Swimming Lesson 游泳课

And if you feel like you can't swim
When you're thrown in the lake
Just watch the bugs
Passin' by you as you
Slip under their wake
-the Eels

Dumpling was born and lives in China. She eats rice or noodles nearly daily. Her first words besides “mama” (which is the same in English and Chinese), were Chinese (阿门and谢谢). Even so, she is the flesh and blood of two flesh and blood Californians. That makes her a Californian through and through. End of discussion. So she will spend the summer in California the way California kids do: splashing around in a pool.

Just one problem...she doesn’t know how to swim, and the closest water body is our apartment complex’s mosquito haven of a muddy pond. What to do?

Fortunately, an enterprising business catering to Chinese parents with cash to burn on their precious little emperors and empresses opened in the local mall.

Yule Beibei (鱼乐贝贝) operates a number of baby swimming facilities all over Beijing. The setup is simple: a few hot tubs full of warm water and floating toys, gracious, young and female teachers, and babies whose parents, many of which lack swimming skills themselves, desire their little emperors and empresses to become little mermen and mermaids.

The total time for each session is about an hour. Each lesson starts with some play time, a clothes change to swim gear, pre-dip shower down, thirty minutes in the hot tub, shower, and play. Two types of sessions are available: (1) baby enveloped in floatie while adults supervise from outside the pool (普通游), and (2) both baby and teacher in the pool for a "real" swim lesson (水育课).

Making friends
For the first type of session, the little student floats around in an inflatable doughnut and plays with any toy that happens to bob by. Only two or three babies are in the hot tub at a time. Meanwhile, the teacher walks around the rim of the pool encouraging the baby to 踢腿 (kick). Swimming lesson is like bath time raised to the fifth degree.

Every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, the student can trade in the floatie for a real swimming lesson. The teacher, also gracious, young and female, gets in the giant hot tub with the student. The teacher gently pulls the little pupil through the water and blows bubbles with the goal of teaching the baby to independently swim underwater.

A couple months ago, our fearless Dumpling absolutely loved her hot tub time. She laughed gleefully at the supervising teachers, fellow floating babies, and poolside grannies and grampies. She splashed around in the 95 degree water happy as an otter that discovered there was such a thing as fried calamari. She was the envy of poolside moms whose babies that were afraid of the water. In fact, one Tiger Mom chastised her two year old twin daughters for crying: "Look at that brave little girl," wagging her finger toward Dumpling, "Next time, you will be like her. No crying!"

While I felt bad for Tiger Mom's babies, my pride swelled big and round like a puffer fish warding off a predator attack. The teachers praised Dumpling as one of their best students. They predicted she will be swimming underwater after three or four personal lessons.

My mama ego soon busted like an inflated puffer fish bitten by a great white shark.

Two subsequent lessons with the personal swim teacher were disastrous. Little Dumpling cried and cried, her arms outstretched towards me. What could I do? I rescued her from that ill-fated lesson after only ten minutes. Maybe she didn't have a long enough nap. Hoping to avoid a repeat disaster, I made sure Dumpling got a long nap before the next lesson. Unfortunately, the nap did not keep Dumpling's fears at bay. Again, she cried and cried. The teachers sent me out of the room and managed to keep an uneasy Dumpling in the water for the full thirty minutes.

Maybe we should call her "Grumpling"

We forged ahead. Maybe Dumpling just needs to go more often. She started go twice a week, once each for the two types of lessons. Persistence has not resulted in a happier little swimmer. As of now, she’s content enough to float around in the floatie, but wails like a dolphin separated from its pod during the personal swim lesson.

The teachers are befuddled. Usually the babies will cry at first, and improve with each subsequent lesson. Not my Dumpling. That would be way too easy.

Three months of “swimming” (aka hot tub time) later, Dumpling is nowhere remotely near California swimming ready. Tiger Mom’s babies, on the other hand, are swimming laps across the hot tub. Ah well, at least Dumpling’s getting some exercise and lots of exposure to Chinese speaking teachers. And we haven’t had to throw her into the mosquito haven of a muddy pool.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 游泳课 Yóuyǒng kè
English Translation: swimming lesson
Example Sentence: 是上游泳课的时候了! (Shì shàng yóuyǒng kè de shíhòule)
English Translation: It’s time to go to swimming lesson!

