Baby pressure

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I was chatting with a colleague of mine the other day, and the subject of babies came up, as it often does -- she's pregnant, due in less than four months. She and her husband had been out over the weekend doing some 'getting ready for Baby' shopping at a very large, expat-oriented baby-n-kids shop in Horizon Plaza in Ap Lei Chau. HK expats with kids will already know the place, and for the rest of you, the name will likely be meaningless anyway, so I'll just omit it. The point was, this colleague (who's originally from New Zealand, by the way) asked me what I thought of the place, and was relieved to find that I thought it was fairly creepy, as she had, too.

The reasons for this negative reaction are complex -- it's a nice store, actually, with a good range of high-quality products, and staff who try hard to be helpful. I have no desire to slander the place; I wish them well, and in fact might go back there myself if there were something I needed that they had, and that I couldn't get elsewhere. No, the problem with the place has more to do with the mood or feeling it's conveying: everything, and everybody, there is trying to convince you that you need to buy 'the very best' for your baby.

Trying to decide what's 'right' for your new baby can really add to the pressures of being an expat, and resolving this issue can be less straightforward than in your home country. I'll try to explain some of the sometimes-conflicting themes that come into play here.

First, it's one thing to be adventurous when you're choosing a restaurant or holiday destination, but when Baby is on the way, many expats get very conservative. For example, there's the hard-to-avoid desire to simply default back to products and services that you know and are comfortable with. Foreigner-made products just look wrong. Can you trust a stroller made in Japan that has a cartoon squid pasted on it? How can that be safe? Will feeding Junior German-produced baby cereal have him singing 'Deutschland uber Alles' before he's two? What about a teething ring manufactured in the UK? Don't they all have bad teeth there? And if it's made in China, well, just forget it. How could a country that's got a billion-odd people know anything about taking care of babies? (Note to any Japanese, German, UK and Chinese readers: yes, I know you feel the same way about American products, and no, American baby food isn't limited to nacho cheese and jelly donut flavors.)

Second, as I mentioned in my analysis of expat traps, we expats are often susceptible to the way the winds of opinion within our community are blowing. If 'all the expat moms' are getting those amazing Swiss-produced, organic-skin-softener-infused, eco-friendly baby buttwipes (attention: hypothetical product only -- don't go looking for them!), how can you admit that you buy dirt-cheap rolls of ordinary cotton wool at the local pharmacy, chop them into bits, and just wet them under the tap? (Oops -- must stop revealing Tall family trade secrets.)

Third, and following on from point 2, if you don't follow the trends in your community, you can find yourself on the short end of some quite competitive exchanges. Subtle put-downs are commonplace amongst parents-to-be and new parents. But being an expat can add extra arrows to your quiver: you can ascend to a higher level of one-up-man-ship by demonstrating how much trouble you were willing to go to in order to ensure your precious one doesn't have to miss out on any of the comforts of her 'real' home. If this means special-ordering a $8,000 hardwood rocking chair from an obscure woodcarver working out of a log cabin in the British Columbian Rockies, well, don't you care about your child's mystical links to the pristine forests of his homeland?

Sometimes these little comparisons are made without a word being spoken. The Talls were out shopping recently, in a chain store representing a megalithic American entertainment conglomerate built upon suspect antics of a falsetto-voiced mouse. Mrs Tall and Toddler Tall were off evaluating the Poohs, and I was standing guard over Toddler Tall's stroller, a sorry, clapped-out hand-me-down produced by an obscure Chinese manufacturer. Just next to me was another father in almost identical pose -- almost. In contrast, however, he was leaning proudly on a mammoth child-moving machine, all tubular steel and oversized spoked wheels. It looked like it had been spawned by the HSBC building. His snide glance at the Tall stroller said it all: bad father. Or perhaps it was pere mal, as he was most decidedly French. Or perhaps my deep-seated insecurities were acting up, and I imagined the whole thing.

