Friday, March 24, 2006

The Kindness of Mr. Jiang

We've always tried to encourage a respect for diversity and culture in our children. We enjoy traveling, and take the boys with us whenever we go somewhere cool, like Germany, Mexico, or Canada. I think the exposure to foreign cultures is really good for the boys, and the world could use more children who are raised with a global mindset, an appreciation for the differences we all have. (See the MLK quote in the sidebar to the right.)

Together, we study the large map on the boys' wall, placing pins in places we've visited. The boys enjoy watching the Clustrmap on my web page to see which countries are hitting my web pages. And Eddie's favorite subject in school is geography.

But that's not what makes me most proud. Why I'm especially proud of Eddie is how open-minded he is. In his class, his best friends are an African-American, a Mexican, and Chinese kid. In a lily-white county, it's nice that Eddie has found three little friends who most kids would probably ignore or, worse, tease. Eddie has been always eager to help these kids with their English, and most importantly, has been an honest friend for them.

His best friend in class right now is a boy nicknamed Tao Tao (pronounced Toto). He's a Chinese boy who just moved into Eddie's class last year. He started school with zero understanding of English. Eddie instantly took him under his wing.

We invited Tao Tao over to play at our house after school one day, and communicating with his father, Mr. Jiang, had its challenges. Mr. Jiang is a super nice gentleman, but his English is not good. Nevertheless, we arranged a play-date, and the boys had a great time. The boys played all afternoon, and as evening wore on, and it got dark, I began to wonder if Mr. Jiang knew how to get to our house and when he was coming. I finally found his phone number and called him, and through a fractured conversation, we arranged somehow for Mr. Jiang to come and pick up Tao Tao.

Well, Mr. Jiang turned out to be a super nice guy and invited Eddie to later come to his farm and play with Tao Tao. Eddie couldn't wait! He hounded us for weeks to go to Tao Tao's farm.

Today, we let Eddie go home on the bus with Tao Tao for a play-date on the farm. Eddie was so excited! Mr. Jiang said he wanted to feed Eddie dinner, and so I arranged to pick him up after dinner.

I called Mr. Jiang, and again, after a difficult conversation, somehow, I got the directions and drove out to the farm to pick Eddie up. What a great farm! They grow green onions, apparently some kind of Chinese variety. Mr. Jiang rents a house for his family, newly arrived from China. They've lived on the farm for less than two years.

As I was driving down the gravel drive, over this little white bridge across the lake, I was curious which house of the three on the farm was his. Curious, that is, until I saw the Chinese balloon lanterns and tea lights strung up in front of the house. Then, I was pretty sure which house to drive up to.

Mr. Jiang ran out to meet us, and ushered us into his home. As we walked up to the door, he proudly showed us the 50 gallon aquarium on his porch. He had a half dozen goldfish in the aquarium and three crappie he had caught in his lake. We talked about what good fish crappie were and how tasty they were! This was something we both could understand and agree on!

As we walked into the house, there were several mattresses stacked in a room off the foyer. On the top of them was a new litter of kittens, only 20 days old. Luke had never seen kittens this small, and got a real kick out of petting them.

We walked through the kitchen, and it was apparent that Eddie had a wonderful dinner! Egg rolls, barbecued pork chops and dumplings were still piled high on the table, though it was apparent there was quite a bit eaten already. Still, no sign of Eddie.

We walked further in, and Mr. Jiang showed us a goose egg he and the boys found, which he instructed us to keep. Eddie was told to make scrambled eggs with it... easily as big as three chicken eggs. We finally walked to the back TV room, and found Eddie and Tao Tao playing Gran Turismo on their PS2. The boys were having a hell of a good time, and would not be interrupted. So Luke and I sit down, and Mr. Jiang shows us more hospitality.

He places a huge bowl of pistachios in front of us, candied sweet potatoes, and a glass of Chinese tea. Luke starts power eating pistachios like there's no tomorrow. Something that resembled Chinese Idol was playing on their huge television screen. Meanwhile, we visit for a while with Mr. Jiang, again working through our English/Chinese divide and finding common ground in phrases like, "Eddie had fun today?"

"What a nice farm you have."

"Eddie come anytime!"

We finally made our apologies; we had to leave for a cub scout meeting. We grabbed our goose egg, and Mr. Jiang filled up a huge paper bag of pistachios and thrust it into Luke's hands. Luke was thrilled. We have plenty of pistachios at home, but that's not the point.

As we drove off, Eddie told me that Mr. Jiang was so nice to him. He took the boys into the greenhouse to see the onions. He drove them around on the farm's tractor--letting the boys steer the tractor themselves. And Mr. Jiang rowed the boys across the lake and let them fish. All of this in something like four hours!

Eddie was jubilant. After cub scouts, he ran into the house recounting the entire day to his Mom. And Luke was thrilled to go up to Becky and announce, "Mom, do you want to see my nut bag? It's really big! Look at my nut bag!" Yeah, I enjoyed that one.

In any case, it was a great day for Eddie, and we hope in a few weeks we can return the hospitality to Mr. Jiang and his family. Thousands of miles from home, in a strange country, and not speaking a bit of the language, they found room in their home to show enormous kindness to our boy. More of these bridges should be built... the world could use it.

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