I’m getting to know my students and tried to do some organizing of the classes on paper which took up a good bit of my time. So confusing when each student can write their name 4 different ways – characters, family name first, English name first or the whole thing written in pinyin. How was I to know that Qu Yuedam is the same sweet tempered nurse, Charlotte, that I talk to outside of class! When passing back papers and I try calling the names out loud, I get a roomful of puzzled looks, snickers, and sometimes just out and out laughter. I finally had to make a rule and show an example. “When you give anything to me with your name on it, write English name first followed by your family name.” This way I at least have a chance of getting the name 50% correct. I told them don’t even bother putting characters (which a few students did) on the paper as there is no way I can relate sounds to the marks. (My appointment occurred swiftly – no time for lessons in Chinese language / culture before coming.)
On the other hand, I’m finding my way here in a number of other areas. Liana, a nurse who usually drives me to church, was away this past weekend, so I took the bus. Church member Jane Wang gave me careful directions. She does not drive, but goes everywhere by bus or walking, so I think she has all the bus routes for the entire city in her head. She told me which of two buses I could take and how many stops to count before getting off, according to which bus I boarded. All information at the bus stops is written in characters only, so again, no way I can read them. Fortunately for me and other westerners, the numbers on the buses themselves are written “in American”, so I can figure out which bus to hop on. I arrived at church on time, but going back I got a little confused. I got off at the right stop, but with so much construction on 3 sides of the hospital, things don’t always look the same. This coming home stop is not exactly opposite to where I got on either. The thing about bus stops, they’re not exactly in front of your door; a person has to walk a little bit. In this case I walked in the right direction, but the distance seemed too far. I finally stopped and slowly and carefully asked a street sweeper (a person in neon orange uniform with a broom) “Shao yi fue yi yuan?” which is how they say “Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital” here. The place is so famous in the neighborhood, I figured she would know the location. The poor lady just looked at me blankly and mouthed something unintelligible to my ears. I started to reach for my translator which I now have on my smart phone, but thought to myself, “No, I can do this.” So I said those words again – but this time at a faster pace. The woman’s face lit up and she pointed to a building right in front of me, just across a little walk way. Apparently, the rhythm at which I say something is also important. Turns out, I was coming onto the hospital grounds from the backside, so had not recognized it. In fact, if I had just looked up, I would have recognized the building. “Look up” – hmmm, probably a lesson in there somewhere.
The other thing I did recently was to have a thank you dinner for Chinese nationals here who’ve gone out of their way to help me. Thanks to seasonings delivered by the three Human Resources trainers from LLU – GHI, I was able to make a reasonably tasty tofu casserole. Jane Wang and Lin, another friend from church, came as did Charlotte and Janet, a university student who practices speaking English with me. The group actually asked for pasta, so should have been an easy meal to prepare, but somehow I’ve not learned to do easy. I made two kinds of pasta sauce – marinara (jar) and alfredo (easy recipe with yam base that I found online). With the tofu casserole we had mung beans with okra, qing cai – a kind of greens with no English translation – and cauliflower. It was a lot of food but I was expecting 3 more people who did not show and 2 of them would have been men. For dessert we had mixed cut fruit – watermelon, peach, kiwi and apple with dragon fruit thrown in at last minute. I saw this red horny looking thing in the store, but didn’t know what it was. My guests did, though, so we peeled, cut and added it to the bowl.
We said grace before the meal and Charlotte and Janet had a lot of questions about Christianity. Jane Wang and Lin did a lot of the explanations in Chinese, and we were able to give Janet a bilingual New Testament from the stash of books in our storage area on the 5th floor of this building (Charlotte already has a whole bilingual Bible of her own). Jane’s parting shot to me was that I should start having Bible studies with the girls in my apartment. Pray for me on this point because the language barrier makes it incredibly hard. Anyway, everyone had a good time; we started the meal at noon, but sat around talking until after 5:00. Jane lived through the Cultural Revolution so her life is quite a story to tell. The younger girls have so many questions about a number of things. I just pray that nothing I do not hinder their growing interest in the Lord.
*Damaris Matthews is a long-term volunteer through the NAD Office of Volunteer Ministries. She is an ESL Teacher and Special Projects Manager in China. This story has been posted with her permission.