An Unlikely Friend

Last week, I received a text from my student that said this (in Chinese):

“Emily, this is Wendy. Do you have time the day after tomorrow? It’s my birthday, I want to celebrate it with you. You are my favorite teacher and friend now. Is that okay?”

My heart crumbled into a million little pieces. She not only said I was her favorite teacher, but that I was her friend. How could I say no to that?

We spent the following Thursday watching a terrible Chinese movie while gorging on Chinese-movie-theater-snacks, eating hot pot, and doing a little shopping. Despite the few awkward silences, it was actually a pleasant time, and I think Wendy genuinely enjoyed her 15th birthday. I gathered this from her jumping up and down screeching “I’m having so much fun!”

Going to the movies was a rare treat for Wendy. Like my other students, Cindy and Tanya (who are also my mom’s music students), every minute of her life revolves around studying for the entrance exam to a renown music school. All three of them moved to Beijing from their hometowns in Northeast China to devote time to studying music. They left school, their friends, their extended families, to begin intensive preparation for the exam, basically the biggest deal of their entire lives because it will determine everything thereafter. Personally, I think having a proper childhood is more important, but who am I to define “proper” here?

When I look at Wendy, Cindy and Tanya, I thank the-big-man-upstairs for my teenage years surrounded with friends, fun and plenty of time for leisure. I admire their drive to succeed, but where is the harm in enjoying life? I guess from their parents’ point of view, fun comes after a lifetime of hard work. This has some truth to it; it’s just not the lifestyle I would choose.

I’ve been complaining about not having friends in China, but I am happy to say, alas, I’ve found some company in Cindy, Wendy and Tanya. I don’t know how long our friendship will last, but I’m glad to have them call me their friend for however long they need me. After all, I need them too.

Tanya and Cindy


22 Comments on “An Unlikely Friend”

  1. occultoantonio says:

    Hi, Emily. Do you know Clér – a girl with IKEA bedspread? She’s my niece. 🙂

  2. I love this! Most of my local friends are between the ages of 4-16, so I think you’re doing pretty good. Miss you!

  3. That’s very sweet but a little bit sad at the same time, that everything in a fifteen year old’s life must take a back seat to study. It sounds like you made her day!

    • Emily He says:

      It is sad because they’re under so much pressure! And they can’t befriend each other because they’re fighting for the same spot in school. I’m glad to help out any way I can, to make their lives just a little more tolerable. Thanks for reading Cat 🙂

  4. mooselicker says:

    That’s a sweet story. She’ll probably never forget it either.

    This year when I’m alone on my birthday I’ll invite you. Let’s see how nice you really are. If you’re willing to travel around the world to make a boy’s birthday spectacular.

  5. This post made me 🙂

    We got to hang out in the future.

  6. SaptarshiC says:

    I gathered this from her jumping up and down screeching “I’m having so much fun!”

    That is incredibly astute of you! 😛

    Seriously, that was a very nice thing to do for a 15 year-old. I can relate to the exam thing she is going through.

    And best of luck on your ‘new job’. (I was born on 5th July, b.t.w.)

  7. Shiv says:

    Ya know, I’ve heard of the competition and mad scramble to rise to the rise to the top in China but this post really personalizes it for me. Isn’t being a teacher the best thing sometimes?

  8. daterofboys says:

    “I thank the-big-man-upstairs for my teenage years surrounded with friends, fun and plenty of time for leisure.”
    After reading this, I’m whole-heartedly thanking him, as well.
    Great post!
    Love your writing style 🙂
    Will be now quietly stalking your blog from my edge of Lake Ontario.

  9. b r says:

    What a heartwarming post 🙂 That was really awesome of you to hang out with her on her birthday. Plus all those delicious snacks…makes me want to walk down to the market and pick up some shrimp chips & pocky right now! lol.


    • Emily He says:

      Thank you!!! It felt awesome to be invited to celebrate with her 🙂 As for shrimp chips, they were oddly enough an awesome movie snack! Couldn’t get enough of them!

  10. Jacqueline says:

    That is very sweet! And brings back so many memories. At the end of my first year teaching in rural Hunan, I decided to be ambitious and give everyone an oral exam for their final (21 classes of 55-60 kids each). It took 3 weeks! During one of the talks I had a student came up to me that had never talked in class before. One of the questions was, “What did you learn in oral English class this year?”

    She responded, “At first, I thought you are bad because you come from America and America makes war. But then, I saw that you are very friendly and happy. So now, I think America and China can be friends.”

    My heart completely melted! It is such a gift to be a teacher and to connect with your students like you are. It makes all the difference!

    • Emily He says:

      Wow!!! My heart melted just reading your story! You completely changed your student’s worldview which is AMAZING. You must’ve been an awesome teacher 🙂

      One of my favorite parts of teaching is the reward I get from bonding with my students, and knowing that I have an affect on them as much as they impact my life. Thanks for leaving me such a heartfelt comment, Jacqueline!

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