A Peek Into Two Chinese Apartments
We’ve been told that most Chinese entertain friends and even big family groups at restaurants, many of which have private rooms for just such celebrations, so Barry and I were particularly happy (and very curious) when we were invited to dinner recently at the homes of two Chinese families.
Bill is a ZAFU economics professor whom Barry met one day over the frozen food section in a Lin’an supermarket. Bill is extremely knowledgeable, interesting, and willing to answer our many questions about China. Barry has spent several afternoons with Bill in the library, and Bill often comes to our movie nights. We had him to our Easter celebration, and he has come over a few times to talk. He is a new father, and I’ve been eager to meet his wife Stephanie who also teaches at ZAFU–and their little daughter.
Sadly for me (and for the baby), she cried every time I got close to her. However, she thought Barry was fascinating–go figure!
Although I’m sure the whole family worked all day to create the fantastic dinner, it was Bill’s mom who seemed to supply the most magic. Bill said his mom had owned a restaurant at one point; she can chop vegetables faster than anyone he knows. And she knows how to add spices. His mom has come to help Stephanie and Bill with their little daughter. Bill’s dad is staying with another son to help that family with their child. The mom and dad will get to see each other this summer when Dad comes to Bill’s house for a visit.
For most Chinese families, their child is the treasure of their lives, and the parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents combine their efforts to create a loving and secure foundation for the child. In this case, it means that the grandparents live separately to help their children. I think Bill’s family especially wins in this case because his young family not only has an extra important person to care for the child but also a terrific in-house cook.
Bill didn’t just invite us and Patrick, he invited other teachers, Chinese who teach English, to come over so we could all meet each other and mingle.
Bill and Stephanie live in a comfortable, spacious about 1500 square foot apartment in a newer building. They pay about $150 a month rent. Bill says his honey understands why he is not buying an apartment, which is the expectation before someone marries let alone has a baby. (The guy is expected to buy a car before the couple has a baby). Bill who has worked as a broker, studied economics in graduate school, and now teaches finance at ZAFU, says the Chinese real estate market here is a bubble. In an earlier visit that Barry had to Bill and Stephanie’s apartment, Bill took Barry outside in the dark to see that only one other apartment in the whole six story building had a light on. As is usual in most new buildings, most of the apartments are empty. So Bill and his family are waiting for the Chinese market to crumble. Other Chinese assure us that won’t happen because the government will prop up the real estate.
At Bill and Stephanie’s, we ate very well and enjoyed meeting Stephanie and the other Chinese teachers who teach English. We were also introduced to a wolfberry wine that is supposed to promote longevity. We had a very enjoyable evening.
We saw that Bill and Stephanie, both university professors, live happily with their young daughter and Bill’s mom in a rented apartment, with modest furniture, and do not have a car.
A few days later, we were invited to Amanda’s apartment for dinner. Amanda has been coming to my office hours each week to practice her oral English in preparation for a big exam that can help her get a permanent working visa in Australia. Her parents had been able to send her to university in Australia where she graduated in accounting. Now she would like to go work in Australia where the opportunities are so much greater than in heavily competitive China.
Her dad is 55 years old and works as a driver for the government. Her mother is not yet 55 and has retired.
The family owns their own spacious apartment in a building that is three years old. Dad picked us up in a new shiny black sedan. The family has big pieces of leather furniture, a large flat-screen T.V., valuable vases, and neither Amanda nor her mom work now.
This family too fed us very well.
This family too is loving and caring. They want the best for their daughter. If Amanda can get a job in Australia, her mom will go with her to cook and take care of her. Dad will stay home alone to work.
Our big question after being a few hours with each of these lovely families is how is it that the driver of a car seems much more affluent than a family of two working university professors?
Much about China is still a mystery to us. However, Barry and I feel very privileged to have gotten to peek into the lives and apartments of two lovely Chinese families.