Sunday, April 30, 2006

Where's my baby?

Milestone today as son celebrated his sixth birthday.

Six years have zoomed by just like that. Where has my baby gone?

In six years' time, according to his 'little red book', he would be about my height.

And then of course another six years after that when he's eighteen, he'd be ....

God willing, he'd be doing something worthwhile with his life.

Fathers don't take birthdays as mothers do, I think.

I can still remember many of the little details surrounding son's arrival.

Being an older first-time mother meant being asked numerous times whether we wanted to test for Down's. I felt under a lot of pressure to test. It was as if the NHS did not want another Down's baby to burden the system or that they wanted to make sure that we do not turn around and sue them for not discovering early enough that baby could have Down's.

Signs of our time.

Baby was so-oo overdue. Seventeen days to be precise.

By Week 41 I was begging the midwife to have it induced because I was in constant pain from 'symphysis pubis dysfunction' (hip girdle separating in preparation for baby's birth) causing pain with every movement of the legs -- walking (waddling actually), turning in bed especially took a lot of effort. Excruciating. I won't wish that pain on my worst enemy.

They tried and they tried but they could not find a date in their diary! They could not get staff for the Easter weekend, so ... sorry, you have to carry the baby for another week.

Finally on a Friday morning scheduled for induction, I headed for the hospital determined to return home the next time with a baby. I was so naive I thought that 'induction' meant they would induce me on Friday morning and the baby will appear Friday evening, at the latest.

Saturday morning, no baby. Labour started in earnest. Panic, they have no room in delivery suite. Contractions getting more frequent. Weather getting warmer and more humid.

Get the baby out of me!

Sorry, delivery suite busy. No room.

By some miracle, the contractions became less frequent. But still, no room in delivery suite.

Sunday morning. Early morning, midwife who had been really nasty to me the previous night decided that I must get to delivery suite. Out of the blue I was quickly wheeled to Delivery, with midwife going, 'By hook or by crook I'll get you there before somebody gets the slot.'

Gosh! I thought, 'I'm having a baby, not running a race.' But this was how ridiculous the NHS had become, six years ago.

So more drugs, more of whatever they pump into you to get your contractions going. More internal examinations. More blood tests, at the end of which they discovered someone had given me an infection. Quick, put her on antibiotics.

Many hours later with a husband getting really, really bored, lots of pain and an epidural later, 'Your cervix has not dilated enough.'

Wait. Change of shift. Another midwife in charge. 'Your baby is getting distressed.'


Every time I had a contraction (and they were very frequent), baby's heartbeat shot up.

'I think we might have to go into theatre. But we'll have to wait for a surgeon.'

Soon, surgeon came. Read the charts. Yes, baby's heartbeat not looking good.

'I'm afraid you'd have to join the conveyor belt,' guffawed said surgeon. He was a very black man with very white teeth and a very, very infectious laugh. (He was wearing wellies.) You can't help but like Mr. Williams. I needed to go into theatre immediately.

It happened so fast. I was so exhausted by then I could not imagine where I could summon the strength to push. So I was actually pleased to learn that they had made a clinical decision to give me a C-section.

My only concern then was: 'Does my husband have time to get a coffee?'

He did.

Papers signed. Someone had to remove my nail polish -- I had wanted to look elegant when my baby was born! Rushed into theatre. Husband gowned up. Epidural topped up.

Asked the young anaesthetist if I was going to feel much pain.

'You'll be fine. You might feel like someone's doing the washing-up in your belly.'

'How do YOU know?' I barked at him. 'You've never tried it.'

'O, that's what I've been told,' he smiled.

I don't know what they were doing, but it did feel like someone washing up down there. (After the event Mr. Williams told me that baby was very deep down the birth canal and his head was lodged there. They had to pull him back up. Poor lad.)

Then horror of horrors, I felt pain.

'Help! I can feel pain.'

Anaesthetist called out, 'Hey guys, stop. Let's check.' Seconds later, some more prodding.

'Can you feel this?'


