This was to be a day when I could get caught up in my writing for my journal. I did not write for the three days that I was away for the weekend visiting Mia and Jing Jing. I did get caught up a little. The Internet here is really suspect from time to time. Sometimes it’s fine and sometimes it’s either slow or non-existent. I think the weather has a lot to do with this and it has been raining a lot since I’ve been here. To date I have been here for 19 days and I think it has rained for 15 of those days. Often the rain has been hard and often it has been all day and night. I am so hoping that we have a few nicer weather days before we leave.
As I was getting caught up with my journal I was excited, because Alice was coming by at Noon to pick me up to go across town to her student’s family’s home for lunch. She arrived on time and we shared an umbrella, because I had left mine in Jing Jing’s father’s car. We walked to the far campus gate where we caught a bus that was crowded and dirty. Everybody was staring at us. Here I was, this middle aged, American man, with a young and pretty Chinese girl. They weren’t discreet at all. They stood up and pointed me out to others so the rest of the bus could see us. I might have been a bit uncomfortable but I had been told this would happen long before I got here and it has occurred everyday so far. I just smiled at them occasionally and waved to acknowledge that I did in fact see them and yes, I wasn’t Chinese! We got to our stop and still had to walk a couple of blocks in the rain to a gated complex of tall apartment buildings. When we started to climb the stairs I asked, “What floor do they live on?” Alice did not want to tell me and I thought, “Oh no, this could be a long hike.” What about the elevator? There wasn’t one. When I inquired again she simply said it was the top floor but still would not tell me how many floors were in the building. So I asked her, knowing her English may be OK but not perfect, “What is their apartment number?” “817,” she replied quickly! “Oh,” I said, “the eighth floor!” “How did you know?” she asked in amazement. I told her I am a pretty clever American and that I tricked her. She laughed when I explained to her what I had done. These were not just a few steps to the next floor, but a large set of steps with a landing between each floor to make two sets of stairs for each floor. I later realized why. The apartments were two floors each. At least the apartment we were going to had two floors.
We met the family and they were really delightful. They seemed too young to have a daughter in high school but they were all smiles when I arrived. They ushered us in, had us sit, and got us something to drink. Alice was busy talking in both languages for our introductions. They also came back with some napkins for me to wipe my face because they saw that I was sweating profusely from the stair climbing.
It was going to be a few minutes for them to finish preparing the meal and the table so Alice suggested that the student, whose name was Lilly, show me around their apartment. Alice had been hired to teach Lilly English and to help her study. Lilly wasn’t doing particularly well in her academics and this was causing a lot of family stress. She seemed particularly shy and spoke almost no English at first. I don’t think me being there was something she wanted. It was more her parents and Alice that wanted this meeting. Alice explained that Lilly was embarrassed by her lack of English skills, but soon I had convinced her that I enjoyed being there and I wanted her to feel comfortable around me.
As the tour went on, Lilly seemed to start relaxing a bit. She showed me her room and that she had two other rooms. Lilly had one room for sleeping, one for her study, and one just for her artwork and painting. Lilly, I discovered, was a graphic artist and wanted to go into advertising! She showed me some of her drawings and other graphic design work, including some ads for magazines that she had created just because she wanted to. The work was great and she was only 17! Lilly was a Creative! A free spirit! That was the real issue with her studies. Her parents wanted Lilly to be an accountant or something as boring and God-awful as that, but she was a Creative! It didn’t take me being in their house ten minutes to figure out what her parents and Alice could not. I tried to explain it to Alice but she has the mindset of the Chinese and could not comprehend what I knew was going on here. Alice knew I worked in advertising and she thought I could simply tell her to be a better student. Well I could, but I’m not sure Alice or her parents would have liked the direction I might have sent her studying. I explained to Lilly, sometimes through Alice, that I was much the same as she was but my creative skills were different from hers. I went on to say that I teach creative people back in America. When she understood what I was telling her and what I had done in my work in advertising and teaching she lit up like the morning sun. After that we were friends! She seemed to be delighted to have me there!
