Bangles and Babies

Bangles and babies go together, right? What newborn doesn’t want to “Walk Like an Egyptian” or doesn’t dream of an eternal flame burning? Okay, maybe I’ve got the wrong type of bangle there (but really, who doesn’t love singing along to some fantastic 80s ballads?), nevertheless, bangles and babies collided in my world last week.

I’ve been to a lot of baby showers for friends and family over the years (and blogged about several of them), usually grumbling because for a married woman with no kids, baby showers are filled with landmine questions.  In general, baby showers are my least favorite kind of shower (rainy season rain showers in Malaysia may rank as my top choice) because they are open season on personal questions about why I don’t have kids, regardless of how well I know the asker. Apparently, if you are co-guests at a baby shower, you can ask anything that pops into your head!


My less-than-stellar past baby shower experiences were eclipsed last week through when the consular section in Kuala Lumpur hosted a party for one of our officers who is having her baby in late January. Malaysia’s eclectic mix of cultures took center stage Friday night, when our American-style shower was combined with an Indian bangle ceremony.


One of our local staff members who is Indian-Malaysian offered to give the party an Indian-twist, which she did in spades! She brought in sarees for any of the ladies who wanted to really get into the theme of the party (I chose a deep purple one with a beaded paisley pattern long the edge), jewelry to match, all the accouterments for the ceremony itself, and of course, a beautiful saree and flowers for the mother-to-be. Of course, the baby shower was not about me (thank goodness!), but I did love that I got to dress up in an absolutely gorgeous saree and spend the night contemplating a tour in India. (I’m actually not super keen on a post in India, but I am dying to see the Taj Mahal at some point. I don’t need two years of India, but I could definitely use two weeks!)

While most American bridal showers consist of a few games (ick!), gift opening and lots of cake, Friday’s event was unique in the way that the focus was on the soon-to-be-mother. Each person who attended the shower was invited up to individually greet/bless the mother through a small ritual consisting of sprinkling rose water over her, putting sandalwood paste on her cheeks and placing glass bangles on each of her arms. These few brief moments were special, as it gave each guest a chance to say a few words one-on-one, even in a room full of chatting women. It was a bit of calm in a room filled with music, conversations and laughter.

Living abroad can be difficult, especially when it means missing out on important events in the lives of family and friends at home (yes, even baby showers!), but it is nights like Friday that help fill those gaps. Never in Idaho would I have gathered with friends from Yemen, Malaysia, Venezuela and the US, donned a magnificently hued saree and attended an Indian bangle ceremony in celebration of a friend’s impending motherhood.

Sand dances, gold crocodiles and foreign types with hookah pipes-Bangles and babies are where it is at!

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I Yield to None!

While living in another country, it is easy to point out the differences between what your “normal” is and what happens around you on a regular basis. I’ve often joked about the metro system and the spitting in Chengdu, but in reality, they aren’t things that bother me anymore. I’ve pretty much gotten used to them, and sad as it may sound, hardly notice the ubiquitous Chinese fifth-tone anymore. (Okay, there are times where it comes back and smacks me in the face like it is my first day in the Middle Kingdom. For example, I was visiting a local hospital the other day and had to walk past a man smoking in the corridor of the respiratory unit of the pediatric floor and then hop over the phlegm that an old woman just deposited on the hallway tiles. That might have been a bit too much!) But, the point is, the changes around you are obvious, but what are less obvious are the changes in yourself.

Point in case: I now think I ALWAYS have the right of way.

In America, I considered myself a decent driver. As a middle school teacher, I was well-aware of the lack of forethought that goes into anything from about the ages of twelve to sixteen (or longer!), so I was the car always going the “school zone” speed through the school areas, even when classes were not in session. I’ve seen a 7th grader, headphones on, phone in-hand, wander across the street without bothering to look up from the vital text about the new girl in homeroom class. Legal right-of-way or not, I knew to let that kid wander on so he could live to see just how intriguing the new girl was going to be. If I was at a four-way stop and it wasn’t clear who arrived first, I’d gladly wave on the other car. No biggie. (Although it did gall me a little when the driver upon which I mightily bestowed the right of way didn’t bother with even a minimal “thanks” wave.) And when I was the pedestrian, I stuck very closely to the “bigger always wins” rule, letting anything larger than myself automatically take the lead position, willing only to challenge that lost-in-his-own-world 7th grader who veered onto my side of the crosswalk.

Then, I came to China and a switch triggered in my brain. Now, I can pretty much always justify why I have the right of way.

When I am walking, it is easy. I’m a pedestrian, so the drivers should be paying attention and I should be yielded to. I am soft and squishy (I’d be less so if I’d use that treadmill that currently serves as not much more than a nightlight, although I’m not sure fit and toned would make a difference in a large blue truck vs. foreigner fight) and all should avoid hitting the tall, blonde girl. Since crosswalks are rarely found in Chengdu, I cross wherever is most convenient- sometimes that is an intersection, but as often as not it is the middle of the road. I don’t mind standing my ground on the yellow line that marks the halfway point of the road, cars zipping by both fore and aft, but I do expect those fore-cars to slow down or move over as I push my way, Frogger-style to the other side of the street.

But, when I am in a taxi, the rules are reversed. I don’t see any reason why my green VW Jetta should have to move over just because someone decides they are going to cross the road in an undesignated spot. It’s a road for heaven’s sake- cars get priority! And don’t even get me started on why my taxi should be able to zip up the bus lane or weave in front of the car with out-of-province plates. Who do those people think they are?

Each new country seems to create a bit of a new personality to go along with it. Stateside, the zebra-like crosswalks rule the pedestrian world and the yellow and white lines on the pavement create the boundaries of the vehicular world. I buy into that concept whole-heartedly. But, plop me down in the center of the Middle Kingdom and all yielding sense flies out the window. Roads are crossed with impunity and in traffic, my taxi is king.

When you take culture classes, they tell you that a new culture is not right or wrong, but rather just different. That may be true, but sometimes, the different rubs off. I may not be right or wrong, but in China, it may just be me that is different.