邓山姆 DengShanMu China Blog
or 邓文轩 Deng Wenxuan as my other Chinese name is.
American: Sam Stuart
level 1 part 1
The first thing that comes to mind on my trip to the Far East? It’s more like a clusterbomb of thoughts. One of them is the song “What’s in A Name?” by the artist Petra. This is due to the fact that I have been renamed for the convenience of my gracious Chinese hosts, who with the exception of my boy Chao, speak no English. The name I have been bestowed with is of exceptional satisfaction. ShanMu（山姆）, which is a transliteration of my nickname “Sam”, is pronounced in Chinese similar to the common English name Shamoo. That’s right, just like the whale. Chao on the other hand will now be known by his Chinese name Wang Chao (王超). So in other words, I’m thinking, “Wang Chao and Shamoo come to China” has potential as a great comic strip, almost as good, I’m sure, as the original “Chao comes to America” would have been when Chao came to Lafayette for the first time.
The travel was really bomb-digity. We left Easton, Pa at 1:00 A.M. on Monday morning, flew from Newark, NJ, to San Francisco, CA, to Beijing, China, to Shanghai, China, where we arrived at 9:00 P.M on Tuesday night. A total of 21 hours flying. I, at least, was at a total loss for time. We had traveled into the past and into the future in one trip, packed like sardines into a sold out airplane. I made some new friends on the long flights, and there were fewer and fewer non-Chinese as our journey proceeded.
level 1 part 2
Arrival in China! It is times like these that I think to myself, what was I thinking? Chao and I were separated immediately after the plane touched down. Patience is not really a virtue to be kept after being locked on a plane for 12 hours. The seatbelt chime went off, and it was on. A race I wasn’t ready for, a true Chinese fire drill to get off that plane! I grabbed Chao’s bag and he grabbed mine and in the midst of a current of bodies I found myself alone in Beijing Airport which must be one of the biggest in the world. Chao did say ‘see you in Changchun’ right before landing. Was he serious?
It all hit me like a tidal wave when I was walking through terminal after terminal. It seemed like my whole world had changed. I was in another country. I never thought that this was going to happen. I remember distinctly saying to myself a few years ago in high school, “I am never leaving the United States. Why would I? I have absolutely everything I could ever want or need right here. Anything else would simply be a downgrade.” I was the pinnacle of ethnocentricity. I don’t know what happened to me at Lafayette College, but the reality was that I was in China right now.
I think a lot of the underlying cause of never wanting to leave the U.S. was rooted in fear and comfort. Fear of not being comfortable. There is a comfort in familiarity and a fear that accompanies the departure thereof. Well, we might as well rename Project Boma, project fear factor, because I had essentially been thrown into the fire in my first moments abroad. (That’s a good thing for the record.) Looking around, words that I couldn’t read, sounds that I couldn’t understand, baggage that was not my own, a phone that did not work, with a new name I could barely pronounce. Everyone looked different, dressed different, was different.
The nighttime darkness prevented me from even seeing the baseline familiarity of the sky, just darkness. It was cold. Then I took a deep breath and started walking. I somehow put my intelligence back over my emotions, and figured if I could get to the baggage claim, then I could see Wang Chao again. And holding off thought after thought, I saw him and his lime green polo and baby blue sweater. A sight for sore eyes. After him going off on me for disappearing, I didn’t have time to think about much after that, since we aborted our checked luggage with Cui Xiao, so we didn’t miss our next flight to Shanghai.
We saw her parents as we left and they gave us some gifts of food in the moments of our interaction. (They are the ones who call me Deng Wenxuan.) Then we sprinted, literally to the bus, and barely made our next flight. (Our flight to Beijing was delayed).
During the chase I did have time to reflect on gift giving. I had brought gifts for the parents of both friends I travelled to China with, on Wang Chao’s insistence. Some stylish gifts for his parents, who may not appreciate a cultural gift as much, but some cultural gifts for Cui Xiao’s parents who she thought would. When they gave us the food, I knew in my heart that they were going to love the fruit cake that I had packed just for them. A true American Classic.
I’ve yet to give any presents, but my presence, thus far. It’s funny that such a small gesture can mean so much. I just hope I’m not trying to give a gift as a classic way to reimburse my hosts, which would result in me falling drastically short in the balance of reciprocity.
What a lesson in grace this trip has been! I find myself totally dependent on Wang Chao, like I am small child. I need help knowing where to go, how to get food, how to find a bathroom, everything. Questions about what’s going on have eclipsed for the time being the thicker cultural insight questions.