Before I begin the recount of my experience in the Donghan village I would like to apologize for my delay in posting. Not only have we been extremely busy, but I have been trying to find a way to relay this story while conveying an entirely different aspect of Chinese culture.
We left Xi’an for Donghan village on a day like any other: humid, smoggy, and full of promise for life experiences. However, by the end of the day the kind of events that had happened gave me a new cultural perspective I did not expect.
Our bus ride started out with Maggie telling us that this was many delegates favorite stop on the trip and if by favorite she meant a little confusing, a bit scary, and hard to understand, she hit the nail on the head. The trip to the village wasn’t completely horrible, as it taught me to look beyond the limits of myself and find the true definition of an ambassador.
Our Real Life Tiger Mother
After stepping off the bus we met with our Chinese mother, a small asian woman with the short haircut popular among many other Asians. Hannah, Annelise, Destiny, and I greeted her with a warm ni hao and she began to lead us to her home. When we entered the small village we walked by houses close in proximity with streets connecting neighbor to neighbor. In the center of the village was a basketball court and a playground which we used as a meeting place. When we arrived we found that her house contained an opening where our table was already set for lunch. In the back of the house there were multiple rooms and on the left there was another bedroom and a staircase.
We expected to be introduced to the rest of her family and possibly their pets. As we searched for more signs of life we quickly realized she did not understand a single world of English. The language we all spoke with ease was comletely foreign to her. She began taking our suitcases up the stairs despite our constant offers to do it ourselves. We walked up the stairs past the “Pag attention” sign to the scond floor. The sign contains something called Chinglish which I will take a moment to explain.
Chinglish is when Chinese characters are converted into English and the conversion is humourously incorrect. For example pag attention instead pay, saxphone instead of saxophone, beeter instead of better, and strawnberg ice cream when it is suppossed to be strawberry. One of the more hilarious ones we have found is impregnable fotress on a poster for apartments. Chinglish also consists of made up words and sentances that are structured incorrecrtly such as “In the construction, the inconvience to you, please forgive”. As an avid Chinglish watcher I must say, finding it around China has been one of the more exciting activities and I will try to post an example when I next come across it.
As for the second floor of our home stay house, it contained two guest rooms, one bathroom, and one locked room which either housed nothing or another guest. The rooms contained two beds, two chairs, one nightstand, and a television that did not work. Although the room was quite barren, it could have been much worse and we all made attempts to fill it with laughter and clothes.
The bathroom was not a porcelin hole in the ground, like many others, but the shower was just a shower head attached to the wall and the toliet paper had to be thrown into a waste bin next to the toliet to prevent clogging. All in all what we saw of the house was not terrible, but it did demonstrate the way of life for the Chinese in rural areas.
After lunch, which suprisingly did not consist of rice, we attempted to use hand signals to demonstrare to our home stay mother that we wished to head the basketball courts. We were to meet our fellow delagates there a few hours before we headed to the rabbit farm and the school for children learning English.
After our attempt to show her what we wanted to do she put up two fingers and tapped her wrist. We assumed she meant “You have to leave in two hours right?”. So we all eagerly nodded yes, however she began rubbing her face so I thought she wanted us to put on sunscreen. I again was grateful for the continued hospitality I was receiving, so I proceeded to put sunscreen on. We then walked outside as we believed she was permitting us to leave. She began to follow us and we figured she wanted to make sure we got to the court safely.
However, when we asked her where they were she proceeded to point back to the house and make a motion of sleep. Needless to say, we were highly confused however as her guests, we followed her wish. When we returned back to the house she again put up two fingers and then pointed up the stairs. Without understanding, we went to our respective rooms where it dawned on us that she meant nap until two o’clock.
But, because of the large cultural and language gap we had been unable to figure out the intent of her signals. When we finally were allowed to leave and head to the basketball court we created the name tiger mother for her as she had not allowed us to leave, seemed quite strict, and had not told us her name.
It wasn’t until the second day that we realized she wasn’t a disciplinarian, she just could not get across her points without blunt hand language. She meant well, but the barrier that seperated us was too large. All our valiant attempts to communicate could not leap that hurdle, as I had done with Frank and Thomas. I realized that being an ambassador at this point meant recognizing a huge cultural difference, understanding that it occured as a result of the setting we were in, and doing my best to work around it.
By the end of the stay, though, we were able to show her our Chinese names and take a picture with her and tiger dad, who appeared on our second day and could understand our hand gestures a bit better. Hannah and I even gave her a hug as a thanks for her kindness which she had shown in her tiger mother way.
A Little Slice Of Village Life
Two activities that we partook in while at the village was visiting the rabbit farm and a school where English is taught. The rabbit farm, personally, has been my least favorite event as I am a city girl. The program, according to Maggie, was designed for us to see farm life and I think it did a good enough job however I would have loved something more interactive than just feeding the rabbits. It did give us a feel for a different part of the country though, instead of the urban and monument filled cities we were used to visiting.
The English school also showed us the less glamorous side of the Chinese lifestyle. The building was rundown and quite dirty where as the school in Xi’an was much nicer and more state of the art. The classrooms did not have computers; however we were able to enjoy ourselves as we played musical chairs and seven up and taught them a few American songs. Again, although the circumstances were different we were still able to enjoy ourselves and understand the whole of the Chinese culture a bit better.
My Toughest Task Yet
On the playground during a basketball game a group of us were approached by a small girl looking for candy from us. We had been told to bring trinkets to give the children since they were used to visitors giving them gifts. However, this girl was going into our backpacks and attempting to pick pocket us. When we finally clued into her scheme we told everyone to watch their belongings and to not give her candy as it would encourage her to continue to follow us all. I personally, have anxiety about pick pockets as this is my first experience with them, so I was on red alert for any tricks she may pull. However, once she realized we understood what she was trying to do she began spitting and kicking us. We were appalled and attempted to ignore her, however it proved difficult. We finally all just headed home a little disgusted with the village.
Again in the afternoon a group of us encountered her and her friend where they again harassed us with what I assume was hateful language, spitting, and kicking. They had no shame in reaching into our pockets and violating our personal space. We ran, hid, and used every kind of diversion tactic we had in our arsenal except nothing worked. We could not speak Chinese to them, another language barrier, and we could not physically remove them from our path. As students who believe we can take care of anything and face any challenge without help, it was hard for us to admit we were going to need help. We ended up calling Maggie and having her come to the area we currently were congregated in. After explaining the situation to her, she was able to reprimand the little girl and threatened to send her to the police station like a lion protecting her cubs. Later that night, one of the little girls returned the money we had used as a diversion tactic and candy to one of us and we were not bothered by them again.
For me, the experience as a whole was confusing as well as strange. In America, most children would never behave in such a manner and it was quite upsetting to see all of the events unfold. After talking to Maggie she explained to me that they are young and live in a highly uneducated area. She told me that they are taught no better. I also believe they have been brought up to prey on foreigners and probably to specifically target Americans.
In the end, after sifting through all the events and happenings of the two days in the Donghan Village, I have to chalk it all up to a cultural experience unlike any other. On a normal trip, foreigners only see a fraction of the cultural life, mostly the tourists and a few locals who live in urban areas. But, People to People gave me a chance to look past the normal definition of ambassador to one where I had to face an uncomfortable situation and keep my composure while trying to understand a different part of a culture I thought I know well.
If you made it this far in the post, I thank you. As always, feel free to comment below on any aspect of the Asian culture you are interested in or to give me feedback on how I can better these posts as I approach the last five days of this beyond amazing trip.