Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday Ten: Daughters in China

Tuesday Ten: Ten Remarks On Our Recent Visitors

1. It is delightful sharing a home with visitors from another culture.

We hosted two girls, Cicy (Jia Yi) and Janet (Wen). Our neighbors were out of town for the first three nights, so we hosted their young ladies, Echo (Dongfang) and Anna, until they returned from vacation. The lovely ladies came to us from Zhengzhou, the capital of the Henan province.

During the weekdays, they had class, mornings for English practice and afternoons for outings and typical "American" activities: Mini-golf, bowling, a day trip to the beach, a bus trip to sing at Hayward Field during the Olympic track-and-field trials, an American birthday party, making pizza.

They were with us for only two weeks, and it was lovely. We all wished they could have stayed longer. More than wished. We didn't open just our home, we also opened our hearts, and we fell head over heels for those lovely young ladies, so far from home, so open to new experiences, so sweet and confident.

2. Why DO we sit on the curb on a hot day waiting for tractors to drive by?

Besides the candy thrown out of the windows of passing parade exhibits, that is.

We took Cicy and Janet to the Fourth of July parade in nearby Harrisburg. After all, not only is the parade a family tradition, it doesn't get much more American than a small-town parade on the Fourth of July. The girls took lots of pictures, especially of the tractors, the fire engines, the clowns and the horses.

Then home for a traditional backyard barbeque. An aside: The poor girls probably think Americans eat nothing but grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. We barbequed ribs their first day at home, had a hamburger-hot dog cookout for the Welcome Party, hamburgers and hot dogs again on the Fourth, and hamburgers and hot dogs at a swim party over the weekend.

Then back out to Harrisburg for the fireworks. Visitors often make us see things through new eyes. We've always done the fireworks. (Well, not always, but nearly...) It's tradition. This year I asked myself, Why? Why do we drive 40 minutes, sit for nearly two hours waiting for dark, watch a 45-minute show, then 40 minutes back home? Then I watched the kids playing together. Lovely lady ran into a friend she hadn't seen for a long time and spent time visiting. The bats swooped over the river, and the people chatted. That's why. The fireworks show is only part of the fun, the excuse for hanging out on the riverbank as the light fails.

3. Playtime
Two favorite activities: Playing in the back yard (backyard ball games, bubbles, water play) and playing card games. On their second day, we taught the girls to play Uno. I played three rounds with them, then went to make lunch. After lunch, they played for another hour, and they played off and on for the rest of their visit. They also enjoyed the Wii, especially Dance Dance Revolution. One night the five girls, our four visitors plus our own lovely lady, played DDR for two hours straight.

Cicy and Janet told us that they live at school, going home to visit their parents on Saturday mornings and returning to school Sunday afternoon. Classes start at 7 a.m. They have a two-hour lunch break and naptime, followed by classes until dinner, then homework and study until 10 p.m. Cicy and Janet and our winter visitors mentioned that they must study very hard because there are so many people in China.

The amount of leisure time we have must seem a fantasy, unreal.

4. Making new friends.
Second-grade gent made a new friend at the Welcome Barbeque for all of the students and host families. Turns out that his new friend is friends with the girl next door. The three of them got on famously at the Farewell Party, climbing on rocks, going through the potluck line together, playing games. I remember being that age and starting to run around independently with my friends at gatherings, oblivious to the adult world going on around me. What fun to play independently with friends.

And what fun for us to connect not only with lovely young ladies from an entirely different culture, but to meet other families in our community open to new experiences and willing to open their homes and share their families with these wonderful young people.

5. What's different.
The neighborhood: Houses instead of flats. Space. Trees, tall ones. Back yards. The girls told us that in China, only wealthy families have large back yards.

Picnics: Eating on a blanket on the ground was a new idea, as was wading in the river. The girls watched the rest of us with interest and seemed mildly amazed at the families swimming.

Siblings: On the way home on the car, I announced to the girls that they'd be meeting our family, my husband and the rest of our children-- Lovely lady, 15, who was already with us; lovely lady, 12; and three little boys. "Waah!" Amazement. They were interested in the boys' room, three young ones in the same room. Even more amazement a few days later when we introduced my sister's eight children. Later in the week, one of the girls mentioned that she was buying a gift for her brother, really her cousin. Apparently, many children now call their cousins "brother" or "sister." And these girls are close to the last of those who have cousins. Their children will likely have no cousins. Intellectually, I understand China's One-Child population control policies, but I find it difficult to imagine living a life without the richness of sibling relationships.

