Friday, March 11, 2005

If it Weren't for the Grinding Poverty and Communism...

..I could totally live in Guangzhou.

The lifestyle here is just my speed. Very New Orleans. Very French influence. Lots of outdoor space, like Shamian Park, where Chinese people do ballroom dancing, tai chi and play mah-jongg. I like that all of the kiddie play areas have adult exercise areas too, so while the chilluns are swinging, the oldsters are swinging on elliptical-style apparati. It's pretty cool how the young and old interact, at least here in South China. A lot of shared public spaces. But a lot more poverty, as you would expect far from the nation's capital.

A major similarity with Beijing, however, is the literalness of the language. As we walk the bambina around the town, we notice that every store is named things like, "Jennifer's Place" and "Wendy's Place" or perhaps "Lily's Place." That's it. No "Kountry Korner Keepsakes" or "Souvenirs, Etc" or anything non-specific like that. It's just, "Sandy's Place." And when you walk by, the women come running out to ooh and aah over the baby, to ask where she is from, where you are from, and to tell you what great stuff they have. And then they always say, "You come back to Wendy's Place. I am Wendy!" No matter what store you go to, you are always apparently speaking to the proprietor herself. I keep waiting for them to finish up with, "I am Wendy! I am running for purveyor of fine Chinese souvenirs, and I approved this message."

They seem to be very pleased when told that the bambina is from this province. And they love that the two other girls from the same orphanage will live in the same town as we do when we get home. Other people look at the Westerners with babies and look away, like it's something they don't quite know how to discuss, either with each other or with us. It's complicated, so I don't necessarily blame them. Now that I've got a little Chinese language under my belt I tend to get a more positive response. Nothing like a smile and a big "Nie Hao!" to an old man to get a smile in return. Old ladies show their friendliness by chastising you for not having a hat on your baby's head in this blustery 70 degree weather and for having skin showing between the sock and the pants leg. I'm not kidding. One woman was stroking the bambina's hair and saying, "such cute hair" in a way that said clearly, "WHY IS IT that I am able to SEE this child's hair?!!! Where is her hat, you insane Americans!? Don't you know babies will freeze in this weather?!" So that's the Chinese idiosyncrasy: a nagging feeling that somehow, somewhere a Chinese baby is very cold...and it's their job to root it out in all its manifestations.

On the American idiosyncrasy side, I would say it is our "outsize" appearance. Our guide said to me today in the grocery store about a couple of us, "You four are the thinnest Americans I've ever met. You are so fit! Every other American here is always so very very big. How do you get so fat over there? Is everyone so wealthy that they can eat every hour of the day?" I thought about what he said, and he is right. The majority of the Americans here to adopt kids are HUGE. Like, enormous. Not just chubby or a little extra bit of cushion, which is no big deal. I mean they are very, very obese. At the hotel breakfast buffet, it is almost revolting, the amount of food that is piled high on the plates, with the Chinese servers just looking on in amazement. One guy said to me today in the hotel, "Man, we can't wait to get out of here; I've only had one good meal in 2 weeks and that was a burger yesterday; I can't stand eating all this chinese food." Nice. How about delving into your kid's culture a little, joe sixpack? How about giving it a try without expecting it to taste like a philly cheesesteak? It's like he came all the way to China and is annoyed that it isn't just like El Paso, Texas. Gimme a break.

Well, that's my rant for today: My baby's head is fine, no she is not cold, you are so sweet to care; we think they are nosy, and we are probably right. On the other hand, when in China, don't frighten the residents by eating twice your weight in bacon and eggs with toast, jelly and orange juice--oh and with a danish, a muffin, two hash browns and sausages--and that's your FIRST trip to the buffet! They think we're gross; and they are probably right.


misterfed said...

I wandered over here from Dubious Quality, where Bill recommended you -- and for good reason. Thanks for the funny and involving account of your journey. My wife and I will be following in a year or so -- we have two little ones from Korea and are starting the process for #3 from China. Best of luck for the rest of your journey.

Anonymous said...

Two comments in one really. Your blog is quite funny at times and I enjoy the writing style; from a personal standpoint, I find your adventure to adopt in CHina fascinating because I survey adoption agencies for my state as far as compliance with state standards. On a completely different note, you talked of our concepts of capitalism linked to demoscracy and how the police presence is a constant reminder of the different political ideology. My question in terms of that, and frankly something I have often wondered about China, is this, if it is a true communist state and the property is shared, then arent the capital gains from any business endeavor similarly shared? Or is it a rule by the Communist party like in Russis? If they are already in the ruling party, they are already rich, then what is the drive to succed? If it is truly shared across the board, I would still fail to see how any entrepreneur could motivate themselves in that enviornment. Always wondered that. At any rate, you are no doubt enjoying your new baby girl and I wish you all the best for that.

Anonymous said...

Another visitor from Dubious Quality here. I used to work at an international adoption agency - we placed kids out of Russian orphanages with American families. Please accept my warmest congratulations on your new family. You two are on a grand adventure!

Bill was so right about your blog - it's on my favorites list now. Looking forward to more!

H2Os said...

Congrats my friend.

Reading your blog reminds me of my wonderful time in Korea. If you can, bring back as much traditional music as you can. It'll add to your lifetime of memories.

OliviasDad said...

I too came over from Dubious Quality and I'm glad I did. This post in particular made me laugh. My wife is Chinese and we've got a one year old daughter. Watching my mother in law around my daughter in those first few days (and honestly, ever since) has been surreal due to the cultural differences. A couple of examples:

1) In the middle of serious labour, my mother in law is all but forcing an apple down my wife's throat, convinced that the root cause of the pain and discomfort must be hunger. How is a woman supposed to do such hard work running on ice chips alone? Surely a nice stir fry would make things all better...

2) After the baby was born, we were going to bring my wife some food (see the pattern? it all comes back to food). We were putting together some fruit and I suggested a pear. The look I got suggested that maybe I'd mispronounced "pear" and actually said "How abount petrie dish full of plague? She likes petrie dishes full of plague." Evidently in Chinese culture, foods are divided into Yin and Yang, which are represented by hot and cold. Pears, it seems, are "cold" fruits and are just the worst thing you could give to a new mother who needs to restore her heat. We settled on Apples.

3) Chinese people seem convinced that mothers could not possibly produce enough milk to keep a kid alive. That my wife was miraculously able to is firmly attributed, in my mother in law's mind, to the milk-enhancing seafood soups (food again!) that she constantly made for my wife. I believe my wife is still listed on the credits somewhere, but her role was largely ceremonial.

Keep up the writing and congrats!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the adoption. Three years ago tomorrow we adopted a little girl from the Sanshui Social Welfare Institute in Guangdong Province. It has been a truly wonderful experience.