I Need a Tissue…

for the Chinese farmer blow that was just shot my direction.

The Hubs mentioned that my sarcasm is extremely subtle, and for readers who don’t know me, I need to include comments like, “insert eye roll,” otherwise I come off sounding like a hurt victim “seeking validation.” His sweet and thoughtful feedback. My snarky reaction: Puh-leez. (I keep adding to this post after I’ve published it, but I want you to know I’ve got an amazingly kind partner-in-crime.)

If you think I’m curled up in fetal position, crying on my pillow every other moment, think again. I won’t lie, I’ve cried twice. Once from anger, after a man physically pushed me, twice. But you should know that I’m often cursing like a sailor…on the inside. I no longer believe in using profanity, although it would probably spice up the storytelling. But let’s keep it PG, people. (That’s sarcasm, looking you in the eye. We’re in Communist China with state-controlled media. Everything is rated G. For “government.” Get it?)

I paint China as it is, ugly, dirty, rude and crass. Don’t get me wrong, there are beautiful buildings and a five thousand year history to contemplate. There are some wonderful local people, too. Their stories will come. But I experience the “real” China, while they set out to deceive the Laowais, by attempting to ingratiate themselves to you.

You may see the entrance. But I see the actual squatter. In all of its filthy glory.

Entrance to squatter row.

Stop That Ayi! and Other Nonsense


I am causing all sorts of chaos, wherever I go.

I write this with a wicked grin.

All of the International Schools are gated, with guards stationed around the compounds. At noon, I had Parent-Teacher Conference at Concordia. After the meeting, as I carried Pinky Stinky out of the exit gate, the guard hollered at me. I ignored him and kept walking and he chased after me, yelling, “Hey! Come back here!” Turns out he thought I was some ayi (shocker) trying to steal a kid. I go through this every morning, after I walk Miss M into her school and walk out with The Kid to go to his school. The same guards never fail to stop me. “Where are you taking him? He’s suppose to stay here.” I flash my Dulwich School badge and for the eighty-nineth time I explain he attends a different school, the Dulwich crest embroidered on his backpack and school coat, meaningless. I no longer bother explaining that I am his mom.

The silver lining is that the schools truly protect their students. As a parent, I am grateful for their vigilance…and just so you know, I am constantly on the lookout for silver linings, since I am daily being shouted at and treated like native scum.

Later, I run to the store with my friend. Her blond-haired, blue-eyed niece and nephew accompany us and run around with Pinky Stinky. Inevitably, the same comments are made when we’re together: “Look at those siblings!” “Those sisters and brother are beautiful!” Then, they ask me (the assumed ayi) in Chinese, “They’re siblings, right?” or pointing to my blond friend, “That’s their mom, right?” Hmmmm…

I am beginning to question the intelligence of Chinese people. Okay, I realize I’m making an unfair statement. The one-child policy implemented in 1978 has confused and distorted their views regarding the family unit. Few of them have seen families with more than one or two children. And apparently, interracial relationships are uncommon. So, I should say, I’m beginning to question their lack of common sense. But again, that’s unfair, because of their lack of exposure to anything outside of their culture, since everything is state-controlled. But I’d feel like being more compassionate if the general populace would stop yelling at me. (I was physically pushed yesterday. I’m on the verge of karate chopping someone. But that’s for another post.)

Let’s see…where is that silver lining for today…

I attended PTC and Miss M and The Kid received glowing praise from all of their teachers. They must have an awesome mom…(and dad, but really Mom runs the household here and the homework help. Just saying.)

The Circus & their awesome mom.

By the way, that first picture up above is Pinky Stinky’s blond “boyfriend.” Her words, not mine.

The Circus Loves Skype

Since it’s Love Week, let’s not forget to mention how much we love the blessings of modern technology.

Sunday/Monday cousin chat.

Again, I recall to mind fifteen years ago when I was a college student studying abroad in Nanjing. I faxed home letters for a fee, called home for a fee or sent snail mail for a fee. Today, The Circus Skypes with friends and family around the world, for free.

To our friends who haven’t set up Skype yet or are reluctant to do so, we say, “Try it, you’ll like it.”

Happy Valentine’s Day

It snowed today. Giant snowflakes.

Snowflakes on my sweet pea.

We were cold. And wet. And without valentines.

Snowy Pinky Stinky

Our shipment is still on a boat. Somewhere at sea. I had to improvise. V shared some crafts and we made paper decorations.

The Circus loves sharing.

Then, I baked.

42RMB brownie mix loves becoming cookies.

Chocolate, of course.

Dinner was festive. Hearts dangling from the ceiling, candy everywhere. The Kid said, “I love Mexican food!” “Me, too,” piped Miss M and Pinky Stinky.

Te amo.

Nothing says Te Amo like fajitas…even in Shanghai. (If only we could get tomatillos. Mole verde is calling me.)

Later, we opened a package from Puo Puo and Gong Gong.

The Circus loves packages.

Red envelopes for Chinese New Year. And favorite treats for Valentine’s.
The Circus
Happy Valentine’s Day from The Circus, Shanghai-style.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Tiger Mother

Tiger Mother, now a gentle grandma.

My apologies for not posting on China today, but I stayed up late to finish reading Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, after watching a couple of flicks with The Hubs. I am still recovering from her book. So many of her “truisms” reminded me of my own childhood battles with a Tiger Mother. However, I found myself either completely appalled or laughing hysterically at Chua’s sheer arrogance, lack of compassion, ridiculousness, self-grandiosity and her over-generalizations, or nodding in complete agreement with her colorful observations of the differences between Western and Chinese philosophy. I won’t review the book but will say it’s generated controversy for a reason. She comes off as unlikable and pretentious, so I’d recommend borrowing the book from a library, unless you want to fund her lavish vacations and parties. (Which I just did.)

