Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Giving

Sophie's education can be seen as extremely religious - she learns about ALL of them. My friend Sohni says that if you can't see God in all, you can't see God at all. Thus, Sophie is equally comfortable with talking fish being a form of Shiva who destroyed the world with a great flood as she is with the more usual stories from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The idea is that she will have plenty of opportunity to discover divine mystery all by herself, but at least she is exposed to plenty of choices. She might end up being a schizophrenic. Or an atheist.

My own thinking on this is that humans have an inherent spirituality, and we can equally worship by studying quantum physics or prostrating towards Mecca. I think everyone has their own paradigm of what is sacred and profane, and a walk with God is a deeply personal matter. I don't want Sophie to have that air religious superiority which I find quite irritating. By the way, I've observed that some atheists are equally guilty of that same superiority complex about the correctness of their beliefs, so it seems there is no theistic monopoly on arrogance. You believe what you need to, and accept that so does everyone else - that's the point of tolerance right?

Anyway, in our family, we celebrate Chinese New Year as well as Christmas. This Christmas Both Alex and Sophie received wonderful presents in the form of donations made in their name to various charities such as (micro-finance loans - please check them out if you don't already know them) and Half the Sky foundation.

Thank you to all our generous friends who have sent these presents!

I am glad you sent these instead of toys because Sophie is actually non-commercial in the extreme. Most of her toys are things she has devised by herself could be played with. Such as a collection of pebbles and some fallen leaves, tree branches, discarded toilet roll paper and boxes. I take it as evidence of a healthy imagination. On the other hand, we would like her to enjoy some of our own childhood delights, like Star Wars, Tin Tin, smurfs and Asterix.

In Lijiang this Christmas we gave her a smurf/schtrumpf. That's right - ONE toy, and it's a tiny rubber figurine that fits in her pocket. We also gave her the Veggie Tales books from my Singapore friends (Thank you Elaine and Kat) and the books from her Papy and Mamy and Aunt Celine. We also let her open the wooden percussion instrument from Peru from her Godmother Joan. So in total she got 2 toys and 6 books and you know what? She was completely delighted with them all.

We must be the only "mean" parents who do this to our kid. But I think there is plenty of time for her to later (when she has learned to write !) to do her long lists to Santa but for the moment she can say "This Christmas I changed someone's life".

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas in Lijiang

We're back from Lijiang where we all had a fantastic time.

Some random observations:

1) Your 20kg kid will demand to be carried on a safe cobble stone road but will insist on walking when you are on some dangerous part of Tiger Leaping Gorge
2) If you put your 7kg kid in a sling, you become the tourist attraction - no kidding - people were asking to have their photo taken with Fabien
3) Making some pretty place a UNESCO world heritage site may have sucked out its soul - Lijiang is now a bunch of shops selling useless tourist rubbish - the neighbouring villages still have some Naxi farmers in them.
4) Having 2 daughters in a matriarchal society is seen as a great accomplishment

We're now in House Moving Madness, and I'm taking the kids to Singapore with me in Jan 09, so there will be silence here for a bit.

In a while crocodiles...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

An uncluttered life

We are going back to Beijing tommorrow - the passports and visas have arrived, and our week living in the serviced appartment will be over.

Strangely it was liberating. To live with just the bare essentials. Instead of a hundred books, Sophie just had her library of 5 books which we told and re-told. Instead of a whole bunch of toys all over the house, we had one toy for Alex (a crib mirror) and one for Sophie (playdough) and both kids were perfectly content.

Instead of 2 nannys, and 1 ayi (for cleaning and cooking) we just had our cheerful morning ayi come with us. So that she would not be working 24/7, I also took care of both children by myself (I think I am getting good at this!!).

It helped of course that Sophie could swim with me for at least an hour every day otherwise she would have become like a caged tiger.

But I really like this. It is very uncluttered with material possesions. You end up breathing better. However the one indulgence that I think I cannot live without are my books. I miss reading an hour or so at night before sleeping.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We are in Chang Chun Now

We are in Chang Chun now. Fabien is working in the depot every day, and I have the 2 girls all to myself. We are waiting for our visas to be processed and will leave by Friday. Lucky we have ayi with us. She was thrilled to be on an airplane for the first time, and since we are all staying in a serviced appartment she doesn't have to wash or clean, so she just helps me look after Alex when I go swimming with Sophie.

