Monday, May 21, 2012

Cloth diapers in China (and elsewhere)

I've mentioned previously that we use cloth diapers at home. We started when Littles was about 15 months old, so over 3.5 years ago. But for quite a while, we used disposables while traveling. This was mostly for reasons of cost and convenience: Coin-operated laundry can be expensive, and who wants to spend their vacation lugging dirty diapers to and from a hotel laundry room or laundromat?

For the same reason, we didn't use hybrid diapers like gDiapers or Flips (disposable inserts can run twice the price of disposable diapers, and you still have to wash covers) or even "green" disposables like 7th Generation or Earth's Best (pricier than regular disposables). We were literally going through a handful of packs of disposable diapers a year; I didn't feel the least bit guilty if they were -- gasp! -- Pampers.

But for the last year or so, we've used cloth exclusively on all of our trips. It's turned out to be really, really easy. Even going all the way to China!

How we make it work...

Packing: We used mostly pocket diapers (BumGenius) at first. They worked fine, but starting with our trip to Panama, I got some Best Bottoms covers and made some inserts. Since Best Bottoms allow you to reuse the shell and just swap out the dirty insert, they take up less space than pocket diapers. This is four diaper changes with Best Bottoms (on the left, a shell with an insert + 3 additional inserts) and BumGenius pockets (on the right):


I generally bring about 15-20 diapers total, which is more than enough to wash every two days. Most of the diapers go in our checked bags. They do take up some space, but we're still generally able to fit everything we need for all of us in two large checked bags.

In transit: I put about 4-5 diapers, some cloth wipes, and a small wetbag into the diaper bag, which gets carried on. I also bring a large prefold diaper, which can be used as a washable changing pad.

For China, because the trip was so much longer, we brought an extra rollaboard with more stuff to keep the kids amused. That gave us plenty of space for additional diapers as well. I packed a large wetbag, rather than the usual small one, to ensure there was plenty of space for dirty diapers.

At our destination: As I've mentioned in previous posts, we've stayed in vacation rentals with washers/dryers for most of our recent trips. Even if we used disposable diapers, we'd really need to do this: It's just not feasible to pack enough clothes for four (soon to be five) people to wear for a week or more inside a reasonable amount of luggage. Having laundry facilities allows us to bring about 4-5 changes of clothes per person and wash clothes every couple of days (since the kids normally go through multiple changes of clothes per day...)

But obviously, this also helps facilitate cloth diapering. I bring detergent from home, to ensure that I have something that's cloth diaper compatible. Dirty diapers go in a large zippered hanging wetbag (ours are made by Planet Wise) until laundry day. Then I wash just like I do at home. Easy.

In China, we didn't have any luck finding vacation rentals, so we ended up staying in a "service apartment." This was a hotel designed for long-term stays, so among other wonderful benefits (like multiple rooms and a kitchenette), it had a washer/dryer in each unit.

On daytrips: When we're out and about, we do exactly what we do on daytrips at home: We bring enough diaper changes for however long we plan to be out, along with a small wetbag for dirty diapers. Since it's not always easy to find a good spot for changing diapers when you're on the go, I'll often prepare the diapers with some extra inserts for more absorbency. That way, it's not a problem if we end up having to go longer than usual between diaper changes.

Any problems? The biggest problem I've run into is that the diapers often start to get stinky by the end of each trip, likely due to not quite having the wash routine right with unfamiliar water and washers. I just wash the diapers with a little bit of bleach when we get home, and that takes care of the stinkies.

In China, one challenge was that the washer/dryer (it was all one machine) was labeled entirely in Chinese :) Cloth diapers generally require an initial rinse, then a normal wash cycle with an extra rinse, then into the dryer. Well, I couldn't figure out how to do just a rinse, so I ended up having to do two full wash cycles for each load. And the wash cycles were really long (like 2-3 hours), so it usually took the better part of a day to get the diapers washed. A bit of a pain, but with the washer/dryer being right there in the unit, it worked out fine: I often started a load in the morning, then started the second wash cycle when we returned to the apartment for naptime.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. A lot of people think that traveling with cloth is a hassle, but we really haven't found it to be any different from using cloth at home.

