Preggers in Hong Kong: The Student Story*
I wedge myself into one the seats with portable mini-desk surfaces coming out of one of the plastic arms. There is a room of them—black, hard poured plastic chairs—that support the backs and behinds of the students in this program, a class of faces I have never met. It is the first day of the fall session for a program that began this summer. I missed that session as a “special exceptional case” (I was on tour) and have been given permission to begin the program regardless of my summer absence. The caveat was that I committed to attend the fall session.
So here I am.
Apparently this permission was granted on the merit of my writing sample submitted as part of the application process, but with special status comes performance pressure. I am expected to rise above my absence and “catch up” with the other students, fitting in and churning out the words. When I agreed to this, I already knew I was expecting. So, here I sit with my very pregnant belly barely enabling me space to write comfortably on this mini desk-chair, staring into the unknown of a Masters program that was expecting me. My belly cannot be an impediment.
The faculty has been very welcoming, albeit surprised to find that I came as a “1.5” (adult with fetus in tow). The students, too, all enrolled in this predominantly online creative writing program, have smiled and greeted me as the unknown face, but they avoid my belly. There’s something about a globe attached a woman’s midriff that makes many people uncomfortable. They hesitate to acknowledge it, training their eyes on mine and then looking away with a purposeful casualness.
My belly enters the room before I do. At eight months along and looking more and more basketball-like, there is no denying that I am carrying life that is about to burst forth. But right now, regardless of this growth, I must be a student and endure the uncomfortable chairs, the constant need for urination even during the guest lectures, and the aggressive kicking by this baby who seems intent on becoming the punctuation in my prose.
A few fellow female students smile my way in that knowing way of women. By the end of the few days in each other’s presence, we have begun to engage each other and I learn that they are also mothers. One is also a queer mother. I start to feel a sense of connection that could lead to friendship. I’m hopeful.
At the end of my brief five-day experience waddling around campus, I surmise that pregnant students do not often frequent institutions of learning—at least, not in Hong Kong. I am the only one I’ve seen travelling with the stream of other students, up stairwells and off elevators, knapsack waving back and forth with the force of her penguin gait, heading for class.
I get lost and find myself asking directions of building security guards in English (the supposed language of the school) and finally in Mandarin (more successful) only to experience their embarrassing disengagement with anything that exists below my neck. Do they think that I am a child who has accidentally “fallen pregnant”? As though I have tripped over my intentions for an education with the sins of the flesh, falling into the state of engorgement? Surely they can tell that I’m not a teenager. I just smile and thank them for their help, in both languages, and move along. I am temporary here, just like my pregnancy. Their reaction is just part of the experience.
Eventually, at the final presentation of the session that features student readings, I address the elephant in the room (me) and thank all the students for their welcome “of both of us” (as I rub my belly). I do this before I start my reading, which is a piece that I have adapted from my blog. The room is like any audience. When you look people in the eye and speak the truth, their attention swings towards you, willingly engaged by your willing engagement. They applaud heartily after I have finished my piece. I return to my wedged-in seat and listen to the other readers with alacrity. (A new word I have learned this week, which means: “cheerful willingness”)
I return to Beijing and then quickly head back to Canada still overflowing with the froth of lessons learned there about unpacking truth, getting rid of the logic, finding the source of ourselves in our writing without pre-editing, braving the vulnerable, getting “present in the past,” etc. My pregnancy is progressing quickly (hence the return to my home country where I’m planning to birth) and I’ve started to slow down even more, waddle with more emphasis, all while thinking through these things with more intention but less speed, the way a spoon lags through a pot of pudding. I must get out the words before I have another infant on my breast, muddling my mind with lack of sleep even more than it is already muddled on pregnancy hormones.
That explains why I’m not blogging as much lately. I’ve had homework to do.
But I feel grateful. I’m so lucky to be in a place in my life when higher education is available even when I am not only a mother, but a woman with an existing career, not to mention a person who cannot just drop everything in life to further her education. The world has started to curve around the realities of people’s lives not unlike my clothes are curving around this belly. Anything’s possible. I’m going to finally do this—get my Masters degree—and it will be a gift to my (perfectly) oblivious children.
The time is now. Their time is now. My time—now theirs, as well as my own—is being well spent.
For those who like the details, I’m enrolled in an MFA for Creative Writing program at The City University of Hong Kong. It’s the only program of its kind in the world designed for those who write about Asia in English.
* This blog is a reflection of my experiences in Hong Kong between October 22-28th, 2013.