My husband and I were reminscing about some friends that I had in China. They were two sisters named Li Jia Na and Li Jia Ling. I met Li Jia Na when an American friend introduced me to her so that he would always have contact with her while I lived in China. Sadly, when I left China I lost contact with her myself. But I often think about the time we spent together.
These two sisters were born in to a farming family, which was allowed more than one child. The Chinese government often allows farmers this privilege to help run their farm. If I remember correctly, they had 5 children all together, something very rare in China.
After going to college, these two girls decided to come to the big city and try to make their way. While I knew them they never really had a job, so I think their family sent them money on occasion. I do know that they lived on very little. They rented a back porch from a family who lived on the outskirts of town. I think it was closed in, but still didn't have any heating. They had a little burner of some kind that they could use to cook, but they didn't have any sort of indoor plumbing. There were times when they came to visit with me that they would ask to take a shower. I told them to feel free to come any time and shower at my apartment.
At first they came about once a week to visit. But as time went on, they increased that to several times a week. I have to admit that at the time it was kind of stressful for me to have them take up so much of my time, and to have to play host to them. But oddly, those memories have faded, and now I only remember the good times that we had.
One thing they liked to do when they came to my house was watch our American videos. They both had studied some English, but I still had to translate much of the movie. They were blown away by American movies. I showed them movies such as "Out of Africa" and "Big". Some days they didn't have time to finish watching a movie, so would come back the next time and beg to be able to finish it. In addition to movies, we also watched some television together. One day they came over while I was watching the O J Simpson trials on CNN. They were shocked that O J hadn't already been executed, and that we felt he was due a fair trial by jury.
Another day they came over as I was watching Oprah. After looking at the studio audience, Li Jia Na turned to me and asked, "Why are American women so fat?". I said, "Well, Americans don't get alot of exercise.". She said, "Don't they ride their bike to work?". I said, "Most Americans have their own car.". I said, "Also, Americans like to eat alot of sweets.". She said, "Why do Americans waste their money on sugar when they could use that money for good nutritious food?". I didnt' quite know how to explain to her our depth of wealth in the United States.
Another day I went out to eat with them at a cafeteria. I liked to go to that cafeteria when I was alone, and thought they might enjoy it too. As we sat talking, Li Jia Na turned to me and said, "See, that girl over there? She went to school with us. But then she just disappeared. We think she might have had a boyfriend or something.". Not wanting to be obvious, I slowly turned around in my chair as if checking out the decorum of the room. The girls laughed and said, "What are you doing?" I whispered, "I don't want her to see me stare at her.". They laughed and said, "In China we stare at everyone.". I said, "Oh, not in America, staring is considered bad manners there." They laughed so hard at me. I told them I had noticed that in the elevators people would stare unabashedly at me. They just laughed and said, "Yea, we do that.".
The Li sisters and I learned alot from each other. We spend many fun hours together, and shared our lives with each other. China is a country with billions of people. I wonder if it is possible that I will ever be able to see them again.