It was time to eat. I asked where they wanted me to sit (as I had been taught to do), and they gave me the premier seat at the table. The food was very good. They had fish soup, cucumber vegetable salad (cooked of course), and a few other cooked vegetable dishes. They prepared and served about six dishes in all. They also had a meat dish that looked like beef. I asked Alice what it was and she told me I had to taste it before she would tell me. “Oh no,” I thought, “what could this be?” I tried it. It was Liver! It was the best liver I had ever eaten. Alice explained that she heard that most Americans do not like liver but she did not want the parents to know that fact. I assured her that I liked this, and that it tasted good. I said to my hosts, in my best Chinese, “Hun-How-Che!” (It’s delicious). I’m sure I must have said it funny because they laughed, but seemingly knew what I was trying to say. I had started writing down many familiar Chinese phrases in a little notebook that I carried with me at all times, and I was actually looking at my notebook when I said this. Maybe that is what they were laughing about?
After lunch we took some photos and then Lilly, Alice and I went to Lilly’s study room to have an English class. In a few minutes, Alice’s mother brought us each a fruit flavored milk to drink. It was in a small container and again was pretty tasty, so I downed it pretty quickly.
We continued on with the English class, going through pronunciation of the alphabet and through vowels and consonants. I then wanted her to read some English aloud. Alice pulled out an English workbook that they were working through. It was boring! She did OK reading, well not really, but I told her she did. Alice objected! She did NOT do OK, and I should not tell her she did. I tried to tell Alice that I like to encourage more than criticize in my teaching style and that’s what I did back at Harding, especially with my Chinese students. The copy in the English workbook we were reading made reference to downloading something from the Internet. She had a computer on her desk so I put aside the workbook, which Alice did not like me doing, and I called up my www.image-communications.com website and had Lilly read pages from that instead. I was able to give her some text to read right off my website that explained the world of advertising to her at the same time. Alice kept telling me that wasn’t in the lesson plan. Alice was frustrated, Lilly was delighted, and I was in heaven! I thought Lilly was about to tell Alice that she could leave now, but she didn’t. I explained to Alice that sometimes teaching isn’t just textbook learning but finding the right combination of a student’s interest from which to read and learn.
When Alice saw how much Lilly enjoyed reading through my website about advertising, she was starting to comprehend what I was doing. She said, “I get it now! That’s why you are a professor!” I’ve had my Image Communications website for about eight years now, and I’m not sure it had ever been more valuable to me than it was at that very moment!
It was getting time for me to go and I wanted to thank my hosts and say goodbye. But they were taking a Chinese nap. I certainly did not want to wake them and I did not want to leave without thanking them. Hmm, what to do? So, I asked Lilly to help me write a note of thanks that she could read to her parents later. We took the time to write a simple note of thanks and appreciation, and I made Lilly promise to read it to her parents IN ENGLISH. Alice thought I was a genius! Alice told me that she learned more today from watching me than she had in all of her classes. With that coming from Alice, and Lilly seemingly enjoying what we were doing, I just thought, “I really LOVE this job!”
As we were leaving, Lilly’s dad was up and headed back to work. He had just come home from his job at the bank for our lunch and the Chinese session of afternoon rest. He said a quick goodbye and was out the door before us. We walked back to the bus stop in the pouring rain. We got back to the far gate of campus and it was raining even harder by then. Alice’s umbrella that we were sharing just wasn’t big enough. I told her that I would like to go and buy a new umbrella. She said she needed to go to the supermarket to make an exchange and that if I went along I could get another umbrella. I said, “OK, but we’re taking a taxi both ways– and I’m paying for it.” I knew Alice didn’t have much money, so I insisted. She relinquished and we hailed a taxi.
The Supermarket was the same one I had been to a couple of times but it’s always a unique Chinese experience. Alice went to the cosmetics department and pulled out a receipt from her purse and a product that was purchased about three months ago that she did not feel was performing up to proper standards. She and about four other employees had a heated discussion. First with one, then another, then two or more, etc. I could tell that they did not want to make good on the purchase the way Alice wanted them to. They took turns trying to convince her. I finally asked what the issue was. Alice explained that the product had gone bad, but the store policy was exchanges had to be made within seven days of the purchase. It had been three months and the product was half consumed. Alice asked me to speak to them and she would translate and I said, “No, and I agree with the store. It’s been too long.” She tried to argue with me that she was the consumer and if they wanted her business in the future they should make the exchange. I agreed, but told her she would have to weigh that decision to do without the store as much as they would have to decide if they wanted to do without her business, and that ultimately it would hurt her more than them to do so. I thought, “The free enterprise market economy is at work here, at least in Alice’s mind!” She sighed a bit of frustration and we went on to buy my umbrella. On the way out of the store I stepped off a step onto the sidewalk and fell flat on my face in a large puddle of water. Somehow the umbrella now seemed a bit superfluous, as I was wet from head to toe! Alice was worried that I was hurt, but I assured her that I was more embarrassed than physically hurt. We hailed a taxi and finally got back to my apartment where she continued to walk on to her dormitory.
