And it is a good morning, after yesterday’s rain. It was very cool and very wet all day, and today the sun is shining. I just got back from Wal-Mart – I needed to buy some more clothes for the girls (more about that later!). I took the bus, and on the way back, a young man struck up a conversation in English. It turns out he got on the bus solely because he saw me, and figured the 1 yuan bus fare was cheap for an English lesson! When we got to my stop, he got off and got back on the return bus. His English wasn’t that good – but as I am always telling English speakers here, it was far better than my Chinese. I was able to confirm with him what I had already figured out – Bus 21 passes through the old part of Xiamen, the area of shop-houses from the treaty-port days of the 1800s, and also passes Zhongshan Park, the big central park for Xiamen. So we can now easily get to those places to explore.
OK, back to more clothes for the girls. We needed more layering pieces, because the teachers at school keep telling me that the girls are cold. I’m not sure how cold they are, but it is definitely the custom in China to bundle up kids. It is at least partly understandable since there is no heat in the homes or offices or classrooms here. But I still think they overdo it. But we followed the custom, and yesterday for school, each girl wore three layers on the bottom (panties, long johns, pants) and three layers on the top (long johns, short-sleeved shirt, long-sleeved shirt). AND they wore their heavy coats. AND they wore raincoats over that since it was pouring down rain (with their backpacks on under the raincoats so they wouldn’t get soaked). Poor Maya couldn’t even put her arms down after I had her dressed like the Michelin Man. Everyone here remarks on how skinny Zoe is – yes, I know she is, but I bet there are kids here every bit as skinny, but you can’t tell because of all the layers!
One reason we need to layer for school is that the kids take off their outer clothes for nap-time. The first day, when the weather was warm so we didn’t layer, the teacher told Zoe to take her clothes off, and was horrified to discover she only had panties on underneath! So back on go the clothes. And so now we wear layers.
And not only do the Chinese bundle their children, they bundle their pets, too! We’ve seen lots more dogs on leashes than I’ve seen in the past, and a lot of them are wearing clothes! The University isn’t just a school, it’s a village of its own as well. Many of the faculty live in apartments on campus, and we see lots of retirees walking about – I don’t know if they are retired faculty members or the parents of current faculty members (it’s pretty common for the husband’s parents to live with family in China). There is also married student housing. And of course there are dormitories for most of the undergraduates. So there are a number of thriving residential areas, teeming with kids and old people, and dogs and cats. The girls get excited every time they see a cat or a dog, but Zoe will still shy away from them if they come near.
I may have mentioned that there are about 200 students at the girls’ kindergarten. It is pretty interesting to watch everyone gather to pick up kids between 4:15 and 4:30 when school is dismissed. There are mostly grandmothers, with some grandfathers. Most of them come on foot. Then there are the moms, who mostly come on bicycles. Then come the motor-scooter moms, and the dads in cars. There’s one child who is dropped off and picked up by a taxi each day – she rides in the back, so I don’t know if her dad drives the taxi or not. And everyone coming to pick up a child comes bearing snacks – kids walk away from school eating cakes, cookies, candies . . . . Who said the Chinese always eat healthy food?!
Walking home from school is always interesting. There is more foot traffic than in the morning when we walk to school. We get stared at A LOT. When I walk through campus on my own, I merit hardly a glance from passersby. But add two little Chinese girls to the mix and the stares are continuous. It’s kind of funny to see the double takes when people realize the girls are speaking English. Today a student stopped us to ask me how it is that the girls speak English, so I explained that they had been raised in America. He then whipped out a textbook and asked me how to say “the 1600s,” a phrase in his book! He walked away repeating, “the sixteen-hundreds, the sixteen-hundreds, the sixteen-hundreds. . . . “
I don’t know how many times I have had the following conversation:
Q: These are your children?
A: Yes, they are.
Q: But they look Chinese.
A: They are Chinese.
Q: Is your husband Chinese? [or once] Are you the step-mom? [and my personal favorite] the grandmother?
A: No . . . .
And then I explain. It seems Chinese adoption makes us even more unusual in China than it does in the U.S. But everyone has been very positive about it when I explain, and none of the stares seem ugly. As we become more familiar in our little corner of campus, I expect some of the staring and questioning will stop. But outside the gate, I expect it will be a different story.