Oh, and in China, disposable diapers ran as much as $40 for a jumbo pack (about 35-40 diapers, depending on size). Ouch. When we saw that, we were very happy that we brought cloth :)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Beijing activities

The Great Wall of ChinaIMG_2813

A must-see! There are multiple sections that are relatively close to Beijing. The best-known is Badaling, but most Great Wall reviews says that Mutianyu is much better, mostly due to the insane crowds at Badaling.

Unfortunately, Mutianyu is harder to get to, requiring either a somewhat lengthy bus-then-transfer-to-minibus ride (which did not sound like fun with small children) or a taxi/private car rental (which would have required us lugging the car seats all the way from Shanghai). In contrast, Badaling is accessible via train -- much more manageable, and no car seats required. And we figured that the cold weather would likely keep the crowds down.

The S2 train goes from Beijing North Railway Station to Badaling. Finding schedules online was a little bit of a challenge. This page currently has schedules, but that might change in the future!

Beijing North Railway Station is accessible via the Xizhimen subway station (line 2). There is plenty of signage in Chinese and English to direct you from the subway exit to the train station. Allow a few extra minutes to buy tickets at the station (it was 12 yuan/about $2 per adult; the kids were free) and get to your train. We didn't... and ended up missing our train! If you find yourself in the same boat and need to kill some time till the next train, there is a nice mall attached to the subway/train station. Plenty of restaurants and shops, and a fantastic fish tank on the lower level. And regular toilets, unlike the train station :)

The train ride takes about an hour, but the nice thing about trains is that the kids can get up and walk around, go to the bathroom, etc. Way better than a bus ride of the same length.

We were a little worried about missing the Badaling station stop, but it was very clear. It was the only station stop where the announcements were made in both Chinese and English :) Plus, pretty much the entire train got up.

Once we arrived, it was a short walk (a little under a kilometer) to the base of the Great Wall. There were signs, but we mostly just followed our fellow train travelers.

Turns out we were right about the cold keeping the hordes of visitors away. This is the main parking lot. Apparently, it is packed in summer, but on our visit, it was a ghost town:


This worked out really well for us, but I do think I'd opt for Mutianyu in summer, despite the hassle of getting there.

There are a variety of restaurants at the base of the Great Wall, but none up at the top, so bring food/water if you think you'll need it during your stay. Also, you might want to use the bathrooms at the bottom. The bathrooms at the top were probably the foulest bathrooms I've ever used in my life. Chinese toilets (which are stinky under the best of circumstances), port-a-potty style... ::shudder::

You can either walk up to the top, or you can take a cable car. Since we were getting a late start on the day (due to missing our intended train) and since it probably wasn't a good idea for me to hike at altitude while pregnant, we opted to take the cable car. It was 60 yuan (about $10) roundtrip for my husband and me. The kids were free.

Once you get to the top of the wall, you just walk... and walk... and walk. There are lots of steps, uneven terrain, and steep inclines, so it's a bit of a challenging walk for kids, especially little ones like Noob. And I can't see any way that you could bring a stroller up there. Needless to say, the Ergo was an absolute lifesaver. In fact, Littles got tired midway through, and Noob wanted to walk anyway -- so it was into the Ergo for Littles!


(This carrier isn't a great fit for her anymore; you can see how it hits her very low on her back, and doesn't support her bottom from knee-to-knee. But it's perfectly safe, just not quite as comfortable as it once was, for child and wearer. Still, better than having to either force her to walk or carry her in our arms!)

Despite the challenging walk, the views were absolutely worth it. Truly spectacular, and a highlight of our entire China trip.

Forbidden City/Imperial PalaceIMG_2962

This is easily accessible from the Tian'anmen East or Tian'anmen West subway stations (both on line 1).