And they continued to do the 'washing up'? (Without Fairy liquid, thankfully.)

Till finally, as if by magic, like a breath of much-needed fresh air, it felt like a large weight had been lifted off me. All 8 pounds 11 and a half ounzes of baby -- and 'strings' attached!

I felt wonderful? tired? relief? (Answer: All of the above.)

We were congratulated for now having a baby boy.

I had asked the staff to clean up baby a little before showing it to me. Husband took a peek while they did that, came back and whispered.

'Bad news.'

'What?' I asked with whatever energy I had left. 'What's wrong?'

'He's got your nose.'

If I could move my arms, I would have slapped him. We had been wondering whether baby would have a nose like mine (small and flat) or his (let's just say not very small and not very flat). And let's just say at that very moment I was not concerned with what baby's nose was like.

When they showed me my baby I thought 'drowned rat'. Ugly, drowned rat.

And felt guilty. All the magazines tell me I was supposed to feel my baby was the loveliest living thing I have ever seen. But no, he looked ... ugly. His dark hair was still plastered in some birth fluid and being seventeen days overdue he was wrinkled. Very, very wrinkled. Red.

While they were sewing up my many layers of fat, muscle and skin that they had cut open, I fell asleep on the operating table, exhausted after more than 30 hours of labour.

And snored.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Gone fishing

Not really, but when I received this email "Hi! I keep up with your blog and see you haven't written since 10th April when you were having trouble due to rsi, are you o.k?", I thought perhaps I should post something.

It is nice to be missed. Thanks, Lyds.

My arm is much better now. Maybe a spell away from the computer (as much as I could) did help. Thanks for the concern.

It's the Easter break and like most parents I've got a little one to look after. Husband has also taken some time off -- which is nice -- and we try to spend family time together.

Have we been "on holiday"? Strictly speaking, no. I find the British have a strange way of using the word "holiday". It always seems to mean going away from home for a short period.

My idea of "holiday" is just not doing the normal chores or following the usual routine for a change. So not waking up every morning at 6am is a holiday for me.

By the British reckoning our family has not been on a foreign holiday for four years. So we are looking forward to the next one.

The problem is "holidays" at home still require laundry to be done and meals to be cooked, etc. I'm blessed with a husband who helps out a lot, especially with the cooking. Still I look forward to not having to worry about cooking, dishes, laundry, etc.

While "resting" my arm, I've also been indulging in sewing.

Son's birthday is round the corner and being half-Chinese, he only gets a birthday party every other year (as us Chinese -- at least in my generation -- do not celebrate birthdays). I've been busy making organic cotton party bags. The irony is I know his mates won't appreciate it.

The last time son had a party I had someone prepare lovely party bags wrapped in eco-friendly cellophane. Still I had one girl complaining, "But I haven't got a party bag." Looks like if it's not plakky with colourful designs on it, it is not a party bag. Sigh. (I do not endorse any of the Googgle ads for plakky party bags that will no doubt pop up here in due course.)

And after having ranted about not being able to buy organic cotton clothes that fit, I've decided to try sewing my own clothes again. The problem with this is I have to buy huge amounts of fabric to make it worthwhile.

If anyone reading this is remotely interested in buying small amounts of fair trade organic cotton fabric, please get in touch. I am also contemplating sewing little girls' dresses to see if anyone might be interested in buying simple one-off pieces that I can make up from remnants here and there. They will certainly not be as expensive as the ones available on the other Web-shops.

The other thing really is I haven't actually thought of anything really profound enough to write about in my blog.

So pardon this rambling.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Chinese exploiting Chinese (2)

My right arm is hurting quite a bit, which is probably due to a recurrence of RSI from an excessive use of the computer. So this will be short.

Last week I came across a 'Trading Standards' display at a local shopping centre. Of course I walked up to take a look.

On pirated DVDs

Me: What are you doing about the Chinese vendors selling such DVDs?

Trading Standards Officer: We can't do very much. We take them to court and the judge normally hands down a tiny fine of £20 or £25.

