Sunday, May 27, 2007

Around the Neighborhood

We had a fun-filled Sunday without ever leaving campus today. I’ve already told you about the style show; it was sandwiched in between lots of other fun.

The mom of one of Maya’s classmates invited us to their home Sunday morning for a play date. I don’t know how I would have managed without Chen Xing’s parents – they have kept me informed of what’s happening, have translated for me so I could communicate with Maya’s teacher, have helped me with my little English lessons for Maya’s class. So when Chen Xing’s mom invited us over at 8:30 (a play date at 8:30 in the morning?!) we eagerly accepted. Little did we know that the play date would last all morning and would include a wonderful lunch as well!

Walking through the park on the way to our play date we saw a group of retirees doing Tai Chi – I think I’ve already mentioned that parks throughout China are filled with elderly exercise mavens each morning. The park at Xiada is no exception.

Chen Xing’s family lives in an older apartment building near the kindergarten, in a second-floor apartment. We were told that the 3-bedroom apartment was 64 square meters, which is about 690 square feet. Chen Xing’s parents were very gracious, and offered us fruit and drink as soon as we walked in the door.

Soon the girls – including another friend of Chen Xing’s – were all playing together. (The bed made a great place to play, since it took up most of the available space in Chen Xing’s bedroom.)

Mimi and I chatted with Chen Xing’s dad – he had asked me to read a mathematics paper he had written in English, so we talked about my editing suggestions (I couldn’t offer much help, since the math part might as well have been in Chinese for all I understood it! And the English was impeccably correct, so my suggestions were purely stylistic). Soon he left because he had to go meet people at the airport who were coming to Xiada for a mathematics conference. We then talked with Chen Xing’s mom, but she also spent time in the kitchen and would not accept our offers of help!

She prepared us a wonderful lunch with a pork and mushroom dish, cauliflower and beef, steamed fish, an egg and tomato dish, Chinese spinach, soup, and of course, rice. It was all delicious, though she modestly told us she did not cook well! As you can see, Zoe and Maya heartily disagreed with her assessment!

It was great fun seeing how another family in China lives. Their apartment was much more modest than Si Bo’s family’s abode – perhaps that reflects a difference in salary between mathematics professors and law professors! It’s clear that Chen Xing is the proverbial apple of their eye and what resources they have go to her. When they decided to install an air conditioner in the apartment, it went in her bedroom. Her bedroom had a fancy bedroom suite, including a huge armoire, while her parents’ room was more piece-meal. She takes dance classes on Saturday afternoons and English classes on Sunday afternoons. They download English songs on the computer so she can learn, and the family computer is in her room. She had English and Chinese DVDs and books, and her little pink tutu was hanging with the laundry on the balcony. She had books on drawing, as well as arts and crafts supplies, and books on mathematics (no surprise there!). And she had lots and lots of toys. The girls had a ball exploring all of her things!

Having spent the entire morning at Chen Xing’s house, we left soon after lunch so that we could all get ready for the fashion show. I’m sure you recognized Chen Xing in the pictures from the fashion show, too. Here’s another:

Aren’t they cute together? We’ve been so lucky that Chen Xing is in Maya’s class!

After the fashion show, we played for a little while in the park (mostly so Mimi and I could sit in the shade and cool down!). Zoe and Maya looked so cute that Mimi couldn’t resist having a photo shoot as we walked home. The girls love their little tiaras (which are very popular here with children and adults alike) and want to wear them all the time! And the umbrellas were for shade today, not for rain.

Ours was not the only photo shoot in the park – we came across this bride and groom having wedding photos taken.

We often see such photo shoots as we are out and about – wedding photography is a big business here. And we’ve yet to see a groom in a black tux – they all seem to want to match the bride’s dress. At every mall and on Zhongshan Lu there are representatives from wedding photographers set up with dozens of intimate tables at which couples can look at sample books or laptop computers, and every couple who walks by is dragooned into the area to look.

Right across the street from our apartment is an old courtyard-style house, and we often see an old lady sitting in a chair in front. She always smiles at the girls and waves, and when I pass by without the girls she asks about them (Chinese, hand gestures, I’m pretty sure that’s what she’s asking!). She was especially excited to see the girls all dressed up today and gestured us over.

It’s a little hard to have a conversation, but she pointed at the girls and said “jei jei” and “mei mei” (big sister, little sister)? I said yes, and then pointed at myself and said “mama.” She said something excitedly and clapped her hands, and then I pointed at Mimi and said “nai nai” (grandmother), and she was even more excited and clapped and gave a thumb’s up. It was a very affirming encounter, and I’m really glad we stopped to “talk!” One of my biggest regrets in not speaking Chinese is not being about to speak with the older people here. Many younger Chinese speak English, but I’ve found it rare in people over 60. And I really appreciate the fact that there are old people, children, young adults and the middle aged all living together on campus. It really makes the college campus seem like a community, a small village within the larger city of Xiamen. The campus is truly our neighborhood, chock full of intriguing experiences. Today was a great example of that!


Zartman said...

Fantastic post. What a great sense of community you have there.

Happy Memorial Day.

california mom said...

I am happy to find your blogs. I enjoyed reading them. I plan to bring my 2 young daughters (almost same ages as your cute ones) to Xiamen for 2 months this summer, July & August. Do you think 2 months will be worth it to go so far away to learn chinese? or is it too short. I hope you can email me for advice such as which school, area, and how to find a short term apt. thanks