Well I did it, I successfully got through 30 hours with my new in-laws without the presence of my husband, as I have to say it was both a mild success and a learning experience.
I decided to travel back to the UK via Dalian, which is my husband’s hometown, because that’s where most of my clothes and other stuff are, having left little in the UK. I thought a day or two would be sufficient but when booking flights it turned out I arrived very late on Friday and left again very early on Sunday. I thought it important to see my in-laws as well, as we’d been living so far away in Guilin and they hadn’t even seen me with a baby bump.
So late in the evening 阿姨 and 叔叔 came to pick-up from the airport. I knew how excited they were to see me but this is when the fussing started. As I approached the luggage carousel, my mother-in-law ran round the barrier to greet me, and just as I was asking a nice young man to help me grab my case she went to grab it, all with the staff yelling at her for passing the barrier the wrong way. Crazy lady! As we were getting ready to leave the airport terminal, she had kindly brought me extra coats and scarfs to stay warm, as I guess Dalian’s weather is a lot colder than Guilin. I was warm enough though, in fact I had found planes and airports are really warm, and was already wearing my coat and two scarfs. It took a lot of insisting but I got her to relent eventually. She settled for putting her arm around me and trying to support my weight (?!) as we walked to the taxi.
When we got back to their home, the smell was quite overwhelming. It reminded me of the time we had spent there are first moving to China, and reminded me of R, missed him already! My mother-in-law had prepared a late-night supper for me, soupy noodles with leafy veg, as well as a few dishes and strawberries. It was yummy! But I had learnt from past experience and ate just a few bites (to avoid dreaded pregnancy acid-reflux at bedtime), explaining to 阿姨 that the baby’s position high-up was making my stomach a lot smaller and I mustn’t overeat.
Before bed, my mother-in-law showed me all the things they’d prepared for the baby. They are so generous and they must be so excited for baby’s arrival – there was a massive pile of stuff to go through. Clothes, duvets, towels, waterproof mats, etc. I haven’t even started my baby shopping yet, so it was overwhelming for me, especially looking at little baby outfits (am I really going to have a human being that small to take care of?). I didn’t want to bring too much though, after all the UK has shops too and it’s not practical to take things home, then bring them all back again so to her disappointment I left most of it for use after our return in the summer. And also declined any split-bum pants, trying to explain that baby’s clothes were a little different in the West and they wouldn’t be very practical.
She’d also bought a load of stuff for me! As she’s never had a daughter, so she does get carried away buying me girly things (I’m sure shopping for R has always been a bit dull). Unfortunately our tastes differ so much, and I find it hard declining things I don’t like. I also don’t like to wear clothes in an XXXXL size, regardless of whether they fit or not. I have very much got the picture that pregnant women in China do not care about how they look, rather embracing dungarees and pyjamas. I, however, still like to dress myself normally, so many of the clothes are just not my thing. The pile of foodstuff my mother-in-law had prepared for me to take back was also HUGE. Some great stuff: nuts and dried fruit, some not so great stuff: sea cucumber and abalone. She explained that I must eat these to aid my postpartum recovery. It must seem so weird to them that we British don’t enjoy this most expensive of delicacies. I explained that in Britain, a lot of people don’t even like fish, and if they do it’s white and covered in batter 😛 We really don’t see seafood as a delicacy, most people find the textures of seafood quite offensive: during my parents 2011 visit to China we went to QuanJuDe in Beijing to have a posh Peking Duck set dinner and sea cucumber was one of the dishes, and I think it’s fair to say they have been put off for life! Anyway, after a LOT of insisting, I didn’t pack the sea cucumber, as I’m vegan, my parents won’t like it and I don’t want it to be wasted. I just wish they wouldn’t buy such expensive things on my account, even the nuts are pretty pricey and it doesn’t make sense to take so many by plane when I can buy them at home too. I wish they would enjoy such delicacies themselves but something tells me they won’t.
In the evening R’s two female cousins came over, and brought gifts, and we had a lovely dinner. My father-in-law was really unimpressed with what my mother-in-law had prepared for lunch, and complained the whole afternoon that they had waited 6 months for me to come back and MIL hadn’t even prepared the things I liked. I had actually had a great lunch, just tried to avoid overeating, which is so easily done when you have Chinese family encouraging you. I told him this but it fell of deaf ears. So off he went to the market to buy more vegetables. I felt bad for 阿姨: she works unbelievably hard in the kitchen, in fact she barely left the kitchen all day unless to help me, and he was giving her more grief 😦 at dinner time, I still wasn’t that hungry after having grazed under pressure on nuts and fruit. It was all delicious though!
After the whole day being told I was wearing too little around the house, gradually having to take off more and more layers as the A/C was so warm, my in-laws clearly didn’t see I’m someone who doesn’t like to be warm, but don’t mind cold. My husband has certainly been brought up afraid to be cold, as he has all sorts of funny things to wear in the winter. Besides the outfit to wear below the clothes, he also has knee-warmers, a waist warmer and ALWAYS talks about keeping his ‘kidneys’ warm. Whilst taking a shower, my mother-in-law clearly thought it appropriate to abandon all boundaries of privacy and come into the bathroom to give me more clothes to put on after the shower. That was TOO FAR, but in my naked vulnerability the words for
F*** off go away didn’t come out, big Chinese fail. My husband called her to tell her off and she did apologise later.
In the morning, after a breakfast of wallpaper paste type lotus porridge, and a lot of ‘but are you sure you don’t want to take the sea cucumber?’ we got to the airport. I checked myself in and we took some family photos. At the security barrier, MIL wanted to come in with me to continue to carry my hand baggage, but fortunately it wasn’t allowed, and I wasn’t about to let some strange man carry my hand bag, despite her request.
All in all, I think I got through it unscathed (besides perhaps the shower incident). I was certainly proud of my Chinese progress as I was able to communicate a lot more smoothly with them than before. All time spent with Chinese family is a learning experience, and this was no different, as well as showing me that when my husband is not there, I have to stand up for myself, and always lock the bathroom door! After I return with baby I must make a big effort to stand my ground (on certain things) and I really hope I can get them to stop faffing next time.
When I got through security, I breathed a small sigh of relief. I was going home.