Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween II - The Sequel

Well, we did it. We did Halloween. And we didn't just do it, we did it to death. For a mob of hitherto naysayers, we plunged headlong into this most American of festivals. If Princess Michael of Kent is more royal than the royals, we went more American than a large crying person blabbing intimate details of their private life on Jerry Springer.
Over three days, we embraced our eldest daughter's school Halloween party, a Halloween-themed birthday party and not one but two nights of trick-or-treating. And we've still got youngest daughter's school party tonight. That makes five functions, and that makes Halloween officially grander than Christmas.
What a sell-out. I feel a little dirty, a little cheap, or maybe its just a side-effect of the lollies, which is after all what Halloween is all about. I also feel like I've sold out my principals and dignity for the sake of mass appeal, but that's what this blog is all about. And you can tell every single person you know I said that on

Jack O'Lantern ... bigger than Jesus?
But really, I learned on my first Halloween that it was mostly harmless fun. I still wouldn’t want to see it popularised in Australia, but I don't feel moral decay consuming me any more than usual. Actually, I learned Halloween is widely used by charities as a time for helping others.
We didn’t do any of that. We just got lollies. But to be fair, we scored a truckload of them. OK, we kind of made pigs of ourselves.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Urgent message from the People's Political Consultative Conference of (PPCCTTFC)

The Tiger Father now has twitter buttons! Look right and find them, so now you can follow and/or tweet This way I'll be able to tweet you all when I've put up a new post, which at this stage is looking likely to happen on Monday and Thursday mornings.
You can also of course keep hitting the facebook buttons, and even become my friend on that increasingly popular social networking site. Look for Trevor Marshallsea or on its own page! I've set one up! And to think two weeks ago I didn't even know what a computer was.
So go in and go hard - and tweet that thang.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sugar time

You say tomato, I say tomato
You say potato, I say potato
Tomato, tomato, potato, potato …

Ah, ok … it doesn’t really work in print, does it? We just sound like a couple of stoned people trying to start a conversation.
But the point remains – we’re different. Who are we? Well our “we” is Australians. Your “we” is Americans. If it sounds like I’m going over this clearly and slowly then maybe it’s because I’m going through what we basic uncomplicated cavemen like to call “an existential crisis”.
I never expected it to hit me, but I’ve found myself wondering who I am and where I fit in this world as I ponder what in Beijing has become one of life’s big questions: Do we let our kids celebrate Halloween?
Those pesky kids again!
Every October, this comes up. Halloween isn’t a traditional Chinese thing, of course. Of all the things the Chinese invented, it never occurred to them to grow a pumpkin, hollow it out and stick a candle in it. They never thought to put on skeleton costume and demand lollies from a neighbour under the threat of throwing a rotten egg onto his roof. “Hey – that’s good egg!” you’d probably hear. (What constitutes a rotten egg here is a matter of much debate, thanks to the technique of quasi-preservation that produces the famous and very disturbing hundred-year-old egg).
No, Halloween is something you find yourself pulled into as part of Beijing’s large, diverse and enthralling expat community, which numbers roughly 112,513.
Each year in our multi-tower apartment compound, as we celebrate the harvest, thoughts turn to the eve of All Saints Day. Shall we go to Mass to pray for the souls of the holy? Or should we dress our kids as the undead and go get candy?
And every year, I’m the grinch, the old Scrooge, complete with bald head and everything. (Because of a broken leg I even used to hobble around with a stick!) I’m the one who says Bah humbug. My wife says it too, only in a more reasoned, wordy, less-expletive-filled way. So our girls have never partaken in our compound’s Halloween night.
The author, having a perfectly fine time last Oct 31.

Stop Press

Since posting my item on our ill-fated trip to the zoo, it has come to The Tiger Father's attention that China's take-or-leave attitude to lavatories seems more surprising considering that in 2004 Beijing was host to the WTO summit.
That's the other WTO by the way. Not that World Trade Organisation thing, but of course the World Toilet Organisation. It's true. It exists. I looked it up.
In fact November 19 is officially World Toilet Day. This has gone straight in at No.1 amongst my favourite world something days. And I found out just in time. This November 19, I am definitely going to go to the toilet. I encourage you all to do the same.
Singapore's Jack Sim, founder of the WTO.
The blind leading the blind?

