venerdì, giugno 15, 2012

More Shanghai

Up in Yorkshire with a lot to focus on . . . so not focusing on it here.

So, instead. This past month in China. It would have been better to do it whilst not pregnant, of course. Particularly food-wise, as I was in Shanghai, where  the cuisine is sweet, greasy, and the exact opposite of what I wanted, which can basically be summed up as super-spicy stodge. Think roast beef and curried fries with a side of Cheez Whiz. Not readily available in Shanghai. Also, the air stank, I mean just *stank*. Sewers too close to the surface, 70% of the males smoking in my fucking face, and the saucy sweetness of the Shanghaiese food. It wasn't a New Delhi stink; if I wasn't pregnant, I probably would have got used to it in a couple of days. But I *
am* pregnant, and that means I don't get used to smells anymore. The stink  of my own farts, shit and armpits are some of the most repellent things in the world to me at the moment after I'd previously enjoyed them for the last 33 years or so, so there was no chance of me getting used to Shanghai in a month.

Nonetheless I'm glad I went, and I'm even glad I went while I'm pregnant, or at least I will be glad once the baby is born and I ensure that my four  and a half week exposure to some of the worst urban air quality in the world hasn't hurt it. I had a nice time, especially as the F-word was with me most of the time, having a vacation and being enthusiastic and all that.

It was a fascinating cultural experience deepened by having some small grasp of the language this time, and we saw some beautiful things. And I have to say, I like the people in Shanghai. Such a big town, but really safe (besides the traffic), and decently friendly. Shockingly friendly really, when you consider the population of the town is greater than that of Australia. Although I suppose you can't have so many people in such a small space without them learning how to deal with each other. I like the way Shanghaiese people grift. It's really above-board. It's less like a rip-off and more transactional, somehow, which means I didn't get grifted at all - that I'm aware of anyways. I like the way the men don't hassle you and I like the way people just sort of stare at the big pregnant foreigner without any concerning intention. It'd be nice if they gave up subway seats
more, mind you.

Being pregnant there was exciting. We had an earlyish ultrasound, around 16 weeks, so the F-word could see the kid (he left Shanghai a week ahead of me and he's not with me in Europe now - I won't be back in Trogstralia until the middle of July). I tried to express to the technician that we didn't want to know the baby's gender, or rather I did but the F-word didn't. I suspect she understood but decided it wasn't important that the F-word didn't want to know, because she just blurted it out excitedly. That was interesting, because - while out of necessity I was having the prenatal checkup at a VIP clinic - my Chinese colleagues who have had babies, even those who used VIP clinics themselves, were not told their baby's gender as a matter of policy. China's not India but there are millions of "missing girls" here too, so now you can't find out what you're having - but apparently only if you're Chinese.

In a Shanghaiese context that gets even more interesting, as parents in the city prefer to have girls, because if they have a boy, they have to buy him an apartment - outright, no mortgage - or else no girl will marry him. That's probably partly traditional economics, partly there not being enough women in the current generation, and partly Shanghai - Shanghaiese women have a reputation in China for being rather dominant and more important than men. There's a saying that boys in Shanghai are a construction bank, because you're sinking lots of money into building their future, and girls are a merchant bank, because they bring money to the family.

Gender relations spent a lot of time fascinating me there and I suspect  they always will. I love the F-word with a fairly overwhelming romantic emotion that hasn't got any less obsessive after having lived with him for six years or whatever it's been now. Nonetheless I find a lot that makes sense about the practical approach to marriage in China. I remember one lunch where a Chinese colleague and I both rounded on a Taiwanese colleague for having an overly-romantic view of marriage - one where he expected to not be irritated by his spouse and felt bad if he did. But irritation is part of the package, we argued. A partnership isn't a partnership if you're
never allowed to be irritated or never allowed to irritate. It's a
fairy-story, and a tedious one at that. Marriage is a decision you make every day - "this is the person that I want irritating me." That's love, surely. If the person always pleases you, aren't you just sticking around because you're pleased, and not because you love them, and why wouldn't things just end when they stopped pleasing you? Out of my Chinese circle of acquaintance, the only woman whose marriage I think is in real trouble is the one who goes strangely silent when a big chatfest about how irritating husbands are gets going.

The other interesting thing about being pregnant in China is the advice you get, a lot of which was new to me. That includes raising your arms above your head - apparently if you do that, the baby can strangle itself on the umbilical cord. Yeah, that didn't make sense to me either, and really poses a challenge to the whole pre-natal yoga industry. Another was not being allowed to eat crab meat. That made more sense. Crabs are sort of the pigs of the ocean, right? They'll eat any old disgusting shit and then let it accumulate in your system when you eat them in turn. The ban on crab will be PAINFUL when I get back to Singapore for a few days in July. Fuck, the crab is good there. No more painful than the ban on beer and unpasteurized cheese is gonna be in Europe though.

