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Two Strange Encounters

09.21. 2010Strange Encounter #1

It was the eve of Mid-Autumn Festival. I hadn’t gone to the market that morning, so I strapped Sianna in our bike and allowed Schäfer to ride his bike beside me. Despite the fact that we have to cross two busy roads to get to the market, the boy had some energy to burn off so I allowed him to ride next to me.

Once we arrived at the market, I purchased some flour while Schäfer answered all the questions of the crowd that gathered around. He was very patient and polite with each person.

On our way over to our preferred vegetable seller a nearby vendor asked, “Which child do you love more? Your daughter or your son?”

I ignored her.

She stood up and walked over closer to us.

She again asked, “Which child do you love more? Your daughter or your son?

Schäfer looked puzzled.

I replied, “Your question is so strange! I love both my children.”

A man standing nearby gave a hearty “Correct!”

His comment made me feel that the question was indeed odd.

We left for the vegetable stall quickly. Schäfer’s face had returned to normal.

The fact that the woman asked me which child I loved more puzzled me for quite some time. What kind of a question is that? Where did it come from? What real meaning lies underneath?

I recently read that not so long ago when generations of Chinese families all lived together it was common to ask, “Which of the children is your favorite?” As if having 30 children running around the house made the question less offensive.

Generally, when I’m asked a slew of questions I automatically flip the question their direction. This helps me to feel less “interviewed” and has the potential to start a nice conversation. I’ve learned a lot about people and local culture by simply returning the question. Common flippings are: How much money do you make? How much do you pay in rent? How old are you? How much did you pay for that? etc.

Given the one child policy, I can’t figure out how to flip, “Which of your children do you love the most?”

09.23.2010 – Strange Encounter #2

It was the last day of Mid-Autumn Festival.

After naps, we decided to take the kids to Jump Zone. After all, they deserve a little fun.

During the bus ride downtown, a Curious Lady kept talking about Sianna. (Unfortunately, Sianna’s presence in our family is a hot topic of conversation for onlookers.)

At first, Schäfer was entertained by watching the bus driver switch gears, but eventually he could not resist Curious Lady who kept on talking (rather loudly) about Sianna. He turned to her and said (in Chinese), “She’s my sister!” Then he turned around and looked out the bus window.

Well, that opened Pandora’s box.

Curious Lady started talking even louder about Sianna, “Why is her hair black? Why does she look Chinese?” Then, she started shouting questions to Schäfer from across the bus, “How old are you? Where are you from?” It was non-stop.

Generally, if we’re in a situation where a person walks up and asks us questions, I encourage the kids and myself to be polite and answer the questions.

But on this day, we were on the bus. It wasn’t crowded. If Curious Lady wanted to speak with us she could have come and sat by us. There were plenty of empty seats. Instead, she kept yelling from across the bus.

Seeing that Schäfer was not going to turn around and answer her, she went a little too far. She announced that “When I get off the bus, I’m going to take your little sister with me!” Schäfer was terrified. He turned to me and asked if I was going to give Sianna to that lady.

I assured him that nobody was ever going to take Sianna from us. My tone must have been firm because Schäfer replied, “If she does try to take Sianna, you can say, ‘Ting!’ ” (which means “stop” in Chinese) He even gestured his hand with a stop motion. Bless his heart, he already had a plan if Curious Lady should try to take Sianna!

I encouraged Schäfer to just avoid the situation and it would eventually go away. He turned to the side and looked out the window.

Curious Lady would not stop. She again announced, “When I get off the bus, I’m taking your little sister with me!”

Schäfer was again upset.

I turned to Hubs and ask that he step in.

So Hubs turned to Curious Lady and said, “Hello! Can  you please stop saying that you’re going to take our daughter?”

Curious Lady replied, “Oh! I was just joking!”

Feeling an extra sensitive emotion to protect my children I said, “How does my son know that you are joking? He doesn’t know you. He is so afraid right now. He thinks you are a thief!”

Curious Lady said she was embarrassed.

Eventually, we made it to our stop without any more threats of abduction.

Sometimes it’s really tough to understand the local culture and how to navigate our children through it appropriately.  I’ve definitely made my share of mistakes.

In this situation, if I would have engaged Curious Lady with a smile and some simple answers to her questions then it never would have lead to her joking about taking Sianna from us.

Her loudness annoyed me. Guess what? China is a loud place.

Whenever I have a plan for how the day is suppose to go (a special family outing to Jump Zone!), it never goes as planned. I rarely leave room for all the people who desire to make friends with us along the way.

Mostly, I need to lead by example. When I look out the bus window and ignore the same questions over and over, Schäfer does the exact same thing.

I didn’t fly all this way to ignore people.

Lesson learned.

8 comments to Two Strange Encounters

  • Jan

    We have two older biological children and two younger children adopted through the foster system in America. We are now a transracial family, too. We face the same curiosity and questions in America that you get in China. People everywhere are always curious when someone looks different than THEY think they should. I, too, try to answer the questions with a smile when I can, but as my younger children get older, things that people say no longer just go over their heads, but often sting their hearts. More and more, ignoring the people is best way for us to handle the situation, but it isn’t always what sits right in my heart. Thanks for sharing. I love reading your stories of life in China (and Hawaii, and Idaho, and Arkansas, and…)

  • jdavis2

    thank you sweet friends for sharing these two stories… i was almost moved to tears as i am beginning to learn and realize just how difficult it is for our children. and i don’t see it getting any easier when they all understand what people around them are saying. and yet i appreciate your honesty about how maybe we could better respond to people and their seemingly inappropriate questions. love you all and sending lots of (((hugs))) your way… ’cause i know some days require more sacrificial love than others.

  • Wendy Bird

    Wow. I am amazed. I could never been as calm as you. But I’m happy there are people like you in the world.

  • Pam

    I love my daughter and son equally as all parents should!- grandma huckleberry

  • Cathy

    wow and wow ~~~~ strange situation, but you handled very well. i love Schafer and Sianna. i love reading your writings.

  • Veronica

    i understand.

  • Angela

    I read your encounter #2 out loud to Ryan. Your perspective through reflection is a true blessing. It makes me hope we get to live overseas again!

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