Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cultural Immersion

My sister, Jen, is a self-described Anglophile: one who loves all things British. Well, more accurately, probably all things Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. I could probably be accurately described as a “languaphile”: one who loves languages. I can say hello in about 15 different languages. I’ve worked to become pretty good with my pronunciation and accent. I’m fluent in English and Thai and can get around very roughly in Spanish. A few months before we came to China to get Graci I started working on Mandarin. I was able to speak a very little bit on that trip and then as Graci’s English improved, I quit using much Chinese. Then a couple of months ago I started working on Mandarin again. The last two days have been very helpful in becoming able to actually converse with people.

For those of you who don’t know, it is recommended that when you come to China to adopt, you arrive at least a couple of days prior to your appointment to receive your child. This allows you to get over the jet lag and be more ready to handle the joys and challenges of a new family member. Most families use these days to tour Beijing. On this trip, we came to Hangzhou first. This has allowed us to spend these two days with Graci’s foster family. She lived with them for almost 4 years, and came to love them very much. They also love her very much. We contacted a local interpreter, chartered a van to take us all around, and had intended to treat the foster family to meals and activities while we were here. Instead, we have been treated like royalty. Instead of having the van meet us at the airport, the family somehow came up with two cars for the weekend and they all came out (an hour drive) to pick us up at the airport. They helped us check in at the hotel and insisted on paying for our stay here! They have treated us to two very nice restaurant meals (more on that in a minute!) and showered us with gifts and food. After the meal last night, I asked our interpreter to let them know we would like to pay. The father said, “We’ll have to fight.” Anyway, it’s been a great experience, and different than any of our previous trips. On most trips, we’ve been with other adoption families who are also English speakers. On this trip, we have been surrounded completely by Chinese speakers. We’ve had the opportunity to experience a deeper immersion in Chinese culture as we have seen this family interact with each other and with extended family. (Grandma and Grandpa and aunts, uncles and cousins have come to visit Graci.) It’s been really great. And it’s been great for my Mandarin capabilities. I’ve had several conversations with friends who speak no English at all. In all, it’s been a great two days. Graci has been just giddy with happiness while we’ve been here. She was particularly excited to see her older foster brother. Now we can see why. He’s 27 years old and just wonderful with her and with their new foster child – a four-year-old boy who has a family from the US waiting to come get him. Jesi has also had a ball. She is very much adored by all who meet her. She has a new BFF-the brother’s fiancé, who has been so cute with her. Graci’s foster mom has also been so cute with Jesi and they give each other hugs all the time. I think Graci’s foster mom and Christi’s mom are kindred spirits. They are both blessed with the gift to love children in an extraordinary way.

The one downside to this cultural immersion has been the meals. Let me just say how proud I am of Christi. She is a somewhat picky eater. No seafood is a big rule of hers. And she doesn’t like exotic stuff at all. Fortunately at each meal, there has been at least one chicken dish. But last night we were also served: duck tongue, turtle soup, pregnant eggs (if you don’t know, you don’t want to!), cow intestine soup (which Christi was specifically asked to try-and did!), and various other things we didn’t dare ask about. We have been able to get by eating quite a bit of the most palatable food and kind of skipping past the most challenging. The one thing that we might have offended in was the pregnant eggs. Graci’s foster mom asked Graci why we wouldn’t eat them, and Graci asked us in English. I don’t even remember what I said, something like “No thanks.” I think they are considered quite a delicacy. Graci ate at least two herself. But there is just a switch in my brain that will not let me eat an embryonic duck or chicken, regardless of the consequences.

Well, we’re doing well. Oh, I forgot to mention the sweaters that foster mom knitted for us. It’s crazy how much time she must have spent on these things. They’re amazing! The most beautiful things we’ve ever seen hand-knitted. They are all so sweet.

Tonight it’s on the Zhengzhou. (We’re hoping our luggage arrives at the Hangzhou airport before we depart!) We’re getting so excited to meet Xander. Wish us luck!

Oh, almost forgot. Thanks for all of the prayers. They worked!!! The typhoon turned toward the south, and should not impact our flight. Yeah!!!


P.S. This is Christi here. The biggest problem with the meals is the way the food keeps getting piled on your plate! If Christi’s mom and Graci’s foster mom are kindred spirits, then so are Christi’s Grandma Larsen and Graci’s aunt—neither will take “no thanks” for an answer when it comes to food. We have both been eating five times the amount of food we normally would from just trying to be polite! Food is put in front of us every three minutes or so. They closely watch what you seem to prefer, then go out and buy more of it and insist upon you eating this. If you mention you love the grapes, then it’s off to the market to buy you a whole bushel. Corn on the cob tasty? Let’s go out to the garden and get more to cook immediately! During the first meal they paid close attention to what we preferred to drink, and at every subsequent meal those drinks were in abundance in front of us. You had to be careful not to drink too much, or your glass would be filled to the brim again. It was so extremely thoughtful! They are the kindest, most giving family in the world! And I hope that it’s understood that we do recognize and appreciate that VERY much, while still saying our stomachs are about ready to pop from all the food and drink!!!


  1. Sounds like things are starting to improve. We are so glad that everybody is doing well and Graci got to see her Chinese family. We can't wait to see pictures of Xander

  2. hurray!!!! a great time for all of you. You probably already know this. . . but I did not. We recently had dinner with a chinese family and they were polite enough to teach us about the chinese culture. Food-- Mr. Hsiung told us that there is not a word in chinese to describe the food as being "delicious". He said, I guess in china we don't care what the food tastes like, only that we have enough. The ultimate compliment you can give your host/hostess is to not eat all your food. If you leave food on your plate you are signaling to them that they have filled you up- hence they have been a gracious host. I know, it goes against our grain- our mothers telling us to "clean" our plates because there are starving children. . . to us it is almost like an insult if we don't eat a lot on our plates. enjoy!!!! I am so thrilled to read your posts. aunt debbi

  3. Wow- what an amazing experience!!
    What a gift!
    Sorry to hear about the pregnant eggs. oh MY.
    Now...on to the real adventure...meeting that sweet boy of yours!
    May the Lord go before you and make your paths straight!

  4. Phew! I had gotten myself all worked up imagining typhoons, blocked blogs, missing luggage, canceled flights. What was I thinking?? Like God doesn't have it all covered?

    Glad to read of the experience with Graci's foster family. They must have been thrilled to see her--all pink and healthy; no blue lips and nails beds; able to RUN through an airport. What a miracle!

    Can't wait to hear about Xander day! ::gentle request:: Photos, please :)

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