Things are starting to feel a lot more normal around here, it’s been 6 weeks since we arrived and I think we’re getting the hang of things. By the time you arrive in a couple of short months we’ll be well settled – I hope!
Anytime we head out here, we stick out; you’re going to notice that. That’s never going to change, and to be honest it doesn’t really bother me, I’m not generally aware of being stared at– although its hard to miss when we’re having our photo taken a lot, something that tends to happen if we’re in a more touristy area. Those taking our photos are probably tourists from parts of China and Asia where they don’t see a lot of blond haired, blue-eyed families.
Our immediate neighbourhood is fairly international, apart from the occasional truck full of workers noticeably slowing down to stare at us as they drive past, we don’t tend to stick out at all in a community of hundreds of international families – very close to two major international schools.
At a popular tourist spot a couple of weeks ago I noticed some parents urging their child to come and stand near us so they could get a photo with their child in it. I naively decided to play nice so got my kids to turn towards the camera for them…oh what a mistake! Seeing our compliance, suddenly Chinese children were being thrust towards us from all sides and grinning parents waved cameras around, nodding their thanks to us for letting them get the shot. Now, its nice to be noticed, but I’m no Kate Middleton, and facing the paparazzi got uncomfortable very fast! A few camera flashes later and I was urging my bewildered kids to get walking, we were out of there!
At the market yesterday, I noticed a change in the kids. The market stall-holders are predictably aggressive, but the kids aren’t intimidated anymore and have learned to keep walking, have learned that it’s okay not to stop and engage with everyone who talks to them. Olivia bartered for a new handbag with little help from me, even getting the hang of how to play the game and get her price. There is no way of ever knowing what the real ‘right price’ is, we assume we pay a premium because of how we look, but the point is to find a price we’re happy to pay rather than the lowest that they’ll go. I’ve learned to stop and think about what I want to pay for something before I ask the price. We’ve all learned that as soon as we’ve asked a price we’ve entered into something that will take some assertion to get out of if you decide not to buy, but we can do that too.
We’ve all been working on our Chinese, and trying to make an effort to use it more. Its great to hear the kids asking for water in restaurants using Chinese – it’s a small start but I know they’ll get more comfortable with it. The biggest help to learning language is our lovely driver: car journeys can be long, so I’ve taken to bringing flashcards to practice some Chinese as we get around. Our driver over heard me teaching the kids a phrase in Chinese and was keen to join in – so we have someone to correct our pronunciation and grammar and praise our efforts as we move around the city. He’s not shy about telling us who has the best pronunciation either (Olivia always wins!). Our ayi is also always keen to teach the children something in Chinese, I see her shifting almost into a grandmotherly role with the children, praising them and spoiling them! She has met some of our children’s friends, who are fluent in Chinese, she is so impressed with them she has taken it as a personal challenge to get our kids up to the same standard. She has taken a shine to Leo in a big way – most days she manages to corner him, make him eat tiny apple pieces she cuts up for him and repeat Chinese phrases back to her as he does, I’m usually eavesdropping from nearby trying to stifle my laughter, its hilarious. I’m sure what she says is right though; if Leo wants to grow up to be tall and cutie like his Daddy he should definitely eat apple everyday.