Monday, November 28, 2011

Culture Considerations

Recently I've been thinking about the culture here in China and how much of it we/I have really absorbed.  There are different levels of culture... the food, clothes, architecture and language are visible, while things like patterns of thought and ideas are deeper below the surface and much more difficult for an outsider to grasp.  I've seen some things here, eaten the food and heard the language for years now.  But how much of the deeper culture have I really seen?  I'm guessing not much.

When we first moved to Shanghai, I remember feeling so alien from the bigger world outside our safe and sheltered apartment complex that I was literally afraid to walk down the street where vendors were selling all manner of items off of blankets on the sidewalk.  There was nothing threatening, but it was all so different, and I knew I stood out there.  Later that year, as I became more familiar with the area, I felt confident enough to walk there and take photos, still as an observer, but not afraid.  

I have recently been shopping for produce in a very local market.  I have been in this market lots of times in the past, but really just to show it off to visitors we've had, not as a serious shopper.  But now I'm going in a couple of times a week, visiting the same stalls, and coming out laden with bags of produce for a song.  Really, how much would eight or so of the long English style cucumbers cost at a US grocery store?  $10?  Maybe more?  I come away paying about a dollar for eight of them.  All the produce is so inexpensive... love that.  I love the way the vendor with the barrels of dry goods scoops rice into a little bag for me.  I love watching the noodles and dumpling wrappers being made, fresh every day, in the noodle stall.  But what I love more is feeling like a little part of the Chinese culture when I shop in that market.  I wish I could go incognito, that I could look and speak Chinese.  How would I see the market differently if that were possible?  I know I stand out, but I can talk price in Mandarin, I can smile at the familiar shop keepers... I like this.

But as much as I like my newly formed local market habit, it makes me realize that it's only a tiny beginning of really seeing, let alone experiencing, the local culture.  Do I have time left to really get a glimpse of deeper Chinese culture?  Can I ever even hope to, as a westerner who doesn't speak the language?  I am chiding myself a little for not putting forth more effort to learn it.  It's not learning Spanish, you realize.  It is a truly FOREIGN language with an even more foreign written language system. The sounds are familiar to me now, after hearing it for years, after hearing my children practice for their classes at school.  There's not enough time left for me to learn enough to take me deeper into an understanding of who China is below the surface.  But is it worth working on learning the language again now, with the time I have left?  What will I do with it later?

I've read lots of books with Chinese themes, some novels, some history.  I've gained real insight from them.  They have given me a taste of Chinese culture, an appetizer.  I will be able to continue to read about China from wherever in the world I may live, so that's a good thing.  That level of learning can continue.  Reading is great that way.

My Chinese friend Lily is from a rural village of 400 people.  It is a long way from Shanghai, an overnight train ride and then another train ride and then a bus ride... not easy to get to.  I've talked with her about traveling there with her to visit.  It would be a completely different view of China.  I would LOVE to go there!  What cultural experiences would I take away from her small village?

No neat and tidy ending to this post... I'm sure I'll continue to roll the culture idea around in my head, and maybe write some more about it later. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thinking Ahead

Gwen hung out in Caleb's room last night for a little while before her bedtime.  I think they read a few books, tossed a ball around, and listened to music.  As I led her to her room to get into bed, she said, "Mama, I like spending time with my brother, cause he's almost going away so we have to give him love."

It's his senior year, isn't it?  Gulp. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Doing homework can occasionally be made more interesting when a big brother is around to help!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

For Dog Lovers

I've never been a big dog person, but I have to say that I love this dog.  She is such a sweet thing, so happy, so affectionate.  We weren't looking for a dog, but Trigger has trotted into all of our hearts, and I'm so glad she's here. 
Yes, she even chases her tail.  :-) 

Monday, November 07, 2011

Sporting Shades

Gwen spotted this caterpillar the other day and announced that he was wearing sunglasses!  We were both amazed at his fancy little shades... a little pink across the top, yellow on the bottom and side, funky square shape.  :-)  Isn't he stylish?

DQ, Shanghai Style

Red Date~ think this flavor would catch on in the States?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat!  When I first heard about Angkor a few years ago, I thought that Angkor Wat was the name of the whole area of ancient temples.  Turns out that this structure, which is the largest religious shrine in the world, is Angkor Wat.  It was built by the Khmer people between 1113-1150.  You can see in the photo above that there is an area to the right covered by blue and green tarps... we learned while we were in Siem Reap that many different countries take on restoration projects for the temples of Siem Reap, likely because Cambodia cannot afford to to it.  Below we all rest under the long corridor you can see on the left in the picture above.     
Madelyn poses between the columns in the long corridor.  Funny how the stone looks different colors in different light.  She is in the same place we are in the photo above, but the stone looks tan here instead of the dark grey.
On the back wall of the long corridor is this intricate carving, depicting a story of the battle between monkeys and demons over a certain human princess.  Gwen had many questions for our guide about this!
There were four pools inside the temple.  Here we are standing on the edge of one of them.  You can see the steps descending into the pool.
The central tower.  Gwen is standing at the base, near the middle of the photo.  An interesting note~  it is believed that all the sandstone used to build Angkor Wat was quarried at a site 50 km away and floated down the river.  Can't imagine how that was accomplished that 900 years ago...
Resting from the heat inside the courtyard of the central tower. 
Love this... just checking messages on the Blackberry real quick, in the courtyard of the central tower.  :-)

We came across this sweet local lady on our way out.  She was selling her wares in the animal gate on the far side of Ankor Wat, a place designated for elephants and horses to come through into the complex of the temple.
My fave photo of Angkor Wat... beautiful reflection in the massive moat around the temple. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011