Saturday, June 21, 2008

Duan Wu Jie Weekend in Beijing

One wonderful thing about living in Beijing is that we are just a short 6 hour plane ride (and no time difference) away from Sophie's Wai Po and Wai Gong.

Apart from frequent phone calls and skype contact, there is those long wonderful weekends like this one, when my dad came for a business trip and stayed the weekend. We went back to one of our favorite places outside of Beijing - the Commune.

What do you do with a living room like this?

A Sofa for cuddling with Papa when he is trying to nap....

And for monkeying with Grand-dad so he can never check his email....

Being surrounded by beautiful mountains all around us

Which is perfect for listening to birdsong in the morning with Wai Po

On morning walks with the proud grandparents

Friday, June 20, 2008

we are in Singapore !!

Things I realise Fabien and we miss about Singapore:
1) small size
2) highly efficient government
3) grandparents
4) blue sky and constant temperature/humidity

We experienced (1) and (2) today as we zipped around the island to do all our paperwork and administration to get Sophie's "freebie from the Government" and arrange for her Singapore passport. Most paperwork in Singapore can be done online. The Civil service here is one of the most "civil" and "switched on" that I've ever experienced. Although possibly Italy and China bureaucracy are on the other extreme end of the spectrum.

Having Sophie doted on by my parents and grand-parents is also fantastic. The blue sky is self-explanatory. Anyone who has lived in Singapore before will know that it is a brilliant and bright blue all year round !!

Yet, it's probably a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder?

The small size feels claustrophobic after a while, and the highly efficient government feel like the Panopticon Letters made live. The grandparents are great holiday baby-sitters, but the differences in child-raising may create hitherto dormant tension. The constant blue sky is of course nice, but having the change in seasons also gives you a sense of time passing. Fabien said that his 4 years here felt like he was living on the movie set of groundhog day!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sophie's Pony Party

We had a "Pony Party" for Sophie last saturday. Promise to upload photos to remember this day, but it was great fun. This is one photo which another parent emailed me. But we went "deluxe" this time around. This is because Fabien and I got fed up of always having one of us behind the camera, and we didn't want to worry about having photos for the party, so this time around - we hired a photographer! We'll collect the photos tommorrow and see how they turned out - wish us luck. I am really not a fan of studio shots, but I am hoping that we might have some fantastic family shots (finally!) with all 3 and a half of us !!

Some little toddler friends of Sophie came to try riding a pony (many of them for the first time) at our riding club. The parents all thought that we had a great idea to specify on the invitation "Donations in lieu of gifts". We don't want our kids to be spoiled and materialistic. So we asked instead that people make a donation to one of the charities for the children that we currently sponsor. The charity phoned me to say that they exceeded the original estimate I had given them (to expect) and asked what I'd like to do with the money ! We are so lucky to have such generous and kind friends, and I am sure this brings much blessings and good luck for Sophie's year ahead.

The organic donut cake was a real hit. The moment I told my friends that it was made from all-organic flour, eggs, milk, butter and chocolate, they let their kids take a second piece. All the kids (and adults!) had matching chocolate mustaches - It was so cute.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Big Bad Wolves in the World

I am sitting on the horns of another dilemma. Sophie is just too damn friendly. With dogs, people, and everyone else. Character-wise she is extremely gentle, and I have never seen her hit or hurt another child (her abused stuffed animals are a different story though - we are certain that the most mal-treated are probably a toss up between CamemBear and Monsieur Chat ** I don't know why all her toys have French names but they do!**) They get dragged around by the ear/leg, and thrown across the room etc.. Tough love indeed.

The point is, Sophie is just not very discerning about who she can trust. She can (if not supervised) leave the room with anyone, and wander around by herself. Her Chinese pronounciation is so clear that random strangers can have conversations with her. She will happily chat to anyone, and WORSE - follow anyone (usually other older children, women, and men - in that order of preference) anywhere on the promise of being shown something (usually a dog).

I love the fact that Sophie has really trusting personality, but it freaks me out that she has no sense of discernment at all.

My issues are now this:

How do I tell her this without scaring her?
How do I keep her lovely un-tainted view of the world but keep her safe?

There are big bad wolves in the world, and I want her to know that she should not leave mum and dad's side without telling us first. It's not all bad - most people are generous and kind and love little children. But I have visions of all those Jaime Bulgers and my heart goes out to them. There are peadophiles and nut-cases like that Fritzl guy and they are stuff of my monster- nightmares.

On another sucky note - my holiday in Bali/Singapore is in jeopardy due to the visa issues associated with the Olymp1cs. It is not funny, but if I cannot get sufficient cover for some of my clients over this period, I might have to cut short my leave to deal with it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Rojak kid

Rojak is a kind of South East Asian salad - a mix of fresh vegetables, pineapple, fried dough bits, dried cuttlefish, and bean sprouts covered in a thick yummy sauce (with chopped peanuts). Absolutely delicious and a real mix of whatever you have at hand that's fresh for a hot day. There isn't a right or wrong way to make it. Everyone has their own idea of what makes a good one.

I also affectionately refer to Sophie as our Rojak kid.

