonder if perhaps telling a pregnant woman she’s big is actually a compliment. I asked my world-cultured Chinese friend if I should feel complimented. Nope. Noticing is caring.

So I have to turn off my American sensitivities and take the comments in stride like the rest of my Chinese friends. I have to assume that my Chinese friends grew up hearing their family and friends throwing around “You’ve gotten fat” like talking about the weather. To them, such topics are no big deal.

So for now, just call me what I am-- a fatty (aka pregnant).

Chinese Word of the Blog: 胖 pàng
English Translation: fat or plump
Example sentence: 你变胖了!Nǐ biàn pàngle!
English translation: You’ve gotten fat!

18 weeks and gettin' pudgy
19 weeks. Can someone please get me some potato chips?
21 weeks and feeling a little hungry
22 weeks and about to enjoy a house-made sausage at Arrow Factory brewery.
24 weeks. Does this dress make me look fat?
22 week ultrasound. Our little dumpling is getting fat.


We Weren’t Born to Follow 肢体不一样

We weren't born to follow
Come on and get up off your knees
When life is a bitter pill to swallow
You gotta hold on to what you believe
-Bon Jovi

Being pregnant in China has perks, such as other people giving up their precious seats on a crowded subway so I can rest my weary feet. I also have a new answer for ever annoying and ever nosy questions--“How many children do you have? Why don’t you have children?”--- thus avoiding the imminent unsolicited advice on how to get pregnant or mild chastising for not having any kids. 

On the other hand, I now just get scolded for a host of other stuff. I am apparently doing everything wrong as pregnant lady.

Here’s a list of DOs and DON’Ts when pregnant (according to what I have been personally told):
  1. Don’t let your feet get cold. That means don’t wear flip flops even if its 90F outside.
  2. Don’t consume cold things like ice water, watermelon or ice cream. I guess the baby might get brain freeze. 
  3. Do drink warm water. Obviously, the baby must be kept warm.
  4. Don’t eat hot pot. Who knows what goes in that hot pot broth?
  5. Don’t chew gum because of the preservatives.
  6. Don’t wear earrings or necklaces. Rings are okay.
  7. Don’t wear make up. Don’t do your nails. (On that note, I think Chinese makeup should be avoided by pregnant and non-pregnant women alike.)
  8. Don’t wear tight clothes. Do wear humongous underwear that covers the belly.
  9. Don’t wear a belt, including a running belt for carrying a phone and money. The baby will get tired.
  10. Don't get in a crowded elevator. It’s too tight for the baby. I assume this would also rule out riding the subway, the bus, or being in any public place during rush hour.
  11. Don’t stand in front of a fan or air conditioner. You’ll catch a cold and obviously that is bad for the baby.
  12. Don’t exercise. No running, jumping, or putting your feet above your head (that rules out split dog). Walking is okay.
  13. Do rest--a lot. The baby needs to rest, so you do too.
  14. Do wear a special radiation-defensive belly apron to guard against cellphones, computers, and microwaves.
  15. Do eat a lot of seaweed and walnuts.

As I get further along in my pregnancy, I expect this list to get longer. How do I respond to this advice? After all, I have blatantly violated all of these DON’Ts in the presence of others. Poor westerner doesn’t know any better. 

Usually, I merely smile and nod. Yeah, sure. I will stop drinking ice water (in front of you). Sometimes I say, “I am a westerner. We don’t believe that,” or “Don’t worry, I wear special make-up that is OK for pregnant women.” My remarks and nonchalant attitude usually evokes the reasoning that western bodies must be different from Chinese bodies.

Well, I guess if that reasoning gets them to stop asking questions and giving more advice, then ok...western bodies are different from Chinese ones.

For now, I am going to drink ice water and hope the baby doesn’t get brain freeze. 

Chinese Word of the blog: 肢体不一样 Zhītǐ bù yīyàng
English Translation: different body

Be stylish and protect your baby from cellphones
Caught on a double offense! Earrings and a cold soda.


