[Laos] Laeni Housok, Jiangsu Vocational College of Information Technology
I am He Song from Laos and I have been studied in China for two years.
On the campus I live in, there is romance of the seasons and gracefulness of the sceneries in southern China. You can appreciate flowers everywhere and come across friendly smiling faces. The teaching buildings are beautiful, magnificent and cozy. I can see students busy on their way to classrooms, smiles on their faces.
There are seriously looking but amiable people with red and blue badges, to whom we say “hello” whenever we meet. They are the ones who give us “first aids” when we encounter problems. They are our teachers and they are also like our family members. “Papa Li” is one of them.
I met him when I first arrived in China. It took me more than 30 hours from Laos to Wuxi by train, where I was not able to take a shower or brush my teeth. I looked slovenly and was afraid to talk to anyone. When I was standing in the train station and worrying about how to find my way to school, I saw the placard with my name holding by a young Chinese man in the big crowd at the exit of the station. I went towards him with hesitation.
He noticed me, came over and asked, “Are you He Song?” I nodded without looking at him. He looked happy. “Welcome to China!” he said. “I’m Li. You are home.” Although neither my Chinese nor my English was good enough at that time, I understood the word “home”, but with confusion: Is the “home” he said different from that in Lao?
Since then, we meet “Papa Li” as frequently as we have three meals a day. He is often with us – when we go to the canteens, when we buy daily necessities at supermarkets, when we apply for our bank cards... He takes us to various cultural activities, helping us to dispel our homesickness and adapt to campus life as soon as possible.
On December, 2019, an unexplained viral pneumonia broke out and spread like a ghost – fever, cough, severe lung infection… one after another. Where did the virus come from? How did it spread? How to treat it? No one knew.
Soon after, there came shop closure, highway closure, suspension of flights, lockdown of Wuhan… At school, we were not permitted to leave the campus, the New Year’s party was cancelled, the cultural activities were suspended… There were fewer and fewer people in school. Various messages popped up in my phone everyday like sea wave. My family in Laos suggested me to go back. We, at that time, were panic, helpless and anxious.
On the evening of the Chinese New Year, Teacher Li did not go home but accompanied us to have the big dinner. Together were some other teachers. He told me that it was a tradition in China to have New Year Eve’s dinner with one’s family, and that we did not need to be worried because in school they were our families. Unexpectedly, a female classmate got a sudden fever when it was almost midnight. Great panic appeared at that gloomy and snowy night. No one knew what to do. Li hurried back to school timely and called ambulance.
The sick girl was helped put on a protective suit and taken by the ambulance for hospital, Li accompanied her all the time. Anxieties were never eased among us because no one had ever had such an experience before. We stayed awake the whole night in the dormitories. It was not until the early morning that Li returned, whacked with bloodshot eyes, but his voice was still resonant. It was lucky that my female classmate just got a common cold. Our anxieties diminished gradually.
From that day on, Li gathered our needs in the class group chat every day and came to our dormitories with bags of necessities. He helped us take temperatures, ate with us, listened to our chatters, comforted us, cheered us up…We gradually felt close to him and started joking with him. We called him our “deliveryman,” which he accepted happily.
“Mr Li, aren’t you afraid? You come to see us every day, bring us necessities and accompany us to the hospital,” I asked him. He answered honestly, “Of course I’m afraid. But now you are in China, so the college is your home. I’m your ‘deliveryman’ and your ‘papa’. You won’t be afraid if you have your ‘papa’ with you. It’s my responsibility to keep you safe.”
“Papa Li” is very young, and he often smiles shyly before us, the special “grown-up children.” Now we are used to calling him our “Papa Li.” It is he who makes us feel at home though in a foreign country and helps us get rid of afraid or lonely even in an unsafe environment. This is how a dad should be like, I believe. In fact, there are many other “Papas Li” around us. It is because of them that we feel touched and attached. It is because of them that China is warmer and lovelier.
So, “Papa Li”, thank you! And, I love you!
The story is from "My Beautiful Encounter with China" Essay Competition organized by the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchanges (CSCSE).