Sunday, October 23, 2011


To sit with your darling little girl eating sandwiches by a tree-lined canal as you hear two bigger girls laughing nearby is just lovely.
To sit eating sandwiches and then realise that those two bigger girls are laughing and defecating is … not all that lovely, really.
This was the scene my youngest and I were forced to digest recently. It was a horrendous day – on many levels, it eventuated. Beijing’s pollution was ugly thick, the heat and humidity uncomfortably sticky. With our eldest in school, I tried to make something of our youngest’s last day of holidays.
So I thought of the zoo, but with the great outdoors clearly a health risk, I chose its impressive aquarium. Before entering we chanced 15 minutes in the zoo’s quite nice gardens to partake of our homemade lunch.
When public toilets look like this you wonder
why some still prefer the great outdoors.
Before we get going, China has led the world in several things throughout its five millennia of civilisation, and I’m not just saying the coming charges of cultural insensitivity. Gunpowder’s great. You can blow up a lot of stuff with gunpowder. Paper? Wish I’d thought of it. Printing? What a great way to use paper. And the compass? Where we’d be without it would actually be impossible to tell.
Chopsticks, sweet and sour pork, a vast navy before anyone else had one, the list goes on. Great race, great achievements. And can they build a wall?
Bafflingly there were some days during those formative millennia when China skipped class. They were there for the lesson on washing hands. They’re obsessive-compulsive about that. If a child drops an item of food it is scornfully kicked and hissed away as if it were a tongue of flame from Satan.
You can’t walk into the house with shoes on. No bare feet touch a floor. So contemptuously are floors regarded that in my gym locker room, sports bags often take up every seat. I’m left to ask their owners that unless they plan on going home and licking the bottom of their bag, could I sit the heck down please?
Seeing men put their trousers on in the locker room is like watching brain surgery. So carefully, they perch on one foot, remove the other slipper and pull their pant leg up before again bringing the uncovered foot down to successfully dock with its slipper again. This was, apparently, how tai chi started. It also explains why qi gong masters like levitating.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Quality issues

China's main internet filter hard at work, yesterday.
Dear Reader,
Owing to rumoured interference by Chinese internet controllers, it has come to The Tiger Father's attention that some of you, particularly in China, might not be receiving this blog in its best possible state, like with all the funny bits cut out.
No, what I really mean is that China's technological mavens, operating in white coats inside a hollowed-out mountain near here, just might be doing something to make the display and photos on this blog look sub-standard, thus stripping it of an estimated 20 to 22 per cent of its glamour and glitz.
I apologise for that but can only explain that it is due to technical matters outside of my control - i.e. that China doesn't like google, and, like Dick Dastardly with some flour and a hairdryer, it constantly does its best to bedevil its sworn enemy and its blog platforms.
Web censors inspect yesterday while ...
... locals form their most orderly queue in years
to get their hard-copy version in a frantic afternoon
at the Black Market, Beijing.

Rest assured I am working on the issue, having been locked in high-level discussions with my techy friends who know about computers. (Yes, I do have a couple. They also read manuals and stop and ask for directions when driving.)
Following those discussions I have come up with a range of possible action plans to confront this interference and fix the issue.
These are:
1. Set fire to myself.
2. Go on a hunger strike.
3. Set fire to myself whilst not eating anything.
4. Do nothing and hope the computers fix themselves like they usually do.
5. Bang my computer on the side.
Once I decide upon the most appropriate form of counter-attack, probably sometime after lunch, I hope to have the problem solved rather quickly. Until then, please bear with us if you should, in any way, feel you are looking at a second-rate blog which is anything but the finest, absolute best quality thing on the web. Or anywhere.

