Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bad China Day

Overall, in the past year I have had fewer and fewer “bad China days”.  These types of days are defined by feeling overwhelmed, defeated, irritated or even angry at China and living here.  It is usually a result of reality not meeting expectation.  I actually really enjoy our lives here (even when it is hard sometimes).  At first, having a “bad China day” could result from numerous new experiences I would have.  The longer I live here, the more I anticipate situations and know what to expect thus having less and less “bad China days”.  However, last Friday was an exception.

The swimming pool in our complex opened July 1st.  China has this weird thing about swimming pools, they religiously open only from July 1st to August 31st.  Even if the weather is hot in June, they won’t open the pool.  And September here is quite warm and they close it every year on August 31st.  Anyways, strange but true!  So the pool opened and I went and bought a pass to be able to use it. Also strange, the family pass is for two adults and one child - it caught me off guard since most family passes in the States are for 2 adults and 2 or 3 children.  The pool is “open” from 2:00pm - 9:30pm, however, there is a sign posted by the pool that swimming when it is not “open” is considered at your own risk and the management will not be held liable for any injuries or accidents that occur. Fair enough, right?  The sign doesn’t say “you can only swim when it is open”.  We also know several others who have swam when the pool wasn’t open.  

This isn’t our pool, but one in a neighboring complex.
It’s a little nicer than ours (and has a real fence surrounding it).
So, the first Friday the pool was open I wanted to go swimming in the morning.  I figured it would be better to swim in the morning when there are less people and it shouldn’t be a problem based on information I had from 1) the sign posted and 2) other people’s experiences.  Steven, myself and a friend went at around 8:30am and had the pool all to ourselves.  Just before 9:00, several kids and their parents showed up at the pool.  The kids all had on water wings and were “playing” in the shallow end.  At 9:00, one of the managers showed up and told us (just us adults, not the kids) that we had to leave.  I tried to argue that the sign didn’t say we couldn’t swim but my Chinese isn’t that good.  He kept repeating the pool didn’t open until 2:00pm.  When I motioned to the kids and said why can they swim, he said they were “learning” (at this time there was no other adult in the pool with them).  Well, it didn’t really look like they were “learning” it appeared they were “playing”.  I felt super frustrated at my ability to not communicate.  Steven got upset and left.  My friend and I stayed for a few more minutes (mostly because I was convinced that we weren’t breaking any posted rules).  Well, about five minutes later a swim instructor showed up to teach the kids.  So, yes, they were learning!  Totally understandable that they wouldn’t want others in the pool during swim lessons, however, the manager never stated any phrases that would lead us to believe they were having lessons (like class, teacher, student, etc).  So, we left. 

I was so mad.  I wasn’t mad that there were swim lessons and we couldn’t swim, I was frustrated at China.  I was mad that the sign said one thing and the manager another.  I was mad that he couldn’t just tell us there were swim lessons but instead insisted we could only swim during “open” hours.  I was just really mad.  And it ruined my entire morning.  I hate that.  Later that morning, I finally calmed down long enough to reason through what happened, confess my anger and frustration and move on from the incident. 

All that to say, it was a “bad China day”.  Since then however, we have been able to go swimming in the mornings, we just go earlier - at 7:00am.  And we’re not the only ones there!  Usually we have three to five other companions also taking advantage of the empty pool to swim laps.  There are these two older women who are super sweet and get excited when we show up.  And there’s a group of tai chi ladies who do their morning exercises poolside.  I’m thankful we found a time that works, and I feel more comfortable swimming when other Chinese are there, it makes me feel confident that we aren’t breaking rules (although we still might be, rule breaking is common in China, but we aren’t breaking any posted rules).  I have yet to go in the afternoon, not because I don’t want to, I have just been busy in the afternoons.  And it’s been raining like crazy, which makes the pool water cold (they don’t heat it at all, not even with thermal covers) and makes it harder to get up the nerve to go swim!  