But it got me thinking: why does anyone need such an elaborate, heavy-duty stroller? The only possible use for them is pushing your child before you as you jog, which is no doubt good exercise but seems a poor way to bond with the mite. And this particular gentleman (especially his very un-gallic pot belly) showed few signs of having maneuvered this monstrosity anywhere other than around shopping malls. But then, perhaps he felt he was 'doing his best' for his daughter, and it's hard to fault a man for that, I guess.

So if you've got the money, and you don't mind spending a lot of it, it's easy to provide lots of tangible evidence you're 'doing your best' for your child here. But don't get sucked into feeling like 'the best' only has to do with material possessions. That's banal, I know, but it's a constant threat in Hong Kong.

Becoming a parent is stress enough as it is. So it's no good trying to recreate either your own youth, or that of your friends' and relatives' children back in the old country. You're unlikely to need as much stuff, or such expensive stuff, as you're going to be told you will. Look around in local shops, and consider buying cheap imitations instead of the 'real things' for a change -- your baby really won't care, and so many baby products are used so briefly that it's not worth buying things that will last for generations (especially when you don't have any space to store bulky potential heirlooms such as cribs, wooden high chairs, etc.). You'll be trying to give away your baby stuff soon enough, and you'll find you end up having to throw lots away. You can make that bitter moment a bit less painful by just making sure you're throwing away cheap plastic crap instead of 'the best'.

An additional note: here are a couple of tips for places to do baby shopping in Hong Kong.

First, consider heading to a couple of less expat-oriented locations, i.e. shops that don't carry western brands exclusively. One of our favorites is Windsor House in Causeway Bay. It's right across Great George Street from Ikea. There's a huge HMV on the main floor, but then if you take the escalators up there are a number of baby stores on the next level, and then Toys R Us and Eugene (especially good for small baby stuff) on successive levels above that. There are similar concentrations of baby shops, minus the Toys R Us, on the top shopping floor of Times Square, also in Causeway Bay, and in Grand Century Plaza in Mongkok.

Second, if you are willing to look for your own clothes in Hong Kong's many outlet shops, you should redouble your efforts and try to find baby clothes this way. Mrs Tall, for example, favors a number of outlet shops in the crowded little lanes between Des Voeux and Queen's Roads in Central. These shops have rapid turnovers, and stock lots of baby clothes originally intended for export to the US, UK, etc. Prices for outfits rarely exceed HKD40-50. Mrs Tall often comes home with piles of stuff for Toddler Tall and hasn't spent $100 on it -- lots of the items are $10-20.

Comments

Baby pressure

I totally agree - ever got the "you bought second-hand" look? By the way, I'm interested in your take on the OTT birthday parties...

Avoiding Expat traps?

For my part, I admit, I quite understand why people want to be reassure by buying brands they already know from back home. Having a baby is quite unsettling, so I guess that you tend to seek security...

"eco-friendly baby buttwipes", that exists... I guess you can find them at the "expat-oriented baby-n-kids shop in Horizon Plaza in Ap Lei Chau" you're talking about in the beginning of your article. I also think that you must find them at any eco-friendly shops.

"pere mal" is really "mauvais pere". Just had to correct it. ;-) As for his stroller, I've been told that they can negociate stairs... Don't ask me for more details as I'm not the stroller expert around here as I've already written it somewhere else.

If you want to buy or dispose of baby items, you can do so at http://www.eco-mama.org/en/index.html. Much better than just throwing them away... And you'll be proud to have had a eco-friendly gesture.

"The top shopping floor of Times Square" is not expat oriented ???? And here I thought that only expats went to Times Squares, I'll have to have a better look next time. For cheap outlets of baby clothes, the Fa Yuen street is notorious for that, and you now even have http://lilystock.shop.tm.

MamaPooh

expat traps, etc

Hi MamaPooh, welcome to Batgung.com, and first off thanks for all your contributions to our site today!

