Sometimes it’s the little moments which make all the difference.
During the afternoon of the Bai Song Festival, Harry and I sat down, chatting, on a hard stone bench in the shade of a young green tree, watching a plethora of people racing to and from the festivals various activities. After a little while, Jesse joined us, and we struck up a conversation with the old, graying nainai (grandmother) sitting next to us. Her smile shown with warmth, despite her missing teeth which she had instantly pointed out to us. Her eyes crinkled when she laughed and she sat perfectly content anise the songs, shouts, and commotion of the festival. She had come with her three daughters, and suddenly, she pointed to a group of children walking by in traditional Bai costumes, proudly telling us, “Those are my grandchildren.” Grinning from ear to ear with her half empty smile, she called them over, and the two began to play and sing for their grandmother. A crowd soon formed, surrounding the two talented young Bai children. I looked over at nainai, her face shown, glowing with pride as she watched her grandchildren embrace her culture and show their talent. The two finished to raucous applause, then departed down the stairs after the rest of their group.
A few moments later, a seven year old girl ran up to nainai. She grabbed the old woman’s hands and gleefully pulled her up, begging her to come dance. The nainai slowly got her feet, and with the toothless grin followed her enthusiastic young granddaughter back into the festival.
Another moment started with a simple selfie, a staple of life as a foreigner in China. The girl and boy approached us eagerly. “You’re so pretty,” the girl said, “Can we take a picture?” “Of course,” we replied, and we snapped a couple selfies. After a few questions we learned the girl was 14, the boy 10, and the two were cousins, at the festival with their mothers. Having practiced our Chinese a bit, we departed to continue exploring the festival. Later that day, Mandy, Michal, Elizabeth and I were exploring the various stalls and vendors on the street below the temple when we ran into the two again. They crunched on rainbow sticky rice balls as we licked our ice creams. We began to chat again. Michal invited the boy to do push-ups with him; I spoke to the girl and learned she lived not too far from the festival and she came every year. She had a warm, friendly smile and was curious about everything: where we were from, what we were doing there, and where we’d learned Chinese.
That evening, Mandy and Michal had started something of a spectacle dancing enthusiastically to a street performer’s songs. The girl and boy found us again, joining Elizabeth and I on the edge of the throngs of Chinese people watching and filming Mandy, Michal, and the street performers. The girl and I began to speak in earnest, and her personality shown through. She was of the Bai ethnic group, speaking their language at home and learning Mandarin and English in school. She loved studying history and playing basketball, and talked to Michal about her favorite NBA players. She spoke of her drive to work hard and do well in school to improve her family’s social status since they didn’t make much money, describing her dream of one day traveling to Los Angeles with her best friend.
Before we left, she borrowed my notebook and scrawled our a brief note in Chinese. “大姐姐,” she wrote (older sister, a colloquial term for an older girl), “I’m so happy to have met you and I hope you have lots of fun in China. I like you very much.” Finally, she pulled a red string, beaded bracelet which many of the Bai wore from her wrist and placed it around mine, grinning.