Monday, January 28, 2013
What was once routine, I now find novel
Is ‘hello’ in Mandarin. It’s one of the four words I know thus far. Where I come from, you smile, make eye contact and say hello to most everyone you meet. It’s what we Southerners do. Do Beijingers do the same?
I’m not sure. So for now, I walk in my ways and say Nín hǎo to most anyone who
will look my way. I’m Southern, in need of friends and hold tight to one of the four words I know.
I have been in Beijing for only a week and can already see the propensity for being lost in translation, both in language and culture.
This week, Spanish came readily to mind as I tried to talk to Beijingers. As if that would help.
I tried to read Hebrew characters in the Mandarin characters.
Presumptuously, I tried a few introductory English remarks to a couple of individuals I came across. Nope. One was German and another was French.
If anything, this new beginning is a season of learning and adventure. It is strange, fresh and exciting. Not a day goes by where I do not experience being utterly helpless or inept for a task, even those which were most commonplace in my life in the states.
Like, doing the laundry. Because who can tell me which of these buttons means wash, dry, delicates, start, hot or cold? Do not fear about the Griffins having an unkempt look though; I simply make some best guesses and wait to make sure the machine turns on. Did I mention I can only fit about 10 pieces of clothing in it per load?
Or like going to the grocery store. Because I now walk to mine, which means I budget meals for two to three days rather than a week as I did back in the states. This is because sister can only carry two to three days worth of grocery bags back to her condo. And it took me 10 minutes to decide what kind of boxed milk to purchase. And then I paid for my new groceries in the currency that I still cannot convert easily in my head. This inability to quickly convert yuan to USD nearly took my breath away when I saw my bill of hundreds of yuan ring up on the register. Oh wait, that’s 80 USD. Okay. Color seeps back to face.
And then there was that time we went out to dinner. One of Nate’s business partners graciously took us out and treated me to my first authentic Chinese dinner. Nate and I were the only two Americans in a restaurant of over a hundred people (Standout moment one). The setting was beautiful and I regret that I did not snap a picture of it. It buzzed with energy, both in conversation and the constant clink of chopsticks against beautiful ornate bowls of all sizes. Paul, Nate’s business partner, did the ordering. I kindly requested a Sprite in advance of the meal to settle my stomach from the unique smells around me. (Standout moment two because here you are served no beverage, hot water or hot tea).
Do you see how many bowls of food ended up on our table? It started with pig feet, the “appetizer” came out as the 3rd dish, followed briefly by the “dessert” and then the rest of the dishes came. Here, they bring out whatever is ready first. Works for me; I’ve always loved my sweets. Oh, except this sweet was a bean-based broth. Score. I love beans too. That’s fine.
I had a noodle-based soup that was warm to my soul. And a turnip dish that actually made me feel like I was down in Georgia eating some splendid greens. Only they weren’t green. And I didn’t hear “darling” anywhere near me.
My first week in Beijing has passed. I still deal with jet lag each day. I’ve started experiencing culture shock. I’ve started taking baby steps to explore the city. Like the time we went to Walmart and I saw the dried fish, eel and chicken feet on display. Or the other time that I got an amazing 1.5 hour massage for 10% of what it would have cost in the states. I believe Beijing will be a wonderful blend of challenge and beauty. Of pollution and beloved days of sunshine. Of simplicity and complexity.
Until next time, I’ll be working on unpacking our house and making it a home.