It’s true that people universally like babies and are attracted to small ones especially. But baby love is a whole other animal in China. Unlike in the U.S., where a typical excursion might draw a few quiet comments or friendly questions from other moms, in China every trip outside the apartment is a celebrity outing, complete with photographs, cat calls (for Owen, not me), and general breathlessness over this new and small life I carry in my arms. It is as though they have never seen a baby before, and the hooplah is not reserved for our baby, though there is a special kind of attention paid to his very white skin and “beautiful eyes.” Men, including men younger than I, do double- and even triple-takes. (Imagine an American college student staring down a young mother and baby on a busy street and murmuring, “Oh my goodness, what a cute little baby!!” Not plausible.)
We are local heroes, and the best part of it is that everyone with a baby wants their baby to meet Owen. Owen is “xiao didi” (“little brother”) to almost every baby these days, but as he gets older that will change, of course. In our 2 weeks here, he has made more friends than I have in 27 years, and he’s had his picture taken with many of them. He is a spectacle, but not significantly moreso than any other baby in this country. With the one-child policy still firmly in place in the cities (with a few exceptions), babies are a relatively rare commodity. Still, it is hard to reconcile the teeming masses—which translate into some horrifically long lines at the grocery store, train station and boat docks—with the utter fascination and even infatuation with new humans.
It’s wonderful, to put it mildly. We’ve met and spoken with probably ten times the number of locals than if we didn’t have Owen with us. He’s a magnet, and he softens our image immediately. When we go out to dinner (which we do every night, because our bags still haven’t arrived with pots and pans), it’s not uncommon for the proprietor of the restaurant to approach us, grinning widely with hands outstretched, asking to hold the baby while we enjoy our meal. It’s hard to decline this offer, and, truth be told, we rarely do. (Don’t worry, grandmas and grandpas, we keep a close eye now so no one runs away with him!) He’s our golden ticket to meeting strangers and practicing our Chinese (thus-far-rudimentary, at least in my case—Nick is much better). If we ever worried that travelling with and living with a little baby in a foreign country would be isolating or generally difficult, all our fears have been assuaged. He’s a big flirt, and he’s warming China up to us a hundred times a day. Someday, we’ll thank him in two languages.