Friday, 13 April 2012

Early Risers

Before I first came to China in 2005, I went to visit my grandmother. She was then 90 and quite frail but thankfully still very sharp-minded. Without any sentimentality she said "Don't expect me to be here when you get back" and also asked me to "Find out what the Chinese do with their old people".

For her generation, and indeed for many younger than her, China was a closed, unknown country that they knew very little about. I think she was hoping I'd come back with some gruesome stories.

She certainly wasn't expecting my reply a year later, which was something along the lines of this,

"Well Grandmama, old people in China must be the most active in the world. In the morning they're first up and they'll gather in any public space to dance, sing and do tai chi together. There are more 'old people playgrounds' than children's playgrounds and they're always full of the elderly exercising. Many grandparents are the main carer for their grandchild and attend to them constantly. They seem to never stop."

I don't think the idea appealed to my grandmother very much.

At my son's playground gates, I now understand how Dads at school pick-up in the UK feel: outnumbered. Only here, it's the grandparents that are the unruly mob barging through the gates with just a few Mums and Dads on the sidelines.

Chinese mothers take a very short maternity leave, just one or two months, if that. Most women choose not to breastfeed, so from very early on granny is in charge. Usually one set of grandparents will move in and essentially rear the child until they go to school while the parents go to work as normal.

I think I'd have really struggled living here with a small baby, with our preference for the 'natural' route: (natural to me anyway) natural birth if possible (46% of Chinese women have C-sections), breastfeeding (not popular in China) and washable nappies. I also really appreciate that I had time with my boys when they were babies and didn't feel rushed back into the workplace. Perhaps parents here are just grateful that they have energetic grandparents to do all the hard work, it seems to work well for them anyway. For me, exhausting as it was (and still is!), I wouldn't have missed those early baby days for anything.

Every morning as I pass my neighbours doing tai chi or drumming, I hope I'll have some of their spark when I'm that age, they really are quite inspiring. Somehow though I suspect I'll still prefer tea and lazy breakfasts in the morning to singing and dancing.

photo by

1 comment:

  1. I think the general consensus of the British (just to make a grand sweeping statement) is that we are all racing towards being senile, this is a lovely reminder that we have a choice.