The tip on eco-mama is especially welcome; we poke fun a lot on this site, but it's good to have someplace that will take baby things and find buyers/uses for them instead of us just tossing them. I just had a look at their site, and they've got several bargains listed I would have been happy to have gone for when we were preparing for Daughter Tall's arrival. And lilystock looks to be quite a find as well; have you ordered anything from them?

Your take on Times Square is interesting; I think of it as the quintessential Hong Kong mall, very much a local one, although there are of course lots of expats wandering around it at any given moment. I guess when I think 'expat mall', Pacific Place immediately comes to mind . . . .

Oh, and please feel free to correct any other French I might foolishly venture to post; as you likely guessed, I was guessing!

Mr Tall

Chinese malls?

Hi Mr Tall,

Sorry for this late reply, got plenty of things to do, and well didn't think to look back here.

I'n happy that you liked the websites I've posted. I wasn't really sure of how it worked here, but well, I guess you could have just moderated me if it wasn't respectful of your rules.

Concerning Lilystock, I didn't order on the website because it is actually the small trading of my sister so I get first choices on all the samples :-). I've helped her set up the website, and still help her to maintain it as she is not really a technical person. She uses this extra income to buy some more Christmas gifts to her employees. I like that, so I help her out on this so long as it doesn't take too much of my time. As I also have my own eshop, it doesn't ask me too much so it's ok :-)

Well, Pacific Place is definitly a Expat' Mall, just like IFC and Lee garden... I think I tend to think that every malls with Citysuper have to be an Expat' mall. But well, maybe I'm a bit an extremist on this. My husband just told me 2 days ago how he was getting the impression to be the only white person in a mile round while we were wandering around Metroplaza at Kwai Fung. So I guess, I'll say that that one definitly qualify as a non-expat mall in my eyes.

As for correcting languages, feel free to correct my english as I'm sure that I'm doing plenty faults too!

Thank you.

Help please

Read your post on shopping for kids with great interest.  I will be in HK for a short trip the following week and am hoping to go to some outlet shops and hopefully hunt out some stuff for my 2 year old.  Some areas (apart from the one which Mrs T favors) which purportedly have outlet shops are Fa Yuen Street, Granville Road, Li Yuen Street, Johnston Rd and Lee Garden Road/Jardine Crescent.  As I won't have time to visit all the areas, would greatly appreciate if you could advise which areas are actually worth a visit and where the shops have more baby/kid stuff....thanks very much in advance for your help!

Kids' clothes

I'd focus on Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok out of the ones you've listed. Granville Road doesn't have much anymore in the way of outlets, and the ones on Johnston Road tend more to adult clothes. Not sure about what kinds of stuff you can find in Jardine Crescent, but Fa Yuen Street is a much bigger area with more possibilities. You should also go to Stanley, definitely -- make sure you go into the line of shops to your right as you walk down the street into the entrance of Stanley market.

Thank you so much for your

Thank you so much for your very helpful advice....sorry but could I trouble you for more detailed instructions on where to look in Stanley market? Is there only one entrance to the market?  What time do the shops usually open/close?

Also, don't mean to be rude, but your post was in 2003, so just wondering if the places that Mrs T favors are still valid? 

 p.s. Could I trouble you for more "pearls of wisdom?....tried goggling for the info without much success....looking to pick up a pair of Clarks shoes for my son...where would be a good place to go?

Re: Stanley Market

Hi there,

Stanley Market is just a general location consists of shops, stalls, some narrow passage ways and some restaurants..  It is not an organized market place.  The shops usually close down by early evening, when the sun is down, with a few exceptions.   Expect day time tourists operating hours.

If you don't mind the suggested retail price, Clarks shos are just everywhere in leaning local chains, department stores or their own stores/outlets in shopping malls around.

Best Regards,

T

Thanks so much for the

Thanks so much for the invaluable advice....

