Back in the USA

No sooner had Kim, the 18 year old Chinese kid who lives with me, landed in China, where he went for school vacation to visit his parents, when he texted me that he needed help. Literally he texted, “I need your help”. I have received these SOS texts from Kim before and I am always apprehensive about what might follow. Once, he left his soccer shoes at home and he had a game that day. Another time he was having trouble with his eyes and thought he should go to a doctor. So, what was it that he needed my help with this time?

When I texted back inquiring as to the problem, I received the following, “I left my Immigration paper”. Well, this sounded serious but something I know nothing about. He went on to ask me to look in his backpack for some official Immigration paper (it wasn’t there!) and then the top of his desk (I found an F-1 paper and texted Kim a picture of it so I could be sure it was the right form). Yes, I had indeed found the right papers! Step one complete.

He then asked me to send them to Xi’an in western China, his hometown, by 2 day mail. Ok, sounded like an easy plan. When asked for his home address he texted three lines of Chinese. Whoa! I don’t read, write nor can I copy Chinese. But, I knew people who could…

So, after school I drove over and picked up JZ (American name), the Chinese boy that lives with my friends, so he could accompany me to the Mail Store and write the address on the letter to go to Kim. Unfortunately, the Mail Store told me that there was no 2 day delivery to Xi’an; it would take 9 days. Now I got nervous. Kim was due home in 12 days and with the time change, etc. I didn’t know if the papers would get to him in time. I decided not to chance these very important original immigration papers to the Chinese mail system.

Now what? I asked my Chinese friends if Kim could use a copy of the papers to get back in the USA and they all said absolutely not. But, Jill’s (American name) husband was returning to Shanghai around the time Kim would be changing planes in Shanghai and he would be glad to rendezvous with Kim to hand him his papers. Sounded feasible. But, when asked, Kim told me that he was not going through Shanghai as he had when going to China; he was changing planes in Beijing. So, thanks but no thanks to Jill’s husband.

In the meantime, I emailed a copy of the F-1 to Kim in case there was any way he could use a copy to get through customs even though all signs pointed to no.

And, then, it struck me that the best solution was to head to the airport just prior to Kim’s arrival and beg someone to take the papers to Customs so that they would be there when Kim passed through. On the day of Kim’s arrival into Boston I drove to Logan Airport, International Terminal, Hanian Airlines and walked right up to an employee behind the ticket desk. I explained the situation and Harry (American name) told me that he would take the papers to the plane and hand them to Kim. No begging required. When the plane landed I texted Kim to look out for Harry.

Harry did go on the plane and handed the Immigration papers to Kim. Kim sailed through Customs and he was back in the USA! And people think immigration is easy!!!


Fortune Cookie Game

Happy Chinese New Year! I am steeped in Chinese culture this year because I am hosting an 18 year old boy, Kim Sun, for the entire school year. When he arrived in September I made a pact with my good friends, Marybeth and Irwin, who are also hosting a Chinese teenager, JZ, that all of us would go out for Chinese food every Thursday night. We have made good on our pact and every Wednesday or Thursday we start the round robin texting/Wechatting about who can come, where we should go and what time works for everyone.

The number of invitees have grown to include my friend Kathy and her boarder, Hao. We also invite Jill, a lovely Chinese woman I met at Kim’s agent’s house, and her six year old son, Hanyuan. So now, there are up to 9 people who join together on Thursday nights to share a Chinese meal and conversation.

Our local restaurant is Asian Gourmet – a fabulous Taiwanese restaurant that we all like. The Chinese among us say that it is “quite good” “almost like home” and we Americans think it is very “authentic” and “delicious”. I make a reservation on Thursday so we can all sit at the big round table with plenty of room for all the food. When we arrive, the two teenagers and the six year each get to choose a dish (Hanyuan orders seafood hotpot every week!) and then the rest of us fill in with a couple more dishes , some vegetables, rice and maybe an appetizer like beef wrapped in scallion pancakes or pan fried dumplings. When the food is served we pass and taste and comment on all the dishes. We order different things (except the seafood hotpot!) every week so there is always a great variety.

At the end of the meal when the waiter puts the nine fortune cookies on the table, everyone comes to life – especially Hanyuan (who is bored at the adult talk but loves the two teenage boys who have taken him under their wings). Hanyuan does the unwrapping of the cookies – opening the paper, breaking the cookies in half and pulling out the fortunes. He then passes the slips of paper to the 4 Americans. The four of us take turns reading the Chinese word printed on the paper and the Chinese folks try to guess what word we are saying. It is uproarious! Our Chinese is so bad that sometimes noone can translate what we are saying. Other times we say the Chinese word correctly, by chance I am afraid, and one of the Chinese yells out “pear” and we are so thrilled that we have said the foreign word correctly that we high five and get excited that perhaps we are learning some Chinese after all. Hanyuan just laughs at us when we make mistakes – he thinks we Americans are quite foolish when we totally mispronounce a simple Chinese word like “cat” or “pig”.


