I was headed into the city (Beijing) with a few friends several weeks ago when the empty seat next to me was taken by a young woman. It was the last open seat on the bus, but another woman had scattered her various bags and loose groceries on it. The young woman kindly asked that the woman remove her things from the seat so that she could sit and grocery woman grumpily did so (quite slowly, I might add).
Soon after the young woman took her seat, she turned to me to ask where I was from, what I was doing in China, etc. This didn't surprise me at all - I stick out quite a bit in China with my blonde hair and white skin. I was able to use my limited Chinese mixed with her limited English to find out that her English name was Grace, she was in her twenties, and that she lived in an apartment complex quite close in proximity to ND! Language barrier aside, she was kind, had lovely eyes, and was eager to listen to what I had to say about my life. When we got stuck on a word or concept, we both just had to give up, agree that it didn't matter too much, and laugh!
Near the end of the bus route (where we were both getting off), she extended an invitation to myself and any friends that I wanted to take along to her house for a home-cooked meal. I was a bit surprised at first - I'd never been invited to a stranger's house for dinner before! I asked her for contact information and she recorded every form of contact information that she could think of on a piece of paper, giving it to me with a smile. We got off of the bus and parted ways, but I was left quite excited that I had been given such an opportunity! I'd been surrounded by foreigners so much in China that it was wonderful to have the chance to really spend time with a Chinese friend.
Later that week, I emailed Grace and we arranged a day and time for me to come over. Another cultural difference: after suggesting a few times that we could meet, she simply invited me to come that same day that we were emailing. In the US, it would be less common to arrange something so quickly. Our lives are quite frequently scheduled to the brim!
It worked out well that my friends Rob and Grace were able to bike with me to Chinese Grace's apartment after asking loads of people on the street for directions. We rode the elevator to the top floor, excited, but wondering what we would experience that night!
Grace's roommate (who I certainly didn't recognize) opened the door and looked a bit confused. My first thought was that it was the wrong apartment, but she asked a question in Chinese and I caught Grace's Chinese name among the quickly spoken words. I answered "Yes!" to whatever she asked and she smiled, welcoming us in.
We were asked to have a seat in the living space and then Grace appeared moments later, looking hurried and carrying bags of vegetables, all while apologizing for being late. We assured her that we had just arrived and she proceeded to welcome us into her kitchen to help prepare the food. We marveled at the freshness of the ingredients and definitely enjoyed the meal in its entirety. Lots of watermelon was consumed for dessert.
For fun, we played some card games after dinner and laughed a lot. I discovered that Grace has a friend who works in the same industry as her in my hometown in the US!
Finally, it was time to go and we all left very full and happy, singing songs from Frozen on the dark bike ride home. (Don't worry, Mom. We had two flashlights to make ourselves visible on the road!)
I'll shorten things a bit, but Grace called me the next week, saying that she was in the area and wanted to visit ND! Thankfully, I was on my lunch break and gladly showed her around the campus upon her arrival. She smiled lots and seemed to be interested, saying that it was good work that they do here. Before she left, she took out two little boxes from her purse, one containing a lovely necklace for me and the other containing a gift for her friend from my hometown. I was so grateful and will always treasure the necklace! Though I leave China this week, I hope to see her one last time before I go. I know that I will always have a friend here - it's events like these that will cause a part of my heart to stay in China when I go home.