Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ghosts of Memory Past

As I sit on the ferry awaiting departure to Mackinac Island, the smell of fuel combines with the gurgling of the motor and I am instantly transported back to Shanghai. Somewhere in my subconscious I anticipate the groaning of motorcycles, the stench of cigarettes, and the stares of bewildered locals to surround me.

But alas, they do not and I am present once again in the smoke and noise free interior of my Mackinac Island bound ferry. The hoards of motorcyclists and choking cigarette smoke that once accompanied me on my daring ferry commutes across the Huang Pu river hang in this tension of scent, sound and memory; and I am left to wonder if this will ever change. Will I ever be free of these intruders that seem to weave themselves through most of my thoughts and experiences?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Smugness, Self Sufficiency and the Western Way

I am not a good sick person. I hate sore throats, coughs, fatigue that refuses to budge, and anything remotely related to illness. I like to be in control; I have far too many things on my list of to-dos; and I have 2 small children who need me to be engaged, energetic and present more often than not.

This past week, my body decided to play host to a rather unpleasant guest. No amount of vitamins and homeopathy could keep this bad boy at bay, so I spent a great deal of time on the couch while my children (gasp) watched more television than I could keep track of (gasp). I bleached all bleachable surfaces, continually washed our hands, and even wore a face mask when I was required to come within a foot of them. Was I over the top? Yes. Would I do it again to avoid the possible outbreak of such a nasty invader? Absolutely!

I found myself a bit homesick for Shanghai this week. It could have been the recent discussion about a potential job offer in Shanghai, but I knew it was more than that. Phil was out of town on a business trip, I was all alone with the kids; and the weight of the housework and childcare in light of my own illness was more than I could really process.

It made me miss those sick days when I knew Ayi would be coming through the door at 8am to clean, care for the kids if I needed her to, and maybe even cook. Poor me, right? I get it. It's very un-American to admit as a woman that I liked having another person help me care for my children and keep my home in order- but I admit it. There is something very lonely in the way we Westerners care for our homes and families; particularly Western women. We love our friends and families. We take great pride in our homes. We have can-do attitudes. These are all good traits. It's how this translates for many of us that can cause a lot of worn out women and families. Oftentimes, this can-do attitude mixes with pride and a few other elements to create overworked, overtired, and overstressed women who walk around feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders.

While Ayi was a hired member of our family, she was not a sign of our wealth or status like a nanny might be here in the US. She was simply an extension of our family as in so many other families in China. Having an Ayi is part of a larger idea that it does indeed take a village to do anything. People would often marvel in horror (if that can be possible) at the fact that I would have two little babies out on my own. We would often get to talking and joking; and the Chinese women would usually tell me- "you Westerners have 1 adult to 10 children while we Chinese have 10 adults to 1 child here."

Back then I felt a bit smug and self sufficient; now- I do not.