Trilingual Family’s First Trip to China – Re/Discovering China

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fu quan shan We were in China (Shanghai + Ningbo my hometown) for 10 days together end of April/beginning of May. It was Nina’s first trip to China, and Nicolas’ & my first trip back since more than two years ago. I don’t know what Nina thinks about the trip, but I felt that I rediscovered the cities that I thought I knew.

To start with, there are in fact quite a few nice and well maintained parks in both cities, some of which were well equipped with playground and facilities for kids. I never paid attention to those kind of things when I lived there, thus took the easy (and obviously wrong) assumption that they didn’t exist.

Pram is useful but only in limited areas. There are simply too many stairs and steps and not enough ramps, most of time. One ramp that I delightly encountered led us to … a wall. No wonder there aren’t many prams out there on the street.

Most metro stations are underground in Shanghai with multiple entries/exits (some big stations would have up to 16 entries) but rarely are there lifts or elevators. Good luck with a pram and a 12kg child (plus shopping bags)! Once you do manage to get down the looooong flight of stairs (by carrying the pram AND the child), it’s almost guaranteed that the pram would be stuck in the gate (the type with three rotating bars, is this the way to describe the thing?) so it involves calling a security person and negotiating. So I learnt to carry the pram over my should when exiting.

I didn’t expect parents’ rooms, but I didn’t expect either it’s nearly impossible to find a place to change nappy, decently. One morning Nicolas was with Nina alone (as I was working) in a 6-floor ultra modern high-end shopping mall, and time came to get the nappy changed. Nicolas managed to find ONE place to change nappies in the entire building, and that place was … inside a female toilet! Nicolas, being Nicolas, called a security person to clear the toilet and guard the door while he went inside to change the nappy. That was his first (perhaps last) trip to a female toilet. So is it a sign that men are not expected to change nappies in China (I already have a male friend who claims that he’s moving to China for no other reason but this)?

Other than that, Shanghai and Ningbo were both really lovely. We were lucky with weather – sunny, warm but not hot, with blue sky most of the time (touchwood!!). Food was incredible, as always, and too much, as always. Family were delighted to see Nina for the first time (everyone except my mother of course) and sad that we couldn’t stay longer. Friends gathered together – I saw quite a few university and high school classmates whom I haven’t seen for more than 10 years. Where did time go?? Everyone, including strangers we met on the strett, was friendly with Nina with waving hands and smiles. We even managed to do two day-trips, one to my maternal grandparents’ native village (high up on a mountain with an amazing view down to the valley), and the other to an incredible tea terrace plantation (where I took the photo of this post).

And – what a surprise -I also noticed some differences in child-raising.

Nina generally has more clothes on her than her daycare mates here in Sydney (her dad Nicolas doesn’t like being cold, so just you know), but she was definitely much less dressed comparing to babies/kids we met on the street in China. It was  a day for t-shirt, and many (in fact most) babies were in their sweaters. No wonder why my mum always told me to put on one more layer for Nina.

Family were amazed that Nina rarely cries when she falls. She usually stands up on her own. In China child is expected to cry and get parents’ help to get back up. I’m glad Nina is not too Chinese, for once.

I’m amazed by the fact that children as little as just over a year do not wear nappies anymore. I knew in the theory, of course, that Chinese toilet train kids very early, but it’s still incredible to see that Nina was the only toddler with nappy in a playground with other 20+ kids, many around her age. I need to hire a Chinese to help Nina with toilet training!

Nina is a real Chinese when it comes to food. She loves noodles, dumplings, 大饼 (one staple street breakfast, sort of pancake cooked by sticking to a hot steel stove), 油条 (another staple breakfast, deep fried dough stick), soy milk, beans (and more beans pls!), seafood, and … really everything that came her way.

She also adapted fairly quickly with time difference and change of sleeping environment. After a few days, it was easy to put her down to sleep, much like back at home.

Dare I say it, my mother was fairly impressed with our parenting skills (!!!!!!! it deserves as many exclamation points as I care to type!!!!!) as she used to say that I would be hopeless … As a matter of fact, as Nicolas and I are so used to caring for Nina all by our own, we had to remind ourselves that my family would love the opportunity to feeding her, cuddling her, playing with her for a few hours or so.

Alas, when it comes to language, it’s still too early to say (hey, Nina doesn’t speak a word still). But I am quite confident that she understands as much Chinese as the other two languages. Evidence? I asked her to go fetch her shoes and come sit down in front of me to help put her shoes on, all in Chinese. And she did. I was quite impressed.

As it was time to leave China, I could only say 回头见,中国。See you next time, China.

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