I’ve been working for a few years as an English teacher at a technical high school in Ningbo, a prosperous and cosmopolitan port city just south of Shanghai on the eastern seaboard of China. A few weeks ago, I had a couple of days off from school during the Dragon Boat festival.
I took this opportunity to travel to my fiancee’s native city of Susong in the landlocked Anhui province of central China. One warm evening, we were buying fruit from a vendor on a busy city street. Being a smaller city less frequented by foreigners, we soon attracted a few curious Susong lookie-loos.
Soon enough, one intrepid older woman spoke up, asking my companion in the local dialect, “So how many brothers does your friend have? Have you been to his hometown?”
My fiancee dutifully answered back in the Anhui language: “He has one older brother, auntie. And yes, I traveled to his American hometown of Vancouver, Washington, with him last summer.”
The old woman’s interest had been piqued. “How far away is his hometown?” she asked. “How long does it take on the high-speed train?”
At this point the fruit vendor interjected herself into the conversation. “Auntie, America is across the ocean,” she cautioned. “You have to take an airplane to get there!”
The old woman contemplated this new, puzzling information. We could see the doubt swelling up in her eyes. Airplanes? Oceans? These were brand-new concepts to her. As she shuffled away, she seemed to be thinking: “No. It’s just not possible. The shiny high-speed trains of China go everywhere. At least everywhere worth traveling to.”
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