Chinese People-Watching

Gawkers in China

August 12, 2008

Gawkers are seen every day in China, much the same as in the US.  However, in China people seem to find vastly different situations, and ways, in which to gawk. This is not something that occurs only when a fight breaks out or someone is injured, it is a part of daily life. One’s day would not be complete, without a little bit of gawking to break things up.

There are several types of Chinese gawkers. Below I have listed a few examples:

1. The Celebrity Gawker: This person is usually found at the zoo, museum, or other tourist attraction. They are Asian descent and are so excited to see a westerner, they need to capture the moment on film. To prove that they were actually there, they are  required to be in the photograph as well. The smaller the westerner the better, and if that child is wearing red they are a moving target. There will be no avoiding this type of gawker.

2. The Opportunistic Gawker: This person is afraid that they will miss something that is important, deeply discounted, or worth any sort of money earned, if they do not stop to see what others are looking at. Usually involving some sort of sign or advertisement, you will see up to 10 or more Chinese people reading it at once.

3. The Drama Gawker: This is the person who sees someone talking to a police officer and goes over to see what the commotion is about. The difference between this situation in the US and in China, is that the Chinese don’t mind if people are aware they are gawkers.  They will walk right up to the incident as if they were also involved, therefore positioning themselves to see and hear better. This crowd will grow up to 20-25 people.

4. The Cultural Gawker: This person, or group of people, want to see what westerners eat, wear, read, drink, smell like, talk like, look like, feel like………you get the point. If you pick up an item at the grocery store they will look over your shoulder, or wait until you walk away, and then pick up the product to inspect. If you are in an arcade they will watch you or your children play video games for hours on end. You might think that this person is waiting to play, but if you walk away they will wander off, most likely to show up at the next game you play. If you are found in a bookstore by this gawker, they may just sit right down to watch you look at books, providing commentary in Chinese. When you look up, they will smile and nod.

Most gawking directed towards the expat is done in a good-natured, curious way. They are intrigued. They would love to be your friend, if that darn language barrier didn’t get in the way. They would ask questions if they could. Sometimes they do, in what we grew to know as “advanced charades.” We were curious as well, but our people-watching was done with the American approach. On that note……coming soon…..the American Gawker version.

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Causing a Ruckus on Dong Tai Lu…

As the days of Dong Tai Lu in Shanghai end….. I fondly remember my time spent there.

Dong Tai Lu………

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Yesterday,  I met my friend Andrea, and her friend April who is visiting from Michigan, on Dong Tai Lu, or “antique street,” as we call it. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Shanghai, sunny and 60s, and great for a walk outside.

Dong Tai Lu is lined on both sides with tiny shacks that sell anything and everything that is old,  or even “looks” old. Items are cluttered all over tables, on shelves, and on the ground, and are often dirty or tarnished. It’s like a giant garage sale with every shack competing for your business. Many of you know that I am not a garage sale-type. I hate searching through piles trying to find something I like, but Dong Tai Lu has plenty of entertainment to go along with the shopping, and I usually find a “treasure” or two anyway.

Up and down this little street, along with the shacks, are locals,  usually grandmothers and babies.  They are sitting on the sidewalk, on folding chairs, holding babies with split pants. Yes, little bottoms hanging out all over the place, at the ready for any necessary potty breaks.  Smiling grandmothers, enjoying the company of neighbors, on a warm spring day.

It is common  to find lots of Buddhist items on antique street.  There are all sorts of Buddhas, prayer bowls,  prayer sticks,  jewelry, etc. There are also books, rugs, posters, porcelain dishes, vases, and figures. Ornately carved wooden boxes, old Chinese instruments, creepy old dolls, and bird cages.

