Sunday, September 11, 2011

Summer part 1: end of the semester, parents’ visit

It is surprising to think that I have already finished my first year teaching in China. Some days it seems I have just arrived, and that I still haven’t any clue about China. Other days I feel as if I have been here a while and I am quite familiar with Chinese customs. The end of the semester brought with it a few changes. We all had to say goodbye to Janice, Mark and Charlie as they were returning to life back in Canada. It was difficult to say goodbye to them since they were a big part in my feeling acclimated to life in Jiangyou, but they were just one chapter in the open book of my life. One chapter closed and another one yet to be started.
Unfortunately my parents never were able to meet the Bergens, since they left prior to my parents’ arrival. The day before my parents’ arrival I busied myself cleaning, buying extra pillows, extra towels, extra mugs, and other conveniences that I had neglected to buy during the course of the year. I was quite nervous about them coming. I was worried that they would find it boring and uncomfortable living in my apartment. The night they are expected to arrive I am sitting, anxiously awaiting the time I would have to leave with my school official to pick them up in the neighboring city, when I receive a call from an unfamiliar number. I answer it and hear the sound of my mother’s voice. I am quite taken aback by this, and then become concerned as I hear the worry in her voice. It seems that their flight from the States to Beijing was late in arriving, so they missed their connecting flight into Mianyang. They would have to stay the night in Beijing and take another flight the next morning. Naturally this really concerns me, since my parents aren’t familiar with the country or the language. Luckily, they are in Beijing where enough people speak English, but I am still worried about their safety, as well as getting ripped off.
However everything works out fine. They are able to arrive safely into my city the following morning, and get settled into my apartment. They tell me an interesting tale about how the toilet in the hotel didn’t work properly and how they had to navigate their way in the dark to get to their bedroom because there were no light switches. This actually wasn’t the case at all, but they were unfamiliar with the Chinese method of preserving electricity by placing your hotel room key in the wall in order to activate the electricity in the room. The toilet, however, sounded similar to the toilet in my apartment (the flushing button just needs to be held for a while).
During my parents stay in Jiangyou, my mom was brave enough to give a lecture on preschool education in America to nearly 100 students and teachers. Everyone thought she did a good job and she was able to answer all of the questions they normally ask me but am unable to answer (since I don’t have any background or experience in preschool education). My parents were also kind enough to go to our weekly English corner, which had closer to 40-50 students attend this time. My dad talked about life in India, as well as immigrating to the US and taking the TOEFL exam (something many Chinese students are interested in taking), and my mom talked briefly about multiculturalism in the US.
The most interesting time in Jiangyou was taking a day trip to a temple in Mianyang. It is a gorgeous temple by the roadside that I have passed several times. Every time I see it I have told myself I must visit it. It was nice to have the chance to visit it with my parents. While meandering through the temple one elderly Chinese man started talking to my dad. My mom and I were slightly ahead when I realized what was happening. My dad looked very confused and was trying to tell the man that he couldn’t speak Chinese. I walked over and asked the Chinese man what he wanted. He wanted to know where my father was from, as well as where we were from and what we were all doing in China, and whether or not we all liked China (the usual conversation with strangers in China). When I mentioned that my dad was from India he became very excited and said over and over “hao pengyou” or “good friends.” This surprised me a bit since I know that India and China have a bit of a rivalry, but it is nice to know that the average Chinese person likes their neighbors to the west.
So time in Jiangyou was filled with lectures, travels around the city (including Wal-Mart) and dinners with friends and students. Everyone, obviously, liked my parents and was happy that they had the chance to meet them. Hopefully now my parents have a better idea about my life in China, so that when I mention a certain person or place they can say “oh yeah! I remember that.”
After a stressful last day trying to get my students to sign their names to their role sheets so that I could turn my grades in, we were off on a train to Chengdu. Taking a train is the most convenient method of travel from my city to the provincial capital, but can sometimes be a hassle. Typically for such a short train ride, I don’t have any issues. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case when I was travelling with my parents. The train was really crowded and there were two really old people in the seats my mom and I were supposed to have. I just told my mom to sit somewhere else because they weren’t moving after I asked once. But at the next stop this man gets on that is supposed to be sitting in the seat my mom is currently occupying and he gets really angry and starts yelling at us. I tell the man that the old people in front of us are sitting in our seats and he can tell them to move first. He doesn’t want to hear us and just yells again. Well my mom and I don’t appreciate his attitude, which is obvious in any language, so we choose to ignore him. He eventually gives up and finds somewhere else to go.
Chengdu was a nice trip, minus the torrential downpour one night. I think the nicest area we went was Jinli Street. Jinli Street was an old street full of shops, knickknacks and other things of interest (so basically really touristy, but still nice). In Chengdu my parents also met many people. Our 2nd day in Chengdu I had to go to the Peace Corps Office to help the medical staff tape a skit teaching about STIs with a few other volunteers. I played the part of the doctor in the skit, fyi. It turns out the STI skit was nixed in the end, but that’s a story for another day. Anyways, while there my parents were able to meet some of the staff, and the other volunteers that were helping with the skit.
