Remember those students I call “my babies?” The ones I taught for four years and watched them grow up? The ones who stayed with me when I was in the hospital 5 years ago? The one’s that sobbed into my shoulder as they graduated and said goodbye? The ones I have visited over the past years in cities all over China?
Well, we still keep in touch and these days they are all getting married so I’m getting a lot of wedding invites all over China. Unfortunately due to the distance and my schedule, I can’t go to all of them, but last weekend I was able to go to one of “my boys,” wedding, Jorsen!
It was in Huzhou, his hometown, a peaceful canal city. I was picked up friday night by Alan, one of my other boys and as he drove me to the hotel we chatted non-stop, catching up on more than a years worth of news.
At the hotel I was greeted by Silmon, a groomsman. As Alan went to his wife’s home (she was a Huzhou local) Silmon and I chatted deep into the night. I briefly saw the groom, but he was crazy in preparation for the next day so I didn’t bother him much.
The next morning I got to watch the groom picking up the bride, and them going to his family home (Chinese traditions) before we all went to the hotel for the reception. The reception was where everyone was gathering so it was a joyous reunion of hugs and chatting.
The wedding finished at 12:30 and Jorsen told us we were all invited for dinner at 4:30 so we hung around the hotel. It was a beautiful, traditional complex with shops and sitting rooms, so we found a place to play mahjong and sit and chat. I had a chance to talk to some of my other boys one-on-one to see what they have been up to.
I’ve always been unusually close to them, and they have always let me in on their true feelings. This time was no difference. We knew we didn’t have much time so whenever I chatted one-on-one they just immediately unloaded all their problems.
These kids graduated 4 years ago. Now they are in their late 20’s and are in “the thick of it” in terms of jobs and relationships. Their youthful optimism has faded and they have had some hard years of working a lot for little payoff. We’ve all been there, and I couldn’t help but chuckle as so many problems seemed familiar to my younger self.
Every single boy secretly confided in me that they were the most worthless and the least successful of all the other boys. The first one I listened to with a sympathetic ear, the second one I smiled, and when the third one confided in me I couldn’t help but laugh.
“ALL of you think you are the worst off!” I said.
“So which one of us is the biggest loser?” my student asked.
“None of you!” I said. “Each of you has advantages and disadvantages.”
One boy has a wife, a house and a stable job. But his job pays peanuts and there is very little room for growth. The other boys have more potential for success because they started their own company.
The two boys who started their own business have been working hard for more than a year with little reward. They are still in the early stages and one (who has a fiancée and house) feels his responsibilities outweigh his current income and he’s not sure he can continue his business if it doesn’t pay off soon. He envies the other boy who has no girlfriend and no house. Meanwhile, the boy with no girlfriend or house feels like he is “behind” his classmates and they all must pity him.
Even the boy who got married, the boy who was lauded and admired all day, talked to me privately about his fears. While he is happy to be married (and will be a father in a few months) he is overwhelmed and unprepared by all the new pressures this marriage (and the baby) brings.
That’s why I couldn’t help but laugh. Which one of us haven’t been in their exact position? They all only saw their classmates advantages and didn’t think about the pressures the other ones had. It’s so typical right? We see our neighbor with the big house and nice cars and know nothing about their crushing debt. Or we see the perfect couple without knowing their daily arguments and sleepless nights. As someone who is older I realize that everyone has their own struggles, but these kids, too wrapped up in their own lives, can’t see it. Not yet.
That’s why I keep getting more and more pleasure from knowing them. Not that I like their struggles, but it’s just so gratifying to be in touch with them, and so gratifying to see them grow up and deal with it all. I’ve never had kids myself (and don’t want to) but with them I can understand what you parents feel so proud about. I play a small role in their lives, but even when they tell me how poor or pathetic they are I can’t help but feel proud. Because they’re not. Not really. They’re just young and figuring it all out. And they’ll get there like we all do.
Also, my boys totally took care of me this wedding. From picking me up, to making sure I was always included in all the plans, my boys never left me alone for a second. One boy even spent the night just so he could drive me to the train station in the morning (and then asked me if he needed to walk me to the train station door despite parking literally in front of it.) I love that even after all this time my feelings aren’t one sided and even if I don’t see them for a year or more, I know they are always there for me. As I will always be there for them.
Also, please check out this vlog I made about the wedding for China Plus America. I’ve been a featured vlogger for the past few months about my life in China. I’ll put up the other one’s soon, but enjoy this one about the wedding!
Becky in China #11: Chinese Wedding
Sweet wedding ceremony! Becky invites us to attend her student's wedding. What are the differences between Chinese and American weddings? The answers are in the video. Stay tuned every Thursday morning to see more of Becky's life in China. #ExpatDiaries
Posted by China Plus America on Thursday, May 10, 2018
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