Unfortunately, our visit was a bust. It was freezing cold and so just a few minutes into it, the kids were literally screaming because they were so cold. So we ended up seeing just a handful of things before turning around and heading back to the hotel for some hot chocolate :)

If you plan to go during times of extreme temperatures/weather (hot, cold, rain, etc.), know that it's a pretty long walk from the entrance to the entire Forbidden City area (right near the subway exits) to the entrance of the actual Imperial Palace, where you pay your admission fee and all that. Both kids were already pretty cold by the time we got to the entrance, and it didn't get any better once we got inside. There are many "buildings" inside the Imperial Palace, but they are all open-air pavilions that provide virtually no shelter from the elements.

We really should have saved ourselves the admission fee and turned around at the entrance. It wasn't worth what we paid (40 yuan/about $7 per adult, plus a little more for audio guides that we barely used) for the little that we saw. The walk to the entrance would've given us enough of a taste of what it's all about without tormenting the kids any more than necessary.

Tiananmen SquareIMG_3270

This is directly across from the entrance to the Forbidden City, easily accessible from the Tian'anmen East or Tian'anmen West subway stations (both on line 1).

It's just a big square with a lot of monuments :) Plenty of room for the kids to roam, and gawk at Communist-era architecture and statuesque soldiers. There are a bunch of museums in the buildings surrounding the square, too.

There is a lot more to see in Beijing, but that was all we had time for! Still well worth the trip!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Shanghai activities

We did a lot while we were in China, and some activities require a more lengthy explanation than our typical activities while traveling. So I'll do separate posts on what we did in Shanghai and Beijing, and link to them from the overall trip log. (Which I will write up, one of these days...)

Shanghai Ocean AquariumIMG_2004

A pretty decent aquarium, not on par with a place like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but still a very nice place to pass a morning. Easy to find from the Lujiazui metro stop (line 2).

City parks

There were lots of little city parks scattered around Shanghai. This one was right across the street from our hotel, and was a nice place for the kids to burn off a little energy and explore. (Even in the cold and rain of Shanghai in January!) There were people practicing tai chi there every Sunday.

The Bund

This is always rated as one of the top Shanghai attractions, but I wasn't really sure what it was until we went :) It's basically a walkway along the Huangpo River. On the same side of the river, there are a bunch of historical buildings from the British colonial era. Across the river, you can see the newer buildings of the Lujiazui area (visible in the picture above). It would probably be a lovely walk in nice weather, but you can see that the weather wasn't really cooperating during our trip :)

The closest metro station is East Nanjing Road (line 2), but it's a pretty good walk, so definitely bring your walking shoes and a stroller/baby carrier for the kids. We were somewhat surprised to find that there were no signs in the vicinity of the metro station pointing to the Bund, but it's not too hard to find once you know where you're going: Just walk east down East Nanjing Road and stop when you hit the water :)

Huangpo River CruiseIMG_3353

This is perhaps an even better way to see the Bund: Less walking, and protection from the elements! We chose a nighttime cruise, which leaves from near the Oriental Pearl tower -- that's the distinctive tower with the ball on top. It leaves at 7 PM and you can buy tickets starting at 6 PM. To get to the dock, from the Lujiazui metro station (line 2), walk towards the Oriental Pearl and then go down the little side street until you hit the water.

The cruise lasted about 45 minutes. It went up and down the river, turning so that both sides of the boat got good views of both sides of the river. The kids loved riding the boat, and I loved that we weren't out in the rain and cold :)

There is also a ferry that leaves from the ferry terminal, which is maybe half a mile south of East Nanjing Road on the Bund. It has very regular departures going up until 10 or 11 PM, I think. We decided against it, because 1) we couldn't find any information on where the ferry would take us :), and 2) it is a really long walk from the metro station to the ferry terminal. But it's very, very cheap (just a couple of yuan, which is less than a dollar, if I recall correctly), so if you're feeling adventurous, check it out!

Evening in Lujiazui

We went out to dinner in Lujiazui one night (there are lots of great restaurant options in the Super Brand Mall) and wandered down to the waterfront for a good view of the Bund from across the river.

Yu Yuan Gardens

We really enjoyed this place! It dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1500's). There are tons of ponds, bridges, buildings, waterfalls, and other spots for kids to explore. Beautiful! We spent the better part of a morning here and could have easily stayed longer. On a chilly January day, there weren't a ton of other visitors, but I've heard this place gets quite busy in the summer.