There’s plenty of jade and bone in various forms,  and this is where the “visual” entertainment comes into the picture. Along  with charms, statues, and small swords and knives that can be found, there are also many things of a more “adult” nature. One thing that I purchased to bring back and show friends, merely for entertainment value,  is something we like to “Naughty Fish.” It looks like a regular wooden Chinese-style fish on the outside,  but if you pull its head off of the body,  you’ll see “naughty” pictures carved into the piece that fits into the body. You will find similar Kama Sūtra-type pictures on bone panels that are strung together, a different picture on each panel, and on both sides. Things like this can be found on vases, rugs, and in figurine form as well. It always amazes me that they sell this stuff in such a public place.

At one point, not long after we arrived,  Andrea saw a shoeshiner that she had met before, and asked him to shine my shoes. It turns out he’s a well-known shoeshiner, who has been featured on the news and in newspapers. He had a notebook with the names of many foreigners whose shoes he had shined, and had me sign it as well.  He was a cute and animated older guy, and it was a fun thing to do. He also gave me a GREAT shoeshine for under one dollar.

Along our way down antique street, April accidentally knocked something off of a shelf, causing it to break a plate below it on the ground. The vendor wanted us to pay for it, but we argued that she shouldn’t have had plates on the ground. Andrea and I went back and forth with her for a bit, while April worried about being taken off by the Chinese police.  Luckily, to our Michigan friend’s relief, the po-po wasn’t called. Andrea and I had a great laugh, as we knew that wouldn’t happen, and I think April joined in, once her heart rate went down.

Towards the end of our trip, I bought a small wooden boat at a stall, and a few minutes later, just down the street, another vendor came up to me with a much bigger boat. It actually was much nicer than the first one, and he started talking to me in Chinese. In the middle of his rant, he called me a “Ben Dan,” or “Stupid Egg,” thinking that I would not understand him. But I did, and knew that he had just insulted me! I started loudly announcing, in Chinese, that he had just called me a stupid egg, and I could not believe he  done this. This resulted in a crowd, of mostly older Chinese women, forming. This always happens in China when something interesting is going on and can grow quite large, with people of all ages. I continued to rant back at him for the show. He apparently thought I paid too much for the boat (the reason for the insult), and I probably did, although I had looked for one all day, and it was the only one I had seen. In the end,  I bought the bigger boat, even after the insult. Although, we did make him apologize. Maybe I am a Ben Dan!

 

Be Not Afraid

Today, I want to talk about our second son, Brennan, who is now 15. It is hard for me to know how my active Crohn’s disease years, played in on our sons development. They were so young, but also at that age where they were learning the most, and developing at the fastest rate that they ever would. Due to how sick I was, Brennan got more snuggles than anything else, and I often wonder if that is why he’s my most empathetic child.

When Brennan was a toddler he was a happy kid, full of deep belly laughs. He never stopped moving, he was always busy enjoying life. He seemed to think he was unstoppable: Invincible. When he was a little older, and learned that the world wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns,  he started saying a personalized bedtime prayer. He made it up on his own and faithfully said it every night, at least once, but more on less confident days.  My favorite part of the prayer was when he asked God to protect his family from natural disasters or getting thugged. We are a quietly religious family, and never really pushed bedtime prayers,  he did it all on his own. To this day he still says a prayer when he feels it is needed, although I do believe he has revised it a bit.

At the age of five, when Mei Mei came home, he was absolutely ecstatic. He’s always loved babies, so having a baby sister was the ultimate gift for him. At least at the age of five, because let’s  be honest, siblings don’t always get along. When she came home he taught her to crawl then walk. It was a very fast transition, as Chinese babies tend to be a little behind at first, but catch up quickly. He also taught her baby sign language. They played together all the time. They had a very close bond for years. When I see that peek out every now and then, despite the tension of one at the beginning of puberty, and one at the end, my heart melts.

