“Zaijian” literally means “see you again” in Mandarin. I have a strong feeling that I will be back in this city again. We are ending our stay in a similar way to the start of our journey. The same hotel, the same time of year, and a shuttle full of luggage. As I navigate the Chinese breakfast buffet, I order my water or coffee in Mandarin, and the waitress looks at me, misunderstanding me. She doesn’t expect a western woman to be speaking to her in Mandarin in the hotel restaurant. Then she understands, and all is well. The hotel employees look at us differently. We do not fit the mold of the type of people who stay here. I remember when we first arrived, and we were so nervous walking down the road to Europlaza mall. This week, the girls closed their eyes and walked on the tactile sidewalk strip for the visually impaired, testing to see how it works.
It is an emotional time, as our stay here has been only a year. Too short, in my opinion. Despite the brevity, we have gotten to know some locals, and I write this blog post so that I will never forget them. These are the people that I saw on a daily basis, who I grew to trust and got to know a little bit. I practiced Mandarin with them. Some of them spoke a little English with me.
Chen Fun Lien is the guard who is stationed at our compound gate near the school. I passed through his gate 4-8 times a day. Each time, he greeted the girls and I with a huge smile. He would always say, “Good morning! I can help you please!” He would take my badge and scan it on the gate to open it for us. Finally, one day I asked him his name, and he was SO happy to tell me. I wondered how many other people made the effort with him, since he was always so polite and kind. His smile really brightened our day, and we were really distressed when, on June 1, he suddenly wasn’t at his post! It was getting close to move out day, and finally, I asked another guard at the main gate where he was. “He’s there today,” was the response. I went to check, and sure enough, he was there. I said hello, and he was so sweet, saying, “Hello! I have missed you! I am happy to see you!” The girls had a special surprise after school that day when we were able to say goodbye to Chen Fun Lien.
Another person that we will always remember is our driver, Mr. Shi. There have been many miscommunications and misunderstandings, but there have also been many moments of connection. I made the effort to get to know him, and his family. He, in turn, took us to his family peach orchard in the Spring. We met his parents. The girls will miss him for sure. I was glad that he was the one to drive us in the Beijing traffic. I will look forward to driving myself in Raleigh!
Summer, my tutor. Summer was the first person that I could speak to about my cultural misunderstandings. She helped me with problems. She cooked dinner for me. We went to the fabric market. She loved my girls. My younger daughter learned a lot of Mandarin by listening in to my Monday afternoon lessons. She was encouraging and challenging and a wonderful teacher.
The flower seller outside DD’s market. In the cycle of a year, I watched this lady and her family bringing seasonal plants to the sidewalk. In the winter, they sold Christmas trees, and then were gone. I hoped she made enough money to last through those cold months. I wanted to start a Spring garden, but knowing we were moving, I only bought small container plants.
Ah, the tuk tuk. What fun this was! We were so grateful for it in the winter when we could zip to school. Its been in our subdivision for years, and will continue to be there for several more. I sold it to a teacher who lives there. What a handy way to get the groceries (or plants) home.
The Ayi. What a relief to have someone to take care of the household with all the illnesses that went through our home. I could take care of the children and myself, and she kept the laundry going and cooked dinner. She really helped make everything run more smoothly. I did have my moments with her…it seemed that every other month I was unsure about her. Each monday, I would go through drawers, returning clothes to the proper owner. For some reason, she couldn’t understand the western sizes. My linen closet, however, never looked so good. She made really good dumplings too!
I had to throw in this picture to remind me of my Beijing flowers. The roses thrive here. As do peonies. Bouquets of fresh flowers that were a fraction of the price of an arrangement in the US. The peach blossoms! Dried pussy willows. Lavender. Lush orchids, bamboo, peace lilies. So gorgeous and fragrant.
Here is the man that handled all of my outgoing mail and packages. At first, I was REALLY hesitant to send out packages. But really, only once did a package come back to me. We chit chatted and I practiced my country names in Mandarin and my number words. He saw every item I mailed out as gifts. Everything ended up being re-packaged, as it had to be in his boxes. So here he is.
We grew to LOVE sushi this year. This is the chef at our clubhouse teppanyaki restaurant. He cooks at the table, so he got to know our preferences pretty well. He was fun to watch and put together a great meal.
Another person that I must mention is the gardener that worked in my area of the compound. I don’t know his name, and I wasn’t able to get a photo of his face. We always greeted each other, and he was the one that I communicated with and who coordinated the tilling and planting of grass in our little square of a backyard. In turn, he was able to come use my bicycle pump anytime he had a flat tire on his bike cart. I think he spread the word about that, because one day some random young man showed up and asked for it. No problem. “Mei guanxi”.
Other things that I will miss:
Being able to call the spa and get a massage appointment in an hour. $40 massage. Divine.
30 minute scalp massage included with haircuts. Wow. I will be speaking with my US hair salon about starting this!
Biking to school. We all loved this. At the end of the year, Hollis was so proud to be able to ride her balance bike to school.
Sun parasols. You will see me using mine in Raleigh, for sure. I don’t know why it isn’t more popular in the West!
Excellent Asian food. I’ll be looking for Black Fungus with walnuts and Sichuan Bean Curd (tofu) on the menus in Raleigh…I don’t know if I’ll find it….My older daughter will be looking for roast duck and bok choy, and my younger daughter really likes fried rice. I’ll learn to make my own Shumai.
The markets. I’m scared to see what things cost in the US. The real price is about 1/10th of what we pay. Even when I haggled at the markets, I know the locals could get things even cheaper. As I westerner, I paid more.
Exploring the sites. The history of China is amazing. I will have to come back to see and explore more!
Learning and speaking Mandarin. I really enjoyed learning Mandarin, and I think that if I had more locals to practice with, it would have been better.
Asian fruits. I tried the dragon fruit, the pomelo, the custard apple, the lychee, and more. All delicious.
Green tea. My favorite is jasmine, but I also like pu ‘er with citrus in the winter.
The people. Fascinated by children, blond hair, blue eyes and foreigners. I wish I had photographed more young children and elderly folk. There have been some personalities for sure!