Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Floating, Detached Thumb

We had our cute new American friends over a couple of times the week before we left. I was so sad to have met them just a couple of weeks before we had to leave. They were so much fun. They came over to play a raucous round of Uno one night:

Felice is actually an amateur magician! She brought a pack of cards over and did some amazing tricks. Dylan was enthralled:

He told me, later that night, that he wants to be a magician. I said, "I thought you wanted to be a scientist." After much thought, he said, "I want to be a scientist during the day, but a magician at night and on the weekends."

She actually taught Dylan (after much insistence on his part) how to do some of the tricks. But she didn't teach him how she got the penny to go through the coffee table and onto the floor. He has concluded that there isn't a "trick" to it - that she is, indeed, magic. :)

She has a really good way of moving her hands to trick your eye. She can do that detached-thumb trick - where you are like, "Look, my thumb is floating in the air!!" Even I can do that trick (but really badly). But Felice's detached thumb looks soooooo real. In fact, when she first did the trick, Sadie thought FOR SURE that Felice's thumb had come off her hand, and she totally did the ear thing that Buster does on Arrested Development when he's uncomfortable, shocked, or scared (which is always):

She did the ear thing and just started to RUN away. It was really funny. We were over at Megan and Mark's house last night, and Mark pretended to pop his eyeball out. Apparently, it was so convincing that Sadie did the ear thing again. She cracks me up.

Here is cute little Hannah, who never would look right at the camera when we took pictures of her:

I can relate. I feel uncomfortable when people take my picture, too. But instead of just looking away, I make weird faces. We all cope in our own way. :)

We were talking about English names that the Chinese pick for themselves. Hannah and Felice told me some of the funniest names that their students, or some of the students of their friends, have chosen:

Hairy (not Harry. Hairy.)
Easy (a girl had chosen this name - haha!)
Zero (Hannah's student chose this name, because he is positive that he is going to get a Zero in her class. Haha!)

Hannah also explained something to me that she had learned in her training to be a university professor in China - the term "high-context communicators." There is a lot involved with that term, but part of it is that in a country where you have high-context communicators (a.k.a. China and France), the people don't express disagreement or reservations about an issue unless they know you extremely, extremely well. And only in private, one-on-one. If they're in a business meeting, they will pretend that they are okay with everything, but if they really aren't okay, they will pull their boss or coworker aside and communicate it one-on-one, rather than express it for everyone in the meeting. When it comes to communicating uncomfortable things with someone who isn't your utter best friend, they just shut down. Like, I think Hannah was telling me that she was talking to one of her students after class, saying, "You know, you're failing my class. You haven't done this and this....and you need to do such-and-such to salvage your grade." The whole time, the kid didn't say one word. He just shut down. Because he was uncomfortable. He didn't have anything to say for himself.

In many high-context cultures, the concept of "saving face" is a reeeeeeeeally big deal. The Chinese don't want to appear like they don't know something, or aren't prepared for something. So, if you ask them a question, and they don't know the answer, instead of saying, "Gosh, I don't know that," they'll just offer some weird answer. For instance, when I was like, "Summer, where can we buy a hammer to put up these clothing lines?" She didn't know the answer, so she gave me a lame-o answer: "Find a rock to pound the nails in the wall." Do other Chinese pound their nails into the wall with rocks? Maybe. But maybe she just needed an answer, so this is what she thought of.

Or Candy, the little gal across the hall. I once asked her, "What do you do about this consistent sewer smell in the bathrooms??" I don't think she really knew what to do about it, so she said, "Well, you open a window." A lame-o answer, but an answer.

Hannah put it this way - if you ask someone in China for directions, if they don't know how to get somewhere, instead of saying, "Gosh, I don't know," they may give you the wrong directions in order to save face. Isn't that interesting?

So having learned this put a lot of my experiences in China into perspective. For instance, Professor Han took three weeks to get our kitchen in to our apartment. And during that time, we never, ever heard hide nor hair from him. It was like he had fallen off the face of the earth. We would call, and he would avoid our calls. Once our kitchen was in, he and his family were visiting and calling several times per week - our BFF's. I personally think that he was embarrassed that it was taking so long to put the kitchen in, and that he was avoiding us because he wanted to save face. Once his face was "restored," or gained back, then he was fine being friends with us again.

Or Ben's experiences with these work associates in China. They didn't want to admit that the groundwork wasn't prepared for the dome construction. So, instead of saying, "You know, we haven't finished that yet. You'll have to come over when we finish," they said, "Yes, yes, the groundwork is totally prepared." They lied to save face. So we went over there. And nothing was ready.

And then they didn't do any work on the project for the whole three months we were there. Apparently, there were some funding issues they were having, which was causing a halt in the construction, but not wanting to admit that, they said, "Um, well, Ben wasn't available to us...." A lame-o lie/excuse so that they could save face.

When they had that big meeting before we left, and the Chinese company said, "Yes, we will pay what we owe you in ten business days." Well, they never did. When Ben said, "Okay, where are the payments?" the finance guy said, "Oh, my partners never told me we were supposed to make the payments in ten business days." That may be true - maybe they don't really want to make the payments, so they avoided telling the finance guy about the agreement. OR maybe they did tell the finance guy, but he knows they can't afford it, so he's making an excuse/lying to cover himself. Does that make sense? So this high-context stuff is just really different from what we're used to in the U.S. It's complicated, and it's hard to understand.

Anywho, back to our American friends. A foreign professor had lived in Felice's apartment before her, and he had these little muffin tins that looked like they were made of rubber. But they were MUFFIN TINS!!! I hadn't seen anything resembling muffin tins or baking pans at all there. I told her that Ben had gotten a brownie mix in Beijing the last time he had gone, so she was like, "Let's try to bake these in your oven!!!" I was really nervous about the muffin tins looking like rubber. But dude, they totally worked! We had real, honest-to-goodness brownies that night. All four of us adults, while we ate them, were closing our eyes in silent ecstasy. Hannah swore softly to herself. It was really funny. It had been so LONG since any of us had had any baked goods. I'm not usually a brownie girl, but I was pigging OUT. As Hannah was leaving, she saw that there were some brownie crumbs left on Dylan's plate. "I'm contemplating eating those crumbs," she said wistfully.

This is why, if Ben returns to China (he insists that he might be leaving in a month - he's gotten some encouraging E-MAILS from the Chinese company, but no real money yet. I told him I'll believe it when I see it), I'm sending him with some baking pans, muffin tins, and all kinds of brownie mixes - if all you need is water, oil, and eggs, then you're okay. You can find those things in Baoding. But I'm sending some for him, AND I'm sending some for my poor American friends. 'Cause I know how it feels to go three months without baked goods. It ain't pretty.


Emily Empey said...

I just love reading your stories!! Thanks for letting me come say hi to you today!

Jenny said...

I'm so glad you're writing up some of the things you learned/experienced in China. It's fascinating!

And no baked goods???? :(

Emily Empey said...

haha I also re read this and the whole Sadie and the ear thing! I was busting up laughing!

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