This is the final, never-before published chapter of my adventure there and back again to Shantou, China. We taught a two week English camp that you can read about in the archives if you’re interested.
The last regular day of classes. It flew by. Everyone was taking pictures, students and teachers, in every possible combination of people. It was another hot, bright day and between every class students would grab us for another picture and they would give us gifts. Students gave me a teapot, stationary, a jade something that could be a key chain or good luck charm or both, and many, many more little things and it was important to them to give us something. They also gave us pictures (of them, of us, of them with us) and all the pictures were laminated by the developer.
I met Horse’s mom. He introduced us and then she started telling me, with him translating, how handsome I was and how young I looked. He stopped translating and spoke to her in Chinese. She turned away and walked towards another group of teachers and students. “What did you say?” I asked. “I explained to her that you are married and have three children.”
Ann, one of our older students, told me how handsome I was as well. I was the same goofy looking me, nothing had changed inside or out (other than losing some weight through sweat and other, um, means) but in here in Shantou, China I was a celebrity. After a while I realized that if this was my real life and people were doing this all the time I’d go mad. But for a couple weeks it was amazing.
That night we did the final presentation with the kids acting out scenes or sketches in English. My class did a scene from, not kidding, the Sound of Music. It was surreal for me watching these Chinese students playing the Von Trapp family and the Nazis in nearly perfect English with pretty good acting.
Before the day was over, Andy, who looks exactly like “Ando” on Heroes – at least in my memory, (of Andy, not Ando) came up to me and asked, “What do you call this?” And then he embraced me. “A hug.” I said. And then he said to me, “I trust now because I trust you. I trust in God because you do.”
The very last day was over very quickly. We gave out gifts this time but they wouldn’t be out done and gave us even more gifts. More pictures, swapping email addresses and looking at pictures already developed and laminated.
I looked at Peter and Ann’s pictures. Peter was married and Ann worked for/with Peter. I never understood the whole story but Peter had a daughter and she was in a lot of his pictures but Ann was too. They explained that they went on a lot of travel trips together with business. They didn’t look like business trip photos and up until that moment I was sure they were a couple. Language was still a bit of a barrier and I never understood the whole picture.
A graduation ceremony with speeches. My favourite part was sitting a couple seats away from the president of the University. His daughter had been in our English camp and she had been chosen to deliver a speech in English. This was a very big deal because for them it was better to not try and speak English than to speak it and screw up, make a mistake and say something ‘wrong’. It was also big because I had heard how little value the Chinese place on their daughters and how little love is shown them.
As she gave her short speech I watched her father’s face. It was not the face of a harsh, critiquing father or university president. It was a face full of pride and love for his little girl. I knew that we had differences but in that moment I thought of the Sting song where he says that he hoped the Russians loved their children too, and at that moment I knew that this Chinese father loved his little girl just as much as I loved mine. Sure, some fathers are jerks in China, let me introduce you to some here in Canada as well and some I know from the States. My prejudices melted a little more under the heat of the joy he led the applause with when his little girl finished her remarks.
That night the President took us all out to dinner at a very nice restaurant, a revolving restaurant, that overlooked Shantou. It was amazing. The food was amazing. Real food. And I went a little crazy with the eating: rare roast beef, baked chicken with peppercorn sauce, salami, potatoes, ostrich, cake, fruity cake, baked garlic spare ribs, and more fruity cake. And real coffee.
Sleep didn’t come easy that night. Up early the next day. Packed for home. We loaded the bus and off we went. Students had come to see us off and literally ran after the bus as we pulled away and road bicycles after our departing bus as we inserted ourselves into the crowded street waving good-bye. Then, after a 3 hour bus ride, we crossed the borders going back the other way. Lines, questions, more lines, lines that didn’t seem to move because people kept cutting in front of you if you didn’t watch. Finally through and at the Hong Kong airport where we faced our toughest conversation yet with a airline counter clerk who didn’t want to help us make our “just about to depart” plane.
But we did. We landed in Vancouver, B.C. before we left Hong Kong. I can’t explain it. My first purchase was a double-double at Tim Horton’s. I was home.
There’s more I could tell you about. The strange hair shampooing episode that made me realize getting personal grooming could be adultery, fornication or at the very least a sexual experience. Or I could tell you about the female teacher who rode off on the back of a student’s motorcycle making me imagine all kinds of white slavery scenarios I’d have to go to the embassy with and many, many more stories. But this is the end of the journey, thanks for coming for the ride, I hope it was worth it for you!