I can now firmly state that there is nothing in the southern USofA that can compete with the Chinese when they’re out to make you feel at welcome in their country. After a straight two weeks of frustration and culture shock we were taken in by insanely hospitable Miss Yu, the aunt of a friend in San Francisco. (Thanks Bonnie!)
Typically in the US as the guest you say thanks by treating your hosts to lunch or buying a small gift. But in China it’s the reverse. The host pays for everything, and we’re not just talking about lunch. We had no idea what we were in for when Miss Yu came to pick us up from our beach front hotel in Qingdao.
At 9am there’s a knock at the door, Miss Yu is standing there, cute as a button, holding a piece of paper that states her name in and some instructions that she read outloud in halting English, “please come with me to the car.” In the driver’s seat sits a mysterious silent man whose sole purpose was to drive us around all day. We then swung by the local University area to pick up ‘Helen’, a tiny spitfire who spoke english at a million miles an hour, peppering her sentences with typical chinese expressions translated into English. Adorable.
So the day starts off with a driver and a translator. Unexpected but very, very nice.
The driver drops us off at “old man beach” and stays with the car while the four of us dip our toes in the East China Sea and enjoyed the surprisingly warm Fall air. We got to know each other, and a little bit about the area. Helen decided that we needed to learn basic Chinese and Miss Yu wanted to know what we wanted to buy. This is a key phrase that I keep turning over in my mind, what did I want to buy? I mentioned that I was looking for a silk scarf for my mom, but that’s really all I can carry around in my pack.
After some time going from beautiful beach to beautiful beach, we ended up at the grocery store where Miss Yu took us down each aisle, encouraging us to pick up the things we might need. I poked around, checking out the crazy fish section, the dumpling section and generally choosing the few things that would be nice to have (crackers and processed cheese). The entire time Helen encouraged us to buy more, “You’re welcome to buy this. If you want this, you buy this, it is not a problem! No problem!” It took Vinnie and I a while to catch on that Miss Yu was grocery shopping for us and was going to pay for all our stuff.
Clue number one that this was not a typical day of sightseeing. We hit every destination listed in our guidebook, ate a Qingdao roasted sweet potato and headed to one of the oldest restaurants in the city for lunch. Every time we tried to say thank you, instead of saying, “You’re welcome”, Helen would bust out with “Oh, no, no, no, no, NO!”
But our gracious host wasn’t done yet. The next day the weather in Qingdao turned terribly cold. I got sick and we both desperately needed warmer clothing. When Miss Yu heard about this, she took the day off of work and took us around all of the local shops where we bargained for winter jackets, vests and hats. She took us by the hand (to help avoid oncoming bikes and cars) and we went from shops to markets to malls until we were purple with shopping exhaustion.
And it doesn’t end there. Miss Yu heard that we took a hard seat train into town, and firmly insisted on buying our train tickets out. On our last day, she picked us up at 6:30AM to take us directly to the train station. She didn’t just buy the ticket and drop us off at the station, OH NO!
Miss Yu took us into the station, and showed us onto the train! Before she left, she insisted that I take some Chinese medicine for my cold and presented me with a silk scarf. I was overwhelmed.
I can honestly say that I have never been treated so kindly in another country. When was the last time your host offered to wash your clothes?!? This was pure Chinese charm and we were so lucky to be on the receiving end.
And Bonnie, yes. I wish I had listened to your wise advice and gone to Qingdao first. From the gorgeous seaside setting to the unbelievable hospitality of your family, Qingdao changed so many of my first impressions about China. But more on that later….