Posts Tagged 'differences'

It’s who you know

One of JM’s students has an older brother. This is quite uncommon, and usually entails an extremely large fee paid to the government for the second child, something akin to a year’s salary from what we’ve been told.


"Did your parents have to pay the fine?"

"They did, but only a little one."


"They know someone in the government."

And that’s how it works.


Another foreigner’s tax

We’re used to paying more just for being a foreigner. In a largely negotiation-based economy, we know that Chinese natives can almost always bargain for a better price for the things they buy than we can. Plus, we’ve been told straight to our face that because our salaries as foreigners are higher than average, it’s only fair that we pay higher prices.

The government is getting in on this now. Frequently, long-term residents have their luggage and personal items mailed to China, because of airplane luggage restrictions, bulky items, or just to get care packages from home. Customs has usually foregone taxing packages valued at less than $70.

Now they’ve lowered that value to $8. That means any box that is worth more than a McDonald’s value meal will now be subject to import taxes. And, according to our friends, the person who sets that tax is a local post officer, who will OPEN your box, personally assess the contents, and give you a 20% fee based on what they THINK the contents are worth.

Hmm.. Does Target ibuprofen retail as high as Advil? What’s the market value of back issues of Time magazine? Is that a new Rolex or a second-hand one (or a knockoff made in China!)?

Apparently the government will step in to save us lots of trouble. Maybe we shouldn’t even fill in the customs valuation forms anymore. There should be a postal stamp that says in Chinese: “Please open me for valuation”.

We’re glad our four boxes from home arrived just before this new law passed. But we’re reconsidering what to ask sent to us for Christmas!

Can you say that?

Teaching my students today, the subject of skin color came up. A particularly outspoken member of the class piped up:

“I don’t like black people. They make me feel worried.”

Where do you go with that one?

Over and over again, China reminds me that this isn’t the melting-pot culture back home. The things we take for granted differ on both sides of the ocean.

Wanting to say something like, “How about white people? Do they scare you too?” I instead reassured her that black people are wonderfully friendly, and that she should try meeting a few. After all, I have lots of black friends, and they don’t scare me at all.

Still a long ways to go sometimes. *sigh*

I just thought you were getting fat!

The news is officially out that I am pregnant. At almost 6 months along, I think it’s pretty hard to miss my bulging belly, but apparently for many people here, it’s not obvious. A few people have made extremely blunt comments when I’ve seen them, such as, “You got quite fat over the summer!” or “Oh, I just thought you were fat now!” I think it’s a combination of both the fact that the Chinese are not shy about calling a spade a spade and letting people know that they are fat, along with the fact that people don’t expect me to be pregnant again because I already have a child. These comments have made me laugh, and yes, I must agree, I am getting a little fat (let’s face it, it’s not all baby).

So far, being pregnant in China has been pretty good. Some perks have included a definite seat on every bus (as long as I stick my belly out purposefully as I get on the bus, which I do, because frankly, I really do need the seat as buses here are really crowded and crazy!). The first time it happened, an old lady gave me her seat – one which frankly, she probably needed more than I did. But, as I’ve stated before on this blog, when in China, one does NOT argue with an elderly Chinese lady. You just agree and do as she says. So I sat down, hoping she’d survive the rest of the bus ride on her feet. About five seconds later, I heard a cranky groan and what was the equivalent of, “Oh for crying out loud, lady!” coming from behind me. I turned to see an older man (in much better shape than the aforementioned lady), get up and give his seat to her. I was relieved! People also mysteriously believe that if you are pregnant you become incapacitated here. I think because women only go through pregnancy once in China, people really milk it for all it’s worth that one time around. So people marvel at my ability to carry Leo, carry groceries, walk to the store, go to classes, walk anywhere really, exercise (this rarely happens purposefully if I’m being totally honest here), jog after Leo and play ball with him, etc… I am Wonder Woman here! It doesn’t take much, apparently.
Some things have been more challenging. Grocery shopping has become a pretty exhausting chore as I’m on foot and have no shopping cart, and Leo is now impossible to carry on my back along with all of the groceries. So I’m currently shopping for a good (and light) stroller, and meanwhile trying to schedule shopping trips when he can stay behind. I’ve also learned the fine art of bribing my child with treats so he’ll walk beside me and behave in the grocery store aisles. So far, so good. I’ve also received very few “Congratulations” from Chinese people here upon hearing the news that I am again pregnant. Usually people say, “Na hen xinku a?” which basically means, “Wow, that’s not an easy situation, eh?” This is a bit of a downer, as I’m overjoyed to be pregnant and wish to share that joy rather than be brought down a notch by the reminder that it’s going to be a lot of hard work. I know it’s hard work to have children, but I really like them anyway, thanks! I think people here are really trying to commiserate and relate, but it strikes an odd note with me. People know that we are here without our parents, and this already makes our situation very difficult in their eyes (I’m sure my mother is nodding her head at this!). Every child here has six adults looking after him or her – parents and both sets of grandparents. Seeing as we are already burdened with one child and no grandparents, another child seems unfathomable. Although I try to explain that in the US the grandparents do not raise the grandchild as in China, and in fact we do not think this is the ideal, it still causes some consternation and confusion in those not familiar with Western culture. We share with people that although both of us would welcome our parents to Nanjing if they wanted to be closer to us, they would still not assume the leadership role in raising our child (children) as is the custom in China. And furthermore, we’re pretty certain our parents would not want this responsibility, as much as they love our kids! These are interesting conversations and it’s great to have even more reason to have them now that I’m pregnant again.
We are also busy visiting hospitals and trying to figure out where to have this baby. This decision is still up in the air, and another whole post will be devoted to birth in China (if not more than one post, I’m sure). We’re hopeful to give birth in Nanjing, and will most likely decide in the next month or so.

