Column: In Zhuhai, you'll meet people from...Duluth!I had viewed my share of potential apartments, but this was the first one I’d seen that came with half a dozen live fish happily swimming in the bathtub. Hmm … I wondered. Were the fish just pets, or were they someone’s upcoming dinner?
By: Arlene Anderson, For the Budgeteer News
I had viewed my share of potential apartments, but this was the first one I’d seen that came with half a dozen live fish happily swimming in the bathtub. Hmm … I wondered. Were the fish just pets, or were they someone’s upcoming dinner?
“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself,” observed Maya Angelou. Since I planned to teach business courses in China for two years, finding a suitable home was at the top of my “to do” list upon arrival. Luckily, a new colleague and his Chinese friend kindly agreed to assist.
The first apartment we visited was several stories up. There was no elevator. In the tropical heat of southern China, this was clearly not an option for a northern Minnesota kind of gal.
The second apartment had a family of three living in it. (Not counting the fish in the bathtub, which, friends later assured me, were indeed pets, not dinner.) The occupying family eagerly assured me they could be out by that evening so I could move in. Considering the vast amount of belongings in the space, I wondered just how they expected to perform such a miracle.
Apartment No. 3 was the winner. Upon entering the 26th-floor apartment (thankfully, reached by elevator), I was immediately drawn through the living room and out onto the spacious balcony. There, I was greeted with a panoramic view of lush vegetation, mountains, and islands in the South China Sea.
Jack, the friend who was accompanying me on this apartment search, commented that such a view would be good for a person’s health. I wholeheartedly agreed. Upon leaving Duluth I had mourned the loss of my home’s overview of the big lake and ocean-going ships.
This new ocean view would make me happy every day, just like my view of Lake Superior had done while in Duluth.
We returned to the real estate office to finalize the deal. To my surprise, not only did they want a signature on the contract, they also required my fingerprints!
Having settled the apartment choice, my friends and
I celebrated by stopping for lunch. Jack ordered the pig brain. I went for the chicken. There was no sense in rushing headlong into my new cultural home right away, I rationalized.
Within days it was clear that apartment living in Zhuhai, China, would present some interesting challenges. The shower head in the master bath is equal in height to my 5’6” frame. I also tower over the top of the refrigerator. This must be how Yao Ming feels.
When entering a new culture, it is rather easy to take on the behaviors of new surroundings. I am deft at the use of chopsticks, can say key words in Mandarin (good morning, thank you, I don’t understand), and know the trick for crossing streets in busy traffic (follow right behind a person who knows what she’s doing).
But anyone who needs to feel totally at home should stay at home. Getting beyond those initial surface artifacts to learn about a culture’s shared values and basic assumptions takes time and sincere effort. George Bernard Shaw said, “I dislike feeling at home when I’m abroad.” I’m with him.
I’ve come a long way toward settling into my new Asian home. During my third week here, I discovered that the neighbor living across the hall was from … Duluth! East High School and UMD graduate Cameron Kolodge teaches in the English Language Center at United International College. This is his second year in China. He owns a bright green bicycle that makes me smile every time I pass it in the hallway.
What an amazing world we all call home.
Arlene J. Anderson is a native Duluthian turned explorer and teacher in Zhuhai, China. Her motto is “Get curious.”