Lydia Romanin is a Jesus follower who is wife to Nick Romanin and mother to Nathaniel, Ethan, and Abigail. Lydia and Nick currently live in West Lafayette, Indiana, where they serve full-time with China Outreach Ministries, reaching Chinese international students at Purdue University. Lydia is a Wheatie for life (Wheaton College) and an enthusiast of Christian Classical education. In her spare time, Lydia enjoys being with kids, doing calligraphy, teaching piano, running, and being active.
For more of her writing, check out: The Hostess with the Mostess – A Pre-Arrival Reflection, the first part of her summer series processing her experiences hosting a Chinese family, and Ambassadors to Both Cultures, a personal reflection on her Chinese American identity.
Mi Casa Es Su Casa.
For Nick and I, hosting people means inviting them to become part of our family, and we believe that extending hospitality is an important foundation to building relationships. This summer, we have a female student, M, and her mom, Ayi, staying with us. They arrived in the middle of June and leave in the beginning of August. M has shared with me that she is excited for her mom to experience living with a God-fearing, Jesus-following family. We are all hoping that God will work on Ayi’s heart during her stay with us – that she will see Christ lived out.
It’s been one week since M and Ayi moved in, and aside from the few awkward cultural and personal differences, it’s been going well! Some of the cultural differences are differences in our family cultures, not necessarily general American vs. Chinese cultural differences.
What are our differences, you ask?
To start, Ayi shared with me that she has a maid come to her house Monday through Friday to clean, cook, buy groceries, and do other household chores. This is a common practice in China for those in the upper middle class who can afford it and who have busy work schedules. Many times, these maids become lifelong friends with the families they work for. But you can imagine the awkwardness I felt when Ayi started washing dishes at my house after every meal. “You are paying me for you to do what you pay someone else to do at your house?” Talk about different lifestyles!
Another difference is the way we deal with leftovers. Because she cooks breakfast for herself, and her maid cooks lunch and dinner, Ayi eats freshly-cooked, new food for each meal, every day. Our family is quite different. We typically eat leftovers for lunch, and sometimes our breakfasts aren't even hot breakfasts. Since lunch is typically leftovers, we save whatever is uneaten at dinner.
One night when Ayi was cleaning up with us, she asked me, “What should I do with these brussel sprouts?” Without looking up from my computer, I immediately responded, “You can save them for tomorrow's lunch.” I wasn't looking, but that comment got a look of shock from Ayi, so extreme that it gave everyone else a good laugh! Since then, Ayi has cautiously asked me what she should do with every meal's leftovers.
As we get to know our guests, things are becoming more comfortable and we are better able to understand how to serve them.
Transitioning to the Weekly Routine.
M is enrolled in two summer classes at Purdue and is also working at a lab far from campus. This means each day she is gone from 7am to 7pm with no visits home during the day. A strenuous day for a summer schedule!
During the first week of classes, M was preoccupied with mapping out her bike route and spending enough time at her job at the lab. She was stressed out with how far her lab was from campus – a thirty-minute bike ride over paved and unpaved paths. In addition to the stress of her two summer intensive courses, her road bike couldn't handle the unpaved road, which led to her tire popping two times in one week! Dealing with these transportation issues, inclement weather, and homework, M hasn't said much about if she wishes she were spending more time with her mom or not.
Ayi is at home during the day. The first few days, she was still recovering from jet lag and didn't really participate much with us; she just stayed in her room, resting. But Ayi seems to have gotten more used to her new schedule. So far her routine in the morning is to stay with me and the kids or go for a walk on her own. As in traditional Chinese custom, she then takes a nap in the afternoon, which coincides with the kids’ naps. Afterwards, she helps me prepare for dinner.
Ayi has expressed disappointment in the lack of time she gets to hang out with M, which I understand since she did fly from China to be with her daughter. Now that homework and work take up most of M's life, Ayi is jealous for any time she can spend with her. She waits on the porch in the evenings, looking for M to return home on her bike. Ayi also wakes up early in the morning with M and cooks breakfast for her before she has to leave for school.
