Some conversations from the last month:

Koh Samui, driving around the Southern parts of the island

Maher: Les gars, vous avez vu les vaches? Et il y a des chevaux aussi! (Hey guys, did you see the cows? There are horses as well!)

Me: Do you know what cows eat?

Leila: Gra-nola

On the beach one day:

Rahul picked up a strange white jelly-like fish egg (I think)

Me: What’s that Rahul?

Rahul: Mama, this lenses (as in contact lenses)


Chengdu –

One evening just before bed:

Leila: What dat Rahul?

Rahul rubs his body: Keam, body. (As in body cream / lotion),

Leila picked up a tube of zinc oxide used for nappy irritation: What dat Rahul?

Rahul pointing at it: Toos paste that.

Leila tapping her bottom: No Rahul, Keam bum-bum.

Rahul: No, toos paste.

Leila: No, keam kiki(cute way to say vagina in French).

Rahul: Afu zizi, Leila zizi (cute way to say penis).

Leila: No, Leila kiki

Rahul smiling: Leila zizi

Leila: Noooo, Leila kiki

Rahul really pushing her button: Leila zizi

I had to pull them apart. Stop them from shoving and pushing each other after that one.

In bed that night:

Leila: Mama, where papa?

Me: He’s in Hengyang. He’ll be back in two days.

Leila crying: Leila kiss papa.

Early, very early one morning:

Leila pointing at some soft boiled egg that she spilt on the table: Mum look. Fwog.

Me: Wow Leila, is the from jumping around in your egg?

Rahul walks into the kitchen, barely awake.

Leila: Rahul, look. Fwog. Egg.

Me: Hey Rahul, did you see the frog in Leila’s egg?

Leila: Fwog, water, jump ribbit ribbit.

A little later, still at the table that morning –

Rahul: Tomorrow xiao He ayi back. Some bady bump, went see doctor. Better now.

Me: Yes Rahul. She’s much better now, and she’s coming back tomorrow!

(He ayi, our dearly beloved nanny had a motorbike accident a week ago. A three-wheel-taxi driver bumped into her, watched her fall to the ground, and zoomed away.)

Still at breakfast-`

Leila: Banana mama

Me: Nana nana banana banana

L and R: Nana nana banana banana

L and R: nani nani chapatti chapatti

Me: Jiddo jiddo potato potato, teta teta batata batata

L and R: jiddo jiddo potato potato, teta teta batata batata

Rahul: Zazu Nanu, Zazu Nanu

Leila: Zazu D2, Zazu D2. D2 jiddo.

Me: D2 jiddo or Jiddo Kamal

Leila teasing: D2 Dubai

Rahul: Jiddo Kamal Dubai

Leila: Teta Houda Lebanon

One evening all of us in bed:

Me taling to Maher about something: D2 was talking to his girlfriend.

Leila: girl-fwend mama?

Me: Ummmmm, D2’s girlfriend Stephanie, do you remember her? She is his girlfriend.

Leila nodding her head: Member mum.

Me: Ummmmm Pasca is my girlfriend.

Leila: Leila mama dotter. Rahul mama son. Mama papa girlfwend. Liu yan Marwan girlfwend. Leila Rahul girlfwend.


The four of us together. Maher sings a song. I join in. After two years of “practicing”, I’m still out of tune!

Rahul says: Mama no sing!

Running Late

Last Thursday, at quarter to nine, I realised that it would take 20, 25 minutes to get to Judy’s studio on foot, and likely longer if I waited for a cab, and then jerked and snailed through the smoggy morning traffic. My Pranayama (breath work) would start at 9.

I decided to go on foot. I pulled out my Vibram Five Fingers, and ran there. Fast. The cool air blowing against my face, and through my hair was wonderful. Only half way there did I realize that I must have looked quite strange sprinting in my long, grey, wool coat, dangling a white Yoga Thailand cloth-bag on my right shoulder, and wearing my strange black shoes that fit each toe like a glove. I didn’t care though. A few people looked up from their cleaning, eating, sorting through veggies, but immediately returned to their activity.

