June 16, 2012

First Impressions of China

I close my eyes for a moment. I hear the rush of a waterfall and smell the fresh spring air: perfectly humid and not yet too hot. I feel the sun on my skin and relax into my surroundings. Then a car horn sounding through the waterfall reminds me that I am not at home in some forest. I am on a balcony in a city.

The horns sound unfailingly within every five seconds. The cars are a waterfall. They are rivers that flow through this city where I now live. With Jason, I am learning how to ford the streams and navigate boats down the rivers to see this place that he calls home. Every river bend holds new surprises. Every step shows me something old and something new. Every moment I learn.

A few days ago, Jason and I trekked 7000 miles from Denver to Dalian. Now we are half a world away and it feels like I’m back on the east coast. Dalian is a city of 6.5 million people in northeastern China. It is surrounded on three sides by the sea. Jason lives on the seventh floor of an apartment building near the center of the city. He lives with his parents and his grandmother, who has taken care of him his entire life. Now I will be living with him for the next three weeks and experiencing his boma as he experienced mine.

Each morning, I wake up and Jason’s grandmother prepares breakfast for the family. At home, I’m used to a bowl of cereal, a bowl of yogurt with granola, or a bagel. None of that is to be found here. There is toast, but it is made from homemade bread. There are eggs, but they are cooked with tomato or leek. There is milk, but it is served hot and in a bowl. There are pancakes, but they are like potato pancakes and are made from carrot and Chinese squash. And of course there are steamed buns, which are like dumplings, but they have a really thick, spongy outside.


Then there are choices that Americans never have (and probably never should have) for breakfast. Chicken wings and pork ribs stir fried with vegetables are also placed before us. Everything is delicious, and I never know where to start. Her cooking is so delicious that I feel guilty leaving any of it even when I am stuffed. I also don’t know how to explain to Jason’s grandmother that I only eat half as much as he does.



Possibly the most frustrating thing is not being able to explain. The students here all speak some English, but Jason’s grandmother speaks none and his father barely speaks any. I took one Chinese class three years ago, but I don’t know enough to hold a meaningful conversation yet. It’s harder for me to communicate with Chinese speakers than with any speakers of European languages. I can’t fall back on Latin roots here. Cognates are practically nonexistent. I can’t understand what anyone is saying unless I actually know the words they are saying.

Over the past few days, Jason has taken me around his neighborhood. We have visited his school, the police station, several restaurants, Walmart, and many parks around the city. I’ll continue to write more about them in the next blog, but for now I would just like to start sending a few words from China. Stay tuned!


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  1. I’d sure like to try a breakfast like that! Ask Grandma Sheng for her secret recipes! 🙂

    says Janine Block
    June 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm
  2. A beautiful visual analogy and I can almost taste the breakfast delights prepared with love and caring.

    says Karen Katz
    June 17, 2012 at 9:27 am
  3. Wishing you a wonderful time in China. (Rose and I have friends who have been working for years at Sichuan University of Arts & Science in Dazhou, so we’ve heard about life in a different part of the country.) Jason has been such a great visitor to your BOMA that I don’t doubt he will do well hosting you and translating for you. Of course, so much of a place’s essence lies in the non-verbal realm, so NOT knowing the language is a good way to experience that.

    says Kevin Stewart
    June 18, 2012 at 11:43 pm
  4. Sounds like you are having an amazing time in China, and your writing is beautiful! If you think you get a lot of choices for breakfast, just wait until you go to a restaurant 😛

    says Max
    June 26, 2012 at 11:18 am

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