About six years ago, I came across two American girls on my way back to Huai’an from Mount Tai. They were lost and didn’t know how to get back, and I became their guide back home.
When we finally get off our taxi, it had been late at night. But we got touch again several days later, when I invited them to dinner, together with two of my colleagues.
They told us that they are sisters and had just graduated from universities, they came to China to see the world outside and make money to repay their education loans.
They said it was very easy for them to get a teaching job in Huai’an, as the test paper for them was questions like “Who is the president of USA?” And the answer was and still is Obama, who will not be very soon. How time flies!
We kept in touch and weeks later, I asked if they were interested in visiting the countryside of China, and they said yes. So we went to my hometown, as well as urban area of Hongze county.
The reason I invited them to my hometown is that even though countryside in Huai’an may not be as developed and vast as in USA, it’s beautiful in my eyes. But they didn’t seem to think so.
So after a short discussion on some political issues with my grandpa and a night’s stay there, we went to the downtown of Hongze county, where some local people were really curious about foreigners. People kept asking me questions about them on the bus to Hongze, and after we got off, two tricycle drivers said “hello” to them grinning cheekily. All these made me very embarrassing.
I invited them to my third grandfather’s home for lunch, because that’s the only close relative I got at Hongze city, and I thought it was decent to do so and it should be very impression experience for both sides. And my relatives were very hospitable by offering a big meal.
But the eating seemed to be a bit awkward even though everyone seems to be very happy. Maybe it was because I wasn’t a competent cultural bridge/interpreter, or it was a bit imprudent for me to bring them to a relative’s family without knowing whether it was what both sides exactly wanted.
Later when the elder sister’s boyfriend came to Huai’an, the sisters invited me to dinner, and I was so surprised that her boyfriend was a forest fireman, and he answered me some questions about putting out fires in a forest.
Months later, I happened to open my e-mail box and saw an invitation from one of the sister, it said that I could go to their Thanksgiving party if I wanted, and I would need to bring some food if I was to come.
It’s unbelievable to ask a guest to bring foods in China, but I went to the party with some frozen stuffed dumpling and snacks, which were not really used later because they had got enough foods.
The party was filled with foreign teachers from all over the world and Chinese students from the Huai’an college where they taught. I had my own foreign teachers at university and I also joined some gatherings with the teachers and my classmates. But for such a party, it might be my first time, and the atmosphere was very different.
People just tried to make conversation, and some of them seemed very open. For example, a female Chinese student sat on the lap of an old Australian teacher all the time, but the latter refused to admit that she was a girlfriend. While other Chinese were overly positive in communicating with the teachers, I was at a loss and left early.
We basically lost contact after that, and I assumed they went back to America soon.
I was deeply impressed that the sisters were very keen at reading novels, they brought English novels everywhere they went, and would read them once they got a free moment. I told them half-jokingly that some people would call others reading too much as a nerd/egghead in China – I was actually criticizing those who say so, but they didn’t smile or say a word, so I guess that was not a good joke and they might felt offended.
Anyhow, they were very nice people, and we just didn’t have many common topics as I assumed.