GPS and Prenatal Care

It seems that while I was navigating my way around subway systems abroad, a GPS service became de rigueur back in the US of A. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

See, I’m kind of a map fiend. I love maps. Love them. I don’t care if the map is of a place I’ve never been, or don’t particularly want to visit. I don’t even care if they’re accurate or not. Some of my favorite maps ever are the ones from the 18th and 19th centuries. Apparently the continents looked different back then. Nothing pains me more than throwing away a perfectly good map, as my better half will attest. He’s learning to live with all sorts of clutter.

The thing is, though, I’m really good at reading a maps. I think that being able to intuitively feel which way is north is a very important lifeskill, one that everyone should acquire if at all possible. Couple this instinct with a decent map, and you’ll never be lost for long. Even the time you spend a bit turned around is time well spent, as it helps fix those streets, landmarks, what have you, in their relative position in your mental map of a city.

I digress. GPS services. I kind of hate them, and even though I do recognize their usefulness in some situations, like figuring out how the heck to get on the West Seattle Bridge from downtown since they closed the Spokane Street onramp and neglected to change the signs, I confess to (often) talking back to the woman with the grating voice and to thinking myself wiser than she. My major objection to most GPS services is their assumption that I will just blindly, with complete disregard for the bigger picture, follow their commands as to what I ought to do next. It reminds me of my prenatal care experience in China.

There are lots of babies born in China every day. This means there are lots of pregnant women, which in turn means that even hospitals that specialize in prenatal care and birth are very crowded places. The administration of these hospitals deals with the issue by instituting policies that take expectant mothers through doctors’ visits that vaguely resemble circuit training. You check in with Registration so they know you’re there and are issued some sort of a number that will be important later. Then you go to Area A, take a number, wait your turn, get your blood pressure checked. Go to Area B, take a number, wait your turn, get a little test tube, go down the hallway and give a urine sample. Then you head on over to Area C, or sometimes back to Area A or maybe even up to Area D, to take another number and have some other test done. When you’re done with all your tests for the day, that first number gets you in to see your doctor, who looks at all your results, tells you to eat the blandest food humanly possible, and asks you to teach him two new medical terms in English.

The problem with this very orderly system, as it pertained to me, was that I never knew where I was supposed to go next. My medical Chinese is, um, not very advanced, and I don’t do well in crowds, so these were very stressful occasions for me. I made the mistake once or twice of asking WHY I should go to a certain department. On every occasion, the staff were so flummoxed by this question that they would put down what they were doing and say, “OK. I’ll take you there myself.” I soon realized that I couldn’t possibly beat them. I had to join them. So every visit, I would go to my usual starting point, find the friendliest-looking orderly, hand her my little book and say, “Where do I go now?” Once that task was done, I’d ask the orderly on hand, “OK, where do I go next?” As a coping device, I gave up on the big picture.

By my eighth month of pregnancy, I had finally figured out the routine and had started preparing for each visit by looking up whichever handwritten characters were decipherable in the doctor’s instructions from the previous visit. This way, I was able to map out an approximation of what indignities I’d be subjecting myself to that day. Still, by not insisting on an explanation of the big picture I had wasted tons of time and caused myself more stress that I certainly didn’t need.

My concern here is that GPS, like many other demonstrations of modern technology, is nothing more than a coping device, and that in relying too heavily on it we are giving up our critical thinking skills. Why? is the most powerful and the most important question I know, and the answer to it lies somewhere in between the big picture and the next step.

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Breakfast and cultural identity

So yesterday I’m following a one-armed used car salesman around the car lot with my fussy daughter on one hip. I’m speaking to her in Spanish, ’cause I’m pretentious like that, and we want to expose her to all the languages we speak, and ’cause when she’s understandably fussy my natural inclination is to speak to her in the most tender language I know. Plus, the salesman’s heavy accent reminds me that I ought to be speaking more Spanish to her. Sometimes I forget.

Anyway, he overhears me and asks where my husband is from, assuming he must be the reason this güera speaks passable Spanish. No, mi esposo es africano, I tell him. So how come you speak Spanish, he wants to know. En mi corazón soy mexa, I reply. Tapatía, de hecho. I explain that I spent five and a half years in Mexico, most of that time in Guadalajara, and really came to identify with that city. Turns out he’s from Guada, too. I would have called him paisa if I’d liked him more. Smarmy used-car sales guy.

