One of my most meaningful experiences today was a short conversation with an elderly man in人民公园 (aka. rénmíngōngyuán/ the People’s Park) of Chengdu. This was not because I practiced my Chinese or learned a new skill, but the interaction itself differed from my other interactions in China and made that special for me. When we first went to play badminton, I took a video of Nicole attempt to play as well as she could against a skilled, middle-aged, local man. On the bench beside the “court” sat an elderly man, and instead of judging or observing us three loud American teenagers with the same distasteful glare I have caught many times while in China, he had a smile across his face. He was seeing us do something so familiar to him, but obviously much more foreign to us. Nicole finished attempting to play and the lady who owned the racket insisted I try a round of badminton myself, which not going to lie I was not as bad as you would think I would be. We moved over to the side of the court where the same old man was still watching us. He said to me in Chinese, “你打羽毛球打得不错 (you play badminton pretty well)” which insured a conversation. We told him our interests in Chinese and why we were in China, and the more we told him the happier he got. He was so opposite from me in many seemingly ways, but I still communicated with him with ease and joy, and that was an experience I hope I will not forget.
The highest point awarding task in our “scavenger hunt” was to learn how to 打麻将 (play mahjong). After asking maybe three different people, we found a tea house where we could play mahjong. Once inside the tea house, we asked around again for someone who could teach us mahjong, and I don’t know why, but I was surprised when the people who worked there were the ones that taught us. We sat down and as soon as the mahjong set was “assembled” I was already lost. Luckily, along with the mahjong set came a crowd of waitresses and other observers, and the waitress sat on the ledge behind me. She was the person who instructed me for all of the mahjong game, which basically taught me the overall rules of mahjong. I had no clue of the majority of what she said, but I was determined to learn something that was again foreign yet unknown to me. Even though I lost to Tobey, learning from someone using different aspects of communication was yet another skill I have learned along with how to play mahjong.