It has been almost two weeks since I posted my last blog. In the meantime, I have said good-bye to the Jin family, the children at the school, my friends at Lotus Education in Beijing, have gotten into hot water with the USDA for importing Chinese dried beef sticks and have slept in my own bed for the first time in almost a month.
Last Tuesday I went to the school for the last time. The kids were as rowdy as usual, but I was afforded a bit more attention on my final day. I did my best to tell them that I appreciated their patience with my poor Chinese and that I would miss them very much. At recess time, I was given little gifts. There was a handmade yellow bead bracelet (lots of Chinese guys wear these – I was assured by the little girl who made it that it was just a bracelet and not of any religious significance), several drawings of girls in fancy gowns, a chalk rendering of a sunset at sea, drawings of cartoon animals (possibly traced, but it’s the thought that counts), a handsome red ballpoint pen (which was permanently ‘barrowed’ by the end of school that day), a small ring set with a plastic red stone (“for your Chinese daughter because she’ll know that red is lucky and it’s the color of her flag”) and sort of an abstract multi-media painting with stars, birds, lightning bolts and quotes by Zhou En Lai and Deng Xiao Ping on the bottom. I love the gifts and I love the kids- even the rowdy ones who wouldn’t pay attention no matter how loud I yelled.
Toward the end of class, I looked out the window and saw Director Wang. I had not expected to see him again as he had gone home to Central China for the Qing Ming festival. After class he came over and told me that he had come directly from the train station to school in order to see me before I left. He invited me into his office and quickly brewed me a glass of tea. He produced a new, unopened can of green tea of the same sort he had given me before. He had bought it in his home town and wanted me to have it. We talked about my next visit, the school, the students (who I thought was best and who had who had not paid attention – fortunately for the slackers, I couldn’t remember their Chinese names). I thanked him for his support and kindness. In the meantime, my tea glass had been filled for the third time and some of the kids were standing outside the door making motions which clearly meant that they couldn’t wait for me any longer. Not wanting to offend my host, I remained seated and waved good bye to the children. This was not exactly how I had pictured my farewell, but things never turn out how we expect them to – good or bad. Director Wang is a very dear man who truly has the children’s best interest at heart and he scares the holy heck out of them. After my last glass of tea and my last barrage of thank you ‘s, he led me to the school gates and gave me a very ‘un-Chinese’ pat on the back. Outside, my usual entourage was still waiting for me after all.
The twins, Lilly and Jessica, little Henry and Diana (all the kids had English names which I found much easier to remember) walked slowly down the dirt road with me, asking some last minute questions like: “Are you sad to leave us?”, “Are you going to be happy to see your family” and the very Chinese question “How much money do you make?” (No, I didn’t tell them) “Can you use chopsticks” and “Do you like Chinese food better than hamburgers, etc. etc”. Our little group always caused people on the street to stop and stare (old white man with Chinese kids speaking Chinese to him didn’t compute for most passer bys). But that last day, it seemed that the neighborhood had actually got used to our little parade and we had fewer gawkers. Diana (who had given me the yellow bracelet) held my hand most of the way.
Unlike other days, the moment we got to the main road, a taxi pulled up. I hailed him. “Your mingpian, your calling card, teacher! Do you have a calling card? We don’t know your address! How can we write you?” I didn’t have any cards with me and I promised that I would write them soon and they would get my address then. I got a quick hug, I think, and I got into the car. “When are you coming back?” “Next year,” I yelled through with window. Until that moment, I had been very guarded about saying if and when I’d be back, but my four ‘protectors’ looked so genuinely sad that I couldn’t have told them anything else.
That night, the Jins fed me my favorite dinner and I played on the floor with Dudu who had told his parents earlier that day, they shouldn’t let Yeye (grandpa) go home. On the wall in their dining area, they had a very large scroll on which was written a verse by an 11th century poet, Su Shi
For thousands of years, the waves of the eastward flowing Yangtse have been washing away all the great heroes of the past… Around uneven steeps of the rocky walls which reach the sky, the huge waves beat against the banks, bursting like thousands of layers of snow.
On the first day, I had commented on the beautiful calligraphy. That night, after dinner, the scroll was taken off the wall, rolled up and given to me. This left a huge empty spot on the wall, a perfect expression of the generosity and kindness afforded me by my hosts, the Jins.
On Wednesday, Livia from Lotus came and picked me up. I got hugs from the neighbor, and was accompanied to the car by the Jins. With the thank you’s and hugging over (hugging is not particularly Chinese), we departed on one last wild taxi ride through Beijing.
Now I’m back home with my wonderful family and China seems surreal and far away. It’s sort of difficult to write about it now. In the end, the experience far exceeded my expectations and frankly, I never would have believed adventures like this were possible at this point in my life.
Thanks for reading this long blog. I’ll be back.