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My beautiful encounter with China

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By David Weldon | | Updated: Feb 24, 2022

[The United States] David Weldon, University of Science and Technology of China

David Weldon (R) cycles from Hefei to Nanchang with his friends. [Photo provided to]

First seeing the title of the writing competition, I flipped through the dictionary to find the phrase “邂逅” has the meaning of a meeting; but for a better understanding, and I checked the dictionary again to get a more detailed meaning—an unexpected encounter.

Later, when I asked one of my Chinese friends about it, she explained the word means an accidental, unexpected encounter with a romantic feeling inside. In order to help me better understand it, she used an analogy, saying that “you” encountered “China” just like “Alice accidentally fell into the rabbit hole and foundthe wonderland”. I recognized suddenly.

Coming from US state of Indiana with its vast cornfield where my “red neck” parents and five brothers and sisters have never left, I used to help my parents to do farm work since my childhood and never left my hometown until entering the college. Though longing to see the world outside, I never thought to go to China one day, a place too far away for me at that time.

Just like a Chinese idiom goes “the world is unpredictable,” my coming to China was truly by accident. The first year of my graduate study in fusion physics, I got a chance to exchange studies either in France or in China, the two nations that take the lead in the study of fusion facilities.

All my classmates chose France, leaving China the only place for me. Instead of being excited, I was a little worried because my knowledge of China at that time was all from Hollywood martial arts films, from which I knew that China in the films might not be the real one.

In 2015, on my first flight to China, I thought a lot and prepared for the worst. I don’t speak Chinese, so I can’t ask for help even when getting lost or in trouble. I’m also worried about the food. It is said that Chinese people eat dog and snake meat, which is so unacceptable for a red-necked American like me.

Unable to speak and read in Chinese, I had no way of knowing what kind of animal the meat was on the table, so I decided not to eat meat, but the white rice was so bland. Just as I was at my wits’ end, the plane landed.

No surprise when my ears became purely decorative. I failed to understand what people were saying. Though there are English signs at the airport, I still got lost and couldn’t find the place to claim my baggage.

Turning around like a headless fly, I finally saw an information desk with some Chinese attendants standing there. Because I cannot speak Chinese, I began my performance by gesticulating with hands and feet to explain my trouble.

They listened to me with a smile and shocked me a lot by speaking fluent English. I was immediately embarrassed into a “red-necked” flush. Later life in China made me realize that although not all Chinese people can speak English, many youngsters can communicate with me smoothly.

At the sight of the “Golden Arch” with open arms in the baggage area, my worry about eating was quickly dispelled; I know that I could have foreign fast food in China without worrying about eating meat!

The above writings about my “encounter” with China may not seem romantic enough to you. But if I tell you, four years studying and living in China has changed me a lot. At first, I was only able to say “ni hao” and “xie xie.”

So far, I have passed Chinese proficiency exams and even appeared on local TV station programs in Chinese. From a person who dared not eat Chinese food, I am now fond of eating all sorts of Chinese cuisine, whatever animal swimming in the water, flying in the sky and those walking on the ground. Oh, I nearly forget to tell you, the old redneck, who used to drink ice water, begins to drink wolfberry water with a vacuum cup now!

As a man, I may not become an Alice, but China absolutely is the wonderland! 

The story is from "My Beautiful Encounter with China" Essay Competition organized by the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchanges (CSCSE).