Our dearly loved ayi (nanny) watched curiously as I donned my shoes. She has no trouble voicing her strong opinions – at least in our space: Rahul’s shirt is ugly. Leila’s pink t-shirt and blue tights suit her (she chose the outfit!). I have seen her look down, even flinch and then smile when she first notices me in a new, “strange” outfit. Yeah. My weird fashion statements have new meaning now.

But she thought the Vibram’s were interesting. Maybe even cool?!


I arrived full of energy. The seven floor climb to the studio still got me huffing and puffing, but I had five minutes to spare. Not too bad. I taught the class; walked home after. Liberated. It’s the kind of feeling you have when you hold the keys to your own vehicle for the first time.

All that excitement got me hoping that I’d fit in many more short, “social runs,” over the course of the week. The only part of that statement that’s true is the “hoping” bit.

Baby steps.

In a few minutes I’m off to my Thursday morning Pranayama class. Late again!

Any barefoot / road / social running stories to share?

Related article / site:
Top 10 Worst Shoes (
Chris McDougall’s blog, Author of Born to Run:

Oh Boy!

“Rahul is a sweetheart! He let Leila have the train,” I declare proudly as he hands back her toy upon request.

“Thanks Rahul.” I continue.

“Afu BOY,” he quickly corrects me, worried. (He calls himself Afu; the Sichuanese version of his Chinese name.)

“Yes. Afu boy.” I confirm, without going into how he can also be a sweetheart!

“Leila girl,” he double-checks.

“Yes. Leila girl.”

He looks up, eyes shining, up to something. “Afu GIRL!”

“Afu girl? Nnnnnno, Afu boy!” I reply with a chuckle.

He bursts out laughing.

The 4 of us are downstairs, L on her train, R on his duck-car, ayi (meaning aunt, what he calls their nanny) and me.

He continues with some powerful declarations of identity: “Afu zizi.” (A cute way for children to say penis in French.)

“Leila kiki.” (A cute way for children to say vagina in French.)

“Yes honey, you’re right. You have a zizi, and Leila has a kiki.”

Then he goes wild: “Papa zizi. Mama kiki. Ayi kiki. Shu shu zizi.” (Shu shu is uncle in Mandarin, what the children call any young man they need to address.)

Our uncontrollable, loud laughter attracts some attention.

“It’s a good thing the Chinese people don’t understand him,” ayi says between squeals of laughter; her face red as a tomato.

In the Game

Early Sunday morning, I tell L and R that I’ll be out until lunch; that I’ll be teaching Pranayama (breath-work) workshops.

“Afu Pa-ya-ma-na,” Rahul pleads with outstretched arms. (Afu is what he calls himself.)

I pick him up; tell him that he can do some Pranayama with me, but that he’s got to stay with “ayi” (meaning aunt, aka nanny in this case) for the morning.

10 minutes later, he blocks me from entering the shower, “Mama Yoga. Mama Pa-ya-ma-na.”


The response was overwhelming. My Yoga teacher friend Judy, who organized the 2 sessions, back-to-back at her lovely little home studio, and I, haven’t worked together since I got pregnant two and a half years ago. It’s not only the “together” bit though, I haven’t taught at all.

Of course I was nervous. All week. It’d been a while.

But, I am confident about Pranayama, especially after all the workshops I’ve attended over the years, and most importantly, from my own regular practice: the years of regularity, the continuity of it regardless of bed-rest during the pregnancy, the slip during the NICU phase and stressful first year, the irregularity of practice coming back to it, and the decision of, “that’s it – it’s got to be for real, or not at all.”


Maher attends the 9 O’clock session. L and R hang onto our sleeves, crying as we leave the apartment.
It does him good to have a refresher. It’s a nudge, to get him back into a regular practice.

“I need it,” he says to me, almost every day.

He’s sick more often than ever before. The children are always coughing. As soon as we’re in the street, I have sharp headaches. I catch myself turning around to see if there is someone smoking right behind me. All the time. We’re feeling the pollution. It’s worse than it’s been in the last 6 years. There are more buildings, more cars, and more people.


A month ago I did my first serious workshop since before I was pregnant. It was in Koh Samui with Paul – my teacher. He asked if I was Back in the Game. He meant everything – Asana, Pranayama. He has children of his own. He’s had many other first-time-mum students who needed the push to get off their butts and practice again. He’s dealt with the ones who disappear for a few years, and then return, for a nudge. He knows about my pregnancy and the early birth, the stresses.

