Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Old Friends Make The Best Friends

"Old friends make the best friends" - Chinese Fortune Cookie

Yesterday was a learning experience in Chinese culture for our children. It was a wonderful time with an old friend for us. I hadn't seen Qing (say "ching") Ping since 1994, my husband hadn't seen him since 1996. Well, you can't expect to see people too often when they live half a world away.

Ewan and Qing Ping were language partners while Ewan was in graduate school and Qing Ping was a visiting scholar. Qing Ping's family (his wife and 9 year old daughter) had come with him for this year in the US and we got together fairly often as a group to eat a meal. It was fun, and as long as the husbands kept up with translations between Mandarin and English all four of us knew what was going on. At the end of their stay they spent a week with us in PA taking day trips to NYC, Washington, D.C. into Philly and even out to a PA German family reunion.

This year is Qing Ping's third as a visiting scholar to the U.S. This time he is at Yale on a Fulbright researching Confusionism and Christianity. (He's a Philosophy Professor). He was at a conference at Kutztown University, only an hour from our house, so the whole family was able to share a meal with him.

The culture lesson started early in the day as I briefed the kids that they had to be on extra good behavior ("only speak if spoken too") as Mr. Liu's daughter had always behaved like that when we were around. Then the question came up of if Liu is his last name, why do we say it first. This was interesting because we had explained this practice before but they had never had the opportunity to appreciate it first hand. This time it caught, I think.

The next lesson began with search for the gifts. Gift-giving is very important in China. Whenever Liu Qing Ping and his family came over to our apartment, they never came empty handed. When they met my parents they brought gifts, they were always prepared. We had forgotten about this custom until Monday night and needed to get on the ball! During this search was when the children realized how many small gifty things are made in China. Even they understood the irony. I finally found a set of notecards that said "Made in the US"on the back with drawings of US species of birds on them - these would be for him to take home to his daughter. It is hard to buy for any man, but a small (for too big could be showy and therefore wrong) gift for a Chinese man? I settled on Asher's chocolate, choosing the nutty varieties and chocolate covered pretzels. If he didn't like them he could serve them to Americans he met.

We ate at one of the two Kutztown Chinese restaurants and ordered just a little too much food. (If one doesn't have leftovers then you haven't provided enough for your guest.) Erin recited the Tang poem she had memorized and the younger children asked some questions about China. Ewan and I had a great conversation with Qing Ping and were thankful for the opportunity to be with him again if only for a short time. At the end of the meal we opened up the fortune cookies and his was the saying at the beginning of the post. Then presents were exchanged (he had gotten a little but beautiful something for each of us) and we took some pictures in front a picture of the Great Wall. Maybe someday we will be able to take one in front of the real thing.

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