People and cars: Not nearly as many people. The city in which Cicy and Janet live has twice the population of our entire state, fit into an area not even twice the size of Lane County. But so many cars! They were amazed at how many cars we'd see parked at the mall. They usually ride their bikes, the bus, or the train to get where they need to go.

Activities: Swimming, for example. In the U.S. we start babies in Mommy and Me classes at six months. Most American children take swim lessons at some point, and swimming is a part of family life for most American families. We were told "People in China don't really swim. Swimming isn't a part of their culture." Which I took with a grain of salt, it's a little like saying that people in America eat hot dogs and hamburgers all the time....heh, heh. All four girls knew how to swim, but it was clear that they weren't as naturally comfortable in the water. Not because there are no opportunities to swim, it turns out. I asked, and they said that the pool in their town is very crowded. Eating ice cream was another. We took the girls on a family outing to Cold Stone. "People in China do not eat much ice cream," we were told. It was true for Cicy, who said she had eaten ice cream but did not eat it often; not true for Janet, who eats ice cream often and whose favorite flavors are chocolate and strawberry.

6. What's the same.

The two girls were sitting on the picnic blanket, chatting in Chinese.... jiggling their thighs and pinching their waists. I started laughing. Chinese or no, I probably could have repeated their conversation word-for-word. So could almost any woman who's ever been a teenager, I expect. Janet turned at my laugh, smiled, and said, "In China, I am fat." I shook my head, "Girls all over the world say the same thing. You are so young and beautiful." I'll bet their mothers say the same thing in China. Girls are girls, and mothers are mothers all over the world.

Also: Chinese teenage girls like to run in packs too. And the mall was one of their favorite places. No explanations necessary there, I don't think.

"1, 2, 3! In China, when we are little, we play this game with our parents."

And little boys. Middle fine young...well, not quite a gent at that point, let out a huge belch at the dinner table. And decided to repeat himself. I laughed and mock-scolded: "Tolly, Cicy will go back to China thinking that little American boys have no manners!" She said, "Little boys in China do the same thing. We know they are young." I expect that little boys are the same all over the world--farting and burping and pestering their sisters.

7. Free speech.
At the Olympic Trials and at the Saturday Market, the girls saw "Free Tibet" fliers and posters. The girls were visibly upset. When asked they told us that all they could say is that China has been very good to Tibet, and has treated the people of Tibet well. I certainly can't even pretend to have enough information on the China-Tibet issue to say whether they are right or wrong. I suspect it's not that simple. They are young girls, who love their country. How distressing it must be to know that the country you love is being torn apart.

But that led to a discussion about free speech. I asked if they had any questions that I could help with, and they asked good ones:

"How can people say such things?"

"What does free speech mean?"

"Does the American goverment try to make people hate China?"

I tried my best to answer fairly and honestly. But I don't speak Chinese, and though they speak English very well, our shared vocabulary limited the depth of our discussion. I hope they understood. I thanked them for their honesty and willingness to share.

And I came away with this: The idea, to them, that information comes not from the government but from the media, that people can say and print whatever they wish, that we have the right to stand on a street corner and rail about injustice or pass out fliers whether we are right or wrong, advocating for the powerless or just woefully misinformed.....completely foreign. As foreign as the idea, to me, of goverment as the source of information.

8. Food.
Foods that they liked: Chicken noodle soup. Spaghetti ("Delicious!"). Food from the Asian market. Oreos ("We have these in China!").

Rice was not a hit. It wasn't the right kind of rice. Nor was fresh salmon.

They said that in northern China they eat a lot of noodles for dinner; in the southern part of China people eat more rice.

The girls made us dinner: Instant noodles and fried rice and a cucumber vinegar salad. They confessed afterward that it was the first time they'd ever made a meal. Ever. I applauded and gave them pictures to take home to their mothers.

9. Fun.
Hiking, picnicking, ice cream, shopping, playing games, swimming, watching movies. We wore the girls out.

For a couple days after they left, we kept saying, "Oh! We should have...." or "Next time we'll have to go...." So many delightful opportunities. We live in a beautiful part of the world, and it is a treat to share.

10. Daughters in China.
Janet, charming and gracious. Cicy is pronounced "Sissy," which we say to mean "sister" in our family. Anna and Echo, our next-door friends.

We were their home away from home. I was Mom away from Mom. For two weeks they were sisters, daughters, friends. We fed them and hugged them and played with them and shared our life and family with them. We sent them away with Uno and Blink, photographs, and our hearts. I packed snacks for the bus ride because I was worried they'd get hungry.

I cried when we said goodbye, and so did they. We have good friends, sisters in China, lovely daughters of my heart. Dear, dear friends, you are always welcome in our home.

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