Nina and I spent the last evening of 2014 and the first 16 days of 2015 in China. It’s the first girls-only trip (as the dad had to stay behind to work. Merc !). I was very pleased with it, although I traded the sunny summer of Sydney into the bitter winter of Shanghai/Ningbo.
As it was a last-minute decision (literally I booked the tickets two days before the departure) and my main goal was for Nina and my family/extended family to spend some time together, I didn’t plan much. It turned out to be the best plan.
Nina’s Mandarin really took off during the trip. Prior to our trip, her Mandarin was not as strong as her French – she understood all that I said but would reply in French most of time. Why? Because she heard much more French than Mandarin (double at least) at that time. (side note: so quantity does matter.)During the first week in China, I noticed her Mandarin vocabulary started to increase. By Week two, she was speaking Mandarin 99% of time, although still with some interesting accent (like the accent of an adult foreigner speaking Mandarin 🙂 Could she have picked up from her dad?). Immersion is very powerful!
I was really relieved when Nina spent some time with her grandmother and grand-auntie and great grandmother, without drama. After her dramatic (or traumatic) experience with daycare after our RTW, she became so clingy to us, ALL THE TIME, and the whole family became so exhausted. It became so worrying for us that she would never be able to adapt to a new environment without us. I knew that we had to first make a new environment / new person feel safe to Nina before she would even attempt to interact with the rest of the world. But we couldn’t really try in Sydney as we don’t have any extended family around and we don’t want to traumatize our friends. So in Ningbo, after a few days living with my mum/sister’s family, I knew that she was becoming comfortable. Then one day I told Nina that I had to go out to buy something and she would stay with Waipo (grandmother), and I will return shortly. She nodded her head. I expected some change of mind when I reached out to the front door … She went to the door too … But just to open the door for me! I left. And went back after an hour or so, hearing that she was happy all the time.
We then went even further. I decided it was a great opportunity for me, and for Nina, to spend a night apart. I went to spend some much-needed ‘me’ time with a dear friend in a heavenly city of Hangzhou (1.5hours train away), and Nina stayed behind with my mum and auntie’s family. It turned out to be just uneventful, for Nina – the best I could ask! Although I attribute some of the credit to the mental preparation I did with Nina (I described to her multiple times exactly what would happen during that day and the night), I know in my heart that Nina is also learning how to respond to a world without her parents. It’s so reassuring.
Throughout the trip, I was also a bit surprised by some of the differences in adults’ approach to children (It never became so obvious to me). In Sydney, whenever an adult wants to offer some food (fruits, candy, etc), he/she will ask the parents first if it’s ok to do so. In China, however, people just offer it. They mean well of course – they are trying to be nice to kids. Sometimes I would say no (for various reason, for example I don’t want Nina to eat candy all day long), that person would actually insist and even try harder for Nina to accept. Most of time I just couldn’t bring myself to say no. To say no is really hard – it could be interpreted as disrespect, causing the other to lose face, or simply being rude. To say no all day is exhausting. Juice? Chocolate? Fruits? Candy? Biscuit? Nuts? Cake? Coconut juice? Popcorn? Beef jerky? So after a few days, I just decided to give up on Nina’s normal meal & tea time routine, and leave her appetite to be guided by her desire, for as long as we were there! She ate an incredible amount of things … fortunately she still loved her meal.
Nina was a constant source of interest for passers-by when we were out and about. There was no single day passing without me having to answer the question ‘oh is she a mix? where is her father from?’.
Despite the cold weather in general, we were lucky to have a few rather warm days and even blue sky (!), and we made the most of it: visited a few beautiful wood-structured old mansions, a 5-century-old private library (one of the oldest surviving libraries of this kind in the world), climbing a mountain, seeing one of the biggest (and perhaps most chaotic) fishing port in action. And of course, we had MANY banquets, and banquets, and banquets.
Most important of all, Nina and I got to spend a lot of time with my family including my grandmother of 92. It’s really a blessing.