Shushu and I headed towards my home for the next 12 days in silence. After what seemed like a never ending stretch of walking uphill, we finally arrived. He led me upstairs to my room to unpack and abruptly left the house to complete an errand before lunch. I was nervous and left alone in this unfamiliar home. Worries about my stay in Hong Po swarmed through my mind—With my limited Chinese vocabulary, how were my Ayi and Shushu going to understand me? What if the next 12 days were going to be filled with miscommunications and awkward silences? Was I going to be able to create personal connections with them in less than two weeks?
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a cowbell getting louder from the distance. Soon after, I heard hooves downstairs and rushed out to see what was going on. A cow had entered the house and started eating from a bowl filled with scraps of food outside the kitchen. I went in for a closer look. It then began to eat from a pot of plants and flowers nearby and left after walking around the kitchen. Confused by the situation, I assumed that Shushu let the cow in to eat. I was completely wrong. When Shushu arrived and saw the state of his plants, he turned to me with a look of shock in his face. I panicked. He then proceeded to motion his hands above his head to emulate a cow’s horns, put his arms into an ‘x’ position and pointed to the gate. I wasn’t supposed to let the cow into the house! I let out a nervous laugh and said “dui bu qi” (sorry). He smiled and motioned for me to go into the kitchen for lunch as Ayi had just arrived. When we sat down, Shushu started speaking to Ayi in Tibetan and pointed to the plants. I assumed he was telling her about what had just happened. Instinctively, I smiled, shrugged my shoulders and motioned to my brain as I made funny faces in attempt to lighten the mood. We all ended up laughing together throughout the meal as I continued making fun of myself.
As the days passed, Ayi and I did activities together using a limited amount of Chinese to communicate. We would pit wild peaches for four hours and burst out into laughter when one of us farted or slipped, we chirped together around the farm as we looked for her baby chickens who had managed to escape from their cage, we cooked dinner with Shushu, looked at each other’s family photos and she eventually asked me to pluck out her white hairs with tweezers as we sat together in silence. Every night, the three of us would gather into the entertainment room and watch a TV show for 2 hours. Although it was all in Chinese, I got really into it and we would all scream and clutch each other during intense scenes. They also asked me to perform for them during the mid-Autumn festival when they found out that I danced. Ayi was insistent on making me use her socks to dance outside since it was raining and would get dirty. They filmed it on WeChat to share with all their relatives and friends. I felt as though I was part of their family.
Reflecting upon my stay in Hong Po, I found that my cow mistake and the many more that followed opened doors for us all to laugh and helped build our relationships with each other. The power of body language as a main form of communication also surprised me in its ability to create personal connections.
On the last night, Shushu handed me a sack filled with apples and pears he personally picked for me to bring back to Kunming. My departure from Hong Po left both me and my Ayi teary eyed as we hugged each other goodbye.
Photo courtesy: Mark Lumley 🙂