A week ago I had fun with a friend I’ve known only since January—Ziyan Zhou, from Kaiping in southern China. She has given herself the American name Tracy because everyone can pronounce it easily. As she said, “It is familiar but not common, and the workers at Starbucks can say it when they can’t say my Chinese name.” Whatever works, I guess.
To me, it seems more respectful to call her by her Chinese name, but she is fine with either. She came here in August for her junior year at the University of Cincinnati after two years at a university in Guangzhou, China. She has done exceptionally well. She has a 4.0 and was inducted into the Alpha Lamba Delta Honor Society at UC. She didn’t realize it was such a big deal until she got there and other students had family and friends with them. She was alone. I so wished I had known about it and had gone with her!
We usually meet on Monday afternoons to study together from a workbook with stories from the book of Luke. She is interested in Christianity, but merely from an educational point of view. Her knowledge of Jesus Christ before we started studying together was as curse words.
Ziyan has a brother who is ten years younger. Her family had to pay a fine because of having two children. Her mother is a stay-at-home mom, but, according to Ziyan, doesn’t have many homemaking skills. In contrast is her aunt, who can sew and cook and keep house very well.
Ziyan was amazed at the houses in our little town. Her family lives in an apartment that they purchased, as do her friends and extended family. Theirs is larger than usual because her parents bought two adjacent apartments and tore down the wall between them. After 60 years, the apartment will revert to the government, who can then sell it again.
First we went to Finn’s sixth birthday party—a Star Wars party. She asked two questions: “Do American birthday parties always have themes?” and “Do American children always open their gifts in front of everyone?” In her culture, it is rude to open the gifts so everyone can see. They are opened later with just immediate family present. (That would make it easier for parents to keep up with who gave what!)
Steve asked her if they sing “Happy Birthday” in China. Yes, with the same tune but with Chinese words. They have cake and candles and a meal to celebrate.
Ziyan asked if we keep a genealogy book for each family as they do. She is written in her father’s family book but not her mother’s. Her mother is written in the family book, but only the males continue to have offspring recorded in the book.
I showed her the Shutterfly book that I made that includes many old family pictures. She said she likes that better because she has never even seen a picture of either great-grandmother. (Conversely, I remember both my great-grandmothers—one very well.)
We have only one more session before she leaves the university. She will visit Washington, D. C., then Seattle and San Francisco before returning to China. We hope to stay in touch. She is a precious young woman, eager to learn and quick to pick up on everything. I am touched by the responsibility she feels because her family has spent to send her here to study. She is very attached to her mother and hardly ever mentions her father. I think that says a lot about her culture, too. He works hard to support the family. They are already saving for her brother’s education. And she said he must be able to buy a home or he won’t be able to get a good wife. All the cultural sharing is fascinating to me, but I am especially grateful that I can tell her about Jesus. I hope she continues to read about him. I will really miss my fascinating conversations with Ziyan Zhou.