Some babies get a neck floatie


Sick Child 发烧

King of moon gloomy afternoon
Losing track of word and meter
Still shaking in this tear room like a sick child
Still shaking nothing reconciled like a sick child
-Siouxsie and the Banshees

Just when I think I can't bear another whiff of the neighbor’s cigarette smoke or fried fish odors invading our house through shared ventilation, the intrusive interrogations of well meaning strangers, our finicky hot water heater that can leave you shivering mid-shower, our misshapen, discolored and abrasive towels, and the general hassle of being an expat in China, it's time to pack our bags and get Cali-bound. 

Eagerly anticipating our winter escape, I centered Dumpling’s bedtime stories on all the wonderfulness we would enjoy stateside. My darling, Dumpling, California has washers and dryers that leaves your jammies gleaming white and powder fresh. Sweetie pie, you can eat creamy avocados until you are blue in the face. Little monkey girl, we can go outside without suiting you up in a marshmallowy snowsuit. We don’t even have to wear socks if we don’t want to. 

Little did we know that taking that 15 hour transpacific fight put our very lives in danger. All that shared air with complete strangers! Who knows what vile viruses they carry? And some vile virus did find a home in our darling Dumpling's body.

The very evening we arrived in California, Dumpling's little body burned hot as a flaming coal. Shortly thereafter, my throat clogged with phlegm, my lungs wheezed a violent cough, and my body ached like someone had beaten me with a bat. We spent the following week hunkered down at Moomoo's, taking turns around the clock holding Dumpling as she writhed in discomfort and debating whether we should head to the ER. Yes, we had touted a one year old across multiple time zones in a cramped plane with hundreds of strangers-- a number of whom poked her with great delight-- just to spend over week under quarantine. What terrible parents we are. Understandably, Dumpling wasn't too convinced that California life was all that great.

We were not the only victims. Shortly after we arrived my mom was smote (for a second time). Then Moomoo. Then birdMAN's sister, brother in law, and their two kids. Who’s next? birdMAN's other brother-in-law and his daughter followed by birdMAN’s older brother. By the time our three weeks were up, pretty much everyone around us had caught varying degrees of illness- cold, flu, strep throat, body aches, and croup. We were all falling one by one like petals from a withering daisy.

Thankfully, our immune systems all did what they are supposed to: wage war and conquer it's viral foe. Once in good health, Dumpling did indeed enjoy California goodness. Being the socialite she is, she reveled in her cousins’ banter and loads of toys. She ate avocado until she was blue in the face. She got plenty of cozy time with Moomoo and Yaya.

So just like that, our California R and R along with February came to an end. Again we packed up Dumpling to make yet another transpacific flight, and suffered a week of recovering from jet lag. A jet lagged one year old is no fun! So looking forward to doing it again this summer (not!). I guess California avocados and dryers are worth the hassle. Let's hope we don't catch anymore viruses on the way.

Until next time California!

Chinese Word of the Blog: 发烧 fāshāo
English translation: to have a fever

Escape from Folsom 10 Mile Run. Hacked and coughed the whole way!
Cousin Capri is such a good mama
Girl talk with Auntie Jaide. Thanks for coming out from Georgia!
Oliver + Dumpling = Best Buds
Just another evening with the kiddos

Moomoo time
Caden and Zeph love their little cousin

Now that is a California cheeseburger!
Our California stash. Chocolate chips and tortillas are worth the plane ride alone.


You Can’t Always Get What You Want 淘宝网

No, you can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need
-The Rolling Stones

A few posts back I wrote that I save a lot of time not shopping because there's not anything good to buy. Well, I take it all back! I recently became a Taobao customer. Taobao (淘宝) is like Amazon. You can buy anything, and anything can be expeditiously delivered right to your door.

My purchases, however, are not clothes or shoes. I buy food.

