Memories can lie dormant for years without being sprung, waiting patiently to fling us back to a time, or a place, or a person. For the last few weeks, I’ve been teaching a migrant class of (generally) retirement aged Chinese students. Most of them struggle to make the sounds of the English alphabet, so communication doesn’t get too deep. Some mornings we don’t get past saying the date. But it’s great. I love their ability to stay focused, and not retreat to the possibilities of their phones, as most of my younger students do.
I also love their hospitality. What started out a few weeks back as a desire to share a dish has become extra dishes being cooked specifically for me. I’d be lying if I said I try to dissuade this behaviour.
It was the smile as the plate was put in front of me today that hooked me elsewhere. I was back in the only restaurant with a menu in English in Yantai, China seventeen years ago. Enjoying and allowing an elderly Chinese woman to mother me in her restaurant. She’d brush the snow from my coat. Pile a plate that little bit higher when she and her family guessed I had fallen out with the dark haired English girl I spent so much time with. Bring a bowl of rice to stem the drinking.
As a class we are finished in a few short weeks. More uncertainty to come. One day the answer to this problem will be different, but for the last nigh on twenty years, even if I haven’t acted on it, the answer is still, ‘there’s always China.’ I imagine most people who have lived there would say the same.