The gardens are surrounded by Yu Yuan Tourist Mart, which features tons of stalls selling various souvenirs and other items. Very touristy, but... well, we were tourists, after all! Definitely put your bargaining hat on if you want to buy anything.

You can get here from the Yu Yuan Garden metro stop (line 10). Pay attention to the signs. We went out the wrong exit and ended up taking a very long walk to get to the gardens. I believe the correct exit was exit 3, but double check when you get there.

Qibao (Water Town)


There are lots of "water towns" in the Shanghai vicinity, offering shopping, boat rides, museums, etc. Probably the best-known (due to being closest) is Zhujiajiao. Xitang and Tongli also get rave reviews.

Unfortunately, getting to those water towns presented something of a challenge, especially with young kids. They require hiring a car, taking a lengthy bus ride, taking a complex combination of trains/buses, etc.

So we decided to go to Qibao, which is nowhere near as beautiful and "authentic," but has the distinct advantage of being accessible via metro (Qibao stop, line 9). That allowed us to get in a nice visit and still make it back to our hotel in time for lunch and naps.

What is there to do?

  • The highlight for the kids was definitely the canal ride (pictured above). It was short, maybe 10-15 minutes, but that was plenty long enough for the kids. And at 30 yuan (about $5) for all of us, it didn't break the bank, either.
  • Tons of shopping! Warning: There are lots of toy shops, and it can be hard to drag young kids away when they get their heart set on something! The good news is, everything is pretty cheap :) We picked up a $3 doll set for Littles and a $3 train set for Noob that they both played with a ton during the rest of the trip.
  • One street was full of stalls selling all kinds of food, mostly unidentifiable to me. The sights and smells of that street were quite a cultural experience!
  • There are a few small museums. We didn't go in any of them, though.

If I were going with older kids, I'd definitely want to check out some of the water towns that are further afield, but with younger kids, Qibao is just perfect.

Shanghai MuseumIMG_1683

A lovely art museum. If you and your kids are into art, you'll probably enjoy it. My kids were more interested in running around like crazy people, so we didn't stay long :) Which was OK, because it's free! Fairly easy to find from the People's Square metro station (line 2), but it is a little bit of a walk.

Shanghai Science & Technology Museum

Truly awesome! We planned to stay for a few hours in the morning, but ended up spending nearly all day there. It was fascinating to see science from a Chinese perspective -- a little different from what we're used to in the USA :) The highlight for the kids was definitely the Children's Rainbow Land area. Tons of neat activities that were right at their level, super fun but also educational.

It's impossible to miss from the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum metro stop (line 2). There are a bunch of little stalls/shops attached to the metro station, where we found some awesome deals, like North Face gloves made of Goretex for 10 yuan (a little under $2) -- they retail for close to $100!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Navigating the Shanghai and Beijing subway systems

Noob and me on the Shanghai metro

As I mentioned in my last post, we navigated both Shanghai and Beijing by subway, almost exclusively. Much cheaper than taking taxis everywhere, and much more convenient and safe, too, when you're traveling with small children who still require car seats.

Finding your way around
If you've used subway systems just about anywhere else in the world, the Shanghai and Beijing systems are pretty easy to figure out. Ticket machines, station signs, and train announcements are in English as well as Chinese, so you don't have to worry about deciphering Chinese characters to find your destination.

Fares are pretty cheap by American standards. Most of our rides on the Shanghai metro were either 3 or 4 yuan (about 50 or 66 cents) one-way. The Beijing subway is even cheaper, with a flat fare of 2 yuan (about 33 cents) one-way. In both systems, kids under 1.2 meters ride free.

Many stations have security checkpoints, where you must x-ray any large bags. There are no metal detectors or other security checks if you don't have bags.

Most stations have multiple exits. It's a really good idea to figure out the numbered exit for the place you're trying to get to, if at all possible. We took the wrong exit out of the metro when going to Yu Yuan Gardens, and ended up taking a roundabout walk of about 15 or 20 minutes to get there. On the way back, we followed signs to the metro, and discovered that there was a different metro entrance that was maybe 5 minutes away :)

Crowded trains
The trains can be quite crowded, especially on weekends and during rush hour. Noob was almost always in the Ergo, which helped tremendously: We didn't have to worry about cramming a stroller onto a packed train, or about him getting lost in the shuffle. We had to pay closer attention to Littles, to make sure she made it onto the train with us and didn't get crushed by passengers who didn't notice her!