I suppose that’s why he asked me if I was back. A few times over the 2 week course. My doubtful but positive response at the beginning of the workshop had a completely different meaning to my confident one at the end.


At the end of each session, Judy and I leave 5 minutes for questions.

“It’s doubtful that I will remember any of this. Can we have a follow-up class?” one of the students asks.


I rush home after the second class. Maher, R, and L are having a good time. Laughing. Playing.

“They had a great morning; they didn’t cry a drop after you left,” ayi reports as she leaves.


We’ve organized one follow-up session; possibly more over the next few weeks.

So am I Back in the Game?

A written declaration of it might make it more real.

“Afu ge ge”, “Leila mei mei”

“Which twin is older?” The question is absurd. In China, I get it all the time. And it works me up.
“They are twins. They are the same age.” I reply, irritated.
“Yes, but they didn’t both come out at the same time, did they? One had to have been born first.”
They insist, “Is she the older sister or is he the older brother?”
“But they were born minutes apart. What’s the big deal?!”

In Chinese there are no words for sister or brother; only for older brother “ge ge”, younger brother “di di”, older sister “jie jie”, and younger sister “mei mei.”

I don’t want to impose birth-order stereotypes on L and R; they are born 7 minutes apart. When L joined us at home, 3 weeks after R, Maher and I both unintentionally spoke to Rahul referring to Leila as his little sister. It was more in the sense of endearment and physical size than of age. But we quickly realized that it was untrue, and imagined implications of such labeling. We stopped.

When we returned to Chengdu from Hong Kong 5 months after the birth, our ayi (nanny) would tell R, “Look, Leila mei mei is sleeping. Why don’t you sleep as well?” I was upset. Drop the comparison, that issue is for another post. I firmly asked the people close to us – ayi’s (nannies), Chinese friends – not to use ge ge and mei mei; but to refer to Rahul and Leila as Rahul and Leila. Initially, they considered my request strange. I was interfering with cultural norms and habits. I insisted. They complied, at first with an uncomfortable smile, and probably a thought of how the lao wai (foreigners) always do things strangely. Now, they don’t hesitate. I’ve heard our ayi herself telling people in the street – “How can one be older? They are twins.” And if pushed she says, “I don’t know who was born first,” and then she looks at me to save her from the situation!

From what I remember of my Social Psychology 101 class, and various family talks, the oldest child is more responsible, self-motivated, and more dutiful, the middle child struggles for attention, and the youngest child is light-hearted, sometimes babied. It’s not as “straightforward” as that in reality, and certainly not in our household. I hope R doesn’t turn around one day and say a silly thing like, “That’s the way it goes because I am your older brother,” or someone guilt trips him with, “but she’s your little sister.”

When we go downstairs to play with the other kids in the complex, mums often tell their children, “You are her older brother. Let her play with your toy.” In China today, it’s rare that a child has a brother or a sister; so mum is usually referring to her child’s playmate. L and R may not know any of their friend’s names, but they know who is older and who is younger than them.

About half a year ago, R surprised me when he pointed at himself and said, “Afu, ge ge”. (R calls himself Afu. It’s his Sichuanese name.)  In another incident, a mum of a two-year old girl asked me if L is a jie jie or a mei mei. Before I could say anything, L pointed at herself and replied proudly, “Leila, mei mei.”

L and R were obviously beginning to understand what people say. I realized that unless they use the words describing their relationships, they won’t be able to refer to their friends or themselves in an understandable, and respectable manner.

I am impressed that they know the words, and maybe the meaning. I don’t think they understand what the words imply in relation to each other, but they know that’s who they are.

A few weeks ago, a pair of 22-year-old identical Chinese twin girls automatically introduced themselves to me as older sister and younger sister. When I dug deeper, probed them on whether they really feel like one is older and if they live by that, “not really,” older sister replied, “At home we call each other by name. It is for others that we use mei mei and jie jie.”

Other than it being a naming issue, it is a cultural one. We live in China, L and R were born in HK, and speak Chinese, so it only makes sense that they follow the social and cultural norms when engaging in society here. Now, when people in the street ask me the question, I answer straight up, R ge ge and L mei mei. Still some days, when I am in a feisty mood, I refuse to answer.