This first week, I am praising God for all the opportunities we have had to interact with Ayi in different contexts! God has blessed our family with a united spirit in our eagerness to love M and her mom. So far the kids always want to include them in all that we do. “Can M and Yipo come fishing with us?” Or at church on Fridays and Sundays, “That's Yipo's seat!” Ayi also came with us on our once a month (or so) trip to Costco about an hour away. She said that Costco was similar to Sam's Club, which they have in China.
The most American experience I think Ayi has had so far is coming with us to an end-of-VBS BBQ. She sat and observed while we went up to the buffet line to get food. We ate hot dogs, burgers, fruit salad, raw vegetables, and lemonade. She wanted to see what foods we combined and ate together, and then she wanted to go by herself to get food. She was excited to eat hot dogs two days in a row (we had Costco hot dogs the previous day). She watched the VBS kids perform their VBS songs and commented that it was wonderful how the church provided an opportunity for kids to sing together.
Reading Between the Lines.
Ayi and I chit chat a lot throughout the day. We speak Mandarin together, with an occasional English word thrown in. It’s a huge help that I know Mandarin, as this has made it easy for me to get to know her better. It also makes potentially awkward moments less awkward.
Our kids speak Chinglish to Ayi (half Chinese, half English). She and our kids banter all day, joking around and playing. Our oldest son, Nathaniel, who is five, always wants M to sit next to him at the dining table, and he doesn't want Ayi to sit next to him. So every night at dinner, they joke around:
“M sits here!”
“No, Yipo (Chinese for “great aunt”) sits here!”
“Nooo, M sits here!!”
And so forth.
Ayi is a woman of vigor, vivacity and verbosity (catch the alliteration?), and she helps out with whatever housework she can. Since Ayi’s been here, I haven’t had to wash dishes! In Chinese culture, being impeding or adding to another’s burden (麻烦 mafan) is looked down upon. I think Ayi feels like in order to be a polite, dutiful house guest, she should alleviate my burden in whatever way she can.
This has actually been the source of most of the awkward moments this past week. Volunteering herself to do household chores multiple times a day sometimes makes me feel strange because she is a house guest and also older than me. I find myself trying to read between the lines.
Is it blessing her to do these things because it will make her feel more comfortable with the way she is “burdening” us?
Or is it just because she wants to be polite?
Is she paying for us or buying us things to show her own generosity or to pay us back for having her in our house?
Is it a joy for her to pay for us to have a good time together?
Would paying for her be robbing her of her joy?
These are the questions that run through my mind and Nick’s as we interact with Ayi. Hopefully, as we get to know her better, we will find the root to some of these questions. Or perhaps our ability to read between the lines will improve.
It seems that Ayi has noticed some of our efforts to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2).
She commented recently on how she really approves of our “American” way of raising kids, and how Chinese families have a lot to improve on compared to our family. This comment gave me a chance to say that many American families don’t raise their children the way we attempt to, and that what we do is possible only because Nick and I draw from the best source of Wisdom and the Perfect Example of how a parent should act toward his children.
She also seems to be very surprised at how frugal we are in our eating (I try to save every bit of leftover food) and with how we think about money. Her comments of “I need to learn more from you” and “You guys know how to enjoy life” lead me think that she is open to hearing new ideas and thoughts, and that there is a great window of opportunity in which Truth can be spoken.
We want to help M and Ayi see that Christ is alive in us through his Spirit!
Loving People Despite the Inconvenience.
Many people comment that they would love to have house guests more often if only it weren’t for the inconvenience (to themselves) of living with others. But we are finding that it is a blessing to us if in our attempts to build relationship, our only inconveniences are planning meals more rigidly or waiting longer to use the bathroom. If people are the priority – if building relationships really is most important – then shouldn’t your convenience be a pleasurable sacrifice?
An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.
G. K. Chesterton