“Do you have brothers and sisters?”

Starting from today, I will publish on a more regular basis. Posts will be published three times weekly – on Tuesdays, Thursdays and on Saturdays. If you don’t want to miss a post, you can also subscribe to my blog via e-mail (see right navigation bar). I also plan to publish guest posts that are somehow connected to this blog’s topic. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to contact me at chinaelevatorstories{at}gmail.com. I do reserve the right to refuse publishing guest posts for any reason. Here’s today’s post:

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

One evening after work in May 2013, my fiancé decides to get a haircut and I accompany him.

When we enter the hairdresser, an employee turns to my fiancé and unsure of which language to use she asks hesitantly:
“Do you speak Chinese?”
He: “I am Chinese.”
She: “Oh, sorry, I thought you might be Japanese.”

After the employees figure out that we both speak Chinese and we tell them what we want, he stays on the first floor to get a haircut and I follow an employee upstairs to get a massage. The hairdresser does not only offer haircuts but also massages and beauty treatments.

The girl giving me the massage starts chatting with me.
She: “How old are you, sis*?”
I: “25, and you?”
She: “I’m 17.”
I: “Wow, that’s really young.”

After talking for a while about this and that, she asks:
“Are you alone here or did your parents come to China with you?”
I: “I came here just on my own. My parents and my brothers and sisters are still back at home.”
She: “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
I: “We’re 8 kids.”
She: “Wow, that’s a lot!”
I: “It is. Do you have brothers and sisters?”
She: “I have an older and a younger brother.”
I: “That’s a lot for China. Did your parents have to pay a fine**?”
She: “They didn’t. Where I come from, having 3 kids is actually pretty common. Also, we didn’t grow up at the same place. My brother lived with my mother the first 8 months and was then given to my grandmother. But my grandmother became ill, so after 2 years my aunt took care of him. When my mother got me, she took care of me for 2 years, and later my grandmother took care of me for 1 year. After that, I was given back to my mother to look after me.”

Do you have brothers and sisters or were you ever surprised when young people in China told you that they do?

*older sister (姐姐) is the word Chinese often use to refer to a person that judging from age could be their older sister

**because of the one-child policy people who get more than just one kid will usually have to pay a fine in addition to other restrictions being imposed on them and their kids

This is part 1 of the conversation with the girl working at the hairdresser. Stay tuned for part 2 (“How much do you earn?”), part 3 (“I have the heart of a boy”) and part 4 (“Is your hair dyed or is this your real color?”).

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12 thoughts on ““Do you have brothers and sisters?”

  1. All the ‘older sister’ reminds me when we took a train from Hong Kong to Shanghai, there was a lady checking the tickets and a little boy referred to her as auntie instead of older sister, she checked the rest of the train with very upset face haha 🙂

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    • Haha! Yes, there’s always a chance you might offend someone. I mean, what do you call someone who’s too old to be your “older sister” but too young to be your “auntie”? I’m really not used to calling people brother, sister, uncle or auntie, so I try to avoid it if possible.

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      • For me it’s uncomfortable to call everyone as brothers, sisters, aunts etc. but just not to offend everyone I would give ‘younger’ title, just to make ladies feel better – from my sister’s in law example I know how they care about staying young, there was one man advertising school books and she got asked ‘big sister maybe you need books for your brother’ and she is one month younger than me (22 this year), he was 26 – she was so upset. So just for everyone I pretend that they look younger than they really are even if I know she’s closer to aunt than to sister 🙂

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  2. Did you ask the girl from which region she was? I tried hard to understand Chinese one-child policy and still don’t understand hearing all the time that there are some Chinese citizens that have more than one child…

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    • She was from a third-tier city in Hunan province. There are some exceptions to the one-child policy. Here’s a list from http://blogs.loc.gov/law/2011/06/chinas-one-child-policy/:
      “Laney spoke in detail about exceptions to the restrictions imposed by the policy. Although exceptions differ from one province to another, some of the following commonly applied exceptions allow couples to have more than one child:

      If their first born is disabled;
      If both spouses are members of ethnic minority groups;
      If both spouses are only children (so it seems that all individuals born after 1980 whose parents were forced to have only one child would be eligible to have more than one child if they marry another only child);
      If a couple divorces and a person thereafter marries an individual who has no child of his or her own; or
      If the couple are Chinese who have returned from an overseas country where they have legal residency.”

      Also, if a place is really remote, chances are the law isn’t enforced as strictly. Some people also try to hide the fact that they are pregnant and if they can get the child without the authorities noticing, they might use a similar tactic as the one the girl spoke about. They might give their children to an aunt or to the grandmother who will then bring them up. Sometimes, this also means that the child is a “black” child that isn’t registered with the authorities, making it impossible for the child to go to school or enjoy any of the benefits of being registered unless it has a fake id (many of these kids do indeed have fake id’s).

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  3. Pingback: “How much do you earn?” | China elevator stories

  4. Pingback: “I have the heart of a boy” | China elevator stories

  5. Pingback: “Is your hair dyed or is this your real color?” | China elevator stories

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