So today was my first official day in China (December 16, 2011), and I still can’t believe I’m here! Everything is so different and yet the same. Here is a bit of the view from the hotel room:
Construction is EVERYWHERE in China. The literal view straight down is a construction zone:
I was warned by everyone that the air quality would be really bad, but luckily (and for the rest of the trip) I had no problems with my eyes, lungs, or anything else. I will say that for sensitive people or those with allergies, China air might be a problem.
One thing I forgot to mention yesterday: when I met Shuyan at the airport, she exclaimed over how well I looked. I kind of disregarded her at first, as I’d been traveling nearly 25 hours, but she looked at me and said, “Salma, we went to grad school together, Believe me, I know when you look tired.” Touché, my friend… touché. So not only do I not get jet lag, I look great when traveling. Who knew? 🙂
I was a little dismayed to discover no iron in the hotel room. I don’t know about most people, but for me as a hijabi, irons are very important! The hijab I wore for the trip was by now a wrinkled mess, as were many of the ones I’d packed. I had a few that do not require ironing, but I still spread them all out, hoping for the wrinkles to magically disappear.
I’d planned to meet Shuyan and Hanshin (her fiancé) around 8:30 for breakfast at the hotel buffet, and they were shocked to find that I was awake and ready by 8. I was super blessed not to suffer any jet lag, although there were a few days that I did take naps. After breakfast, Shuyan came to my room to hang out for a bit and I showed her all of the gifts I’d brought for her, her fiancé, and their families. She was super excited and we put everything together to be ready to give when I met everyone. Her mom came in a bit later, and the first thing she did was clap her hands and exclaim “beautiful!!” before hugging me. I got a lot of “beautiful’s” in China; my nose, eyes, and eyelashes were a HUGE hit with the Chinese. I swear, if I didn’t know better, being in China would make me think I was the hottest woman in the world.
We went to go see the wedding planner and go over a few details for the wedding. It was a cute set-up, and Shuyan informed me that at her wedding there will be a flower arch made of fresh flowers. The store (and I saw this in other places, too) had a golden cat with a paw that moved back and forth, and the belief is that this brings in money to the business. They did not mind my taking pictures of it 🙂 They also showed the prints of several of the pre-wedding pictures Shuyan and Hanshin took, and boy did she look gorgeous. She actually took her glasses off for most of the pictures and it was the first time I ever saw her wearing makeup. Gorgeous girl!
We then went for lunch at a restaurant with the groom’s family, and it was amazing. First off, his 90 something year old grandmother was there, and every time she spoke, everyone laughed. She was a super funny old lady who apparently still does a lot of cooking for the family. His oldest uncle was also there, and he was super excited after shaking my hand (the only person in China to shake my hand) and said it was the first time his hand had touched a foreigner. His mother and a married female cousin of his were there, too. The center of the table had a very big round glass that spun. When I saw this, I was immediately excited because I knew this would be a round table meal! I enjoyed everything I took except a dish that they told me was called “stinky tofu” because it smells like a used bathroom. I tasted the dish just to make my own opinion, and it was baaaad. They laughed when I said I didn’t like it, and said that it was a local dish and that most foreigners hated it. They then made a joke where they said that people go into a bathroom and when it smells, they say it’s a “stinky tofu” factory. They all laughed when the waitress brought me a fork, but I surprised them by using chopsticks for the entire meal. Now I won’t claim that I was as professional as the Chinese, but I did manage throughout. These were very slippery and longer than the wooden chopsticks we get in American restaurants, so there’s a bit of a learning curve involved. Hopefully by the end of the trip I’ll be a professional! They were also very proud when I was taking pictures of the food. I didn’t get it all because they kept bringing more!
After lunch, we came to the new apartment so that Shuyan could try on all four of her wedding dresses. Of course, she looked beautiful and luckily all of the dresses fit perfectly (that means no more alterations). They gave me the traditional Chinese outfit they’d made for me to wear for the wedding, and luckily it fit nicely! I had a long sleeve black shirt to wear underneath the sleeveless vest, but now I think the hot pink long sleeved shirt that I packed last minute might be better. I just need to think a bit about which hijab to wear!
In the apartment, the father of the groom, who is apparently a very shy man
and stayed away from the large group at lunch, came to help them set up the large framed wedding photos that need to be displayed in the apartment before they can officially move in. He put up one photo in a side room and another in the bedroom. It took a bit of time, but it was well worth the wait; the photos are amazing. We came back to my room afterwards to relax for a little bit before heading out to dinner. We met Shuyan’s father at the Egret Hotel (isn’t an Egret a baby swan?) for another round table meal! I was really touched that they did not order anything with pork so that I would be able to try everything, even though I know the Chinese love pork! I took several pictures of the food, which included a whole cooked duck, cut into pieces. It was the first time I’d ever tasted duck, and it was really good. The shrimp dish followed me everywhere, and I just couldn’t figure out how to eat it just in my mouth.. I had to use my hands. They kept trying to teach me, but this dish was hopeless for me.
After dinner, we dropped her parents off at their apartment complex and went to go get a pair of black tights and some sheer tights for Shuyan. I would have liked to do some real shopping, but we were pressed for time due to wedding planning that needed to be done later. Shuyan and I quickly had our nails done before they insisted on buying me yogurt and a couple of apples to balance the oily food I’d been eating. Every single homeless person or beggar I saw came to me once they saw me and asked me for money. I would have liked to give them something, but I was advised by too many people against giving anything. The lady I bought the tights from thought I was Chinese from a different province, so my hope of having Chinese people think I’m Chinese is coming true 🙂 Everywhere I go, people look at me, as I’m definitely different. I knew that there would be little to no diversity here, and I have yet to see a single non-Chinese person. It’s kind of fun being the only American,!
I then came back to my room and got ready for bed. I sent my family a couple of emails, saw that my sister was online, and then chatted for a bit with my mom and my sister. I was really tired at this point (it was only 11:30!) and so went to sleep with plans already for lunch and dinner the next day 🙂
China is amazing!