Sunday, July 27, 2008

Parenting in Tongues

It's 6pm on a Sunday night.  Ming's boss's son, Kai is here in our apartment.  He a seemingly well-behaved boy of seven.  Ping, Ming's daughter, age four, is also here.  And then there's me; that makes three.

I've never been afraid of kids, just like I've never been afraid of adults (meaning, people my parents' age) because I feel at ease around people who aren't my peers.  But living in China puts a new twist on things, as always.  Suddenly, I'm a bit terrified of both little and big people.  

These two munchkins have been perched in front of the TV since 2 o'clock.  Sitting a child in front of the TV has never been my style.  Even as a nanny I always tried to keep it to a minimum of an hour or so during the day.  But there's no arguing, TV gives baby-sitters and parents a great break from responsibility-clearly, or I wouldn't be writing this blog right now.  It's not a break I'm looking for, however; my downfall is my lack of words.

My Chinese has progressed to the point of being able to tell Ping to pick out a DVD, get dressed so we can go outside, and stop eating junk food because she's gonna have a tummy ache.  While being able to express such things is a great help, my inability to explain or reason with her still remains.  While I'd like to ask Kai what else he'd like to do besides watch TV, I'm scared he won't understand me.  Or I won't understand his reply.  Or I will understand his reply but won't be able to explain why that choice is unacceptable.  This leaves me mostly silent and it's a problem that plagues me on a daily level.  To get over the fear and to just speak is key to language learning.  I know that, but putting it into practice is difficult.

I don't always give myself enough credit.  When Kai came over he asked Ping (in Chinese, of course), "Can your mom speak Chinese?"  I was not looking forward to Ping's answer.  Ping, like most young children, is brutally honest.  She was gonna tell it like it is.  She was going to out me for what I really am, a wannabe-Chinese-speaker.  Afterall, whenever Ming speaks English Ping often cuts in, "Let mom say it.  You say it wrong.  You can't speak English."  Girl is way harsh; that's why her reply surprised me.

"Yeah, my mom can speak Chinese.  She can speak English too.  She can speak both."  A shining moment.  A burst of confidence.  Little good it's done.  I've been mostly keeping quiet this afternoon.  But the shyness isn't the worst of it.  The worst is the frustration.  And frustration hit me hard earlier in the week.  

It was about dinnertime and Ming's mom came over to cook.  She told me to go downstairs and watch Ping, who was playing in our apartment complex's playground.  She'd have Ming call me when he got home from work and dinner was ready.  

When I arrived at the playground, Ping was being watched by an elderly lady.  She pushed Ping and two other girls in a tire swing.  
"My mom's here," Ping exclaimed, waving at me.  A minute or two passed as I watched the group play.  
"Where's your mommy?" the elderly lady asked Ping.  
"She's right there!" Ping replied, again pointing at me.  
"Impossible!"  The old lady exclaimed.  
"Really, that's my mom!"  Ping insisted while pointing.  I began to wave.  
"Really?"  the old bag asked skeptically.  I looked her in the eye and began nodding. 
At this point, a whole posse of old ladies, waving their Chinese fans, began eyeing me.  Me, the impostor.  Me, the infiltrator.  Me, the foreigner.  But I held my head up high.

Ping got nearly a good full hour of playtime in when my phone rang and it was time to go.  She was playing with a few girls in a gazebo while one girl's father looked on.  I approached them.  I called Ping's name, praying she'd go without a fight.  She ignored me.  
"You're mother's calling you," the father told her.
She looked at me casually.  Then looked away and continued singing with the other girls.
"Ping," I said again, keeping my voice level.  No response.
"Ok, bye-bye!" I said, walking away.  It's a good trick.  If they think you're leaving, they're bound to follow you.  Well, it usually works.  When I looked back, she wasn't behind me.  She was still singing happily away.
Now she came running.  I grabbed her hand forcefully.  Everyone was looking at us.  We walked quickly.  I wanted to tell her that it was important to come when I called.  That grandma and daddy where waiting for us.  I wanted to tell her so many things.  And I probably could.  But my fear and anger silenced me.  