We also had a night out with my host parents. My sweet boyfriend Leo also joined us, which made everything easier since he can speak Chinese far better than I can. I was hoping with Leo’s help to bridge the gap between my parents and my host parents. It turns out my host dad just wanted to chat with Leo the whole night, whereas Leo just wanted to chat with my parents. In the end Leo succumbed to talking with my host dad, occasionally translating between my host dad and parents, while I translated back and forth between my parents and my host mom. It was nice, though. My parents were able to experience the famous Sichuan hotpot. My dad seemed to like it, since he really likes spicy food. We had a scare at one point when my dad ate something that might have had shrimp in it (which he is seriously allergic to), but nothing happened, so whew. The frustrating part of that evening, though I should have foreseen this, was that my host parents ended up treating us to dinner. My intention, and my parents’ intention, was to treat my host parents. This is one frustrating aspect of Chinese culture. Sometimes it can be impossible to treat Chinese people to anything. They always want to do the treating. I argued with them for a while, but then I gave in and let them pay. They insisted that because it was China that they should pay, and when they visit us in America that we can pay. We agreed, however it is hard to say if we will ever see them in America, though nothing is impossible.
Leo was frustrated that he didn’t get a chance to really get to know my parents, so the next day we all went together to the Panda Research Base. We got there a little later than we should have, because the lazy pandas were just sleeping. Basically fat pandas lie on their backs for 23 hours of the day, and maybe move around 1 hour (usually in the early morning). I might be exaggerating a little, but I don’t think so. One volunteer that lives near the panda base said that one time he went to see them and saw one panda poop lying down, and then didn’t move! He just sat in his own poop! I can’t figure out why these lazy animals are the face of China. I can’t understand either why we are bothering to keep them alive. I will probably get kicked out of China for saying all this against pandas, but come on, Darwin’s survival of the fittest. We are going against nature and natural selection here with these pandas. They are incapable of breeding on their own. Almost all pandas have to be artificially inseminated. I think that’s nature saying that they shouldn’t exist anymore. Am I right? Okay, enough about pandas, or at least the fat ones. Did you know that there is such a thing as red pandas?! They are much more interesting than the fat pandas. They move around, they climb trees, apparently they fight each other, and they have tails. Much more interesting. Actually I am not sure why they are called pandas, since they look more like raccoons than anything else. But there were more of them and they were a lot more active than the other pandas. They actually look somewhat like ewoks (remember from Star Wars?). Anyways, check out my pictures at windows live so you can see the red pandas. I also had a couple of pictures of fat baby pandas, which are actually cute.
The best part of my trip with my parents was Beijing. Blue skies, no stress, people that can actually speak Mandarin—it was great! In Beijing we were typical tourists, hitting all of the major tourist spots, Tiananmen, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and The Great Wall. My favorite part was The Great Wall. We took a tour group there, since it is pretty difficult to get there. It really blows your mind. The Wall goes on forever! The air is so fresh, and the views spectacular. The surprising part was the steepness of the Wall. You have to hold on tight! At one point I slipped and slid for a good 2 or 3 meters. Since we were with a tour we had about an hour to visit, but that was adequate. I wanted to see if I could reach this tower, so I ran off ahead, while my parents took it slowly and enjoyed the view and the experience of actually being on The Great Wall. I think one highlight for my dad was that there were 3 Indian men on the tour with us. They became fast friends and were joking and laughing about India, missing eating with your hands, struggling to use chopsticks, and the differences between China and India.
Now I am not one for shopping, but the shopping in Beijing was much better than any of the shops that I have seen elsewhere. Leo, who lived in Beijing for a year, suggested we try and visit Beijing’s famous hutongs (or alleyways). Beijing is full of old alleyways, many of them that are filled with interesting shops, restaurants, and cafes. We couldn’t find the ones that were the most famous, and no one seemed to be able to tell us how to get there. Frustrated and just about ready to give up going to these alleyways, a nice young man from America (but has been living in Beijing the past 3 years) saw us looking confused and came over to see if he could help us. He suggested a completely different alleyway but said it is easy to get to and that most people are familiar with the street and can point us in the right direction. We managed to get to it, and it was worth it. We just walked around and looked in the shops. My mom found a nice scarf, and my dad bought some stamps.
During my parents visit I realized that I find it very stressful to have other people rely on me for directions, communication, and decision making. The communication aspect of it is fine, but my directional skills are poor in any country and any language and I am also quite inept at making decisions. I much prefer to be the follower rather than a leader, but the world is made up of leaders and followers. If everyone was a leader, we would have even more wars than we already have, and if everyone was a follower than nothing would get accomplished, right?
If my parents were in China longer there were a couple of other places I would prefer to have taken them; places that are much more relaxing, a little less touristy and busy, but equally interesting to visit, but this possibly being their only opportunity in China, we had to see the typical sights (Chengdu and Beijing). If you want to hear more about the trip, feel free to ask my parents (especially my mom who kept a journal with her during the trip). Also check out the pictures (especially the ones of the Wall)

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