A Westerner in a Chinese Home

This past weekend I had the opportunity to stay overnight at a local’s house in the New Territories, about 2 hours from the university via public transportation.  What I expected to be a series of cultural blunders turned out very well!  I just hope to be able to pay the family back soon.

Friday night, my friend and I set out on a series of rides on the subway, light rail, and west train line.  Sadly, we had to stand most of the time, but it’s not the worst thing in the world. We arrived in a neighborhood with a bunch of residential buildings, schools, and parks, and we made our way to the fifth floor of one.

We came inside, and dinner had been done for a while, so my friend’s mother got everything back out and set several dishes in front of us.  Chopped cucumbers on one plate, fish fillets and scrambled eggs on another, and a mushroom-meat mixture on the third.  We started out with some “Chinese soup” as he told me, which was very good.  Then we ate from the three dishes with a bowl of rice, and ended with another bowl of soup.  It was enough to fill even me up!

I was glad to have brought a bottle of water, because I drink a lot, and they filter and boil all of their water.  My friend’s parents were very generous, offering me things constantly.  Only on a few occasions did we misunderstand each other.  I tried using my limited Cantonese, but theirs was a bit different, so I couldn’t understand their answers.

His sisters came home briefly as well.  One worked with skin care, so she gave me a sample of face lotion.  I wanted to explain my avoidance of lotions, but her English wasn’t great either so I put some on.  She also gave me a seaweed snack from Thailand.  Too many gifts!  At this point I was feeling bad, but I had nothing to offer the family in return!

For breakfast the next day, I had an orange, although the parents repeatedly offered me cheesecake.  For breakfast.  I tried to point to my stomach and explain I didn’t really need cake, but they insisted.  After a while they stopped.  In Chinese culture, a refusal is just for politeness, to dispel any perceptions of greediness, so the host will offer multiple times until a refusal is accepted.

For lunch on Saturday, we ate food similar to that of the dinner the night before.  This time, the parents ate with us.  I thought it would be awkward, but it wasn’t, since there wasn’t much we could say to each other anyway!  Occasionally we would motion something to get a general idea across.  Either way, the mother definitely wanted to make sure I was full, and kept offering to get me more rice.  The meal ended with a hearty belch from the mother, and my friend and I promptly left for the Hong Kong Wetlands Park.

For most of my stay, somebody was trying to keep me occupied with something.  My friend and I watched the Hunger Games, and whenever I worked on my homework he would as well.  For most of Saturday, we went to the Wetlands Park and various restaurants nearby.  And in the morning, before my friend woke up, his father watched TV with me, and accompanied me outside when I went running.  I felt guilty, but apparently this is normal for a guest in a Chinese home; the host feels obliged to entertain the guest constantly.

The neighborhood itself was beautiful.  Aesthetically it was clean and open, but the best was the park area where I ran; people of all ages were there!  The elder members sat on benches, kids played on playground equipment, and even older teenagers were playing on different sets of equipment.  The jogging track was well landscaped, and as is typical in these neighborhoods, included fitness stops with pullup bars, balance beams, and parallel bars.

Even being so far from the city, the familiar Hong Kong atmosphere still pervaded; if desired, you could do a lot of shopping and eating.  Of course I loved the eating part.  Many snacks were had.

Upon leaving Saturday night, the father walked me out to the train.  Still different from what I’m used to, but it wasn’t surprising at this point.

Luckily I found my way home with no hiccups.  Hopefully next time this happens, I’ll be prepared with a gift for my hosts!  If you ever get a chance to visit China, make sure to try to go through a program that lets you stay with a family!

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