Friday, May 4, 2012

An Unexpected Visitor

Sometimes I forget I live in China. A lot of things that seemed so different and China when I first arrived I don't even notice anymore. But sometimes things happen to remind me I'm still in a foreign country. Sometimes it's difficult/confusing things, like losing an a-yi or getting blindsided by yet another unexpected change. Tonight was more of an interesting, mostly good, and somewhat inconvenient China night.

Tonight our friends took a turn babysitting so we could have a date night. After dropping Juliana off, Kevin and I ate a yummy dinner at a dongbei (north-eastern style) restaurant down the street from our home. We filled up on 锅包肉 (guo bao rou - sweet-fried pork) and 地三鮮di san xian - eggplant/potato) then decided to take a walk. We wandered through some of the new high-rise apartment complexes, only finished a few months ago but already streaked with rust.

Just behind the row of shiny (rusty) new apartments is an old hutong type area with brick, courtyard-style houses. The buildings are one or two stories, surrounded by brick walls, and separated by tiny alleyways just large enough for two bikes to pass. Outside each home is a low-roofed shed and sometimes a tiny garden. Some of the second-story apartments have cute little roof-top decks lined with vines or covered by overhanging trees. The walls, the windows, and the doors all show their age, but they are in good repair, obviously still lived-in. Even though I can imagine the insides are less than attractive, on the outside this little neighborhood had a quaint, endearing look.

Kevin went to pick up Juliana while I returned home. As I exited the bike shed a woman approached with a smile, calling out “夏静谊!Xia Jing Yi!” (my Chinese name). She looked vaguely familiar, but it took me a moment to place her: she was the woman Kevin had randomly met last month while riding his bike.

Kevin and Juliana were returning from a long bike ride on an unusually cool day, and Juliana was under-dressed. In China, this is a sure sign of incompetent parents and possible child abuse. This woman, 路姐(Lu Jie), rode along side Kevin on her motorbike, engaging him in conversation and expressing her concern over Juliana's impending illness and possible death from cold hands. Kevin managed to dissuade her from stopping to buy Juliana a full winter ensemble.

Lu Jie called that evening to make sure they had gotten home okay, and a few days later she came over to to meet me and reassure herself that Juliana was not at death's door. She brought us about two dozen bananas and gave Juliana several books. She was very concerned to hear Juliana cough and shared with us the wonders of Chinese medicine. (Juliana developed a cough a few months ago she can't get rid of. After a couple of doctor trips and several medicines, we have concluded it's probably allergy related.)

That was several weeks ago, and I honestly hadn't thought of her since, until I saw her tonight smiling eagerly outside the bike shed. It was obvious she was here to visit us, since she lives in another part of the city, about 45 minutes away. The first thing she asked was if Juliana still had a cough. I really wanted to lie and say it was all better, but undoubtedly Juliana would go into a coughing fit as soon as she saw her. (She coughs at the most inconvenient times, like anytime we are near an old Chinese granny and never when we are at the doctors'.) Lu Jie wanted to go buy some yogurt for Juliana, so she told me to go ahead home and she would come soon.

As I headed up the stairs to our apartment, I thought about how in China it is very common for friends (or stranger/friends) to show up at your door unexpectedly. There also seems to be some unwritten rule about showing up at the most inconvenient times. It was already 8pm; on a usual night Juliana would already be in bed. But obviously it would be incredibly rude to send her away, so there's really nothing I could do.  Fortunately she is a really sweet lady, if a little

Lu Jie returned about the same time as Kevin and Juliana, bearing a large box of yogurt packets, a mortal and pestal, a bag of sugar crystals, and another bag of mysterious black substance. Juliana was all wound up from playing with her friends and not at all thrown off by seeing a relative stranger in the house after bedtime. Yogurt is a sure way into Juliana's heart. The sugar crystals Lu Jie started feeding her didn't hurt either.

We all sat on the floor playing with Juliana while Lu Jie explained the medicine she had brought. Kevin looked it up and discovered it wasn't actually medicine; it was ground black sesame seeds. Lu Jie explained its use, then brought out the mortal and pestal. She poured in some sesame seeds, added at least as many crystals of sugar, and started pounding away. Juliana looked on with interest while Lu Jie continued to slip her sugar crystals. So it's an hour after bedtime and Juliana has now reached her weekly sugar intake. Awesome.

We mix the powder with hot water in Juliana's sippy cup. I'm glad it's not actually medicine; I don't figure a few sesame seeds are going to do her any harm. It doesn't really matter anyway, since she only tried a few sips of the strange tasting stuff. As Juliana started rubbing her eyes, I made some not-quite-so-indirect comments about how tired she was and that she'd probably better go to bed. Fortunately in China, children are a great excuse for pretty much anything; children are not to be denied! And in this case, as 9:30pm crept closer, it was a perfectly legitimate excuse.

Lu Jie hopped up and headed for the door, promising to return. I carried a hyper Juliana off to bed, where despite the sugar, she promptly fell asleep, only 1.5 hours late. Here's to hoping she sleeps past six in the morning! Now I'm off to hide some sugar crystals.

1 comment:

Mallary said...

Great story! I love the way life is full of surprises in China.