THE FILMING OF ’6NORTH’ 3/6 Shanghai/China Part 3
It was a huge surprise and delight to see Fuqiang’s family members waiting for us as at the Shijiazhuang arrival hall! Father Mother and cousin as well as Fuqiang. The warmth and generosity we felt coming from them was wonderful and quite overwhelming. His mum reached out to present me with a bouquet of flowers that she must have been holding for quite a while. I felt like I was being treated like a celebrity….. honestly these were the biggest bunch of flowers that I had ever been given in my life….. I almost didn’t feel that I was worthy, but they were too beautiful, pure and very cheerful in appeal. I thanked her with a hug but perhaps this was too personal a thing for me to do in her culture but I thought that was the least that I could do to show my appreciation for her thoughtfulness. As we walked to the car park I noticed that the evening was mild, even for Herbei during that time of the year.
Fuqiang had told us that his father was a driving instructor so we had expected him to be a very good driver. Those who have read my book will understand what I mean by a “good driver” in China. Their car was an immaculate black Honda people mover. Fuqiang’s father’s driving was better than the driving I have experienced on our roads in Australia. We immediately knew that we were in good hands.
Fuqiang’s cousin translated for everyone throughout the journey. I felt it must have been quite exhausting for him but he was a great host and said that he didn’t mind. He diligently and patiently explained what was being discussed and before long we had arrived at the hotel booked for us by Fuqiang’s parents. Their apartment was even further away. We enjoyed the ride but we were more concerned for our hosts for keeping them up this late.
The hotel was grand and they told us that it was used by government and military personnel. It was 1.30am and the reception was empty and very quiet. A receptionist came from the administration office behind the reception counter and she checked us in for the night.
The family came to the room with us. Fuqiang’s mother made sure that our room was immaculate and that it had enough bottled drinking water for us. She rinsed the kettle, filled it and switched it on for us to drink tea after they left. Nothing was too difficult for them to make us feel welcome. She asked if we were hungry but we assured them that all we needed was a shower and a good night’s rest because the previous days had been a long hard journey. They all cheerfully bid us good night and the alarm was set for 8am for an 8.30 buffet breakfast downstairs. So, here we are in Shijiazhuang we thought; excited and exhausted all wrapped up in one tired bundle each.
After a good shower and a cup of tea we thought about what had happened that day looking for YuJin. We knew very soon it would be breakfast time and that after lunch we wold be flying back to Shanghai, in less than twenty four hours. We slept deeply until the alarm call. Then Fuqiang rang us to double check if all was OK for us to have breakfast with them, this is the sort of thing we do in Adelaide to wake Fuqiang up for school, cute, I thought! We were ready on time and Fuqiang and his cousin came to fetch us for breakfast.
This hotel breakfast was a feast. There was a full buffet of mainly Northern China cuisine with a few English and continental breakfasts too. We interviewed Fuqiang’s parents at breakfast and we described what would be the traditional breakfast of students in Australia before going to school. However their son Fuqiang isn’t like the mainstream teenager of China when it comes to breakfast…. he simply isn’t a fan of eating or drinking anything before going to school. For lunch his favourite is a Croissant or a Danish. His mother and I spoke about how Fuqiang should have his breakfast before school to be fit and alert at the start of his day but he doesn’t agree. I hope someday soon he will realise that breakfast is a very important part of our lives and that one day he gets accustomed to having it. After breakfast we packed our bags quickly and took them with us as we went to Fuqiang’s father’s workplace, the driving school.
As we approached the driving school we could see that it was huge. Large gates opened for us to drive in. Inside the compound were practice streets like a small town. There were long carports covering a lot of cars. These carports had Mercedes, Audis and others. We were ushered into an office of a dozen or so staff taking phone calls. They all stood up and clapped and bowed to us as if we were some kind of celebrities and then went back to their calls. That’s when I realised that I had forgotten to bring my bouquet of flowers from the hotel. I apologised to the parents for forgetting them. After the tour of the admin area we went into Fuqiang’s father’s office. This room was well furnished with a large desk, grand chairs and sofas and tables covered in a variety of fruit and nuts for us to try. When Fuqiang’s father sat at the grand desk we were informed that he owns the whole school.
We talked about many interesting things. They learnt about my own family who grew up within the Chinese community because my father was employed by a Chinese boss whose company is now worth millions back in Malaysia and I told them that my father spoke in many Chinese dialects. Afterwards it was time for us to go to lunch. As we went through the large yard full of cars in front Stephen saw the suite of plush cars and went over to admire and film them especially inside. Fuqiang’s father offered Stephen the keys to test drive, Stephen was tempted but declined. Perhaps if we had had more time to spare. Stephen should know a thing or two about cars because he has been building a high performance sports car of his own design, the third and final prototype is nearing completion. Perhaps if we were living somewhere in China his dream may have been accomplished sooner.
