A Not-Very-Asian Chinese-Canadian Male in China (The Namesake Chapters 1-4)

 

Music I listened to while writing this post

Hey it’s me Adam. I read chapters 1 through 4 of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri for the past two weeks (more like read the last 60% of it two days before the deadline), and Gogol’s visit to Calcutta, India reminded me of my month-long trip to China with my sister and parents. I could relate to many of Gogol’s feelings and experiences during his time with his family in Calcutta.

For example, Gogol finds it boring because “[a]part from visiting relatives there was nothing to do in Calcutta” (Lahiri 80). During my time in China, majority of it was spent on my parents meeting and talking with their relatives. Like Gogol, I felt quite bored at times because all I would be doing was sitting awkwardly and listening to them talk or trying to find something to do on my phone. I could not even go on Facebook and talk to my friends because it’s blocked in China in addition to any Google services, including YouTube! It was horrible.

Similar to how Gogol and his family “spend eight months with their various relatives, shuttling from home to home,” we stayed in our relatives’ homes instead of staying at a hotel (83). The houses I visited were located in rural areas which poverty seemed to be evident in, so they didn’t look as finished and clean as the homes we have in Barrhaven. They looked old, a bit worn down, and had plain exteriors, but inside was not so bad. My dad’s family’s, who seemed  well-off, place had a pretty nice flat screen TV and everything looked normal on the inside for the most part. However, there were some things that surprised me.

Here’s a video that shows what my surroundings looked like.

chinese-bathroom
The shower in the bathroom I stayed in resembled this one

One of them was seeing a very small lizard just chilling on the wall inside the house, minding its own business. Another was the washroom. In North America, we have a dedicated section of the washroom for the shower like a shower head over a tub. The shower in that house was just the shower head over the floor with a drain. It felt weird having to shower right next to the sink and the toilet, but it wasn’t as extreme as Gogol and his family having to bathe “by pouring tin cups of water over their heads” (82). It was not that bad honestly but it took a bit of time to cope with my new temporary home. Other than the problems I had with adjusting to this new routine, I had to deal with the problem of a language barrier.

 

Unfortunately my sister and I can’t speak Cantonese or Mandarin. She was the only one who spoke a language that I understood well besides my parents. This is very similar to how “Sonia is [Gogol’s] only ally, the only person to speak and sit and see as he does” in the novel (84). I also did not know the customs in Chinese culture, so I often felt clueless, helpless, and was unable to communicate which is how I imagined Gogol feels during his time in Calcutta. Both Gogol and I were born and raised in a country that is different from our parents. Consequently, we were more accustomed to American culture and felt out of place the countries our parents were from.

When it was time for Gogol to leave, “relief quickly replaces any lingering sadness” he had (87). This implies he wanted to leave India quite badly and could finally escape the boredom which was what I also felt when I finally boarded the plane back to Canada.

Those were my thoughts during this section of The Namesake. I thought I would not be able to relate to Gogol because I do not think about my name that much, but I guess I do share similarities with him. Hopefully he doesn’t become completely annoying later in the book according to my friends.

Anyways, let me ask you this: Have you ever been on a trip to another place where it was quite different to American culture? Let me know your feelings and experiences as well as what you think about Gogol’s or my trip in the comment section below.

-Adam

 

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7 thoughts on “A Not-Very-Asian Chinese-Canadian Male in China (The Namesake Chapters 1-4)

  1. Hey Adam.

    It is interesting to read your blog and to see how similar of an experience you had to Gogol. As you compare the environment of the housing, visiting relatives, and different experiences between Calcutta and China I have a better understanding of how both of you felt. In my experience I have only traveled to places with a resort therefore I have not experienced the same things as you and Gogol. Although, a time I did feel I missed home was when I moved to New York City for 9 months. During this period I was living in a 1 floor apartment with three bedrooms and a 1 full sized bathrooms amongst 15 people. This situation was hectic compared to my living accommodations back home where I had my own bedroom and only 4 people living in a house. So in a way I’ve had the feeling of missing home as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jaden, thank you for taking the time to read my post AND comment! I was worried that I wouldn’t get my message across clearly, but it seems like it did and I’m glad you have a better understanding of how I and Gogol might feel about visiting the country of our roots as Americans. Sharing an apartment with 15 other people for 9 months sounds absolutely insane. I cannot imagine myself living in those conditions for that long so props to you.

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  2. Hi Adam!

    First off, the piano music in your link is so relaxing – Studio Ghibli is the best!

    Moving on, I made the same connection as you did about trips to China being like Gogol’s trip to Calcutta. About the showers: I honestly hated those. Maybe its just me but it felt like the bathroom was going to get flooded… Basically, I felt really unaccustomed to everything there. The people on the subways would block the door when you had to get off (not on purpose but because too many people) and you had to push them to get off!! Being from Canada, we pretty much say sorry all the time and act polite to everyone. There, I had to act tough or get stepped on. 😞

    And I was basically in tears when I went back to China from spending a week in Japan (SUPER clean and polite).

