FAMILY LIFE IN CHINA
We as humans are incapable of being perfect. Even if there are a few among us who think they are. My point is, I share the good times and happy things in Tai’s and my family life. Just as most of us do when sharing many things we experience with our wives or significant others. As we know, those of us who are married or are in a long-term relationship with another, how difficult it can be at times. Disagreements, pride, worry, expectations all move us to react in certain ways. When in a relationship with someone who is part of the same culture and has the same
knowledge and understanding of the world they share with another, there can still be misunderstandings and/or failures when trying to meet the hopes, desires and expectations of your partner. We each have our own life experiences molded by growing up and learning from our upbringing as part of the family life we were a member. Also, from the people and society we were exposed to as we developed from a young child to a teenager to a young adult. These experiences molded our thinking into how we believe things should/need to be experienced, whether fear, joy, sorrow, death, success or whatever and we dealt with accordingly. When we are in a relationship with someone who grew up in a different State or in a city instead of the country or a small town, many times we have developed life experiences that are somewhat similar but are different in how we may react or handle a particular situation or event. It is not an easy task sometimes. But we work through it for better understanding and harmony in our relationships. Because there is still that similar understanding of what is or was happening. Well, Tai and I are not without some disagreements or misunderstandings. Our lifestyles and cultures over many years of life have molded us in our own unique ways of thinking and responding to things. Our exposure to life has its foundation based on culture, family, and friendships. So when Tai and I disagree on some things, it doesn’t mean one is right and the other wrong. Many times we have taken the time to understand each other’s thinking and for the most part is the result of how we were brought up, our cultural influences, and what we have been exposed to outside the walls of our country. (i.e. all types of media, including social, television, magazines, movies and politics). I, for the most part, because of the freedoms available in the United States I’ve had exposure to many more things in life that has Tai. She had little exposure due to China’s great firewall and only offering limited exposure to most things outside China by way of any media. Television is primarily Chinese only programming and basically anything connected outside China is on the news and that is mostly political information, not social.
Chinese women tend to run the family household. They handle the finances, maintenance of the home, shopping for food and preparation of it, taking care of those who are sick, and taking care of their husbands. Tai is a nurse and has been for over 25 years. The life of a nurse in China is very different than a nurse in America. I believe nurses in America possess far more knowledge in the overall function and ailments of the human body. However, to Tai’s defense, she has worked in a tumor hospital her entire career and over the years I feel her knowledge has been steered to mainly issues of illnesses related to cancer. I really do not know the function of nurses here. I do not know if nurses perform things like take blood, give shots, use a stethoscope or things that most nurses do on a regular basis back home. I am not sure if in China these are things performed by the doctors. I get the feeling nurses are more medically trained caretakers than having been trained in diverse areas of medicine that would afford them greater understanding of many medical situations. From what I can determine, Chinese traditional medicine takes the forefront in many treatments here. I can use a medical situation of my own to illustrate. It is evident looking at my right hand I have issues due to years of dealing with tophus gout where it has left nodules on the knuckles of my fingers and deteriorated the bone in my pinky finger. There is constant minor swelling and some deformity due to this disease. I can only bend the fingers in my right hand about 33 percent, It is not necessarily painful but there is continuous discomfort and restriction using my right hand. Tai has not heard of gout and from her observation she is convinced I have rheumatoid arthritis. I have dealt with the tophus gout in my hand for 20 years. I have researched and consulted doctors for treatment. But once Tai had her mind-set on it being rheumatoid arthritis she began her own treatment. Starting with traditional Chinese medicine. In China there are bandages that contain specific medication made from herbs for different illnesses and these bandages can be cut into small sizes to be adhered to the areas that are in need of treatment. So Tai began by wrapping my fingers in bandages specifically for arthritis. Unfortunately, this treatment did not work for me. I know back home there are band-aids or bandages that contain medication for relief using aloe or anti-bacterial medications to help with healing of cuts and such. In China they have bandages with medications for very specific causes. People here, talk about Chinese medicine as we would talk about old wives tales about home remedies for illnesses. Except here it is not old but it is a current practice. I did eventually find a medication I used to take back in the U.S. for gout. Chlochicine is something taken daily as a preventive measure. And Indomethacin I use if I feel a gout attack coming on. This leads me to a second difference in medication with the Chinese. Doctors, it seems, do not need to write a prescription for a person to buy medication. Here there are medicine shops (pharmacies) everywhere. All they do is sell medications. I have been in a couple that it seems to be what appears to be a doctor with a nurse sitting in a corner in the medicine shop. These shops are not necessarily small. Now whether these are true doctors I do not know. But it appears a person can go in and get checked out for an ailment and get medication to deal with it. I know I have 4 medications that would require a doctor’s prescription back home. Tai is able to just go in and tell them what she wants and buys it. No problem. She just shows them what I believe is a medical card. When Tai’s mother was visiting us, several times Tai went to the medicine shop and got medicine. Each time she would bring back something different. I asked why and she told me other medicine was no good she was trying something different. Two things here. First, it is well-known in China there are a lot of fake medications and secondly Chinese are impatient when it comes to treatment using medication. If something does not work they are quick to say it is fake (no good) and try something else without giving it time to really take effect. It is sort of how life is here. Tai says you have to be careful which medicine shop you go to because you can easily get fake medicine and to me that is very scary, especially with my history of heart disease and surgery. Even my doctor back in Chesapeake warned me to be careful with medications in China. It is known there are many foreign substances used a fillers in medicines here. Grounded up glass being one of them. I don’t know how the Chinese view the role of a doctor. To me it is where they go after trying everything else, including going to the medicine shops trying a variety of medicines known for treating specific issues. Or trying traditional Chinese remedies first. Now if Tai brings me a medication, I look it up online and check out the reviews and details of the medicine before taking it.
