This past January I decided to rent a room with one of my students’ families.
I approached an agent, said, ‘I want the cheapest, smallest flat,’ they could offer.
We strode through a village, a bridge away from my school. Patches of green grass filled in cracks of cement and was so silent ‘cept for some chirping birds. To the left of a building against a fence we followed concrete slabs lined with potted cabbages to a first floor apartment where, at first, entry, I thought the maid was cooking lunch. My agent lead me through the house to a bolted shut door and into a tiny hallway with a pink bedroom to the right and a boxed in squat toilet bathroom with shower hose straight ahead. ‘No,’ was my immediate answer.
As we went back into the yard, I broke down in tears because I’d fought with David and needed a place to stay that night. Most Chinese people don’t know what to do when they see you crying so, they do what they do best, awkwardly stare–expressionless.
The ‘maid,’ came out and started whispering with my agent, finally I said okay let’s look once more.
In we went and in my broken Chinese listening skills they both said they could add all these things (hot water heater for my own shower above the squat toilet, and a heater/AC unit) additionally I’d have free reign of the rest of the apartment. I could also sign a six month lease.
Later I found out my student lived there as well.
When I came back to sign the lease and Sean, student, was there, my heart dropped.
Of all my eight hundred students it had to be THIS one?!
The only one who would answer my redundant ‘boring,’ English questions in class, the only one who would ask every question possible, invade my personal space every moment he could, follow me to my classes and office, THIS kid?!
I always thought Sean came from wealth because he spoke English so well and with such confidence.
Later, I realized, the ‘maid,’ was Sean’s mom. Sean’s father is basically bed-ridden because of an accident he suffered when Sean was a year old. The doctors made a devastating medical error thus resulting to a life in bed.
Sean’s family relies on his Mama to literally make the dough. They sell ‘baozi’ for a living. Baozi are steamed buns filled with all sorts of goodies, minced pork, green onion-egg-shrimp, black sesame with sugar, peanuts and sugar, red beans, the list goes on. Everything is fresh and cooked up in the morning/early afternoon. When Sean comes home from school at lunchtime the family gather in the bedroom where the father lays and everyone takes a turn kneading the dough laid out on a wooden slab over top an unsteady short desk. Later Mama leaves by 5PM, peddles a barrow to where ever it is she sells the steamed buns.
On more than one occasion Mama’s offered me huge bags full of her delicious baozi. Between bites of minced pork, fat still smothered inside with ginger and garlic, egg and green onion, or a sweet peanut, I taste much more than the thick dough and filling–thick-love-filling.
Mama’s face has seen her share of triumph and tragedy–when I really saw her, she is radiant, weathered skin–wrinkled from smiling/worn from sadness. Soft eyes and a genuine–caring voice. She is the pillar of the family and a symbol of pure loving kindness. If I could ever be as strong and as loving as she, I would know success.
So, I moved buckets and bedding into my new room, established home.
First things were first, I introduced myself to the village ‘bao`an,’ guard. ‘Hey so I’m the new foreign teacher living here in this village.’
& Ever since I introduced myself he never lets me pass without a strong, ‘HEY!’
Finally one day I yelled ‘HEY,’ at him while he was busy. He looked up and I shouted, ‘Chifanlema?’ ‘have you eaten,’ basically a common greeting for how are you in China. He looked extremely pleased. Every day we have a huge smiling toothy exchange. Today I asked him for a selfie together, he didn’t smile but he still showed his happy face.
so it continues.