Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Reflections on China

Thanks to everyone who has given us time and privacy to "cocoon" with Maggie!  If anyone has been holding off on coming to meet her and would like to, let me know.  We're in between surgeries and would be open to quick visits over the next couple weeks.

As time goes by and we share details of our trip from China with friends and family, we get surprising reactions to some of our experiences.  My main focus of our blog, of course, was on Maggie. But along the way we learned a lot about China itself, its people and its culture, so I thought we'd share some reflections here.

We are SO GLAD we were able to experience China.  It was the trip of a lifetime. Yes it was hard to leave our kids and to be gone so long (17 days!) and be out of our comfort zone. But to have experienced another culture, the culture of our daughter, is priceless.  Plus we really enjoyed ourselves for the most part!  We definitely wish we had been able to experience that with Allie.  We look forward to some day planning a big family trip to both China and Korea.

And of course, I could not have done it without this guy.   He kept me sane and calm, and we had such a great time!

The following are just my thoughts and observations, no judgments. We're very grateful to the country of China for allowing us the privilege of becoming Maggie's forever family.

*China is FULL of people.  I know this goes without saying, but it's hard to grasp it until you are there.  There are literally people everywhere. Walking down the street is like being squished in a sardine can where sardines are wiggling in every direction.  All the other "sardines" seem to know how to go with the flow and fit in easily, where as us "foreigners" clearly never quite figured it out.

This outdoor market was insanely crowded.  You just had to go with the flow!

Lots of people means lots of apartments.  Buildings like this everywhere.

*There is no such thing as personal space.  They will come right up to you, stare at you, touch you, ask to hold you baby (which we learned through another family who had a terrible experience getting their baby back that you should say NO when asked this!).  Most of this is done out of curiosity and kindness, but is more than us Americans are accustomed to.  One Chinese person told us, "Chinese people have a bad habit of being rude."  We took it all in stride, though, and didn't take offense.

*We are like celebrities there.  People would literally stare a hole through us as they walked by, then turn their head and continue staring at us behind them as they continued forward.  Jeremy saw a woman run her moped into a pole while watching us!  We were grabbed and put into pictures with other Chinese people, just for being American.  Anyone with blond hair is especially fascinating to them!

*WATCH OUT ON THE SIDEWALKS!  Walking down the street is insanity.  In some cities, they allow scooters on the sidewalks with pedestrians. There appears to be no right-of-way for us walkers.  I started wishing I had the neck of an owl while we were out walking, I felt like I had to constantly be looking in every direction to make sure we weren't going to be run over.  They would literally come from behind us and then cut right in front of us without looking or slowing down.  The scooters are electric, so they make no sound, so you never knew when it was safe!  Some intersections were so big that you had to cross in phases.  We'd have to make a mad dash to a median, wait, dash to the next median, wait, cross again to get to the other side!  All with a baby strapped to me. Crazy.

*The streets are pure chaos.  There are cars Every. Where.  There are many lanes of traffic, and no one seems to abide by them. They create their own lanes, zoom over to cross lanes without looking and never, ever slow down. At least that's how it seemed! Some drivers were better than others. We took a lot of buses arranged by our agency, and some taxis as well.  There were a few times when I would actually be sweating by the time we arrived, it was so intense! I wish I would have taken more pictures, as there are no words to describe it!

One crowded intersection, but we saw some more crazy than this.

*Scooters-they get their use out of these things! They're made for one person, but we saw up to 3 on one at a time.  They put their kids on there without strapping them on or wearing a helmet. They tie big loads onto them and off they go.

This is actually a bike of some sort with a huge load attached.

*You don't tip cab drivers or waiters at restaurants.  If you do, they will give it back.

*They spit. A lot. Wherever they are.  We were at the indoor pool at our hotel, and one swimmer would spit into the gutter of the pool after each lap. Not quiet little demure spits, but big, loud, echoing hawking things.

*The kids wear "split pants".  Their pants are literally open in the crotch and they wear no underwear. Parents let kids pee (and poop!) wherever they are. We saw several parents lift their child over a garbage can on the street and let them go in the can, then went on there way. I saw one kid who missed the can and peed all over his mom!  No need to undress.  It's not uncommon to see little bare bottoms sticking out of pants!

*It's also believed that babies and children should be thickly bundled in order to stay warm.  Many babies, especially those in orphanages, live in these big, thick snow suit type clothes.  When Maggie was handed to us, she looked much bigger than she is. She couldn't move her arms and legs due to her big 'ol outfit!  Chinese people will come up and cover up other people's babies if they think they're not warm enough! We tried to make sure she was covered while we were out and about!