No longer do I make the 45 minute journey to Sanyuanli market to stock up on lentils, beets, kale, brussel sprouts, cheese, butter, whipping cream, walnuts, or whatever else I chance upon that is decently priced and looks good to eat. No longer do I brave the local supermarket where raw meat is strewn about for people to pick through with bare hands. No longer do I travel to the imported foods market, D-Mart, which is only a fifteen minute bike ride away, but now a forty-five minute walk with Dumpling in tow.

The inconvenience of lugging a baby around just got a little offset with the convenience of online shopping.

While lounging in my pjs and rocking Dumpling to sleep with cell phone in hand, I scroll through multiple sellers and compare prices on all kinds of stuff. Swipe, swipe, swipe. Food in my virtual cart. Tap, tap, tap. My password sails through the world wide web and money magically transfers from my bank account to the seller.

Then all I have to do is wait. Periodically I check the status of my order. Swipe, swipe, tap, tap. My order is being packaged. A little later. Swipe, swipe, tap, tap. The kuaidi (快递, delivery) guy has picked up the package and his name is blah blah and his phone number is blah blah. A little later. Chime! Text message. The package will be delivered within two hours. A little later. Ring! Ring! The kuaidi guy calls and asks if I'm home and can he deliver the package right away. Knock, knock, knock on the door and from behind it, the kuaidi guy yells, “Kuaidi!”

Before I can say “I’m a Taobao addict”, Dumpling and I are gleefully peeling back the packaging tape and inhaling its toxic fumes. A few minutes later, the fridge is restocked with butter and cheese, and the freezer with chicken and shrimp. The boxes and bubble wrap will entertain Dumpling for at least an hour.

Which brings me to the unfortunate reality of online shopping: the waste. Oh the waste! Each tender avocado and mango is encased in Styrofoam. Frozen chicken and shrimp stay frozen in sizable Styrofoam boxes. The brown sugar, powdered sugar, and popcorn kernels, not needing insulation, is delivered in sturdy cardboard boxes. After every delivery, as I chuck an armload of cardboard, Styrofoam, and plastic, into the waste bins, I say a silent “I'm so sorry” to the environment.

After all, Styrofoam takes 500 years to decompose. Each set of packaging multiplied by the 369 million Taobao users equals a lot of trash (1). No wonder China recently no longer accepts foreign rubbish (2). China is generating enough of its own.

I quickly forget about the environment as I await the rock hard avocados to ripen. Guacamole and chips this week. What to do with that frozen shrimp? Shrimp with cilantro pesto pasta or shrimp jambalaya? A package of cream cheese was a steal for 9 rmb. Let's make a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Thanks to Taobao, non-Chinese food is what's for dinner.

After a week or so, the freezer drawer is empty, the butter has been baked away, and the toilet paper supply is low. Time to restock. Swipe, swipe, swipe. Tap, tap, tap. Can't wait for that knock, knock, knock on the door and the kuaidi guy yelling, “Kuaidi!”

  1.  22 Amazing Taobao Statistics (September 2017)
  2. Plastics Pile Up As China Refuses to Take the West's Recycling

Chinese Word of the Blog: 淘宝网 táobǎo wǎng (seek treasure internet)
English translation: Taobao Marketplace, a Chinese website for online shopping

jd.com is another online shopping website. This is how packages get around.
Kale, mint, a humongous beet, and coconut milk delivered!

Found on Taobao: Fashionable and warm for only $8 to $10
Taobao is the place to find cozy slippers. If her feet are that cold, she should wear pants.
Turn your home into banana paradise. Only $30!
Dumpling does quality check on blueberries, avocados, and frozen shrimp
Got cream cheese? Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting coming right up!


Mr. Blue Sky 空气质量

Runnin' down the avenue
See how the sun shines brightly in the city
On the streets where once was pity
Mister blue sky is living here today hey, hey

-Electric Light Orchestra

January 9: Mr Blue Sky came out to play

Last week, I looked out my window and the sky shone blue. I thought, It's a good run day.

Dumpling and I had been exiled to our 80 square meter apartment since we got home from Thailand five days ago. Poor baby was sick on the plane with a fever. Her vomiting on me, diarrhea-ing on me, feeding on me, and breathing on me, led, of course, to me contracting her heinous malaise. So I'll save you the details and summarize it this way: sick mama+sick baby+dad away at work=SO NOT FUN.

