China is an amazing place. The architecture, the people, and the language are all so different than in America. Finding what is different, and trying to understand why, is what makes travel so fundamentally interesting.
The first time I was in Shanghai years ago, I fell in love with it. From tiny one room restaurants where you could watch a guy make noodles five feet away from you, to the Yan’an elevated road lighting up the night sky with bright blue lights, Shanghai was amazing.
I learned the art of bargaining, and I mastered the squatty potty.
However, when I followed the hubs there recently on a work trip and was on my own with the two kiddos 95% of the time, it was a different (and inherently stressful) experience.
- We were in a small hotel room with only a few of the items that make a mom’s life smooth with two little ones.
- The kids and I all got sick, meaning Kiddo 2 woke up at all hours for comfort, and Kiddo 1 needed constant attention.
- I was trying to tutor my students in Singapore via Skype using my Ipad as a babysitter for Kiddo 1. I generally had to nurse Kiddo 2 through the sessions to keep him quiet.
- China is not stroller friendly, so my back went out about halfway through the trip from carrying Kiddo 2 in a baby carrier all day.
- Catching a cab was not always easy (and getting to your destination even harder when you can barely communicate), and Kiddo 1 had a hard time walking long distances. This made for many a tearful trip back to our hotel (her tears and my own).
The stress was intensified by the attention we received. As an ang moh with two little ones in tow, I guess I stood out. People naturally want to stare at that which they do not usually see, and there really weren’t any white people to see in China (or brown people or black people, for that matter). In America, I felt judgey eyes on me when Kiddo 1 was on my Iphone or throwing a tantrum. In China, I felt eyes all the time. Every walk down the street was filled with stares. Every subway ride lead to positive and negative attention. People wanted to know the age of the baby and wanted to comment on their blue eyes. Some just wanted to stare at us for the duration of our time on the train. A few elderly women chastised me; I have no clue why as I barely speak Mandarin. When we encountered other babies and toddlers, their parents pushed them to come up and pose for photos with us. If I left the baby playing on the floor at a play area, he was whisked away by the staff (his photo is now on all of their cell phones).
But some of the attention was weird. A dad at a play place kept taking selfies with Kiddo 1. People of all sorts would take a quick picture of us in passing (it is so much kinder to do that behind someone’s back, IMHO). Even at the touristy spots, we did not blend in. Here is a photo I took of the people taking photos of us.
One woman helped me find H&M when I was lost. (It is still the only place I can reliably and easily find clothes that fit the kiddos.) Then she stayed with us through the entire H&M shopping trip and bought Kiddo 1 ice cream afterwards. She was very nice, but it was all a bit too much. After ice cream, she wanted to continue hanging out, but I said we had to go.
Several times a day, I heard the word “beautiful” (in English) being sort of lobbed at my daughter in passing. My children are obviously gorgeous (hahaha, JK), but this never happened in the states or in Singapore. People there just ignore you for the most part. In China, as stressed as I was, I just wanted to get through the day—every day. I didn’t want to try to communicate—I was EXHAUSTED.
But for the worst moments, there was a refuge. A place far better than the American Embassy, which you would think is an American refuge on foreign soil.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden…” arches.
Thank you McDonald’s. Thank you for being a safe haven for a stressed out mommy. Thank you for having the same staple items in every country (and a bunch of fun local stylings as well). You are a beacon of happiness and comfort via food. A place where my children will be happy, and where my heart can breathe a sigh of relief. A place where (some) English is spoken, and where the menu is familiar enough that you can point to what you want and recognize it when you receive it. A place where the décor is familiar, and the level of cleanliness is fairly standard.
You are my home away from home. And you are everywhere.
And if you are getting all Judgey McJudgey-Pants on me and my love letter to McDonald’s—just hold up (we only went twice that month). You will one day totally understand me, if you don’t already. Wait until you visit a place that feels so foreign to you that you barely remember who you are anymore. Wait until you have children screaming at you in surround sound, and you can’t find a restaurant within a half-hour’s walk from you that has both:
- Food your child is willing to eat.
- A potty they can sit on (versus a hole to squat over).
Traveling with young kids is hard—at least for me. So thank you McDonald’s.
A few more interesting bits from our trip:
They soak eggs in tea. The outside of the egg white gets brown.
They have big plastic strips hanging down at the open entrance doors to malls to keep the warm air in but let people through. Downside: You get smacked in the face by plastic when you get distracted.
They have police cruisers that look like this.
They wear detachable sleeves (they sell these in Singapore too).
Hotel remotes are hard to read.
I have no idea what is happening to this guy’s ear.
Some sights from Shanghai.
Some sights from Nanjing.