A play on the fact that she's a delightful combination of Franco-Singaporean blood, born in Italy, and raised largely in Beijing. Fabien and I are reviewing our parenting styles and practices. We like doing that when we go on weekends away, so that we take stock on our lives, change what we don't like, resolve to do better, and encourage each other on what we think we're doing right. We spent the long weekend with my parents and Sophie here, and it totally rocked.

Anyways, trying to define our own parenting style was the result of a huge research topic. I had taken 12 months off work after giving birth to Sophie, and I had read everything I could lay my hands on for parenting a child for the first 3 years. I (ahem) "extended" my library privileges (I was working at the UN staff college)and subscribed to BMJ and AAP, and printed reams of symposium papers.

Anyway, I've blended my own Rojak formula for Sophie, and for the record here it is:

Proximal care (i.e. soft and woolly) elements:
- Extended Breastfeeding (till Sophie more or less self-weaned *with some encouragement* at 18 months)
- Babywearing ( I think we hardly used her stroller, but the baby bjorn and ergo carrier for the longest time)
- Elimination Communication as a good spin-off from baby-wearing
- Montessori environment (we bought the idiot proof Montessori-at-home set) for sensory exploration for her
- gentle vaccine schedule (we follow the Beijing/ French vaccination schedule, but adapted it to be more spaced out)
- organic menu, natural fibers, natural environmentally sustainable furniture

The hard bits
Sleep Training - we did this from 6 months gradually - a combination of self-soothing and parent soothing. We've got strict sleeping schedules too, and Sophie puts herself to bed (i.e. we read a story, and say good night, and leave her room when she is still awake, but in bed).
Baby sign language - she learned to sign "please/thank you" very early and learned that was the only way to get anything was to ask nicely for it. It made early communication important, and I really do think that she talks well because of this.
Self-Feeding - she could drink from a glass cup from 10 months, so currently at mealtimes, she climbs up on her Trip Trapp, sits down, and feeds herself, and then helps to clear away her own plate. Throwing food, getting down from the chair, and just generally pissing off Mommy at the dining table, was the one sure route to getting no more food. Since our kid LOVES eating, this was one way to phase out some annoying toddler habits pretty quick.

I think in terms of my personal reference books, I have handy - Tracy Hogg, Marc Weissbluth, Harvey Karp and Tim Selden. I also read (but didn't think it worked for us) William Sears, Shichida Method, Glenn Doman, Richard Ferber.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Sophie and her parents were walking around Roma lake in Shun Yi. Suddenly she stops and her parents look expectantly wondering if she is going to announce that she needs a bathroom. But she pauses and looks like she is listening for something.

(*translated from chinese)
Is that my cell phone? Oh, sorry I have to take this call. (mimes taking a phone out of her pocket)
Hello? Hello? I cannot hear you the reception is bad... Can you call back later? I am out with my Papa and my Mama. We are at the park. Thank you.

Then our kid calmly resumes the walk with her parents.

At this point Fabien and I are laughing so hard that we forgot to take a camera to record all this. In retrospect I wish I did, because it's this kind of priceless moment which we will cherish for a really long time, and this blog is the closest approximation to a record that I will have.

Later on, I ask her who phoned? And she said it was "Mr Horse". Apparently horses have their own cell phones. And they tend to be in areas of low reception.

I know why people have kids. So they never need to watch TV again - ever. There is simply no substitute for this kind of entertainment.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Photos and random observation

As promised are a couple of the photos for our weekend,

For more photos please see this link.

Also, just a random observation about multi-lingual environments - keep doing it !

According to this Science article, babies as young as 4 months have the ability to recognise different languages. However, unless they have indeed been consistently exposed to multiple languages, they are likely to lose such ability by 8 months.

Right now, Sophie is currently having this phase where she will answer me only in Chinese when I speak to her in English. This is because although her level of both English and French is in complete sentences, she still makes small grammar mistakes and gets annoyed when she has to repeat herself because people don't understand her the first time. But for Chinese is in "grammatically perfect" (i.e random strangers understand her) paragraphs. Possibly, this is because basic mandarin is just a lot easier to speak than English or French with all their complex rules and exceptions. When I was studying French and getting frustrated, my teacher used to console me that most French people can't speak or write grammatical French anyway!

Happy Children's Day

I was a little sad yesterday, I thought about the hundreds of parents who lost their only child when their schools collapsed in the Sichuan quake, and how Children's Day would be seriously tough on them. There hasn't been a lot of media reporting, but what little (from the international news) has been gut wrenching. It's one of those times where you feel the gulf between the rich and the poor a great deal more. Apart from air filters and organic snacks, Sophie's pre-school is also supposedly natural disaster resistant (they have contingency plans for everything from E-17 virus to pedophiles and flooding).

On a happier note, we went to the park on Saturday and watched a football game. It was tough, but we finally managed to explain to Sophie that the kids football club accepts 4 year olds only. She has learnt that she cannot do everything !

However, she got a rossette from her first horse-riding competition on Sunday! Children's day at her riding school and for the littlest riders (like Sophie) they got to do a little relay race. Sophie couldn't tear her eyes off the dressage competition (we arrived too late for the jumping).

Photos to follow, I promise.