I was thinking about that statement this morning as I made breakfast. For a long time I have asserted that what people choose to eat for the first meal of the day is a true indicator of their dominant culture. Your average North American might be a very adventurous eater when it comes to lunch or dinner, but we really tend to stick to what’s familiar when it comes to the most important meal of the day. Why is imported boxed cereal so outrageously expensive in stores that cater to expats? They know they’ve got us right where they want us.

The Better Half, incidentally, shoots down this theory. He couldn’t care less what he eats for breakfast. He has, in fact, developed an affinity — bordering on obsession — for maple syrup since our marriage. He’ll make French toast just so he can douse his plate in maple syrup. Still, there is no way anyone would claim that his dominant culture is North American. He believes himself physically incapable of eating a sandwich for lunch two days in a row. If he goes more than a week without some egwusi or ogbono and fufu, you can tell something’s wrong. It’s like his world is just slightly off-balance and he has trouble being his usual wonderful self.

Back to my breakfast. If you were to ask me what my favorite breakfast food is, I wouldn’t have to think about the answer for even a second.

Chilaquiles rojos, with queso fresco, a little bit of cremita, and un huevo estrellado. OK, the ones in the picture are verdes, but this photo looked the most appetizing. To my way of thinking, there can be no better breakfast food. Now, ask me when was the last time I partook of this soul-soothing dish that makes such a bold statement about how I view myself and who I think I am… I couldn’t even tell you. It’s not like it’s that hard to prepare, but in the mornings, I just can’t be bothered.

Sigh. Better finish off my English muffin…which I’m really enjoying, by the way. Those things were hard to come by in China, outside of McDonald’s.

Happy Lists

When I was living in southern China, I had a little circle of friends who would meet regularly for Ladies Who (Frugally) Lunch sessions. We were all very busy people but we found that taking the time to meet a couple times a month over lunch gave us a chance to vent, tell our China Frustration Stories, and generally maintain our sanity.

Over time, we started to notice that our conversation at these luncheons was becoming distinctly negative. In an effort to combat this, before each lunch we’d each prepare a list of 10 things we loved about the city we were living in or China in general, and share our lists with each other over the meal. The Happy Lists were a great way to keep our lives in perspective and keep us focused on the good.

Now, in this my re-pat adventure version 2.1 (2.0 was a 3-month return that might have lasted longer had the economy not been so heinous), I find myself rather ambivalent about being back in the US of A. This is a huge step up from re-pat adventure version 1.0, when I was miserable for a year and nine months straight, with occasional breaks of sunshine and optimism. In the spirit of fostering that optimism, I’m going to share two lists with you: My I’m Glad to Be Back in the States list and my Can’t Wait to Get Back to THIS in China Someday lists. So much for being concise with the naming of those.

Now then, without further ado…

I’m Glad to Be Back in the States List:
1. Trader Joe’s. My goodness, did I miss me some TJ’s while in China. My friend O and I would text each other dream lists of what we’d buy that day if only there were a TJ’s nearby. Mochi Ice Cream balls, Chili Spiced Mango, the medley of tri-colored baby potatoes, Nerello del Bastardo, I could go on and on.
2. Running into people I know at the grocery store. I come from a smaaaaaaaall small town. If you grew up here too and were born within 3 years of me, I know you. It’s nice to see you again.
3. Really, genuinely fresh air
4. I get to take a ferry several times a week. It’s beautiful.
5. Driving a car
6. Drive-thrus. I am convinced that nature invented these for the single-during-the-day mother. I used to just be hungry until I had another set of hands to help out. Now, I can (kind of) nourish myself.
7. Carseats and all the places they fit (into strollers, over the kiddie seat in shopping carts, into the base of an upside-down restaurant high chair)
8. Outdoor performances, especially of the free variety
9.  Chinese people who are genuinely impressed with my Mandarin. I know. I’m so vain.
10. Berries. Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Salmon berries, Marion berries galore!

Can’t Wait to Get Back to THIS in China Someday:
1. 东北菜 (Northeastern Chinese cuisine) It’s insane. Everywhere I’ve been in China, DongBei food is one of the easiest kinds of foods to find. In the States…nothing!
2. 湖南菜 (Hunan cuisine)
3. Banks that open on the weekends
4. Shops, restaurants, etc. that stay open past 10PM
5. Chatting with taxi drivers
6. Mani/pedis that I deem “affordable”
7. Our really, really international circle of friends 
8. Older Chinese people in parks
9. The workout I got carrying my daughter and her stroller up three flights of stairs. I’m really going to struggle to walk anywhere near as much as I walked in China. See previous list, Item No. 5.
10. Tropical fruit. The mangos here are preposterous.