Friday, July 14, 2006

A Rice Daddy in Shanghai

photo: courtyard off the main street, Shanghai

Dateline Shanghai

I am in Shanghai this week, my first trip ever to the motherland. It's a mix of the slightly unfamiliar, and the oddly very familiar. Listening to the locals speak in the Shanghai accent of my mother's family, smelling (and tasting!) the street foods, brings back good memories, this in a place I've never set foot in before.

Being a Chinese-American dad in Shanghai is similarly joyous yet strange. When I talk to my local colleages here, mostly younger men than me, married and thinking about starting a family, the question of kids comes up -or more to the point, the question of kid. China has a policy of one child per family in these urban areas. I could not imagine knowing that my first kid would be my only kid, especially that we were not the one to make that decision. From afar, I've admired China's boldness in controlling its booming population this way, but to meet my peers here is to put a human face to a policy theory.

The best part of being a Chinese-American dad new to Shanghai has to be seeing so many beautiful chinese kids. So many bright beautiful faces, that look something like my own kids. Even though we live in the diversity of the Silicon Valley, I never before have seen so many asian cutie pies in one place. I want to reach out and pinch every cheek. I want to tell each parent, in my craptastic chinese, "At house, I have daughter, much like this one." [see, this is my translation of what my chinese must sound like]

The worst part of being a Chinese-American dad new to Shanghai is that all the homeless street kids are chinese, too. To see a boy who looks exactly like my son, asleep on the concrete steps of a pedestrian bridge, to see his empty begging bowl, and to know that I am powerless against this, this breaks my heart.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. Ironically, my mother, a second generation American born Chinese woman is also in China right now for the first time. I can't wait to hear about her trip. I only wish I could have gone with her.

Anonymous said...

You have tugged at my heart. Thank you for sharing.

honglien123 said...

This reminds of the first time I went back to Vietnam. I was 14 and it was and interesting experience realizing that I wasn't the minority and that English was the secret language, not Vietnamese. I was there for two months, but there is one experience that is burned into my memory.
My family and I were eating at a road side noodle stand on our way from Saigon to DaNang. I wasn't really paying attention, so I didn't notice them at first, but there were some very small children nearby staring at us. I was used to that, being chubbier than the average Vietnamese. I didn't finish my food because I wasn't very hungry, but when were were done and had all left the table, I looked back and I saw that the kids that I had seen had made a beeline to all the leftovers that were at our table and were eating as fast as they could. They were barely clothed and had the look of those malnourished children you see on TV. It was such a shock because it doesn't actually seem real when you see it on TV and homeless in the US don't look malnourished and typically aren't small children.
The owner at the stall let them finish and told us that they were most likely orphans and when I asked how old they were, she said that the one that had looked to me like he was 4 was actually 7. I didn't realize how much it affected me then. I think about those kids every few months or so. I understand the feeling of being so helpless. When we were heading back to the US, I started to cry and cry and cry and I couldn't explain it to my mom. The world looks different now doesn't it?