Experiencing Chinese Home Life and Being With Family
Tai’s daughter Li came to visit last on Tuesday June 6th. Her visit was just for the day but it was an incredible day getting to know her in a more personal way. It was an emotional visit for mother and daughter. It had been at least two years since they last had the chance to spend time together. Li lives in Japan and has just finished up her Masters in Business. She has an awesome boyfriend, Guo(?). (which I have no clue how to spell his name). He is tall (over six feet) and fun to be around.
When Li arrived, she was this effervescent young woman who won me over with her smile. She was shorter than I had imagined which played well into her cuteness. Her boyfriend was arriving later in the afternoon. It was an active day and it was nice to have the company as a change of pace. Li is 25 years old. Her birthday is the same as my 妹妹 （Mèimei） which means younger sister and she is left-handed, same as me. I am always intrigued by simple connections such as these.
In China there is no single word for brother or sister. And if you tell them you have a brother or sister they will need to ask if older or younger. In China the Chinese language is different when talking about a brother or sister… if you ask a Chinese person if they have siblings (Nǐ yǒu xiōngdì jiěmèi ma? 兄弟姐妹), they might respond by saying I have one older brother and one younger sister. (Wǒ yǒu yīgè gēgē hé yīgè mèimei 我有一个哥哥和一个妹妹)gēgē means older brother and mèimei means younger sister. Older sister is Jiějiě and younger brother is Dìdì the “I” in Chinese is pronounce as ‘e’ so didi is pronounce dede. And ‘ie is sounded as ‘ye’ so Jiějiě is pronounced as jyejye and ei sounds like the the ei at the beginning of the word eight. So mèimei would sound like maymay. Tones are the key to mastering the Chinese language. An example is Hé (the ‘e’ in Chinese is pronounce as uh so he’ is h..uh with the 2nd tone means ‘and’ but Hē with the flat first tone means ‘to drink’. So knowing the tones makes a difference on what a word means. I can speak it but it has been hard for me to hear it clearly in conversation because most people speaking Chinese do so fast. I speak very slowly. I am getting there. Tai is not a patient person when it comes to helping me learn the language. Her daughter was helping me some when she was here. Speaking English and Chinese is very beneficial. Li would help me understand by telling me in English what word I was having difficulty with and help me repeat it.
I learn a few things about Tai and Chinese society. I had ask Tai several times about her not working very many hours. I would ask if she had to work on different days of the week and she would say no work.She never shared how her schedule worked. Sometimes she would not work the entire week. Once in a while she would get a phone call and she said they called her in to work. Well, I finally got my answer from Li. According to Li the longer a person works for a place and the higher their position the less hours they have to work. We are a 5 minute walk to the hospital. Several times Tai would tell me if they needed her to come in they will call her. But Li revealed to me how the Chinese view work position and length of service. Hmmm, America needs to adapt this concept. Tai has worked at the same hospital for 25-26 years and she is a nurse supervisor. So what I can get from this is she works basically when she wants for 2-4 hours a day or skip a day here and there or take the day off if she needs to. It is like a dream schedule for an older person, plus it is an incentive to stay with a company or place of work for the long-term. The only problem is the pay is insanely low. Most nurses in America I think start out making about 3 times more than Tai makes now after 25 years of being a nurse and a supervisor at that. In America Tai current pay would be pretty much poverty level in America. That is how it is here. Millions of men and women making hardly enough money to survive. It is something they have been programmed to accept in this culture. Yes to us many things are cheap in China, but not to the Chinese. It would be like us going back 50 or so years ago when the average income was less than $10,000 a year and trying to make that income work in today’s economy. It won’t unless you buy only what you absolutely needed, the cheapest meats. What we today normally consider scrapes or ham bones we add to soups. One way of understanding this, is think what costs $1 in America costs $7 in China. The mindset Tai has with spending money and the power it has over her and millions of citizens here is alarming.
We had a repair man come the house (a house call) last month to replace a hinge on one of the kitchen windows and he also repaired the guide wheels on the bathroom sliding door that had worn out. He even had to go back to his shop to get the replacement guide wheels for the sliding door. He had no vehicle he was on foot. He was here about an hour and a half. His total charge for everything, parts and labor was 70 yuan. That is less than $10 in American money. The parts alone would be more than $10 in American not to mention the cost just for a house call. In May I wanted to go on a small little two person electric boat(the size of a paddle boat)at NANHU Park. But Tai kept saying it cost money. I am sure it was not much from my standpoint but to her spending the money was bothersome.
