January 14, 2010

Welcome to the Family Aiyi

Aiyi has recently felt like more and more a part of our lives.  It should not come as a surprise that there are pros and cons to this. What follows is a blog of pros and cons.  While it may sound like the cons outweigh the pros, it is actually the other way around.  This is merely a process of coming to terms with the cons.  Aiyi has been a great blessing in our family.   

These are the pros: 
1) We spend a lot of time chatting, exchanging information about each other, and sharing stories about the boys.
2) There is a level of comfort and trust there that is necessary if we ever want to ask her to change something that she is doing
3) She has learned our household patterns and knows how to give us extra help if we need it.  For example: She knows from many times watching me, that if I am talking to my parents on the phone when she arrives that I probably haven't eaten yet and that I won't have time to make myself anything before going out the door.  In those instances she often throws some delicious dish together in 5 minutes and presents it to me in a container as I go out the door.
4) We have mutually orally expressed our appreciation for each other 
5) The boys really love her and trust her and she has demonstrated a high degree of loyalty to them.

These are the cons:

1) Close observation allows for close scrutiny.  

The Chinese word for scold is ma.  It is said with a sharp descending tone, and I personally think that it is a good example of onomatopoeia, when a word sounds like its meaning.  The word, when it is said correctly, sort of sounds like  a slap across the face.  I have received a few ma's from Aiyi in the last few weeks.  Here are two examples.

One was for giving Jude fruit juice when he was sick and not eating anything.  I listened to the ma patiently and then waited for her to leave to give him the juice.  After all, I'm only following western medical advice.  Another ma was for failing to put long johns on Ari when he went to school.  They were in the laundry that day, and I figured that for one day he would be alright ("After all." I thought, "Canada gets much colder than this".)  

The unfortunate thing about these ma's are that they based on different cultural perceptions, and I have to fight the urge to tell her that she is not right.   But I want to keep a basis of respect in our relationship, and if I am constantly undermining her, then the relationship will become tense.  Now if only I could remember this all the time.  Inevitably the ma catches me off guard, and my defenses instantly go up.  The message I hear from what she says is "Wow you are an idiot!  I can't believe you children even made it this far!".  It takes a lot of pride swallowing to receive a hearty ma.  

For the record, this is a common Chinese practice.  I have received ma's from random people on the street when one of Jude's pant legs was up and showing half an inch of leg during warm T-shirt weather.  The ma comes sharp and fast in crisp Chinese and it could come from anyone, young or old.  It also doesn't work to pretend that you don't understand them, because the ma just gets louder and more emphatic.  I have also been told that what children really ought to be eating is fish heads.  Again, it is a cultural perception, but it is almost comical for me to imagine the boys' faces if night after night, we plopped down a bowl of completely intact boiled fish heads in front of them.  

2) Living with the Financial Prowess of someone who does not have much money

Aiyi really likes to ask me how much I paid for something.  Aiyi, by necessity, knows how to pinch the pennies.  I could write a whole blog about bargaining and the process I've gone through in learning how to bargain, but here is a brief summary.  There was a while when I was intent upon getting the best price for something every time all the time.  But I quickly discovered that I have two things working against me.  The first is that I just don't like bargaining.  If I think someone is giving me a bad price and won't go down, then I just don't buy it.  My best solution is to only bring the amount of money I want to pay.  The store vendor is usually quite cooperative (even if a little unhappy) when I inform them that it is all the money I have.  The second is that I can't stop comparing prices to what I know I would pay in Canada for that same item.  The result is that I probably pay more than I need to, but I don't walk away feeling like I was ripped off.  Here are two examples.

James' Mom sent us some Christmas money to buy the boys something.  It was a good opportunity to buy them some nice new winter coats.  I asked a few people what they thought would be a reasonable price for children's coats before I sent shopping.  The unanimous vote was ~80 kuai (~$12 US).  So I found a few coats that I was not very impressed with (too thin) that I was able to bargain down to 80 kuai.  But then I found some others that were thick, warm and also pretty handsome.  The lady wanted 120 kuai (~$18). For an extra $6 I could get something I was really liked and was actually effective, not to mention that I felt like I was getting a steal of a deal.  In Canada, I have seen coats like this for sale anywhere between $50-$80.  However, when I showed Aiyi the coats and told her how much I paid for them, she shook her head at me in amusement, saying that I should have only paid 80 kuai.  I swallowed my irritation.

When getting Ari's hair cut two weeks ago, I paid 15 kuai (~$2.20).  In Canada, haircuts are atrociously expensive,  It is not unusual to pay a good $40 for a woman's haircut.  When Aiyi asked in amusement how much I paid for his hair, she countered that she would pay no more than 5 kuai (~$0.74), making me feel like an idiot.  I wanted to tell here that this was a very small fraction of the price for a haircut in Canada.  However, I realized that if I said this then I would make it seem like everyone in Canada is rolling in dough and throws away 2 weeks of earnings on a child's haircut.  To Aiyi, that 10 kuai makes a big difference.  But as far as I am concerned, I don't begrudge the person who did a good job cutting Ari's hair the extra $1.46. 

Again, I feel the need to point out that she is not acting out of meanness or superiority.  This is also a very common Chinese practice.  It is not unethical to inquire of a total stranger or friend how much money they make or how much money they spend.  These are merely some of the cultural differences that I have a harder time swallowing, especially when they are directed at my parenting ability or my supposed lack of financial judgement.

I suppose its all part of the growing process...

The pictures at the top show Ari in the school magazine.  I suppose he makes good publicity for the school.


derrydown said...

Aiyi does sound like a blessing! I hope my name "Ma" is pronounced in another way!

Always keep in mind that when it comes to bargaining a price, you will lose. The natives will always get a better price and you will pay more, just because you are a foreigner. And the natives will always tell you you paid too much. It's a matter of pride to inform you that you got taken advantage of. As long as you are satisfied, that's all that counts.

I love Ari's pictures! He certainly looks like he's having fun.

Love, "Ma"

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