Probably the most remarkable piece of advice, or rather heavily flogged product that was new to me was the anti-radiation maternity dress. Ren and I had a growth spurt on the plane to China, apparently, and I had to go maternity clothes shopping almost as soon as I arrived (luckily Shanghai's far enough north that the people are more Western-sized and there was a lot available - would have been harder in the south, I bet). In the maternity store there were racks and racks of stiffish dresses that my colleague explained had some sort of metal weave in them to protect fetuses from cellphone and computer radiation. They used to be the absolute norm, at least for female office workers, but there's been something of a turn against them. I still saw a pile of women wearing them, though. (I don't know if it was because I was pregnant so I was noticing more, or because the year of the Dragon is an auspicious one for a baby, but Shanghai seemed absolutely stuffed with pregnant chicks. In my office, there were at least four.)

Great big scam, right? I thought so too, but I nearly bought one anyways. It would have been for the flights, which I'm taking a lot of before I get back to Australia. You can sell anything to mothers. Even against our better judgement. Still, it cost about a quarter of a "normal" maternity dress in a western country, where you can sell mothers the ugliest shit imaginable for hundreds of dollars if you play fuckin' Enya in the store and have a shopkeeper who can have mini-orgasms about natural fabrics. Jesus, what fucking cash cows we get treated as. It's fucking opportunistic and infuriating and I'm glad I did most of my maternity shopping in what still counts as a developing country price-wise. As for Ren, we're going to rely on hand-me-downs, second-hands and home-mades as far as we can,
certainly in the beginning. I really resent the money that one is expected to spend for a new little thing that just wants boobies, to be warm, cuddled and loved, and to have its excrement cleaned off in good time.

Over the next five weeks I'm going to be spending chunks of time in
England, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and France. If you're counting, yes - it does mean Ren will have gone to more countries as a fetus than most people go to in their entire lives (we've already been in Canada, Australia, Singapore and China). I wish I could install a viewing window in my tummy for his or her benefit (yes we know the gender, no we're not telling, although no doubt a pronoun or two will slip over the months since it feels wrong to call it "it". I can't remember if anybody who could be expected to send new-baby presents still reads this blog, and what we absolutely do not want are gender influenced presents. I don't want a baby
princess or truck driver). Anyways, I'm very curious about the advice that comes my way in these countries and will happily continue my highly unscientific social research by flaunting my belly and seeing what happens.

giovedì, giugno 14, 2012

Spliffe uncensored

Your side of the great firewall again, dears, in London to be specific, in Pain Quotidien to be specific, on my way up to Yorkshire and pregnantly overstuffed on pretentious baked goods after five weeks of Shanghaiese food. By the time I left Shanghai some, oh, 24 hours ago, it was really time to leave Shanghai . . . the air was so dirty I was worried about long-term damage to Ren (who's blooming, by the way), the traffic was so bad that I was risking pulling a Falling Down, and I did not get fluent in the language all of a sudden. Nonetheless, I have a feeling that everything is going to seem pretty bland and colourless and odourless for awhile after those five weeks in Shanghai. Fuck me, what a city.

You get to appreciate there - or at least I did, but that could be because it's the core experience of people my age, who I was spending all my time with - that they had something like a year zero that didn't quite stick 40 years ago, but still did a vast amount of damage. There's this sort of dislocated older generation being taken care of/being unpaid nannies for their professional children who've got no time for anything except paying the way of their kids and parents at once. Even so, that place is so . . . so fucking Chinese. There you go. Adjectives fail me. Shanghai looks and smells and sounds like Shanghai and not like anything else. It's doing things Shanghai's way - not anybody else's. And since there are more people in the city than there are in Australia, it is so alive. I've never looked out a window, looked at any view in front of me there that didn't have a shitload of people in it. And that didn't smell like 14 or 15 things. Which was as disgusting as it was interesting at this stage of my pregnancy.

Anyhoo, more about Shanghai later, but now I'm back in Europe, and exhaustion notwithstanding very interested in the sensation of being back in Europe. Okay, I'm not really in Europe, I'm in London. But interested in it. I wonder how much I've been romanticizing my memories of the continent because of not liking Australia. Time to find out, I guess. I've only been here about an hour and a half and I've already spent a good 20 minutes of that cursing how the Tube is so fucking backwards in terms of disabled access (or in my case pregnant with two suitcases access) and how nobody gives me and my enormous belly seats on trains. They didn't in Shanghai either to be fair, but I assumed that was because people there didn't realize I was pregnant and thought I was just another fat foreigner. That excuse doesn't work here in the land of lager and pot noodles.