Update: RIP Hamster Babies, Hello Spring, Goodbye Culture Shock

It’s hard to believe that almost a month has gone by since that last post. So much has happened since then. That illness I mentioned that Toby had turned out to be the flu, and 3 days into Toby’s flu, I came down with it, hard, and it lasted for a good ten days. Already that seems like a distant memory, even though at the time I thought I was going to die, of course. Also, the hamster babies that were born were all ultimately eaten by their doting mother (something I still can’t let myself think about), and it seems we have two males and one female, and not two females, as I initially thought. Hopefully my mistake did not result in more babies. Only time will tell… The boys had their birthday party, but that is a separate post.

Most importantly, spring is finally here, which means that the weather is at least as unpredictable and changeable as it was in Minnesota.  Yesterday, the high was supposed to be 80 degrees, but by noon it was only 50. At 5:30 it was 75 and it stayed warm for the rest of the night. The day before that it was a comfortable 65 degrees at noon, so when we went out that evening, we all dressed as we had at noon (light jackets, capris for Piper), and came outside to 45 degree weather at 5:00 with a biting wind. It might take me a while to figure out the weather here. On a more positive note, the weather is at least much warmer, however unpredictable it may be, and blossoms have appeared on the trees, and leaves are starting to follow. China seems to be covered with beautiful, yellow forsythia, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that at least some of it will also be covered with green grass soon. Our favorite outing these days is to the People’s Park (Renmin Gongyuan), where the children can play in a real sandbox (not easy to find in China), watch the fish in the pond, ride tiny boats in a giant pool, and climb a rock mountain that makes their parents a little queasy.

We also spend a lot of time at the pyramid or at the “Rooster Park,” but I have to be in just the right mood to play at our usual park these days (with the geriatric exercise equipment and children’s playground), because whenever we are there, we are invariably surrounded by people and I have to listen to people telling me that my children are not dressed appropriately, that I need to watch them well, or that I shouldn’t even be at the park with three children by myself (in addition to lots of positive interactions, but I still need to be in the right mindset for the negative ones).

I have finally found out when my tutoring job is officially over. I was hired for 72 hours (no one told me this), so as of the first of this month, I have only 23 hours left, which means I will be done on the last day of April and they will pay me the next day, including the 2000 they withheld from my first month, and I will never have to see the company that hired me again. I had a good talk with Sunny’s (the girl I tutor) father, and found out that they paid 18,000 for 72 hours (250 an hour), and that they have no loyalty to Oxford at all. I was able to tell them what had happened and they do not like Oxford any more than I do. Even before I explained the situation, they asked if they could hire me independently when I was done with the contract (which is what made me feel comfortable telling them all about it). It was very interesting, though not surprising, to learn that Oxford is making 150 off of each hour that I teach her, though my teaching her costs them nothing at all, as they do not even provide materials for teaching her, and they do not pay taxes on me, because I am an illegal worker. At the end of our conversation (in which we also talked about our apartment, which we will be very happy to be able to leave), Sunny’s father shook his head and said, “All Chinese people lie to you.” He also said, “We want you to like it here in China and stay a long time, but we are afraid that China is not good for your children or your health.” It is always so interesting to me when Chinese people say things like that. I really like Sunny’s family–for lots of reasons, but mostly because they took Sunny out of school for half a year, because they didn’t want her to work too hard. That doesn’t seem very Chinese to me, but of course, I only know what I have heard, and haven’t gotten to know too many Chinese people personally yet, and maybe other parents wish they could, but are afraid of their child falling behind, or don’t have the influence to be able to do it. I asked if he wanted Sunny to go to Yaohua, the “middle” (grades 7-12) school by her house, and a pretty important one, and he said that he did not, because she would have to work so hard, and children should not have to study all the time, they should have time to play and be children. More Chinese people seem to think that than I would have thought.

Every Friday night we go to our expat friend’s English school (http://levelupenglish.org) so the kids can participate in a class for 3-5-year-olds, and they have such a wonderful time singing songs and playing games and reading lots of English picture books. The English school is also a library and our friends were so kind as to give us a library card so that we can check out books and take them home. I can’t tell you what it means to have the familiar faces of old book friends here in our house to read together. The school is in Hedong, a neighboring district, and has allowed us to meet a few more foreigners. The kids love it and run around singing the songs at home every day.

The most important bit of “news” is that, in the last two weeks, the culture shock that had lingered with unvarying severity somehow magically disappeared, and very suddenly. I know there will still be bad days and things I don’t like about China, but I can imagine staying here and the thought doesn’t make me unhappy. Maybe it’s the coming of spring, or the passing of the right amount of time, or the anticipation of establishing a routine when I can be home every day again, but it’s good to feel content here. I don’t know how long we will stay, but the future feels exciting again.

Since I started writing this post (a week ago, and forgot about it), it feels like summer has come, with highs in the 80’s most days, but I hear that the summer temperature will be 95. We are wearing our shorts and t-shirts while the rest of the country are still clad in long-sleeves, pants and coats, so of course we still get asked whether the children are cold every time we go out. I wish I had the constitution of a Chinese person who doesn’t seem to feel hot when it’s 85 degrees out, while I am sweating and wishing there was less I could wear. The one good thing is that it is very dry here, even in the summer, and I have yet to experience dry heat in my life, but I understand it will be much better than Minnesota at 95 degrees.



  1. Kristen · · Reply

    That first picture, with the blossoming tree, could have been taken from my yard today. The trees are starting to bloom here, as well. I’m glad to hear you are adjusting more. 🙂

  2. I’m glad China is feeling more like home for you. I love reading about your experiences.

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