When a Chinese student stayed in our home

Last summer, we had a college student from China stay in our home while he worked an internship at the children’s museum in town.

We found it to be an enriching experience.

His big desire was to improve his English, which he did, but he also wanted to “eat American.” That meant, as we learned, that he really loved our homemade Mexican more than a Big Mac … and my fried rice more than the Chinese restaurant downtown. And don’t overlook the brownies and potato chips.

Lobster, on the other hand, required too much labor to dissect, as his friends agreed.

As a city boy, he was annoyed by the insects when we dined outdoors. Alas, we ate indoors a bit too often.

In return, we’ve been endowed with some of the best green tea in North America, along with some great memories.

His English was, shall we say, much better than my Spanish (my point of reference in trying to translate to another language), but our great discovery was of an effective way to translate when we got stuck on an interpretation. No, it wasn’t a dictionary. It was the ubiquitous cell phone.

Like when he wanted to buy some sleepers.

Pajamas?

No, sleepers.

After a few rounds of that, he pulled up the image online.

We were in the drug store.

Oh, flip-flops! Now I understood.

That is, slippers.

Made sense to me. An “i” can, after all, be pronounced as “ee.” It is in Spanish, for that matter.

We headed for the aisle behind him, found a suitable pair for under three bucks – made in China, actually. Small world?

In another incident, at the Amtrak station in town, he pointed to credit cards that the electronic kiosk accepted. One was Chinese. The other, Japanese. I’d never really noticed either. Have you?

When he and his friends first visited Boston, we expected them to hit Chinatown, trendy Newbury Street, Downtown Crossing, well, any number of tourist destinations or retail meccas. Nope, their primary site was across the river in Cambridge. That is, Harvard and MIT, where they would to take prominent selfies. The No. 1 university in the world, as they put it, and the leading high-tech powerhouse. We then heard a lot about the Chinese educational system with its emphasis on testing so different from American approaches. Testing factories, as he put it.

OK, my choir has sung at Harvard. Am I absolved of something?

We were fascinated by the way he and his peers compensated for China’s policy of small families by relying on peer friendships. For one thing, the idea of going shopping alone made no sense to them. Naturally, you’d want their input if you’re on a clothes-buying run.

Well, it does add to my insights on Cassia and her squad in What’s Left, with a twist. They’re all extended family, after all. And I do realize how helpful having my wife or daughter along can be, even if I’m not exactly comfortable in the process.

Remember, this is America where we don’t take anything from anyone. All that freedom, right? Besides, deep down, I resist buying anything. You really think I should get this?

I hate to think what they thought of my sartorial decisions. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have minded seeing what a few of them, at least, might have advised me as far as personal style would have been. Me, cool again, as I was in the hippie era?

He did take to our Quaker practice of a moment of silence before eating, but he added his own touch, a slight bow. Turns out it was from a Buddhist grandmother.

I’m still quite touched by the gesture and that it had survived so much.

There’s much I won’t relate from our exchanges, as a respect to privacy, mostly, but we’re feeling quite opened by the exchange.

We’re hoping to do it again.

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2 thoughts on “When a Chinese student stayed in our home

  1. I speak Spanish and English. Some words to consider – Ship, sheep, cheap, chip. or cheat, shit, sheet. Sometimes, one does not know how long to stay on the “ee” sound.

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