(This post is part of a series I am doing called “First Impressions. . . my first few months in Asia“. If you would like to read about this series and other articles, please CLICK HERE.)
Coming from the south in America, hospitality is something that is valued to me. This isn’t just a saying, but a reality. My mother is one of, if not the best, hostess that I have ever known. She loves having people over. Some of my fondest memories as a child are of our house being packed with guests, laughter, tons of food, and Mom & Dad providing a wonderful environment.
One of the many things that I have loved about Asian culture is their value of hospitality. They are wonderful at it and place massive amounts of effort into hosting guests. Additionally, it is literally a Confusion teaching to honor and take tremendous care of foreigners in their land. The result is that these people have, by in large, gone out of their way to be good hosts me in every conceivable way during my time here. It’s been wonderful.
Though I have been in the homes of many of my Asian friends over the years, the following story is of the first time. Nothing dramatic during this day, it was just my first such experience so I went to greater detail in chronicling it. Many others have followed in a similar fashion. . .
I had met the managers of the local weight room on my second day in county. They were nice guys. Their English was limited to a handful of “weight room words” and my Chinese was non-existent at the time.
We mainly just nodded at each other as we passed.
It surprised me when they asked me during my third visit if I would be interested in visiting their families to “see how Chinese families live”. I told them yes and they immediately shot back “what about tomorrow?” Though taken a bit back by both the request and the rapidity of the transaction, I gladly agreed.
I showed up to meet them at the weight room directly after my class around noon. Upon my arrival, I realized that it was a little more organized than I had planned. The head guy had on a tie. They had two girls with them, one of which was the girlfriend of a student I had met and the other a weight room regular. They were giddy to be showing me life “outside of the city” as they kept putting it.
Both of the weight room guys grew up together in the same area. We arrived at the head guy’s home first. His parents were incredibly nice and had fixed us a feast for lunch. To my pleasure, I found out that water was not working that day, so we couldn’t eat vegetables.
They brought out a ton of meats, both in variety and volume. Mostly pork, but some beef. I ate to the point of abdominal explosion. The mother seemed determined to make sure that I ate until I passed out. They just assumed that since I am American, I could eat more than their entire town combined.
It was not just their family involved in the day. Their home was filled with people playing the game Ma Jiang (the Chinese game featured in “Joy Luck Club”). As soon as lunch ended, we joined in playing with the others. I’m terrible, but his mother is great. She stood over my shoulder, and showed me what to do. I ended up winning several times, though I had very little to do with it. They all acted like I was great, but I knew the truth. All the while, the parents kept trying to get me to eat fresh fruit that they had bought that day for our time together.
When school got out in the neighborhood, several little children came in to see me. Word got out that a foreigner was in town, so everyone wanted to see me with their own eyes. My friend told me they liked me, as they kept running by my table giggling. Of course, several of them said “Hel..lo”. It was a lot of fun.
After a few more games of Ma Jiang and a quick tour of the local park, we headed over to the second guy’s home.
His home was a very short drive. This meal was even bigger. Not only did they have as much meat, but they also had vegetables. His entire family was present, including his sister, both grandmothers, his parents, and a child that I still don’t know to whom she belonged. We all sat around a little table in the middle of the living area and just threw down. I was still full from lunch, but I knew I couldn’t disappoint. They had prepared a feast, and I was the guest of honor.
The father was a factory worker. He seemed like a great guy, in spite of the fact that our conversation was limited to my pathetic language skills and animated hand motions. One of the dishes was a plate of some kind of random claws. I think the claws were of chickens, but I can’t verify this. They were marinated, and well cooked, but the claws were very clearly defined with the finger nails still in tack. As the father insisted, I ate them. It actually turned out to be very good.
We headed back to school soon after dinner, arriving back here around 9pm.
As I said earlier, the Asian hospitality has been a wonderful part of the culture that I have benefited and learned from much over the years. Their graciousness has always helped in easing the pain of being so far away from family and friends in America. It has also taught me how to be a better host of others in my own home.