Maggie in her "snowsuit" with split pants (she had a diaper on).

*Smog is a real problem in the big cities. The air is just thick and gray.  We got so used to it that when there was a clear day with blue skies near the end of our trip it was surprising!

*Smoking is still common there. In restaurants, hotels, anywhere.  Add the smokey air to the smoggy air and it's hard to catch a good breath sometimes.

*Squatty potties.  Yep, you squat over the pot (potty).  I had mentally prepared myself for these ahead of time.  Thankfully, a lot of places had regular toilets, but I did use a couple squatty potties while there.  They were cleaner than I envisioned, thankfully, and I managed. But why?  Why?

*Toilet paper.  Bring you own cuz they don't always provide it for ya. Not as in the roll is empty in the stall, but as in, they just don't put out toilet paper.  One time I used the bathroom, realized there was no toilet paper and I left mine in my bag out with Jeremy, so I just did the best I could. On the way OUT of the bathroom I realized there was one community roll of toilet paper hanging on the wall.  Guess I was supposed to grab some on my way in!  But a lot of times there is none at all.

*Food. Some of it is wonderful. Some is not.  We had some absolutely fantastic meals.  Then there were some where we basically just ate rice or noodles to avoid some questionable other things.  Luckily our agency guides did a great job at giving us tips on where to eat and where to avoid.  It's pretty common for visitors to get sick from the food there, but we thankfully avoided that.  We also brought some of our own food, like granola bars, oatmeal packs, and chicken soup packs. We were able to have some meals in our room and avoid eating out all the time.  Another funny thing we noticed-often the drinking glasses are tiny; we felt silly but had to keep asking for refills!  I guess they don't do the Big Gulps like we do here.  :)

Hands-down our favorite meal was home cooked by a family who served us in their home 
(see the little drinking glasses?)

*Breakfast. Breakfast was included with our rooms and boy did it put American Continental breakfasts to shame!  The buffets just went on forever, filled to the brim with both American and Chinese breakfast foods. Yum!

Not a great video, but the food is lined on both sides in the first part of the restaurant, then after we turn the corner it is just a huge, fancy, ongoing spread of food. This was in our last hotel.

*Water.  Tap water is not safe in China. It's amazing how we take safe water for granted.  This meant we also had to avoid ice while there, which was really hard to do!!  So we drank only bottled water and coke/sprite without ice.  One time at "Pizza Hut", they brought our cokes with ice in it and we had a heck of a time trying to communicate to the waitress that we wanted the Coke but not the ice. We finally had to dig a piece of ice out of the cup, put the ice down on the table while miming "no"!  We also had a kettle in our hotel room to boil water, which was really important for Maggie's bottles.  We used that thing a lot!  We also had to remember not to use the tap water to brush our teeth.  We'd heard of people getting really sick from forgetting and using tap water while brushing.  And we had to remember to keep our mouths closed in the shower to make sure no water ran in.  Thankfully, when we got to our last city of Guangzhou, we were told that the ice was safe there and in the McDonalds by the hotel. That coke with ice never tasted so good!!

*China blocks certain websites, so we had to have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) in place to be able to use Blogger and Facebook while we were there.

*When we got to our first hotel, it took us forever to figure out how to turn the lights on!  We finally discovered that you had to put your room key card into a slot by the door, and then you can turn the lights on. It was that way in all of our hotels there, and it's actually a pretty nifty idea. Saves energy and also keeps your key card in one spot where you can find it!  Some hotels you also have to insert your key card to work the elevator.

*Walmart.  Yes, there's Walmart in urban China.  It's quite an experience. They have most things you would need, including a lot of name brands we know and love. They had Snickers, Pringles, Oreos, you name it.  They also had things our Walmarts don't have, like whole chickens (with heads and everything, hanging from the ceiling!) and all kinds of other fresh animals and fish.  There were parts of it that did not smell good at all. I kept thinking I was so glad I wasn't there pregnant, I would not have been able to go in there!

*Despite having a very strong culture that is distinctly Chinese, they are also very westernized.  The malls have many American stores like the Gap, etc. They dress very similar to us.  There are also American restaurants everywhere, such as McDonalds, KFC, Subway and Pizza Hut.  Although the Pizza Hut was more of a fancy restaurant with a large, diverse menu that included lots of Chinese food too.  And maybe because we had grown tired of Chinese food, but the McDonalds burgers, fries and cokes tasted SO GOOD!!!!

We had such a fantastic trip.  Everything went well, thankfully!  We were filled with such a sense of peace and adventure.  And we have such great memories of our daughter's homeland.

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