Friday, June 14, 2013

Really China

There is a phrase we ex-pats in China (well, most of us at least) strive for: 真中国.  It translates to "Really China" but more or less is a way to describe an action or behavior as similar to that of a Chinese person.  With the renovation of our new apartment and the move, our cultural intake has been like drinking from a China fire hydrant.  I'm hoping that the experience & drama of it all will in the end make our family Really China.

Exhibit A:

Though this story isn't exactly related to moving, it's yet another cultural moment for our little TCK's:
Before we took a prolonged hiatus from our preschool projects, Micah & I were working on letter recognition.  One day, he found a box of Kevin's Oreos in the kitchen.  (Emphasis on Kevin's Oreos.  I don't like them in America, so I'm not going to like them here!)  "Wow Mama!" Micah exclaimed.  "So many more letters to learn!"  You have no idea, child.

Exhibit B:

We have lived in our new apartment for 11 days now.  11 days without a kitchen.  It's a long, twisted tale of why our kitchen hasn't been installed in a working fashion yet, so I'll spare you the details.  What I will say is that our family has survived off Chinese fast food, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, fruit, and Coke Zero (that would be for me, not the children.  I've had enough trouble controlling them in our messy, unorganized apartment without anymore added energy from caffeine!)  I'm thankful for my two big boys who think noodles & dumplings are the best food ever to grace a table.  

Exhibit C:

We now live in the southern part of our city, which is close to some hills.  Since the thought of pedaling our bike up and down those inclines with all the kiddos sounded torturous, we decided to invest in an electric bike (it's like a moped but not as sissy).  It was definitely a great investment--until it got stolen one week later.  Getting stuff stolen from you is a very China thing to happen, so I suppose it happening to us makes us Really China too.  We ended up buying another one (thank you, insurance company, for picking up half the tab!) and have again been cruising around the city like a real Chinese person.  I even managed to tie 8 baskets on the back of it after a basket shopping extravaganza.  Well, I supposed "extravaganza" might be a bit of an overstatement, considering I only spend $18.  Gotta love living in the heart of production, where I can find almost anything from Victoria's Secret pajama pants material to William Sonoma pitchers for half the cost.  

Exhibit D:

Of course, the key to becoming Really China is to be a China learner.  My, oh my, have I learned!  For the most part, Kevin & I have handled the house hunting & renovating on our own, which has meant a deluge of new words.  My vocabulary has added such crucial words like baseboards, linen, blackout curtains, window screens, window screen that roll up & down (and are actually quite worthless in my opinion), protective bars installed in windows, curtain sheers, designer, blueprint, countertop, hanging cabinets, drawer pulls, measurements, hooks, desk chair, picture frame, several new & obscure colors on the color wheel, and "That's not what I asked for.  Please do it again." Do you see the theme here?  

Something else I've learned (and am not too proud of) is that my Chinese-speaking self is much more feisty than my English-speaking self.  When we hit a snag with the kitchen design & installation, I had no problem hammering out my argument and whose fault I thought it was.  I never would have been that forceful if I was dealing with another American!  Perhaps it's because my Chinese politeness filter is still in process, which is definitely something I need to work on.  

I was made acutely aware of this when during a trip to the grocery store this evening.  I was on the way home from shopping and needed to make a quick stop for some bread (because, of course, pb&j was on the dinner menu).  I didn't want to leave my basket purchases tied to the back of my bike, so I lugged them all in.  As I was entering the store, I heard someone shouting behind me and eventually realized they didn't want me to bring my things inside.  Instead, they wanted me to put them in a locker at the front.  I will (shamefully) admit that when a Chinese person wants me to do something that I don't want to do or think is silly, I'll often play the dumb foreigner card and pretend not to understand.  Yes, I know.  It's dishonest and manipulative.  But this time, since my mind was already reeling in Chinese after an afternoon of shopping, words just started coming out of my mouth about how it wasn't a big deal at all that I was going to bring my things inside and that it wasn't like I was going to steal anything.  The grocery store employee then sarcastically asked me if there are grocery stores in foreign countries, to which I replied (equally sarcastically) that there are lots of them and we can bring in whatever we want.  Then I turned around and walked inside, with my 8 baskets in tow.  I later felt very convicted in the bread aisle, vowed to control my Chinese tongue a little better, and went to find that employee to apologize.  

