Friday, June 7, 2013

The Chinese and Children

One of the great joys of living in China is the way Chinese people treat children. I noticed it the moment we got onto the Air China flight in New York last February that took us on this adventure. Charlie was not around, so I was travelling alone with the kids, who were then 5, 4 and 3. Most of the other passengers were Chinese.

As the kids ran up and down the aisles in the plane (I know, I am the co-passenger from hell), lots of Chinese passengers put out their hands to touch them. It was very sweet. In the US, no one ever touches your kids. I don't know why. But the kids love all the attention, and it made me, as the mother of three quite unruly kids, feel very welcome.

This warm approach to children has continued since I got here, and, I have to say, it is one of the joys of living in China. In England, people tut-tut if your children are noisy, in China they smile indulgently and try and cuddle them.

I have to confess I even used this national trait to get a new visa expedited more quickly. We were on the verge of missing a flight to see Charlie's sister, Georgie, in Australia, because we weren't going to get our passports back from the Chinese authorities in time. There were no other flights that week, because it was Chinse New Year and all the planes were full. Charlie's colleague, Amelia, had spent an entire day at the Exit-Entry bureau trying to get them back, but to no effect. The process is supposed to take a week, and a week it was going to take.

"Let's take the girls," I suggested to Charlie. He agreed to one, I insisted on taking both. Now in China, your father's sister is called your "GuGu." I told the girls, "When you get to the counter, look very sad and tell them that if we don't get our passports back in time, you won't be able to see your GuGu."
Needless to say, most of this instruction was forgotten in the excitement of the moment, and when we got to the counter there were howls of delight mixed with enthusiastic shouts of "GuGu! Gugu! Gugu!"
The other thing is that in China, calling someone Aunt is a very nice, warm way of addressing them, and that's what the two Chinese public security officials on duty, both of them women, thought the girls were doing. They melted immediately. We were on the flight to Australia that afternoon, and saw the real GuGu.

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