It has been eight months since I took my trip to China. In that time, I have been digesting all of the events and occurrences that have happened since then. Going back to China was, for me, a learning experience, and the group I went with served as a catalyst in my journey. What I learned about China and myself in those few weeks surprised me.
Slightly altered from the traditional* adoptees’ first time trip back to China since the adoption date, my first time incidentally reflected some differences. My age and the lack of a familiar family member to guide me on the voyage influenced how I interacted with the Chinese citizens. Some experiences and lessons are experienced by a majority of first time adoptees. For example, an awkward moment may occurs when the Chinese worker in the glass booth at the airport asks for your Chinese name and inquires after the spelling, and all you can do is just stare blankly at him for a moment because of your lack of knowledge and preparation. Other lessons are more unique to the situations. In my case, as a group assignment, my classmates and I were assigned to complete a scavenger hunt in order to enrich our learning experience. Having little to no linguistic skills in mandarin but the appearance of one, I was looked at from time to time by individual Chinese citizens in hopes for a better translation of my peers’ questions. Needless to say, I learned quickly to let the students that were better adapted at speaking mandarin lead the pack while I stayed in the back.
Like any good educational trip, an itinerary was put together to guide the class through the weeks to come. The itinerary included three key city locations, a few international businesses, tourist attractions, meal times and travel times. Even with the itinerary packed, our schedule allowed for leniency on activities such as shopping and exploration. My favor shopping area was in Shanghai in a district that is sometimes called “Old Town” due to the novelty of the replicated old buildings. This area, primarily catering to tourists with loaded pockets, incorporated small shops and winding alleyways were prospecting vendors looked to help lighten the load of unsuspecting tourist. I learned how to haggle really quickly after paying ten times the price for my first souvenir. Any future vendors from there on were disappointed in their profit. My haggling skills improved to the point where I was able to get the cost of the marked up items down fifty to seventy-five percent off. In some instances, my friend Catherine and I would team up to get what we wanted.
What I really liked about shopping in Shanghai was the Chinese vendors. Either the vendors hid their surprise or showed no interest when I could not communicate with them in Chinese. Sales were on their mind, not my lack of knowledge, though some did ask after we completed a transaction. Even when the inquiry sparked, about my past, I did not feel as awkward as I had before when presented with the same question. By then, I had learned what an appropriate response was. I learned that I should only tell the bare essentials which excluded my adoption and let them speculate the rest. My comfortable feelings could have also been due to the fact that the majority of the Chinese vendors only spoke English to me.
…..To be continued
*I use the word “traditional” lightly here because not all adoptees experience the same first time pilgrimage to China. Not everyone gets to take a family, or be young when they go back to China. Some may not have even been back yet.