First Weekend – Saturday, June 24 to Sunday, June 35
This first weekend was one of the coolest, most exciting, and most challenging two days I’ve experienced. I encountered so many new activities, sights, foods, and generally just tried to take the new culture in. At the same time, the strong language barrier and my limited knowledge of Chinese presented a challenge in everyday life. Reflecting back on the weekend, I can say that this was truly an eye-opening, one-of-a-kind experience.
Saturday, my first full day with my host family, was filled with a plethora of activities. The morning got off to a slow start, as I have been waking up at 5am but my family slept into 8:30. Once everyone was up, we went down to the street to eat breakfast – I had a huge baozi and some hard-boiled eggs all for about 5 yuan (75 cents)! From there, my mom took my sister to her piano lesson while my dad and I went off to learn the bus system.
The bus system in Zhuhai is extremely organized and all the stops have easy-to-understand routes. My host dad showed me the two closest stops to my house and told me which routes I would need to take to get to school. For both stops, I would need to transfer busses at a central location. My dad advised me to go to the bus stop slightly further from my house because it was much shorter to get to school on it compared to the closest one (50min vs. 80min). After explaining the route to me, we actually got on the bus and rode it to school and home, just to make sure that I knew where to get on and off the bus.
After arriving back home, my family took our first (of many, I learned) rest break. This is a cultural norm that is very different from my life at home. For about an hour and a half, the whole family retreats to its own rooms and closes the door. I know my sister took a nap because my host dad had to wake her up. I, however, just sat on my bed blogging and catching up on wechat messages from our nsliy group.
Next, our well-rested selves went out for an amazing lunch at a huge mall a few minutes away by car. (The cars in China are crazy, and it is odd if you don’t hear at least one horn every minute). My parents asked me if I liked barbeque meats, and I said yes – I wasn’t really sure what type of food we would actually be having because I doubted there would be American barbeque here. At each table inside the restaurant, there was a ditch in the center covered with a metal slate. My parents ordered the classic mix of meats and then the waitress came over and just started grilling them right in front of us! The meat was sliced very thinly, just as hot pot meat is, so it cooked very quickly. While the first batch of meat was cooking, my sister took me over to a sauce bar, which I can only describe as the largest hoisin sauce bar ever. We each filled a few sauce dishes with different hoisin sauces, peppers, and garlic, and then returned to find a large plate of meat in our spots. Side note, Chinese parents love to feed their kids and just keeping adding food onto your plate, even after you say you are full. My sister taught me how to dip the meat in the different sauces, and then put it into a lettuce cup to make an Asian taco. Everything was so good, and I really loved experimenting with the different sauces.
Once we got back home, we had another rest break. After that, my family took me to some sort of country club to play badminton. I haven’t really played badminton before, so I was super excited to try it out. At the court, I met my sister’s aunt, uncle, and cousins. She taught me how to play, and then I played a few games with her cousins and aunt. She liked to play with her uncle, who is incredible at the sport and teaching her some tricks (Linda is actually amazing at badminton, especially for her age). Even though badminton doesn’t include too much running, I sweat more than I have sweat in a long time. It felt so good to go to the lounge next door and just take in the air conditioning.
We stayed with our extended family through the evening, as Linda’s uncle treated us to dinner at a classic Chinese seafood restaurant. So far, this has been my least favorite meal, even though a lot of the dishes were still really good. A few of my least favorites were crayfish/small lobsters, some sort of egg soup, and shrimp. However the big fishes, along with the vegetable dishes, were still amazing. At dinner, I didn’t have a chance to talk much because my host parents and aunt and uncle were catching up, and speaking really quickly in Chinese. I could understand bits and pieces of the conversation, but most of it went over my head. After eating, I was starting to nod off so my sister and I walked home while the adults remained for a little longer.
Sunday also got off to a very slow start. Once again, I was up early but my family slept in. When we finally all got up and going, it was already about 9:30! My host dad cooked 蛋饼 (dan bing) for us, which is an egg and green pancake. I’ve had these before at restaurants, but never homemade! I really hope that he can teach me some of his recopies before I leave! Soon after eating, my sister was off to yet another class, this time some sort of artistic one. I am really impressed by Chinese youth, as their parents pack their schedules with extracurricular activities and they still make time to study for the foreboding end of year tests.
Sunday morning was pretty boring and dull for me. After waiting for a while in my room for breakfast, my parents went back to their rooms after eating. I think my host dad was catching up on work and my mom was doing something else. After about another hour just chilling, I asked if I could go out and explore the area around our house. My mom said she would take me, so we walked around the street and peeked into a couple shops. I really want to buy some nice clothing here, but I didn’t want to do it with her because she would have insisted on paying. She did buy me a bubble milk tea, which was refreshing as almost all water at home is served hot or at room temperature. We walked to Linda’s art school and my mom said she was going to wait for Linda to get out of class. She told me to walk home alone to see if I knew where I was. This was actually pretty easy, because her class was near the bus station I will be taking to school. After completing this task, I felt very accomplished! One thing I wanted to mention was how the Chinese public looks at me. I am not an obvious foreigner when I am just walking alone and not talking, unlike some of my white classmates. However, many people are intrigued by my hair, as it is not the classic coarse Asian style and is brown (yet many Chinese people dye their hair my color). I’ve gotten a lot of odd looks, like “what are you” and a lot of shopkeepers have asked if I am Chinese or foreign. My response has become automatic, I’m American, my dad is Chinese, and my mom is white. When they figure out I can’t speak Chinese and speak English, I get even more funny looks.
After spending almost two full days with our host families, most of us decided that it was time for a Chinese break. We wanted to visit Gongbei, a huge underground shopping mall in Zhuhai. To get there, I shared a cab with two of my classmates who live nearby… although finding each other was very difficult. Once at Gongbei, we split up into smaller groups and went shopping! China is infamous for its incredibly cheap counterfeit goods, such as purses, belts, wallets, and electronics. It is also well known that bargaining is acceptable. Because of the exchange rate (7yuan to 1dollar), we all wanted to splurge on cheap counterfeit (yet real looking) goods. A few of my friends bought Gucci flip-flops, a Gucci belt, a high end purse, and (almost) a drone. While my friend, David, was trying out the drone, he accidentally flew it into a wall, and then rebounded it into a crowd of people; he broke the drone and ran off immediately. All I could think of was how in PDO the nsliy staff told us not to be “obvious foreigners,” yet here we were crashing drones! While I did not buy any counterfeit good myself, I plan to return when I can speak better Chinese and my bargaining skills are better.
After exploring the whole mall, a few of my friends and I went to the Gongbei hotel next door to try and get onto their roof. We took the elevator up to the highest floor (23), which happened to the be executive lounge; the doorman gave us a weird look when we arrived. Quickly, we ran up a flight of stairs to a small room that had a bunch of windows to look out. The skyline was breathtaking!
One thing I’ve noticed about Chinese parents is that if you say you like something, even just once, they will buy a ton of that one thing. This is especially true for food. On the first night I mentioned that I had visited Xi’an before and liked that style food. For dinner on Sunday night, my family bought me liang pi and a Chinese hamburger – two Xi’an specialties – because they remembered I mentioned liking them. It was so kind and considerate of them, especially since the rest of the family just ate more typically Chinese food! I feel like I really lucked out on the host family front.
I am really looking forward to school tomorrow! (Who thought I would be saying that in the summer??) Even though I love my host family, it will be nice to get out of the house for a couple hours.