~ Looking for the Christmas Spirit
It's been brutally cold and windy in Beijing for the past couple of weeks (wind chill of 13 C below zero a couple of days ago) and there are plenty of things in the air (particulate matter of all kinds, carbon monoxide emissions, construction dust), but the Christmas spirit isn't one of them. We're going to have to work extra-hard this year to get that holiday feeling, being away from friends and family, and in a place where Christmas isn't even really DONE. If it means having to invent some brand-new Christmas traditions (Christmas hotpot? Ooooh - Boxing Day foot massage?), so be it, but we're on our own this year.
Thinking that we might find holiday cheer in a more Western environment, we decided to attend a reception at the Finnish embassy. We'd always felt guilty about skipping out on embassy receptions in the past (most notably on an invite from the Embassy of Papua New Guinea; how often do you get one of those?) so we felt that it was time we sucked it up and went to one. I suppose the reception was fine, but WE were so lame! We chatted at length with a friend who works at the American embassy next door and had stopped by, but after he left, we were seized by social paralysis, and basically just stuck around for the ambassador's speech and then fled the scene. For some reason, Monty Python's Crusaders' "Run away! Run away! Run away!" kept going through my head. In our defense, there was no Christmas to be had there, anyway. I don't even think there was a tree. Which, come to think of it, is pretty scandalous for the embassy of Santa's homeland. We should mount a protest. Or rather, as the only Finnish citizen in the family, Mik should.
Yesterday I went to the big Carrefour (French supermarket chain) to shop for fresh meat and the random things that our corner store doesn't stock, and while there, decided to swing by the wine section to check out the champagne selection. No worries, I have no intention of getting boozy before I pop the kid out, but I had been thinking that it would be really nice to be able to celebrate with some champagne at the hospital immediately afterwards, if we feel like it. We do have a really nice bottle of Dom Perignon lying around that would work, but as with the nice bottle of bubbly that I had brought along to the beach when I told Mik that we were pregnant, I'm afraid most of it would just go to waste. Since I want to be able to breastfeed, I probably won't want more than a few sips, and Mik doesn't need to be chugging the rest of a bottle of anything to celebrate Day One. So I thought I'd pick up one of those cute little half bottles to stick in the labor bag, and save the Dom for an anniversary instead.
There are two French guys in their mid-twenties who work in the wine section at that store, presumably to raise the profile with their accents (primarily) and their expertise (definitely secondarily). After we quickly established that there was only one choice (Freixenet-ugh) for half-bottles of cava, they tried to get me to agree to have my photo taken for some sort of Carrefour worldwide holiday wine promotion.
"Come, have ze picture taken wiz us, who knows, you may become famous en France."
"You know, I would, but," gesturing towards my belly, "I don't know if you really want that kind of connection in your wine promotion materials."
"Ah, but ze pregnant women, zey are truly beautiful, no? You are beautiful. Come, take a picture…"
"Yeeeaaaaah, but you know, the whole alcohol and pregnancy thing, I doubt that your marketing department would really want to go there. There is some controversy about the matter…"
In my head, once again: "Run away! Run away! Run away!"
So, yeah. Nice guys; can't comment on their marketing savvy. Peel away the Frenchness and implied wine connoisseurship, and underneath are just a couple of sweet but dopey young guys working in a supermarket.
As I fled, I found myself in the Christmas section, where it looked as if the Tacky Fairy had puked all over three aisles of cards and decorations. A harsh assessment, I know, but I promise you would agree with me. The one thing I would've bought, a string of little white Christmas tree lights, cost the equivalent of $10 and looked to be imported from Russia. I'm completely stumped, since the ones I bought last year at CVS were made in China and cost $1.50 a string. I obviously have a lot to learn about international trade. "Silver Bells" started to play for the 20th time on the P.A. system so I decided to stick with my original shopping list (meat and frozen pizza dough) and got the heck out of there.
I start weekly appointments this week, and continuing my rotation among the three OBs who may be on call when I go into labor, met the last one today. She did the swab for the Group B Strep test, and, after some quick measurements with a tape measure, guesstimated the baby's current size at 3.2 kilos. Not sure if I buy that estimate… 7 lbs at 36 weeks seems inordinately huge to me, but who knows? She went over the signs of "real" labor again, and also recommended as much activity and exercise as I can reasonably muster in these last few weeks, reiterating that at 37 weeks, the baby's actually already at full term. She also confirmed my feeling that the baby had wiggled down a tiny bit already: apparently he/she is half-engaged, but not all the way there yet. I like the thought that the baby's pulling for the team already, and that all the squirming and stretching is part of the effort of getting ready and then helping to get out into the world at last. I'm all for the enthusiastic, gung-ho spirit.
Mik gets back this afternoon from a quick 5-day trip back to CT to check on the house, and with him comes a bunch of nice-to-have items from home. Among them, a notebook of recipes: maybe the smell of baking apple pie and mom's shortbread cookies will go a long way towards making us feel like Santa's on his way.