Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A smile goes a long way

Shawn...It's hard to express how nice the people have been to us over here. I guess a smile is the universal language, and we've exchanged many with the locals over the past week.
However, out of all the nice people we've met,
three have made a particularly deep impression on me.

The first is a shopkeeper who operates a small kiosk near the bridge in the park we visit every day. Today I found out his name is Lee (which is my Dad's name, and Leah's namesake--- pretty cool, huh?). He has humored my feeble attempts to communicate in Mandarin and has been very patient with me. Every day we visit his stand to buy ice cream for Leah and a bag of some kind of potato chip/twist food called "Lonely God" for Kate. I guess the taste is heavenly (Hello? Is this thing on? Please tip your waiters and waitresses). He is a very kind man, giving both of the girls lolipops today and helping other curious park visitors understand who we are and why we're here in China. He even posed for a picture with us and my Western Red Towel... quick explanation: WKU's Alumni magazine encourages alums to take their red towels with them on their travels, then send a picture in for publication. I've never really thought about doing this before--- probably because the most exciting locations I visit on a regular basis are the big towns of Waddy and Frankfort on my drive to work every day, and I'm pretty sure Western graduates have visited there before. However, although I've seen shots on the Great Wall before, I doubt anyone from Western has ever been here, so my sister Jennie and I (also a WKU grad) thought it would be fun to plant the flag here like Neil Armstrong. That's one small step for man, one giant leap for Big Red (you can quote me on that).

The second friend we met was the guy who runs the paddle boats. We have played on the paddle boats for the past several days, and when we showed up today the smallest bill I had other than about 23 yuan in loose bills was a 100 yuan bill (the ride costs 40 yuan for all five of us). He did not have change, so he accepted the 23 yuan rather than not letting the girls ride, and he didn't want to take the 100 yuan in full. We paddled around for awhile, then tried to dock but all of the slips were full and our friend was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, we saw a series of steps on the opposite shore than came down to the water, so I put the boat against the steps and the girls all got out and we agreed to meet after I docked the boat. I wish you could have been there--- it was truly an astounding display of nautical skill, the likes of which haven't been seen since Columbus' time. After dropping off the girls I paddled back to the dock and found our friend again, who created a spot for me to tie up the boat.
I tried to pay him again, but he politely refused. I felt pretty bad about this and told him I would get change and return, although he seemed to be telling me that it was OK. I found another kiosk nearby and was able to break the 100 yuan bill, then returned to the paddle boats. He again refused the money, but in English pointed to some chairs and said, "Please sit." He sat down next to me, with a big grin on his face, and we began talking to each other about anything and everything. I pulled out my handy-dandy "Just Enough Chinese" pocket-sized book with English and Chinese characters, and we pointed and talked to each other for 10 or 15 minutes. It was pretty amazing--- two men from very different backgrounds, neither speaking the other's language, that fate had thrown together for a brief period of time to become fast friends. It may sound funny, but I was deeply touched by this man's gesture... so much so that I had to write it down like Doogie Howser on this little blog/diary so I could remember the details, although I know I will never forget the experience.

The last friend I will mention is a gentle old man we met yesterday who speaks very fluent English. After awhile other people came up to Melissa and Jennie and began speaking to them, so this man and I found ourselves speaking alone. After talking about our families and homelands, he looked me in the eye and said, "The world is getting smaller, and China and America are good friends.
I hope to see you again one day."

I hope so, too.


  1. Wow, you guys are really using this time in China! Sounds like you are having a great time getting to know the locals; I am impressed! Seems like Zhengzhou has seen its share of Western folks in the last year and they might finally be getting used to it (well, at least around the Crowne Plaza, huh?)

  2. Ah Shawn, you're such a gifted story teller! Thanks for sharing!

  3. So glad things are going well!!SHe is beautiful and I am so glad everyone is doing so well!!

  4. Wonderful post Shawn! So glad you are soaking up the local culture. When Kate reads this in a couple years, it will touch her soul! Looking forward to hearing your impressions of GZ!

    Lynn in CO