While in China I had the unique opportunity of experiencing several home visits with everyday Chinese people. On one such visit, I got the chance to go to an apartment in what is considered an upscale neighborhood of Changchun to have lunch with a Chinese family. Even though I was in such a foreign place, I found unexpected familiarity and warmth, reminding me once again that we are more alike than different.
Upon arriving, I couldn’t get past the fact that the apartment building was bright pink. It looked like something right out of Miami Vice, but I decided it was better than the usual grayscale color schemes of communist architecture.
No elevator meant climbing several flights of stairs in a series of concrete hallways. The drab and industrial surroundings made me wonder about the Chinese definition of “upscale.” However, when the hosts opened the door to their home, I saw a beautiful little apartment with wood floors, modern furniture and “stone” decorated walls. Before stepping through the door, I was asked to remove my shoes and wear slippers. Apparently, the floors were new and the family didn’t want them scratched!
After spending time in hutong homes and rural farmhouses, I now understood why this neighborhood was considered wealthy. This family had more money and domestic conveniences than many Chinese will ever see, including a big screen TV, a portable A/C unit, and a state of the art Western bathroom. Most Chinese bathrooms consist of a hole in the floor that requires some skilled squatting, so this is a really a huge luxury. However, I was a little put off by the glass doors. The Chinese have a very different sense of privacy than the West in that there is little or no privacy!
Despite many conveniences, the family had to hang their laundry out to dry on the patio. The concept of in-home washer and dryers is almost nonexistent for the everyday person in China. Hand-washing and line-drying is the most common way to clean clothes. In almost every window in every town, I saw clotheslines!
In comparison to the rest of the house, the kitchen was very simple. On one side there were small cabinets and counters, while the other side had a small dining table. There were no full-size appliances. The stove was inset in the counter and consisted of two burners, while a small refrigerator and pantry were outside on an adjoining patio.
Despite the small space, the entire family set about making the traditional and delicious meal of meat-filled dumplings.
Once the filling was cooked, the family taught me how to make the perfect Chinese dumpling. A spoonful of meat filling goes in the center of a thin dough circle. Then, the circle is folded in half and the ends are pinched together. It sounds easy, but it takes some practice! Too much filling can make the fold split and too few pinches can cause the whole thing to fall apart. After stuffing and pinching, the dumplings are steamed to cook the dough.
Dinner was served buffet style and the family insisted on incredibly full plates. It is considered rude not to sample everything on a host’s table, so I loaded up my plate and ate everything! Every bite was incredibly tasty.
As with many Chinese families, multiple generations live under one roof. In this instance, the grandparents on the mother’s side lived with the family. The Grandfather was a particularly colorful character who loved to talk to anyone who would listen. Even with a language barrier, he was a chatty one. Towards the end of the meal, he started a drinking game in the kitchen. He could down a beer faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. After chugging more than a few, he was the life of the party.
Even though I was wearing slippers instead of shoes and I was surrounded by a language I didn’t understand, I strangely felt right at home. Good food, good people, and a funny Grandpa can make the distance of an entire ocean disappear.
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Just curious . . .
Any ideas on why stuffed animals in plastic bags are on display in the living room?
I noticed the cabinets were different colors in both the bathroom and the kitchen. Is there a reason for this or does it simply not matter that they don’t match each other or the house decor?
Is lack of privacy the result of cultural evolution or is it related to high population density? Or both?
Got a question, observation, or reaction? Leave your thoughts in the comment section – Let’s get a great conversation going!
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Previous “New Familiars” posts:
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