I cannot say enough good things about the host family I have been living with for the past month (I’ll spend a total of almost two months with them throughout the summer). For most of my stay the family consists of Ma Shu Shu (father), his wife (Ayi), Tommy/ Cao Cao (the 4th grader son), and Snuggles, the cat. The past week has been extra exciting since Ma Yan (22 year old daughter) has returned from America from her studies to live with us. I took her room 🙂 Also, Ma Man, their 21 year old cousin has been staying with us as well, and she is also returning from America. So its quite the full house we have right now.
Ma Shu Shu– he’s in his late 40s, works in tech/ IT. A really nice guy and always curious about housing prices, health insurance, retirement allowance, and public/ private university tuition in the states. He always hints I need to marry soon and have kids earlier so it will not impact my career later. After dinner he will normally smoke a cigarette on the balcony to relax after a long day.
Ma Ayi– she’s also in her late 40s, a housewife. Unless the housewives of new jersey, Ma Ayi takes pride in doing everything by herself- the laundry, the cooking, the dishes, the constant washing and sweeping of their already spotless floors. She is an AMAZING cook and makes sure that we are eating “cooling” foods in the summer- cucumbers, mung beans, bitter melon, and other light greens according to Yin-Yang principals. Anyway, she’s super friendly and will wake up early to make me hand rolled baozi/ dumpings/ pastries. We always talk about housing prices in Beijing and Shanghai, and even about prices here in Chengdu. The family has hosted volunteers for half a decade now, and each year she can name the volunteer she hosted and the value of their house in that year.
Tommy/ Cao Cao– hes a fun, talkative and lively little boy, a 10 year old. He loves making jokes, playing Clash of Clan and other games on the ipad, and watching movies. His childhood and personality are slowly being sucked out of him by China’s rigorous education system. Even though it is summer, he still takes classes for several hours a day to improve his math, Chinese literature, and English skills. On top of that he plays clarinet for an hour and a half each day in the hopes that a medal or award in some local/ regional competition will help him get into a better middle school, (to get into a better high school, and later a better college, etc etc). I can tell he HATES playing the clarinet. He will beg and plead and lie that he already played 30 minutes in the morning, or make false promises of playing later in the evening. I have witnessed more than one screaming match (tommy vs parents) over playing clarinet, and I hid in my room each time. Several times a week he will also head out to play badminton with friends- im not sure if badminton is just for getting into college or if he actually enjoys it, im afraid to ask. Either way I feel bad for him because the next 8 years of his life will be non-stop cramming for the Gao Kao exam.
Snuggles– snuggles is the vicious house cat. He is not as cuddly as his name suggests- he will scratch and bite whenever someone tries to pet him, so most days I ignore him. One time snuggles took a POOP in the shower! I opened the door and it smelled so bad and saw cat poop, and I freaked out. I was also scared the family would think I missed the squat toilet and took the poop in the shower by accident, so I made a big deal about how Snuggles did it. Snuggles is smart and knew he was in trouble, and knew by my HUGE smile that I was the one that told on him, so he took a swipe at me when I walked past him.
Ma Yan– shes 22 and heading back to America this fall to start a PhD program in chemistry! She is so smart and poor Tommy will have to live up to her impossible standards when he gets older. With this PhD program, Ma Yan is at risk of becoming a sheng nu, or “leftover woman” as they say in china. Too educated, too successful, too worldly studying abroad, will never marry (and therefore be single forever) because no man wants to date a girl smarter and richer than him. (this is actually a serious problem in China, and many of my female coworkers from Citibank in New York City REFUSE to return to South Korea/ China/ Taiwan/ Singapore etc because they are not married. “oh Harrison, you have no idea.. everyone will judge me because I am 30 and single. I cant go back until I am married!”) Luckily for Ma Yan she met some Shanghainese guy in her undergrad chemistry class, and now they will get their PhDs together! Whew! Sheng Nu syndrome averted.
Ma Man– she’s really cool and likes to go to KTV, though last time we went I was singing Rihanna all by myself and she just laughed at me the whole time… she recently broke up with her college boyfriend of less than one year, because he was ultimately more interested in men than women. I gave her the best advice my high school students gave me, which is “BE PATIENT, LOVE IS WAITING FOR YOU! BE BRAVE!!” still im nervous for her, since she will be 22 next year… and American educated… and by 25 she will be a leftover woman for sure if she doesn’t hurry up and find a new guy.
Anyway as a family We’ve done so many amazing things together- make dumplings by hand, go on bike rides, get stuffed crust pizza at Pizza Hut, have long talks about Donald Trump and Hillary over dinner, talk about Shu Qi and whether her lips are fake or not (apparently they are real), talk about Han dynasty history up to more recent events, etc. this week we started playing Sichuan Mahjong and I am OBSESSED! Cant get enough.
Disclaimer: All opinions shared in this blog are the author’s own, and do not represent the views of any outside organization, including but not limited to the United States Government and the Peace Corps.