It is a ubiquitous custom in China that when an elderly person comes on the bus a younger person will stand up and give the elderly person his/her seat. On Sunday morning, March 3rd, white-haired, elderly-looking John got on Bus 16 for a 40 minute bus ride to attend church at the Hanlin Hotel; but, oddly enough, no one offered him a seat. Then a young lady who was standing told another young person who was seated to stand up and give John the seat. The person complied and when John gratefully took the seat he started up a conversation with the young lady who we now know is the incredible Lily. He introduced us as English teachers at Shandong University and offered to help her improve her English if she was willing to do so; which she was. That was the beginning of a great friendship.
She enjoyed the opportunity to practice her English with us and we enjoyed giving her "first" opportunities. Plus, Lily gave us incredible assistance with all manner of things during our second semester that we didn't have first semester, which really made our China experience more positive and memorable. Lily is an expert at bargaining in the night markets because she earned her way through college selling merchandise on the street/night markets.
We took Lily to Jennie's Cafe where she attempted to eat with a knife, fork & spoon for the first time. It wasn't easy for her…kind of like us manipulating chopsticks for the first time. We took Lily with us when we dined out at a Chinese restaurant and she helped us order delicious and interesting Chinese dishes that we would not have known to get without her.
Lily was with us once while we were tutoring three young elementary students in oral English, and she told us that she did not start school in her village until she was nine years old. While she couldn't attend one of the better high schools, she still applied herself to her studies and learned English quite well in record time.
The year before we met Lily, she graduated from a three-year technical university which was a few miles away from Shandong University and now she has a good job in Jinan. She rents an apartment located about a 20-minute bus ride from our apartment, with five other working gals. Her apartment is very old; older than the apartments that were built to accommodate China's Soviet-style heating system in which radiator-heat is turned on November 1st and turned off April 1st. So, there is no heat in her apartment during the winter. Neither was there any heat in her village home where she grew up. As of today, the only time Lily experienced heat during the winter was during the 3 years she lived in a dormitory while she attended the technical university.
To visit her family, Lily travels for five hours on an old, slow train for which she pays a standing-room-only ticket; and then takes a one-hour bus ride to her village. So it was with great delight that she took her first high-speed train ride with us. We took her with us on our trips to Qingdao, Mt. Tai, the Kong estate (Confucius), and Nanjing; which was the first time she experienced good American-style hotels and restaurants. And she enjoyed her first Chinese feast in a fancy Chinese restaurant with us. It was a lot of fun giving Lily interesting "first" experiences. Perhaps the best 'first' was when we rode the motorized boats at Daming Lake and let her drive the boat around the lake for an hour. This inspired her to study and take lessons to get her first driver's license. She went on her first tour with American tourists on the northern Silk Road which really helped her practice her English. All the Americans loved her like we do and she was such a helpful bargainer.
Our first trip to China was magnified because of the 'first' experiences we shared with the incredible Lily.