Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Day Four: Getting Used to Being in China

I remember waking up in the earliest parts of the morning enjoying the simple pleasure of having breakfast with my family. I was hungry after helping my dad feed the calves and taking care of the chickens. The buckets of milk replacer mixed with slightly warmed water were so heavy, for me, that I would take breaks along the path to the calves. My little arms couldn’t handle the weight. Yet, I woke every day to do this because it was something I could do with my dad.

Eventually, my little sister joined my dad and I and the task were shortened to nearly half the time. I learned that if my sister and I carried the bucket of milk replacer together we could make to the calf hutches without stopping. This task was done at five in the morning and when school started, even earlier.

Dora :)
The reason I enjoyed feeding the calves so much was that I was able to spend time with my family. This was also the reason why I decided to wake up so early when I was in China. I wanted to spend time with my host family in the morning and see Dora off to school. So, as I’ve stated in other posts, my internal alarm clock was permanently set at anywhere from 5 am to 7 am.

I religiously woke up before anyone else and got breakfast. Sometimes, when Dora’s dad was still getting ready, I would get her breakfast and share a delicate moment of bonding. On my fourth day in Beijing, I told myself that I was going to try to be more open. Being shy was getting me nowhere and I wanted to be going somewhere.

The second morning with my host family was like the first. Dora and her dad were in a rush to get out the door as school started at 8 am and Dora was still in her pajamas at 7:45 am. Shoveling in some rice porridge in the wee hours of the morning was going to be the norm for me, but I treasured the short moments I had with my host sister and host dad.

Being left in the apartment alone for the second day was the breaking point for me. I decided to pick out one of the many books my host family had in the custom shelves surrounding over half of the living room and kitchen. I didn’t want to be sitting around wasting my time when I had worked so hard to get to the place I was.

The books I chose were Chinese language books to help me learn about the history of Chinese characters and learn how to pronounce Chinese characters in the correct tone. Sadly, even after reading these books for over a month, I still only grasped to the bare basics of the Chinese language. I figured out that I learned more about the language when I watched American TV shows with my host parents. The Chinese subtitles helped me recognize certain characters. Still, I wasn’t learning the tones, something I needed to know, and I am working on today.

Chicken Feet
Watching TV with my host parents from 1 to 2 am quickly became my favorite pastime activity. There were always snacks (junk food) or what my host mom called “trash food.” I usually was offered ice cream (which is the most amazing ice cream ever!) and small finger food like spicy tofu and Hawthorne candy. I was even graced with being offered seasoned chicken feet several times before I had to kindly shake my head and explain that I didn’t enjoy chewing on cartilage.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Dora come back from school early. My host mom and sister decided that it was time I learned how to ride a horse—professionally. The last time I saw a horse and rode a horse was when I sixteen-years-old. And my experience at sixteen was only my second time riding and the horse, “Big Red,” didn’t like me very much. I had a horrible time riding “Big Red.” I never thought I would be honored enough to be put on another horse (note the sarcasm).

So, seven years after I last rode a horse, I bravely got on another one that only understood Chinese commands. I was at the mercy of the horse handler and my instructor. Luckily, my instructor knew some English and helped me navigate through a professional horse-riding class. But when I said that my instructor knew English, I meant he knew how to ask my name, where I was from, how old I was, and—wait for it—if I had a boyfriend.

I had to laugh a little when he asked me if I had a boyfriend. Only four days into my trip and I was graced by a lovely and kind Chinese guy asking if I was in a relationship and hinting at that he was very much available. If I wasn’t so nervous, as I was still on the horse when he asked, I would have connected with him on WeChat. He is handsome, and he treated me with respect even when I didn’t understand Chinese or his culture. Throughout my trip, I met many Chinese families that were open to communicating with Westerners and wanted to learn about my culture. These Chinese people were called “Non-traditional.”

Dora and I had our 1-hour horseback-riding lessons at the same time with different instructors. Dora kept on encouraging me to keep trying when I struggled with finding my momentum with the horse, especially when the horse started galloping. We both had a laugh after our lessons as I started to walk weird. My legs and butt hurt so bad!

The three hours spent with the horses were something I remember with fondness. At the Equestrian Center, I was asked (again) to stay longer. My host mom wanted me to extend my stay and to also come back next year. I love how quickly I was excepted into my host family’s family.

I explained to my host mom and host sister, who was cuddling into my side and listening attentively, that I would be able to come back next summer after my Netherlands trip for school. As if on cue, my host mom told me that my instructor said that I was great at horseback-riding and that I could be a professional. I had my doubts that I was that good, but my host mom added that she thought that I did well for someone who hadn’t been on a horse for as long as I have.

Shortly after returning home I found myself accompanying Dora to her Taekwondo class in the Dangen Community. I was advised to go to the local market while Dora was in class, but I was too scared to leave the vicinity alone. Sitting in a crowded room with close to twenty other parents and grandparents without air conditioning was less than appealing, but I survived and can tell my story. It really was uncomfortable.

Dora's dad picked us up around 7:30 pm, immediately after he left work. Returning home, I was graced with the amazing aroma of food. Out of all the things I miss about China, my host mom’s cooking is the thing I miss the most. As a thank you for watching Dora, my host mom bought me an exercise shirt and a silk dress. I was supposed to wear the silk dress for our trip to the Great Wall, but I decided against it as I was afraid the dress revealed to much skin. I have the dress at home, still unworn. I’m concerned about wearing the silk dress anywhere because it cannot get wet or be washed. I’m known to be accident prone and spilling something on the dress makes me start to sweat. I don’t want to ruin a gift.

Dora’s English lesson was done with the BrainQuest book I brought along. Instantaneously, Dora fell in love with the workbook and routinely tried to work ahead so she could finish a chapter and put a sticker on the award letter in the back of the book. After Dora finishes the workbook, there is a certificate for her to fill out and hang in her room. Dora is very much like any other five-year-old I’ve met. She likes being rewarded and praised when she does something correctly or well.

My fourth day was a day of many firsts and second, tries. I have never witnessed a Taekwondo class and riding a horse was something I never thought I would do again. This day was me getting used to living in Beijing and getting to know my host family better. I didn’t know it then, but my adventure was going to be a whole lot more intense and fascinating as the days went along. The true China experience was about to start.      

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