And yes, I play classical piano and speak Chinese for a reason. Thank you, Tiger Mother.

Let Me Count the Ways

I love yous.

This morning The Kid morosely said, “Mom, it doesn’t feel like home here.” Our shipment of things should arrive to port this week, but there’s still Customs. I am hopeful that it will only be a few more weeks. However, the children have struggled without their belongings. To cheer us up, we went window shopping for pianos.

I love the color green.

Jinling Road has store after store of musical instruments. We ended up at a second hand store, full of Yamahas and Kawais. And this guy:

I love La Campanella.

He played Liszt’s La Campanella for me. Sorry for the action shot, but I had to catch his fingers flying.

Did I say “window” shopping? Some people say I love you with candy hearts. Not this man.

I love candy.

The Hubs says I love you by buying me a piano. I’ve played the piano since I was eight. (Yes, Tiger Mother.) In Los Angeles, a church friend gave me her piano. Before I moved back to Utah, I gave it to my friend. My mother gave me our family piano, which I did not ship to China. Our home has always been blessed with music, for as long as my children can remember.

The Circus loves watching.

After the piano was delivered and we had a western style dinner, The Kid said, “Now, it feels like home.”

I love my Yamaha.

I never knew it, but when I play the piano, my kids hear me saying I love you.

Street Cleaning

I feel like I need to write something cheerful, after my last post. Perhaps it was a bit too personal. Thank you for all of your well wishes. I promise I am still American me, doing my best in China. My spirit is too rebellious to take heed, otherwise. My mother can vouch for me. In fact, today at the grocery store, the man weighing my fruit yelled at me that my bunch of bananas wouldn’t fit in the plastic bag. I calmly stuffed half of the bunch in one bag and put another bag over the uncovered bananas. Stubbornly. Willfully. Gleefully. By the way, I am laughing at the reference to “banana,” a mildly derogatory term to categorize someone like me. Yellow on the outside… I could show you how I bagged the bananas, but I’d rather show you this:

Street cleaner. Jinqiao, Pudong, Shanghai.

The other day I noticed several workers in orange jumpsuits pushing around carts. Street cleaning, the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, I missed the shot of them sweeping the side of the street with long brush brooms. You’ll have to imagine it. There was a legion of them around town, sweeping up the fireworks left in the gutters. I can only imagine what Waste Management must look like…

Feel better? Me, too.

Mistaken Identity

American me.

Last fall, a sweet old lady came up to me at Draper Elementary and asked, “Sandra Yi? Aren’t you that news reporter for channel 5?” When I said no, she replied, “Oh! Well you look just like her. You’re beautiful, too.” Keep in mind that many parts of Utah are still predominantly Caucasian. To this sweet grandma, I (Chinese-American me) looked just like a Korean-American news reporter on TV. Maybe it was the long black hair.

Some days in China, I’d gladly take that comparison and adulation again. Frequently, people assume I’m The Circus’ Ayi or “domestic helper” (a very PC phrase for maid.) Women of all generations approach me in the stores, cooing over the girls. “They’re so beautiful.” Inevitably followed by a doubtful “You can’t have given birth to them!” or an incredulous “Did you give birth to them?”

I was mentally prepared for it, but the first time was still a shock. Two weeks after we arrived, we climbed in a taxi, The Hubs in front, and I in the back with the kids. The taxi driver admired my husband’s Chinese speaking skills and asked, “So where is your wife?” The Hubs looked confused. I told him in English, “He thinks I’m your Ayi.” The Hubs answered in Chinese, “My wife is sitting in the back.” The taxi driver then looked in his rear view mirror at me with a surprised expression, either of disbelief or disgust. It was subtle, but judgment glanced my way.

Disbelief and confusion, as in, Did he marry his Ayi? Think of all the scandalous stories they’re telling about us. Once a bread saleswoman grabbed me and spoke Shanghainese. I caught the gist of it. How did you catch a Lao Wai, eh? Cackling laughter ensued.

Or disgust, as in, She sold out. Yes, there’s been ugly stuff, too. I’ve received dirty looks from people but thankfully haven’t been subjected yet to the phrase “Mai guo,” as in You sold out your country. It doesn’t matter that I am American. To these people, I’m one of them.

Which often means blunt rudeness, barking and shouting (yes, I’ve been shouted at, as they’ve fawned over The Hubs) and terrible manners. It’s been recommended that I should wear more makeup. Or dressier clothes…and high heels. But it can neither be helped nor changed that my outside doesn’t match my inside. At this point, I’d need to be a different race. But what race? There is racism and prejudice everywhere. I realize America is far from perfect when it comes to race relations. But it could always be worse. Trust me. I’m at the bottom of the caste system out here.

There is an unfortunate side to Chinese culture that I’ve never understood. They care so much about saving face and will bend over backwards to treat foreigners well. But they treat each other like Huangpu River garbage.

And they think I’m one of them.

Some days, I’d rather be Sandra Yi.

No, I take that back.

Some days in China, I’d rather be a Laowai.

A fiery redhead.

Mom or maid?

Red Sun

Red Sun, Pudong, Shanghai.

I thought about you today,
as I walked to the store.
It’s hard to be away,
journeying through life.
The sky was gray and
the sun glowed red.
Setting on me, even so,
as it rises on you.
But I am comforted to know,
it is the same sun.

Happy Birthday, Mom. The Circus misses you.