Monday, June 16, 2008

Having Chinese Friends

The last few days I've been saying goodbye at rapid-fire pace. I said goodbye to my language partner and gave her my US phone number so she can call me when she gets to America this fall and needs help. I said goodbye to a family here who's moving back to the States. Then I said goodbye to my Chinese family, the Xiongs, and tried to explain how much they had helped me, but I don't know if my Chinese carried the thought. I said goodbye to everyone at the Sunday Fellowship, and to the few people left from my spring program.

And then this afternoon, after I mailed the suitcase I left here to Beijing, I went to say goodbye to the Chinese people James and I met when we climbed Emei Mountain, right before the earthquake. They live in a rural county outside of Chengdu, but after a lot of hard work (and frustration at how inadequate my Chinese is) I met up with them in their home town.

Dinner together was fantastic. The whole spring semester I didn't have many Chinese friends because my Chinese wasn't good enough to have friends who didn't speak English. I was too much hassle for myself and them. I expected my time to be like that, where I would be lost and unhappy and they wouldn't know how to say things that I could understand, but my Chinese is not what it once was!

As much as I feel how bad my Chinese is--and I feel it, like today when someone complimented how good my Chinese was and I didn't understand what they meant--my Chinese is also almost up to the challenge of having friends. I can just imagine arriving in Beijing in a week or two and being able to make friends with people I meet there!

So we had dinner, and they carried the conversation, obviously, but I could keep up pretty well as we talked about the earthquake, and natural disasters in general, and the Euro Cup (learning Chinese keeps you on top of world events). I told them about my travels, and they eventually understood some of my stories. We ate weird food, and I ate some vegetables that were just supposed to be for show, but they just laughed with me. I toasted various things and was introduced to old friends who happened by the restaurant.

If they all jumped off a cliff, I would have too. As it is, I'm the example that kids shouldn't give into peer pressure:

Then they drove me back themselves, and we were talking about things the whole way back. A sunroof is a "sky window" in Chinese, which sounded so logical that I promptly forgot the English word for a few minutes. They told me the names they had given themselves in English. I tried to explain that even though in Chinese any word can be a name, that's not the same in English. So no, Rena and Yook were not suitable names.

We promised to see each other again if we ever happened by Chengdu or Orlando. And then we said goodbye, and it was like when real friends say goodbye. A fitting end for my last day in Chengdu.


Sheri said...

oh dear. I'm sitting in public, reading your post, snorting in laughter at that photo of you and the frog, is it?? How embarrassing to be laughing when no one can tell waht is funny.
Your description of saying goodbyes was so poignant- glad to hear how after all your language level has gotten to the point where you are able to connect with people. Is that what language learning is truly about? Not just the cool intellectual exercise of understanding new words and making sentences, but interacting with people and seeing their thinking and their hearts?!
And after another whole semester... whoa. you're gonna be amazing!

Sheri said...

you know, I'm thinking the frog in mouth photo would make an excellent facebook profile photo, don't you think so??