Like a Horse Standing Among Chickens

As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, one never quite moves on entirely. It doesn’t take long before your non-Peace Corps family and friends are sick of your stories about washing dishes on the floor of the bathroom in the winter because it is the only room with hot water or the ones about how you had to share a not-so-private outdoor squat-toilet (basically a trench flowing into a farmer’s pig sty) with a big ol’ honking goose. They are great stories and volunteers can tell them a million more times and never get tired of them, but the same cannot be said of the poor saps forced to hear them over and over. (I would imagine returned missionaries feel the same way. When you first get home after two years, everyone is excited to hear everything, but soon, the more gritty than gospel stories tire out the loved ones who were left behind.)

This last weekend, I had a chance to relive a few of those PC days, as five of my former students from Longnan Teachers’ College in Gansu came to visit us in Chengdu-Ebba, Shirley, Kacey, Eric and Alex.  They would be joined by one former student who is already living in the city-Amazon.  (Notice I did not say I invited students to come or asked students to come. Not long after we arrived in Sichuan, I got an email from Ebba, the ring-leader of this group saying they would be coming. I, thinking it would never really pull together, said that sounded great and to let me know when they could make it. Then, about two weeks ago, I got a phone call from Ebba announcing they had bought train tickets and would be arriving Thursday afternoon! Okay then!)

So Thursday rolled around and arrive they did. The group got a bit lost, none of them having been to Chengdu before and without the aid of Amazon, who was in class, but eventually found their way to my neighborhood, where I spotted them sitting curbside (on newspapers, of course), waiting for me to get home.

The weekend was a whirlwind of eating and site-seeing and shopping, and then some more eating.

Thad and I took all six of the kids (I call them kids, as they were my students, but they are all in their early 20s) to western food for dinner one night. None of them had ever eaten with a fork and knife before and they were very nervous leading up to the evening. More than once I was pulled aside to find out if there would be chopsticks available. “No way, Jose!” would be my gleeful response. (Appropriately, as we were going to Peter’s Tex-Mex restaurant.) Once we were at dinner, I had to remind them that westerners don’t usually eat “family-style,” so they would each get to order their own entrée, whatever they thought looked good. The table ended up with a smorgasbord of selections: tacos, spaghetti, chicken sandwich, enchiladas, avocado salad, macaroni and cheese and more.  The funny part was that after all their worry about the fork and knife situation, many of them chose dishes that are best eaten with their hands, but they wanted to experience the fork and knife thing, so I watched tacos and chicken sandwiches be sliced (once I had to turn a butter knife the right direction for the user) and stabbed before being consumed.

It was great having the kids here and we even ended up with a meal of homemade dumplings out of the deal! As a non-cook to begin with, as well as someone still awaiting the arrival of my HHE, my kitchen is pretty sad when it comes to food/cookware, but the girls made an impressive showing with my two pots, six bowls and handful of utensils.

Thursday through Monday felt a bit like having a house invaded by whirling dervishes, but at times I just had to take a step back and laugh. Here are just a few gems from the weekend:

**When the kids first arrived, they walked into the apartment and announced, “We brought peaches!” And yes, yes they did. Tianshui, the hometown of the majority of the group, is apparently famous for their peaches. (Every town in China is famous for something. In Chengxian, we were famous for our wonderful walnuts.) The crew brought enough peaches that The Presidents of the United States would feel right at home in my apartment, partaking of their lyrically-desired millions and millions of peaches.

**One evening, as we were sitting on the couch talking, ringleader-Ebba turned to me and said, “You know your special pink sweater in the closet?” (At this point I had no idea, as nearly everything I own is pink, but I replied with a vague grunt.) “When we tried it on…” (What?!?) “we noticed it had holes in the sleeves for thumbs. We think this is a very good idea!” So, apparently, there were mini-fashion shows at night after Thad and I went to bed? I’d rather not dwell on that one for too long.

**Being a paranoid host (I am always worried I won’t have the right breakfast foods or soap or other in-the-larger-scheme of things unimportant details for my guests), I hauled Thad not once, but twice, to IKEA to get bedding for our spare beds to make them comfortable and homey. I thought I had created cozy little spaces for our guests to relax in, only to learn after the second night, that several of them had taken to sleeping on our floor! Why? Because those lovely beds I worked so hard to create were *too* soft. (Anyone who has spent any time in China, outside western-brand hotels, is well-acquainted with the Chinese love for a hard bed. When we first got to Gansu I thought I would never survive two years on the board that was our bed, but over time I gradually got used to it, to the point where when we went home, the first night we were back in the States I woke up in the middle of the night having what was nearly a panic attack, as I felt like I was drowning in the mattress, pillows and piled up blankets! I guess everything really is relative…)

With all the randomness of the weekend, my favorite quote came on Sunday morning when we were out shopping. The girls wanted to go look at clothes and get some gifts for their families and friends, so the boys were hauled along for the adventure. (Thad introduced them to the term “man-bench,” which they came to be quite well-acquainted with by the end of the five hour buying marathon.) While we were waiting on a couple of the girls who were adding shoes to their growing collection of purchases, Ebba asked me if I wore high heels. I said I did all of the time in America, but not so much in China, as I am already so much taller than everyone around me. She thought about this a second and responded, “Yes. In China, you are like a horse standing among chickens.” And there you have it- truer words may never have been uttered.

The kids headed out today while Thad and I were at work, but I came home to find they had discovered my stash of purple sticky-notes, leaving us messages throughout the house, thanking us and making sure we were fed for a few more days. While it is nice to have our apartment back to ourselves, I will miss their smiles and giggles and really random pronouncements.

But, they left with the promise to come back again before our two years here are up and I have no doubt that at some future date I will be receiving a deja-vu inducing phone call saying, “We have purchased train tickets. We will be there Thursday.”

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