Alex is every bit as good a traveller as Sophie was at that age. She sleeps through most of the flight in the baby carrier, and then when she is awake she chills out and looks around and smiles at everyone. I am thankful because navigating the visa process through Chinese officialdom is stressful enough, so I don't need cranky kids to make it worse.

Sophie managed to swim a little by herself today (with a float) - the look of wonder on her face today was priceless. I managed to enjoy about 20 seconds of "wow Mummy look at me! look at me! All by myself!", before she got water in her nose and was not happy at all. However she was soon back to jumping into the water, and I had to promise her we were going to come back tommorrow in order to get her out of the pool.

Chang Chun is slightly warmer than Beijing now, but it is currently so polluted that we don't go out - luckily there is a shopping center attached to the hotel. Chang Chun was the seat of the puppet government during the Japanese occupation. This interesting historical fact explains the great Japanese restaurants here. Fabien and I actually had some excellent sashimi which makes up for the temporal displacement.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Happiness is ...

1) Knowing that my husband planned this totally awesome birthday party for me and a whole bunch of my friends (who all assure me that it is all donwhill from here !!)

2) having Sophie singing "Happy Birthday Mummy" and blowing out one candle on a muffin

3) seeing my parents and brother on skype and that they are all doing well and happy

---------- pictures to follow --------------

On a complete aside - my life is one big suitcase right now.

We are going to Chang Chun for one week to renew our visas, and then we are going to Lijiang for Christmas. And then we come back home to move house (we are moving a few floors upstairs in our appartment), and then I have to rush to do our ayi's Singapore visa, because she will come with Alex, Sophie and me go back to Singapore on 30 December.

Whilst packing up the clothes, I realise that we have so many lovely baby things. Most of them in the 0-3 month range are unisex because of course, we didn't know if we would have a girl or boy, but everything after that is for a little girl. But the stork seems to be only giving out baby boys right now.

Our neighbors on either side of us both had baby boys this year. My friend C in the US had a baby boy this August. Another 2 friends in China, 2 other friends (1 in Singapore and 1 in France) are ALL expecting boys for next year. But...I have all this great girly stuff to give away ! Somebody better have a girl soon otherwise we might be forced to make one ourselves!!

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Alex absolutely refuses to drink milk from a bottle, preferring to go hungry and cry until I feed her mommy milk direct from the source. This means that I cannot sub-contract this part of child care to anyone. She sleeps 7 hours per night(bless her!) but it's the WRONG 7 hours for me. She sleeps from 9pm to 4am, and even though I try lying down and going to bed when she does, I usually end up reading, checking email and generally am unable to rest until midnight. And then Alex wakes again at 4am for a feed and diaper change and then 6am for another diaper change, and Sophie gets up at about 7am. Although they both nap in the afternoon, I find myself scheduling too many activities during their naps. Although officially on maternity leave, I cannot resist fiddling with my files, and accepting pro-bono work for a charity that I support.

A cumulation of all this makes me chronically sleep-deprived, and it comes out at the worse possible timings.

Today is Alex's full month party (a bit belated, but this was the only time that the calendars could match for everyone in my office). My collegues are coming over for breakfast in a short while and I managed to burn the pot used to steam the "baozi" that I intended to serve for breakfast. I thought I was going to cry. But instead, I find myself starting to raise my voice at our brats, and generally blaming my husband for not being more helpful (than he already is!) and then I find myself releasing an evil monster from some deep dark place and its ferocity scares me.

Actually we have a rule that on Sundays we do not have any ayi, partly because I believe that they deserve a day of rest, and partly so that we have some privacy as a family. But I am re-visiting that notion now. If we can just get someone to deal with cooking and cleaning, on Sundays, we might actually make better parents because it frees Fab and me up to just look after our kids.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I'm not taking this for granted

A Singaporean hostage was killed at the Oberoi.

I didn't know her at all, but I used to work in the same document mill as her husband. I just know that they were happily married (last year) and in love and then it can be all over, just like that. I don't have much apart from the usual platitudes to say, but my heart aches for them.

I look at my 2 beautiful daughters and I remind myself not to take them for granted, because tomorrow you can get hit by a car, or have a piano fall on your head, or be shot by a terrorist. So I better use today to kiss my kids and husband, apologise to anyone I may piss off, and say nice things to my friends who are all flawed and wonderful humans, and perfectly decent canines.

It matters not the length of your life, but the depth and breadth, and for those who have loved, and been loved, there is sometimes that small consolation.

Sleep well Yen.

Memories are made of this

A friend just emailed me this photo that she took when we were in Bali.

Total cuteness... 'Nuff saud