Friday, June 1, 2012

I think I have a new Chinese niece as of today

Today was awesome and weird and more awesome. The awesome: Sickeningly sweet and cute Children's Day performances by the munchkins. Being treated to lunch by the school, where I got to sit with my coworkers and actually take part in the gossip and jokes, even when everyone is speaking 100 miles per hour. All this studying is paying off!

Then I was treated to dinner by a new friend I made last week at the fruit vendor as we were each buying bananas. It's funny, no one lets me pay for anything, maybe because I'm a guest in their country? I always try, but they never let me, and no one lets me say "Thank You" almost seems like I'm kind of insulting them by saying "thank you" so often. But it's so ingrained in us Americans that I don't think I'll ever be able to break the habit. I've already told a couple of people "I don't think I can stop saying it...can you try to program yourself to not hear it?"

The weird: Aside from the unbreakable "thank you" habit, I think I'm doing pretty well with going-with-the-flow here and maintaining an open mind and positive/optimistic outlook about absorbing the culture. It's an amazing place and so completely different than I ever imagined or expected, but here are a few things that keep making me do a double-take, like "what the?!"...

When I meet someone new (anyone and everyone), the first questions they ask me within mere minutes of saying 'hello' are, "Are you married?" "Why not?" "Don't you want kids?" "Do you want to stay in Hainan a long time?" "You want us to find you a Chinese husband?" and "What's your salary?" And if we chat or hang out for awhile, they immediately ask if they can see my apartment. This one is so bizarre, but people tell me that's just how it is here.

Tonight after dinner I stood chatting with some of my neighbors. One is an older woman who I see and chat with everyday, and she introduced me to her daughter and granddaughter. After chatting awhile, they invited themselves to my apartment, so I said sure, and took them to see my place. This is the 3rd time I've let new acquaintances into my apartment after they've invited themselves over, and the first thing they've all done is walk right in and give themselves a tour of the entire place, bathroom, bedroom, the whole shebang. I guess that's the culture, but it still throws me for a loop. A couple people have told me there's no word in the Chinese language for "privacy" and now it's starting to make sense. They've all invited me to their places too, but I don't think I'll ever be able to give myself the free tour.

Then they invited me to their apartment which is a few floors up from mine, and off we went. They sat me down, peeled me a mango, handed it to me and all 3 of them stared at me while I ate it. Their faces were about a foot away from my face almost the entire time I ate the super messy, juicy mango. No, not awkward at all. Uhh.

The more awesome: Then they showed me a stack of the granddaughter's color drawings, which were actually pretty damn amazing for a 7-yr-old. I wish I could frame them and hang them in my place. Then grandma loaded up a bag of all kinds of goodies for me, like lots of mangoes, lychees, homemade breakfast buns, and homemade treats of some sort that smell really good. We chatted for awhile and I excused myself so the granddaughter could go to bed. They all saw me to the door and grandma told me that I'm the granddaughter's "auntie" now. Looks like my family just grew a bit larger. Except I'm learning that here when someone says "auntie" it means something like "that old unmarried woman with no kids" ... but at least it's not said in a derogatory tone. :)

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