Guidance and Pep Talk Requested

Next week we are going to stop by a small village on the
Guangdong/Fujian provincial borders. There we will spend three nights with the family of a graduate student friend of ours. She tells us that the village is small but the house is big. We gratefully accepted her invitation but are now a bit nervous about the whole endeavor.

What should we bring in the way of gifts? What should we expect from the experience? What should we do to be on our best behavior? Although I am glad to have this opportunity, which, if the reactions of our Western friends here are any indication, is a rare one, I am concerned about our ability to pull the whole thing off.

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2 Responses to Guidance and Pep Talk Requested

  1. Janna Clar says:

    Awesome. Of course you can pull it off, and it will be well worth any inevitable small inconveniences / awkward moments / etc.

    Some random thoughts (and I could be way off base, having only been in “small villages” far away, geographically, from where you’ll be, not to mention I haven’t been back to China in nine years!):

    Since you say she lives in a “small village,” though it is hard to predict socio-economic situation of her village and family, you (and the kids) would do well to be prepared for living conditions very different from those in the big city. (possibilities: less indoor plumbing, different bedding than you are accustomed to (learn about beizi and how to properly fold up your quilt in the morning!), necessity of drinking boiled water (often while still hot) and sponge bathing, living in closer proximity with animals such as pigs and chickens, etc. Then again, when she says it is a small village, it might be as big as(and more populous than)Burlington. You never know.

    Just as when you are a one-meal guest in a Chinese home, there is a good chance you are going to be wined and dined to the family’s utmost capability, but this time for three days straight. So pace yourself, offer to help, and show the interest you naturally would in the cooking techniques, etc. Chances are, they’ll be glad to show off the local specialties. If you get a chance, go with someone in the family to the local produce market – that’s always a fun eye-opener.

    Remember humility – your Chinese language skills and other things you might not feel too proud about will likely be complimented frequently. Best not to say “thank you” very often for such things – good lines to keep in mind are “Nali, nali”; “Guo jiang le”; etc.

    It’s possible that you are among the first foreign guests in the village; therefore a group larger than your grad student’s family (possibly even the majority of the village, depending on the population) might be aware of your presence and try to do things to impress, honor, and treat you. (Don’t be surprised if you are introduced to the mayor, principal of the school, or the local party chief, for example).

    As far as gifts are concerned, you might consider something that represents where you come from – if you have any Vermont-themed gifts for example. Depending on your relationship with the grad student, you might ask her what her family would appreciate as a gift of appreciation for their hospitality. Learn more about them in advance to get a clue.

    Oh, also be aware that you will be there during the first 15 days of the new year / spring festival, so there is bound to be more celebrating going on. You might get to witness a family’s religious/ancestral objects/customs first-hand, too. If you’re offered “tang yuan” – a boiled sweet-stuffed glutinous rice ball usually in a light broth – go for it – it’s awesome and a treat only eaten this time of year.

    Bring a few photos of your families back in the US / where you come from / etc. to show them — good conversational pieces.

    If you are served tea from tiny pots in tiny cups, take tiny sips and savor.

    Last but not least, though I’m sure many of your students have only generous motives in mind, this one might possibly expect something significant in return, such as sponsorship (for herself or another family member) to come study/work in the US. Just be aware…the request might come at a much later date when your three-day vacation is a distant memory.

  2. Andrea Voyer says:

    Thank you so much, Janna!
    We went to the import store today and picked up some impressive looking American food in gift tins. In addition, we have some maple syrup to bring and will pick-up some Washington apples and Florida oranges. I will also text our friend for a run down of who else will be living at the house and what she thinks they might appreciate.
    At the import store we ran into an American who lives in rural inner-Mongolia. I shared my anxiety. She also suggested that we might expect limited plumbing, etc. It was interesting to speak to her because I was feeling a bit disdainful of the offerings at the import store (Hershey chocolates, for example, are available at almost any store in town) before I realized that I haven’t experienced rural China. Western items might still be unavailable (instead of just a luxury) outside of major cities.

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