Sunday, June 15, 2014

Generation Gap

In our relationship, Ming and I face many cultural differences. These differences have become more strikingly clear as we've journeyed through pregnancy, post-partum, and parenting. I've recently come to realize, however, that many of our differences are due to a generational gap.

In America, I am somewhere on the cusp of Generation Y and the Millennials. I was fortunate to grow up during a time of fast technological advance and great economic prosperity. Sometimes I wonder how much this has shaped the person I have become. I think many Chinese view me as naïve—I don't particularly care about money and I am fairly trusting of others. I value happiness about all else. I think these traits aren't common among the Chinese and this holds especially true for people of Ming's generation. Ming came of age during a rather unstable period of ongoing change in China. The effects of which are apparent in both his personality and values.

In China, Ming is considered a qī líng hòu (七零后), post-70's generation, while I, if Chinese, would fall into the category of a bā líng hòu (八零后), post-80's generation. Here, you are labeled according to the decade during which you were born and due to the rapid change in China's modern history, the characteristics and experiences of those born within each decade are considerably different. I recently listened to an interesting podcast on Chinesepod that described some of these differences.

The host of the show, Jenny Zhu, described her experience growing up in the 80's and early 90's. Jenny was born the same year as I, so it was interesting to hear what life was like growing up in China for someone my age. She also had a guest born in the early 70's and one born in 1990. The post-70's generation woman could remember a childhood during China's Cultural Revolution when slogans were chanted in the street and people were sent away to “reeducation camp.” Ming was born in the final year of the Cultural Revolution, the year that Mao Zedong died. He didn't experience the same turmoil as someone born several years earlier, but he did grow up during a time when food was bought with ration tickets and a typical monthly salary was 40 RMB (US$7) per month. As a child, he didn't have a refrigerator or a television; there was no indoor plumbing. These circumstances were typical for the vast majority of families at the time.

Due to the hardships and uncertainty they had growing up, many post-70's Chinese are incredibly hardworking and concerned about money. They are practical but also entrepreneurial. Compared to the emerging generations (post-90's and -00's), they are collectivists who care very much about saving face as well as their parents' approval. Of course, these are generalizations, but I see many of these characteristics in Ming and even my students' parents, most of whom where born in the late 60's or the 1970's.

There are times I feel very frustrated by Ming's values toward work and money. Sometimes I think he regards them higher than happiness, family, or friendship—the things I hold most dear. I know I need to be more sensitive and understanding, because these values are in many ways a result of the time he grew up in. They are not so much due to the fact that he is Chinese, but due to him being a Chinese who was born in the 1970's. 

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Blackouts and Water Cuts

Remember being little and the excitement and fear that came with a thunderstorm? First came the violent rain thrashing down on the roof. Then, you awaited that blood curdling clap of thunder that shook the walls of the house. And finally, if you were really lucky, the lights flickered and the power went out. Dad let slip a string of curse words as mom ran around looking for candles and flashlights.

I loved those kinds of storms. While they were frightening, a temporary blackout was a welcomed novelty. Getting by for a few hours (or sometimes just a few minutes) without electricity let me imagine myself living in olden times or exotic locales. Sitting around lit candles with my parents brought out the romantic in me, even as a 7-year-old.

Having lived and traveled in Asia for nearly a decade, I've experienced more power and water cuts than most modern-day Americans would experience in a lifetime. When I first came to China, I found the frequent power cuts somewhat charming. They inevitably happened when I was out to dinner and the waitresses would scurry around, placing a candle on eat table. Everyone would continue their meal over candlelight. It was even more romantic than those candlelit storms I spent with my mom and dad.

These days, however, the cuts fail to amuse me, they are particularly cumbersome having children and working from home. I can now appreciate why my parents cursed such occurrences. Lately, the electricity has gone off at the most inopportune times—when I'm teaching an evening class or when Ping has a mountain of homework. Even worse than the power cuts, which are becoming more and more seldom, are the frequent water cuts. Every time they happen, my heart sinks. How long will the water be off? The longest we once went was 36 hours. I dread another chance at a day and a half without water and my fear is further compounded at the thought of it while taking care of an infant.

