My Rectilinear Life


Dalian, China
December 11
US expat living in China. Another 40-something woman experiencing mid-life crisis, only this time in China, with dumplings.


Overworkedtiredandnumb's Links

OCTOBER 20, 2010 3:09AM

Would you like some hot water with that?

Rate: 3 Flag

Hazel's preschool teachers recently asked me to bring in a chair cushion for her. Huh?  I guess in China you provide your own chair cushion. Isn't that what my 300 big ones are for? That's right, bitches, I get full time preschool, with meals, for $300 a month. Eat your hearts out, but read on.

They wanted the cushion to keep her booty warm when she is sitting at school.  The northern Chinese are obsessed with being warm.  I suppose this is justified, especially where the booty is concerned, since it gets butt-ass cold here in winter. But now it is only October, and already I have started fighting off the pushy Chinese women who want my child to be triple-layered in down for a crisp and sunny autumn day.


Hazel in her school uniform, which she rarely wears because it is clearly not warm enough!


Hazel's teachers, for example, also asked me to dress her more warmly. Typical. Old ladies stop us on the street and lean down to Hazel.  They smile and speak to her sweetly. They don't say, "Ni hao" (Hello), they say "Leng bu leng?" (Are you cold?).  I can hear the tsking under their breaths.

From the time she was an infant, Hazel has always preferred to be as close to naked as possible. Our year and a half in Arizona cemented the habit. Each morning I fight with her over the clothing.  Not because I think she is too cold.  She's four, can't she figure that out for herself?  But because I am weak when confronted by the Chinese women.  They speak with authority and leave no room for disagreement. Every single day, I have to explain that she won't wear more clothes!

The preschool is kind of cold these days and that is because, while there is a distinct chill in the air, we have not yet reached "heat turning on day." Most of the buildings in our area have radiant floor heating, but the hot water that does the heating is controlled by the government.  Each year, officials pick an appropriate day (usually in November) to turn on the pipes.  Until then, people survive with space heaters and thick blankets.  Today at the supermarket I saw a huge selection of colorful hot water bottles. I was tempted, but I stuck to my purpose: I was at the store to get a seat cushion for Hazel's cold booty.

The Chinese drink warm water. At restaurants they bring you a complimentary steaming hot pot of water. It's "good for your healthy!"  I suppose this is what we would call an old wives' tale. (Personally, I think steaming hot water says, "I've been boiled! I won't give you Mao's Revenge!" and that's okay by me.) Some Chinese people that I know, educated and young, believe that cold water is bad for fertility. The obsession is all the greater since the one child policy had been in place for the last three decades, and enforced for the last two. You don't get a lot of shots at reproducing, so you'd better not take any chances. Why risk it for a cool glass of water?

Hazel, at four, is unconcerned with her fertility and insists on taking a bottle of cold water with her to preschool every day. More tsking. I say, "Ta xi huan he bing de shui!" (She likes to drink cold water!) They look at me like I'm an idiot.  "What kind of parent asks a child what she wants?!" I can feel them replying.

Hazel's school is a top-of-the-line "mixed" private school that allows both Chinese nationals and foreign nationals to attend. Foreign children are forbidden to attend China's public schools and most, like my older daughter Eleanor, attend private schools where the Chinese are not allowed.  Eleanor's school is owned and operated by an American, is very multi-national, and I have no complaints. But she isn't learning much Chinese and has exactly zero Chinese friends.


Hazel performs the school song with classmates

Hazel, on the other hand, attends school with Chinese children (2 of whom have parents who work with Jimmy, so there is a feeling of community with the Chinese). She is surrounded all day by Chinese voices and Chinese customs, including hot water. She occasionally babbles in Chinese and she quickly mastered the essentials: Wo yao niao (I need to pee), Chi wan le (I'm done eating), etc.  This is exactly what we had hoped for.

Every day I bundle her as best as I can and drop her off hoping she will explain for herself that she is not cold.



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This is fascinating - my dad is a retired Asian studies professor specializing in China, and my regular American life was dotted with opinionated, loving Chinese women. It seems like it's a reasonable trade that in exchange for dealing with the wives' tales and cultural prejudices you get a child who is really being "immersed" in a meaningful way...but not immersed in cold water. ;-)
Another great story. Makes me wish I was there too.

Ann, the trade is more than worth it for all of us. We struggle with culture shock and probably always will, but the rewards are immense. My brain, for instance, is getting the biggest workout it has had in years: learning language, learning customs, pondering the meaning of it all. Right now, I am in a stage where I find it easier to express what I don't like about China (hopefully without seeming too judgmental or malicious) or what is comically different from the US, than what I do like about China. I hope that I don't come across too negative.

Dan, I'm so grateful for your readership and encouragement. It means a lot. You can visit any time ;-)
This prohibition against cold drinks is also one of my big beefs about China. This is my third time living in China and each time, I grow accustomed to and take comfort in drinking hot water. And each time I return back to Canada, I stop drinking hot water. Right now, I've become deeply attached to hot water, having grown weary of the tsking of my non-expat staff, who attribut everything from from colds to stomach ulcers to the dreaded cold drinks in the same way that failing to wear socks, a Chinese colleague recently explained, will give you arthritis! Tsk, tsk, indeed.
Henrietta, Today my husband explained to a colleague (a Chinese woman with a Ph.D. from an American university!) that our daughter has a blockage between her ureter and right kidney. As a result, she has had several kidney infections. The woman responded that she had a similar problem as a child, until her parents started making her wear socks. "Are you sure you are dressing her in enough layers?" she asked. Apparently socks are the miracle cure!