Well. If I was feeling stuck in any sort of a rut recently, I am officially out of it.
I woke up this morning at 8 and, as I suspected, my jet-lagged parents were too (despite predicting they would sleep til noon). I went over to their hotel to meet them and then we set out for their very first day in China.
We walked from their hotel to the entrance of campus, with constant narration from me (here’s the museum, here’s my travel agency, here’s the bag store, here’s my 39-kuai all-you-can-eat hotpot restaurant) and constant questions from my parents (what is this? what is this? why are they doing that? what is this?). Actually, though, I don’t mind the questions because when they stop asking questions they start making assumptions – which are invariably wrong.
Their first impression of China was that it is like Mexico City – except the language is unintelligible. It’s a little bit dirty and a lot chaotic; there are buildings haphazardly set on every available inch of land; there are lots of short, dark-haired people running around everywhere.
Their first food in China was a “pancake-eat-with-hand” (English translation taken from their sign) and some fruit smoothies. Then we were at the West Gate and I got to show them my beautiful campus. They agree that it is certainly the most beautiful campus they’ve seen in China, for what it’s worth.
I showed them the sports field, a.k.a. site of my epic 100-meter dash and sack hop relay; the basketball courts, a.k.a. highest concentration of tall men in all of China; the English and Chinese corner meeting spot; the Bank of China that is “having a decoration”; the really awkward step by my dorm; my classroom building . . . you know, all the really famous places on the XiaDa campus. We also walked around the lake, taking in its beauty.
Then it was time for me to take my last final. Mom and Dad came with me to my classroom, where I waited my turn with some of my classmates.
It was kind of a long wait, so we started talking. I think my parents were impressed with how nice all of the students are here, but they were especially pleased to talk with one of my Korean classmates, the man on the far left. Since I had switched into the class late and his family at home prevents him from hanging out a ton, I don’t know him very well and had only really talked to him once. But it turns out that he served his mandatory military service attached to the U.S. Army in Seoul! His English (which I’d never heard him use before) was really good, and he even remembered words like “motorpool”. Even more incredible, he remembered one of the cadences that they used while marching: “C130’s, running down the strip / Airborne daddy gonna take a little trip”. Needless to say, Dad was delighted. He told the man that he had been in the Army, and that both my grandfathers and one uncle had served in Korea. The Korean man seemed really moved by this and, bowing, shook Dad’s hand and expressed his gratitude. He said it’s very rare to have the opportunity to thank someone who served (or in this case, a family member), and he asked us to convey his thanks. He said he’d heard that the Korean War is known as the Forgotten War in America, but that in Korea it’s never far from their minds because they’re still fighting it.
While my parents talked with him, I was inside talking to my teacher (this was an oral test).
She noticed the strangers (kind of hard not to) and asked who they were, so about half of my speaking time was just explaining the trip we have planned. I also had to read about an automatic vacuum cleaner and speak about my computer problems, which apparently I did well enough that she thought it was real! It was over quickly and I even got complimented on my tones, so I considered it a great test. And then I was done with my first semester of Chinese in China!
Once Aleid was done testing as well, we met up with a Chinese friend (Denise) and went to lunch. Along the way we were joined by Diederik and Kiwi, officially making our group a “motley crew”, according to my dad. We went to the jiaozi restaurant, which I maintain was the perfect place for such a beautiful day (60 and sunny). Dad – who would kick you if you hung him with a new rope – complained quite vocally. The chairs were too short for him, the table was too small for 6 people, and the little kid peeing on the street was peeing too close to us. You know, if it ain’t one thing, it’s another!
I lost my camera last night after picking my parents up from the airport. It was a major bummer. It’s not just the money; that camera and I had been through some things together! I bought it in those few days I had in America between Italy and my first trip to China – every picture I’ve taken in China was with that camera. Alas, apparently it’s time to start over. So, in an unplanned excursion, I took my parents to 电子城 (Electronics City). This entailed their very first Chinese bus ride! That place is kind of crazy, and I ran myself ragged trying to check prices on several different models before giving up for the day. To be continued . . .
We took a bus to ZhongShanLu, the main shopping road in Xiamen, and walked down that. We also took one detour, which led us to Xiamen’s YMCA – whodda thunk? ZhongShanLu ends at the water, so we were treated to the view of a rosy pink sunset over Gulangyu, which slowly lit up as the sky darkened.
This is where they expressed their second overarching impression from today – I am so incredibly lucky to live on this island.
At 6, we met three of my priests (Frs. Zhao, Jiang, and Cai #1) for dinner because we had presents to give them and I wanted my parents to meet them. We went to a restaurant near the Xiamen church, which was significantly better than the places I usually eat. It was very nice but caused my dad to make unfavorable comparisons with the jiaozi restaurant, which I did not appreciate! We had oyster bits, curried crab, spicy green beans, beef skewers with peanut sauce, shrimp in crazy delicious tropical fruit sauce, and the best soup I have ever had in China (chicken).
Between my Chinese and the priests’ English, we carried on a conversation alright. It also helps that laughter is universal, and Dad was quite funny trying to eat with chopsticks. I got to hear an abbreviated version of Fr. Jiang’s story – despite being around 70 (I would guess) he wasn’t ordained until the 90’s because his seminary education was interrupted by the government and he was sent to work on a farm. Other interesting facts about the Church in China: there are about 6,000 churches, but only around 5,000 priests. (Note: I don’t know about these numbers, specifically how they count – or don’t count – the underground Church.)
Fr. Cai #1 is for sure for sure becoming the bishop of Xiamen diocese, but we still don’t know when. Currently we don’t have a bishop :( Apparently our diocese covers about half of the province and includes 11 priests. This is such a small number, which made the fact that we had three of them at our table even more amazing!
At the end of dinner, I brought up a recent email I had sent Fr. Zhao, asking for the contact information of a convent up in Jilin. I’m trying to figure out what to do with my remaining vacation time, and I want to do something useful or productive. My two best ideas were to live at a convent for a week or two, or to work with a priest who would like to improve his English, and it turns out I’m probably going to get to do both! There’s a convent in Zhangzhou, where Fr. Cai is currently pastor, and he said I could live there and work with him. I am so happy that something is working out, because it had been a huge source of stress for me recently. Improving my Chinese in the areas of engineering and the Church are my two top priorities here – even above traveling – so I will be totally happy if this is how I get to spend my vacation.
My parents were pretty tired after this long day of walking (especially carrying all those lectionaries and Bibles around for most of it!) so I took them home. Before letting them go to bed, I gave them their first Chinese lesson: hello, thank you, good, bad, don’t want, and the numbers 1-5.
I think they’re going to be okay here :)