Thursday, October 22, 2015

From China to "Shu wu" ~ Cozy little (tree)house


Jing and Hua were late arriving for their night in the Treehouse. I had kept an eye peeled for them but wasn’t expecting two carloads to drive up. Hua came to the door first, his wife Jing following, while another young couple, a toddler, and an older man and woman worked their way out of the other vehicle. The Treehouse sleeps three cozily, but its hundred square feet are more comfortable for two. I wondered where in the world we were going to put seven people.
As Hua promptly explained, he and Jing drove from their Baltimore home and stopped in Saratoga Springs to visit friends—the couple with the two-year-old. The older couple were the toddler’s grandparents visiting from China. Everyone, even young Daniel, wanted to see the Treehouse. It’s a tight space, so they took turns having the tour. Jing and Hua went first while their friends waited in the spitting snow. It took three shifts to give everyone a look. Daniel especially marveled at the toys and a miniature treehouse perched on the desk.
We had offered Hua and Jing wine and cheese before dinner, but their friends wanted them to drive another hour to have dinner at a Burlington restaurant. We told our guests we’d leave the lights on for them. Hua and Jing were gone just a few minutes when they returned without their friends.
“We changed our minds,” Hua said. “Do you still offer wine and cheese?”
We said yes, of course. Years ago one of our sons had a Chinese friend, and every time our son visited the friend’s house, his mother asked, “Have you eaten?” Then, without waiting for an answer, she began to cook. As with any teenage boy, our son was delighted at the feast she prepared, and anyway, it would have been rude to refuse her offering of food. I suspected that since we had offered Hua and Jing some nibbles, they decided it was courteous to accept.
We made a reservation for them at a nearby restaurant, giving us an hour to get to know them over cheese and crackers. Jing accepted a glass of Vermont cider since she doesn’t drink alcohol. Her dark hair was swept back from her pearly face and tied into a knot, and she glowed with sweetness and quiet beauty. Hua sipped a little red wine and bubbled with personality, apologizing for his faulty English that flowed flawlessly and abundantly from him. He uses the name Klarke at work and with American friends because they find Hua difficult to pronounce, but we preferred to use his Chinese name. Jing said most people think her name is “Jean,” and she’s fine with that.
When Harry asked Hua how he had learned English so well, he said, “English is taught in primary grades in China” and added that some Chinese people learn English by watching “Friends,” a popular show there. Jing said the Chinese government blocks social media, so citizens have no access to English versions of Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
The two speak Mandarin together, the universal language in China, but Jing is from the Sichuan province in western China and speaks a different dialect from Hua, who grew up in Hunan. “When he speaks to his mother on the phone,” Jing said, “I can’t understand him.” As long as they were speaking English, we understood them both just fine.
In their mid-thirties, Jing and Hua have been married just over a year, having met in graduate school where they each were pursuing the PhD, Jing in pathology and Hua in technology. Jing now does post-doc work in cancer research at Johns Hopkins, and Hua works for PayPal in Baltimore. Since their families are so far away, they wed at Baltimore City Hall. “It was easier,” Jing said. Afterward they went out to dinner—just the two of them. Next month they’ll fly to China for visits with their parents.
Before they left for Mary’s Restaurant, we offered to show them the hot tub.
“It’s okay,” Jing said. “We’ll take showers.”
“I think you’ll like the hot tub,” I offered. When I pulled back the cover, steam rose into the frosty air. With Mt. Abe in the distance, I felt as if we were in Chinese poem. Jing smiled and dipped her fingers into the water. She had never been in a hot tub before.
By the time they returned from supper, snow was falling softly, but they slipped into the warm robes we offered and had a hot tub soak before climbing into the Treehouse loft for the night. In the morning the ground and Mt. Abe glinted with cold white stuff. We fed them a breakfast of fruit and waffles in the dining room. They had never had waffles before, and from the kitchen I saw Jing eat one as if it were a slice of toast. I’m not sure they knew what to do with the little pitcher of local maple syrup, and I didn’t want to embarrass them by showing them how to eat Vermont style.
Before they packed up to leave on Sunday, I asked Hua to teach me some words in Chinese. He wrote “please” (Qǐng) and “thank you” (Xièxiè) in Chinese script and pronounced the words for me. The word for treehouse is “Shù wū,” which Hua said means “cozy little house.” That seemed just right.
            The four of us went outside to take pictures, and Harry asked Jing if she likes living in the United States.
            “Yes,” she said. “There’s freedom—and YouTube.”
            “There’s also Facebook,” I reminded them. Jing doesn’t use Facebook much, but when Hua took out his phone and sent me a friend request, I readily accepted.