From China, with love

I’m not feeling 100% right now and neither is Andy, but we are soldiering on and trying to take care of ourselves in this new place. What’s wonderful, though, is that I’m feeling love in many ways around me.

From Tuesday to Thursday, our friend Eleanor visited our temporary apartment. She was finishing up a work assignment near Shanghai for a large American company, so she made her way to see us. What a joy to see her! She came with us when we signed for our apartment, took us out for sushi, gave us her thoughts on the trains from Shanghai, and provided some much-needed external support. (I spent three weeks in Japan with her last year, so bonding over foreign experiences is a great part of our friendship.)

Today when I mentioned that I wasn’t feeling well to a few colleagues, one responded by offering me what cold medicine she had with her (equivalent to Sudafed) and the label so I could go buy more. (I got a box this evening.) Another responded with the location of an English-speaking hospital in the vicinity and the directions I could give a taxi. Yet another offered me a mask to wear and suggested wearing one outside for awhile just to adjust. Both Andy and I plan to do this since we got sick in Beijing in May and it took us several weeks to recover. It took us almost the exact amount of time here in Suzhou to get sick again—one week for me, two for Andy, but I have asthma, so that’s definitely a factor… Nevertheless, I could feel the different ways my colleagues cared about me and my wellbeing.

Teaching makes me a direct witness and purveyor of love in the classroom. I often nurture my students, keeping cool when they get frustrated, encouraging them to keep talking when they can’t seem to find the right words… and so far that is helping me to make real connections. Perhaps they’ve never had a teacher like me. I’m not sure. But I’m comfortable with them and they seem quite comfortable with me.

Today I asked them to write down the name they would like to be called (English or Chinese) on a card that they’ll get each class until I learn their names. (Covertly, this is a way for me to also take attendance when I don’t know them yet!) They were thrilled that I wanted to learn their names. Maybe other teachers didn’t bother. I’m guessing that other native English speaker teachers didn’t because names like Mingyuan Xie are hard to pronounce AND remember. But I’ll do it. I would want someone to know my name. So I will learn their names. I will love them by learning their names.

It’s clicking now that I really do live here. There have been a few moments when I’ve wondered aloud what I’m doing, but in honesty I am so glad to be here. I need to be here for myself and for others. This thick web of connection we weave throughout our lives would, for me, be less substantial without this experience. This may be a challenge, but I chose it. This may not always be easy, but I’m invested in it.

As one final note on love: on the bus ride home from dinner, I saw an old man with a cane board. One young woman tried to give him her seat but he refused. Then, a teenager came and took him by the arm and led him to her seat. This may seem forceful, but I recognized it as love and respect. I was moved enough to write this post, so I hope these points about everyday love can inspire you too. ❤

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