Interested in entering the contest for next month? Take a picture of your child’s completed activity book picture and send it to us at email@example.com with “Activity Book Entry” in the subject line. We pick one winner each month to receive a $100 Tea gift certificate.
Disclaimer: The observations below are generalizations that could come off as negative stereotypes (which is not my intention) and certainly do not represent China as a whole, but rather, the small sliver of life I’ve been exposed to – from my own naive western perspective, wink.
We are an American family of four living in southern China. I’m often questioned about what my experience is like living here with two young children (they’re 2.5 and 4.5). Is it difficult? Culture shock? How are the kids adjusting? And generally, my answer is something to the tune of we’regreat! Surely it’s not because we aren’t confronted with new cultural norms every corner we turn – it’s just that we’re open to them (us by choice, the kids by nature). Chinese culture is just about as far as one can get from American culture, as I see it. These two systems are fundamentally different. One rooted in communism, the other in self-determined, independent democracy. As such, each culture has evolved very different cultural norms – norms that often produce a non-judgmental, furrowed brow.
Before I go on, let me give you a little back-story. The need to understand and experience new cultures is very much part of me. Thus, after I became we and we became three, and then quickly, four, I knew that putting my wanderlust on the shelf wasn’t an option. Our children have been on more planes and trains than I had been on until I was well into my 20’s (though, I’m not so proud of the carbon footprints we’re making for them – a tradeoff I don’t know how to remedy). We’ve taken so many 14-hour flights at this point that I don’t even blink an eye at a 5-hour flight – they know the drill all too well. And so, when my husband was presented with an exciting new job opportunity that meant relocating to China, we [for the most part] gladly accepted.
One of the most spectacular qualities in a child is their ability to adapt and recalibrate to a new normal. I believe that this is because whether they have spent their entire life living on the same street, or have lived a life on the road, their perspective is ALWAYS fresh and ripe for discovery. In this way, as a child, living abroad really isn’t all that different than living in the same house they cried in as a newborn – there will ALWAYS be new discoveries to make and new information to absorb.
Often times, I expect my children to react more profoundly when confronted by new culture, or rather, for them to validate my reaction.
Isn’t it peculiar how everyone pushes and shoves to get on and off the train, with seemingly no acknowledgment of his or her neighbor? Children: isn’t this just how people do it? (Housing more than 1/7 of the world’s population, China’s people have evolved to have little space recognition – out of shear necessity. So unless you’re related, good luck not getting cut in front of getting onto an elevator…7 months pregnant, holding the hand of your two year old child.)
Don’t you find it strange that we’re being served chicken feet as our gratis appetizer? Children: silent while chewing on said chicken foot. (Chicken feet are only one example of the obscure – to me – animal parts people chew on here.)
Holy mother, did that dude just hawk a loogie on the sidewalk next to me? Children: yes mom, yes he did. Wait, what’s a loogie? (Spitting in public spaces is a norm that is on its way out, thankfully.)
If another car tries to cut me off as I cross the street [while holding the hands of two young children – on GREEN], I’m going to cry. Children: Calmate mama, calmate. (Chinese car culture has only just developed over the last few decades and for some reason has evolved as CAR IS KING and pedestrian as road-block, which makes you feel like an ant waiting to be squashed.)
As you see, being from a western culture (and particularly the United States, where personal space and property has very much defined who we are), living in China takes some perspective adjusting – and child rearing is no exception.
On infants: babies are often bundled and wrapped and smothered while outside, as I pass by with a sweat drenched forehead and shorts on – our cleaning lady often gestures her disapproval/concern over our children running around naked in the air-conditioned apartment.
Babies and toddlers are often dressed in splitpants (pants/rompers with a slit up the bum, basically) – to support the Chinese form of Elimination Communication – which they’ve been practicing for, oh, I don’t know, a few hundred more years than us westerners. I’ve been told that older Chinese women see diapers as a sign of lazy parenting.
Most babies are cared for by their maternal grandparents. It warms my heart right up every time I see a grandma carrying her grandchild around in her oh-so-cute matching pajama set. Grandparents care for their grandchildren until they are school age so that the mother is able to work – this way, adults can work in their most productive years (though I could argue that being an at-home-parent/grandparent is the more difficult position).
