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Dewey's China Trip: Stories: Xiujuan

Giving Xiujuan a hug goodbye before my return to the US

Contents:

Gift of Sand
Studying English
Cell Phone Credit
The Moon and Mars
Mid-Autumn Festival
Forgotten Keychain
Letter to Boy
Last Day
Return to the US


Gift of Sand

In the evening I go to Xiujuan's dorm to see her. It is really difficult to persuade her to come down to see me. I tell her in my text messages that I have something to give her, but she says she doesn't want it, whatever it is.

Finally after an hour she comes down. I expect her to be annoyed at me for making her come down to see me, but instead her face lights up with a big grin when she sees me and she bounces happily towards me. She claims she didn't actually realize that I have been waiting for her right there at her dorm the whole time. Whatever. I talk to her between coughs, and give her the Inner Mongolian desert sand. She is really touched by the thoughtful gift and the adventures I've had getting it. She purchases some ice cream demanded by her roommates and returns to her dorm, but says I can meet her at 9:00 the next morning to help her study English.

Studying English

That night my friend Alex calls me from Seattle and I talk to him for a long time. On Sunday morning I go to Xiujuan's dorm to get her, but my cell phone dosn't work. It seems Alex's long call has used up all the money on it. So I call Xiujean using the phone in the building, hoping she won't be mad at me for wasting her cell phone's money by calling her instead of sending her a text message; cell phone calls are expensive in China, but text messaging is dirt-cheap.

Xiujuan comes down and I try to speak to her in English—I figure I should since I'm supposed to be tutoring her in English today. I try to speak slowly and use simple sentences, but she can't understand a word I say and refuses to speak to me in English; I give up trying. Xiujuan has been studying English for nine years, but her English conversation skills are poor; she's mostly only been taught reading and writing.

We go to a classroom to study, but we can't talk in there because it's full of other students who are also studying. I suggest we study outside, but she says she doesn't want to. She normally likes studying outside, and it's a nice day today; maybe she's worried that my cold will get worse. I suggest we go back to my hotel room to study.

Once in my hotel room, we study English diligently; she has an upcoming senior-year English exam that she wants to pass. However, the practice articles she's studying are much too difficult for her, with lots of big words and complicated grammar that she doesn't understand. Since she can't understand all the grammar and words, she can't comprehend the articles, which means she has no hope of answering the practice multiple-choice questions correctly.

Furthermore, all of the articles Xiujuan is supposed to be studying have been pulled from Western materials, and are related to American or British culture, religion, government, politics, etc. Even if Xiujuan's English ability was perfect, she would probably still have trouble understanding these articles because she's not familiar with these Western subjects. For example, she doesn't have any idea what Christians believe, what an ounce is, what a breath test is, or what welfare is, subjects that all come up in the articles she is studying. With the added limitation that her English is far from perfect, understanding these articles is a nightmare for her. As far as I am concerned, she really needs my help, and I give it to her as best I can, giving her the background she needs to understand each article piece by piece. Fortunately Xiujuan is an extremely intelligent girl and she learns really quickly. I'm certain that if she spent some time in the United States she'd be quite fluent in English in a matter of months.

Cell Phone Credit

That evening I try to replenish the credit on my cell phone, but am unsuccessful. Something complicated is going on: I have a non-local telephone number and have run out of money, but in order to call the credit recharge number I need to already have credit in my phone, since it's a roaming call. I'm told I must call the number from the same phone I'm recharging, so I'm stuck. I buy a new Beijing number and memory card for my phone.

I spend much of the evening writing down my phone numbers and putting them on the new card. I discover that the new card I've bought is a piece of crap; operations involving reading and writing the card's flash memory take forever. I suspect that the employees at the phone store have taken advantage of my status as an ignorant foreigner to sell me a new phone number on a crappy flash card that I really don't even need. There must be a way to recharge the credit on a non-local phone number; they probably just didn't want to tell me. I have no time to think about that though. All I can think about is Xiujuan.

