Getting off the bus in Hangzhou, from the Shanghai airport, was a little terrifying. My fears were quickly put to rest with a smile from my coordinator, who had a car waiting to take me to a hostel. Over the next two days I met other au pairs from all over the world. LoPair welcomed everyone like they were family during the short, but very useful orientation. After the two day orientation, each au pair went their separate way.
I stayed in Hangzhou. My host family lives in a beautiful northern section of Hangzhou, surrounded by mountains. My host family welcomed me and has done everything in their power to make me feel happy and accepted. In the evenings, I help my host child with her English homework, work on art projects, and teach her English by using an interactive method I created on my computer. While my host child is in school, I am free to do as I please.
China has such a vast culture that spans over hundreds of years, meaning there is always something to see or learn. On the down side however, during the day it is often difficult to meet up with other au pairs, so touring alone is common. Coming to a foreign country which does not speak your native language can be very challenging and lonely, but can be time for growth and learning. I don't think anyone can honestly say that living abroad is always fantastic, but with an open mind, any struggle can be looked at as a learning opportunity or an adventure.
My host family has taken me out on the weekends, to show me fascinating places in Hangzhou. They have been patient and tried their best to meet in the middle, when it comes to the difficult language barrier. I feel so blessed to be in a host family that loves each other, wants the best for me, and respects me.
Lopair has a great and reliable support system, as well as providing lots of resources to their au pairs and host families. I recently met a girl who came to China through a different agency I had considered using this agency but when their credentials didn’t check out, I decided against it. The girl I met was treated like a servant and was forced to give English lessons to large groups of people. Her host family would then make people pay for the lessons, keeping the money and not giving any to the girl. The host family was making money off her back. The girl left the family and dropped the host organization. She was taken in by Lopair, treated like family, and now has a new host family---set up by LoPair. I think Lopair has done a great job at giving their families and au pairs a good experience and providing what they need.
Saturday morning dawned. After breakfast and a tearful homework session (handwriting sheets are not Josie's favorite thing). My family took me to a historic temple in Hangzhou. Entering the courtyard of the temple, we were handed 3 sticks of incense each. A large flame was placed in the center of the yard and next to it was a sand pit in which to place the sticks. Not sure on Buddhist protocol, I watched my mom, a is practicing Buddhist. She lit the three sticks, placed them above her head and bowed three times, in the direction of the first temple door. Then placed the sticks in the sand pit.
A temple is not just one building. A temple is made up of closed off grounds, with a number of buildings dedicated to specific Buddhist icons.
The temple was awesome. I was shocked and slightly mesmerized by how massive all the icons were. We went from building to building and my mom and little sister did a lot or bowing, while I awkwardly embraced the beauty of the icons.
Lunch time rolled around. Within the temple enclosure was a small restaurant. Since coming to China, I've eaten a lot of noodles because they're vegetarian and I'm vegan. At the restaurant, we were served a steaming bowl of noodles. These were no ordinary noodles, they were accompanied by fresh cut vegetables, mushrooms, beans from the ginkgo tree (only eat 5 ginkgo beans or bad things will happen) and served in a searing savory broth. I had reached noodle nirvana.
After lunch we went into what I guess would be a buddhist gift shop. Mom had me trying on these bracelets made of seeds from the Buddha tree. They were not CHEAP…so once again, the only frugal person in the bunch, I was being pretty passive, not really committing to anything that was put up my wrists. Finally my mom picked out two and the lady from behind the counter put them on me. (Internal thoughts: wow, these are beautiful! I love them...oh mercy...look at the price).
"You love. I buy." My mom placed a wad of cash on the counter and we walked out of the gift shop. With the sound of the wind blowing through the trees and classical Chinese music playing, I was getting my zen on.
An overwhelming sense of eat.pray.love-ish attitude was filling my soul. We made our way out of the temple and to the car. Feeling so wonderful, I decided to see if I could remember the name for tree in Chinese. Pointing to a tree I bluntly asked if we could get take-out food. My mom burst out laughing and corrected me.
Once in the car, my family decided to take me to some historic streets in Hangzhou.
I have never seen so many asians jammed into one place. Everywhere the eye could see, something fascinating was going on. Children were peeing in the street, awful smelling dumplings (made with fermented beancurd) were sizzling and steaming on a grill, vendors were yelling, ancient medicine shops were brimming with hopeful customers, odd meat products were being carried around on sticks and consumed.
"What do you love? I buy," said my mom. My mom kept trying to buy me random things that I knew wouldn't fit in my suitcase when I decided to go home.
"I help you find thing to love," continued my mom. Feeling bad, I let her buy me a little hedgehog ornament. I plan on taking it home and giving it to my older sister, Sarah, who has an odd love for the prickly rodents. As we headed home, I felt so happy to be in China with a family that wanted me to be excited about a new culture and was willing to give me such wonderful experiences.
Let au pairs make certain stipulations about host families they are willing to work for. Au pairs often work far more than they should and deserve more freedom.
LoPair should also do a little better job at being realistic when it comes to the amount of social time that au pairs will have/their ability to travel around China.