Interestingly, we found that in Beijing, people were very accommodating and almost always went out of their way to give up their seats immediately for my mother-in-law (who is in her late 60s) and the kids, and for me if I was carrying Noob, even on the very busiest trains. In Shanghai, this happened probably less than 50% of the time.

Technically, soliciting isn't allowed on the subways, but we ran into a couple of beggars on the Shanghai metro. You can usually tell when they're coming because for whatever reason, they all have these karaoke-type machines that they sing into. So when you hear random music on the subway, it's probably a beggar coming through.

One incident that still haunts me is when a woman came through with a boy who was maybe 10 years old. There was something wrong with his eyes. We had read that people do sometimes intentionally disfigure/disable kids so that they'll be able to get more money begging, and both my husband and I got the strong sense that that was the case here. If you've ever seen Slumdog Millionaire, it was like coming face-to-face with that. It makes me sick that someone could do something like that to an innocent child. We didn't give any money, so as not to encourage that kind of behavior to continue.

Littles did notice the beggars and so we explained to her in very simple terms what they were doing and why. With older kids, you may need to be prepared for even more of an explanation.

Where to stay
In Shanghai, we stayed near the Xujiahui metro station, which is on the 1 and 9 lines. We rode the 1 and 2 lines the most by far, so staying on or near one of those two lines is a good idea.

In Beijing, we stayed near the Jianguomen subway station, which is on the 1 and 2 lines. Again, these were the two lines that we rode the most by far. The 2 line basically goes in a big loop around the center of the city, and the 1 and 5 lines cut through the loop. Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are both on the 1 line, and the trains to the Great Wall leave from Beijing North Railway Station, which is on the 2 line (Xizhimen station). So if those are your primary destinations, staying anywhere on the 2 line or on the 1 or 5 lines within the loop will put you in a good spot for sightseeing.

To/from the train stations
The subway systems in both cities connect to most of the train stations. Note that there are multiple train stations in each city, and they are often quite far away from each other, so you want to make sure you go to the right station!

The high-speed rail train between Shanghai and Beijing generally arrives at/departs from the Hongqiao Railway Station in Shanghai. This is almost at the western end of the 2 line, so it's a good distance from the downtown area. I think we allotted about 60-90 minutes to get there from Xujiahui.

On the Beijing end, the high-speed rail trains arrive at/depart from Beijing South Railway Station, on the 4 line. It took about 20-30 minutes to get from there to Jianguomen.

To/from the airport
We took a taxi from the Shanghai airport to our hotel, but on our way home, my husband took a taxi with all the luggage, while my mother-in-law, the kids, and I took the metro.

Pudong International Airport is the eastern end of the 2 line. Again, this means that it's a good distance from the downtown area. In addition, the trains serving the eastern stations are shorter than the trains serving the rest of the 2 line, and run less frequently. This means that at Guanglan Road, you have to get off your train to transfer to another train. This might not be so bad when you're coming from the airport, but going to the airport, we ended up being on one of 2 or 3 six-car trains that then had to jam onto a single three-car train. As you can imagine, it was absolutely packed! Honestly, if I had to do that journey again, I don't think I'd take the metro, at least not with small kids. And if you have large amounts of luggage, definitely forget about it.

It might be better coming from the airport, since you'd probably be able to get a seat or at least stake out some personal space right away, which would help if the train did fill up at subsequent station stops. Then at Guanglan Road, you'd be transferring from a small train to a bigger train, which shouldn't be a problem. But still, be prepared for a long trip. It took us about two hours total.

