Friday, November 21, 2014

Sick Day (Baby Edition)

I've racked up a lot of experience in Chinese hospitals, much of it I've managed to chronicle here. I was hoping to avoid taking William to the hospital for anything other than his vaccinations, but with a cold he just couldn't shake, we had to do something.

At the first visit, the doctor recommended Chinese medicines for his cough. Chinese medicine is gentler and more natural than western medicine but is very slow acting. When his cough continued and he got a fever, the stakes were higher so we added ibuprofen and antibiotics to the arsenal of medicines he was taking. I was okay with that, anything to avoid my baby from getting an IV. IVs seem to be the method of choice for treating many illnesses here. Ping just went through a series of IVs for a sinus infection and cold. I avoided one on a technicality (still nursing) when I had food poisoning a couple weeks ago.

But the coughing continued and grew in intensity. The doctor cautioned that pneumonia could be setting in. We were going to have to be much more aggressive in treating him (Chinese medicine was obviously not cutting it). An IV was definitely in order. The doctor recommended either checking him into another hospital which was equip to deal with infant patients or bring him in twice daily for an IV and nebulizer.

I've found it's probably best to avoid a Chinese hospital stay if possible, because at public hospitals it requires so much manpower. You need someone to take care of the patient, whether a child or an adult, 24/7 as nurses don't play as active in a role in watching over patients as they would in the US. You also need someone to bring food and drinks to the patient and those caring for him. Hospitals don't provide meals, in fact, they don't provide much of anything. With that in mind, we decided to keep William at home and take him to the nearby hospital twice a day for his treatments.

Though less challenging than a hospital stay, taking the little guy in for treatments is no easy feat. We must bundle him up in layers of clothes and a thick blanket since outdoor temperatures are now around freezing. Because we live in a 6th floor walkup (we are on the top floor of a building with no elevator) we must carry him, the 22 pounder, rather than take our bulky stroller (which itself requires two people to take downstairs).

William using a nebulizer.
The walk to the hospital is short, but they entire complex is being overhauled, which leaves an obstacle course of construction and rubble. We must zigzag around piles of dirt, supplies, and concrete. Workers sweep dirt in piles, as patients walk past hacking, trying to avoid the dust. Construction workers saw metal, causing sparks to fly in a million directions. Hospital employees carry huge cabinets, setting them in front of the elevators where crowds of people congregate. As with many situations in my daily life, an already stressful situation is made more difficult by a mountain of tiny annoyances.

In the mornings, William goes in for his IV of antibiotics. Since he is an infant, the only way to insert the needle is in a vein in his head. There are few things more depressing than seeing a baby with a needle in his head. Though William has handled it well, better than some of the older kids who kick and scream and howl whenever a nurse approaches with a needle.

In the past week I've had to see many kids poked and prodded since up to ten tiny patients share one hospital room while receiving their treatments. We've gotten to know some of the parents and children since most of them come twice a day and are there for at least an hour each time. In addition to receiving an IV, many kids also take a nebulizer. William also does this twice a day, once after his IV in the morning and again in the afternoon. This part he somewhat enjoys. Maybe it provides some relief to his troubled breathing and cough.

The good news is, William seems to be feeling much better. As much as I loathed the though of him getting an IV, I do think it sped up his recovery and helped us avoid a case of pneumonia. Having a sick child is scary and it's doubly challenging when you're abroad. Sometimes I struggle to understand or trust the doctors. I've had to put a lot of faith in ideas and procedures I've been unsure about. But after this weekend, William's treatments should be over and hopefully life can go back to normal and everyone will stay healthy!

What about you? Have you ever been unsure or mistrustful of doctors?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

fast food favorites

As a little kid, I loved eating fast food. My mom would occasionally pick up Taco Bell (my first taste of “Mexican”) for dinner and I would happily scarf down an order of nachos with cheese sauce. Some of my best childhood memories are of my grandparents taking me to McDonald's; the playground and chocolate milkshakes were equally addicting. But as I got older, my tastes became more sophisticated. I mostly turned my nose up on fast food, that is, until I came to China.

Portuguese Egg Tart, photo via

When I arrived in Chengde in early 2005, the city's first western fast food chain had just opened. If you haven't been to China, you might guess that McDonald's had the honor of being first, but actually, McDonald's didn't break ground in Chengde until about 2007. The reigning foreign fast food champ in China and Chengde has forever been KFC. Having never been a huge fan of the Colonel or his chicken, I was pretty disappointed to find that if I didn't want Chinese food, my only other option in Chengde would be a little Kentucky Fried. You think that would have inspired me to learn how to cook, but again, that was something that didn't happen until later.

So KFC it was. For one of my first dates with Ming. For those western food cravings. I didn't do any finger licking (considered bad form in China), but I did eventually sample my way through most of the menu. People back home often find it odd that I would frequent a fast food joint, let alone go there for a date, but in China fast food hardly resembles or signifies what it does in the west. Chinese KFC offers a completely different selection of food than its American counterpart and prices are steep compared to many local restaurants—this was particularly true 10 years ago. At that time, you knew you had founder a keeper if your date was willing to splurge on some extra crispy. 

