Day 6: Stay On Your Toes and Eat Your Rice

Love being stared at by strangers…

*That phrase was loaded with sarcasm.*

Prepare for long post, ’cause a lot went down in the past day (and last night).

Oh, but really quick, I forgot to write something in my last post and the internet here won’t let me edit it, so I’ll say it now. Remember when I said we had a little ceremony before meeting the host families? When there were speeches and duets and riots about cell phones? Right, so in that room, there was a giant, red banner that read “A Warm Welcome to NSLI-Y Partipants to Xi’an, China!”… Partipants. I would upload my picture of it, but again, the wifi is pretty awful. Oh well, they tried.

So, after I posted last night (oh, I bought a charger by the way! My computer will live!) I decided to take a shower, and my host mom was showing me how to turn on the hot water. She gestured towards a cabinet filled with toiletries, most of which were American brands. Her lips moved slightly as she squinted her eyes to concentrate on pronouncing the English words on the bottles. But, suddenly, she paused and threw her head back as she laughed, exclaiming “oh right! You can read that!”

Anyway, once I finished showering, I scampered off to my room as everyone else departed for their own beds while muttering “goodnight” in various languages (I say “various” because their broken English might as well be another language sometimes).

Here’s the thing, on top of my bed (which is as hard as a rock and I woke up with bruises on my hips from lying on my side) is a brown overlay. I’m not entirely sure how to describe it, or what it’s made of, but it’s flimsy (yet hard) and has an arabesque pattern curling around the edges. Do I sleep on this? Do I sleep under it? Do I take it off the bed? Is that actually a bed? I had no idea what to do. So, naturally, I texted my mom back home and told her to look it up online for me. 

She didn’t know either (let’s face it, mom; you tried, but you had no idea what it was). So, when in doubt, take it out. I folded it up and shoved it under my stone bed and slept on top of a sheet/mattress/thingy (don’t even know what that was), with a comforter resting over my feet (but it was soon completely discarded from the bed due to the extreme heat).

Once I woke up in the morning (very early due to jet lag), I saw that another student posted on the group chat saying, “oh, just a heads up guys. Sleep on top of the brown overlay ’cause it will keep you cool at night.” I wish I read that before I woke up sweating.

Speaking of physical reactions to the weather in Xi’an, only five minutes after I rolled out of bed, my nose started gushing blood. Now, I don’t mean one of those cute little nosebleeds that girls get in the movies to get the attention of some guy, I mean gushing. Now, here’s the other thing. A normal person would be like “oh, that’s normal, I’ll just hold some tissues under my nose for a minute and sit down.” Well, I’m not a normal person. I’m a squeamish hypochondriac that faints easily. 

So what did I do? I frantically ran into the bathroom to grab some toilet paper to stop the bleeding, but they were out. Great timing. Then, I remembered there were some napkins in the other room, so I ran in there and grabbed the entire box and shoved them under my nose. Then, with my foot, I mopped up the drips I made around the bathroom (I knew that if I used my hand to stop the bleeding, then I would see my hand covered in blood and faint… this was pretty much a lose-lose situation).

And of course, that’s when the nausea kicked in.

So, I ran into my room, shut the door, found another box of napkins, fell onto my bed, stuck my head between my knees, and texted my mom again (sorry, mom; you’re the emergency hotline).

I thought I was dying. I remembered that in a show, this girl had a random nosebleed and she ended up with leukemia. I had never had a nosebleed before, plus, my nose was still bleeding. I didn’t know there was that much in my body (well, I did, but I wanted to use a hyperbole in that sentence).

Anyway, my mom explained that due to the new air and dryness and stuff, nosebleeds were very common (especially among foreigners in China). So, like the wonderful person I am, I texted my student group chat to warn them of the possibility of nosebleeds. And, as if on cue, a girl texted back saying “right as I read your message, I got a nosebleed.” Yay! Well, no, not yay… I’m sorry, but at least I know it’s normal now! Anyway, all of this happened before anyone else in the family was even awake.

I ate breakfast with my host mom and dad, and then my mom took me out for shopping while the father went to work (I think… he wasn’t too clear about where he was going… actually, wait, he wasn’t even at breakfast… this is what happens when I have jet lag). Okay, so yes, my mom (whom I call Yuan Yuan) guided me around the city in search of a China Mobile SM card for my China phone. 

Here’s the great thing about being American: people let you enter places for free. Here’s the bad thing: you’re constantly being stared at and older men keep trying to talk to you. Wherever we went, everyone was staring at me. E v e r y o n e. Even people driving Taxi’s would stop in the road and stare at me (I told you China traffic was crazy; if you’re not on your toes, you’re roadkill). People kept trying to hand me fliers, and Yuan Yuan would just say “mei guo” (America), and they would leave us alone. 

Yuan Yuan always leaned towards me and linked our elbows before saying “everyone is talking about how beautiful the girl on the street is that’s beside me.” Well, at least they’re not staring because I have food on my face or something (and I was already constantly checking to see if my nose was bleeding… I told you I was a hypochondriac).

