Our 3 Weeks of Fame


We left Vietnam and arrived in China. Our first impression was a white, regal-looking immigration building that seemed to lift itself up above the green, mountainous region and state just how good it was. We had been in a bus for about 4 hours, and were now going to stand in multiple lines for what felt like forever. After getting our visa checked for the 5th time (they check at every point conceivable), we didn’t know there was a little buggy cart that would take us back to the bus so we walked. Our first impression of China was very controlled and clean, and the landscape was just beautiful.

We arrived in Guilin; almost immediately we noticed something was different. It was the people and their reaction to us. They stared and stared and stared. Instead of continuing to walk down the sidewalk or to continue the conversation they are having, they would rather stop and stare at us, motioning over to their friends and calling, “hey, look at them!” Not that I would know what they are saying, but as their friends turn around and stare as well, I can only imagine that’s what they said. They just congregate around you, coming closer to get a better look. It’s a very odd feeling, to be stared at like that. Where am I supposed to look? At them (they have no problem with us knowing they are staring), or at my feet, or just straight ahead? My father tried giving a little wave. Are we really that interesting?
There are a couple of reasons everyone looks. First, you must imagine my mother. In America she gets stared at sometimes, for her abundance in freckles and red hair. In America. So you can imagine what she looks like to people who have only known black hair all their life. Then you add our family. My father looks Asian, he has 4 Asian girls trailing behind. Where does my mother fit in? Were we adopted? Second wife? Are we tourists? It’s all very confusing. Then you add the fact that we have 4 (!) children in a land where most people only have one child and having 2 is a rarity… We might as well be celebrities!

Once we, the celebrities, are interested in a taxi, or buying something, or eating, we are quickly assaulted – with words. Everyone jabbers off at high-speed, with the full trust that we speak Chinese. There isn’t even an inkling of an idea that we may be foreigners. Of course, I understand this assumption – we couldn’t look any more Asian if we tried! However, after the first assault, we apologetically shrug and state in plain language that, “We do not speak Chinese – only English… sorry”. Then comes the second assault of Chinese words as if to say, “I know you speak Chinese, don’t be ridiculous!” No matter how hard we try to convey that we only speak English, they reply in Chinese. Amazingly, it actually works. We speak to them in English, they speak back in Chinese, and with a mixture of sign language thrown in, we have been getting what we ask for (or close to it).

Other Chinese habits we have encountered include spitting. Everywhere, anytime – in the train, or in restaurants, and especially in the streets. We have witnessed it so much that my mother said she was going to film someone and slow it down for the video of China. To make sure we got the picture she acted out a slow-motion spit and I broke out into a fit of giggles, which attracted more stares. However, you do have to watch where you step in the streets; it’s quite disgusting, especially when you’re not sure what that exactly is…

Shoving (another Chinese habit) in the waiting room - train station, Xi'an.

After getting over a bout of fevers, coughs, and sniffles in Xi’an, we are back on the road in Ping Yao – more to come about Xi’an and its never-ending city wall, a funny disaster!

I hope I will be able to post this next story – China blocks WordPress, and its only due to my good friend Kerstin that I have posted these previous posts. If not, then it will have to wait until I am back in Chicago – not as far away as we think!




4 responses »

  1. Hi!
    Met you on the bus to Hue i think:) shared som coconut chips!
    So funny reading about the spitting in China, that is really discousting whem they need to have paper-baskets in the bus just so the chinese dont spit on the floor:)

  2. Your family is so adorable — love the photo of your two sisters staring each other down! I just left China and I totally concur on the Dreaded 3 S’s … Shoving, Spitting and Smoking … everybody does all three, as far as I could tell, but the denouement was when I was sitting in a fancy restaurant and this businessman who was (naturally) smoking like crazy, leaned over and hocked up a big sploogie and then spit it (in slow motion) on the floor of the restaurant!!! Whoa. I can just imagine that you are constantly asked to speak Chinese (nobody made that mistake with me) — but your photos are beautiful and I’m loving sharing your journey! (How annoying is it that wordpress AND youtube AND facebook are blocked there??!)

    • Thank you! I think the worst thing about the spitting is that you can hear the throat-retching, guttural noises from a mile away! Anyway, thank you for the heads-up about youtube; I was going to post a video of the city wall in Xi’an, but I’ll have to look into a different way to do that. I always appreciate sharing! Lillian

  3. Hi Lillian,

    I hope you and your family are enjoying your last days of your amazing family adventure. I am sure that you are sad that it is coming to an end, but the best part about travel is that there are always more adventures to be had! Have you all decided where you are going to end up next? I was in China in 2001, and I can still remember the delicious chewy noodles we had in Beijing. Be sure to seek some out if your itinerary takes you there.

    Back in Chicago, we just had the school Talent Show last night. It’s always fantastic to see the talent that exists among the students of Bell School. We had everything from dancers to violinists, gymnasts to comics and loads of singers. I think the popularity of “American Idol” has made everyone want to become a singer, and we had some phenomenal ones.

    I have started an after school program called “Soup & Substance,” where teachers and staff share stories and photos of trips that they have taken. I would love to host a special “Soup & Substance” featuring your family sometime in May where maybe we could invite the students, too. Do you think that this is something that you all might be interested in? If so, it can give you something to plan on that long plane ride back to Chicago.

    We are all looking forward to seeing the Lie family. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

    Ms. Newberry

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