Me: But what can we do for them? It is clear that they are being controlled by a gangmaster.

TSO: That's really a problem with the Immigration Department. We are dealing with the small fry.

Me: So they only get those small fines.

TSO: Sometimes they are jailed for a week or so. But they like being in prison as they are warm and well fed and they each have their own bed, which is more than what they usually get.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Chinese expoiting Chinese

I don't know how you felt when you read about the conviction and jailing of the Chinese gangmaster found responsible for the death of his fellow Chinese cockle-pickers at Morecambe Bay.

I do not understand how an immigrant can exploit fellow immigrants the way that this callous young man did.

My father also emigrated from south China to Singapore many years ago. Famine and poverty where he lived drove him to take that long arduous and dangerous journey to Singapore. I think his elder sister had already arrived in Singapore then.

He was young and strong then and worked in all kinds of jobs so long as they paid for his sustenance and a little bit more which he remitted back to his family still left in China. This is the pattern of most economic migrants.

There was, and is, no welfare system in place in Singapore and there were no handouts. But he did have a supportive network of 'family' from the same vicinity of his origin.

There were what is known as tongxianghui (village associations) and other huiguan (associations based on various common traits like dialect groups, occupation, etc). My father was particularly active in the Sai Chiew tongxianghui and the Poh Fook huiguan, which according to my mother was an association for stage performers.

Mother could not understand how father got involved with Poh Fook as he neither sang Chinese opera nor acted. But what I remember of the annual Poh Fook dinners was Cantonese opera. Lots and lots of it. Father was Chairman of this association for many years until just before he died.

My point is, these mutual-help organizations functioned as a support network for new immigrants, helping them to settle in, sometimes providing temporary accommodation for new arrivals, references for job-seekers and very importantly, a place of worship for these displaced migrants.

In their old age these associations continued to play an important part for migrants in providing a space for them to chat, to play mahjong, to raise funds together, and to support one another even in funeral arrangements.

In fact part of the duty of membership is to pay subscription fees to help defray funeral costs of fellow members. They are also obliged to attend funeral wakes as the deceased must be given good 'face' by having lots and lots of people showing up at the wakes.

So these huiguan took care of migrants until they die, literally.

Modern immigration is a totally different story. Instead of providing help to fellow countrymen, I've seen migrants exploiting migrants. First-hand.

In Amsterdam it was not uncommon to have new (African) migrants arrive at our hostel after being cheated of all their life-savings almost as soon as they arrived at Centraal Station.

'Hey, brother,' they are greeted with friendly smile and handshake, 'Let me help you to find accommodation.'

And as this 'brother' was speaking his own mother tongue, the new migrant is immediately put at ease. He soon parts with all his money and where is 'brother'? 'Brother' disappears.

Stranded, these migrants come to us for help. They normally try to stay on the straight and narrow for as long as they can. For most it is easiest to turn to crime, working illegally, etc. And soon, they are the ones who exploit the new arrivals. If ever there was a vicious circle, this was it.

The saddest thing is every time a migrant seems to make some progress, someone would come along to con them out of what he has made. A chap at church paid advance rent to a 'landlady' in good faith, and was then told by the 'landlord' he was not having another man in the house. But he could not get his money back.

He loaned his expensive bike to a friend and it was quickly 'stolen'. Poor chap could not even claim on the insurance as the insurance people needed a police report and this chap was not going any where near a police station.

So you see, because of their questionable status in the country, they live in constant fear and threat of being deported and exploited. What sort of life is that?

What about MY fellow Chinese in the UK?

I feel sad every time I walk past them at the town centre and they are selling pirated DVDs. Sometimes I make eye contact with them, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I hear a loud shout from the guy who keeps a watch out for the police and I see these vendors calmly pack up their wares and walk away as calmly as possible on a designated route to somewhere.

They do not bunch up or walk together. They simply walk calmly away.

On one occasion I saw a couple of them being rounded up by uniformed police. I approached to offer my help to the police (just in case they needed an interpreter) but was told that my help was not required.