Another option is to take the high-speed rail train, which runs between the Longyang Road station (also on the 2 line) and the airport. This is a little pricier (50 yuan/a little over $8 one-way, or 40 yuan/just under $7 if you have an airline ticket receipt or other proof of purchase), but still way cheaper than a cab.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The kids' health and safety in China

By far the biggest challenge during our trip to China was ensuring that the kids (the two outside ones and the one inside, too) stayed healthy and safe. To be honest, I didn't even really research much about this topic ahead of time. In retrospect, this was probably a good thing, because it turns out there were a lot of considerations, and I might have gotten scared off from doing the trip at all :) I will say that I'm very glad that we went and would do it again in a heartbeat, even knowing what I know now. So keep that in mind as you read the rest of this post…

Drinking tap water in China is not recommended. We used bottled water for drinking, cooking (the service apartment that we stayed in for most of our time in China had a small kitchen), and teeth brushing. We did use tap water for bathing, hand washing, and dish washing.

Bottled water is cheap to buy, and hotels also provide bottled water. In the service apartment, the room had a water dispenser (like a water cooler that you might see in an office in the USA). A big bottle of water for the dispenser cost about $2 and lasted for 3-4 days.

Littles is old enough now to get her own cup of water, so we had to make sure that she knew to always get water from the dispenser, not the sink like she does at home.

I've never been so thankful for the FDA. Say what you will about it and its regulatory teeth (or lack thereof), but at least in the USA, I have some degree of confidence that 1) food is generally produced in a safe manner and 2) if there is a food safety problem, it will be publicized (in a language I can understand) and addressed appropriately.

I had no such reassurances in China. Milk has been tainted with chemicals, produce has been grown using human feces as fertilizer, etc. Since we were doing a lot of our own cooking, we did most of our food shopping at Western grocery stores, rather than Chinese markets. Much of the food there was imported, which meant that the prices were (significantly) higher, but we had more reassurance that the food had been produced under safe conditions. When eating out, we just used common sense, and stuck to restaurants that came recommended or otherwise seemed reputable.

As in most places where you can't drink the water, eating raw fruits/vegetables isn't recommended either, since they may have been washed in tap water. Even if you wash them yourself, they could have come into contact with bacteria that water won't get off. I was really careful about this, since I had Q to worry about -- some bacteria can have little/no effect on a healthy person, but can greatly affect a fetus. The others were slightly more lax, and were fine (for the most part). As much as possible, I did try to get fruits/vegetables with a peel for the kids to snack on (bananas, kiwi, oranges, even stuff like apples or carrots) so that I could take the peel, and hopefully any bacteria, off before eating it.

Unlike many places where you can't drink the water, ice in restaurants isn't a concern. For starters, it's rare to get water in restaurants (tea is offered as the drink of choice), and if you do, it's usually warm (apparently, the Chinese believe that cold water is not good for you). But restaurants that do offer ice usually make it out of boiled or filtered water.

Food allergies
Noob is allergic to peanuts, and Chinese dishes often have peanuts in them. We steered clear of restaurants that didn't have English translations for their menus, to avoid accidentally ordering a peanut-containing dish. Sometimes, this meant choosing a less-desirable restaurant option, like the time that we needed a quick meal and we chose McDonald's over a Chinese fast food place that had a Chinese-only menu. But I'd take a McDonald's meal any day over a trip to the hospital to treat anaphylactic shock.

Car safety
Things I learned about cars and driving in China:

  • American driver licenses are not valid in China, so we needed to take a taxi or hire a car/driver whenever we needed to drive somewhere.
  • LATCH (or ISOFIX) seems to be completely non-existent. This meant that Littles’ Go Hybrid Booster could only be used as a booster, not as a harnessed seat.
  • The seat belts I saw did not have the auto lockoff capability that is common on cars sold in America. This meant that I had to use the built-in lockoffs on Noob’s convertible seat when installing it using the seatbelt (which was, of course, my only option, since LATCH wasn’t available).
  • Many taxis have a cover over the back seat that prevents you from accessing the seatbelt entirely, making it impossible to secure a car seat.
  • There are no car seat laws in China, so you won’t get arrested for not putting your child in a car seat. Of course, if you get in an accident, the laws of physics (specifically how they relate to unrestrained children in cars) still apply…
  • And just FYI, emergency services are not as reliable in China as they are in the USA. We went out to dinner one night with some of my husband’s Chinese co-workers and passed an accident on the way. I asked the Chinese about how long an ambulance would take to arrive. They laughed. “Oh, maybe an hour? Maybe more?”