* Have your say on how to address this thorny worm-can of a problem in the survey to the right. There may be a prize involved!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Kick

Being a stay-at-home dad in Beijing can do your head in. There are times when I pine for the office, or for those lazy days when I could sit and bang my thumb with a hammer. But just when I’m off to the garage to find myself a length of rope and a good sturdy beam, my girls will do something hilarious that makes me love my job. Today our youngest kicked our eldest in the face.
This might sound rough, so we should establish a few things. 1. I love our eldest daughter. I don’t cheer when she's kicked in the face. 2. Violence is bad, mmkay? 3. Our girls are really quite lovely and exchange far more hugs and kisses than grievous blows to the head.
But sometimes the shocking methods they use to turn on each other leave me awestruck and I can’t help but laugh at the sheer effrontery of it all. I’m gobsmacked – figuratively - that a social outrage is being committed in our comfortable middle-class loungeroom, not some leafy, riot-torn corner of London. And all with the barest provocation. Funny, I don’t even like the Three Stooges. 
I was in the kitchen and didn’t see this one. But I hear Lani, six, and Evie, four, were lying on the sofa watching a DVD. Suddenly amidst the sweetness and light of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse there came a kick to the face.

The Great Drive Forward

To the uninitiated, in fact to anyone at all, there seems to be only one rule for driving in China:
Rule You can all just do what you want.
This rampantly developing country has gone driving mad. And with so many new motorists has come some pretty mad driving. It drives you mad. As one observer put it: “The Chinese people fill me with inspiration and hope … until I see them at an intersection.”
Traffic lights at times perform not so much as a guiding force but a hopeful suggestion. “A  lane” seems to be defined as “anywhere you see a gap”. Zebra crossings are clearly there not to help those on foot but for aesthetic reasons.
There’s something like a million new cars on the road in Beijing every day, or hour or something, and in them are as many new drivers usually fitting two descriptions. They’re either confident, in a way that Ayrton Senna was confident, or so infuriatingly tentative that you’d swear your gran and a million of her friends were out to do their shopping.
But despite what it looks like, there are rules - lots of them - as anyone who has sat their exam for their Chinese driver’s licence can attest. Foreigners must acquire a local licence. Recently, it happened to me.


Being a stay-at-home dad I get to hang around a lot of mums. Usually this is good, as we men are not supposed to know what we’re doing when it comes to parenting. In fact, when it comes to most things. Thus I get all kinds of kudos for achievements as praiseworthy as getting my daughters out of the house and still alive.

Once, and I’m not embellishing, I took the girls into my wife’s work, whereupon a receptionist noted how great I was for the fact that I’d “even got them dressed!”Had I not been a reasonably capable journalist for a couple of decades, proven able to chew and type at the same time? Had I not once won at Scrabble? Yet this woman must have held this mental picture of me at home that morning, grappling with a toddler and a jumpsuit, possibly stopping occasionally for a bout of tears at the futility of my efforts, before raising my arms aloft in triumph at getting the job done.

The upside is I get lavish praise for achieving the mundane. Maybe I get more because I’m big, bald and have a deceptively grumpy face. Perhaps a small, wiry, more sensitive-looking dad would raise fewer eyebrows. In any event, the plaudits I get make my wife roll her eyes. For as she rightly points out, mothers don’t get the same recognition for the same work. Funny, it sounds a bit like the paid workplace, doesn’t it? Sorry, no, of course it’s not funny at all.

Generally, good vibes come my way from other men too, many of whom would love to have my job. Some, however, shudder at the thought, those perhaps not imbued with the same amount of patience, laid-backness - oh ok then laziness - as me.Not that it’s a walk in the park, but I do find it preferable to going to an office. Real pressure is not having a big white puddle of milk on a table, but having an editor scream that you have five minutes to write a whole new story or there’ll be a big white hole on the newspaper.

I’m also sure there’s some survey somewhere saying stay-at-home dads worry 90 per cent less than their female equivalents. Or as a wise (female) comedian once said: “What’s the difference between a mother and a father? A father is a mother without the guilt”.Still, the mums seem to like me, and embrace me as one of their own, like the fabled human baby in the pack of wolves, or something.