We seriously needed to get out. To waste a blue sky day is a sin in Smog Capital. Beijing Blue is a rarity. Or is it?

I dare say, not this year. This time last year, I was imprisoned in my home not only because I was on full-time fatten-up-preemie-baby mommy duty, but also because the air quality was just plain nasty. In contrast, this year, I have looked outside and thought, It's a good run day, much more often than, Ehhh, it's a bad smog day. We're staying in.

I'm not the only only feeling the blissful blues. After several years in China, one of my friends finally invested in an air filter. Come December, she was a bit disappointed she had scarcely used it. While her air filter and everyone else's collect dust, people are leaving their apartments to soak up--not the smucky gray-- but the wintry blue. Every morning, the parking lot below my window teems with grandmas and their grandchildren. Toddlers puffed in oversized down coats and bulbous pants run back and forth enjoying clean air, sunshine, and empyrean blue. I imagine that the public parks likewise abound with sun loving tai chi enthusiasts and waltzing senior citizens. When the winds become too frigid or lunchtime rolls around, they go home to natural gas powered warmth.

That's right, gas powered warmth. No coal burning in or around Beijing.

China is sick and tired of being known around the world for its embarrassing and deadly smog problem. With an estimated 1.1 million people dying each year from air pollution (1), and public outcry reaching a crescendo, in 2013 China implemented an ambitious action plan to clear the air in and around its most polluted cities. Iron and steel plants and industrial factories have been shut down or forced to adhere to stricter emission standards (2). This year, households in and around Beijing have swapped out coal for gas or electric heating (3). Government officials are patting each other on the back stating, "the capital has become China's first city with all its power plants fueled by clean energy" (4). Thanks to China's mighty efforts and cooperation across several provinces, perhaps Beijing Gray will now be known as Beijing Blue.

Air quality monitoring from both the Chinese government and outside sources back the hype. December saw the best air quality in five years with 25 consecutive days rated as "excellent" or "good" (5). The US Embassy air quality readings indicate that PM2.5 readings were 50 percent lower from October to December compared to the previous year (6). My very unscientific observations--that is, looking out my window--resonate with the news reports.

No doubt the coal ban and other clean air measures reduced air pollution. But not to be forgotten is smog's great foe: the wind. Rumor has it that China leveled a mountain to generate more wind thus making Beijing Blue the norm, but I can't find any (not one thing) that substantiates that claim. What is true that this year, several cold fronts from Siberia gusted through Beijing dispersing pollutants (6). No matter what, strong winds mean no pollution. My very unscientific observations likewise back the weather reports. It's been frigidly windy. Good thing Dumpling's fancy stroller's rain cover doubles as a wind guard.

Besides the environment and public health, China still has to juggle other aspects such as the economy. Shutting down factories means unemployment or reduced production and profit (7). In some areas, the electrical or gas heating infrastructure lags behind implementation deadlines leaving residents freezing in their own homes (8). Time will tell whether China's massive efforts are sustainable and result in a consistently blazing Beijing Blue.

Meanwhile, Dumpling and I will enjoy these Beijing Blue days. We're not holding our breath though. The next windless day means I'll look out the window and think, Ehhh, it's a bad smog day. We're staying in.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 空气质量 kōngqì zhìliàng
English translation: Air quality

1. China's Surprising Solutions to Clear Killer Air
2. Beijing's air quality sharply improved
3. China's putting the brakes on coal for heating millions of homes this winter
4. Beicology: Beijing's Last Large Coal-Fired Power Plant Suspends Operations, No One Notices
5. Beijing enjoys best winter air quality in five years
6. Reality Check: Is Beijing's air quality better this winter?
7. As China's Coal Mines Close, Miners Are Becoming Bolder In Voicing Demands
8. Poor bear brunt of Beijing coal cleanup with no heating at -6C

November 10: Just chillin' in the chill
December 5: Never been so happy for the blues
December 19: Dumpling is overwhelmed with the blues
January 14: Mr Blue Sky where did you go?