All hail!


You know something is a little strange when your two year old’s first choice for a bedtime story is Mao Tsedong’s Little Red Book of sayings.

Better have that chat with his nanny again.

Personal space

Standing in front of a gas station case of cold drinks, I was absentmindedly staring at all the choices, waiting for Liz and Leo to come out of the restrooms. There was a good five feet of space between me and the glass door.

Another driver walked up, gave me a hurried glance while muttering ‘Excuse me,’ and scurried in between me and the drinks, trying his best not to obstruct my gaze for any more time than absolutely necessary.

Two thoughts occurred to me. A: I wasn’t really interested in buying anything anyway. B: Why would someone apologize for walking by me in such a broad, clear aisle at the store?

It hit me that my sense of personal space has shrunk considerably over the past year. Americans like space. Chinese don’t ever count on it. Trying to walk through a Chinese supermarket aisle is a lot like trying to walk through a row of occupied seats at the movie theater. People will brazenly hold their ground, not out of any sense of self righteousness, but simply because there’s seldom any extra room to maneuver. China is a crowded place. Really.

For instance, here’s what a normal sidewalk looks like:

The Sidewalk

Note that 1: People are everywhere. 2: Bikes are everywhere. 3. If trees are planted right in the middle of the sidewalk, this isn’t considered a problem. 4. A shortcut is to walk in the street.

So if I happen to be a little too close to your personal space on our next visit, don’t think I’m weird. It’s just cultural.

And… We’re back

Our first couple days in Canada have been wonderful, minus the inevitable jetlag (which will be around a bit longer as we travel to the US and then the East Coast on Wednesday). We’re in Vancouver, an absolutely beautiful city! We’re staying with our wonderful friends Alex and Kira, who have selflessly moved out of their apartment for us so we can get over jetlag in peace and quiet.

I (Liz) highly recommend not flying with a toddler that long if you can avoid it, but I must say it is worth it to see our friends and reconnect with our own culture. We are really appreciating so many little things, like clothes driers, soft beds, really cold refrigerators, great playgrounds (that are free of charge), sushi!, transacting business in English, easily shared humor, and really plush Q-tips.

But, all that said, I was happy to hear plenty of Mandarin Chinese yesterday on the local playground! Vancouver is a city with many Mandarin speakers, and it really felt nice to hear the sounds that have become almost homelike to us over the past year and a half. Grandfathers playing with their grandchild, mothers chastising their sons for running too fast, and little boys yelling for others to ‘make way’ for them as they slid down the big slide.

Leo felt right at home in this setting, but has been happily overwhelmed by so many fun and new things since our arrival. He seems to have completely lost his appetite, but hopefully that will bounce back as his body regains a normal schedule. His favorite word right now (which he literally wakes up saying) is “Wow!” There have been many “Wows!” so far, and there are many more to come. We are grateful to be back!

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