Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Magic, frustration and fun.

China has a way of reeling you in and keeping you.  There is something so compelling to me about this country.  I just can't stop looking at things, learning about the culture and wanting to know more.
We have moments that are almost surreal.  One day last fall, my windows were open and I heard beautiful music.  It was a traditional Chinese flute being played by someone, somewhere.  Another day, I heard a drum banging and looked out our window.  People dressed up in traditional Qing dynasty costumes were walking by in a wedding procession.  The magic includes people dancing in the parks, people doing traditional calligraphy on the sidewalk with water and so much more.  When I see those things, I just have a sense that I am in such a different place.  China is a place like no other.
We have had some surreal moments.  One night we were in a grocery store near a university.  There were some students there from Saudi Arabia.  Paul speaks a little Arabic so he greeted them.  Then we had a conversation with them in Chinese.  Two Arabs, two Americans, speaking Chinese to each other in China!  Amazing!
Studying another language gives you insight into things you have never noticed before.  Reading Bible stories in Chinese gives me insights and makes me notice things that I haven't noticed before.  Because I am a beginner in Chinese, I really pay attention to vocabulary.  It's just been an expander for me.
Of course there are frustrations.  Sometimes you wonder why the teacher just can not hear the tones you are trying so hard to reproduce.  She says "teng" and you say "teng."  Then she tells you that you said "tong."  You hear "teng" and you try to say it again and again she insists that you said "tong."  You have to accept that she is the native speaker and the teacher and that if she says you said "tong," then you said "tong."  Even if you secretly believe that didn't hear you correctly!
So there is magic, frustration and sometimes just sheer fun.  I don't want to be someone who is standing outside of the culture making fun of it.  But sometimes things are just so funny and fun!  Here are a few!

Yesterday, we were riding our bikes home from language school.  We came upon this restaurant that has a Chinese flag, Santa and a Coors sign! What a contrast! Yes, it's April and Santa is still all over the city.

On Monday, I was walking down a street near our home. Suddenly I came upon this man and his bucket of still gasping fish.  He knocked one over the head with his knife and then gutted it. I kind of gasped and laughed and told the Chinese woman that I was with that we would never see that in America!  Talk about fresh.  She couldn't believe how we get our fish from the supermarket. This man was nice enough to let me take his picture.
The chicken's behind him?  Someone's dinner last night.  Sorry, vegan and vegetarian readers!

Monkey paw plant.  Okay, I don't really know what it is called but trust me, it looked like monkey paws glued together.  I've never seen anything quite like it.  

Skin whitening cosmetics and Sephora.  Somehow I don't think this would fly in the US.  But it's really a cultural thing.  It's the equivalent of the western world's worshiping of tan skin.  Pale, white skin in many Asian countries is considered a beautiful thing.  It's a kind of social status, meaning literally that you don't work outside in the fields or streets.  Therefore you have pale skin.
In the western world, tan skin means you have money to have leisure.  You can ski, go to the beach, vacation in Hawaii.  Same value, different color skin.  But it does take me aback a little every time I see the "whitening" ingredients in soap, lotion, cosmetics.  We are already plenty white, so we check our labels to make sure we aren't buying it.

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