Day 13: Grandma, Stop Slapping Me

Um… no, I’m sorry, I still don’t understand. You can swat at my leg all you want, but I still have no idea what you’re talking about…

First off, I just want to let everyone know that Yuan Yuan is fine, and she just needs to be with her family for a few days. There’s no problem at the house, and everyone is safe as usual. She’s having a nice visit with her parents and will be back soon. I’m sorry if my last post was taken harshly, because that was not my intention. I simply wanted to convey the confusion that I was going through, considering everything here is confusing.

Okay, and now, the fun stuff…

This evening, after a 2 hour nap, we played ping-pong at the university. As I was walking beside my grandmother to the college, she started slapping her legs.

Now sometimes these slaps were executed rather mindlessly, and other times they seemed rather violent. She looked up at me and blabbered in Mandarin for a few minutes, which I think was her attempt at explaining her actions. While trying to make me understand, she started hitting my legs too. Of course, this didn’t fix anything. I still had no idea what she was doing, or what she was trying to say, except now she was slapping me. It didn’t hurt, but it was weird.

Anyway, I started to notice that a lot of older people do this. They sit down and just start slapping themselves. Now, this isn’t self-abuse or anything; I think it’s a way of relieving muscle tension after walking, or warming up for exercise.

Also, it’s a great way to keep bugs at a distance.

See, I’m used to simply swatting away flies and mosquitos, but slapping yourself does two things: kills the bugs under your hand, and creates a loud noise to scare off the bugs around you. At least, that’s what I think she said…

Let me skip ahead a little bit.

So, Yuan Yuan told me that her husband’s father was practically a ping-pong master (which he is).

And let’s just say my ping-pong skills are rather… disappointing at best.

He served the ball, and I tapped it back… a little too hard. It went flying over the table and into the street, making my grandfather chase after it and swerve around stealthy mopeds.

Okay, attempt 2.

He served again… and I hit it over the table… “Watch out for the car!”… Right, you can’t understand me… Okay, let’s try this again…

And then the ping-pong Gods finally decided to help me.

Basically, I crushed it.

I kept up just fine with my grandfather, and he even tapped out, having my grandmother play me while he rested. They switched back and forth as we rallied. We started picking up speed and doing more trick-shots, which led to some pretty interesting points.

I think my grandmother was rather shocked at how good I was. You know the “ancient-Chinese grip”? They hold the paddle with their thumb and pointer finger wrapped around the handle, where as in America, most people just wrap their palm around the grip. I noticed she tried switching to my grip. This didn’t work out too well for her, but it was really funny watching her attempt to imitate my poor form (but hey, it worked for me).

So, back to the slapping thing. While I was playing my grandfather, the mosquitoes were practically swarming around my legs like I was a free buffet. In America, she probably would have started spraying bug spray or helped swat away the bugs, but no. While I was in the middle of a point with my grandfather, my grandmother crouched down under the table and started slapping my calves to scare off the insects… It was just really weird. Really weird.

On the way home, my grandparents, father and I stopped to eat some noodles. I’ll just say this right up front: eating noodles with chopsticks can be tricky. These were very long, very slippery noodles.

Now, the other day, Yuan Yuan took me to try a noodle affectionately called the “Belt Noodle” because they are literally as thick as a trouser-belt. And about twice as long. Those were difficult to eat. But, Yuan Yuan was with me, so she helped.

Well, Yuan Yuan ain’t here right now, so eating thick noodles coated in a sticky sauce in front of your Chinese grandparents is challenging. Plus, they don’t see any shame in staring, so I have an audience whenever I struggle with eating. On top of that, it was about 100 degrees outside, making it about 110 inside the cramped, little noodle kitchen.

It was rough.

See, the trick is to pull on one noodle strand until you find the end, and then let it drop from your chopsticks. Next, you have to carefully observe how the noodle clumped together in the bowl, and separate it from the other noodles. Carefully, you then try to pick up just the single noodle and coil it around your chopsticks before carrying it to your mouth. This process takes about 5 minutes. Well, for me. They do it in about 10 seconds.

Seeing my misery, they asked for a spoon. Now, spoons aren’t too common in noodle shops, so about 5 workers started yelling across the kitchen to ask if anyone had some silverware for the inexperienced American girl (this didn’t help the staring, either). I thought my father had asked for a fork, because I said that’s how we eat pasta in America, but no. They gave me a ladle.

The ladle wasn’t too helpful. I think they intended for me to use the chopsticks to grab noodles and put them on the spoon, and then eat off of the spoon. But my problem was getting ahold of the noodles, not transporting them into my mouth.

In another attempt to help me, my dad disappeared for about five minutes, only to return lugging a giant sack of napkins, and bottles of water.

So here I am, an American teenager trying to eat traditional Chinese noodles with chopsticks and a soup ladle, downing water and rubbing the sweat off of my face as I shovel the food into my mouth in attempt to please my grandparents.

I miss Yuan Yuan.

Anyway, did I mention there’s a host family group chat? I think I did… I can’t remember. Well, yes, the host families all have a big group chat that one of my friends managed to hack into. So, all of the students are now in this group chat, even though none of the families are aware. Our Chinese phones also have this great feature that allows us to translate the Chinese characters into English. The English translations are usually more difficult to decode than the actual Chinese characters, though (thanks, Microsoft Translator).

Well, I was scrolling through the pictures that all the parents were sending, and noticed that my father had posted some pictures and videos of me playing ping-pong with the caption of “Ana is omnipotent- tennis, ping-pong, piano” (I told you we get along).

He also called me his daughter, and said he wants nothing more than my happiness and development in every aspect, not just in Chinese. Now, some of the older parents responded with something along the lines of “they are here to learn, they must learn Chinese. Practical teachings are best.”

But, my father replied with “we’re too focused on outcome instead of learning process. We must spark interest in the children instead of forcing them to learn.”

Well, he was scolded for being a “new parent” by some of the other host families, but I’m so touched by his caring perspective. He is a great dad, and he has a great wife, and they have a very lucky little girl. I’m so honored to be accepted into their family.

Only a few more days until Yuan Yuan is home!

More later,

Ana

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