On young children: most evenings you can find kids playing outside until 9 or 10pm and then up ready for school and out the door by 8am – our kids are in bed by 8pm and we’re lucky if we’ve remembered to put on underwear when the little lady leaves for school at 9am. The main reason for this is because it’s a sub-tropical, most often hot and humid environment, so being active at night just makes sense.
Children are served mostly warm beverages because it is thought to be better for digestion (adults also most often abide by this rule) and kids drink formula until they’re well into their toddler years – our kids are regularly offered warm milk at restaurants and brought warm water – our two year old has learned to be clear that he wants bing – cold, water.
On car seats: they don’t exist. Well, rarely. Because a Grandparent most often accompanies the parents, someone is always in the back of the car to hold the child. My first Chinese friend had such a hard time imagining me out and about by myself driving with two children.
On school: kindergarten starts at age 2.5 and often times even earlier. And we’re talking Monday through Friday, from 830 to 4. Which basically makes it daycare, but it’s not, it’s very much “school”. The fact that I still have an almost 3 year old at home with me is strange.
On TWO blonde children, only two years apart: The phrase, liang ge! – translated, simply means 2! I’ve heard this short phrase iterated with exhuberence upwards of a thousand times since we arrived in China. Though we do hear it while the kids are scampering about, nothing brings in the liang ge’s! like strolling down the road (or through a tourist site) with a Phil and Teds double stroller filled with two blond-haired children who are often mistaken as twins. The kids are beckoned for photo op’s with strangers on a daily basis. We’ve considered doing a little social experiment and setting up shop at a touristy location and charging 5 Chinese Yuan per photo – we think we could make at least 500 Yuan in a few hours. I’d say that the kids are agreeable 60% of the time – they’ve made it into thousands of travel albums at this point.
On mothering and life: kids and houses are kept IMPECCABLE, yet you very much get the feeling that a staff infection could be picked up on every street corner. A perfect example of this happened right in front of me recently – a young girl was told to pee right in the middle of the side-walk, but her mother/caregiver was sure to pull out a tissue and wipe her afterwards (if that had been me, it would have been dirt, with no wiping,). I’m in NO way a germaphobic mom. My kid’s fingernails are regularly found dirty and I’m only good about washing hands after climbing around at playgrounds half of the time. And then we moved to China. Now, their fingernails are actually clean most of the time and I don’t go anywhere without hand sanitizer. However, they are often found with food spattered faces and I can’t tell you how often a Chinese woman pulls out a tissue to do the job for me.
In the same regard, children are doted on by their caregivers like flies on horse poop. I’ve learned to just politely smile, rather than mumble a snide remark, when a woman clearly perceives my lack of hand holding as neglect. My kids are jumpers and can regularly be found dismounting off of four or five stairs; when this act is witnessed by a Chinese woman, it looks to cause the skip of a heart beat – but is almost always followed up with a warm, giggly smile.
Nannies and cleaning ladies are the norm (they are called ayi’s – translated, means Auntie). Before moving here I had NEVER paid anyone to help clean my house. In China, just like most other developing places, labor is cheap and so everyone, foreigner and Chinese alike, take advantage of the affordable help. Most families I know have full time help, 6 days a week. It is normal to see a mom out walking her baby in a stroller, with an ayi by her side (and, sometimes, a grandparent as well). Though I still have a bit of a guilty complex surrounding it, we do have an ayi who helps clean three days a week, three hours a day – and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty amazing.
We live in a very international apartment compound (roughly 50% foreigners, 50% Chinese), with expats from all over the world. Because of this, there are restaurants, bars and grocery stores that cater to foreign tastes and make the area feel much less China-like. For us, being here is largely about experiencing the culture and so we try to walk beyond our perimeter as often as we can – which only means walking a few blocks. A short stroll from our apartment and we could find ourselves in a variety of culturally interesting locations: a make-shift fish market, where you can buy live fish directly out of small plastic tubs. A variety of seafood restaurants, with fish proudly being displayed in tanks outside – the kids treat them as their own personal aquarium EVERY time we pass one – which could occur up to four times in one walk – it’s a regular battle to get them to move on. Or a wet-market, where sides of pig, fresh tofu (available in 10 different forms), and live chickens, make for a true dazzling of the senses.