What was absolutely incredible though, was watching my host mom. You could tell she was thinking long and hard before saying something to me in English. I could always sense when she was about to speak to me. Also, every now and then, she would whip out her phone and look a phrase up in her dictionary-translator (she searched anything from fruit to anti-corruption laws). We talked non stop about random things.

Here’s the other thing about her. Whenever she was asking a cranky woman on the street for directions, or talking to an older security guard with permanently stitched eyebrows, she always made them smile. Now, I have no idea what she says to these people, but I swear the instant she starts talking, their faces light up. I can’t believe it. She is absolutely incredible.

Anyway, Yuan Yuan and I got a little- no, we got very side tracked, and she ended up showing me around a part of Old China (there were signs for McDonalds everywhere, by the way). She led me into a museum about the Tang Dynasty with all sorts of ruins and hidden treasures. After reading the short blurb in Chinese about the display, she would explain to me why it was important, and how it was used, and any information she could gather. Some of the plaques had English on them, and I helped her sound out the words to aid her English studies. I learned a bunch of random Chinese phrases that she thought were interesting (go look up liuliang), and studied intricate carvings of “big, fat, old women,” as Yuan Yuan calls them. 

Two security guards started staring at me as Yuan Yuan pulled me into an exhibit about Chinese drums. They yelled in Mandarin from across the room at me, and it didn’t sound too polite. But Yuan Yuan just smiled and yelled something back, making the two men laugh and grin at me instead of glare at me like prey. They continued speaking to me, and I heard one of them stop and say “zhi dao bu zhi dao” (basically means ‘do you understand me’ in this context), so I responded with a rapid “bu zhi dao” (don’t understand), and the two men laughed again. Yuan Yuan finished the conversation with a few pleasant phrases and pulled me aside to continue walking through the exhibit. 

“They talk about American politics,” she explained. “They called America ‘mean China’, but you don’t have to listen to them.” I also heard one of the men ask if I was her American friend, and she responded saying that I was her very close American friend that she takes care of (proud of my small amount of comprehension abilities).

Throughout the day, Yuan Yuan would keep exclaiming “you’re so white! I’m so black!” or “you’re so tall! You will grow even taller, yes?” I think that was her way of politely explaining the stares.

Honestly, we had a blast. We were just running around the city (and when I say running, I mean her pulling my hand as we wove around cars in intersections) and exploring and chatting and laughing.

Anyway, yes, despite the little detours, we did get a SM card, as well as my charger (yippee!) and a LOT of groceries. 

Here’s the thing (wow I’ve been saying that a lot) about Chinese stores in the city. The grocery store is HUGE. The building was three floors with literally everything (yes, everything), and even had an escalator ramp thingy-mabobby (a ramp that moves like an escalator for people with shopping carts). 

She dragged me over to a giant display case of baked goods, and told me to pick out what I like. But, of course, I didn’t recognize anything. And, I’m also not really a sweets kind of person. I like fruits and veggies (yes, I’m a nerd, get over it). “What’s your favorite?” I asked, only to earn the speedy response of “no, not me. This is you! You pick out your food!”

Um… okay, Yuan Yuan. So, I accepted the bags she thrust into my hands and I picked out random things. I actually have no idea what any of them are and I haven’t tried them yet. After I satisfied her by filling an armful of bags with candies and pastries, I asked “so, now that I’ve picked them out, what’s your favorite?” 

“Oh, I don’t like candies. I like fresh fruits. Everything else is too sweet.”

This would have been good to know before I picked out 4 bags of sugary foods, Yuan Yuan. 

But that’s alright, because our next stop was the fruit section of the store. We bought bananas, liuliang (did you look it up yet?), lemons, peaches, and some other strange Chinese fruits. She also wanted to fill me up with junk food (she was convinced that I really wanted it, but wouldn’t tell her I wanted it (she kept telling me where all of the KFCs were located)… I’m not a junk food person). We bought a lot of weird stuff: dried squid and fish, baked beans in a bag, pies that look like Oreos, etc. Then, we walked home, where we ran into my host grandfather carrying a hot pan of what I originally thought was moldy corn that had been left in the sun for at least three days… Yuan Yuan saw this and said “oh great! Lunch is ready”…

(It was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted and I can’t even pronounce its name). 

Boy, the family loves to mock me. Not in a mean way, but… hm… Well, the entire family thinks I’m anorexic (which I’m definitely not). The thing is, a 3pm lunch is 3am for me. I’m not hungry at 3am. Plus, authentic Chinese food is extremely filling, so I’ve been eating the small bowl of rice they set out for me with bits and pieces of each center dish. Yuan Yuan usually has two bowls, my host father usually has three, and I don’t think my grandparents ever stop eating. I overheard my grandmother say “maybe she doesn’t eat anything because she uses chopsticks so slowly”… I’M TRYING. It’s all fun, though. Yuan Yuan usually translates for me what’s going on (not often enough, though), so we all just laugh as they ask me whether or not I’m dying of starvation. 

