Before I leave for Hong Kong I thought I would share a couple stories of Chinese people that I met since the start of my break. I felt it was important because, as I have mentioned before, our living situation at Zheda doesn’t really encourage international students to meet Chinese friends (though it doesn’t really inhibit it, it’s just that the effort has to come from you). Both of these are situations where I sort of “stumbled upon” some potential friendships.
First, I met a couple of girls at the No. 4 cafeteria. I had bought a food card and been eating at the cafeterias for a while specifically hoping that I would “bump into” some Chinese people, and it apparently worked. I’ll hold back on names just for now … well OK, their English names are King and Cherubin. We had a long conversation after dinner that covered a wide range of topics from Chinese food to Chinese and American perceptions of Mao Zedong, and today I had a long walk with Cherubin around West Lake and another long chat.
Second is a bit funnier. After I had got back from dinner that day, there was an older gentleman in the little shop inside our dorm who wanted someone to help him practice his English. At first I wasn’t so interested, but it is difficult to say no to old people in China. We talked for a while over coffee and then he invited me to dinner the next day (at a fairly fancy place, with dishes including duck tongue, hundred year old egg, and New Zealand beef). I found out that he was 53, has a son and a daughter, and that he will be retiring when he hits 60 and wants to travel to America after retirement. He also called his son-in-law, who works for local government, so I could talk to him and judge his English abilities. I didn’t spend much time with the man (who I know as Mr. Wu), but that little bit of practice did seem to do some good for his English.
Finally, I have been having conversations with the staff off and on. Some of the staff at the international dorm really like to talk to foreigners, and ask me about where I am from, etc. Of course, I will always hold that a big part of the experience of studying in Chinese in a Chinese university is communicating with non-English speaking staff. It’s essentially a certain amount of language practice that you cannot hope to avoid, even if it amounts to the laundry lady berating you for having too many clothes (more on that later, probably after Hong Kong).