Monday, April 26, 2010

Confessions of An Expat.- Part 1

When we tell people we live in Mainland China,  the usual response is a wide-eyed "Really?", "China?", "Wow!" , "For how long?".  Once in awhile we get the impression the listener is trying to tell us they think we're lucky, but most of the time it seems they are trying to keep from blurting , "You must be crazy!"
And if you've read my posts or know me at all, you know that I too regularly question our sanity.  But, I need to confess a few things about living here that are pretty darn 'sweet'.  Part 1 of this series will cover the joys of having a 'Driver'.

Mr. Tian, or 'Tian' as we call him, makes life here so easy for us.  I definitely miss the independence and security of having a car in the driveway 24/7, but I still am emphatic that I could not/would not/should not get behind the wheel here.  So, I have learned to appreciate the joys of a driver.  I chat with friends, (safely) text on my phone, (safely) make my grocery list  or accomplish some other necessity while Tian navigates the considerable hazards of Shenzhen's highways.  Plus, I get to remain blissfully ignorant of how far/how long/exactly where some destination is.  Instead, I hold up a little business card with a Chinese address and Tian has to do all the thinking!  Sometimes he calls for advice on finding some obsure store, but whoever he is talking to (His boss who has a better map?  A driver pal with more experience?) usually gets him to where I want to go.

Of course no road trip happens without me wincing now and then at some perceived "near miss"  I also shake my head daily at all the horn-honking that the drivers here find necessary.  I still manage to check Tian's blindspot regularly before lane changes too (I WAS a Cerified Driver's Ed. Teacher, remember?), but I am more relaxed than in the early weeks of our relocation.  And I have to say, I have gotten VERY used to being dropped off right at the entrance to stores, and then picked up in the same place when I make a "I'm ready, Mr Tian", call or text.  And though I always used to decline the offer of the bagger at Kroger to help take my things to the van, it is very nice when Tian hops out of the driver's seat and helps me get things transferred from cart to trunk.  He 's also Johnny on the Spot to assist me carrying things to my doorstep.  I don't ask him to tote bags all the way to the kitchen or the pantry because he would rather be struck dead (I think) than trot in without taking off his shoes.  So, I wave him off with a smile and a "XieXie" (that's "Thank you"), glad to have me and my bags under cover.

Tian doesn't limit his help to all things driving either.  Since we cannot speak mandarin, he efficiently calls to order water for us whenever he sees the empty bottles lined up on the porch.  If he drives up and the re-fills have arrived, he carries them in to the kitchen.  (I usually don't refuse this offer, as the 18 liter jugs are heavy!) I have even asked Tian to accompany me into stores to retrieve something especially heavy or large.  We make for an odd couple since our interactions are still limited to mostly gestures and halted conversations.  And Tian is ANYHING BUT comfortable in unfamiliar stores (like IKEA) with an unpredictable woman (like ME).  Still, he always rises to my requests and tried to help - pretty sweet, right?     

Fianally, I need to take this opportunity to say that Tian's english is improving!  Slowly but surely he is adding words to his vocabulary, he asks me to repeat less, and sometimes he gets out a fairly complex sentence.  (This is leaps and bounds beyond my strides (HA!) with mandarin!)  His text messages to me to clarify or confirm driving plans are also increasingly complex.  "Ok" is still his most frequent response to a text from me, but sometimes he adds "see you then" or "see you tomorrow", and I feel like I am reading a short story!  "Chatty Cathy" that I am, it has been tough to limit converstations to one or two word phrases.  That's why I donned a silly grin today when Mr Tian, upon understanding that a slice of zuchini bread I was holding as I entered the van was, in fact , for him, said (rapidly and without hesitation), "Thank you.  Thank you very much."   I resisted the urge to start a conversation about Elvis Presley and said sincerely, "You're welcome.  You're welcome very much!"


  1. Hahaha!! Love it, Mare! You're just like a celebrity-you have "people" now!! I mailed you a real letter today, so be on the lookout!

  2. I will add a picture of him and our "Shainghai Buick" van soon. He will be so confused by my request but I'm gonna get up the nerve. I would love to see his thought bubbles about me...or maybe not!

  3. You paint such vivid pictures with your writing Mary. I'm the MR Tian at my house, and no one gives me zuchini bread!