China Series

A version of this story was published as part of monthly series that ran in the Warrensburg, MO The Daily Star Journal from Oct. 2000 through May 2001.

Even Pieces of Drift Wood Have Value

It was difficult to believe all that happened to us our first week here. Looking back on it, it is even harder to accept that it was so easy and that it was so difficult, so promising and so discouraging, so rewarding and so frustrating.

The first day we saw the signs, "Olympics: Beijing, 2008." We had no idea how much that campaign would involve us.

Before the start of my first class on that first Monday, a student told me a TV station wanted to interview me about the Atlanta Olympics for the program, Common Ground, to be aired nation wide.

The next night, a lovely young assistant producer, Sophie, interviewed Sara and me about our involvement with the Atlanta games. We disclaimed any connection with the Atlanta event beyond being Kip Janvin's neighbor, but did emphasize his being selected for the Sydney competition. Sophie thought we would be perfect for the program and asked us to come to the station on Sunday afternoon for the taping.

We explained that we did not know enough about Beijing to be able to find the station. She asked, "Do you have Chinese friends?" When we said we did not, she said, "Well, now you do."

I was touched. The next day, she called to set up a mock interview, on Thursday evening, on camera at the studio with the show's host and Elaine who was interviewing for a co-anchor job. They picked us up and afterwards took us to dinner before returning us to the gate of the college.

I envisioned being on the show as the start of our having a positive influence in China. We were in a wonderful mood as we walked across campus.

Our attention was drawn to a Pekingese on a leash. At the other end of the leash was Prof. Chen (Brian). He invited us to attend an English Corner, where people come just to practice speaking English. We could go together on Saturday.

On Friday, we saw the pandas at the Beijing Zoo. That evening, LiLu (Lucy) called. She was looking for the Nichols, Ted and Barbara, who lived in the old apartment last year. Lucy had recently moved from Xian and needed friends in Beijing. We had a delightful conversation and agreed to meet the following Friday to tour the Imperial Palace.

At the English Corner, the next afternoon, we sat at the front during the introductory period. About sixty smiling Chinese seemed to hang on our every word. Many people were taking our picture. The designated topic was the Olympics.

Then we broke into groups; people rushed to join both Sara and me. It was our first taste of celebrity status here. Afterwards, people wanted to walk and continue talking with us. Brian helped to free us and promised to take us to a Peking Opera at our first opportunity.

On Sunday, another car took us to the TV station. However, Sophie informed us that we were not selected to be on the four-person panel but would be in the audience. The audience would have ample time to ask questions and make comments. It seemed much less probable that we would have lasting impact that afternoon.

But, I had my thirty seconds on national Chinese television. We have not seen Sophie since but she did respond to my email: Elaine did not get the job. Her English was not good enough.

At the end of our first week, we had met a friend, who wasn't, and two individuals who could become good friends. We had also seen how much the ability to speak fluent English is valued here. It is clearly a commodity. Like any commodity, the challenge is to use it wisely. That challenge still lies before us. It is not a challenge to be answered with one TV show.