by Lee Mook
“Ni gan mao le! Chuan ba! Chuan ba!” – Before a couple of days ago, I had never been forcibly clothed by a Chinese grandmother. Now, I can no longer say that. Because I am, in effect, her new adopted Grandson, my sweet, cheerful, and surprisingly strong grandmother, would NOT allow me to become sick, and so although it was only around 60⁰F she shoved a sweater over my head and cried the equivalent of “You will get sick! Wear it! Wear it!”
I am in awe at how quickly I have been accepted as a member of the family. The first day, I was calling my host parents mom and dad and my host brother little brother. By the second day, I was introduced to the grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, and nieces, all of whom asked me to call them grandpa, grandma, uncle, aunt, and big brother/sister or little brother/sister (what they call cousins in China) as if I had always been a part of the family. Within the week, for Fall Break, my family took me to the coastal town of Yan Tai outside of Beijing to meet my new Grandma and Grandpa from my dad’s side of the family and family friends living in Yan Tai.
As this verbal familiarity suggests, each family member has been incredibly nice. When eating, I am always asked if I would like more food or something to drink. My uncles and cousins have invited me to come play basketball and soccer with their friends. Aunts have offered to teach me how to cook various authentic Chinese meals and even offered to set me up with a nice Chinese girl (offers I have graciously declined). Family friends have offered me a place to stay if I am ever in Yin Tai. Lastly, but most importantly, all have offered a warm smile, an easy laugh, and an abiding patience as I grapple with the Chinese language.
I have had the past week off for fall holiday, initiated by China’s national day (the founding of the People’s Republic of China). What I had thought would be a relaxing week to roam Beijing and catch up on work was actually full of surprises and adventure, which in my humble opinion is most definitely better. My family’s trip to Yan Tai was a surprise, finding out that my first meal in Yan Tai was pig intestines was also a bit of a surprise, but even more shocking was meeting a Chinese family that travels to Chapel Hill every summer.
This Chapel Hill-frequenting family, upon hearing that I am going to UNC, invited me over to make and eat dumplings! It turns out that the mom (my new aunt) went to the Journalism school at UNC and fell in love. She takes her son, Frank, who is 16 years old, to Chapel Hill every summer. They love eating at Buns and Ye Old Waffle, adore the Women’s basketball, soccer, and tennis teams, and despise Duke (at least Duke’s sports teams)! In fact, Frank wants to major in sports management because of the times his mom and him went to UNC sports events.
A couple weeks ago I met an Australian engineer on the bus. I asked him for his advice, and he said “In China you are going to be surprised by almost everything. Once you figure that out you will go far here.” I have loved the surprises I have found; they keep me on my feet, ready for the next challenge, next adventure, next new family member, reminding me to keep my mind open and let go of pre-conceived biases. Plus, a life without a few surprises would not really be life, would it?