That China Girl

{May 16, 2011}   Mom speaks out….

Guess what!  It’s  guest post day in blogathon world.  Given that I still don’t know too many people who can write in English here  (It’s China, duh!),  I looked around the house and decided I would ask my Mom.  (Dad’s too busy with work, and I didn’t think Mrs. G. next door already helped me with that book thing.)  I know normally, that would be like, so strange, but   I don’t want to ask anyone from school.  I haven’t shown them this and I know they would think I was a complete loser.  Plus, then everything I wrote would be all over. 

So actually, Mom was pretty cool about it, and promised she wouldn’t embarrass me (and hey, I can delete if she does), so here goes:  My Mom, Gwen H. (at her insistence, no last names).

Hi.  As Taya said, I’m her mother.  You can call me Gwen.  I am very honored to get to write a “post” here.   I also look forward to writing a little about  our time so far in China.  A lot of my friends back home told me I should start my own blog when I was over here.  But I really don’t like writing, so I felt it would probably be too boring.

Taya hasn’t told me what she’s written, but from hearing her talk, I can guess that it isn’t always positive.  I know there is a lot  for her to get used to in China.  I keep telling her that she needs to be more open to trying  things.  Like Li Ayi’s food, which is very tasty — particularly her Kung Pao chicken and this green bean dish she makes with ground beef or pork that  is very good.  You’ll never know that just by eating rice, Taya.

So what can I tell you about Beijing?   For me, it has been very educational so far.  When I was growing up, China was still developing and not very welcoming to foreigners.  But everyone I’ve met is nice to us.  Our ayi — that means “auntie” in Chinese — is very polite and does a good job cooking and cleaning our house.  We have a driver named Mr. Wang, who is always dressed very nicely in a short-sleeved button-down shirt and pants.  He speaks some English, but if he doesn’t understand where I’m going and I can’t ask the neighbor to tell him, I can usually show him a card that has the Chinese name on it.  I even bought a little book that has cards for  all the main restaurants and stores.  Easy!

 There’s  a shopping mall about 25 minutes from here  called Lufthansa (like the German airline)  or Yansha in Chinese.  I go there often.  It has really nice cosmetic counters so it is easy to get what I need.   Before we came here, I was worried where I would find stuff like that.  But there it was, Elizabeth Arden, just like at home.  The women who work there are all so thin and attractive, they look like models.  The difficult thing is that whenever you want to buy something, you have to get a little slip of paper and take it over to a special cashier and pay in cash.  They don’t take credit cards.   That meand packing a lot of bills in my wallet, and handing over a big wad of Chinese money (RMB)  whenever I want to buy something.  

Some of my friends have also taken me to the local markets, which are much cheaper.   There’s one called Ya Show, which is in a glass building about five stories high.  You can get everything there from clothing to dishes to souvenirs, but you have to know how to bargain.  Since I’m just learning Mandarin, there is no way I could ever try to haggle over a piece of clothing.  But my friend Judy got mad at me once when I just showed three 20 kuai notes to the girl selling a t-shirt and asked her to take how much.  That’s how I did it in Paris, when Russ and I went over there for a vacation a few years ago.  But apparently, that’s a good way to get cheated here. 

Another place I’ve been to is a big market called Hong Qiao.  It’s across town and took about 45 minutes or an hour in traffic to get to, but it also has everything.  Toys, food, clothing, and especially jewelry.  Some of the ladies I know from the compound go there often to get pieces of jewelry made — it’s also known as the Pearl Market.  I’ve already bought a lot of earrings and bracelets.  They’re wonderful, and so cheap.  I’m now getting a pearl choker made for a ball we have coming up. 

Can you believe it?  A ball.  Yes, apparently they have a lot of them because the expatriates are always looking for entertainment. The British Ball, which is the one we’re going to, is the premier ball of the year.  It’s held downtown at the Hilton, and the British Embassy only sells a certain amount of tickets to keep it exclusive.   Emma A., who’s from London and has a son at CIA with Taya, invited me and Russ to join her table.  I met her at a newcomers’ tea, and we’ve already become the best of friends.  She can’t speak Chinese like Joyce G. next door, but she still knows where to have fun.   Emma says she tried to take Chinese when she first got here, but quit after a few lessons, because the stuff is unpronounceable and nobody understood her anyway.  From my few classes, so far, I know what she means.   I’ve promised Russ I’ll try to stick with it, but sometimes I wonder how useful it will be.  It’s not as if I’m ever going to have a real conversation with anyone Chinese.  I’m not even sure our ayi, as nice as she is, would have that much to say.  She seems sort of quiet.  And a lot of the ladies I’ve met here DO get around just fine without the language.

Tomorrow, Emma is taking me over to the tailor so that I can get a dress made for the ball. Can you believe it — I’m going to have a real Chinese style qipao — sounds like Cheap — ending in pow!   They’re those form fitting dresses the Chinese women wear, with the slits up the side.  I’m fortunate that I tend to be thin, so I should look okay.  A lot of the foreign women don’t.  I’m going to pick out a silk, probably something in turqoise to bring out my eyes.  Emma says it probably won’t cost more than $30. Can you believe that?  I think it may even look a little like this one (maybe with a wee bit less leg)  

Gorgeous, isn’t it?  Anyway, I can’t wait.   It’s so funny when I hear people complain about living here.  I know this is a third world country, but our houses and so many of the places we go to are modern.  Not to mention, there’s so much to do and so many women who aren’t working and are ready to explore with me.  What’s not to like?

I do have to say that I think Russ has it much harder.  I know he’s frustrated sometimes at work, because he’s still learning the culture.  Some of his employees don’t like to speak up about their ideas, and he says they’re not always creative.  But his office is very orderly and his boss seems nice.   I know it’s just that he’s adjusting.  Russ has always been so successful at anything he does.  I can’t imagine it would be different here.   They’re lucky to have an American boss like him.

And Taya, I know she’ll find her place here too.  She’s already made some nice friends — a girl CC, who actually reminds me a little of myself when I was at that age.   I shouldn’t write that, because maybe then, Taya won’t want to hang out with her (ignore me, dear!).  But she’s a nice and pretty girl and seems very involved.  Actually, I think she will be good for Taya — get her out a little more.   My daughter tends to be a homebody.  CC has already invited her to a party, which I think Taya really enjoyed and introduced her to a lot of new friends.  

I think we’re all going to be very happy in China.


Katy M says:

Mom, you’ve found some of my favorite Beijing shopping spots! Too bad we’ve already been gone 3 years or I’d recommend specific vendors. Next time you’re at YaShow, see if the handmade book shop is still on an upper floor – the most wonderful fanfold books from palm-sized to journal, with gold-speckled or brocade covers. The big tea store there had very high-quality tea at reasonable prices; we’d get jasmine green tea or ‘tea blossoms’ vacuum-packed in small packages to bring back to US for gifts.

Enjoy your time there – life abroad does open your eyes, doesn’t it?

And Taya will get used to things soon enough…


Tia Bach says:

Moms rock! Thanks for sharing your mother with us!

Taya says:

Taya here (as no longer letting Mom read this):

Thanks for your responses. Katy, I agree that being here has been eye-opening, I just hope I get used to it soon. And Tia. Your Mom seems pretty cool. Not sure mine rocks quite the same.

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