Archive for May, 2010

China Day

Well, I’ve had one. It’s been a long time since I’ve had one, and they seem to be fewer and fewer and farther between (especially since I’m not pregnant anymore – ha!). But today, I had a "China Day" – a day where everything kind of goes wrong outside the house, and a day where I just really feel like the foreigner that I am, and uncomfortably so. It’s natural to have these days, when we live in such a foreign place, but this one was significant. In part because I was treated like a fool at the bank for not knowing a minute detail when trying to transact business, and the staff talked way down to me and that just stinks no matter what part of the world I’m in! When I asked them to explain the process, they just said, "Why don’t you bring a Chinese friend back with you to help you next time?" and I said, "No, I speak Chinese and can understand you, please just tell me what I need to do." They begrudgingly did so, and I found another branch of the same bank this afternoon to finish my business, because I just didn’t want to face them again!

I also once again faced the reality that some Chinese people really do not like to bargain with foreigners. Foreigners often pay the higher price here, and I get that foreigners, on average, have more money than most Chinese do, but it still gets old to get high-balled every time! This time, the shopkeeper just looked at me when I began to bargain, and said, "That is the price." and then refused to make eye contact as she continued to eat her lunch. So I took my money and went home.

So, that along with a couple of other incidences, made for a "China Day" today. But it felt different than other China days for some reason. Perhaps in part because we’ve recently made a longer-term commitment to staying here for a few more years, or perhaps because now that we speak Chinese it’s easier to at least communicate ourselves, even if we can’t change the status quo – I’m really not sure. I have been noticing more and more that this place is becoming my home. I’m feeling more and more at home here – the streets, the people, the weather, the shops, friends – we are rather grounded here. So a rude teller at a bank doesn’t necessarily make me want to shove off and swim back to the US, and a silly shopkeeper who doesn’t want to make a sale just seems ridiculous, but not emblematic of China.

But the funny thing is, that no matter how many years we are here, we will always, always, be glaringly obvious foreigners. There is no blending in here after a few years, as there may be opportunity for in the US. Our skin, our height, our accents, our grammar mistakes, our clothes, our manners – it’s all different! And that is also part of what attracts us here – all the differences here to learn about are so interesting and make every day new. So right now, just as we are feeling very at home here, we are also realizing that China will never really be home; it simply doesn’t seem possible in the way it might be elsewhere in the world. Maybe I will look back and have a different opinion someday – who knows?

So I will probably continue to have "China Days" – with snooty bank tellers and unwanted attention, among other things – it’s pretty inevitable. And I will have to continue to live in this dichotomy – on the one hand more and more at home here and on the other as much a stranger and foreigner as the first day I stepped on Chinese soil.


He’s in!

Well, it’s official – Leo will be headed to kindergarten in the fall! After great anticipation and much work this spring going to and fro to every which kindergarten within a few miles of our apartment, Leo has been admitted to our favorite kindergarten!!! We’re thrilled for him, and the weekend before last we registered him for classes. The kindergarten is a Chinese public kindergarten, and a very competitive one at that. We are met with stares of amazement when we tell folks that we got in. We also are pretty amazed ourselves, especially given everything we’ve been through this spring trying to figure this out. We feel lucky, and know that our status as foreigners here must certainly have helped Leo get in.

Registration was fun; Leo got to meet one of the teachers, who just wanted to see what he was like and see what he could do. He basically just wanted to throw the ball that was on her desk, and she was sweet to him and let him have at it. There were lots of other cute kindergarteners-to-be at the school with their parents as well. We all watched in amazement as our little ones, who not so long ago couldn’t even walk or talk, ran around the playground in their very own new school.

Our kindergarten is special in that the teaching method varies somewhat from the traditionally more strict and structured Chinese educational environment. It’s called the ‘Experimental’ kindergarten, which doesn’t translate so well in English, does it? Sort of brings to mind mad scientists. But basically it means that the curriculum is more loosely structured (which, to us, doesn’t mean much as the classes seem very very structured) and the school incorporates more playtime into the day. This will be good for Leo, no doubt!

To top it all off, the kindergarten is also situated across the street from our favorite fried chicken joint – so everybody wins! 😉

Just stop!

Where do they learn to do this??

OK! It’s yours! Whatever you want! We can’t resist! Just stop torturing us!


The Riddle of the Belt

Here’s a real-life riddle: When driving in a car in China, two of the five occupants reach for and fasten their seat belts, while the other three do not. What could be one of the only explanations?

Answer: Three of the riders are Chinese. One is American, the other, Taiwanese!

The ‘What was it?’ game

There’s a game we play at regular periods, usually one against one, but sometimes two on the same team. It goes like this:

“Do you think it was the pineapple?”

“I don’t know, I think it might have been the chicken.”

“It could have been the peppers you forgot to wash.”

“They were boiled though. Maybe it was some tap water left in the cup.”

“It must have been the pineapple.”

“I had that too though. Maybe it was the broccoli.”

And on, and on, until both sides declare defeat. No one ever wins this game, and the only outcome is one or the both of us battling fever, dehydration, and diarrhea.

Today Liz gets full distinction for the game bravely played!

That nice foreign baby

Leo has grown from a six-month old baby to an almost three year old here in Nanjing. He’s always gotten looks from the locals, who never cease to delight in his pale skin, light hair, big eyes.

For a moment I thought maybe the attention was starting to fade, as he has been getting slightly less attention, especially compared to Rosaline.

Until today, walking over to the playground, when there came the usual tug on the sleeve by a stranger who says in English “Photo?” while pointing at Leo. To which I always reply in Chinese, “Sure, go ahead.” The little thirteen year old girl was jittery with the excitement she got from taking Leo with her on her cellphone, brandishing the photo proudly to the rest of her friends.

And then, ninety seconds later, passing an older woman caring for her grandchild, the indirect but not so indirect compliments of Leo’s looks: “Look at the little foreign boy. See how pretty he is? See his white skin, his big eyes, golden hair?” This spoken right aloud in front of both of us, probably presuming we didn’t understand it.

I don’t think the attention will ever fade!

Fresh air

One of the Chinglish T-shirts we saw lately made us chuckle.

On the sleeve: “Eco-lover”

On the front, in green letters: “Suburbs: Flesh air”

We know people prefer the environment away from the city center, but what exactly could ‘Flesh air’ offer as an improvement?

L’s and R’s – always a conundrum!

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May 2010
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