Former Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Richard W. Clark
Former Visiting Associate Professor, Human & Community Development
Former Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development
Phyllis A. Herring
Former Extension Educator, SNAP-Ed Region 3
Former Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development and 4-H Youth Development - Metro
Former Outreach Initiative Specialist
Former Director of Web Development
Former Extension Educator, Youth Development
JoAn C. Todd
Former Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness
Former Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development - Metro
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008
First Encounters – A Sea of Somber Faces
When we first arrived at the airport there was a long line of people with signs to notify the travelers of who they represented. No one was smiling, just holding their sign with a straight serious face. I smiled but no one smiled back. When I spotted Regina from Sanda University, her sign read "University of Illinois Extension." I smiled and said "U of I" and she smiled back. We went to baggage claim and I think our bags arrived quicker than I have ever had them arrive anywhere. We had a 45 minute bus drive to Sanda.
At Sanda we were each given a key to a dorm room. I was very happy to see a traditional toilet, shower, and sink. I wasn't sure what to expect. There was also a hot and cold water jug with safe drinking water. The room was very cold but when I asked about a thermostat or a source of heat Mister Lu shook his head and said "no". He pointed to a box at the top of the wall and said "air conditioner". I thought "Oh no, I don't need cool air, I need warm air. So I crossed my arms and rubbed my hands up and down my arms and said, "Cold". I was given an extra blanket "comforter" and expressed my gratitude. "Xie-Xie", then he turned on the box and heat started coming out. I was so glad to have heat in the room. I asked Virginia later and she said air conditioner means heat in China.
Jennifer was one of the first people I met. She came into the hall and introduced herself. She spoke English. She said she taught Chinese at the college and would love to teach me while I was there. She said "Where come". I said "Illinois" and she gave me a puzzled look. I then said 'America' and she said "Yes I know. I just want to say where come". I gave a puzzled look and she printed in the air with her finger W-E-L-C-O-M-E. I said, "Oh welcome, yes, thank you." We laughed and gave each other a welcome hug. She said I want to tell you two things. Take care of your health while you are here. Don't go outside with thin clothes. I said "Dress warmly?" She said "yes, dress warmly. It turns cold here and visitors often catch a cold." Next she said "Be careful of our food. It is cooked with a lot of oar." I gave another puzzled look and thought, "cooked with oar". She again spelled in the air "O-I-L". I said "oh yes, oil." She said "we are used to it but you are not." I thanked her for her concern and help. Xie-Xie (thank you) was a word I would use over and over in the next 10 days.
When I thought about Jennifer's accent and how hard it was to understand her at times, I knew that our attempts to speak Chinese must sound just as puzzling or funny to them. I knew this was truly going to be an adventure of a lifetime.
Judy and I needed a plate for an activity we were doing at our presentation. We had a time trying to explain 'plate' to the kitchen help. We made gestures and pointed at bowls but nothing seemed to communicate our desire. At one point, one of the women asked us to write it down on paper. Judy wrote the word plate and drew a picture of it. Then she wrote a Chinese word of which we still do not know what it is. Again we were at an impasse. Then someone came in and held up his hand like a phone to his ear and said come. I followed him thinking who could it be. The kitchen had called the university and told them we needed something and they had called to see what we needed. It was great. Everyone was so helpful. They made us feel like nothing was a burden to them.
I noticed when I tried to speak any Chinese, even if it was just Ni hao, the faces would light up and grin. Everyone seemed to be so happy that we knew even the most basic words of the Chinese language. I think they were very surprised we knew any language and I hope it communicated a mutual respect and interest.