A long, long time ago before I became a mother, I used to have time to reads books. I read every spare minute of my time, on the bus, in my lunch break, in the bath, in the bed, I just love reading and find it very relaxing. I am hoping there will soon come a time when I get to enjoy a good book again so I have started a list of books I want to read and one of them is Beijing Tai Tai.
After reading a few snippits of this book by Australian mum Tania McCartney I can’t wait to dig in and read it from cover to cover. This brave mum did something I could never do, move with her husband and two small children to the capital of China for four long years. I don’t know how much you (think you) know about China but I am most definitely not an expert and this is a great book to learn more about this amazing country, the good and the bad, seen through a mum’s eyes.
The easy-to-read, column style set-up makes Beijing Tai Tai an enjoyable (and often hilarious) read and I have no doubt you will appreciate Tania’s story telling. There are lots of differences between Australia and China and fashion is most certainly one of them. Especially for Hip little one Tania is sharing a bit more about what is hip in Beijing and how she eventually managed (was forced) to accept the Beijing style, enjoy!
The Kids’ Fashion Snob
How Beijing’s stores took me down a peg or two
Oh, the bedazzlement! How overcome was I when I first saw the kids’ clothing available in China. The sequins, the lace, the ruffles and frills. The neon, the mesh, the English language slogans in chronic need of a sober proof reader. And let’s not forget the collection of pilfered Disney characters, Bobdog and Hello Kitty emblazoned on pant legs from here to Middle Kingdom Come. Oh, the devastation. I knew kids clothes were cheap in China and sadly, I soon found out why.
You see, I absolutely adore kids’ clothing; always have. And like many things in life, the more beautiful––the higher the price tag. Put it this way: $5 Levi rip-offs look like $5 Levi rip-offs.
When we first moved to pre-Olympic Beijing (2005), my kids toddled the grime-laden streets wearing snowy white, frightfully expensive designer duds. I was wearing daggy ten-year-old jeans and owned two pairs of scuffed shoes but my kids looked like models from a Country Road pressed-linen fashion shoot. Their designer t-shirts alone fetched a price that would have any serious shopper feigning a faint at Ya Show market.
Any sane person knows it’s quite ridiculous what real designer clothing costs, yet I happily went without so I could gaze upon my kids in their gorgeous photo-shoot ensembles. Yes, I adored the white clouds of French linen, the trendy fabrics, the retro designs. I was, indeed, a kids’ clothing aficionado, a wannabe clothing designer for little ones, a shameless kids’ fashion snob who would shun the hairdresser and instead resort to bottled hair-colour with the singular intention of avoiding a Spiderman pyjama meltdown at Kmart.
So I hauled box after box of these outrageously-priced ensembles to Beijing, but alas, when you go live in a different country for four years, your kids tend to eventually grow, and their expensive designer duds become tighter and smaller, and the reality of hitting the real Beijing clothing world gets closer and closer, and eventually you just have to succumb.
Oh, the humanity!
Maybe I succumbed because Beijing taught me how utterly blind-sided we are by clothing prices in the West. Maybe it was actual real-life emergencies like when my daughter had no shoes that fit and her legs stuck out of her pants like Huck Finn. But I did it––I gradually began trawling the markets, the neighbourhood stores, the department stores and slowly, very slowly, amongst the Garfield tutus and Felix the Cat bomber jackets, I found some finds.
Were they designer finds? Maybe. Who knows? Even after four years in the capital and many a seasoned shopping expedition under my belt, the question of ‘real’ v ‘fake’ remains an unmitigated mystery only the Chinese market veterans will ever truly know. I could very well be sitting on a goldmine of real $9 Oilily frocks or $7.50 Valentino chinos, but does it really matter?
Shortly before leaving Beijing for Australia, the kids’ clothing situation (just like the capital and its post-Olympic infrastructure) had vastly improved. A spate of truly gorgeous kids’ shops and mainstream stores opened, all offering adorable and beautiful clothing, resplendent with quality and a decent price that hopefully filtered down to its local workers (and not a sequin or lace tuft in sight!).
Indeed, I was able to fill our out-bound suitcases with many a glorious bargain––and I’m happy to report I’m still unearthing items from the stash for my kids to wear, three years later. Whilst foraging through this stash recently, I retrieved the odd, kitsch, even bedazzled item that––I will admit––a part of me has grown somewhat fond of. So, I’m coming clean. Yes, Ella owns a pair of Betty Boop tracksuit pants and yes yes, Riley has a few pairs of polyester Chinese pyjamas.
The clothing snob in me still adores beautiful children’s clothing, but . . . shhh . . . if you close the curtains really tight to prevent the neighbours peeking in, there’s really nothing wrong with a little bedazzlement before midday. And all under $5 a pop.
Tania McCartney is an editor, presenter and book-obsessed author of both children’s and adult books. As an ACT Ambassador for the National Year of Reading 2012, she is passionate about literacy and children’s literature. Tania runs literary site Kids Book Review, writes for several online sites and loves paper, travel, marshmallows and laughing. Join the Beijing Tai Tai Virtual Book Tour here.
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