I had another appointment coming up soon, so I went in and cleaned up and changed out of my wet clothes into something more suitable for presentation. My meeting was soon upon me and I had a call from Xiaoya, the young lady that had helped me to haggle the price when I ordered my new bifocal glasses. She had earlier told me that the glasses were ready for pick up. When she called we agreed to simply meet at the store and then go to the school-dining hall to eat, her treat on the meal. I picked up my glasses and have been showing off my new style to the other Americans, more to brag about the $22 pair of glasses than the actual new style, which I also like a lot! I think I’m going to go back soon to order some prescription sun glasses.
The dining hall was really underwhelming. The food wasn’t that bad, but it had a lot of bones and scrap parts cooked into almost every dish. I pointed to what I wanted, they scooped me some in a bowl, added some rice at the end and Xiao used her card to scan the payment. I hope it wasn’t too much. She didn’t seem to mind paying. I tried to engage her in conversation as much as we could as we ate, but I could tell she was not herself and seemed extremely depressed. I kept probing and what I heard wasn’t pretty. But I didn’t know how much of the issues she was experiencing was just 19 year old college girl frustrations or real problems. Either way, I thought she needed some serious counseling at least from a loving sister type mentor. Later I mentioned this to Mary and Sarah, one of our American student team members, who is a social work major. Sarah wants me to introduce her so she can at least give her the benefit of another college girl listening to her. I agreed that would be a great idea and I am attempting to set this up.
It was time for me to make my Chinese radio station debut! Yes, the campus has a campus radio station and I was to be interviewed that evening in a live program that is broadcast weekly in English. I was supposed to meet my student host Charles at my apartment to be escorted to the station for which he was also on the staff. I invited Xiao to come along and she called Charles (or so I thought) to tell him that she would walk me to the station. When we got there we discovered that the one she thought was meeting me and the one I was supposed to meet were two different people. No problem, Charles was there after he decided that I had forgotten and just went on to the station. But my best radio voice debut had to be postponed for another week because they had double booked the programming. Today was Children’s Day in China and they had a few children in the studio to be interviewed instead of me. Actually they wanted to do both and take some time from the children and I said, “No, just have me back another day before I leave.” So we made an appointment for next Tuesday night, same time. Stay tuned to this same channel for an update!
As I returned to my apartment I wanted to tell somebody about my incredible day. I knew that the team and the other English teachers were all at the Gearhart’s for Chorus practice. We were to sing at the Senior English majors graduating party on Thursday evening two days from now. They needed another bass so I joined the group and we sang, “Our God He is Alive,” and “A Beautiful Life.” After we were satisfied that what was coming out of our hearts and mouths wasn’t going to improve any more, we dismissed for the night. I went home still excited about my unbelievable experiences of the day.
Sleep just wasn’t ready to surrender because I soon had a call from Edwin asking if I was still up. I said, “Yes, because the phone was ringing so I got up to answer it!” I was being invited up to the Myers’ to meet their Chinese Study group. This group consisted of three that I had previously met and one I had not. It was made up of Peter, Faye, and Esther, all of whom I had met before. New to me was Irene. Peter was a brother and the others were considering becoming family members as well. They meet every Tuesday evening. They wanted me to teach them something from our favorite book. But it was almost 10:00 p.m. and I graciously told them perhaps some other time? “When?” they inquired. After checking my schedule that now seemed to be getting fuller and more confusing we made an appointment for next Wednesday evening. They eventually left and as I was leaving I just looked at the Myers and was amazed at the good they were doing with this work!
Before I went back to bed I checked my e-mail one more time and discovered the following message:
With deepest gratitude I write you here these few lines. Thanks for reading Bible to me. I have learned something from that. I'm a little bit shy when I speak English and I made some mistakes. Thanks your smile, it dissolved my embarrassment. I want to make friends with you and learn more.
Best wishes for you!
I went back to bed and slept all night but had no regrets about doing this for the second time in one evening.
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.
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