Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Your Two Cents

I'm taking a break from writing about reading, though I haven't stopped the reading (began Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" this morning). This is more of a 'Dear Abby' type of post. I need advice on how to deal with unsolicited advice.

A little background into this cultural dynamics of my gripe is probably necessary. Put simply, the Chinese love nothing more than to throw in their two cents. This is particularly true of Chinese women whose know-it-all seems to grow exponentially with age. I constantly hear ladies giving strangers advice on how to dress and feed their babies, even where to send their child to school. I've been away from the U.S. for awhile, but am I wrong in thinking that most American mothers would find this intrusive and annoying, maybe even downright upsetting?

I try to take these things in stride, though lately they've been eating away at me. My issue is not with bossy octogenarians, but with the 30-something-year-old mothers of my students. They barely have a foot through my door before they are questioning, scolding, or harassing me. I've been fighting a battle for months now with 6-year-old Luna's mother, Mrs. Zhang. Mrs. Zhang can speak English, which makes our exchanges easier and less prone to language/cultural misunderstandings compared to some. Her main concern is that I run around my apartment without slippers on. I, horror of all horrors, walk around in socks and (dare I say it) sometimes even barefoot. This regularly leads to a verbal tug-of-war with the thoroughly perplexed and horrified Mrs. Zhang.
"Rosie, you are not wearing slippers!"
"Yes, I know. We don't usually wear slippers during the summer in America."
"Your feet must be cold!"
"No, my feet are fine. It's 90 degrees today. I'm not cold."
"But your feet must be cold."
"Please put on your slippers."
"I'm fine. Really. Everyone does this in America."
(Look of terror. Ten seconds pass.)
"Please, Rosie. Put on your slippers. You will catch cold."

I concede to defeat, but yet I still manage to answer the door slipperless for Luna's next lesson. I'm not sure why I do this, perhaps I enjoy the look on Mrs. Zhang's face when she looks down at my helpless little feet. The look you'd give someone about to parachute off the Empire State Building. A look that says, "You are crazy and completely without reason, but I somehow admire you anyways."

With Luna's mom I can grin and (not) bare(foot) it, but with other mothers it's not so comical. For example, Carrie's mother, a Phy. Ed. instructor at Chengde's Medical College. Last autumn, she marched into my place to pick up her daughter. I hadn't seen her for months, but that did not deter her promptly advising me. "Why is your heater on? That's really not good. You should not use that, but you should really get a humidifier. The air is too dry here. What are you doing for exercise these days? Oh, walking your dog? It's not enough. You need more exercise. You really ought to take up some sort of sport--might I suggest ping pong or badminton?" My jaw dropped as I stood wide-eyed trying to follow her Chinese. As I deciphered her words I found myself trying to hold back tears.
"Please leave," I stuttered in Mandarin.

I saw the look of pain on her face. Her daughter laughed heartily. "Teacher is angry!" she exclaimed in English. The mother tried to explain herself, claiming I just didn't understand. But the truth is, I did understand. I understood her words perfectly, but what I failed to understand was how her actions could be deemed socially acceptable. To this day, I continue to fail in my dealing with this type of scenario.

Fast forward to the present. As the heat here rises, along with it my discomfort--by 2pm the temperature in our apartment nears 85 degrees and I seek relief by cranking up the air-conditioner. Though the living room where the air-con is located becomes crispy cold, the bedroom becomes a tolerable 78 degrees. My problem arises when a student arrives. During her lesson, she will sit in the comfort of my room while her guardian sits, teeth chattering, in the living room. As I begin my lesson I am bombarded with comments shouted from the neighboring room. "It's cold in here." "You shouldn't have this set so low!" "How do you turn this thing off?" As they futz with the air-con's remote, my patience dissipates. I know they mean well, but I am at a breaking point. As long as their child is comfortable and they are satisfied with my lessons, I want the parents to keep their paws off my stuff (especially my air-conditioner) and their mouths shut. I am tired of these people constantly intruding on my life. Dear Blog Reader, what should I do?!

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