It was at this visa office, though, while I was queued behind 30 other foreigners awaiting their turn, that I overheard 3 European men joking about how France and England don't get along. The British man knew right away, of course, when I spoke that I was American given that I didn't have a similar accent to him but spoke English fluently. I laughed under my breath as I remembered back to the months after 9/11 when French toast and fries were on the chopping block for Merriam Webster's entries. But, now the French-American relationship seems to be on the mend from what I gather, though I won't bet an 8-kuai bowl of noodles on that as I've not read news on that recently! Regardless, I struck up a conversation with them and it turns out that the 3rd man is from Belgium, the 2nd guy from there I've met thus far. (The first is teaching English to kindergarteners and dating a local women whose friend we are visiting tomorrow to see if me teaching her kids English is a good fit.) All 3 men are here studying language for the year, but at a different university from me. When asked how long I was here, I said indefinitely, which surprised them a fair amount. I offered that this was my 7th time in China at which point they said, "O, so you must really like China then! Why did you move here?"
What do I say? I got bored with American life...figured a change in scenery was warranted. Or this line: I'm really interested in how globalization and the "Reform & Opening Up" policy of China has impacted Sino-American political ties and foreign policy. Or I could have tried this one: "I heard that's there a lot of money to be made here. Plus, the women are beautiful, right?!" Any of those would've gone over quite well and have given me some credibility. But, instead I replied with this: "I came here to serve, love and bless the Chinese people."
"Bless the people? What do you mean?" replied the Belgian man.
"Like you're religious?" questioned the French student.
Turns out the Brit is an avowed atheist.
Their curiosity was fairly aroused at this point. My motivation in moving here was out of the box in their minds, or perhaps a good way to be put in a metal and concrete one indefinitely. But, I was able to share with them the hope that is found in following the Way and that even the Chinese government sees that the values and norms in such Truth and in such a Life are needed in a country where corruption among other woes abounds. It's no secret, especially among the foreigners, that the "why" behind my move is not always welcomed here, but then again it's not welcomed in many places.
With my appointment complete and 3 weeks to wait out til I could garner my student visa, I departed that place. I rode swiftly through the formative stages of rush hour from Tian Fu Square, where Mao Zedong proudly stood watch over city center, back to Wu Hou Ci Street where the university is. I swung by the registration office, let them know I can't pick up my student visa til the 27th September, and then inquired about the aforementioned mixed-class arrangement. The registrar asked me to proofread a few documents for their English-speaking foreign students and then I was on my way back home. I approached a little street-side food stand that I've been frequenting and stopped to get a few snacks to tie me over til dinner. I was mid-sentence in asking how much the bread was when an excited Chinese 20-something asked me if I wanted to join him and his friends for a drink. The implication was clear, but the invitation was sincere, and I didn't turn him down because this--building relationships--is why I moved here. It meant I'd be offered less-than-tasty light beer (you all know I don't like any beer, especially Chinese light beer!) on a near-empty stomach. If some in America are averse to stepping thru the threshold of a place of worship, then reaching the Chinese, where there simply are very few buildings of such a nature, requires me to go where they are. However, unless one is given to over-imbibing, a plan must be enacted in short order to have an exit strategy from their drinking games and 'gan bei' (dry glass) cheers. Long ago I'd resolved to be okay with displeasing a new friend so as to to pace myself and be the one who could drive afterwards.
A chair was rounded up for me and another for my backpack, and there I was, seated with 2 architecture and 3 interior design students, all of them having moved here from homes hundreds of miles away to attend Ming Da. Talk turned to places I'd traveled and I asked where they'd come from and what they liked to do. Two of the guys are B-boy dancers (via Urbandictionary.com: a b-boy is one who expresses himself through breakbeats (beats that b-boys can break to) using various combinations or sets of breakdance moves...) and dance nightly at the city center square, one lady was present who more or less observed our conversation, and the two other men said they enjoy playing basketball. The usual questions were posed to me: Do I like China or America better? Do I find Chinese women attractive? Where did I study Chinese? What sports do I like to play? What am I studying here? They didn't ask why I moved, but I let my conversation be flavored with salt so as to speak truth into their lives. Not that I go around telling Chinese women they're beautiful, but when pressed by the men as to my thoughts on the beauty of the one lady at the table, I said that she was pretty. She denied it, perhaps out of low self-esteem or low views by men of low character, or perhaps out of cultural norms (it's polite to refuse a gift or a complement the first or 2nd time around here). So I said it again, adding "Truth/reality" to the end of the sentence, and she accepted. (This may be another blog post sometime.)
Now the men were enjoying themselves, the 'pi jiu' doing its part, too. They said they needed to drink more so they could be friendly.
"Hadn't I heard about the Chinese habit to drink a lot?" they inquired.
I confirmed that, indeed, I'd heard and seen it played out a lot, but assured them that they could be friendly without drinking to excess. A few minority guys entered the restaurant and opened a bottle of foreign whiskey. Strong drink and cheap beer flow more freely here than the great Yangtze and Yellow Rivers that have been bound up with dams and hydroelectric plants. Within a few hours of them occupying a table, it burgeoned with twenty-four 518mL bottles of beer, just under 3L per man, my half-liter not withstanding. They were, in their own estimation, drunk, but I have hopes that they'll one day see that there's more to life than food and drink. Phone numbers were exchanged, and they all rose to walk out with me and see me on my way. As I cycled past stray dogs dodging Mercedes-Benz sedans, shopkeepers mopping their concrete entryways, and the shoe cobbler working his magic on a polished pair of loafers, I had the thought that if in spending time with these new friends leads them to the Way home--into a joyful home with a loving Father waiting to adopt them--then that is why I moved here.