Here’s the other thing (are we up to 5 repetitions of this phrase?) about how Chinese people eat (I’m not being racist, this is just how my family eats… and every other Chinese person that I’ve seen). They dig in. My grandmother was right when she told me they slurp and sip and lean into their bowls. It takes two hands to eat Chinese food correctly. You know why chopsticks are difficult to use? Because Chinese people tip the bowl and use the sticks to drag the food into their mouths. By distancing your mouth from the bowl, there’s more room for chopstick error. Also, they can be a little messy. When pulling the bones out of the fish, they’re often left on the table. Sometimes there’s a small glass dish for scraps, but crumbs are found all around the bowls after meals. 

Okay, so then, after eating a very large lunch, I did a very American thing: I took a two hour nap. I’m tired, okay?!

And I was exhausted even after the nap.

After waking up, I was still incredibly full. Like, very full. Like, after dessert on Thanksgiving kind of full.

But then they were serving dinner… *facepalm*

I told myself that I would try to eat more to please the family, but… I thought they would at least separate lunch and dinner by more than two hours. And their meals are huuuuuge. So, I barely ate anything. My host family kept laughing at me. (I don’t mean all of this to sound upsetting because I found it quite hilarious at the time, but for some reason it sounds worse than it actually was).

Anyway, so then my mother and father asked if I wanted to play tennis with them… I didn’t really want to because I was so tired, but I just suddenly said “sure!”…

Why do I do these things to myself?

They said we would go play in a few hours once the brutal sun went down, so I spent the time setting up my new phone, studying my 1 year old sister’s picture books (those things are gold mines for learning Mandarin), and (of course) refusing additional food. 

So, something funny about American names for the Chinese. Lots of Chinese people actually like to adopt an American name, which can be quite hilarious. For instance, when ever someone is introducing themselves, they’ll say “I’m … (this is where they fill in their long and confusing given name with funky tones)” and then pause to say “but you can call me Lucy.”

Yesterday, my host father told me to call him something along the lines of “kee-yah-men”…?

Today, I realized he was trying to say “Kevin.”

Kevin’s English fluctuates a bit. Yuan Yuan always makes fun of him; it’s pretty funny. Every time he tries to speak English to me, my host mom just claps her hands wildly as she laughs and declares “I didn’t even understand you!” Kevin and I decided that I would teach him proper English, and he would teach me Mandarin. Fair trade.

I’ll fast forward a little bit.

Tennis was so much fun. I played very well (kind of shocking, actually, considering I haven’t played in a week and I was about to faint from exhaustion). Yuan Yuan and Kevin both teach tennis, so they were instructing me a little bit, but I was better than all of their other students. Kevin and I had a rally going that lasted over 100 hits.

I watched Yuan Yuan give a lesson to a woman that told me to call her “Eleven” (wasn’t sure if I should tell her that her “American name” was a number or not, so I left it alone), and noticed that my host mother does an excellent job of mirroring the abilities of her students. She can really hit the ball well, but with her less advanced students she is much softer. 

It was incredibly fun, until I realized there was a group of people that surrounded the court. Originally, I though they were watching the lesson, but no; they were staring at me. 

Anyway, super fun and interesting day. 

Oh, quick thing. You know how I said that a lot of Chinese people love to eat? Well, I saw an adult student running his warm up lap around the tennis court tonight while eating noodles… It’s great here.

I have to get up in 5ish hours, so bye! Let’s hope the humidifier Yuan Yuan put in my room will prevent additional nose catastrophes. 

Bye! Happy Independence Day!


5 thoughts on “Day 6: Stay On Your Toes and Eat Your Rice

  1. I was visiting Denver every other week for a while … and getting nose bleeds on day 2 or so. And that repeated again when I was visiting Utah 1 week a month last year. About day 2 I get a gusher! Like an X-Files scene talking to Mulder and Scully in the dinner kind of gusher.

    I’m really enjoying these posts. Thank you!


  2. Ana – it’s so fascinating – I so look forward to your posts! – plus your MA mom and I have had some very interesting chats – and I loved The Martian bit from your MA dad.


  3. Hi Ana! Sounds like a great time! I’m jealous. I love to travel, and you know how I love Asia, but since the kids…. Anyway, did you remember any of your Tang dynasty info at the exhibit? (Just my geeky curiosity.) Have fun. Keep an eye out for good Tang, Song, Yuan, or Ming tidbits. Maybe I can have you come speak to eighth graders next year! 😉


  4. Hey, Ana! Xi’an is, as I’m sure you know, is the ancient Tang dynasty capital of Chang’an, the model for later Japanese and Korean capitals. It’s exciting for me to read about you getting to experience some of the stuff we studied in eighth grade!


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