I'm not sure how to get over my silence.  Then again, maybe I don't have to.  It is now 6:45 and they have grown tired of TV.  They are playing make believe (school, and Ping is the teacher).  They are doing exactly what I want without me even telling them.  I only had to wait a few hours for it to happen.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Beijing 2008

Beijing Olympic Stadium, aka "The Bird's Nest," April 08

The final stretch is here, only 30 days left to go.  I remember standing in front of the Olympic Countdown by Tiananmen Square and there being well over 1000 days between me and the big event.  The anticipation is mounting.  The Chinese people have been waiting for their day in the spotlight; they have been waiting for nearly seven years-if not forever.   In July 2001, the International Olympic Committee announced that Beijing had been elected to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, beating Osaka, Istanbul, Paris, and Toronto.

But I don't even live in Beijing anymore.  Which is too bad, considering my blog address and name is Rosie in BJ.  Currently, it's Rosie in CD (that's Chengde, for those of you unaware of my current location).  On second thought though, I'm quite relieved to be living outside of Beijing.  It's a city hectic enough on it's own and with added pressure with the upcoming Olympics the place is utter pandemonium.  Everything too old is being demolished and rebuilt.  Everything semi-old is being repainted.  Every sidewalk is being redone.  Every sidewalk peddler is getting chased away by the police.  Where is the old Beijing that I had grown to love?  Everything is so sanitary and boring now.  It's nearly impossible to find pirated DVDs.  I hardly see the point in going to visit.  And I won't be, at least not next month.  I couldn't afford it.  My old stand-by, City Central Youth Hostel, currently charges 45RMB ($7) for a bed in a 6 bed dorm.  Next month they will be charging 270RMB ($42) for a dorm bed.  Just a bed!  And they are one of the most reasonably priced hostels in the city.

The price gorging of hostels, hotels, transportation, food, beverage, and entrance fees annoys me.  Yes.  But it is manageable, especially since I'm living nearly 200 miles outside of Beijing.  My most serious problem, a problem faced by all foreigners living and visiting China, is that of the visa.  The visa.  How this word has plagued me in my life!  First with Zhao Ming trying to get an American visa and now we me.  Me.  In the past the Chinese government has issued visa quite willy-nilly.  Never was there too much fuss over getting one.  I was even able to buy a new one without ever having to leave the country (I don't know if this is allowed in any other country in the entire world).  Things are different now.  Thank you Olympics.  Thank you for causing so much trouble in my life.

My initial freak out was back in April when I heard that the government was putting restrictions on visas.  It would be near impossible to buy a new visa in-country.  (I would latter find it was possible.  A one year business visa would set a person back $1500, probably about 8 times what it cost a year ago).  For most people, one would have to go back to her homeland and apply for a Chinese visa.  Visas were only going to be issued for one month stays and proof of accommodation (aka hotel booking confirmation) and onward travel (aka a roundtrip plane ticket) were required.  No extensions would be given on visas.  Would the Chinese government have mercy on me, given that I was married to one of there own??? I was afraid they wouldn't. 

The good news, they do make exceptions for us married couples.  Phew!  What a relief to know I wouldn't have to leave my home and husband behind for the summer.  Now I could focus on the next issue at hand, finding a job.  

Usually landing a job in China is easy for a girl like me.  I'm highly marketable.  Being female, Caucasian, and American usually scores me major points.  Since this is China, there are no regulations regarding hiring based on sex, gender, or ethnicity.  Not that I'm advocating this practice in any way, it just happens to work to my advantage.  Unfortunately, I currently have one major disadvantage, a definite strike against me.  I have a 6 month tourist visa.  I do not have a work visa.  Prior to these new Olympic visa policies, this probably wouldn't have been much of an issue.  Even if it had been, arranging the correct visa would have been easy.  Those days are gone.  The only way I can now arrange a work visa is by returning to America and getting the correct visa at a Chinese embassy or consulate there.  Would you care to guess the current cost of a roundtrip ticket from Beijing to Chicago?  Would you further care to guess how many months salary that would be for me?  (answers at end of blog).

I know many of my friends and family would love for me to come home for a visit, whatever the reason.  Considering, however, that I was just home four months ago, I will not be returning this soon.  I will try working from home and earn money through tutoring, writing, and editing.  I think this is a logical and happy solution, but I'll still be relieved when the Olympics are over.  I hope then things will go back to normal then, whatever normal means for China, I'm still not entirely sure.

Answers: Roundtrip from Beijing to Chicago this summer=$1495.  This equals about 2.5 months salary for the flight alone.