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.

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