I feel sad. I know that behind this team of a dozen vendors selling DVDs in the freezing cold is a gangmaster or snakehead who controls every aspect of their lives. A gangmaster who is living a life of luxury while these people here slave for him. But what can I do?

What can I do to help? Is it better for me to work with the police? What sort of 'strong-arm support' have their gangmasters got access to? Dare I approach any of these vendors individually to offer help? Of what kind?

I quote from a book review I wrote for an academic journal:

"The latter is a fascinating exposé of how illegal migrants could make their exit and/or entry legal through some quite ingenious schemes, and of an established underground remittance network for migrants who do not wish to engage with regular banks. What would politicians make of the statement that ‘ordinary people in the [Fujian] countryside all support and protect snakeheads’ (p 252)?"

To the non-Chinese, I am of the same stock as the DVD-sellers. In reality we cannot be more different. They even speak a different language from me, although they would understand the same Mandarin that I learned at school.

While preparing for my PhD exam (viva) years ago I sat at my university refectory and a group of Chinese girls started talking (in Mandarin) about my infant son whom I was feeding. I waited to see what they would say to me. When they spoke, it was English they used.

I was curious. Why did they not speak Mandarin to me, I asked in Mandarin.

They replied, in English, 'O, we thought you were a different kind of Chinese.'

There are 'different kinds of Chinese'. There are the exploiters and the exploited and many others besides who do not know how to help change this situation.

Does anyone have any idea/suggestion?

Links to news reports on cockle-pickers:

Gangmaster guilty of 21 cockle picker deaths

Profile: cocklers gangmaster

Boss's Lavish Lifestyle as workers lived in squalor

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Mum and yesterday's food

I don't normally get cross with mum-in-law. So I felt it especially bad that it came on Mothering Sunday and all.

She was going home on the coach and I suggested she took a sandwich with her.

'O, no! I can't eat anything after yesterday's meal.'

I kind of blew my top.

'If that works for all those starving people in Africa, wouldn't it be great?'

For me, yesterday's food cannot feed today's body. Technically most of our food would have been broken down and either absorbed or discarded. If yesterday's food could feed us today, there'll be much less starvation and malnutrition.

'It's not possible! Technically it's not possible that you are still full from yesterday!' I found myself saying, quite rudely, I must admit.

I find it very offensive that someone could say, 'O no! I can't eat anything else after yesterday's lunch' especially when one has had a light dinner and then a substantial breakfast in between.

No, it was not that one could not, in reality, eat any more. It was the idea of fullness and the memory of discomfort from that fullness after yesterday's meal that actually made food temporarily repulsive.

Food, repulsive? Well, food will not be repulsive if one were starving. And yes, people who have been starving must be careful not to over-eat when food is available again.

But I cannot understand why usually well-fed people over-eat at Christmas and then complain that they felt unwell, that they would have to lose weight, join the gym, etc. There is nothing in the legislation that say, 'Eat till you are sick at Christmas.'

In my time I've lived in communities where there isn't always plenty to eat. Up in the highlands of North Thailand, for example, little children (many of them orphans I was helping to look after) learn to eat two or three bowls of plain white rice at meal times, lots of leafy vegetables, and if they are lucky, a tiny portion of an omelette, knowing that there will be no snacks in between meals. If there was meat, it was always shredded really small and we each only shared a spoonful.

Sometimes rice was cooked into a watery gruel to 'stretch' it. When some unidentified insect fell into my bowl, I didn't even dare suggest that I threw this bowl of rice gruel away. I simply removed the offending insect and continued eating.

If only there isn't so much over-eating in this country, would there be so much 'wealth-related' illnesses? There wouldn't be so much over-eating if people have actually seen how other people are starving.

The converse is: conceivably there might not be so much starvation and malnutrition if we ate less and gave more away. (This is premised upon being able to give/donate wisely and to the right people.)

Why did I get so cross with mum-in-law? I'm not exactly sure. Perhaps it's her attitude of complaining about having too much when I know so many other people simply do not have at all.

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