China Adventure

ttuell@sierrastar.comOctober 1, 2013 

It was a year full of new sights, smells, experiences, and travel that the whole Oetinger family will reflect on for the rest of their lives after their China adventure. Parents Rusty and Cecilia taught at Guangdong Country Garden School, the same school their daughters, Claire, 13, and Taylor, 10, attended.

Rusty and Cecelia had big expectations when the family boarded the airplane for China. When they arrived, they were picked up and dropped off at their apartment. It wasn't until the next morning when Rusty walked down to the local 7/11 for some coffee that culture shock hit.

"I wanted something familiar in a strange land — and there was no coffee," Rusty said.

Not being able to communicate, the difference in personal space, and breathing in the foreign smells also added to the culture shock.

Cecelia's culture shock experience happened in the classroom. She went to China thinking that everyone revered education, but when she tried to teach first grade reading she realized that children can act poorly in every country.

"Once the students got to know me they were very enthusiastic to see me every day," she said. "They would yell out my name in the hallways when they saw me. The children were excited about learning English, so it was fun. The teachers I worked with were great and very welcoming, as were the Chinese people in general."

Rusty said they went to China with the attitude that they were not going to be tourists for a year, and instead were going to be Chinese.

"It really benefited us to have that attitude, because their greatest asset is their people," Rusty said. "They absolutely love us as Americans and treated us like family, almost instantaneously."

Rusty said that because they were open to experiencing the Chinese culture, they quickly made a lot of Chinese friends and spent Chinese New Year with a Chinese family.

"We went to temple on the eve of Chinese New Year, came back and that family took us over to his mother's home and she prepared a traditional Chinese New Year meal," Rusty said. "Chinese New Year's Eve is hard to describe. It is like 4th of July at Bass Lake for almost two weeks in a row every day and every night. It was crazy."

The Oetingers kept busy all year whether it was traveling or blogging.

"I liked that we got to travel a lot and we did so many fun things in different places," Taylor said.

They went all over Asia — from The Great Wall, saw the Terracotta Warriors — even traveled to Thailand.

"Cecelia and I are serious about retiring there," Rusty said. "The experiences we had there were amazing and the atmosphere of where we were was spectacular."

They Oetingers went ziplining, scuba diving, petted tigers and even rode elephants. A full family meal in Thailand cost only $8.

The food in both Thailand and China is something the whole family fell in love with.

"Their food was amazing," Claire said. "It's nothing like the food we have here."

Cecelia said there was every ethnicity of food available except Mexican. Everything from Thai and Indian to Italian and Korean.

"It was all good, fresh and wonderful," Cecilia said.

Taylor's favorite foods — spicy green beans and Chinese noodles.

Rusty even got a little adventurous when eating out with friends and ate King Cobra once, which was served with a pigeon stew.

"The pigeon was extremely good and they said it was a delicacy," Rusty said. "The snake was good but very bony. It was definitely a culinary vacation."

Going to dinner at 11:30 p.m. was normal for the Chinese, Rusty said, then they would rise early in the morning to go to work.

"They work really hard and are really happy to work hard," Rusty said. "The government doesn't have their nose to the grind stone. The people are happy to do it and they are happy people."

Through the experience, the whole family learned how to speak a little Chinese — the girls more than either Rusty or Cecelia. With the girls, both having blond hair, Rusty said they were practically celebrity status.

"They were like child movie stars," he said. "They were constantly getting their pictures taken and people were wanting to touch their hair. Ladies on the subway would reach over just to touch Taylor's hair."

The girls thought it was strange at first, but Rusty told them there were two ways to deal with it — consider it being annoying, or just realize that these people wanted to meet them and get to know them.

Rusty said he met people he never would have imagined meeting while in China. He met the United State's Undersecretary of Commerce and President Obama's step brother.

"The last time I saw him he made a point to tell me he was reading my blog," Rusty said. "He was a really nice guy."

Rusty also met most of the staff at the U.S. Consulate.

However, after the school year packed full of adventures, it was time to come home.

After 33 hours of travel — a cab to the train station, then to the ferry station, then ferry to the Hong Kong airport, a layover in the Philippines, then a flight to San Francisco — they were finally back home. Cecelia is back teaching at Wasuma Elementary School and Rusty is back on the golf course coaching the Yosemite High School girls team.

Although they're back in the U.S., the Oetinger's did bring some Chinese perspective back with them.

"We're just going to take it easy and not be the American 'Type A' personality of go go go and not have our kids involved in every single activity there is," Rusty said.

Rusty said the Chinese taught them that even during their busy 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. day of work or school, they take time on their two-hour lunch to relax or take a nap.

"They make sure to take time and smell the roses as you could say," Rusty said.

Cecelia also came back with a new, overall perspective.

"I've always had a tendency to push myself and achieve it all and stretched myself too thin," Cecelia said. "People are so happy with basic things there (China), and we don't need everything."

Editor's note: Rusty's blog can be viewed at Rusty also has a publisher interested in his blog. Rusty is combining it with Cecelia's emails and Claire and Taylor's journals as a book, which Rusty hopes to see published next year.

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