As I sat amongst these important people, carefully observing them eat before diving into my own food (just to make sure I'm being culturally appropriate), I smiled. Here I am in China, just barely learnig the language, teaching English, doing and seeing things I never would have dreamt of. And while I sat amongst some of the "head honchos," I am treated like family, like a friend, and not just because I am a foreigner.
I watched as members of our party tried to carefully peel the shell and head from the beautiful, pink, garlic smothered 5" shrimp we were eating with their teeth and chopsticks - truly an Asian art form - and then looked at my boss. This wonderful, down to earth, relaxed, little Chinese man in his mid 60s was vigorously peeling and tearing appendages from the little ocean beasts with his fingers, turning his hands an orange-yellow color from the oil they were cooked in. A large smile was across his face and a hearty laugh bellowed out of his small frame. Laugh lines boldly spread out from sides of his eyes as he talked. He drank his wine merrily, toasted his guests, and sat back approvingly to enjoy and watch his family (which are many of the employees), their spouses, and the other employees eat their food. He is always watching. As the meal finished, I glanced over to see his aged brown hand gently stroking the back of his wife's upper back as they chatted with people, his small movements so soft, kind, and loving. As Jimmy and I left, he gave us a firm handshake, a big smile, and wished us well for the month, never without a positive word and a joke.
This is just a glimpse at the man I am working for. He has a huge heart for people, a great laugh, and quite a story of how this company all began to where he is today. I am honored to work for such a man of character. His factory truly sets the bar far above most in China. Yes, his employees work long, hard hours, but they are well paid, well treated, well looked after, and have excellent working conditions. And this is because of their boss. I look forward to getting to know him, his wife, and this company better over the next year.
Yesterday was my 23rd birthday, but technically I'm 24 now. When a child is born in China they are considered to already be 1 year old (that time in the womb is counted as the first year). So in coming to China I will leave older and wiser - literally. I was given a gorgeous set of black painted chopsticks by two teachers at the school, 2 wonderful girls I am getting to know better daily, and a lovely little cake by my Headmaster. My 1st graders also sang me happy birthday; absolutely precious.
Here's my lovely Asian birthday cake, pineapple filled and topped with exotic fruit and yellow, chocolate type substance decorations. Yum.
I am happy here. I miss those I love at home deeply, but I am genuinely happy here. I truly am learning daily what it means to be content, in and with whatever circumstances I am in. And I am being welcomed into a family I never dreamed I would be a part of. It is a worthwhile lesson.