China Observations – part 4

So- my aunt wrote this to me and I couldn’t help but think: “I feel the same way”…

Here I am, in a new town (luckily, where everyone speaks English) and I’m having such difficulty being understood and adjusting.

(something something…. expectations are stupid… something something….)


My life in China could not possibly be more different than my life (a mere two months ago) in Minnesota. It isn’t a “bad” different; more like putting on clothes that don’t quite fit and being told, “This is your new uniform. How do you like it?”

We lived happily in our 1916 house for over 25 years. We knew folks at the bank, post office, grocery stores, city hall, and our neighbors. We bought firewood from the same fellow for years. Employed the same plumbers one job after another. And always took both cars to be serviced by the same mechanic. We actually supported the local economy in more ways than I ever thought about.


Half way around the world, the only thing more valuable than gold, precious stones, and clean drinking water is space. We now reside in a newly built, gated community that is comprised of eight high-rise apartment buildings. Our furnished apartment has a decently sized living/dining room area, with a small bedroom and office. The kitchen is long and narrow. SO narrow that Jim and I can’t pass each other if we’re going in opposite directions. The solution to this problem is for Jim to cook, and for me to clean up. Lemons? Heck, no. Lemonade! And by the way, Jim is a MUCH better cook! (Lest I forget, everyone considers our apartment GIGANTIC! We were awarded this unit because Jim is the Headmaster of the school. The apartments that the other faculty members were assigned, aren’t big enough to change your mind in. Barely an exaggeration.)


Apartment life actually has some perks. No lawn to cut, leaves to rake, or snow to blow. Our marble floors (while cold on bare tootsies) are easy to keep clean. And (best of all) the shower’s water pressure is fantastic. This last point might become interesting, however, once other tenants move into the building. At the moment, we are the only occupants in all of Building #5. A strange sensation in a city so densely crowded.


Thank goodness for our colleagues and students. Without them we would have no one to converse with. If you don’t speak Mandarin, communicating is (dare I say it?) impossible. You can’t explain to the landlord that your shower won’t drain. You can’t explain to the sales person that you can’t find kitchen matches anywhere in the store. You can’t tell the taxi driver where you need to go. If your restaurant displays photos of the foods they are offering, you WILL be able to point to one and order it – but you’ll have no idea what it is you’ve ordered until it arrives (if then).


I’ve tried using my best pantomime skills, drawing pictures, and even pulling out my English/Mandarin dictionary … all to no avail. Everyone gets the “deer in the headlights” look. Then they nod and look like they have forgotten an appointment. They run off, more often than not. I think it is terribly unsporting of them. Could it hurt to try and communicate?


My favorite encounters (which isn’t saying much since they are my ONLY encounters) are with the small toddlers who are sitting on their parents’ laps in busses. We have a glorious time smiling, giggling, and making funny sounds at each other. Their parents don’t seem to mind my “borrowing” their offspring. For a few precious moments, non-verbal communication wins and many are happy. Parents. Baby. Marilyn.


My toddlers and I have a mutual admiration society that the entire world should try and emulate. If everyone worked this hard at trying to connect, understand, and enjoy each other, the world could be a much different place.

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