September 2005

I was walking down a busy street with a friend, Ernie, and we stopped to get some melon on a stick from a street vendor. This was in Ernie’s neighborhood and he seemed fairly well acquainted with both the young lady selling the fruit and the other lady with her, who seemed too young to be her mother but was no doubt related. Ernie has a knack for striking up conversation and getting the locals to laugh and we had a brief but pleasant banter with them. An everyday, ordinary occurrence, perhaps, but notable nonetheless, for the entire conversation took place with the elder lady holding a suckling child to her breast, plainly for all to see. But, who’s looking?

This brought memories of my own experiences to play. When we were blessed with the birth of our first daughter, Blysse, Salomae and I were living in a suburb of , as progressive a city as one is likely to find in the US. We were highly fortunate to have as our midwife, Debra O’Connor, a veritable general in war against birthing alternatives waged by the mafia-like American Medical Association and associated organizations like the Nursing Commission of Washington State, who are doing their utmost to stamp out all competition. Blysse arrived peacefully to this world, save for her mother’s screams, of course, in a water birth to the soothing music of and the aroma of vanilla scented candles. It stands to reason that we would be advocates for breastfeeding.

Even in as progressive a city as Seattle, public breastfeeding, where a nipple might be flashingly exposed, elicited mixed responses, from happy doting looks to outright disgust and rage. I must say that nearly every beaming person who came up and told us how happy they were to behold such a beautiful sight was not from the US, with one elderly eastern European man standing out in my mind, no doubt because he regaled us with his stories for quite some time. We were, of course, confronting a sick and twisted portion of America’s collective value system. I know that sounds harsh but please! How can anyone honestly find anything at all sexual about providing the sustenance for life to an infant? (Fetishes, aside, that is!) In extreme cases, such people themselves are sick and twisted; no doubt because their sexuality has been so strongly suppressed that they can’t help but be aroused by such a sight. They are deeply ashamed of their bodies, especially any aspect which might cause them pleasure. Arousal = bad = must be banned. These are the people who eventually can’t help themselves and march up to you and demand you take your child and feed her in the rest room. To which you reply, “Fine, why don’t you take your sandwich into the bathroom with you?”

Things were different in Utah, somewhat, when Elyssia came along. We birthed Ellie in the bedroom of our new home. By this time we were even stronger advocates of natural birth and breastfeeding for the health of your child. In Utah, we found strong support. However, the modesty of most residents dictated that they cover the child and offending breast with a cloth or blanket. Fine, I suppose, if you don’t mind sweating and making your infant very uncomfortable, as we sympathetically witnessed time and time again while watching many a mother’s one-handed struggles to keep the blanket in place while the child endeavored to remove it. Utah was the best place in the US we found for providing comfortable rooms for nursing mothers to retire. This provided a stress-free experience for everyone, though there were still many startled stares at the blatant exhibitionist who defied tradition and wouldn’t cover up.

So, as Ernie and I were walking away, I mentioned how wonderful it was that they don’t feel this sense of shame toward this natural practice. To which Ernie replied, “True. But they feel shame in ways we Americans don’t - shame. They fear anything that will bring dishonor to their families.” Good point. I had a mental flash of a Chinese Jerry Springer and dysfunctional Chinese families revealing all on national TV and lobbing chairs at each other…

Not likely. Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark


Tis the season to eat . Chinese people have been passing them out, both out of pleasure and obligation, for a few weeks now and today is the big day to eat them! I’m not actually that fond of them, to tell the truth, but I don’t really hate them either, so I keep on trying them every year to see if I ever find one that knocks my socks off. They come in all sorts, sizes and shapes but the traditional ones have a sweet bean paste filling. (Actually, the really traditional ones are made from lotus seeds.) They’re just a bit too dry and rich for my taste. That’s why they market many other non-traditional mooncakes these days too. If someone really wanted to get on my good side, they could give me some of those TCBY frozen yogurt mooncakes I saw the other day.

We all went to a special celebration today that my daughter Blysse somehow managed to get invited to. Most of the other guests were embassy folks, VIPs and the like, but Blysse and a few of her classmates recieved invitations for their whole families. It was at ’s (S?n Yìxi?n) wife ’s (Sòng Qìnglíng) old and just getting inside to see that was a treat. If I could live anywhere in Beijing, it might very well be in Houhai right up alongside this place. It was amazing with a huge garden, wandering covered pathways, private ponds and streams and an immense courtyard house. I’d settle for 1/100 of that place and be very happy. Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

No spitting sign in the subway

The thing I dreaded most, as a parent raising his children in a foreign land, has come to pass. My 5 year old daughter, Ellie, has started spitting. There’s no question where she picked it up. China is the spittinest place I’ve ever seen, and I have seen a few places. Spitting has got to be one of the “hottest” items where cultures collide as there is simply no way to avoid the (to my sensibilities) aural assault as people hawk in the loudest manner conceivable and spit away to their heart’s content. The degree of revulsion experienced by expats serves as a litmus test for Beijing compatibility.

One of the most annoying effects of all these loogies is that it is downright near impossible to avoid the countless puddles that dot the sidewalks and even floors of many buildings. Beijing citizens, when questioned by perplexed foreign friends who finally get up the nerve to inquire, often claim that it is only the countryside people who flock to Beijing in search of a better life who engage in this sort of behavior but I don’t buy it. I decided to do some investigating and there is, in fact, a historical explanation.

It turns out they may have a very valid reason for all of this expectorating. Most people know that is one of the most ancient and comprehensive bodies of knowledge, though some proponents of modern Western medicine may question its validity. In China, is considered to be chock full of gooey “evils” that should properly be expelled out of the body.

While this does seem to lend a note of credibility to the practice, I suppose it is the manner of the expulsion I question. After all, couldn’t they do it in a less overt fashion, say in the rest room? I know it isn’t really my place to try to change the behavior of an entire nation but I do think that with the Olympics coming up and all of the subsequent image campaigns already in place, it wouldn’t be too hard to add this one to list of behaviors that will make Western visitors more comfortable. Except maybe baseball players, that is. Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

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