    Because of how different China is to Canada, I’m so glad my parents immigrated here, no question about it. I don’t understand how students function when their grades determine their status in life. When their one final exam determines if they get in to a good university. We’re lucky that here in Canada, we care more about how well others are doing and like to help the less unfortunate. Have you heard of how people in China are afraid to help the elderly in fear of being sued? 😲 Here’s an article about it: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2011-09-08/in-china-don-t-dare-help-the-elderly-adam-minter

    You mentioned that you don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese; in the future, would you encourage your children to learn the languages? Or let them become more North American?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Annie, thank you for reading and commenting on my post! Wow I’m really envious you got to go to Japan. About the subways, I never really got to experience the extreme overcrowding fortunately for me. I would feel absolutely horrible to push people out of my way without saying sorry. Also the washrooms in China were nightmares oh my god… They weren’t that clean and smelled horrible too. One washroom I went to had VERY suspicious white stuff in the soap so I used hand sanitizer my sister had instead.
      I’m glad my parents immigrated to Canada as well. I also can’t imagine living in a situation where grades are absolutely everything and having to spend even more time on school than I do now. I never heard of that article before, so thank you for that interesting bit of information. It’s shocking to think that’s what a lot of people believe in China.
      If I do have kids, even though I find them very annoying, honestly speaking I don’t think I would encourage them that much to learn Cantonese or Mandarin. It would probably be very discouraging to have a parent who is illiterate in a language they are being forced to learn because I said so and not being able to use it at home. It would also make me feel guilty for not being able to help them learn since when I was in Chinese school I had my mom help me a lot so I wasn’t completely lost.

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  3. Hi Adam,

    I think its really interesting that you were able to put yourself in Gogol’s shoes, and being able to relate to his experiences of visiting his parent’s home country compared to when you went to visit your parents relatives. You must feel like reading this book has become a lot more interesting for you since you can relate to Gogol’s situations and experiences. That must have been really hard for you to only have one person that spoke the same fluent language as you, and that you had next to no internet access. I have never really been to a foreign country or a country that spoke another language other than the Dominican Republic. When I went there it was so cool to see just how different the culture was compared to American/Canadian culture. It was sometimes hard to talk to people that worked at the hotel because I had only taken a Spanish course once at the time! Now that I have a lot more experience it would probably be so much easier, but I can only imagine if it was difficult for my family and I to go to a different country for a week, that it must have been impossible for you to deal with not really knowing what other people were saying all around you. Your post was really unique and interesting to read.

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  4. Hi Adam,

    I can relate too well to your experiences in China. A few years ago, I visited my parents’ hometown. The times that we weren’t visiting relatives, we didn’t have much to do since the city was pretty boring. Like you said, websites that I would visit daily at home in Canada would be blocked, so the only way to communicate with my friends was through email and WeChat! I guess that messaging app that my mom forced me to download has its uses after all. I would also see the occasional toad on the street.

    Although I wasn’t very impressed with my family’s hometown of Anshan in Liaoning province, I was pleasantly surprised when we visited the largest city in China, Shanghai. The sun was shining brightly in the sky (unlike the thick haze clouding the sky in Beijing and Anshan), rows of gleaming skyscrapers littered the streets, and I could honestly say that it seemed like a pretty developed city. China is developing very quickly these days so I’m curious to see what the cities will be like ten, twenty years in the future. Even though the city is very crowded and still polluted, I think I appreciated it more because of my appreciation for the culture, like a mutual understanding.

    As for Gogol being annoying later in the story, I think he has been annoying since he was a teenager. I understand that he is frustrated with his name, but he acts as though his life depends on it. He acts like his name prevents him from being successful, which I think is untrue. Perhaps I’m being insensitive because I have a ‘normal’ name and have never worried about it, but I still think Gogol should chill out a bit.

    Anyway, great first blog post! I’ll be waiting for next week’s blog post too.

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  5. Hi Adam! First off, reading about the chilling lizard made my day. It’s cool to hear about the different ways people live, whether it’s the layout of a washroom or the websites that are blocked. Is there anything you miss from visiting China?

    I went to China for two weeks when I was fifteen, but I had a different experience, as I was there as a tourist/student. I did actually see the kind of shower you mentioned, but I didn’t even realize it was a shower until someone told me about it. Experiencing a different culture is at once exciting and scary, but overall it was a learning experience for me. I remember smiling a lot and playing a weird game of half-charades to try and get past the language-barrier. I enjoyed reading your post, and look forward to the next parts! 🙂

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