Posts Tagged 'family'

Flowers for the occasion

When the lady helping me buy flowers for our wedding anniversary gave me a look of shock, I knew I had crossed some sort of cultural boundary.

Similarly, when a streetside cook jested that I give one of the flowers to his female colleague, and she refused, I thought something was up.

Celebrating our wedding anniversary, I bought Liz a big bunch of bright yellow chrysanthemums. They looked so happy, I thought. But the lady at the flower stand chatting with me said “No! You can’t give your wife those!” The flower seller himself stepped in, “He’s a foreigner, it’s ok.”

Puzzled, I paid for the flowers, and gave them to a very happy wife on return home. A big burst of yellow still lightens our dining table.

Tutoring some students the next day, I took out a Chinese coin to talk about heads-or-tails. What’s on the tails side? “A flower,” the student replied. What kind of flower? “A mum.” Very impressive vocabulary!

“We give those to dead people.”

Wait- dead people?

“Yes, when people die, we always give this kind of flower. We never give it to friends.”

There I go again, displaying my ignorance of 5,000 years of culture. And I can’t say it will be the last time either.

Liz still loves the flowers.

Time off work?

JM here.  We have been swimming through four days of two kids now, one of them refusing to sleep anytime between midnight and 6am.  Lucky for us we have so much help from some good local friends, as well as Leo’s ever cheerful nanny.

When Liz went into labor last Wednesday, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it in for work on Thursday, our last day before a week off for Christmas.  I immediately called the staff member who coordinates things, and told her excitedly in Chinese, “My wife has contractions! I can’t come into work tomorrow.”

To my surprise she said, “I don’t know. The students have missed a lot of classes recently. Can you please come?”

Shocked, I said, “I’ll see what I can do,” fully intending NOT to come in, since it was likely I would be with Liz through a long labor like last time.

So I confirmed the next morning that I wouldn’t come in, and she sent a brief message: “I get it. Someone will cover for you.”

When I called the substitute teacher later on, he sounded nonplussed.  I told him how grateful I was so that I could be with the new baby.

“What? New baby??” 

“Yes! Isn’t that what they told you?”

“No! They said you couldn’t come into class because your wife had WORK to do!”

Ah! My bad Chinese pronunciation the culprit again! I must have been unclear on the original message.  ‘Work’ in Chinese is: “gong zuo”.  ‘Contraction’ in Chinese is: “gong suo”.  And how often do people in an office get calls with news that someone has “gong suo”?

So, with a few more messages back and forth, everyone at work began sending in their congratulations.  No hard feelings. I wasn’t playing hookey so that my nine months pregnant wife could go to work.

But if the excuse worked this time, maybe next time too…  🙂

Survival Vocabulary

So, after two and a half weeks in Nanjing, we’ve learned enough Chinese to get by with the daily necessities. We can take a taxi back to our street, we know how to order noodles and dumplings at a restaurant, and we can find the bathroom when necessary. (Bathrooms deserve a whole post of their own, which we’ll save until we’ve experienced the whole gamut.)

Actually, the things we’ve learned to say most speedily all concern the exact same subject:

1. He’s six months old.
2. Thank you for saying he’s cute.
3. He’s not too cold.
4. Really, he’s not dressed too cold.
5. Please don’t touch him/take him away from us.
6. We’re all from USA.
7. He’s getting tired.
8. Our jacket keeps him warm.
9. His name is Leo.
10. We have to get going now.

As you can see, our main attraction isn’t that we’re foreigners, but rather the little bundle strapped to our chest that peeks out at everyone. We’re looking forward to being able to say more, so we can utilize all of the practicing we get from the irresistible bait we’re carrying. Seriously, the Chinese people are baby crazy, over ours and theirs alike.

[PS- As we wrote this post, we got a text message from a girl we met at the store today, saying ‘your baby is very lovely.’]