Last year, while waiting in the Shanghai train station, NZ went to fetch us some water. Sal and I were sitting in a row of seats, with many open around us. I turned to the seat next to me to get into my purse and when I turned back around, there was a creepy Chinese guy sitting right next to us, leaning into Sal. My intuition told me something wasn't right, so I placed my hand on Sal's little leg (I didn't want to alarm Sal even though what I really wanted to do was tell the guy to f^ck off.) Just as my hand touched Sal's leg, the man grabbed Sal's arm and yanked it towards him like he was going to grab him and run. I still don't know exactly what happened there. I thank my lucky stars that NZ was on his way back with our waters and the man must have seen that he was no match for my "I can kick your ass" sized husband. The man retreated and I recanted our experience to NZ, all the while wondering what would have happened had NZ not been on his way back. At twenty something weeks pregnant and in Flipflops..I would've been no match for a quick handed Chinese man. We looked for the man afterwards, but he had disappeared.
We've taken the train many times since, and never had another experience like that. I've not really feared my safety all that much. We expat wives tend to do things as pairs, although I do enjoy taking walks with my kids every so often for a sense of independence. In a time when I depend on others for so much--sometimes I just need to know I can do things without help. I've felt like I have enough vocabulary to answer the standard Chinese grandma questions if I'm out on my own doing errands and such.
Didi Huo meimei? (Girl or boy?)
nianling? (How old?)
Lian ge? ( two children? )
Pifu bai. Meiguo rén ? (Their skin is so white. American?)
Even if they aren't asking those questions, those are the answers they get. I always know when they've asked something else because they say, "weiguo rén ting bo dong" (foreigner doesn't understand) to which I reply, "de" (correct) and they say ah,ah,ah, like they get it or something.
Lately though, with two kids now both riding in stroller seats (I used to have Carla in her infant seat and covered-she was inconspicuous that way since many Chinese have never seen a baby car seat), we call a lot more attention to ourselves. I still take the kids to the dry cleaners and Korean market myself, but I've stopped going grocery shopping during the week and doing other errands which would require me to take my hands/eyes off our stroller unless someone else is with me. It's unnerving to have strangers stand around gawking at my kids as I try to decide on what size diapers to buy. Even more unnerving to reach for the package of diapers and turn around to a Chinese grandma with her hand on my daughter's face, or trying to feed my son from his sippy cup.
He's capable of drinking on his own, thanks.
I'm super thankful to have good friends here. Some with kids, others without. I'm thankful that they understand my frustrations with the culture, even if it doesn't bother them as much as it bothers me. I'm thankful for shared bus rides, extra sets of hands & eyes, and their ability to speak a crapload more mandarin than I do.
Yesterday, the kids and I met up with one of my best friends and her son for our afternoon walk/playground time. We walked for a while and then let the boys out to run around the playground in her compound. It was late afternoon-a very popular time at the playground. There are always a lot of kids running amok while their caregivers supervise (often times these are grandpas wearing pajamas and smoking cigarettes on the bench). Yesterday was just like any other day on the playground...except for one Nǎinai. She was having a grand ol time on the pendulum swings. We both chuckled at the sight of this older lady swinging away on the children's playground. As soon as she saw Sal and my friend's son, she jumped off the swing and B-lined right towards them. In the meantime, I'm trying to untangle my sweaty hot mess of a daughter from her stroller seat harness and keep an eye on Sal while this woman bounds towards him. Right as I freed Carla from her straps, I see the lady grab Sal's upper arm and start pulling him onto the playground. Poor boy wasn't sure what was going on as he tried to pull his arm back in indicating that NO I DO NOT WANT TO GO WITH YOU CRAZY BI^CH (okay, maybe not that last part..). From the depths of my being, I let out the most primal NOOOOOOOOO, BUYAO! (okay, is effing BI^CH appropriate here? Oh no, it's not? I think it is.) as I lunged towards her and grabbed Sal's other arm. In retrospect, I feel aweful about how I handled that situation because I don't want to scare my kids or instill fear of strangers in them.
But DO NOT GRAB MY CHILDREN. EVER.
She backed away for a second and then started talking to me in Mandarin as her eyes caught interest in on my littlest child.
"uhhhhhhhh? Lionga? "
Yes. I have two children. Now back off.
Thankfully my friend speaks enough mandarin to tell her to leave us alone.
But she didn't.
So, I apologized to Sal as I hustled him back to our stroller and didn't even bother putting Carla back in until we got out of dodge. I apologized to my friend for her having to witness my primal rage.
That lady though.... She was too much for me yesterday.
China: 1, Brie: 0
Playgrounds should be safe places for kids to play without being accosted. I understand we look different. I'm okay with that. I don't mind them talking about us, or being shocked that I have two children.
But, please, oh please...stop following us around and grabbing my kids like they're animals at a petting zoo.