I met Gao Rui Zhi (Caroline) 5 years ago this month.
I was a bright-eyed, idealist, youth-group bred senior in college traveling on an Intervarsity summer trip to the rural, poor, Muslim autonomous (only in name) province called Ningxia. It was there that I would recalculate my life plans and goals. The outcome of this trip eventually led to me still living in Chi.na today, 5 years later.
The summer camp was awesome and hard. Caroline and I lived together for a month in a dorm room regularly used for 8. My job was to befriend her, speak only English (I only knew English!) and participate in daily culture exchange classes. I had naive dreams that I would befriend this Chi.nese girl, that we would get along beautifully and laugh together and share each other's culture and she would see a light in me.
This did not happen by a long shot. And I laugh thinking how naive I was - how little I understood about culture and differences and how out of touch I was with the reality of short term projects abroad.
Caroline and I's friendship was rocky at best. She is moody, stubborn, and has a temper that could light up a room. I am moody, stubborn, and have a temper that could light up a room. We're a fabulous match. :) I had no idea what was culturally right or wrong to do or say and she was not in any mood to ever explain anything to me. I felt like I was walking on egg shells around someone I could barely communicate with. She criticized me, called me fat, told me I was too loud, said she wished she was matched with the more beautiful Asian Americans on our team. She constantly told me what to do. I hate being told what to do.
But we were partners. The fluffy dream of Chi.na that was in my mind was a mirage, but the reality of cultivating a meaningful friendship through trials was very real.
This trip was ultimately my life dream to travel to Chi.na come true. It was very formative for me and I can't believe it's been 5 years.
When the Americans were boarding a bus to leave the city, Caroline's last words to me were, "You will return to Chi.na. I will see you again." And in my heart I knew she was right.
A year after the camp, I would return to Ch.ina as a graduate student and university teacher, living in a more prosperous, developed part of the country. My life in HZ felt very easy compared to the experience in Ningxia, where Caroline remained. Two years after moving to Chi.na, I made good on my promise to return to Ningxia and took a 36 hour train to visit her in the capitol Yinchuan where she worked as a teacher.
I was there for almost a week and things between us were no different than three years before. She still told me what to do, she still critiqued my look only this time I was, "more cooler," and I gained points for speaking some Chine.se. Since my understanding of Chin.ese culture had grown after living here for some time, I then understood why she did certain things and was able to respond appropriately.
She introduced me to her boyfriend and asked that I return to Yinchuan for her wedding the following year. I said I would do my best to be there.
Yesterday I returned home from Caroline's wedding in Ningxia. I spent the whole weekend with her, following the wedding process from beginning to end - as per her orders. I know now that when I am with Caroline, I don't ask questions and I just do what I am told. It works best that way. :)
Her wedding is a story I will tell here in e-world another time. I still need more processing.
Today I just wanted to tell the back-story and the story of the speech.
Caroline and her hubby-to-be picked me up from the airport bus stop and within 10 minutes of seeing each other again I was told that I was the only bridesmaid, the photographer, and that I would be giving a speech in Chinese at the wedding.
Oh, and that they had canceled my hotel reservations (I dumbly gave her my hotel info so she knew where I was staying) so that I would stay with them the whole time.
Of course. I thought to myself. Of course I am the bridesmaid, the photographer, and giving a speech and finding out the day before. Why would I think it would be any other way? ha. My main concern though was that I would get a shower and be able to hold it together on little sleep and no personal time/space.
I told myself to put on my big girl panties, suck it up, plaster on a smile, bring my Ch.inese vocab to the forefront of my brain, and count my blessings because things were about to get real. And they did.
The next afternoon I found myself in front of 150 Chin.ese guests, mostly farmers, teachers, and policemen giving a speech in Chi.nese I rehearsed in bed the night before.
The English translation goes something like this:
"Hello everyone, my name is Jessica and I come from America. I am very happy to join in the wedding celebration of Gao and Gang with you all. Gao is my oldest Ch.inese friend, so our relationship is very special to me. I met her 5 years ago at Guyuan Teacher's College where we were roommates for an English program. When the camp was over she told me I would come to Chi.na again and she was right. Gao is always right. *laughter*. I hope that everyone here can join me to wish them "yong jie tong xin" (forever marriage together heart) and "bai tou xie lao" (white hair something old - traditional Ch.inese wedding greetings that I googled). I wish blessings for their marriage and blessings for you all."
But here is the speech I would want to give if it was appropriate:
"Hello everyone, my name is Jessica and I come from a suburb in Florida. When I was growing up I dreamed of going away to Ch.ina to help the orphans. At that time, I was very immature to think of only an isolated cause and to think that I could make any sort of difference without sacrifice. I came to Chi.na knowing nothing of Chine.se culture or language and that is when I met Caroline. She lived with me and put up with me even when I acted weird and asked too many questions and said sorry and thank you too much. Through these last years, Caroline has told me her story and I have told her mine. Our stories are very different. We come from different worlds. But we love each other because intercultural friendship takes time, patience, and a willingness to do things that are uncomfortable. I have learned this from Caroline. When I left Guyuan 5 years ago I never would have guessed that I would still be living in Chi.na now, I never would have guessed that I would be able to speak Chi.nese to you, and I never would have guessed that she would welcome me to join in her wedding party here in Ningxia. This goes to show you to expect the unexpected and to anticipate greater things than you can imagine. I stand before you, Ningxia workers, as a girl from suburban Florida. We could not be more different, yet our love for the couple is the same. I hope for your wedding Caroline, that you show your husband patience and love, that he always looks at you with admiration, and that you do not have a baby until you want to - not when your parents say you should. Blessings to you all."
|pic of a pic of the speech. professional.|
So that happened. More stories to come.
walk slow. xoxo.