Thursday, August 18, 2011

Furniture Diva

The past two weeks, I have been volunteering with a group in the Twin Cities called the Hospitality Center for Chinese.
My good friends Drew and Rachel first introduced me to the Center, and now I guess I'm pretty hooked and already feel a sense of duty. In fact, after about an hour of helping out at the furniture give-away for Chinese students, I was referred to as the "furniture diva." I don't write that because I think I'm awesome; I write it because I think they must be desperate for help if they are so quick to refer to me as a furniture diva. Fortunately for them, I am a sucker for flattery, words of affirmation, and feeling needed. So yeah, I'm hooked.

I have met about a dozen or so Chinese students already. Most of them seem fairly reserved and serious. I wish I could tear down their walls of skepticism, and let them know how much I can identify with their feelings of excitement and loneliness. But, I don't know how to express that to them, so I mostly just fish around for questions that I think might be interesting for them to answer. I'm pretty horrible at it, and would you believe that I ask some of the same questions that I hated in China. "Have you adjusted to the food?" "Where is your home-town?" "Where did you study?" and so on. So, as they are adjusting to a new place, culture, and identity as international students, I am also adjusting to a new role of befriending Chinese people while living in the States; it's clearly going to be a bit more difficult than it was in Hengyang. I don't have a supply of students here eager to chat about Twilight, dating, and other stuff.

It's been bothering me a bit, but I didn't realize it until today when I had a completely different experience. A student (we'll call her Bee) came in to pick out furniture. From the beginning, I could tell she was different and unusually comfortable even in this new environment. When I asked her about her host family, she bubbled over describing how wonderful they were and how cute their two daughters (adopted from China). And unlike a lot of the other students, she supplied lots of supplementary information about herself (really helpful since I'm off my game with asking questions). It took us only about 5 minutes to pick furniture because she was so content to get even the older, scuffed up furniture.

And perhaps the most bonding moment with Bee was when I was on the phone leaving a message to another student. I had wandered over to the desk area to get away from some chitter-chatter. Bee saw me near the printer that was spitting out copies, and with big eyes she quickly walked over to me and ushered me away from it: "It's not safe to stand near the printer," she explained to me as I was trying to leave a message on the phone. In that moment, I was so flooded with emotion, both slight annoyance and rosy nostalgia of friends who had done similar things with similar bizarre reasoning. And I was so distracted by it all that I lost track of the message I was leaving on the phone and just kind of hung up.

Maybe I am being overly optimistic about having a new friend in Bee. But, she did hang out at the center all morning, and she mentioned wanting to volunteer there. So yeah, I think it's very likely, that I might have a new, furniture diva friend.


Jenn said...

It's amazing how slightly annoying things can trigger nostalgia. The smell of chou doufu, of all things, is doing that for me at the moment.

Portia said...

Oh man, I can totally see that Jenn. Yes, who would have thought. Are you in Beijing still or have you moved to the new city? I'm so excited for you.

Norman & Joyce said...

Your experiences and talents will be so valuable to those who need the understanding that you can provide.