McDonald's pies, photo via

As for Chinese fast food menus, I find this is always a fun topic. It has somehow come up in multiple conversations I've had with family members and again recently when talking with my dad. He asked me (already knowing the answer), if I could get a Jalapeno Double at my local McDonald's. I guess it's a new addition to the American McDonald's sandwich lineup and one which my father has taken quite a liking to. Alas, there is no Jalapeno Double here, but there are lots of other fun things like Portuguese egg tarts (KFC), taro pie (McDonald's), and Korean steak pizza (Pizza Hut).

It's interesting to see how international chains tweek their menu's to suit regional tastes. We are sadly lacking a Starbucks here (I will know Chengde has really made it in the world once we get one), but for those living in places that do (everywhere else), it's Holiday Drinks Time. In the US that means seasonal favorites like Peppermint Mochas and Gingerbread Lattes; drinks that either don't really translate well or don't cater to the tastes of the Chinese market. This Christmas, Starbucks in China has holiday drinks that include Cranberry White Chocolate Mocha and Tiramisu Latte. Fun! Something to try on my next trip to Beijing.

What about you? Have you ever lived or traveled somewhere and found an interesting twist on fast food or other familiar restaurants? Or do you stick to just eating local?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Chinese Superstitions (Baby Edition)

Don't want any ghosts scaring this little angel
(William on his birth day)

William has been a great nighttime sleeper from week one. That's not to say that he never wakes or doesn't have an off night here or there, but he rarely cries and after having a bottle, he goes right back to sleep. The past few weeks have been a bit of a struggle. At first, I thought it was due to his last round of vaccinations. Then I thought he might be teething. Finally, I realized he had a full blown cold and fever. No matter what the cause, I always figure that whatever troubles him must be linked some logical explanation—an illness or a new stage in his development.

Ming's mom had different ideas. She was convinced, and even in the midst of William's obvious illness is still convinced, that his recent nighttime crying is tied to the paranormal. Ghosts have taken a part of him away and it is our job to call him back home, to unite his body and mind.

A stick to scare away ghosts
In order to achieve this, Ming's mom used a two pronged approach. In order to execute part one, she first found a large stick. She broke it in half and placed one section in the mail slot outside our door. The other lies on the bookshelf above where William sleeps. My understanding is that these sticks are used to keep ghosts from returning and re-snatching his spirit. I guess I can get behind this idea; it's almost in the same ballpark as a Native American dreamcatcher, which I used to have as a kid.

Part two of the reunification required my participation. I felt a bit ridiculous taking part and Ming's mom told me that if I didn't want to do it, we could just forget all the hocus pocus. But I decided to play along, even trying to convince myself I believed it, because, really, what does it hurt? So one night, after William fell asleep, Ming's mom went to the door to leave. She called to William:

“William, are you there?”

I answered on his behalf (naturally), calling back to my mother-in-law, “I've come back!”

Then I continued, speaking to William in soothing whisper, “Don't be scared. Don't be scared. Drink mommy's milk.”

This was repeated three times and then William's spirit was returned, which meant he'd no longer have a reason to cry at night. And that night he didn't cry, though I'm not convinced that our little ritual had anything to do with it. Ming, however, is a believer.

An inauspicious alley way 
Interestingly, superstitions about babies and ghosts have come up a number of times since William was born. For instance, Ming is adamant that during the first year of life, we should avoid taking William out at night. Babies, like animals, are susceptible to seeing ghosts after dark.

Another issue we have is that there is a crematorium near our apartment. I didn't even realize this until Ming started panicking about it after the baby was born. Obvious this is a problem because there must be hoards of spirits lingering around. And it is just the off of the main alleyway that connects our apartment complex to the main road. If at all possible, Ming avoids that route when we have William with us, opting for other exits even if they are slightly less convenient. It's not something I would ever concern myself with, but I entertain the belief to avoid arguments.

What about you, are you superstitious? Do you ever entertain other people's superstitions?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A quick update

It seems I have a few more readers than I used to (which wasn't hard to accomplish because I used to be my only reader. I don't think my parents even bother!). I'm not sure exactly where my blog is headed, but eventually it will have its own domain as I purchased one several months ago and am working on making the switch over.

These days, both kids are sick and insomnia has come back, rearing its very ugly head. It's hard to string two coherent sentences together, though there is plenty I would like to write about. I will be adding more posts as soon as I can get my thoughts together properly.

Thanks for reading! If you have any tips for a good night's sleep, please do comment!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Mommies on social media

We used to have to settle for gossiping at work or complaining to our neighbors, but social media has given us a new outlet to nurse all our grievances. I think, sometimes, this can be a useful tool—helping us connect with and support our friends and family, even those who are far away. Unfortunately, I think it's also tapped our inner narcissist, letting us get carried away with sharing constant updates and photos, often with hundreds of “friends” that just don't care. One of the main reasons I've haven't been using facebook or instagram is because I don't want to get swept up into it anymore. I want to take the time to personally share my life with those closest to me and for those more distant, they can check out my blog if it interests them.