Due to all of this, we took public transportation whenever possible. We found the subway systems in both Shanghai and Beijing to be very cheap, convenient, reliable, and safe. And no concerns about waiting an hour for an ambulance after my unrestrained child went flying through the windshield.

Pedestrian safety
As scary as driving was, sometimes walking around didn’t seem much better :)

  • We had to be heads-up at all times while walking on the sidewalk. There were tons of little motorized scooters that drove at relatively high speeds on the sidewalks, and sometimes the random car decided to hop up on the sidewalk as well. We had to keep a close eye on Littles, in particular. (Noob was usually on my back in the Ergo, so he was less apt to wander into the path of an oncoming scooter.
  • Red traffic lights seemed to be treated as a gentle suggestion to stop :) Even with pedestrians waiting to cross the street – or actually in the process of crossing the street. This was especially true of the motorized scooters, as well as bicycles. I usually tried to hide behind a couple of other pedestrians crossing the road, figuring the cars/scooters/bikes would hit them first!
  • The subways could be very crowded at times, with lots of pushing, and people weren’t always aware of the kids. The Ergo really came in handy, as it prevented us from having to deal with a stroller, and put Noob more at adult eye level. But we had to make sure one of us always kept a firm grip on Littles’ hand when boarding/disembarking, to prevent her from getting lost in the crowds, and sometimes we had to keep her from getting totally squished.

Despite all that… we all survived! We just had to be a little more careful about things than we do back home.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jet lag

Ahhhh, jet lag. Always "fun" to deal with. Even more "fun" to deal with when you're dealing with your own and that of two small children.

Small time differences (1 to 3 hours)
Since most of our travel has been within the Americas (lower 48 states, Canada, Mexico, Panama, etc.), we're generally dealing with small time differences of 1-3 hours. These aren't too bad.

Back when we lived in California, during Littles' first year, we traveled frequently to Texas (2 hours ahead) and the East Coast (3 hours ahead). We found it was actually good to keep her on roughly the same schedule, i.e. if we started her bedtime routine at 7 PM in California, we started it at 10 PM on the East Coast. Since we were often visiting friends and family, it was nice to be able to, say, go out to dinner at a normal hour and not deal with a cranky, overtired baby. But I don't know how well this strategy would work with an older child, who might naturally start to adjust to the new time.

Now that we live in Texas, we're usually dealing with 1-2 hour shifts. When we travel west, we expect a few mornings of early wake-ups, but the kids usually adjust completely within 2-3 days. When we travel east, we hardly notice a difference.

Medium time difference (6 hours)
We took Littles to England a few months after her second birthday. It's six hours ahead of Texas.

When we arrived, we had a few mornings of really struggling to get her out of bed. Luckily, we were there for a wedding, so we had good motivation to get her up at a reasonable hour, and then there was plenty of activity to keep her up until it was time to sleep again. We were in England for a full week, and while she did tend to sleep a little later than she does back home (waking up between 8-9 AM, rather than 7-8 AM) for the entire time we were there, that still allowed us time to do lots of stuff during the day.

When we returned home, she woke up earlier than usual (about 6 AM) for a full week, but eventually adjusted back to her normal schedule.

Large time difference (14 hours)
China is a full 14 hours ahead of Texas, so jet lag was a big issue on this trip!

We arrived at around dinnertime on Sunday night. The kids had not slept very much on the plane, and conked out pretty quickly that night, so we figured they'd sleep well and be on their way towards adjusting. Wrong! They were both up in the wee hours of the morning on Monday. Then they crashed at around 11 AM, and slept till after 9 PM! (They were just hanging out at the hotel with their Grannie while my husband and I worked, so it was fine for them to sleep most of the day away.)

After that day, we started enforcing a more normal nap/nighttime schedule, waking them up when they slept too long. Still, Noob in particular continued the wee-hours wakeup for a good week after arriving. I was usually the one up with him, and I let him play quietly but kept the room dark. He usually got bored after an hour or so and curled up with me to sleep some more. Both kids also woke up a tad on the early side (around 6 AM) for the first week. By the second week, they were back on a fairly normal schedule.

