A Tale Of Two Lives

Musings / Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Most of my posts here have been reading pretty much like a journal about what I do in China. One of my friends, Tee, was lamenting the other day that she liked my other blog, smithslostsoul.blogspot.com better. I haven’t forgotten about that blog – however, Blogger is not accessible in China, and I started this WordPress blog so that I can do what I didn’t do during my previous two years in China – document my life. Memories are such fleeting masters – we forget we are memory’s slaves many times. We trust memory to remember for us what we wish  not to forget – except that memory plays its own tune, and is so notoriously untrustworthy. I have forgotten so much of my previous two trips here, and it’s a mistake I wish not to repeat here.

My post today is about two people I have met here in Chengdu, who have left their mark on me in different ways. One of them is Xiao Feng, the trainer at Hosa Fitness – the same person who took us around in Chengdu last Sunday.  Xiao Feng tells us that she studied Sports Training or Fitness at a sports college. At Hosa, her life is very busy, she says. “Do you like the job?” I ask her. “Yes, of course!” she says. “I am very lucky, I feel. I am happy with my club. You know, not everyone in China get to work in the field they studied.” Just how lucky is Xiao Feng? She is not affluent, but you can see from the clothes she wears, and the job she has – Hosa is pretty posh – that she is definitely ‘lucky.’

I was thinking of the same Mistress Luck when I met Nie Ya Lan. She works as a waitress in a restaurant close to the South Gate of the university campus. There is a saying that Chengdu has some of the prettiest girls in China. Indeed. Nie Ya Lan is one of them. Not just pretty, she has a certain charm, a loveliness that is instantly endearing.

The first time we went to the restaurant, Fu Julie, the American woman from the class, was struggling to explain the name of a dish in Chinese. “You can just tell me in English,” Nie Ya Lan said after listening to some 2 minutes of Fu Julie’s struggles in Chinese. Ah, you know English, we had laughed. Since then, we have been to the restaurant many times. And got to know Nie Ya Lan a little better. She tells us that she studied Business English in a college in Yunnan. And she is smart – each day I tell her to choose two vegetable dishes and she unfailingly chooses new ones every day.

A completely new world of Chinese vegetables has opened up to me. Instead of ordering just the same dishes over and over again, having Nie Ya Lan helps us to order dishes we would never know of – lotus root, bitter gourd, beans, mushroom, greens – the choices and permutations are endless. Then,  she borrows the Rough Guides phrasebook we carry with us. In between taking orders and cleaning tables, she writes down English words from the phrasebook. The apron she wears is stained with the oils and grease of the 100s of dishes she has already carried during the day. Yet, she remembers her English, she wants to improve her skills in the language, and for a while maybe she forgets she is a waitress. Is this the job that a Business English graduate should be doing? Of course, all labor is equal, but I know that I wouldn’t want to sweep streets after doing my Masters.That’s just my wish, and I have been ‘lucky’ in having had good jobs most of my life.

China’s universities turn out thousands of graduates each year. Not all of them obtain jobs. And soon after some time, you are lucky to just get a job at all. Which is why Nie Ya Lan is a waitress in a city far away from her hometown. There she is- Mistress Luck. Xiao Feng knows her. Nie Ya Lan doesn’t. A tale of two lives divided. It really is the Middle Kingdom.

2 Replies to “A Tale Of Two Lives”

  1. finally caught up with all ur posts today .beautifully written.. I’m living the China experience through ur blog… especially liked the series of posts covering ur mountain climb… beautifully described… and loads of hugs to all the human angels u found on the way… but u girls..pls be more careful ! What were u thinking trying to climb down a mountain in pitch darkness!!!

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