I need to pee, but I forgot the word for bathroom…
It’s silent now; as I suspected. Let me fill you in.
This morning, I woke up around 7:00 and showered (although, I’m not really sure you could call it a shower considering there was barely any water and it was freezing). Those that woke up in time met in the “hotel” lobby (it’s really a dormitory for foreigners visiting the university), and immediately shuffled off to the cafeteria.
The cafeteria is a giant rectangular building with venders along the walls selling anything from bottled water to fried duck feet. In a desperate attempt to have some vegetables, I found a vendor selling little pita-like pockets overflowing with mixed green dishes. I was able to order one of these with the help of an interpreter, as well as a wonderful cup of warm soy milk (I know that may sound disgusting to some people, but you haven’t tried this soy milk).
Here’s the thing though. It’s hot. Very hot. And I don’t mean chill-by-the-pool hot; I mean if-you-don’t-have-water-you’re-dead kind of hot. And muggy. The humidity clings to your skin and refuses to leave, even after hours of sitting in air conditioning. Basically, I felt gross.
After breakfast, my roommate and I dragged our exhausted bodies up four flights of stairs and into our beds, where we complained about the wifi, called home, and napped. Then, as requested, all students gathered in the lobby once more to be shipped off to lunch at a duck restaurant (I don’t actually remember the name for it… It might have just been The Roast Duck). On the walk to the restaurant, I noticed that every woman walks with a sun umbrella. These umbrellas are rather colorful, too, so the street looked rather cheerful despite the chaos of the road. I even saw two women riding a moped and holding an umbrella over their heads… Not sure that’s the safest thing, but at least it keeps the pesky sun away from your face.
Lunch was… interesting. The dishes were all served on a rotating disk that sat in the middle of the table. Green tea was poured, and our interpreters also asked specially for bottles of cold water (they were not cold). Without napkins, the meal was a little… messy, to say the least. The duck though, was fantastic (and yes, I’m being rather lenient with my vegetarianism). None of us knew what was inside each dish (and there were about 15 dishes coming and going) so we spoke through phrases like “this tastes like chicken but looks like shrimp” or “this has the texture of watermelon, but tastes like beef.” We all chatted about random things and really got to know each other, which was a little sad since we knew we would soon be separated.
We had 20 minutes between finishing eating and preparing for meeting our host family, in which I did exactly one thing: freak the heck out. I’m not really sure what I was so terrified about, but it was overwhelming.
There was a little ceremony in which we received copies of our passports, a Samsung smart phone (this program is pretty great), and transportation cards. A foreign exchange student from Korea sang Let Her Go and played guitar, and my past roommate (the one from Kentucky that miraculously spoke Spanish) decided to sing a Chinese duet with her. The music was fantastic. After a few speeches made by the program heads and a quick picture, we entered a room with host families filling the back seats. While filing in, a woman standing to the side of the room alongside the interpreters caught my attention. I have no idea why I looked in her direction, considering all of the host families were seated in back, but she had been looking at me. When we made eye contact, she immediately smiled… and her smile was familiar…
My fellow Americans and I sat in the front, as instructed, and listened for 10 minutes as a woman spoke in Mandarin.
Now, suddenly, voices chimed in. Lots of voices. Lots of loud, disturbed, desperate voices. And they were all speaking Mandarin. The host families, seated behind us, were yelling… why? We had no idea. Heads turned as one parent yelled over another from across the room. The program leaders were frantically running around the room in attempt to answer everyone’s questions, so no one was able to explain to us what was happening. Eventually, everyone calmed down and our RD said “they had some questions about the cell phones”… THAT WAS IT? All that noise because of cell phones?? We thought they all wanted to leave us in the dormitory and give up on the program!
They got excited, I guess.
Anyway, then they started calling up an exchange student and the host family’s surname. I glanced back at the young woman off to the side of the room once more, and noticed that she was still looking at me. The crowd in the room thinned as names were called left and right and people rushed towards the doorway to be swept off into Xi’an. Then, they called my name, and the woman leaning on the wall sprang towards me with a huge smile and grabbed my elbow immediately. “Hello! Do you speak Chinese?” she asked in a thick accent. “Yi dian” I responded with my pointer finger and thumb close together. As we navigated the crowd, she did not leave my side nor take her eyes off of me for one second. She grabbed my hand and led me to the elevator, a jump in her step and a twinkle in her eyes. “I knew it was you, because you were the most beautiful girl in the room,” she said enthusiastically (I think we’ll get along well). We talked sporadically about the weather, my trip to Xi’an, my lactose intolerance, and her little girl.
