This was a four day weekend for the workers at the factory, for our driver, for our housekeeper. An especially big deal for people who get one day off per month. (Yep, you heard that right.) Our driver Afu didn’t even assume he would have this time off, since David’s days off are often the days we really want to use our driver the most. Afu was very happy when he learned that we expected him to be off with his family during New Year Holiday.
Just a word about something cultural. Afu did not assume he would be off. I’m sure he was hoping he would be off. He probably pondered over it, since his wife and children were off from work and school, but he didn’t ask. Similarly, last time my friend Sophie had a question about employment terms with a western employer, she puzzled and puzzled about whether to ask her employer about the issue and, if she did bring it up, the logistics of exactly how to bring up what was for her a sensitive subject. I encouraged her to talk frankly and directly with her employer. I reassured her that because her employer was Western, they would not be offended by her question. A Chinese employer, on the other hand, would have regarded her question as being too presumptuous.
Similarly, the other night in the restaurant when we ordered shrimp. When the waitress was confused about what we were ordering, she did not tell us she was confused. As westerners, our cultural expectation was that she would keep asking questions until she clarified the issue of exactly what kind of shrimp we wanted and how we wanted it cooked. However, perhaps to ask such questions might carry an implication that we either didn’t know what we were talking about or that we and couldn’t communicate (which was true). In a society where it is very important not to embarrass a person, not to cause them to lose face, such an implication regarding a customer might not be well received. Or, mabye I’m wrong, maybe it’s just too presumptuous to ask. Culturally, this is not a society that rewards sticking your neck out and stirring up the waters with questions. This cultural difference shows up in many aspects of our daily lives, and we have to learn to be sensitive to it. In this case, it was I who discovered that Afu didn’t know whether he would be off work for Chinese New Year, the biggest holiday of his year. A few phone calls and I clarified that he would indeed, be off. In addition, I told him, “Next time, ask us!”
Chinese New Year is maybe the equivalent of American Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one. Everything shuts down, except fortunately buses, taxis, and large supermarkets remain open. David did not get Thanksgiving off, but he did get two days for Chinese New Year. We had a relaxing time. Here are some photos. In our apartment gardens, J in the pool, kite flying in a city square. J’s kite with string cost 3 RMB (about 40 cents US), sold to us by a very friendly young street vendor.
We flew the kite at Tian He Plaza (we think it means Sky River Plaza, but not sure), in the middle of the city. We counted 25 other kites. Across the street is the new Grand View shopping mall, reputed to be one of the largest in Asia. It is next door to an older mall that in my book is plenty big. Grandview is six floors up plus a basement level taking up about an entire city block. Inside, is a labyrinth of shops. There are designer clothing stores, a Haagen Daas ice cream shop, an ice skating rink. I always get lost. We were looking for a Thai restaurant that a friend had told me was on the third floor. After wandering around third floor and not finding it, and then looking on a few other floors, we gave up on finding it and went to Pizza Hut. (Finding anything in this mall is a bit frustrating! Besides that it’s so big, all the signs were in Chinese characters and we didn’t know the name of the restaurant. When we asked shop employees the location of a Thai restaurant, all either said they didn’t know of a Thai restaurant or else they pointed us to dead end leads. The part about sending us to the wrong place is also somewhat typical – it’s a loss of face not to know an answer, so if a person doesn’t know the answer they might not admit it, they might just give wrong directions. Or if they don’t want to bother answering the question, they might just say it doesn’t exist.)
Anyway, I was shocked that Pizza Hut “supreme” style pizza in China is exactly like Pizza Hut “supreme” pizza in the USA. We wanted diet pepsi, but nobody much here drinks diet drinks. Diet pepsi is especially hard to find. So, it’s regular pepsi in the glasses, 29 RMB for a pitcher. But look, it has ice, volunteered by the waitress! (Contrary to rumor, ice and water is safe to drink, it goes without saying that water or ice served for drinking in restaurants comes from bottled sources.) Our pizza was about 88 RMB ($11 US), if I recall. The picture of the girls with the watermelon is to show the “stacking” technique to fit more salad into a single bowl. The price for a one trip salad bar is 28 RMB, very expensive by local standards! The watermelon on the Pizza Hut salad bars USED to be cut into cubes. People would stack it several inches high to make a wall, which was then used to enclose a huge salad big enough to be shared by everyone at the table. I’m told Pizza Hut began the triangular watermelon slices in an effort to curb this practice. After pizza, we bought milk (available only in large supermarkets) and a few other supplies and then stopped by Dairy Queen (next to the Tommy Hillfinger and Starbucks stores) before heading home on the bus.