Tai always wants to take the bus when we go somewhere that is too far to walk. This past weekend we went to the library. We had to walk almost a mile to catch the bus going that direction. After we got off the bus we then had to walk almost 2 miles to the library. The bus fare was less than a dollar each. We took a taxi home from the library upon my instance. It cost 17 yuan.. She said how costly the taxi was. 17 yuan is about $2.25 in American money. The distance to the library is about 10 miles. Try taking a taxi in a city in America for 10 miles and see what it cost?
It is humbling to experience Chinese life. It has taken me some time but I am seeing Tai’s lifestyle clearer, not as a matter of being frugal but from a life time of necessity. Many of the meats Tai buys are fatty pieces and usually are small cuts of pork which it consumed the most I believe in china. It is in this household at least. Pig ears are cheap and intestines of cows are a couple of the things I thought I would never eat or butterfly larvae. There are meats I do not know what they are and I am afraid to ask. I do know Tai does not eat dog meat. I told her from the beginning I will not eat any meat from what we consider a pet in America. She does not condone people eating meats like that either. She buys some meats off the street and that worries me. China does not have a food inspection for meats like we have in the States. Tai says there are food inspections. Which is hard to believe. Some of the meats I have seen sold on the streets are sickening in appearance. It is no way I can believe meats are inspected. Especially on the streets where people catch and grow their own vegetables and raise their own meats. I remember Tai at one point was buying supposedly fresh cow milk from a man who would sell it from a doorway in a home. She eventually found out this milk was not good. Milk is not sold in stores that much because of milk processing crisis a few years back and thousands of babies got sick. Tai buys fish off the street sometimes and seeing a fish lying there during the day on the sidewalk makes you wonder what the sun is doing to it. I do not like what I call “Chinese Fish.” She cooks and serves the entire fish, the head and entrails included. Not something I desire to eat. She has gotten better by cleaning out the entrails and giving me a better part of the fish with no head but I still take the skin off. The fish is not scaled that well. There are no fillet of fish. Tai does not know what that means. I cannot say how normal certain things are in china. Only what I observe or experience with Tai. There is not question her heart is in the right place. And she has been living this lifestyle for decades. At times, I think she does not know there is better or that we can afford better. She has been a prisoner of the Chinese fabricated economy all her life. It has been a revelation seeing how a different culture lives because of government and society has suppressed influences from outside (western countries). There are so many people here living without much they have control over. Heat in the winter, there is no thermostat. One temperature and each day supposedly the heat cuts off for a couple of hours during the night. I froze last winter. I am not looking forward to another winter here. But Tai just accepts it as it is. . Living where we are there are no real options. The place looks rough on the outside. Reminds me of the “projects” in the city. Where welfare and low-income people live. In the projects you have the crime, drugs, robberies we have come to know in places like that. Most of the people are good hard-working people just trying to survive but you also have those who live there that makes life miserable for everyone there. The bad seed so to speak. Here where we live in Changchun the buildings look worn out and in need of a desperate face lift. Inside our home you would never know the outside looked so rough. The people are happy some with family and children. Older people sitting outside chatting and enjoying the day. One older gentleman plays his flute most days. You don’t hear arguments or yelling. Many people walk by our home on the way to work or shopping or whatever. No loud, crazy music is blasting. Basically, no music at all. If someone would ask me to describe the area I live, I would say peaceful.
Yes, there are differences. In America we are used to paying a price and always expecting more. In China, where I am, people pay a price and are happy with what they get. Life is very simple here with no great expectations.
Forgive me for any typing errors. I have numbness in my fingertips and sometimes I do not apply enough pressure on the keys to make them appear. I have gone back and corrected all the ones with red underlines but I might have missed a few. My fingers no longer work that well and typing has become difficult for me. Not painful, just difficult. It takes a long time to type my updates. Some days are better than others. But I do make many mistakes and I usually catch them right away. Thanks for reading. If you like this let me know. I appreciate it that some of you are following my time in China.Take care. I am revising some old updates I had originally posted on Facebook before I created this web blog page. I wanted to have a complete archive of all my posts since I arrived in China. Until next time… Zàijiàn (goodbye)