A morning stroll may take us past a few dozen people doing Tai Chi, a group of men sitting around a table drinking tea and playing Mahjong, or to a restaurant to eat food that we are only accustomed to eating for dinner. An evening stroll often finds us passing large groups of women dancing (for exercise) in a courtyard, kids in roller-blading lessons (we didn’t realize that people did this anymore) on a random sidewalk, and small groups formed serenading the park with their music. Here, rather than turning on the television after dinner, people go outside – which is so refreshing coming from the United States.
Our 4.5 year old daughter attends a Chinese Montessori school and our 2.7 year old son will start later this fall. Our hope is that when it comes time to leave, we’ll all have a firm grasp of the language (Mandarin) that we can take with us wherever we’re headed next. As time passes, I’m sure that we’ll all culturally recalibrate and before we know it, we’ll be cutting in the train line and encouraging our kids to pop a squat in (or around) the street – OH WAIT, we already do – we’ll see about spitting and chewing on chicken feet.
Experiencing and sharing the world with our children is a priority for us – adventuring together, learning together, and broadening our perspectives together. My hope is that our children will grow up open to and understanding of new cultures, ready to embrace and be stewards of the vast, beautiful, and magical world around them.
Lauren writes about family travel and muses about motherhood at safariRoo.
From between the eyebrows to back and bottom of neck
Shoulder to shoulder
Shoulder to wrist (both arms)
Around the largest part of the arm (both arms)
Base of neck to the crotch
Around the chest (at the nipples)
Around the belly (at the belly button)
Around the hips (at the center of the bottom)
Inseam (from the crotch to the ground)
Around the thigh at the widest part (both legs)
With each measurement, add approximately 10″ (for the seams, the thickness of the fabric you will use, and extra breathing room). When in doubt, give yourself extra fabric for the suit—you can always take it in and make it smaller.
Step 2: BUY YOUR FABRIC
Estimate the amount of fabric you’ll need based the total of your final measurements. You will need the same amount of black and white fabric. Tell the staff at your local fabric store that you are looking “sherpa craft fur” or something similar to it. You can choose a black or white invisible zipper, just make sure it is a length that fits the torso of your child, from the crotch to the base of the neck. Don’t forget to buy any of the other supplies you will need when getting your fabric.
Step 3: START WITH THE HEAD
This is where you get a little creative! In order to make the panda head round and like a hood, use a ball that is close to the size of your child’s head (volleyball, soccer ball). From the white fabric, cut a square piece that fits all the way around the ball, with a bit extra. Wrap the fabric around the ball loosely with the fuzzy side facing the ball. Next, use safety pins to pin back the four corners of the fabric square in a circular way. This will be the opening for the face of the costume. Work slowly around the whole ball, loosely pinching the fabric and pinning it so that after you sew all the pinched spots, you will turn the hood right side in and the fuzzy side will be a flush circular shape. After sewing all the seams and pinches, choose the spot that will connect to the rest of the costume at the bottom of the face opening and cut a slit from there that is half the measurement of the circumference of your child’s head.
Step 4: THE EARS
To make the ears, just eyeball the size you would like them to be and cut two squares from the black fabric. (Always over-estimate when cutting into the fabric.) Here again you can just sort of ball them up until they appear to look like an appropriate panda ear and freestyle sew it together. Next, join the ears up with the white hooded head you made. Safety pin the ears on before sewing so you can really see where they are going to sit on the hood.
Step 5: THE BODY
Take a big cut out of the black fabric that is at least longer than the largest measurement you took from your child’s torso. Keeping the furry side facing inward, form it into a tube, then sew the seam where the two edges meet to form the tube. Do the same for the two arms. Remember, you want your panda to be able to move, so do everything with a little extra room. Next, take the two arms and place them on either sides of the upper torso area of the large tube. Pin them in place while you trace around the arms with your chalk to make the arm holes. Cut the holes out. Sew the arms on using your black thread. To finish the arms, you can fold the wrist seam in and sew it if you want a cleaner look.
Between the fur of the fabric and the fact that your child may only wear or fit into this costume for one season, nothing needs to be perfect! So don’t stress about mistakes and imperfections on your side.
Next, cut an oval shape from your white fabric, place it onto the front of the black torso you just made, and sew it on. Then find the center of the top of the chest opening, take your zipper, and cut straight down the center of the torso the same length as your zipper. Sew it in!