I’m thankful we have a pool in our complex.  It’s a nice way to “beat the heat” and I love being able to do some form exercise while in my third trimester.  Starting out on a bad foot wasn’t the best way to make me feel welcome using the pool (that I pay to use), but my frustration is over and now I can actually enjoy it. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cultural Differences about Pregnancy in China

One of the things that is most interesting about being pregnant in another country is learning how that culture approaches pregnancy, birth and babies. Are there dietary restrictions that are different? What are pregnant women allowed to do for exercise? I have learned a lot about Chinese culture from being pregnant! And I’m sure I will learn more as we raise our daughter here. For now, here are some of the biggest differences I have noticed about how Chinese view pregnancy. 

1) Pregnant women do not drink or eat cold things. This includes some fruit (like bananas, in China bananas are considered “cold"), ice, ice cream, and room temperature or cold beverages (pregnant women are supposed to drink only hot beverages). My Ayi has never said anything to me about this, even when she sees me pour refrigerated water into my glass, however, I have had several friends say things or comment on what I’m drinking. Especially when I ask for extra ice. 

2) When you are pregnant, swimming is absolutely not allowed. Water is considered cold, so going along with the first point, submersing your body in something considered cold is not good. I will be breaking this rule a lot this summer once the pool opens in our complex. :-) Whenever I tell my Chinese friends that in America swimming is considered excellent exercise for pregnant women they are very surprised. Also, after you have a baby, you are not supposed to wash your hair or shower for 30 days - sponge baths only! Something about wet hair and cold…after I have the baby, I’m sure I will have more insights to share about the cultural difference regarding birth and newborns.

3) There is some sort of rule about pregnant women and electronics. I don’t actually know what is or is not considered ok by the Chinese, but I had a Chinese friend comment last week that since I was pregnant she called Steven because she knew I wouldn’t be using my cellphone. Uh, ok. I have also heard from friends that while they were pregnant their Chinese friend or Ayi would freak out whenever they used a laptop. One friend said her Ayi would try and take her laptop away. Too funny. 

30 weeks pregnant in Hong Kong. I broke a lot of Chinese rules on this trip
including flying and asking for ice at every place we ate.
4) Pregnant women are to do as little as possible. This includes cooking, working, shopping, etc. I get stared at a lot out in public, more so now that I’m pregnant. People almost gawk when they see me on my e-bike or shopping for groceries. I’ve had friends ask if Steven is doing all the cooking. And recently I’ve been working with a local orphanage to organize volunteers (probably more on that in a later post), however, because I’m pregnant the volunteer coordinator came up with at least 3 reasons why I shouldn’t volunteer because I’m pregnant (I’ll be too tired, the babies will kick my stomach and I might get sick - the only one being a true risk is getting sick). I feel bad for Chinese women who are confined to their homes, unless, of course, they want to be. But constantly being told what you can and cannot do must be annoying! Other random things pregnant women are not allowed to do: fly (at any point in pregnancy), and be in a room with an air conditioner (cold air - we’ve covered this, yeah?).

5) You must eat more food. I think this is also widely misunderstood in the States, but pregnant women do not actually need to eat “for two people”. Of course, being pregnant means eating nutritiously, taking prenatal vitamins and in the third trimester, yes, eating a bit more; but no, I do not need to eat double the amount of food I used to. One of my Chinese friends was surprised at how my face was not fat. He said his sister gained a lot of weight in her face and that she needed to eat so much food while pregnant. Every women is different, some gain a lot of weight, some gain a little - but I think the Chinese women on average tend to gain a lot of weight everywhere. It’s a combination of point #4 above (not being allowed to do anything) and having their mother or mother-in-law constantly cooking for them and making them eat. Although who wouldn’t want a personal chef while you are pregnant, am I right? 

6) Sex. I debated including this on here, but it is a cultural difference. Chinese think you cannot have sex while you are pregnant. That is all I am going to say about that. 

There you have it! Those are some of the biggest cultural differences I have noticed in China while being pregnant. I’m sure there are more, but these ones come up the most. It’s so interesting learning about cultural differences through the experience of pregnancy. There are also a lot of differences in how Chinese view birth and caring for newborns, but I’ll save that for later. 

Oh, look, my glass is out of ice. Better go refill it...