Mamahuhu - a joint column for mamas in chengdu
Kate Griffiths and her husband, artist Zhang Dawei (featured in issue 38), along with their 6-year-old daughter, Anna, move back and forth every year or two between Chengdu and Brighton, England. The following are her reflections on their upcoming return to Chengdu.
The advantages of being a dual-continent family and being able to live in both Asia and the United Kingdom are endless—I like to think we get the best of both worlds—without what I imagine as the very real grind of being in one place "forever." I accept that living in Chengdu is, in many ways, hard work (somewhat mitigated for me because of Dawei's family, and my deep personal commitment to the place), so knowing that we can leave after a few years, or even better, after a few months, to travel, makes the grind bearable. Of course I am lucky financially, too, in that owning a house in the U.K. means I don't need to work full-time when I'm in Chengdu, unlike when I'm in Brighton.
I asked Anna how she feels about coming back to China next summer and leaving behind her friends, and the chance (for now) to go to junior school. She was very matter-of-fact in her response: "I'm sad and happy." The happy bits are that she gets to see her grandparents—Yeye and Nainai—as well as all of her "China friends."
There are lots of other things we're looking forward to:
- Every day and every trip is an adventure in Chengdu because of the endless street theatre that is daily life in China, plus chance encounters with locals, most of which I really enjoy. They are endlessly curious about Anna and having a baba who is a Chengduren, and I feel real warmth from these people. I could go on to qualify this with recognizing that my poor language skills insulate me, and I will never know what these smiling people are really thinking, but I will leave it for now with the sense of warmth and connection I feel in Chengdu and that I think Anna feels, too. This is a feeling I do not get in the U.K. normally.
- Even the most mundane expedition is fun: for instance, a supermarket trip, with its tanks of eels, frogs, turtles and huge fish, or even a snake or crocodile!
- The closeness to another world, the rest of Asia, opens up endless possibilities, so even if you aren't on a traveling adventure, just being close to the "edge" can be enough to keep you going.
- I'm not sure where I "fit" in the foreigner community. I'm not a traditional expat wife, not a teacher, certainly not a local—I have no illusions that I will ever fit in—but I love the international community and the chance it gives me and Anna to know people from around the world. For ever more, the U.S.A., Japan, Finland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Jamaica, Brazil ... will not be anonymous countries on a map but a person we know. Even better if we get to eat the food!
- Chengdu gives Anna the chance to be a child, far away from the U.K. pressure to be a WAG-in-training, endlessly play computer games, obsess over Hannah Montana ... . The pressure from society, peers, the media, and so forth is huge on U.K. kids to conform, and the impact on their mental health is dire. I am glad Anna will be away from that for a while and can be a kid ... indeed a Chinese kid, with Chinese people, really knowing China.
This article by Kate Griffiths was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 50.
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