Time Has Come Today 百天

Time has come today
Young hearts can go their way
Can't put it off another day
I don't care what others say
They say we don't listen anyway
Time has come today
-Chambers Brothers


Today is March 17. Exactly 100 days ago, Dumpling was born.

Why is this important? Because strangers can no longer scold me for taking Dumpling outside.

Warming weather and blue skies are nice going out weather, so sometimes I'll pack Dumpling up in the Boba wrap and get outside. We'll walk to the post office, buy fruit and vegetables, or just plain enjoy the fresh air. On the weekends, the three of us eat early dinners at family friendly restaurants. Going out requires travel, either by walking on the street, riding the bus/subway, or taking a taxi. Of course, a Western family carrying around a little white baby in such a strange confining wrap at best attracts curious stares and spontaneous picture taking, and at worst, vocal condemnation.

Elderly people in particular will get really close, moving aside any scarves or jacket collar obstructing their view of Dumpling nestled against my chest. Eyes narrowing, they'll ask the question everyone asks, "How many days old is that baby?" Then I'll smile and say two months, or more recently three months. Then they calculate the exact number of days. The response is usually, "That baby is too small! That carrier thing is bad for the baby's back and legs! The baby should be carried flat on its back!" Then they turn to nearby Chinese people with mild looks of exasperation and shock. Poor western mother that doesn't know how to take care of a baby.

Not yet 100 days but ready to go!

Then I say the baby is used to it. She likes it! That's how she was she was in my stomach. It's a feeble defense against staunch thinking. Then I remind myself that the hard and fast rules-like the 100 day rule- other criticisms, and unsolicited advice show how much Chinese people value mothers and children. They aren't condemning me. They are caring for me. Right?

Younger people (meaning my age and younger) are less condemning. While they might point out that babies in China are typically confined to the home for their first 100 days of life, they are much more accepting that Westerners have different habits. They are also fascinated by the Boba wrap. Not only is Dumpling small and white, she folds up like a baby kangaroo in its mama's pouch.

But China is changing fast, and many of the traditions are falling by the wayside. One mother admitted to me that once she finished her Sit One Month, she took her infant out for a walk.

Why 100 days? I don't know, but 100 is a beautiful number. A one followed by two zeroes. The lowest three-digit number. The square of ten, and the square root of 10,000. And the number of days a baby must live before seeing the blue sky (or smoggy sky if you live in Beijing).

Chinese Phrase of the Blog: 百天 bǎi tīan
English translation: 100 days
Example sentence:
Xiǎohái mǎnle yībǎi tiān zhīhòu jiù hǎo yǎng hǎo dàile。
English translation: Once a child has reached 100 days old, everything is good.
Note: This is my very loose translation. Not word for word.

17 days old went outside after leaving hospital
37 days old and made it to Great Leap
63 days and loving the blue sky
Exactly 100 days and taking a sweet ride!


Talk the Talk 说中文

Talk the talk, start up a conversation
Talk the talk, let me inside your mind
Talk the talk, this could be a revelation
Talk the talk, we're talkin' the talk this time
-Mr. Mister

I was a good Chinese student last week. As my new Chinese tutor recommended, I watched a Chinese sitcom. Once. Twice. Again and once again, pausing the sitcom so I could read the Chinese captions because my hearing and language processing abilities are slower than the dialogue. And what did I learn?

I will never speak real Chinese. Not really.

For an English speaker, the Chinese language presents some major challenges. First, Chinese is tonal. Changing the tone is like exchanging a vowel in an English word. Cat and cot. In and on. Fat and fit. Doing so totally changes the meaning. In Chinese, the word "ma" can mean mother, horse, curse, or be a question particle depending on the tone. Second, English and Chinese speakers use different parts of their mouths and tongues to talk. There are some sounds I just plain cannot make. Getting my tongue and mouth to even remotely say 女 (nǚ girl) and 旅(lǚ travel) correctly feels like my tongue is in a twisting vise. Third, while simple sentences are pretty similar to English like 我给你这个 (I give you this), complex sentence construction and logic is not the same. Constructing a complex sentence in Chinese requires you to rewire your English brain. Not an easy feat for a 36 year old mom.

Let me give you some examples extracted from the popular Chinese sitcom, 家有儿女 (Home With Kids). The following sentences come from Season 1, Episode 1, with word for word English translation:
  1. 我的手被虫子给咬了!My hand by bug give bite.
  2. 人八十天把地球都换游一周。People eighty days take earth all around travel one cycle.
  3. 你们难道不想问点什么吗?比如说,我刚才干吗去了?You really not want ask little what? Example say, I just now do went?
Did you get that? I am sorry, let me put that in better English for you:
  1. A bug bit my hand.
  2. People can travel around the earth in eighty days.
  3. Don't you want to ask me something? Like what I have been doing?
I mulled the first phrase, "我的手被虫子给咬了", over for a few days. This sentence is in passive voice, or "My hand got bitten by a bug." Passive voice is usually a big no no for me. The more simple, concise and direct, the better. So I asked my Chinese friend if I can say, "虫子咬了我的手” (The bug bit my hand). She said sure, but you sound like a foreigner.

Yep, I will always be a foreigner. I cannot undo the thirty plus years I spent exclusively speaking English. My brain is dull and slow, frequently forgetting the tones and unwilling to connect with my old and tired tongue. And I have to train my brain to think in passive voice, I mean, my brain must be trained by me to think in passive voice.

