My favorite thing about our Chinese exchange student is the way she says, “Of course!” in response to many of our questions. Do you like salad? Of course! Did you have a good day at school? Of course! She says it loudly and cheerfully, more like a life motto than an innocent response. It makes me realize how I must sound in French. Bien sur!
Our houseguest is fourteen, and is traveling outside of China for the first time. She is from Chengdu, a city of 14 million people, more than half the population of Australia. Chengdu is famous for many things including its enormous Buddha (“very, very big”) and spicy food. She is an only child, lives on the 36th floor of an apartment building, and plays badminton and a seven-string guqin. She attends school from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. six days a week and has “much, much homework.” Her usual breakfast is dumplings and green tea, but when asked if scrambled eggs and toast would suffice, she declared, “Of course!”
My daughter and I picked her up in the pouring rain under the awning of a dilapidated motel near Cottesloe Beach. She was wearing baggy jeans, a navy blue sweatshirt that read, “When the clock back, what can I do?” and a sideways facing turquoise baseball cap that read, “Monsters University.” When she learned that her Perth host family is not in fact Australian, she clapped and grinned. “I love America! Taylor Swift!”
I stayed with a French family for a couple of weeks when I was her age. They put me in their guest room, far from the other children in the house, and showed me how to operate the bidet. I learned French reading Tintin and Garfield, and also because I was instructed to pronounce everything on the dinner table before I was allowed to eat. My French vocabulary is limited, but apparently my pronunciation is excellent. This is because I like to eat.
Although I placed English editions of Tintin and Garfield on her dresser, we are trying to make our foreign visitor’s stay as enjoyable as possible. We took her to a wildlife park to pet koalas and kangaroos, and tonight treated her to pizza. Her mastery of English is impressive, but we are relying mostly on sweets, Uno, and pop music for bonding.
I like making our guest laugh. Her cheeks turn pink and she covers her mouth. This happened yesterday when I danced in the kitchen to Bieber’s Sorry.
My husband and I have a mantra from the four months we lived in France: Yes is better than no. It reminds us to remain open to new experiences and helps to prevent middle aged stodginess that can sneak up on us like a bald spot. We love having visitors, and will miss this one when she leaves. Of course.