Sunday, August 13, 2006


I just realized I had started a blog back in March. So I'm getting back to it. Partially for your entertainment, partially for my sanity. I must say getting this set up was a bit of a challenge as the entire website is in Chinese, but I perservered. I knew those three months studying Chinese would eventially pay off.

For those of you not up to speed with recent ongoings, I must first let you know that I am living in Beijing, China. I have a lot to say about the place, but I'll save that for a later time. In this lovely, humid, crowded, smoggy place I am living with my boyfriend, Zhao Ming. Yes, as if the name didn't give it away, he is Chinese. And yes, he is actually my fiance (but that word is just too pretentiously French sounding). I currently have two jobs. Job numero uno: teaching 4-year-olds English at a daycare. Very adorable, usually fun. Job numero dos: tutoring a Korean woman English. This job is quite interesting as I certainly don't speak Korean and this woman can't speak much English past "Hello, how are you?" This leaves us communicating in (broken) Chinese.

Now that you are filled it, I can get down to business. The real reason I'm writing this is to get out of my apartment. It's a nice enough place, but currently Ming's mother (mama) is staying with us. We are on Day 3 of her visit and she is leaving tomorrow. But tomorrow just doesn't seem like soon enough.

A part of me feels bad for saying this. I'm giving you the wrong impression. It's not that she isn't a wonderful person. She is a very nice lady. Truly. But having her here puts me face to face with my Americanishness or perhaps with her Chinesishness. I'm not sure, but I'm struggling with a few issues.

First, are all fruit she brought with her from Chengde (her and Ming's hometown, which is about 110 miles northeast of Beijing). She brought three boxes of fruit. The Chinese love to bring fruit when going to visit people, it's almost like a sickness. It's not like they give a few apples just to be polite. They practically bring carts full of the stuff. I mean, how much fruit can on person eat? And I have to try and eat it just to appease her. So today, after being stuffed full from eating lunch, I have to come home to eat apples, pears, grapes, and peaches. I just prefer American traditions. Chocolates, wine, flowers, even a liter of Pepsi would beat this.

The next thing that mystifies me is how I am expected to treat her like an old lady. Ming and I take turns helping her up stairs, holding her hand, and carrying her things. You might be thinking, "Oh, that's just being helpful. It's not because she's old." But you are wrong. Ming told me outright, "Mama is old." What??? She is only 52-years-old, and not only that, she is in good health. I can't imagine treating my 82-year-old grandmother this way, let alone someone my parent's age. But I guess that's just one of the many things that seperates Americans from the Chinese. We like our independence. Also, no one wants to be old in America. Not much good comes out of getting old. But the Chinese, they embrace it. They look up to the elderly, they help the elderly. If children address an old woman they don't know, they will call her "nainai" (grandmother). If a woman is slightly older than me it is wise to call her "jiejie" (older sister), but if she is younger I should call her "meimei" (little sister). This obsession with age and position is a little exhausting for me.

The final thing I will mention (all though I could keep going) was our trip to T.G.I.Fridays restaurant. Yes, they have two of them in Beijing. They are identical to the American version minus the customers and waitstaff who are, of course, predominently Chinese. Mama has never in her 52 years has eaten at an American style restaurant. I don't think she's ever even eaten an American meal, not even the ever-so-popular KFC. She didn't know the rules. Using a fork and knife was the first obstacle. She did pretty well though. Next came the Bahama Mama. I ordered her this fruity drink so she could try some juiced down American liquor. This sweet drink was to her liking though, as she dumped a packet of sugar into it. She also dipped her brocolli in ketchup. But who am I to judge? If she thought it tasted good, I wasn't going to stop her. This was all pretty cute, until the hacking and spitting started. It's no big thing to do this kind of thing in public, I even do it now and then. I think it's the air quality here or something (at least that's my excuse). Anyways, this would be fine anyplace else, but you really can't spit on the floor at T.G.I.Fridays. I told her to do it in a napkin, which the Chinese think is revolting.

Sometimes it's amazing to me that I've been her nearly a year and a half. I thought I'd changed. Accepted these little "cultural differences." I guess you can take the girl out of America, but you can't take America out of the girl.

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