Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Having an Allergy in China.

A: I brought a gift back for you from my hometown.

Me: Really?! That's so nice of you! Thanks for thinking of me.

Student pulls out two apples (which might I add, were very sweet and delicious!) from a grocery bag.

A: My hometown is known for two things. One of them is apples. I hope you like apples!
He grimaces a little bit looking for approval. 

Me: Thank you so much, A! I eat an apple every day. I'm looking forward to my afternoon snack now!

A: My hometown is also known for seafood.

My heart sinks a little bit because I know exactly what's coming. 

A pulls a big box of seafood snacks out of the grocery bag. 

A: They are called...(pauses to translate what the box says)...dried shrimp?
He says it like a question because he is unsure of his translation.

Me: Oh, A! Thank you so much. This is so thoughtful of you. However, I can't accept the dried shrimps.

A: Oh. Why?

Me: Because I am allergic. They will make me very, very sick. Not because they are bad, but because my body doesn't like them.

A: Begins to open the box of shrimps. Ok, but maybe try just one?

Living in China with an allergy has been an interesting experience. A little back history - about 10 years ago I developed an intolerance/allergy to some types of shellfish. My doctor called it an allergy to red-veined shellfish (lobster, crab, and shrimp). Sometimes it results in being sick to my stomach for hours on end. However, most commonly, it ends in a cut-off airway, hives, and a lot of panicking. I'm equipped with an Epipen at all times. And while I've never had to use it, there have been some close calls (including a scare this summer where my brother...and my mom...and my dad...and well, my whole family, got a little upset with me when I chickened out of using it. Obviously the lectures came once I could breath again...)

What I have learned while living in China is that many locals don't understand what an allergy is. They can't comprehend how you can't eat something because it could kill you. The Chinese culture is a very giving culture, I find. They want you to experience and be a part of everything. They want you to understand what you are seeing, be a part of the activities that are happening, and taste all of the food. The insist, and pressure, and insist some more. But it's only because they don't want you to miss out. It's all coming from the kindness and generosity in their hearts.

One story sticks out in my mind so clearly. I was on a staff retreat in the Spring and we stopped at a restaurant on the way home. We were served this enormous lunch full of rice, soups, vegetable dishes, tofu, chicken, duck, and of course...shrimp. Lots and lots of shrimp. Everything sits on a "Lazy Susan" in the middle of the table and rotates. I was sitting beside one of my Chinese co-workers. When they shrimps went by, he stopped and offered me a piece. I politely said "No, thank you." He then picked a piece up with his chopsticks and set it on my plate saying, "These are very delicious. I'm sure you'll like them. Try!" This is roughly how the rest of the conversation went: 

Me: "It's not that I don't want to try it, it's that I can't. It'll kill me." 
Co-worker: "Ok, but it's delicious!"
Me: "I'm sure it is, and I wish I could try. But I can't. I'm sorry!" 
Co-worker: "But maybe just try a little bit?"

He just kind of looked at me and said, "Oh." And I felt bad. For something I can't control. I also felt so bad that morning last week when my student was so proud and pleased to be sharing a piece of his hometown with me. I paused before telling him I couldn't accept the second piece of the gift trying to decide the best way to deal with the situation. Some of the other teachers told me I shouldn't have said anything and just accepted the gift. But I didn't want to lie to him. I knew he'd ask me the next day if I tried some and if I liked it, and I didn't want to lie and say "Yes, they were delicious!" Also, I'm sure he (or his parents) spent a bit of money on these snacks. Seafood isn't cheap! And I wanted them to go to someone who would actually enjoy them and appreciate them. In fact, A said he would give them to his homeroom teacher because she loves seafood! I was happy that they found a good home! 

Hey! And maybe I've had it wrong the whole time! Maybe they are just all pretending to not understand. And when they insist that I try just one bite, even after telling them what the consequences would be, they were intending for the worst to happen...NAH! I'm just kidding.

What do you think? Should I have just accepted the treats? But when you're that allergic to something...you just don't want to handle them at all. I guess I could have given them to another teacher. I would have still had to explain to A that I couldn't eat them and they were wasted on me. 

No comments:

Post a Comment