Chinese word of the blog: 说中文 (shūo zhōngwén)
English translation: speak Chinese

Quick! Press pause...My hand by bug give bite ???


Fabulously Lazy 坐月子

I've hardly seen her likes before
Somewhere else, nowhere else before
The girl in the spotlight evermore
Like no one before, forever more
-Franz Ferdinand

Zuo yuezi (坐月子)literally means “sit one month”. The Sit One Month is the monthlong period immediately following childbirth during which a mommy must stay inside and avoid dangerous activities like drinking cold water (cold is bad), using air conditioning (wind is bad), taking showers (water is bad) or climbing stairs (moving is bad). All the aforementioned activities will further imbalance her body, which childbirth has rendered vulnerable and weak. Mommy's body is out of whack. Don't let the heat out, and don't let the cold in.

She lays on her back only to be disturbed to nurse her baby. Her mother or mother-in-law has moved into her home, not only to enforce the Sit One Month rules (no showers, ugh!), but also to care for the new child (perhaps for as long as three years until the child starts kindergarten). In addition to baby care, Grandma cooks special heat-restorative food, like eggs, rice wine porridge (米酒), and pig feet soup.

Rice wine porridge and eggs is on the menu for postnatal healing!

The above is typical of how the Sit One Month goes according what I've been told. While the Sit One Month rules vary from person to person, this practice is pervasive among all social classes.

China's educated, western influenced, city dwelling women are cutting their mothers and mothers-in-law out--and the inevitable family friction-- and opting for fancy Sit One Month rehabilitation centers. My hospital offers up to one month packages which includes a spacious, comfortable room with queen-size bed, a luxurious bathroom, 24-hour nanny service, massage, stretch mark fading, psychological treatment along with medical care. Month long packages range from 88,800 RMB (12,900 USD) to 138,800 RMB (20,200 USD). Other centers also offer baby care classes, baby acupressure, yoga, craft classes in fancy gated complexes for 27,000 USD per month [1].

Less affluent Chinese stick to traditional Sit One Month rules, strictly enforced by older generations. The dry-cleaning guy told me his wife spent the month laying on her back and drinking special soup. Another young mother told me that childbirth causes you to lose fire (or heat), and so showers are to be avoided because water is too cold. Another friend in her mid-fifties, barely literate and working as a nanny for a well-to-do Chinese family, was completely befuddled when I explained to her that western women do not do the Sit One Month. Another mother of a two-year old reluctantly adhered to the Sit One Month rules under her mother's stern eye. After the one month’s completion, a walk down the block left her out of breath.

I admit, I scoffed a little at the idea of a month long sequester. I am American, and American women pride themselves on rebounding quickly from something as mundane as childbirth. Proud mommies show off their little mini-mes at Starbucks or the mall. Nothing is cuter than a sleepy baby decked out in color coordinating hat and newborn onesie emblazoned with gold lettering, “Hello World” or “Brand New.” And no showering after childbirth? That's disgusting! Furthermore, not drinking cold water, or cold foods like fruit, to avoid getting a cold is scientifically unsound. If I want cold water, I am going to drink it.

As it turns out, I ended up sort of doing a Sit One Month. Because little Dumpling came six weeks early, weighing just under two kilograms, we spent the first two weeks of her life holed up in a hospital room to get her over her jaundice and fatten her up. During this time, I sat and sat only leaving my room to get water from down the hall. While I snoozed through the night, the nurses fed Dumpling expressed breast milk via syringe. The hospital provided breakfast, lunch, dinner, plus afternoon snack to my room, which I ate in bed. Yes, I sat and sat. And sat some more.

The weeks at home following the hospital stay were exhausting. Our lives revolved around getting our sleepy Dumpling’s weight up to 2.5 kg. I functioned on two hour increments between feedings, alternating between breastfeeding and syringe feeding Dumpling fortified expressed breast milk . She was such a sleepy baby, barely awake to eat. Feeding her 20 ml would sometimes take a half hour. Between feedings I--you guessed it--sat and sat. And sat some more.

The weather was also miserably cold and polluted, so staying inside was the attractive option. Dumpling was especially fragile as preemie and getting cold or sick could be dangerous. So I was thankful that because many respect the Sit One Month rules, most people stayed away and came only to drop off meals or fruit.

In retrospect, it would have been really nice to have my mother or mother-in-law around to help cook and clean for a while. Thirty days of Moomoo cooking would have been awesome. I would have been putting on the pounds along with Dumpling. Also, having time to baby bond undistracted by cooking and cleaning would have been nice. For a few weeks, I felt like Dumpling was a stranger that I needed to get to know.

Dumpling is coming up on three months old and gestational age of 1.5 months. I am glad to report that she's a champion breastfeeder, chubbed up and recently started smiling and cooing. We are best buds now.

And all that happened despite me taking showers.

Chinese Word of the blog: 坐月子 Zuò yuè zi
English translation: to convalesce for a month following childbirth, following a special diet, and observing various taboos to protect the body from exposure to the "wind"

[1] China Confinement Care for New Mothers now $27,000 a Month

Dumpling's personal nurse
Daddies are good at the sitting part
Xialian makes good dinner
Chinese friends make good lunch
Good eating during the Sit One Month
Sometimes we sleep instead of sit
Just chillin' at 4 weeks old
Two months old and getting big


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.