Now that my phone is in operation again, I send Xiujuan a text message. I tell her how terribly sick I am feeling (which is all too true), and say she should come and take care of me. The next morning (Monday morning) she comes with a bag of food for me, as well as some cold medicine. Then we start studying English in my hotel room, but end up making out for a few hours instead.

Later she goes to Minqi's apartment to tutor Chinese. I message her after she gets back, but she says it is too late at night for her to come see me.

The Moon and Mars

On Tuesday I study English with her again. She needs to go tutor Minqi's friend in the evening. Late in the evening I go to her dorm to find her, and run into her roommate, who knows who I am, even though I don't recognize her; when you're the only white foreigner amid an ocean of Chinese people, I guess it's easy to become infamous. She says Xiujuan probably isn't home, but she goes up to look and soon Xiujuan happily runs down. I take her back to my hotel and we cuddle and make out awhile, but Xiujuan can't get used to falling asleep with a guy in bed with her. The hotel room has two beds, so I let her sleep in the one bed while I sleep in the other.

On Wednesday evening Xiujuan messages me and tells me to go outside to look at the Moon and Mars; the distance between them is the closest it's been in tens of thousands of years. I was trying to sleep, but get up and go out to look. She messages me again, asking if looking at the moon makes me miss home. I say, no it just makes me miss her. Then she messages me a third time, asking me, among other things, why I love her. I misunderstand, and think she is just questioning my love for her, as she always does. So I return her message and tell her to forget it and go to sleep. To my surprise, this seems to make her pretty upset, which I see as a pretty good sign; she must be starting to like me, otherwise she wouldn't care.

Mid-Autumn Festival

Thursday, September 11 is Mid-Autumn Festival. I go and get Xiujuan late that night, and we go outside and sit on the grass to admire the full moon, which is what you're supposed to do the night of Mid-Autumn Festival. We cuddle and talk out on the grass for a long time. Then I get hungry, so we go to a 24-hour grocery store to buy some snacks. I realize that today I haven't had any mooncakes, which are traditionally eaten on Mid-Autumn Festival, but we can't find any mooncakes in the store—they've sold out. Anyway, it is past midnight, so it's already too late to eat mooncakes on Mid-Autumn Festival. We go back to my hotel and Xiujuan stays the night with me. I make her sleep in the same bed with me this time.

The next day we meet to study English, but she doesn't want to study, although she's brought me a moon cake. She is reading a biography of her all-time favorite Chinese novelist. It has many of his love letters to his wife in it. Xiujuan keeps looking through the book, saying I'll never be able to write her letters like these because my Chinese ability will never be that good. I can't convince her otherwise. She wants to go back to her dorm and say goodbye to me forever.

When we get back to her dorm, I can't help but hug her and start crying. I guess she feels sorry for me; she goes with me back to my hotel instead of returning to her dorm. But then pretty soon she has to go to a concert with friends, so I take her back to her dorm, where she again says that she can't be mine. I cry again and say goodbye; I reel really terrible. I know I have to start communicating with her more in English; she probably feels like dating me would be like dating a three year old, since my Chinese is at about that level, and I always speak to her exclusively in Chinese.

Forgotten Keychain

When I get back to my hotel I gleefully find that Xiujuan has left her keys behind. This will give me a perfect opportunity to get her to see me again. So I send her a message in English about her keys, with lots of big words so that there will be no way for her to understand. That will teach her to complain about my Chinese ability, I think. Later that night I go to her dorm to find her. It turns out she hasn't returned from the concert yet, but soon she shows up, and I tell her I've brought her keys. She says goodbye to her friends, and I pick her up and give her a ride on my back down the street. We sit down on a bench and talk about a lot of things; I tell her all the reasons I love her, and beg her to be my girlfriend. The effort is futile.

Finally we go back to my hotel room and she spends the night with me again. I neglect to close the window screen completely, and the room fills up with mosquitoes. I put the mosquito net over us, but I foolishly do it in the dark, and mosquitoes actually get trapped inside the net with us without my noticing; by morning they are all swelled up with our blood.

