Summer has finally started at Tsinghua. Not just the ridiculous heat (over 100F these few days), but graduation was last weekend and people are moving on. The graduated students came in today to clean their desks out, and there was a new guy at dinner – an undergrad working in the lab for the summer.
(Undergrad is taking the TOEFL in August. I asked if he wants to go abroad, and he said America. Where in America? MIT, Harvard, Yale . . . . . [long pause] . . . Stanford, of course. I think one of my other labmates whispered something about it being my school. He caught on, though, and next said that Stanford was his dream school. Good choice, kid!)
At lunch, GuoYang was talking about Bruce Lee and made a high pitched noise in an attempt to mimic the sounds he makes when fighting. I took this opportunity to teach them “go home you’re drunk”. Between that and “nice try”, eating with GuoYang and ZhaoYan is like eating with two Chinese Martin’s. This is a great exchange; they’re teaching me technical Chinese and I’ll teach them sarcastic English.
Somehow we got on the subject of driving at dinner. GuoYang was asking about the driver’s test, which I honestly don’t remember too clearly because I took it 10 years ago. He then asked how I am at driving. How does one answer that? I’ve been driving for 10 years, so I guess I’m alright. In return, I asked him how he is at driving.
It was another one of those days, those days when instead of eating I mostly pick up food with my chopsticks and fling it all over my clothes. GuoYang was making fun of me and said, I drive like you use chopsticks – sometimes there are accidents. Hahaha!
I am always the last to finish my food, probably due to some combination of me talking a lot and the accidents I sometimes have with my chopsticks :) Today GuoYang commented on how our table was like four simulations, but although the initial conditions were all the same (we got our food at the same time) the results are not the same. Then we got into a discussion of why the water at the bottom of the watermelon bowl had a striped pattern. It’s wonderful to realize that nerdiness crosses language barriers.
As much as I love these meals with the guys, I have lingering questions about why no women eat with us? Today I invited ShaSha to eat with us, and she seemed to agree . . . then rode over on her scooter and ate by herself. And I still can’t get over this new information that ZhaoYan’s girlfriend works in the same building (it’s confirmed – I ran into her in the bathroom today) and she has never once eaten with us. What am I missing here??
After Xu Lei and I set our travel dates yesterday, I spent some time looking at tickets while my simulations ran. Hunchun is soooooo far away. It’s an hour and a half beyond the last train stop. But, looking at tickets makes it feel more real and I am undeniably excited. Hunchun is the site of my Chinese childhood, where I learned my first words and clumsily learned my way around. Returning in 2010, I got to see the city with the fresh eyes of literacy, and I’m excited to see what new perspectives I will have this time.
In Xiamen, my friends were mostly from the university or church, and most of them are young. It’s been pretty easy to keep in touch with them over the last few years, using some combination of QQ and WeChat. Hunchun, though, is a different story. The only young friend I have there is really the son of two of my friends. We’ve kept in touch online although I think his parents can barely type. The other people I want to see when I go up there are our DVD salesman, our machinist, our taxi driver, the man who worked on the horse farm, and the old woman who lives by the power plant. The DVD salesman has QQ and WeChat, but the others . . . I have five-year-old phone numbers for some of them (and in the case of the old woman, only a rough idea of where her house is). I think the people I’m in touch with can help me get in touch with the machinist and taxi driver, but I have no mutual friends with the man from the horse farm.
So I think I’m going to have to call this old phone number and say, Hi, it’s Maria, the American, and just see what happens. I’ve done this before, never after a five-year absence, but after a few months or a few years. I called up the DVD salesman to say I was in town once and he insisted on having me over for dinner. Another time, I called some other workers from the farm to wish them a happy new year, and I think I just said 你好 before they said they knew it was me.
I’m never really sure how memorable I am. Our interactions were very special to me, and the times I spent in Hunchun have been defining in both my China journey and the rest of my life, but what was it from their end? Do they think of me often and fondly, or is it more that I’m “the” American to them, easily identified and remembered although not particularly missed? Does it seem strange, unnecessary to them that I want to look them up every time I make it back up there? Like, okay, we had a moment but the moment has passed? Maybe everyone’s just being polite. I don’t know, but they always make me feel welcomed and missed and loved, so I’m looking forward to being up there in less than a month!