Does Mrs T still favor the outlets in Central you mentioned earlier?  Could you perhaps share some of the fav shops/roads to narrow down the search abit....thanks!!

Clarks shoes for kids

We like Clarks shoes for our two girls, but the selection of Clarks children's shoes in HK never seems to be that great.

When you go to the shops, pay careful attention to the fitting. In the UK the Clarks shops make a big fuss of correct fit - it's one of their selling points. The last time we bought here (a couple of months back), we asked for their feet to be measured, and were tools "Sorry, the shop didn't have any measuring gauge". MrsB knows what she's looking for, so she just had the girls try shoes til she saw a pair that fitted ok.

And even in shops where they do measure, we haven't been very impressed with the standard, so it's worth keeping a careful eye on them too.

Shoes for kids

Mr B,

A very popular shoe store among local parents is Dr Kong Shoes. Their shoes seem to specially fitted for the individual kids' feet.  They also sell ergonomically designed school bags.

sophia

Kids' clothes

Mrs Tall confirms that the two export shops in which she bought many of Daughter Tall's baby clothes are still operating in those little streets in Central (i.e. Li Yuen Streets East and West). But she also mentioned that both of these shops (she can't recall the names) have outlets in Stanley Market as well, so there's no real need to go to Central.

My directions to Stanley will make more sense once you're there. You'll arrive either by taxi or bus, and will find yourself going down a short street to a roundabout. From there, that street continues straight on for about one block, to a T-junction that's what I would consider the 'entrance' to Stanley market. You'll want to look through the whole market, but most of the kids' shops are in the part of the market on the right-hand side of the 'T'. But there are also several good kids' shops just to the right of the traffic roundabout as well.

Don't worry too much about this -- Stanley market isn't that big, and you will find it easy to look through the whole place.

Happy shopping!

Mr Tall

Thank you very much!!

Thank you very much again for all your help Mr Tall....and please thank Mrs Tall on my behalf too :-)

 

more on Eco-Mama

I wanted to second MamaBear's recommendation of Eco-Mama, which, if you haven't visited recently, has moved premises but is still in Quarry Bay. Here is the new address

Besides second-hand baby/toddler goods, they also sell a number of new organic products, cloth diapers (e.g. Mother-Ease), and so on. I don't know enough about the latter to judge how the prices compare, but FYI. If you register, you can see the additions to stock first on their website, and they also send out periodic announcements via email.

About a year and a half ago I bought a toddler car seat (<300 HK/about $40 US) and a Combi stroller (I think 1100 HK / about $135US) second hand. I'm sure I could have bought these more cheaply had I planned ahead and waited for local moving sales or trawled geoexpat and asiaxpat sites for offers. But I wanted to buy both items quickly, and the Eco-Mama prices were significantly cheaper than what I was finding for comparable items in places like Toys R Us and Citistore; plus I was able to browse a variety of items. I didn't have a specific idea / brand in mind, so looking and comparing was helpful. While Citistore did have some cheaper strollers, they were quite heavy; we use public transportation exclusively and live in a very hilly area with lots of stairs, and so we really wanted something that would fold easily, stay folded, and be light to lift (along with toddler and groceries) onto the buses and up and down the stairs; but I also wanted something a bit sturdier and more versatile than the very basic umbrella stroller.

Anyway, what I liked about Eco-Mama was that there was some range and it was also easy and permissible to lift things off the shelf and try them out and compare. No salespeople required, I didn't have to bother anyone to unchain items so I could look at them - it was much less hassle than at any of the larger stores I had visited. I absolutely hate it when salespeople hover, even if they mean well, so for a shy person who loathes shopping, this was a pretty calm and relaxing commercial experience. We've been very happy with both items, especially the stroller, and I keep meaning to go back to look for Xmas toys.

Ah yes, the careful reader may be wondering why I wanted a car seat if we don't drive - it's for trips back to the US, when, sadly, I often do have to rent a car.