By: Jenni Taylor
Every so often I put on my headphones, jump on a crowded bus, and head a few miles away to tutor a young girl in English. They live in one of the hundreds of thousands of high rises bursting out of the concrete on every street corner, reaching up through the pollution to find the rare sunlight filtering through the smog. I know the route well- walk, bus, walk, elevator, do my job, and repeat steps to go home.
This time the parents were heading out to see the opera, and the young girl was left with her grandparents as babysitters. The old gentleman’s eyes met mine as I greeted him in Chinese, unsure of their background. He responded in English, and proceeded to offer me slippers in clear, slow, and intensely polite English. Though surprised at his perfect accent, I briefly thanked him and turned my focus to the girl for the next hour. I was here for a job, after all.
As we ended, the grandparents came back into the room to see me off and begin cooking dinner for the girl. The man gently stopped me again to chat.I had no interest. I wanted to go home. It was cold and while the bus ride was short, it was always crowded and uncomfortable.
The silliest part of all of it was that I had planned on going home to continue reading a book on recent Chinese history, a book that was changing my perception of China on every page. Each chapter made me feel like I knew less and less, and made me more eager to learn.
The older gentlemen spoke slowly and softly. He asked me where I was from. “Chicago, ah, I have been there twice,” he said. “The Sears Tower, the highest building. The cold wind from the lake biting into your skin.” It wasn’t what I had expected to hear. He went on to tell me that he used to work for a foreign service radio in Beijing in the 1970s, and was an English teacher for several years at a well-known Chinese university. The conversation didn’t last long, but nevertheless I felt humbled.
I had closed my eyes to the world around me and had almost tuned out this poetic, experienced grandfather who simply wanted to chat with me. I had become hardened after failed attempts at friendships with the Chinese and had decided to learn everything from books rather than people. I had stopped looking for relationships, and had almost missed one right in front of me.
It’s a small, insignificant story, but it reminded me to keep my eyes open at all times. With the new year just beginning, it is such a small step to resolve to look for the good in others, to be open to wonder, to go slowly and see what there is to see under the more obvious layers.
My very simple resolution is to stay awake. I’m ready to find something beautiful.