At 15, he still gives plenty of hugs and says I love you everyday. He is the first to question if someone is okay, or ask if you need help. He talks to me about the good, the bad, and the ugly in his life, without prompting. What parent doesn’t cherish that time with their son or daughter?! He is also me, as a teenager, in boy form, new and improved. He reminds me of myself so much it hurts sometimes, but it also makes me proud. He’s a responsible student, and never has to be reminded of school work, is very funny, and never feels the need to come back at people with a nasty retort if they choose to be cruel to him. His confidence at this age far outweighs what mine was.

He has a love of life that I wish I had at his age, but I wish he didn’t worry about his future as much as he does. He has pondered over what he is going to do with his life, and how good his grades are, since 6th grade. I wish he had waited a few more years for those concerns. You don’t get those worry-free childhood years back. I know this is a result of our four years living abroad when he was between the ages of 8 and 12 (these years will be discussed in future posts), as those worldly experiences definitely influenced our children. I also wouldn’t change those years for anything. They helped form who Brennan is today.

Today was Brennan’s day. I am blessed with three children. They are my heart and soul. I cannot say enough, how proud I am of them.

All in the Family

I remember as a young girl, probably between the ages of 9 and 12, whenever my mom made me really angry, when she had to pull out the heavy parenting hat, I would ask her if I was adopted. As if this would be the reason she was being so strict. As if this was a sign she didn’t love me as much as my siblings. This was especially humorous to her because cloning wasn’t even close to being possible, and I look just like her. If I only knew at that time, how wrong that perspective was. It is impossible not to love your adopted child with every part of your being. I know, because I am an adoptive parent.

My husband had been sporadically mentioning that we should adopt a child from China since the day after our wedding. “We should have a few biological children and then adopt a few,” he would say. He has always had an interest in China, and Chinese history. I don’t even think they were accepting international adoption requests at the time, but he said that time was coming. He has always been a dreamer, so I would listen over the years, but never thought it would happen, especially because of my Crohn’s.

I remember the day I asked him if he thought we would ever go through with his plan, and that if we were going to we should probably do it soon. I was sitting in the chair on our loft, in the evening, on a overcast day, in October of 2003. The next thing I know, I was at the computer researching adoption agencies, and within days we had submitted our initial application to the agency.

We were told that Chinese adoptions were taking up to 2 years at the time, and that was faster than they had been in the past, so we knew we were in for a long roller coaster ride, much of it in the hands of a foreign government. We began gathering all of the documentation; physicals, criminal background check, financials, fingerprinting, home study, passports, etc.  Then we waited, and waited, and waited for the finally document we needed, from the U.S government, before we could submit our dossier to China.

In February 2004, upon arriving home from seeing “Passion of the Christ” on the first day of Lent, it was in the mailbox. I did a little dance in the driveway. After such an emotionally draining movie, we came home to such a bright light of hope. We finished getting all of our documents certified and authenticated, and our dossier was in China by mid-March, along with a number of other families. General the agency would submit one batch of dossiers to China each month. Now the real waiting game began.

Once the paperwork gets to China, it goes through a number of  “rooms.” The documents must be translated and reviewed, then a child is matched to your family. This process takes the longest. At the time it was probably predicted to be about 12-18 months. At the end of this process each family in the batch that was submitted with ours would receive a “referral,” in which you get a photo, name, age and general information about your newest family member.

Before the referral is received in the mail by the family, they receive a call from their adoption representative. That is the BEST day. Rumors have been flying on the Yahoo groups that they are coming, but you never know until you receive the call. I received mine while I was on my way to pick up my oldest son from school. It was another overcast day. I was still on the call when I got to his classroom, and sat down at a desk to finish before we walked home. His 3rd grade teacher’s face was beaming. She knew we were getting the call we had been waiting for. It had only been six months since our dossier was submitted. This fast timing had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since. Oh, and the birthday of our newest child, was the same date as my passport was issued. November 24, 2003.

In the next blog, I will tell you the story of bringing our new daughter home. Stepping out of my comfort zone, out of my little safe box. Taking a leap faith that I never would have thought possible.