When I know that I have a 2h45min flight followed by a stopover and another 8 hrs flight, I prepare my reading gear and don’t bother about anything else. I set my mind to relaxing mode and so does my husband.
I didn’t read anything till the stopover. Beside me, there was a much more interesting ‘book’ to listen to.
Jian, a Chinese student of Electronics Engineering, is completing his masters degree at the Delft technical university in The Netherlands. He was flying now to an exciting one-week exchange program in Portugal.
Our small talk started from the moment we got to our seats. He greeted us with a welcoming and open smile. It’s not always that we get nice neighbors on flights…
He was afraid of the turbulence and that’s what brought us to the lengthier talk. We asked the trivial ‘where are you from’ and from there the book opened.
Telling me that Dutch food is the worse he has ever tried was very funny; all that cheese, bread and milk for lunch! And he’s so right. This is not real lunch.
His parents live in China and have worked hard commuting 2 hrs per day to make sure he would have a good education. He rewards their efforts by focusing on his studies; making sure he cooks enough dumplings to feed his brains.
We exchanged ideas about the places I had visited in China before, including Shanghai, which he never visited himself.
Then he asked me to imagine his age. I missed it for two years and he was extremely happy that I thought he was younger. He was once devastated when a Dutch girl gave him 6 more years of age! It breaks his heart, says Jian.
I guess I made him so happy that he gave me only 30 years of age. I won’t complain but I told him my real age to his dismay; we both cracked a big laugh when he asked me which secret products was I using to not have wrinkles. He wanted a proof of my family DNA explanation and saw pictures of my whole family on my iPhone.
When he couldn’t believe that the family genes are producing young looks, I confessed that we sleep on a bathtub filled with formaldehyde – for those who don’t know, it’s the chemical used to preserve cadavers! That was my joke of the day.
Now seriously. He talked about life in China. He feels that he has enough freedom and only those who get involved with politics have a different opinion. He believes that the students in Hong Kong are politically manipulated by opposition.
I challenged him on that one. He added: they want the money from mainland AND total independence. It doesn’t work. At least the people from Macau are more clear about their intentions. They want the money from mama mainland and don’t complain.
And he respects the attitude of the Taiwanese, who are against control but make sure they can manage their financial independence.
With a bit more of questioning he admitted to the selective Chinese freedom; he said that he renounced his right to vote in China as it is a joke anyways; there is only one candidate!
I questioned the way poor people live there; he gave me a pragmatic answer.
There is poverty everywhere and here in Europe. The difference is that you pay taxes to support them, and we are too many in China to get the same! Natural selection? I asked. Sadly, it is. Said Jian.
He asked me to understand that people were tired of corruption in China and the new president had to do something about it.
This gives him a feeling of being ‘heard’ as a citizen.
Ah, we talked about marriage and the unbalance between boys and girls. Boys need to have a car, and a good job to become a good catch. Other than that, it’s game over. He is not concerned about that and marriage is not on his priority list. Lucky him!
Jian means health but also beach in Chinese. His friends would call him the beach boy and that annoyed him but his mother refused to change his name!!
As we were landing he asked me for a quick Portuguese language course. He’s now able to say: hello, please, white Chardonnay – his love – thank you and goodbye.
We concluded that he would get drunk for the week with this limited and targeted vocabulary! Not a bad idea, he thought!
After landing we quickly exchanged our email address to continue our talk in Amsterdam with a nice glass of Chardonnay when we are both back to The Netherlands.
What I most appreciate from those unexpected encounters, besides enriching my knowledge about other cultures from those who live in it, is above all to confirm that despite our cultural differences, we can always connect with anyone in the world on a human level.
So why are people still fighting, because of religious or other differences?
Cheers to my new friend!