Racial Slurs hit home

For the second time in 20 years of selling real estate I heard a racial slur unintentionally directed at me. Recently, while discussing a pricing strategy for their home with a white couple in their 70’s, the wife said matter of factly, “Well, the price is fine but people may try to Jew us down.” That’s when my heart stopped. I had a hard time keeping my composure. I thought my face might have turned red, but, if so, the man and woman didn’t notice a thing and we went on with the conversation. The first time I heard this phrase was almost 18 years ago when a 30ish woman – white and married to a Filipino man – said it to me and I couldn’t believe my ears. And, here it was again – 20 years later.

It is unbelievable to me that in this day and age I would hear such a thing. It shows a complete lack of respect – especially since I am Jewish and that fact never even occurs to them. They use the phrase “Jew them down” like they were saying, “It may rain.” What are these people thinking?

I never said a word either time. I know this sounds like cowardice on my part and it probably is. Both conversations took place at the couples’ kitchen tables and I was in the position of trying to gain their confidence so that they would list their homes with me. If they choose me to sell their houses I would make $6,000 to $10,000. This is how I make a living and the money is very important to me. I also don’t know how to correct them without shouting, “You racist pigs! How dare you? I am Jewish and you have just insulted me. Don’t you think before you speak? Or do you use racial epithets against all kinds of people?” I don’t have the self control to calmly say, “Noone should use that phrase or any other phrase that contains a racial slur.”

In this day of Mr. Obama and Ferguson, in the age of gay marriage, in the year of immigration reform, is it possible that people are still using Jew as a verb to mean stingy, tight, money hungry? Apparently it is. If folks off-handedly use an anti-semitic remark I can only wonder what they are saying about people of color.

No, I didn’t say anything to the woman at the dining room table. But, I certainly did not think I would work well with this couple. And, the thought crossed my mind that they would not want to work with a person like me if they ever found out that I was Jewish

Coda – 20 years ago I did sell the house of the woman who remarked, “Jew the price down.” I remember being particularly appalled with her use of this phrase while she sat across from a husband who was not white. I heard a few years later that they got divorced and I felt relieved that he got away from her.


The Arrival

Kim Sun arrived at my house in late September – a few weeks after school started. I had agreed to host a Chinese boy for the school year after my wonderful experience hosting two Chinese boys for a month over the summer. All I knew about Kim was that he was 18 years old, came from a city in western China near Tibet and would be attending the Waldorf High School in Belmont and that his agent described him as “pure” whatever that means.

In hindsight Kim’s arrival was portentous. The day before he was supposed to be at my house I texted Kim’s agent, Ying, (actually Wechatted his agent – more on Wechat and the agent in later posts) to find out what time I could expect Kim so I would be home to welcome him. Ying texted back that Kim would not be arriving the next day as his Visa was being held up. She was sure it would be worked out in the next few days because it was just a matter of paying another fee which Kim’s family didn’t know about. Ying said that she would get back to me as to the actual arrival day and time which would probably be in a week.

A week went by and then I received a surprising text from Ying. Kim’s mother was coming with him to America. My first thought was, “Oh my God! I hope they don’t think the mother is staying in my house! Not only don’t I have an extra bedroom for her, but I really don’t have the time or inclination to spend that kind of energy dealing with Mother Sun especially with so little notice!”

When questioned for more details, Ying assured me that Kim and his mother would be staying in a hotel. He would start school right away traveling back and forth between Belmont and the hotel in Cambridge. She would let me know when Kim would be moving into my house.

After about 10 days I heard from Ying that Kim and his mother would like her to bring them to my house the next afternoon so they could meet me, see his room and bring his clothes over. I agreed and made sure I had cake and juice to serve them because I thought that I was certainly expected to serve food and drink as they would in China.

We had a very pleasant meeting. Kim seems to be a lovely boy – fairly tall and slim with a wide face and glasses. His mother was a pretty little thing – fully made up and dressed in a navy blue skirt,a sparkly white sweater and heels. It was the first time I had met Ying who turned out to be a realtor like myself; very chatty and very nice. She translated the conversation between the mother and I while Kim sat quietly.

My Llasa Apso, Ricky, joined us in the living room which seemed to tickle Kim but not his mother who wanted nothing to do with Ricky as she was afraid of dogs. Ying went over some school and insurance forms with Mrs. Sun and they handed all the papers to Kim so he could take them to school the next day. Kim promptly forgot them and I found them in the living room after they left.

After we ate our snack, Mrs. Sun and Kim went upstairs to his room to unpack his suitcase. I was so impressed that Kim’s mother came with him all the way from China to get him settled. It certainly showed a deep affection for her only child and I was pleased to be dealing with such a nice family.

Mrs. Sun handed me a gift before she left – a lovely gold scarf.

Of course, I attempted to pin down the day Kim would actually move into my house. Ying told me that first Kim was going on a 3 day field trip with the school to a camp in New Hampshire and would come to me the day he arrived home from this excursion. Finally I had the date for Kim to move into my house – 3 weeks after I had originally been told.

But, now that Kim has lived with me for 4 months, I realize that is par for the course in hosting a Chinese child – some things you are told, other things you are not told, some things are lost in translation, some things are Cultural differences and the rest is a mystery.