I'll admit, it was tempting to start using facebook again once William was born. There was that small part of me that wanting to show off my new baby, seeing those 'likes' and comments tally up. And honestly, I don't begrudge people who do this. I actually love see friends' and acquaintances' vacation and family photos. But there are aspects of social media I hate. For instance, one of my friends once made a comment about being tired of being pregnant and then two of her friends were quick to comment on her post, saying something along the lines of: “You think it's bad now? Hahahaha. It only gets worse when the baby comes!” Way to be encouraging guys!

In the same vein, I don't like mommy martyrs. I don't want to hear about how you've sacrificed all your free time, sleep, independence, money and regard for other human beings all the name of your darling babe. Yeah, parenting is a hard job, and while it might be one of the most important things you ever do, it is not unique. Of course, it feels like this crazy and magical experience when you are changing the diaper of a colicky two-month-old, but having kids is something most people end up doing at one point or another. And none of us would be here if not for our own parents.

The need to brag and complain about parenthood is most likely a part of every culture. I was beginning to think, however, that my Chinese friends seem much less whiney about the whole parenting gig than my western friends, but then (once again) my eyes were opened by WeChat.

One of my Chinese friends had her first baby this past summer. She is living overseas, so I don't know much about how day-to-day life with a newborn is treating her. She occasionally posts a photo of her son on WeChat. Actually, her posts are so sparse she practically has me begging for more. Recently, she broke form and posted this little tidbit:

photo via weixin

In English, it reads something like this:

Being a mother is great profession. Although you go to sleep late, you gotta get up early. Although you make it look like a snap, it's a huge responsibility. Although you make no money, you spend a lot. Although the baby's small, there's a lot of shit to deal with. Although it's tiring work, you gotta make it look easy. Although you're making pennies, you're worried about millions. Before the baby, you were eloquent and graceful, now you are more down-to-earth. To other exhausted mothers, pass it on!

At first glimpse, I wanted to love this post. After all, it features a picture of my favorite World War Two icon, Rosie the Riveter. But this type of post annoys me a little. It makes motherhood sound kinda terrible. To be honest, I was very nervous about becoming a parent because of the unending stream of similar posts and articles I read online. They make parenting sound awful and thankless while at the same time swearing that it is wonderful and rewarding, leaving me dumbfounded.

Secondly, I feel like it is kinda whiney. Nobody likes a sell professed martyr. Part of me wonders, what if my kids one day are old enough to scroll through my old facebook/twitter/wechat history and see my constant complaining about how tough I had it taking care of them? How will they feel? I think some thoughts are better kept to ourselves.

What do you think? Are these sort of posts cute or annoying? Do you think social media is mostly a good thing or has it turned us into a bunch of whiners and braggarts?

Monday, November 03, 2014

Sick Day

photo by crazedshop via photobucket

One of the most hopeless feelings is being in a foreign country when sick or ailing—of which I've become somewhat of an expert at, both while in China and traveling in neighboring countries. Among one of my worst such experiences was when I was traveling alone in Vietnam several years ago. I had just touched down in Ho Chi Min City when my left arm stopped working. I still don't know what had happened. One day I was fine and the next I could not lift it in any direction (which made changing and putting my hair up near impossible). Luckily, I was blessed with two very helpful roommates at the hostel I was staying at, who, to this day, I can still recall in great detail. Sylvia, German, aided me in styling my hair and getting dressed. A young American guy, Armen, practiced reiki on me in a last ditch effort to ease my pain. It worked. Or maybe my desperation to believe it could work worked. After three days of torture, I finally got use of my left arm back.

As hard as it is when aches and illness render me incapacitated, it's even worse when it happens to your kid. Luckily, William has been a healthy baby so far. Ping, of course, has gone through her fair share of issues. Today, another stomachache has struck. My mind swings from one extreme to the other: Is she faking it to get out of school? Maybe she has an appendicitis? What should I do? I still don't know the protocol. Ming or his mom always save the day, but this morning Ming is at work. I talk to Ming's mom about it on the phone.

“Just see what happens,” she says.

“See what happens. . . ?”

“Just give her blah blah blah chew tablet,” she assures me.

“What was that?” I ask, looking at our box full of medicines and realizing I don't recognize nearly half the Chinese characters on almost all the boxes.

“Just give her blah blah blah chew tablet,” she repeats.

“You're going to have to tell her. I don't know what any of this stuff is,” I admit reluctantly.

I hand Ping the phone and she grabs some antacids out of the box. I feel like Ping's described level of stomach pain requires something with a little more kick, but I have no idea what to suggest. Nor do I know how to call her in sick from school. Or what kind of food Chinese people think appropriate for giving a child with a tummy ache. In other words, I feel completely useless.

No matter. Grandma will soon be swooping in, arriving at our home like Superwoman. But what if no one was around to save us?

What about you, have you ever been sick while away from home or while living in a foreign country? How did you deal with it?