What's it like without running water? Well, let us ponder all the things we can't easily do without water. Obviously we need water to drink, though that can easily be solved by running down to the convenience store and buying a 5 liter jug of mineral water. What is problematic is preparing meals. Food and dishes need to be washed, as do our hands. Showers are, of course, out of the question, although I can cope with a day or two without a shower. Laundry, too, has too be put off.

The biggest inconvenience that comes with a water cut, and one that may not first come to mind, is flushing the toilet. Without water, there is no way to flush. We must either use the public toilet outside our apartment or fill buckets outside at the nearest working outdoor water source. While I am pretty open minded about toilets, but going on smell alone, I know the nearby public toilet should only be used in the most dire of situations. . . such as being forced to at knife point. Needless to say, I've yet to summon the courage to enter it. So when the water stops for any significant amount of time, Ming finds various kettles, pots, and buckets to fill for our daily activities.

The past week there have already been a few water cuts. They've been making me nervous, but luckily none have lasted more than a couple hours and the water has always returned around meal time. I hope our luck doesn't run out, as I hate to have to run around looking for a decent source of water on top of washing baby clothes and sterilizing bottles. This is just another one of the challenges and uncertainties of living life in China.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Revisiting The Woes of Parenting: Myth or Fact Revealed

From March 19, 2014, The Woes of Parenting, I wrote down some of my worries about parenting, particularly mothering a baby. I didn't know if all the venting about taking care of kids that mothers do online would ring true for me. Now that I'm approaching the two month mark of being a mommy, I feel like I have some authority on the topic. Well, maybe not an authority. This is the truth as I see it, in my experience. Every person and her situation is different, not to mention every baby is different. 

Despite my constant complaining about dealing with cultural differences, my circumstances have been pretty ideal. William is a “good” baby, in the sense that he cries rarely and sleeps well. I also have lots of help from my husband and mother-in-law plus Ping pitches in too! I have pleasantly surprised to find that, thus far, many of my concerns were unfounded. Here's what I've discovered:

1. I'll never sleep again. Myth. I relish sleep. In fact, I have never even pulled an “all nighter.” I was, quite frankly, terrified about how an infant would affect my sleep. I am a disorientated monster when I get six or less hours a night. I have been incredibly fortunate that William has been a great sleeper, especially at night, since birth. I had one really rough night when Ming was out of town and William didn't really sleep, but I was able to take a very long nap the next day when Ming's mom came over. I am averaging eight hours or more of (somewhat broken) sleep every day.

2. I'll never have sex again. Myth. I won't go in to details, but I think “less frequently” is more in line with reality. Obviously “never” is a bit of an overstatement.

3. I'll never stop worrying. Myth. It's official, I'm not much of a worrier. If motherhood hasn't made me one, I think I can say with confidence that it's true. Ming does enough worrying for the both of us.

4. I'll fail to change clothes for days, perhaps weeks, at a time. I won't find time to shower. Myth. Well, it's no better or worse than it was before. China brings out the lazy in me. Wearing a new outfit every day is just a waste—baby or not.

5. I'll constantly be covered in spit up, barf, pee, and/or poop. (Somewhat) Fact. I am quite often showered in spit up and from time to time breast milk. I try to dodge the pee and poop.

6. I won't love my dog anymore. Myth. I still love Fei Fei, but there isn't as much time for her. I actually feel pretty bad for the pup, as she is treated as a complete nuisance by the woman who used to adore her (Ming's mom). Not to mention, when he first came home, the baby made Fei Fei extremely nervous, but she seems to be adjusting now.

7. I'll finally understand love. Myth. I don't think my concept of love has changed. Having a baby has changed how I view some things and has helped me better understand other, but love isn't one of them.

8. I'll feel guilty pretty much constantly. (Somewhat) Fact. While I'm not a big worrier, I am guilty of often feeling guilty. I hate it. I feel bad when anyone takes care of William other than me. I feel even worse leaving to go to work. I don't know why, but I have the overwhelming sense that he is my responsibility and my responsibility alone.

9. My time will never be my own. (Somewhat) Myth.  I don't have much time to do some of the things I used to do, like studying Chinese, but I still try to take at least 30 minutes a day to go for a walk or a trip to the store on my own or with Ming or Ping. I have lots of time to watch TV or reading crap online (good activities while feeding a baby). I think eventually I'll have more time for myself when William is on a schedule and sleeps longer at night.