I have been here a week and it’s taken no time at all to slip into life within the household. It usually takes me 24 hours to feel comfotable in someone else’s house, to recognise the baby noises, to work out where everything is in the kitchen (You’d be surprised at how similar most peoples kitchen drawer and cupboard layouts are!)
I know which mini bus takes me to Kennedy Town, so I can get my morning coffee. I know now to only press the octopus card on entering and not on entering and leaving the mini bus. I know to call out “Next stop please” at the top of my voice. I buckle up in the mini bus as there is a sign saying that if you don’t do it, then you are likely to pay a fine of $6,000 and possibly 3 months in prison. No-one else buckles up.
The other night we had the family visit which included Grandpa and great Grandma. They presented each of us in the house a red envelope with money inside. This is apparently a New Years tradition and is called lai see in Cantonese. The red envelope is regarded as the symbol of energy, happiness and good luck. Wrapping money in red packets is hoped to bring more happiness and blessing to the receivers and it is impolite to open a red packet in front of the person who gives to you. Thankfully, I didn’t.
It’s all very fascinating, the different traditions and superstitions. The mum explained to me the customary 30 day confinement period where new mothers are pretty much expected to sit around in pyjamas for a month. This is called “sitting the month” and is deeply embedded in Chinese culture. Chinese people are concerned about balancing yin and yang in all things. If the yin and yang in your body are out of balance then you get sick. So precautions are taken in the recovery period after birth. They are to wear thick woolen socks, maybe a woolly hat; to not wash and to only drink tepid or hot water. These rules are aimed at restoring the balance to the new mothers body after childbirth. The mother must guard against getting a chill as chinese doctores warn that it could lead to joint problems or illness later on. She is to eat bland food only and no raw fruit and vegetables.
The mother I am with at the moment isn’t being as strict. She said her own mother wasn’ t when she was born, but she is still having the home made bone broth soups and the rice water, both with chinese herbs added to them.
And then, there is 100 days celebration. This traditional celebration marks the first three months of life for a new baby. The traditional chinese believe that the first 100 days is when the mum and baby is most vulnerable to the elements, so they are advised to stay indoors to avoid illness. Another tale explains that in days past it was rare for a baby to survive the first 100 days, so this was cause for a celebration!
On the morning of this auspicious day, the family will offer prayers to the gods and ancestors which will include food offerings and burning incense. These inform the deities of the new addition and appeal to the spirits to look after the child. Families are also required to shave the baby’s head, although it’s more common, these days, to snip off a lock of hair. This a sign of preparing for a life of good health, happiness and success in the community. I don’t think we shall be celebrating this as the baby has already had her first adventure outside, but we shall see when the time comes.