Monday, June 17, 2013


(Here's my latest column from That's Beijing/Shanghai/Guangzhou magazines! Plus some photos for the razzle dazzle factor.)

In the early years of parenthood you worry about things your offspring might mistake for food, put in their mouth and swallow. Especially when you’re married to a doctor, everything morphs from “benign little knick-knack” to one despised, chill-sending item known as “the choking hazard”.

That makes sense in the baby years. For the love of God you shouldn’t have to worry about it when they’re six!

But here we are in Things They Never Warned Me About #136.

First, a graphic content warning. This story involves the digestive system and things that come out of it. So if you’re reading this while eating, drinking or making love, perhaps put it down til later.

Evie swallowed a coin. And our seemingly happy life changed utterly. I’ve no idea how or why. All I know is that it happened on my watch. Worse still, it happened on my lap.

We were Skyping my nephew in Australia. Perhaps I should blame him. Since Evie and I were facing the computer, he should have seen the whole thing, officer, and raised an alarm. But being 17, he was no doubt texting while speaking to us, and thus distracted. (The same callow youth was actually bitten by a deadly brown snake once whilst walking and texting at the same time. True story. He made the papers.)

In any event, our chat was interrupted when Evie spun around and said: “I’ve swallowed something I shouldn’t!”

I thought of a piece of paper, some cardboard at worst. Parenthood is never that simple.

“A coin,” she said. The worry showed on her face, perhaps in correlation to the gobsmacked look on mine.

There was a moment to absorb. I made sure she wasn’t choking. At least it had gone down the right hole - or slot I suppose – if there is a right place for a coin to go down a child.

My next stage was incredulity. That this had happened was unfathomable, something you just can’t accept, like watching a footballer miss an open goal, the ending of Thelma and Louise, or any Beijing intersection.

But it had happened. Despite our scratched-record parenty warnings, she’d had the coin in her mouth, had moved suddenly and lost control of it, and down the hatch it went. This I had to relate to my wife Stef, who of course came home from a bad day at work that very instant.

I was heartened that at least it was a one jiao coin. “It’s tiny!” I said, invoking a hitherto unknown spirituality by adding “this too shall pass”.

Nu-uh. You don’t get off that lightly. Not if your wife’s a doctor.

“What is it made of?” she began. “If it’s made of zinc it can corrode the stomach. How big is it? Anything over 20 millimetres is likely to get stuck.”

My reply was swift.

“D’uuuh”, I said.

This didn’t cut it. I confessed my parenthood training hadn’t broadened my knowledge of Chinese coins beyond the fact some of them had a funny hole in the middle.

I found a helpful coin collecting website. It said the yi jiao coin was precisely 19 millimetres across! Better still, it was aluminium. (The zinc issue has been a known problem in America since 1982, when the US mint began making pennies with a 97.5 per cent zinc content, just to corrode the stomachs of stupid children.

I double checked by emailing the website. They elaborated that one jiao coins had been made of nickel-plated steel since 2003. I was marvelling at the amazing things you learn through your children when Dr Wife jolted me out of it.

“We’ll have to go through her poos until we’re sure the coin is out,” she said.

The horror.

A one jiao coin, yesterday, when it was
believed to be worth a little more than
it is today.

What Evie would have looked like
seconds after swallowing the coin.
(Simulation, using the X-ray of some
other mad child).

To be fair, she probably wasn't as mad as this
one. This is an X-ray from a pioneering
American doctor in the late 19th century.
Sadly, the child is no longer with us.

This X-ray captured the image of
another child, believed to be the
young Michael Jackson.

This poo-checking directive from the household medical director was really not what I wanted to hear. By contrast Evie thought it sounded hilarious. So has every other parent who thought they’d left the poo years behind years long ago.

Stef went first, the next afternoon. I thought this was far too soon A) for it to have passed and B) for Stef to escape suspicion she quite liked this sort of thing.

Her method was to have Evie poop into glad wrap laid over the toilet bowl, and then lovingly, tenderly, fondle it through the plastic. From my safe place in the backyard I soon saw there was only black smoke in the chimney.

When my turn came I used a plastic stick. I gritted my teeth, thought of England, and poked and prodded as if making soup. For her part, Evie sat there chuckling maniacally. Still nothing.

Many days and poos went by unrewarded. One day, whilst literally “knocking them back with a shitty stick”, the thought occurred that Evie may have passed the coin at school, and that I was now just doing this for fun.

“No,” she insisted. “It didn’t feel like anything shiny came out.” This seemed like a definite no, for another old saying holds that you can’t polish a turd.

The stories came out. One parent told Dr Wife their kid incubated a coin for TWELVE DAYS. Another's daughter had swallowed a British pound and, finding that went quite well, promptly threw down four more. (Parenting tip: The pound: Not a bad coin to swallow. Small and heavy, they pass quickly. Within only a couple of days this couple had that mythical 'perfect child' who poops out pounds).

I was heartened slightly by an American friend’s tale of a bachelor party involving the drinking game in which a quarter is flipped into a beer. The loser, sculling his beer, also swallowed the quarter.
At least he was a drunken adult male. A six-year-old should know better.

Finally, on Day 16, Evie had her first ever X-ray. It was good news, though a little bittersweet. The coin had been passed. I'm not even going to ponder when.

(ED's note: If you think I'm going to use this piece as a vehicle to publish more gratuitous, freaky X-rays garnered from the web, then you've got no other thing coming!)

This man was said to have got cold feet and panicked
when he saw his intended fiancee approaching him
with a shocking new haircut.

According to my favourite website,, this
construction worker got around for several
days without knowing he had shot a
four-inch nail into his head! It was
eventually spotted by a razor-sharp dentist
after the man presented complaining of
a tooth-ache. To further complicate matters, doctors
then also discovered that for the duration of his
ordeal, the man's arse had been on fire.
Amazingly, he was fine.  So was everyone else
in this collection, I'm pretty sure, although I
wouldn't bet money on the Victorian-era
child with the safety pins.

Even this kid! He's a 17-month-old from
Kentucky, who had a fall.

This person, a 60-year-old man, also had a fall.
No, he did! Of all the freakish luck - to land on a
bottle that had been left carelessly in his shower
stall. That's what he told his doctor, and I see no
reason to doubt him.

Still in the nether regions, this is a mobile phone found
in a prison inmate in El Salvador, who was believed
to have invented butt-dialing. This one went up,
not down, I believe.

This fellow was said to have enjoyed his
meal, but found himself still hungry
at the end. He ate two forks and a pen,
and then just before bed, his toothbrush.


  1. It must depend on your child because I tried others after using honest diapers on my son and they failed us several times. I went right back to honest diapers and no more leaks. I have also tried other brands but they just don't work for my son. Funny how each is different.

    1. Dear Honest Diaper,
      What the hell are you on about?
      Your child's preferred brand of diaper is of no consequence to me, and does not really relate to this blog post. I'll do the jokes around here OK, Honest Diaper?
      Since my children are in school and I'm only 46, I shall not be needing diapers for another 40 or so years.
      Good day to you!
      Tiger Father.

    2. PS: That's a stupid name you have, by the way.

  2. What was Evie doing with a filthy jiao coin in her mouth? Ewwww! Remind her that could have come from around the edge of a squat toilet off Nanluoguxian...

    1. I know. And I'd told her "no snacking before dinner" and all. Kids eat the darnedest things!