California Dreamer 假期

You dream of seasons that never die
You go to oceans that never touch the ice
Surrender this city to sender
Creatures getting younger and younger
-Wolf Parade

At the end of June, I had it with the weather. The weather had fully transitioned from just plain hot into hot, humid and intolerably sticky. Typical Beijing summer air is permeated with a stagnant steam vapor that melts make-up, frizzes any styled do, leaves clothes damp, uncomfortable, and if not careful, quite stinky.

So every morning I looked at the weather forecast, dismayed that I was in for another hot, sticky one and chose my clothes accordingly. What could I wear in which my abundant sweat wouldn’t be too obvious or too uncomfortable? I wished I could walk around in running clothes without feeling too self-conscious. Blame my upbringing in the vicinity of Roseville, California, where people look like they have just walked out of an Anthropologie catalog.

Granted, Beijing can’t compete with Shenzhen or Hong Kong humidity. We traveled to south China last summer and I thought I would suffocate from the sultry weather. This year, I am blaming my intolerance to sweat and stifling heat on pregnancy.

As I was saying, this June I really had had it with the weather. I really, really, really looked forward to our summer sojourn in dry and sunny California. While California clocks a higher daytime temperature than Beijing, nighttime temperatures often descend into the low 60s. That means in the morning you wake up feeling refreshed and not like taking a shower because you sweated all night during a fitful sleep.

In addition to enjoying California blue skies and of course gorging on avocados, we also looked forward to telling our families about our little dumpling in steamer. Needless to say, our families were super excited. My mother-in-law immediately went to work sewing baby blankets and ordering the softest newborn baby clothes online.

Moomoo hard at work

Our month in California went by in a flash. We had a lot of down time, but managed to pack in the traditional family Lake Tahoe trip, a haircut, 3-day regional convention (in English), a dentist visit, and just plain ole’ fun catch up time with family and friends. We were also overwhelmed with everyone's generosity. We got plenty of used (but not used up) maternity clothes for me, and little clothes for the dumpling, as well as supplies to ease us into parenthood.

Noticeably absent were my younger sister and her husband. They were in Texas attending the 54th class of SKE. Upon graduation a couple weeks ago, they were assigned to a sign-language group in Georgia. Georgia’s gain is California’s loss. Maybe we will have to start making trips out to Georgia as part of our return to the States.

The kids did what they do best: they got older. My nephews Caden started fourth grade and Zephram started kindergarten. Milan has sprouted into a lanky nearly 7-year old adept at using voice commands on her dad’s iPhone to search scary dragons that breathe fire. Capri was all smiles finding confidence in her ambulatory skills. Sabella is a road trip champion, traveling all the way from Idaho to her California family. Seeing our many little friends growing strong, happy, and secure make us so happy. We aren’t around, but life goes on.

Epic bike ride suitable for kids and pregnant ladies
Two dumplings in the steamer! Plus Elliot's bagel belly.
Usually by the end of our California vacation, with our luggage loaded with chocolate chips, coffee, and hair gel, I am ready to jump back into my China routine. This time was different. Leaving was emotionally hard. I knew that this baby will grow and grow and be born far, far away from where I was born and grew up. Far away from both of our families and away from the loving arms of our parents and friends. And that makes me sad, even now as I sit in my white-walled apartment on this unusually blue-skied day.

A few nights before we were to board our plane, I found my older sister sifting through a box of her son’s baby clothes. Tiny jumpers and tiny booties. Hand sewn beanies and baby blue sweaters. Unsuccessfully stifling tears, she picked out some gender neutral pieces out and handed them to me to take back to China. She was so happy for us, but sad not to be able to hold our baby when it’s born.

But its fine, she said. We have Skype. We’ll see each other next summer. I was crying too, and I cried the whole next day and the next when we boarded our plane. And I am crying now.

It will be fine. We will be fine.

My baby will be so cool born in an exotic faraway place. He/she will understand both Chinese and English. He/she will be skilled with forks and chopsticks. He/she will not be spoiled with American consumerism and overabundance. He/she will grow up knowing two cultures, and an expansive worldview of which most American children haven’t got a clue. Instead of Disneyland, vacations will be in beach side in Indonesia or Thailand. My baby will be surrounded by uncles and aunties, brothers and sisters that come from all over the world. He/she will know contentment and love. That is, of course, if we can truly stick it out in China for the kid’s foreseeable future.

We are fine.