We rode the elevator up a floor and she guided me down an empty hallway into a room with a man sitting at the desk, whom she introduced as her husband. He does not speak English as well as she does, and it was very awkward, but eventually the three of us decided that my host mother and I would get my bags and drop them off in their car before joining her husband in his office again. Throughout the trip to the dorms and lugging my giant suitcase down the stairs (which was incredibly awkward because I think she was surprised at how heavy it was… heavy because of the gifts for her family, though), she explained that her husband worked at Northwest University (where my classes are), and that he was busy on the paperwork for my exchange program. She is also a teacher at the university, but she is on holiday to spend time with me. We then decided to drive home because her husband would be working for much longer, so in her little car (my head hit the roof), she weaved through China’s traffic around texting pedestrians and sneaky mopeds. Boy, the traffic here is crazy.
We ended up in a sketchy little parking lot underground and took an elevator up to the 24th floor, where she led me into their apartment. The rooms are incredibly nice with fancy furniture and clean, polished, marble surfaces. Despite the small size, it was very open and pleasant. My room is off to the side, and one wall has a giant window in which I have a view of tennis courts and the ginormous apartment buildings of Xi’an. I get a little uneasy when stepping near the window since we’re so high in the air. I can’t see very far due to the pollution, so I feel like I’m living in a little gray cloud of confusion. Her little girl was playing with her mother-in-law on the puzzle-piece carpet when I arrived, so I greeted them with a quick “ni hao” and was swept into my room to unpack and “make this my home.”
Well, now my host mother ran out to do some errands and the non-English-speaking grandmother is playing with my little host sister, and I really need to pee, but I can’t find the bathroom and I forget how to ask. So, I’m busying myself with unpacking and trying to cool down by changing clothes.
Then, my host mother came back home and the grandmother and little girl went off to play outside of the apartment. My host mother is adorable. She keeps coming into my room and asking if I need anything (she’s been in and out about 7 times while I’ve been blogging), and even brought me watermelon (do you eat the black seeds? I can’t remember…).
She came into my room recently and sat down next to me on the bed, asking a few questions about dinner. I smiled while she fumbled for English words, and encouraged her as she struggled to form coherent sentences. Suddenly, she exclaimed “I’ve been waiting so long for you to come here and I’ve thought long about what I say to you, but now, once you’re here, no words come out!”
“I feel the same way, don’t worry.” I responded, and just from that I feel so much better.
She has a little English dictionary app on her phone that she uses every now and then to look up words. When handing her phone to me and pointing at the word “black pepper,” I just smiled and said it sounded great. Have I ever had a black pepper? What is a black pepper? Oh well, she said she’s also serving chicken. We’ll have dinner in a half hour.
I tried saying something in Mandarin, but my host mother looked so confused that I’m a little discouraged now. We’ll figure it out.
My host mother also asked if I wanted to go to a tennis class with her tonight, but I told her that I was rather tired, so she’s letting me rest. Honestly, I’m just trying to not embarrass myself too horribly on the first day.
Um… so… a few people just stepped into the apartment and started speaking Mandarin rather loudly… I think I’ll just stay in my room and look occupied for a little while longer.
My little sister just wandered into my room, and then stopped dead in her tracks when she saw me. Her smile dropped, and her blank expression froze as her mouth slowly drifted open. Then, a face popped around the door’s corner (the grandfather, I assume) who said “ta shi ni de jiejie, ta shi ni de jiejie!” She’s you’re older sister! That warmed my heart.
Just had dinner with my mother and grandparents. We each had bowls of rice with chicken, fish and green peppers (not black) on big serving plates in front of all of us. They set out a fork, knife, and spoon for me, but thankfully my history with sushi trained me well for this moment. I proved my worth through my chopsticks ability (they were all rather impressed). The grandmother kept offering me food, but I told her I was full, and she refused to let me help her in the kitchen when I asked. The grandparents do not speak any English, so my host mother was translating every now and then. However, I know a little more Chinese than they think I do, so I was following their conversation as they discussed how pretty I am… Wasn’t the worst conversation I could ease drop on.
The family left me a present on the desk, but I’m not sure when I should open it… I’ll leave it there for a little while longer.
I’m having difficulties with my charger converter, so if this is my last blog post, you’ll know why…