When we arrived back home, we had originally planned to keep the kids out of school for a day or two to adjust. (Especially Noob, who was starting at preschool for the first time.) But then we figured that school was actually the best place for them to get back on track schedule-wise! So we arrived back home on Tuesday afternoon and they were both in school on Wednesday morning. We warned their teachers that fatigue might lead to cranky/bad behavior, but both kids did well with it. Sleep-wise, Noob adjusted back to a pretty normal schedule within a few days, as did I. Littles woke up earlier than usual for over a week, but my husband was doing the same and so he usually got up with her and they hung out. Within two weeks, both kids were fully adjusted.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Long-haul flights with The World's Worst Flyer

Onboard our flight from Shanghai to Tokyo on the way home from China

He may look cute... because, well, he is. But I've dubbed Noob "The World's Worst Flyer," because, well, he is! So I was truly dreading the long-haul flights to and from China.

The flights weren't the most fun experience ever, but we all survived. And as it turns out, spending the better part of two full days stuck on an airplane with Noob helped me make some surprising discoveries that should make flying a little easier with him in the future. Although still not easy :)

Surprising Discovery #1: A 14-hour flight is really not that much worse than a 4-hour flight, or even a 2-hour flight.
I was really excited for the flight home from China. After all, the longest leg was "only" 10 hours! Compared to 14 hours for the outbound journey.

I was pretty surprised when the time seemed to drag just as much as it had on the first flight. Really, the flights were not much harder to handle than, say, the 3-hour flight from Dallas to Miami that I blogged about previously. I had a few more "toys" at my disposal: Meals (nonexistent on domestic flights) could chew up close to an hour of time. Having two aisles made going for "walks" a little easier. The personal video system provided a few minutes of amusement.

I won't say that the time flew by on either flight, but let's put it this way: They were 4-5 times as long as the Dallas-to-Miami flight, but not 4-5 times harder to get through. Not even close.

Surprising Discovery #2: Noob is not really The World's Worst Flyer. He's just The World's Worst Sleeper-on-Planes.
During our previous flights, I've noticed that Noob had a hard time settling down to sleep, but I was able to make excuses for it: It's not naptime quite yet, or it's past naptime. This is a new and stimulating environment. There are people up and down the aisles at all times to distract him. It's too bright/light. I could probably get him to sleep but the flight is almost over anyway. Etc. etc.

But when you're flying in the middle of the night, you've been in the "new and stimulating" environment for nearly 10 hours (so it's no longer really "new"), everyone else is sleeping... and the kid still takes hours to calm down and fall asleep? That's because he's The World's Worst Sleeper-on-Planes.

Surprising Discovery #3: Naptime (or nighttime) is the worst time for Noob to fly.
We booked our Thanksgiving flights around Noob's naptime, hoping that he'd take a nap and therefore be easier to deal with. But this backfired when he barely slept at all. I was confused at the time, but now I know it's due to Surprising Discovery #2: Noob has a lot of trouble sleeping on planes. Furthermore, when he needs to sleep and doesn't, he gets really cranky and overtired, and then he's even harder to deal with!

As a result, by far our easiest flight on the China trip was our outbound domestic flight, which left at 6:45 AM. Admittedly, it was also the shortest... but I think it helped that Noob (who is a morning person in general) was fresh, rather than being overtired and in need of a nap. As the day went on, he got more tired and harder to deal with.

Surprising Discovery #4: Noob does better without a car seat.
This wasn't a huge surprise, but we opted not to bring Noob's car seat onboard the plane, and he did way better without it. Most notably, when he was tired, he was able to stretch out more and get comfortable. He didn't sleep quite as much as I would have liked (maybe 4 hours on each of the long-haul flights), but it was better than nothing! Not having a car seat also gave him more room to play with his trains, crayons, etc.

So, from here on out... we'll try to book early-morning flights, we'll gate-check the car seat, and we won't be scared of taking long-haul flights!