My 2020 Host Family ExperienceIssue date：2020-03-30
For the recent Chinese New Year holidays, Nissim, a DP2 from Nepal, and I myself a DP2 from Pakistan, were hosted by Li Shushu, Ayi and their two children, Rico and Linda; and while I’m pretty sure none of us was expecting that our 2-week experience would be cut (very) short to 5 days because of the COVID-19; it still ended up being so interesting that I’ll take while out to share how it went here.
DEEP DIVE INTO HISTORY
So, I guess it would be best to begin by introducing Mr. and Mrs. Li whom we referred to as Shushu and Ayi. Quite fascinatingly, they turned out to be one of the most passionate connoisseurs of Chinese history and culture I’ve met, and you would feel it as soon as you step into their home in Old Suzhou. Various paintings, tools, ornaments, books and even furniture that spanned across centuries were found here and there either for aesthetics or for actually being integrated into everyday life and being used every day. It was fascinating to feel and experience, in the little things, how people back then used to conduct themselves. The best part was that for all those unique and interesting historical trinkets around, everyone in the family had some sort of insightful knowledge about them and you’d be enlightened with something new everytime.
Shushu told us about pieces of jewelry beautifully crafted by Ayi. Each has components of different ancient ornaments put together to create modern ones. Apart from these, we also went through a vast collection of qipao that Ayi had designed herself.
We went from observing ancient flower pots and learning how “meihua”(Plum blossom) represents strength and “zhuzi” (Bamboo) modesty, to taking dives into stories crafted into bamboo cups. Above is an ancient bamboo-based vessel telling the story of two lovers.
We had a close look at a very small part of a mesmerizing copy of an intricate hand-sewn painting. The scroll stretches out to a 20-meter-long art piece! It has changed various hands over the years; the sewn-in red seals accredit the benefactors that brought this work to completion
I was making continual efforts towards developing my fluency in Chinese by trying my best to speak in the language – so that Linda and Rico didn’t have to translate between us and their parents as much. I feel like that within those few days, my Chinese did indeed improve to an extent that quite possibly had we stayed together for the full two weeks, I probably would have been able to read, understand and solve the above math problem.
We realized, with a formerly undiscovered bookmark, that from one of Shushu’s collection of old books actually had once been under Japanese possession, before it got to us.
APART FROM ALL THE HISTORICAL STUFF
We took out the time to play games from serene alternative methods to play Go to fast-paced Ping Pong ball. I think connecting with the younger demographic of China, like Rico and Linda so personally gave me a great insight into how the lives of fellow Chinese students at UWC Changshu China that I share classes, dorms and meals with would have been.
Practice makes perfect. After losing almost every post-meal game of 5-in-a-row that I’ve had since day one, I finally started winning on the 10th… or maybe the 100th attempt
It was a nostalgic experience playing with Legos again, as I had put away my (pretty large) collection of Legos years ago – when I used to be around Rico’s age. Great change of pace from being a grown-up IB student every day.
I still need a lot of practice to get my “福”s to look anything close to how well Shushu and Linda’s strokes of artistic beauty looked.
We learnt how to imprint art pieces from traditional metal engraved paintings onto paper. It takes more patience and gentleness than you may think!
It was on the morning of the 26th where Nissim and I decided that it would be a good idea to share some flavours from home by making breakfast with some sub-continental dishes. I had already gotten some ingredients and spices from Pakistan and we just needed eggs, so we decided to go out for a walk with Shushu and the kids to the grocery store nearby. It felt like a normal exciting morning. Only that it ended up being a bit too exciting: we went to our rooms to put on jackets and masks and grab our phones… when Nissim asked me to check my phone and BOOM! It is exploded with a billion missed calls from Pakistan, students panicking in the WeChat groups and emails from the School with surveys asking for health status, current locations, telling us that due to Coronavirus epidemic, we would need to leave China ASAP. From there on till lunch time, the mood of the whole day had changed quite drastically: from a good breakfast and sharing cultures, we were down to saying goodbye all so soon. The lunch table was mostly us talking about how our flights for the night were being booked, how surreal and shocking it was to have this experience cut so short and whether this is going to be the last time that we leave China before IBDP ends for us.
Well… we still haven’t found the answer to that. After a long ride across the eerily empty roads that took us to PVG airport, we said our teary-eyed goodbyes to the Li family and were off to home. And that’s where we currently are. Enjoying the comfort of home with the stress and business of school through online classes, longing to be able to meet everybody at UWC Changshu again. Till then, stay safe, Hoomans.