shu and joe

Best friends

Published on July 31, 2006

I saw the old man approaching and assumed, from experience, that he would be hitting me up for a few kuai. But not tonight. As he drew closer he reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and carefully combed through a cache of folded papers.

“From Germany?” he asked.
“Meiguo,” I replied.
Excitedly, he unfolded the paper, its softened edges and deep creases the product of years of confinement. The paper contained a faded xerox copy of a photograph and a short letter written in English. He asked if I could read it to him in Chinese.

Here is what it said:
“Dear Zhang,” it began. “Thank you for your letters. I am married and have a husband. Let’s be best friends. I hope that someday you will get married and think you will make a nice husband. Best wishes to your mom and dad and brother and aunt. Hope you enjoy the summer and good luck to you. –Adrienne”

I fumbled for a few minutes trying to remember the words for “married” and “husband”, but fortunately a man named David came along and asked what was going on. His English was cerainly better than my Chinese, but the handwriting threw him off, so we formed a chain of translation: what I read aloud in English he would speak to Zhang in Mandarin. The old man received the message in silence, just a few nods of the head. He thanked us both, and returned the letter to its place within his wallet.

Filed under: Beijing

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