As a visitor in China, it is easy to look for familiar faces, businesses, and languages. It is also easy to be so in awe of our surroundings that we look through or around the local Chinese people. They begin to blend in as we follow a guide towards a location or as we casually shop in a Chinese mall. I have found myself looking at China as a land with history, monuments, universities, and shopping—not as a land full of Chinese people. I have allowed myself to become a tourist. But today was different…
Following our lecture at the China Pharmaceutical University (CPU) this morning, cheerful and well-spoken Chinese students of the school approached each of us. It was their duty, and eager pleasure, to converse with us, show us the campus, and lead us to the dining hall where we shared lunch. This is when I met Viola. She was well dressed, well learned in conversational English, and interested in knowing more about me. So, we began to walk and talk. Formalities quickly dissolved, and her personality came beaming through. I began to see more than just the school she was representing, more than the large and wonderful buildings that she was pointing out on campus. I began to see the person in front of me.
Sixty seconds of conversation with someone and we already have something in common. We like food—meat specifically. Viola isn’t a fan of vegetables and neither am I. I told her that her taste in food would fit in perfectly in the United States. She quickly and keenly picked up on my joking nature, which is good, because it was raining out and we were sharing an umbrella. Humor made the weather immaterial as we lightheartedly shared facts about ourselves.
I am in the master’s program at ECU, and Viola knows this…because she asked. Our conversation wandered comfortably from favorite foods and shows to dating norms and life goals. She is full of dreams. She loves both Japanese and American culture. She loves Manga, which is a style of Japanese cartoon. She also loves the American shows Friends and Desperate Housewives. She is unsure about dating because she said she “doesn’t know what to talk about with boys.” I answered with, “You’re talking just fine with one right now,” and she told me that this sounded like advice her brother would give. On the topic of family, Viola has a sister who studies at Berkeley in California. It would seem that Viola and I are a world apart, yet she has a sister living and studying in the U.S.
Over the course of our time together, I learned that Viola is a sophomore who is very proud of being a CPU student. She majors in pharmaceutical marketing, and she is excited about her future, wherever it may lead. Viola’s suitemate also helped to greet our group today. They have been friends for two years, and they work at the local Dairy Queen together as cashiers. If I ever return to Nanjing, Viola has promised to give me a Dairy Queen discount. Today was different. Today was personal. Today was awesome.