Fuqiang’s father knew that it was getting rather late and that we needed to hurry to see as many things as possible in our short time there before we went off to lunch. He drove us around town and showed us buildings that had been important in his youth. We were told that he had booked a private banquet room for us with his extended family at an upmarket restaurant for midday but we felt we had only just eaten our breakfast and we weren’t really hungry for anything fancy. On the way to the restaurant we visited Fuqiang’s home. This again was well furnished with exquisite furniture, mother of pearl inlay, wonderful carvings, everything was quite marvelous to behold. We saw Chinese paintings created by Fuqiang’s younger sister (who was at school then) and Stephen said they were exquisite from an 11 year old. He used to do this sort of painting when he was young too!
At his home Fuqiang’s parents said that they were happy to know that he was happy living with us. He had told them how much he appreciate’s our care for him and that was very touching for us. They said that we had brought him out of his shell, that he was not as shy as he used to be and this felt good for us. After a brief tour of their home (during which we saw that Fuqiang’s bedroom looked much tidier than his bedroom in our home) we were given lots of presents by the family but we had nowhere to keep on our trip to the next three countries for 6North. Fortunately Fuqiang could bring them with him on his return to Australia.
At the restaurant we were greeted by six staff and the manager who took us all by lift to our private room number 888. The decor was traditional with more artwork that Stephen admired. The table was huge and had a large turntable in the centre. To my delight and amazement I found my bouquet of flowers on the sideboard behind my seat! Obviously Father had made a ‘phone call. We felt very special, then we were introduced to other family members such as uncles and best of all, the delightful 11 year old sister of Fuqiang who had just returned from school.
So many courses of food came one after another. Nothing was too much trouble. Wine was served but Fuqiang’s father abstained because he would be driving us. I had one problem, I was already full from breakfast so where was I going to fit in all this lunch? Everything was so tasty. I could only take a mouthful and then sip drinks with ‘Gambei’ (Cheers!) As written in my book; when people “cheers” their classes with yours they will put their glass lower than yours to show you respect, that you are higher than them. They respected our wishes and understood that we normally didn’t really drink much alcohol but this was a special occasion so we bent our rule, plus, we didn’t have to drive!
Fuqiang couldn’t stop himself from telling his parents that he didn’t like the restaurant food as much as ‘Sarj’s home cooking’! I felt embarrassed but his mum assured me that I needn’t. She said that was all he ever talked about these days when he returned home every school holiday. It seems that before he came to Adelaide he would only settle for Western fast food but now he prefers my home cooking. Now his mother is very pleased that he eats my home cooking instead. In fact he had recently taken home containers of my much talked about signature sauces for them to try and also so that he was not without them during his holiday. I trained Fuqiang to be responsible when he goes to Adelaide city by himself and when he does he will eat fast food but when he comes home he is still hungry for mine! It is nice when things go well with our international teenagers. But we must be open to changes. Before our banquet lunch with Fujiang’s family his father and mother asked us if we would consider caring for Fuqiang’s sister too in a couple of years time. We considered this to be an honour because we had earned their trust, so we accepted that responsibility very happily. She hugged us saying “I love you” in English! How wonderful. After lunch Stephen showed photos of his sports car and everyone was impressed. Then it was time to leave for the airport, so with my bouquet cradled in my arm we left.
Shijizhuang is the home town of two other students who have succeeded with us. You can read their stories in my book. We felt that somehow this city encourages students to excel but with compassion, love, understanding and the desire to travel for study. Shijiazhuang is a very hard name to pronounce, some Chinese people pronounced it differently. Our stay had been short but so memorable and we thank our new family members there for their hospitality, their generosity and for their trust in us to care for their son.
An hour later we were at the airport and it was no trouble at all for Fuqiang’s parents to check us in while we sat in a cafe for drinks. The day before we had arrived I had seen that the temperature in Herbei was 13 degrees Celsius. The night we arrived it was mild, the whole day had been 31 degrees. That’s quite a change over one night considering it was Spring and they usually experienced cooler temperatures in this season. While we were in the cafe we asked Fuqiang and his cousin to call the mobile ‘phone number given to us by YuJin’s neighbour. We were bound for Shanghai for one more night and this was going to be the last chance we had of meeting YuJin again. Someone was rambling on the ‘phone which the boys didn’t understand and then the phone was hung up by whoever it was. It seemed like we were never going to meet YuJin.
We said our last goodbyes thanking everyone for their hospitality and everyone hugged each other, even Stephen and Fuqiang’s father! Now that’s a sign of friendship. Somehow my bouquet of flower is headed for Shanghai airport for me to collect again and hopefully we get to meet YuJin for her to receive it because we couldn’t take it on to Vietnam and the rest of our trip and certainly not to Adelaide! We mustn’t give up hope on meeting YuJin………..