My Chinese Family
Looking back six months to when I was boarding my plane to Shanghai, I distinctly remember wondering why I wasn’t more nervous. I was moving to China for an entire year and it seemed to not even faze me. Fast forward a week through orientation, and I arrived in Guangzhou to meet fellow teachers from my host school and move into my apartment. Still feeling slightly jaded, I thought the year would fly by. I found my school liaison holding a sign with my name on it. The nerves set in instantaneously when I attempted to speak Mandarin upon greeting my school liaison, only to be met with a blank stare.
“What?” said my liaison. I repeated my Mandarin I had rehearsed over and over a little more quietly this time. The same blank stare. “Um, we must go to the car,” was the response I received.
I immediately noticed the difference between old and new, as the earlier buildings in the city were slowly being turned into skyscrapers.
The first few weeks I can only describe as a random mix of confusing events. I received two rice cookers for my apartment, but no chairs for my desk or table. I realized the reality and difficulties of not being able to read ANYTHING whatsoever. I walked to school surrounded by alien sounds only to be stopped in my tracks when I heard an occasional “HELLO!”, although, it was impossible to discern where it came from. Slowly, I began to adjust to such things as cooking in my new kitchen.
The first Friday I was greeted in my office by an English teacher: “My family would like to date you tomorrow afternoon. Is that OK?” While I was not entirely sure what she meant, I happily agreed. The next day she showed me a nearby park and brought me back to her apartment to introduce me to her family. She even styled my hair in preparation for a local news TV interview I had at the school.
As the weeks turned to months, I became more comfortable in my new home. Speaking and listening remained difficult, due to the fact that in Guangzhou, Cantonese is widely spoken as opposed to Mandarin. I began to explore the numerous alleys that wind through the city, and I was rewarded with finding hidden treasures, such as the neighborhood birds hung together to chat.
As I grew close with my school liaison, her mother and aunt invited me to lunch. With the three of us speaking not more than “Thank you” in each other’s languages, we had an instant connection. I looked at photographs they showed me of their recent trip to America, we laughed together over the hand gestures we were trying to use for communication, and we served each other dumplings and tea before serving ourselves. Soon after, I was invited to my liaison’s birthday dinner, which consisted of her entire family. They swiftly treated me just as any other family member.
I was then invited to their homes during the holidays and attended their family Chinese New year dinner. While enjoying the walk back to the metro together, her niece begged me to stay the night at her apartment. It was so nice to feel a sense of family, while my biological family was half way around the world.
Although this journey has been difficult at times, and has taken some turns I had not anticipated, I know I can face any challenge with the support from so many because I now have a family in China.