Step 6: THE PANDA BOOTY
Follow the same process for the legs as you did for the arms, but leave even more room in the legs than you think you need to (wider at the thighs and tapered at the ankles), and make them longer, too. Once you have your two legs, place them side-by-side. Now is when you kind of need to make it up—you are essentially making pants. After you figure that one out, sew the bottom onto to the upper torso.
Step 7: PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
Last but not least, don’t forget to sew the HEAD on! Then unzip the suit and let your child try it on. Presto! Panda time!
And do a little dance!
Jackie Jones is a graphic designer and illustrator who has had the pleasure to create projects with clients all over the world. She currently lives in the fruit valley of Washington with her husband Andy, and is painting up a storm for her first children’s book.
One of our favorite publishers heard our fall collection was inspired by China and the next thing we knew, seven amazing children’s books were on our desk. We believe books are one of the easiest ways to introduce your children to new cultures. Today we’re sharing seven Barefoot Books that were inspired by Chinese culture as well and we hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
Little Leap Forward: Experience this coming-of-age tale that brings to life the time of the Cultural Revolution. A young boy growing up in the hutongs of China discovers the heartache of loving and having to let go when he captures a bird, only to discover that she will not sing in confinement. The first in Barefoot Books’ Young Fiction line, this story also includes beautiful full-color illustrations.
Stories from the Silk Road: Journey along the ancient trade route between East and West. The seven intriguing tales in this collection each feature an important city along the Silk Road, and are filled with adventure and drama, as the merchants, muleteers, spies and shepherds travel this exotic route.
We’re Riding On A Caravan: Join the caravan for an exciting yearlong trek along China’s ancient Silk Road. Following the rhyming, treasure-filled story are informational endnotes about the history of the Silk Road, the story of silk, important cities of China, and a full-spread map.
The Great Race: Race with the animals of the Zodiac as they compete to have the years of the Chinese calendar named after them. The excitement-filled story is followed by notes on the Chinese calendar, important Chinese holidays, and a chart outlining the animal signs based on birth years.
The Barefoot Book of Buddhist Tales: The Buddha taught that life is like a dream, yet real. The ways in which we may fruitfully engage with this mystery are playfully explored in numerous tales from the folk traditions of countries including India, China, Japan and Tibet. This is a collection of enthralling stories which illustrates various important aspects of Buddhist thought.
Lin Yi’s Lantern: Meet Lin Yi — a little boy with a big heart and a talent for bargaining. Tonight is the moon festival and he wants nothing more than a red rabbit lantern; but first he must buy the things his mother needs at the market. This heartwarming story shows the rewards of putting others first, and includes educational notes at the end about the Chinese moon festival, life in rural China, and the legend of the moon fairy.
Motherbridge of Love: This beautiful poem celebrates the bond between parent and child in a special way. Through the exchanges between a little Chinese girl and her mother, Motherbridge of Love offers a poignant and inspiring message to parents and children all over the world.
Today’s post is one we’re so excited to share with you! It’s no secret we’re huge fans of Moomah the Magazine; their photos transport you, their recipes are delicious and their original crafts keep little ones busy for hours. We’ve teamed up with the amazing ladies at Moomah to bring you 4 exclusive activities for Destination: China and today they’re kicking off the series with this adorable panda mask. Be sure to sign up for their newsletter to receive the latest issue and if you’re on Instagram, following them is a must – their summer travels will have you packing your bags in no time. Take it away ladies!
Earlier on this year, we were invited to view Tea’s China inspired collection preview in NYC. Though the room was filled with so many of the most adorable new looks for kids, the first item that caught our eye was the sweetest long sleeve-T, with a timid looking panda sporting a pretty pink bow behind her ear. Though that was adorable enough, we were encouraged to turn the shirt around, only to see that the T was double sided! How much cuter can a child’s panda shirt be, then one with both a panda’s front and behind on show.
We were inspired. Tea’s Back To School delivery reflects a Chinese Eastern Pop theme – their street style, pop culture, kitch icons, and modernized versions of traditional crafts. The prints on Tea’s outfits encourage bold stripes and geometric shapes, and of course, pandas! With paper cuttings being a traditional Chinese craft, we decided to modernize the idea, and intertwine it with all other design aspects of their line. The result? An adorable Panda Mask – a clear mixture of our traditionalMoomah aesthetic, mixed with Tea’s beautifully designed and inspired collection.