So we bid goodbye once again to sunny California, our suitcases busting at the seams with donated maternity clothes, second-hand baby clothes, Aveeno baby wash, hypo-allergenic diaper rash cream, bamboo cloth blankets, toys, and a nursing pillow (that took up a lot of space).

A year from now, we’ll have an infant in tow. He/she will meet grandmas and a grandpa, aunties and uncles, scores of cousins and even more friends. And she/he will know that we have two homes.

We will also be infinitely happy to escape our giant sauna we call summer in Beijing.

Bye California! See you in a year.

Chinese Word of the blog: 假期 jiàqī
English translation: vacation

Want to see more pictures from our 2016 California summer trip? Click HERE

Baby ready
Soaking up the sun in Lake Tahoe


Pregnant 有喜

Pregnant with doubt
You figured out
Tricks of the trade to make a whisper a shout
- Cold War Kids

It was a Sunday. As usual, we had checked Great Leap Brewery’s Wechat account for its weekly beer special. That night the Chesty Puller was on special, meaning the normal price of 40 RMB is slashed to 25 RMB. Once again, the Chesty Puller pulled us in to one of our favorite Beijing haunts. Not only is GLB’s beer a welcome, hoppy, happy respite from Tsingdao’s lightly flavored beer water, but GLB’s double cheeseburger dripping with gooey cheese layered with dill pickles counteracts a week’s worth of noodle overload.

Earlier that afternoon, I told birdMAN I probably should take a pregnancy test before libations. Why? Well let’s just say the Big Aunt hadn’t come for a long time (Big Aunt 大姨妈 is slang for a lady’s monthly ya’ know). So we headed to a nearby pharmacy and forked over a whopping 15 RMB (~2 USD) for a home pregnancy kit. I was pretty sure I was imagining things and I would indeed drink a couple Chesty Pullers that night, but the pee testified positive-- there were two visible lines indicating, well, I was pretty sure anyway, the presence of the pregnancy hormone HCG.

2 lines = Pregnant
Can someone read this to me?

I called to birdMAN from the bathroom, “Well, I have some bad news!”

“It’s a no?” birdMAN has wanted to start a family for awhile but let’s just say nature hadn’t been super cooperative.

“I can’t have any beer tonight.”

“Really?” Yes, really, or at least I thought so. The test kit was entirely in Chinese so we spent a few minutes confirming that 阳性 meant positive. No Chesty Puller that night, but at least GLB makes a tasty cheeseburger.

That was about seven weeks ago. Since then, I have had three ultrasounds. The first was to confirm pregnancy and date it. I was only at six weeks. Normally, ultrasounds aren’t done this early, but I really had no idea how long I had been pregnant. The second was to confirm that the little stinker was sticking around. It was. The twelve week ultrasound showed everything normal and good to go. OK, now time to tell people.

Here are some answers to some questions you might want to ask:
  1. Was it planned? Sort of. We left matters to the whims of nature, and didn’t think about it much. A few years later, a positive preggo test leaves me on a strict no alcohol and sushi diet, and seriously reducing my coffee intake.
  2. How do you feel? No vomiting, but morning sickness is real! I was super tired from weeks 6 to 12, and couldn’t get anything done before noon. Around 10:30 or 11 am in the morning, I get struck with a gnawing hunger no matter how much I have consumed earlier. Morning sickness, however, now seems to be abating.
  3. When are you moving back to California? We aren’t. We found a great international hospital in Beijing with an international medical staff and plan to stick it out in China. Can you imagine? Our little 75% white baby will speak fluent Chinese!
  4. Are you having a boy or girl? I don’t know. It’s too early to know from an ultrasound. We, however, are going to stick with China’s policy of not finding out the gender until birth. It’s technically illegal for doctors to tell expectant parents their babies’ gender due to historical favoring boys over girls and the resulting prevalence of selective abortion.

So yes, it’s true. Great Leap lost one moderate beer drinker and China is about to a get a little more overpopulated.

Chinese word of the blog: 有喜 yǒuxǐ (literally, have joy)
English translation: pregnant or to be expecting
Chinese example sentence: 我有喜了!Wǒ yǒuxǐle!
English translation: I'm pregnant!

12 weeks. Am I showing?