Occasionally, though, something slips out, and the pack turns. I’m exposed, like in that scene from The Great Escape (and yes, referencing this movie confirms I’m still a bloke) where the hint of an accent reveals one escapee is not a German civilian but a Britisher pigdog. Take, for example, what has become known in my Beijing apartment compound as The Haircut Incident.

My recollection of events is this: There was a birthday party, it was a Sunday morning, I was hungover, and the brain was either just nicely relaxed or completely, dumfoundingly disengaged.

So there’s my friend and fellow Australian Susan, a 40-odd mother of two, talking to a couple of other women. I walk over and get nods and smiles only, since Susan is in mid-story. I’m hoping it’s about football, but instead it’s about her hair. I peruse Susan’s head, and sure enough, she’s had a haircut.

Going into as much detail as a stay-at-home dad can, it used to be kind of long, but now it’s quite short and … weeell a bit plain. Pretty bad actually. It’s what Australians might call a dodgy ‘do. Susan’s talking, touching the newly trimmed locks, sheepishly telling her smiling fellow mums how she’d always thought about getting it cut short and so now here it is.

Well, I thought, time for me to wade in. I can hold my own in haircut conversations, so I came in with this knowledgeable sounding effort: “Aah – you’ve gone for the mum haircut, eh?”


An icy silence.

"What????" I thought. "What was wrong with that?"

Isn’t it a well known fact that women’s hair gets shorter after motherhood? Isn’t it something to do with hormones or sticky toddler fingers or something? Well, I thought it was anyway. I also thought the comment was completely fine coming from a male background. Generally, we only comment on another man’s haircut to say how shocking it is. Perhaps my lack of hair leaves me insensitive to the more hairy, for it turns out there was plenty wrong with my quip.

The mothers turned on me, especially Susan, whose face rating was downgraded in a nanosecond from “beaming and happy” to “sunken and sullen” by my eight little words which meant so much.

“Thanks a lot,” she hissed. Even in my bleary state I could tell she didn’t mean it.

“What?!” I say out loud, probably with that “Have I erred?” face my wife loves so much. I don’t get much of an answer, just a couple of shakes of the head and rolls of the eyes that remind me of a high school dance. I think carefully about my next move. I walk away and find a bloke and talk about football.
A dodgy haircut, yesterday.
It's alright. I can say that. She's my sister.
That was that, I thought. But later I relate the episode to my wife. She recoils in horror as if I had blurted out that I burn kittens for fun. This, apparently, was what the French people in our compound call a faux pas extraordinaire. A phone call had to be made by my wife, an apology rendered on my behalf for my totally empty head, calloused heart and complete lack of knowledge about how to behave in public.

“What?!” I say again.

I have to be told, patiently and slowly, how women of a certain age and parental status should be reminded how great they look. They should not, conversely, have it suggested that they have thrown in the towel in the great battle of aesthetics and gone for what’s known in China as “The People’s No.1 Mother Haircut”.

Word spreads around the compound. A few days later my innocent blunder bounces back to me through a working dad, who’s laughing his head off as he says: “My wife always says: (cue whiny immitation female voice here) ‘Oh Trevor’s so nice and so sensitive and blah blah blah’, and then you go and say that haircut line!” The scoundrel is jubilant.

A week later I tell my wife how a single male friend had spied Sonia, mother of two, by the pool in a bikini and had thought how attractive she looked. Wife almost fell over herself trying to locate Sonia to tell her this news, like it should appear in our imaginary compound women’s magazine under a headline of “Young single guy finds 40-something mother of two still hot!” Now that, my wife says, is what mums want to hear, not some clown lampooning a brave new haircut.

Now I have two golden rules, critical to my existence around mothers: Never ask a woman if she’s pregnant, and never ever even ask if she’s had her haircut.

(Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and those with lank and lifeless hairdos).

Those bad hair days often
 make us feel like
 a change.

Sometimes we get

Funny, the issue
doesn't seem to
bother men ...

... or kids.