© 2011 Audrey

The Woman in Charge: Popo

I finally had to admit it to myself that I caught a cold. I pride myself on my ability to stay healthy, even during exams when friends drop one by one. One reason I didn’t want to admit it to myself that I’m sick because it would mean taking a pause in my life here and maybe missing out on an adventure. I am only in Yunnan for a little over two months now, and only in Kunming until Saturday, when we leave on our Ethnic Minority field excursion for two weeks and then my month long Independent Study Project. Perhaps the main reason I didn’t want to admit that I’m sick, even though it really is just a mild cold, is that I am living with a wonderful Chinese family and did not want them to worry or feel that they have to take care of me.

Everyday after class I walk to my Chinese grandma’s apartment. She lives with her husband and her husband’s father. Everyday she welcomes me into her home, kindly orders me to put on my “inside shoes” (she got me the biggest size- they are still about 4 sizes too small for my yeti-American feet) and tells me to study. At 6pm, the seven of us sit in their living room/kitchen and eat her deliciously prepared dishes. We have rice (obviously) and four vegetable dishes, one broth soup (“we must eat this in Yunnan, because it is dry”), and one meat dish, each with a noteworthy amount of garlic and chilies. My family is Muslim, so we don’t have pork, although (Dexter and Hugo, cover your ears) we did have dog one day when I was able to sneak back home for lunch.

My Chinese family shares many similarities to my American family. My grandma tells my six year old little sister to eat her carrots or she’ll have bad eyes. My mom sits down and make sure my sister finishes her homework and practices piano before she can play. My little sister, niuniu, much like me when I was little, enjoys making up songs and doing dance performances. Most recently, I introduced her to photobooth on my computer. Since introducing her on Friday, she has now taken 187 pictures and videos of herself singing made up songs, mainly about little fish and rollercoasters (I was more into singing about flowers at that age).

Great Grandpa, Niuniu and I Playing on Photobooth

Great Grandpa, Niuniu and I Playing on Photobooth

My Chinese family is also curious in life in America. I try to jot down or remember questions they ask me. Some of the most recent ones are:

“do you really not eat rice at every meal?”

“oh so you eat bread at every meal?”

“what age are you allowed to have a romantic relationship in America”

“can you control the heat in your house?”

“how often do Americans drink whisky?”

“why doesn’t the government stop all the protests that have been happening?”

“What face products do you use to get your skin so white”

“ok, but you don’t use bleaching products? Really?”

“who do you think is the smartest person in America?”

Yesterday when I walked into their apartment around 6, my grandma told me to start my homework and she’d be there after she cooked to help me. Instead, I fell right asleep on their couch for the next two hours. When I woke up I was under a blanket and my grandma brought me a  glass of boiled water. Cold water is bad for you when you have a cold, evidently. She also had cut up a kiwi and an Asian pear. I had to eat the kiwi first or it wouldn’t have health benefits, she preached. Popo (what one calls one’s grandma on the mother’s side) insisted that I take some herbal medicine. She gave me strict orders to wear more clothing, not go to bed with my hair wet. Popo told me to come back tomorrow (today) so she can properly take care of me but I told her I had to write a paper and study for my final so I’ll just go to a cafe and study. She responded, “not OK”.

One of the main things I have learned since the experience of living with my Chinese family is that grandma calls the shots. My grandparents had some of their friends from the Muslim community come over for dinner on Saturday, and grandma wanted to give an elderly women money for bringing a dish. I witness the elderly lady refuse, and then my grandma wrestle the money into the woman’s pocket. Popo may be 5ft and 100 pounds, but she is tough.

My grandma has been taking good care of me, and through her I’ve learned a lot about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Fortunately for me, one aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (along with acupuncture and herbal remedies) is massage. Which is why in a few hours I am going to get a massage to bring me back to good health. I’m starting to think I should admit I’m sick more often.

One Comment

  1. Posted October 21, 2011 at 7:13 am | #

    My dearest Audrey, We all read your blog this morning and laughed out loud. Except for Dexter and Hugo. We think it’s best that you don’t sneak home for lunch anymore. This blog paints a vivid picture of your life in Kunming. It’s so comforting to know that your host family is treating you like one of the family. Please relay my thanks and appreciation to Popo for taking such good care of you. Best of luck on your exams and your upcoming research. So proud…. On another note, I saw Fei Reed today and she sends her regards.

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