Breaking cultural stereotypes while making friends in exotic places. My recent trip to Beijing has opened my eyes as an American and as I now focus on finishing my degree in Educational Consulting, I hope to share my experiences and knowledge with others so they too can make a difference in the lives of others and their community.
Sunday, July 8, 2018
Day Three: Beijing - All Moved In
I’ve always been known as a picky eater. Ever since I was a toddler, my parents have struggled with finding food that I’ll eat and any food that has some nutritional value. And no, pickles aren’t going to help me grow and gain weight. I lived off pickles for several years in high school. I loved them so much that I even started drinking the pickle juice. The largest jars of pickles were bought from nearly every grocery store and my room was always lined with close to ten pickle jars. So, yes, I had a pickle obsession. And China had pickles. I was in heaven.
Sadly, my host family wasn’t as obsessed with the single digit calorie food as I was. Much of the food I ate was diet food. My host mom has a nutritionist license and is very health conscious of the things she eats. That’s why my mornings were filled with eating rice porridge and plain oatmeal. In the beginning, especially on my first morning with them, it was strange as I had to get used to eating a breakfast that tasted like water. Occasionally, I would find some nuts (walnuts) to put in my rice porridge to give the meal a different texture.
I didn’t hate breakfast. I learned to love rice porridge. Each day I woke up, I would find myself eating more and more of the porridge before I set off to complete my busy day. There were times that I thought I could eat an entire rice cooker full of rice porridge. I never did, but I was thinking about it.
The biggest struggle on my third day in Beijing was the censorship of the internet. I have a Google phone with a Google service. Everything I use in America is a Google product or services like Gmail, Google+, Facebook, and YouTube. I learned quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to use these services while in China unless I found a way to download a VPN on my phone and computer. I felt very lost waking up the first morning with my host family.
My VPN on my computer wasn’t working and I later learned that I needed to have several VPNs on my computer because it is normal for one to stop working one day and a different one another day. The Chinese government has been cracking down on VPNs, blocking many that have been used for years. I feel, as a foreigner, this was the hardest thing to get used to. I was unable to contact friends and family. The homesickness was kicking in.
I messaged Scarllet, my contact through CHI, early the third morning of my stay. I was alone as my host sister and host dad went to school and work earlier in the morning. My host mom was asleep as she stayed up until 3 am. My host mom is a magazine editor of Elle and she loves to write early in the morning. This is the reason she sleeps till 10 or 11 am every day.
With the help of Scarllet, I was able to have a nice long chat with my host mom. She made me feel better about the situation I was in. The beginning of my trip was completely overtaken by me being shy and too scared to walk out the apartment door. When I was about to leave at the end of my trip, I found myself quietly trying to figure out why I was so scared. After I was able to get over my nerves, I found myself traveling around Beijing alone, getting lost and making new friends along the way. The people I met didn’t care that I didn’t know Chinese; they helped me as best as they could even with the language barrier.
I was surprised when I was talking to my host mom. She asked me, on the second day I was with them, to stay longer and to come back in the future. As I ate another healthy meal for lunch with my host mom, I silently thanked a higher power for placing me with such considerate and kind host parents. And to have a host sister that called me her “sister.”
The food I was given was so healthy that I could tell my body was thanking me. Even though the food many times was on the bland side, I loved the delicious wide rice noodles, scrambled eggs, and broccoli that always seemed to find my plate. The broth found in this kind of meal was only boiled water and salt. The flavor came from cooking the food for an extended period.
Marco Polo Bridge
Dora, my host sister, told me that she calls all the new people who live with them her “brothers and sister.” Dora has been around foreigners since she was two and has learned throughout the years that she would be meeting new “brothers” and “sisters” all the time. Her English-speaking skills weren’t only taught in her International School. Many of the mannerisms she displays come from the many “brothers” and “sisters” she had.
Regardless, this small trip encouraged me to be more open and accepting. There was nothing for me to fear. My host family really puts their all into making the people they host feel comfortable. They treated me like family. There is a reason why the people they host come back year after year. I’m going to be one of those people that will visit often. I miss them every day and think about all the amazing things we did. Most of all, I miss Dora.
Besides the new things I was learning, I was also teaching conversational English to Dora. My lessons were many times games and activities to help Dora with structuring her sentences. Unlike with Chinese, English has numerous rules that need to be followed to create a sentence that makes sense and is in the correct order with nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so forth. I was not teaching Dora grammar, though. My job was to teach conversational English.
Our first lesson was mixed with an art lesson where I had her draw her favorite character on a piece of cardstock. We took our time sketching, outlining, and coloring our masterpieces. We even showed her parents. Afterward, we created a story about the character. The story was completely fictional, but the creation of Dora. I learned quickly that Dora has a fascination and love for watermelon. Her character was having a birthday party with a watermelon cake with watermelon candles, watermelon balloons, watermelon gifts and toys, and her character even wore a watermelon dress.
This lesson taught Dora about how to think critically and creatively without being prompted by a book, lesson, or teacher. I let Dora be as creative as possible by giving her just the basics of what I wanted her to do. Along the way, Dora learned new vocabulary and practiced her pronunciation of certain words.