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.
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. You.have.no.idea.
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.
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.
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!