At home, with ayi’s and friends, we stick to L and R.

Uncle Mao

“Man-ee,” L says as she examines the 5 Yuan note.

She points at Mao Zedong’s purple face, “Shu Shu!” she claims.

Like any young Chinese woman is respectfully called ayi or aunt by a child, a young man is uncle –
shu shu.

“Ma na”

This evening in the yellow van cab on our way to the airport, past the Calgary Tower and not far from the Calgary zoo, I told the children again that we are headed back to China.

M asks : ” Who are we going to see in China?”

L responds: “Ma na!”

“Yes,” I say. “Can you say Mar wan?”

L: “Ma na”

Me: “Maar waan”

L: “Maa naa”

Me: “Maaaaar waaaaan”

A long pause.

L smiles cheekily. “Maaaaa naaaaa,” she repeats.

Me: “Ok, fine. Marwan.”

L: “Ee Ye” (Liu Yan)

Me: “Who else?”

L: “Pata, Imad, Ayla”

Me: “Yes! And ayi?”

L and R: “ayi, ayi

The state of my yoga

I have heard that Pattabhi Jois and Sharath say taking care of a family is a yoga practice in itself. In the midst of the “Family yoga” I am trying to continue with my Asana and Pranayama practices. My back is weaker for having barely got on the mat in the last three weeks. The joints and muscles are sore and less flexible. The practice keeps me centered day in and day out as family activities and routines race by. It reminds me to go back to the breath when things get out of control.

A month ago Maher insisted that we go to Hangzhou for the weekend workshop with Paul, my teacher. He found out about the workshop and arranged the trip. We took our ayi with us. That was a first. Her first plane ride as well. Exciting! I did yoga all weekend while Maher and ayi took care of R and L. Another first. What a privilege to have someone arrange it all – flights, hotel, child care. I can’t thank him enough for letting me have the space and time to do my thing.

It was my first workshop in two years. It took me home How wonderful to practice in a studio with others and especially with Paul. The main realization though was that my rather regular, lite practice has become mechanical.

So how does one become more mindful? Simple advice – do less and slow down – both for Asana and Pranayama.

Now that we are back in Chengdu and almost back on schedule, it’s my chance to tone the practices down and be more present. The centering that can come out of one yoga practice floods over into others, and they even feed off each other. Now it’s time to get on the mat, breathe, and react appropriately when the children are pulling each other’s hair out!

Elevator ride

The 20 floor elevator rides up and down from our apartment can be quite the comedy. There is not much uneasy staring at the floors, not many stifled coughs or forced nods here.

On our way out to play yesterday, a woman familiar to L and R knelt to stroke their hair and have a chat. We see her at least once or twice a week in elevator or around the complex. She started with the usual “How cute. Such curly hair and big eyes.” Consider the one-child-policy in China, the perms, and eye-lid opening surgeries. L and R responded “ayi, ayi,” meaning aunt in Chinese. She smiled and asked them to say it again. This hyped her up for more conversation.

As others joined us on the ride down the woman explained to everyone that I don’t speak Chinese, but that the children do. An older woman asked if they were twins. The first woman confirmed it. “But they are not dressed alike, how can they twins?” she asked.

The older woman then announced, “this one has much lighter skin than that one.” The first woman explained how he looks like his father, and she like her mother. We are quite sure these are purely skin-colour based observations. We hear it often, including how lucky he is to have the lighter skin from his father.

As the doors were opening on the ground floor, the first woman asked ME the ultimate question. In Chinese. “Which one is cuter?”


Elevator ride part 2

The Old Macdonald story part three

R climbed out of our bed this morning, still warm with fever, saying “ayi ayi”. Same thing he said running towards xiao He when she entered the door.

He picked up the cover of a Baby Einstein DVD he loves. There is a section on farm animals with his favorite theme song. He wanted to watch it, yet again.

He sings along every time: “Ayi Ayi O”.

Thankfully we discovered how much he loves Old Macdonald and the farm animals because this afternoon, still burning with fever, watching the cows and horses was the only thing that put a smile on his face.



The Old Macdonald story part four
The Old Macdonald story part two