Letter to Boy

The next evening I buy Xiujuan a rose and go to her dorm to find her. However, there is a large ruckus going on at her dorm, some guys having come to sing to all the girls. Xiujuan refuses to come down to see me. I send her many various messages, and stubbornly wait outside for three hours. Finally some girls talk to me from their balcony, and throw me a letter folded as a paper airplane. The letter is written with a florescent-pink highlighter, in English:

Hi, boy,

Chinese girl would not accept you like this way. You'd better go back to sleep tonight.

Actually, all the girls in this building are moved by you now. But, it's really not a good way to stay here all night, understand?

Maybe you could make it step by step, and give her some time to accept you.

Good luck! :)

It's a nice letter, but it's wrong in the case of Xiujuan; I know her, and I know if I do a seemingly foolish thing like stand outside all night waiting for her, she will appreciate it. I know she loves me, but she's testing me, making sure I'm really committed to her.

I'm a bit pissed off at Xiujuan for making me stand out there suffering for three hours, so I go home. She's promised to take me out to breakfast the next day, after which we will study English together. I send her a text message that she'll get in the morning when she turns her cell phone on. I tell her she's not worth my efforts and I'm going to forget about her.

Last Day

The next morning she wakes me up early with a text message, miffed about the message I send her the night before. I apologize, and we meet for breakfast. The rose is now fairly shabby, but I give it to her anyway. She doesn't want it, but I force her to take it, and I can tell she's touched by it. I tell her about my experiences waiting for her for three hours. She expects me to be mad at her, but I tell her I love her, and can forgive anything, which is true; I love her so much that the instant I see her I forget all the times she's broken my heart. Knowing Xiujuan, I know she'll just love to hear these words, and she does. She is incredibly sweet to me the rest of the day, holding my hand with both of her hands a we walk down the street. She sticks close by my side for my entire last 24 hours in China.

We only sleep an hour that night, because I have to stay up late packing up my stuff and making last-minute preparations. We leave the hotel at 4:00 in the morning go to the airport. We get to the airport too early, so she hangs out with me and makes out with me, no longer shy about kissing in public, which is not commonplace in Beijing. Unfortunately, she still won't agree to be my girlfriend, but I'm hoping to work that out with her via phone calls, letters, and email once I get back to the US.

After I pass through customs and enter the check-in area, Xiujuan lingers behind, from a distance watching me standing in line. She sends me some sweet messages on my phone. Then I board the plane. I have high hopes for the future of our relationship.

Return to the US

The flight to Tokyo goes without incident. I have a window seat, so I can see all the tiny little ships down below and all the pretty clouds, the big cities of Korea, and the factories, parks, golf courses, freeways, and houses of Japan. On the flight from Tokyo to Seattle I don't technically have a window seat, but as the plane backs out of the gate I notice there is a single seat on the plane without a passenger in it, because that person hasn't shown up for her flight. This happens to be a great window seat, in the back away from the 747's huge wing; therefore, before takeoff I ask the flight attendant (in broken, long-forgotten English) if I can sit there, and she lets me. I'm glad to have found a window seat; once across the Pacific, right before landing in Seattle, we fly over the San Juan Islands, Dungeness spit, Sequim, Port Townsend, and the University of Washington—I get great views of them all.

Three months after my return to the United States, I finally convince Xiujuan to be my girlfriend. A month later I receive my acceptance to study Chinese at Beijing Normal University. I'll be returning to Beijing on February 2, 2004.

Update, October 2004: I am now living in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China. Xiujuan is working as a high school Chinese teacher here in Hangzhou and my good friend and I have started a company, ChinaForge.com LLC. Thanks to ChinaForge for sponsering this website, and thanks to Xiujuan for being the most special girl in the whole world and the world's best Chinese teacher too!

Visit David Dewey's homepage at http://www.ddewey.net/

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