Sunday, July 23, 2017

我们的星期, Our Week

This morning Hanna, Eileen, and I left Shuangyashan, driven by Small Autumn and his friend to Jiamusi. There we boarded the train we're currently on, which will arrive in Beijing tomorrow morning. On Tuesday, we fly to Tokyo, then LA, arriving in Chicago that night. On Wednesday morning, we fly to Minneapolis–St. Paul, then Kansas City, where a friend will drive us home, to Lawrence, Kansas. We'll spend the night in our apartment, then leave Thursday morning to drive to Alexander, North Carolina, to see my parents. On Saturday morning, we'll drive to Satellite Beach, Florida, to see my grandparents.

Monday, June 12, 2017

追, to Chase


Friday, June 9, 2017

姑娘, Daughter

It has taken most of the week to convince the family to stop trying to get Eileen to speak Chinese. Her grandfather now waves away anybody who asks her, "<How do you say _____ in Chinese?>" The extended family still stares at her as she speaks English with her mother and me. The husband of her cousin once removed visited last night. They'd never met. The first thing he said to her was "<Study Chinese.>"

Not that they ask Hanna and me, not that I'd asnswer it this way if they did, but I don't mind that Eileen can't speak Chinese anymore. Of course I'd love for her to be able to speak with the people who raised her for the first four and a half years of her life. And of course being able to speak both Chinese and English might help her as an adult. But she's lost Chinese, not through coercion or trickery but through her choice to sound like her friends.

Monday, June 5, 2017

外教, Foreign Teacher

The family was walking through the park, which had several should-be-wild animals in cages. We were at the rhesus monkeys when an old man approached my father-in-law and started asking him about where I was from. He then asked whether I could teach his granddaughter English in preparation for a big test coming up. Later Small Autumn couldn't understand why I didn't want to do it. Simple work, he said. What else did I have to do?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

哥们儿, Dudes

Dinner lasts long enough for me to sober up from lunch as I'm drinking again, this time with Hanna's junior high classmates. Goddamn, I don't think I've stayed in touch with anybody so long.

喝多了, Drunk

I'm recovering from last night's baijiu when my father-in-law pours more baijiu for lunch. Baijiu (白酒) is a strong Chinese liquor. I hate the way it smells and tastes, but I love the fluency that comes with it—whether I speak better or just my in-laws are more forgiving of my shit Chinese. I keep up with my father-in-law until, sometimes, I pass out.

说汉语, Speak Chinese

Eileen's uncle, Small Autumn, gets two inches from her face, tells her, "<Speak Chinese,>" again and again. He's not the only one who tries to get her to speak the language she's all but forgotten, but he's the most insistent. And I'm stuck between anger and patience. On the one hand, Small Autumn and the rest of the family last knew Eileen when she spoke only Chinese, almost four years ago, and they raised her. But on the other hand, she's obviously uncomfortable—silent, backing away from the crowd around her that demands she remember her relation to everybody. "<Which aunt am I?>" "<How are you related to this baby?>" "<Do you remember me?>" After which questions, she's quizzed on what they've just told her. Eileen was four years old when she left here, Shuangyashan, and she's been in Kansas since she was five. It makes sense that the family has missed her and is now perhaps disappointed that she can't speak her first language anymore. Her maternal grandmother says that Eileen's silence is rude. But I want to tell them to stop being language bullies, to get out of her face.

Friday, June 2, 2017

火车, Train

We're on a train from Beijing to Jiamusi, Heilongjiang. Earlier, an older person looked in our cabin, saw me, and said, "<There's a foreigner.>" Nothing new. What's new, though, is the looks Eileen now gets when she speaks English or holds my hand. When we walked through crowded Beijing Station, she said, "This is stressful."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

儿童节, Children's Day

We landed in Beijing last night. I, the foreigner, made it through customs faster than Hanna and Eileen, the citizens.

Yesterday, during our layover in Tokyo, was the first time we three have been foreigners at the same time.

Eileen, who was born in Dalian and lived in China her first five years, forgets what it's like to be here.