Have you ever met anybody in an unusual way that you have stayed friends with for a long time? Here’s my story… It was 2012, and I was in line, along with my four Harding students, to check into a China Southern Airline flight from Los Angeles to Guangzhou.
The flight was an overnight flight that departed about 11:00 p.m. on a Wednesday, arriving abut 6:00 a.m. on a Friday. The line was almost all Chinese people except for us. I was ahead of my students leading them through the process of checking in and traveling to China. It was my third trip to China, the first for all of them. In front of me was a young woman that looked college-aged speaking on the phone. Her first call she spoke Chinese, her second call she spoke English. For whatever reason, as she hung up the second time our eyes locked and she said hello in English. I responded in Chinese… Oh you speak Chinese? She inquired in my second language. Oh, she had me. I had been taking Chinese language lessons for a couple of years but was not that far into a conversational skill level. I tried to say I speak a little, saying that I was learning… When she interrupted in perfect English, “Well, I guess we can speak in English then.” I asked her if she was going home? “Yes, my semester of college is over and I am going home to Guangzhou for the Summer.” We chatted in line as I told her what I and my four students were doing here. Sylvie then she stepped up to the counter, checked in, left her suitcase and headed off to her gate. We did the same.
As we arrived at our gate I saw her sitting by herself. I told the students to follow my lead and we walked up to her and I asked if we could sit and wait with her? She was very excited and said, “Sure,” as she moved one of her carry-on bags to empty a seat next to her. I introduced myself, and then my students. She did the same. I’m Sylvie Xiang, she said. I asked her if that was spelled, S-Y-L-V-I-E X-I-A-N-G? “Yes! You are the first American that’s ever known how to spell both of my names!” Of course, I knew that Sylvie was an American name that she had chosen. We then all sat down and chatted again for about 45 minutes before starting the boarding process. As we were boarding I jokingly told here we had another 13 hours together. She asked where we were sitting? After we all stated our seat assignments, she asked me if sometime during the flight I would be willing to trade seats with her so that she could continue visiting with my students, because I was assigned to be seated with two of them.
As she walked away to board, I looked at my students, and said, “…And that’s the way it’s done. This is just a microcosm of what we will be doing in China!”
We did in fact trade seats during the flight. Sylvie quickly endeared herself to us. As we arrived and were going through immigration and customs she asked where we were going next? I told her that we needed to find our way to the train station so we could board the fast train to Hengyang. After details were told, she insisted that she allow us to let her family pick us up and deliver us to the train station. Thus, began a six year and counting friendship with Sylvie Xiang.
Now every time I am going to be in Guangzhou I usually announce that on my Social Media platforms and she asks if I can get together with her and/or her family for tea, lunch dinner… whatever. I invited her to come along with my group on a dinner boat up and down the Pearl River and she has in turn invited me and whoever was with me to dinner with her family. We have stayed in touch with each other through social media and email as she attended college in the states and now graduate school and internships.
I was once described as somebody that doesn't know a stranger, they are just friends that I haven't met yet. This year, Friday, May 25th, Sylvie and I met for lunch once again. I am always amazed that I met a stranger in the Los Angeles LAX airport and we’re still friends six years later!
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Steve Shaner, also known as Xie Yeye, is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.