We've conquered so many obstacles when it has come to this apartment.  It hasn't been easy.  It hasn't been fun.  But it's been very empowering.  Kind of like when I birthed a baby sans drugs and said afterward, "If I can do that, surely I can take on the world."  So I guess this house ordeal has been like birthing a China baby--if we can do this, surely we can take on the rest of China life!

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Goodbye to the Electric Company Healthy Bridge

Tomorrow morning we are leaving this grand ol' complex that has served as our China home the last 4 years to move across town to a new apartment.  How else does one celebrate their final night than by sharing a picture of your face on an advertisement?

Our xiao qu (read: apartment complex) has had a giant banner hanging in our main square area for several months now displaying what a great place this is to live.  Apparently, I am one of those reasons since there's me, right smack dab in the middle, showing off all my foreign charm as I wrapped some sticky rice in a leaf to celebrate some holiday whose name I can't quite recall at the moment.  

How appropriate that picture is though to sum up our time living here.  It was our first summer here four years ago.  My hair was short, my China experience even shorter, and I still thought there was a chance that I might run another marathon--in China at that!  I was living off a beautiful concoction of exoticism, optimism, and naivete.  And this home saw me through all the days following.  The hard days of home sickness, cultural confusion, language stress, hopes deferred.  The joyful days of chasing our puppy Beans through the "grass" outside, BBQs with friends in our make-shirt backyard, bringing our boys back from Ethiopia to this home, growing into my new China self.  

Since our house is trashed and our kitchen is packed away in boxes, we ate out tonight.  We walked down our familiar alley to a restaurant Kevin frequents several times a week.   As we reached our building entrance after our meal, two women rushed up to us with a stroller.  They had apparently chased us down in an effort to meet the foreign family.  While this isn't an abnormal occurrence for us, this particular meet n' greet was special.  The younger woman, who was out walking with her mother and son, was deaf and was exuberant about meeting us.  She held Hudson, stroked my white arms, hugged my big boys, and smiled and gestured with glee that was humbling to me.  In a cultural where homogeneity is utmost, being deaf or being disabled in any way is often tantamount to complete ostracism.  Having the opportunity to bless a woman (who is probably often ignored or mistreated by the rest of society) so deeply just by letting her hold my baby was so meaningful to me, as it reminded me of what Jesus says about serving the least of these.  I do hope that our family has been a blessing to this community as a whole as we were to that one particular woman tonight.

So goodbye, dear little home.  Goodbye Electric Company Healthy Bridge (the translation of our xiao qu's name).  Thank you for all the memories.  Thank you for seeing our family grow. Thank you for the people we've come to know & love in this xiao qu.

Goodbye, across-the-hall neighbors.  Thank you for letting me & my children squeeze in your tiny Audi sports car to take us to the hospital when Sam had a seizure.  

Goodbye, peeing neighbor upstairs.  Even though I can hear you pee through the ceiling in our bedroom, for some strange reason, it makes me laugh instead of grossing me out.

Goodbye shrimp-loving neighbors on the third floor.  It has been fun to know exactly what you had for dinner that night based on the odor of my kitchen.

Goodbye, piano player neighbor on the fifth floor.  I've loved hearing you plink & plunk away as you practice every night.  Keep up the hard work!

Goodbye, pajama man neighbor.  I love that you always wear pajamas outside and smile at me in the elevator as if there's nothing strange about that.

Goodbye, Coco, my former student & first floor neighbor.  I always love it when you smile at me and call out, "Hello Teacher!"

Goodbye, man who works at the Nutrilife store and lets my children stare at your turtles all afternoon.

Goodbye to all the food vendors in the alley who fed my family countless times when I didn't have it together enough to get a meal on the table.  We're sad that there aren't any Hui restaurants near our new place across town.  You will be sorely missed!

Goodbye friendly neighbors who all know what floor I live on and push the elevator button for me when my hands are too full of kids & kid paraphernalia to push it myself.

Goodbye to the tai qi club that meets in front of our kitchen window and spills their tai qi music inside at 7 AM.  It's always fun to start my day on such a cultural note.

Goodbye to all the concerned nai nais (grandmothers) at the playground.  No, I still will not make my baby wear socks in the summer but don't worry about him.  I don't think he'll get diarrhea from it.  But I have always appreciated your concern for his health.

I hope I have been more to you than the crazy foreign lady who spends a lot on electricity and has a gaggle of children that are all different colors.  Because all of you have been so much more to me!