Being around the whole big Chinese family over New Years would be a challenge to any sane person; but it just so happens that I grew up most of my life with just my parents and paternal grandparents around. Christmas was the five of us on the night of the 24th and the rest of the holiday was just chillin’ with my peeps – three musketeer style. While I do have a large family in the UK, whom I love visiting, I would only see them on average every two years. The result, I have discovered, is that despite my generally extrovert nature, I actually really struggle with big family reunions. It was the case with my previous boyfriends and unsurprisingly my noisy, passionate and meddling in-laws in Hohhot are just a step up on the torture ladder compared to my past experience with distant and mostly adequately loud German potential in-laws.
Now Chinese New Year is the time of the year when you are forced *cough cough* I meant honoured to sit through at least three or four days of family lunches and dinners in which each and every aunt and uncle will enquire either about if you have a boy/girlfriend, when the two of you are getting married or when you will pop out babies. The pressure is so bad that an entire industry around renting fake boy/girlfriends for CNY has emerged.
If you are a indeed a new couple or a newly-wed couple, you have completed level 1 and 2 respectively in the game that is World of Chinacraft. As you level up, it will rain hongbaos as a reward (sorry, geeking out a little). Hongbaos or red envelopes full of money are traditionally given instead of gifts to children and in the above mentioned two scenarios. Technically, you are meant to go to each relative’s home – and in China’s “Mao generation” there are a lot of aunties and uncles – to pay a new year’s visit and as a sign of respect you need to bring gifts. In our case these were cakes from Beijing’s most famous bakery, for which we stood in line for close to two hours and almost got in a fight with a “dama” 大妈, one of the most fierce and dangerous species to be encountered in China. I am lucky in so far that my Mother in Law arranged for us to go to her mother’s home just when all the aunts and the uncle were there, so we didn’t have to go round to their home anymore. Cheeky, right? But to my family-phobic self a total lifesaver.
While I didn’t get too much heat in the past from my Chinese family in terms of when we are getting married, it seems the wedding night has somehow flipped the baby-craze switch. I knew this would be the case as it’s what I’ve read about on pretty much any Chinese-Western dating blog and heard from every single of my friends in Chinese marriages. And yet, when faced with it I found it quite a challenge. Every single female relative seemed to only wait the five minutes of polite small talk before pouncing on us like baby ninjas asking about our reproductive plans.
Now I was quite content with the coping strategy that we came up with, which included myself simply sitting there in silence staring at the floor, while poor Mr Li was left trying to explain to horrified looking aunties that we plan to wait until our thirties to have children. “No, no, you can’t do that, that’s too late” was the conclusion most of them probably drew in their minds; but of course one of them had to announce this to us with absolute conviction. Again, dealing mechanism of just sitting there keeping my mouth shut went into action – though I couldn’t help but think they should try telling that to my mum who had me, her first and only child, at 36. The fact of the matter is that a considerable number of people in China are genuinely convinced that having a child in your thirties will cause birth defects. I would like to think I am living proof that that’s not the case; though I couldn’t attest to my mental health…I did after all move from one of the most gender equal cultures in to one of the least.
Do you feel the baby heat as well? And what are your coping strategies?