Eating family meals here are pretty uneventful. Rice is eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have eaten rice for 331 days in a row as of July 31st. I have eaten rice either as part of lunch or dinner. I refuse to eat it for breakfast. There is something all Chinese eat for breakfast called mǐ zhōu, it is translated as rice porridge or congee. There is no taste to it and to me it is just not good at all. Yuck!! It reminds a little of oatmeal. Tai will add a boiled egg to it and she will have that as part of her breakfast. She would many times have a boiled duck egg as well. She would break one end of the egg and eat it with her chop sticks. Tai gave me a duck egg not long after I got here. Thinking it was a Chicken egg because she had boiled and peeled it, I was grossed out by its rancid taste. That was the end of duck eggs for me. Has anyone eaten duck eggs. Do you like them? Breakfast also includes any leftovers from the previous day meals (lunch or dinner). To me a Chinese breakfast is any food from a previous meal as long as you add a boiled egg to it. For me, I have convinced Tai to fixing me an egg sandwich for breakfast. Many times she will use different kinds of buns if she does not want to use loaf bread for my sandwich (Sān míng zhì) She puts some kind of processed meat (tolerable), a little jam, lettuce and I will add the boiled egg to the sandwich. I have this every single day. Not much of diversity here. No bacon and eggs, sausage, hash browns, bagels, cereal eaten here. I do miss my American Southern breakfasts at times. We have three types of meals basically. Ones that include rice, one with noodles or one that is a type of soup that usually has noodles many times in them. Soups, I am not crazy about. That’s when she uses meat that I have no clue what it is. What I do, is I will at least taste everything Tai serves me. I close my eyes and hope for the best. If it taste ok, then I will eat it even if it looks horrible. Times like that, I try not to look at what I am eating. And when I do not like something I let her know. I tell her it is either, just so-so ( Mǎ mǎ hú hú）or it is not good and I do not like (Bù xǐhuān bù hǎo). At first she would get upset with me but now she knows it has nothing to do with her cooking and it is only about I do not prefer to eat that particular food. For months Tai would ask me during or after a meal if I liked it. She would get very upset if i did not like something. She would feel as if she failed me in some way. There were times she would cry and that always made me feel bad. She has always tried her best to please me. And for the Chinese, if they failed in something like preparing a meal that was not satisfying it bought shame and disgrace upon them. Chinese take things very seriously when they want to please someone else. It is a matter of pride when they do something to please another person they wish to make happy. This cultural difference was something that took me by surprise. The seriousness of Tai wanting to please me with preparation of my meals was an emotional burden for her. I never suspected how important it was that she needed affirmation for her cooking.
Going out to dinner is a big thing in the Chinese family life. We recently went out to eat dinner. Every family restaurant (99%) are Chinese. I have seen a few Western restaurants when we go places in a taxi. I even saw an Irish Pub once. I will say the Chinese food is very different here. The ingredients are fresh and the seasoning is natural and not processed. Many of the family restaurants look similar to the typical Chinese carry out places back home. On the wall are pictures of the different dishes you can get. Even the menus have pictures of the different dishes. We went to a place that we pass on the way to one of the supermarkets we go to each week. It has a huge outdoor eating area and is always pack when we pass by. Tai said she has never been there and was willing to try it. As we are looking over the menus she leans over to me and tells me this is a dog meat restaurant. At the same time the waitress comes to our table. I said, I refuse to eat dog meat and was ready to leave. But quickly the waitress explained to Tai in Chinese that they had other meats as well. So we stayed and ended up ordering a chicken dish and a beef dish which were good. I told Tai since my arrival I would never eat dog/cat meat or any domestic animal. It was not right to do so in my opinion and it was completely gross. Last week she asked me if I want to go out to eat. She knew a place that served donkey flesh. She said it was good. Again donkey flesh is not an appealing food to even think about eating. Now I don’t know if she actually meant donkey flesh or donkey meat. Either were not working for me. To me donkey was no different from a horse in that aspect of thinking. We did not go out to eat that evening. And donkey flesh is forever off the menu. I would tease and joke with her about it for days. Because eating donkey flesh was so unnatural to me. When controversial things come up, I try to stay light-hearted and respect what her culture is used to eating. I just will not participate in certain things. And Tai respects me from refraining in indulging in things she has grown up doing all her life. She is learning many things she finds acceptable in Chinese culture is not the norm in American culture such as some type of foods.
That’s it for now. I hope this gave a little more insight how family life can be here in Changchun. Life is a learning experience here and it is always interesting and sometimes challenging. Right now I am still enjoying my morning coffee (Kā fēi). Take care (Bǎo zhòng) and until I see you next time (Zhí dào wǒ xià cì jiàn dào nǐ). Goodbye (Zài jiàn)