I was 8 years old when I was living in an old farmhouse in Virginia surrounded by woods and farmland. I had few friends, maybe one or two within a bike ride from our home. As I was coming home from one of their homes, I heard a voice in the woods. It was in a foreign language. It sounded distant and slightly urgent although I did not understand the words. I heard another voice answer, equally urgent and rapid. I stopped my bike, and listened. Then out of the woods, stepped two Asian men onto the dirt road. One was tall and the other slightly shorter. They were both middle aged and quite handsome I thought. I probably should have been frightened, but I don’t remember feeling any fear, only excitement that I was meeting new people and so exotic. After all, there were not many exciting things or new people to meet in Bluemont, Virginia.Their faces were round, kind and smiling. I was straddling my green banana seat bike and I got off the bike and put up the kickstand. I walked over to them grinning and extended my hand and said in my high pitched Virginia accent, “Hi, my name is Essie!” The two men looked at each other smiling, and then back to me. One of the men spoke to me English, and introduced himself as Ma. The other man introduced himself as Bu. Ma explained that they were from China and visiting the United States. The only thing I could think to say was “Welcome to Virginia!” Later I thought I should have said welcome to America, but it was too late. Ma told me that he had parked his car on the road and were examining an old stone fence when they ended up lost.
“Follow me.” I said.
“I know my way all around this farm.”
“We’re on a farm?”
“Yeah. Its a big one, Wanna see it?”
Ma and Bu definitely wanted to see the farm, but wanted to make sure it was alright with my mother. I told them she was at work and that I knew everyone who had a place on the farm. I had been told the history of “Skyfields Farm” when I first moved there. It was originally a commune built by Vietnam war protesters and the home I lived in was where a lot of them once lived. I told them about all of the rooms in it and how fun it was to live there. Ma and Bu were extremely excited about this story and told me how impressed they were with me. I remember feeling so happy that a stranger from a foreign country could possibly be impressed with ME! Just me, a little, nerdy, skinny, stringy haired, farm girl. Ma and Bu followed me all over the farm taking pictures. I knew everyones name who had a home or a cabin and knocked on the door of someone who lived there. When they came to the door, I was confused as to why they didnt invite us in like they normally would have. I didnt understand why they had such a funny look on their face and gave me such a disapproving look. I had never seen that from them before. Ma and Bu just smiled and bowed. We left and I continued to tell them about the fields and woods. I showed them hidden cabins in the woods and walked them through them. I was so proud that they snapped pictures of everything I showed them.
As we began walking to the farmhouse I lived in, I remember they asked me many questions about where we lived and I answered them happily. They asked me about my family and how long we had lived in Virginia. I loved being asked these questions and answering them. I asked them all about China.
“Can you really dig to China?”
Which brought belly laughs from both of them, although I did not really know why.
“Are there Chinese horses? Do they look different from our horses like you look different from us?”
“What do you eat in China? Is it gross?”
“How many kids are in China?”
“Do Chinese people believe in God?”
“Why don’t Chinese people just speak English?”
I remember the answers I got from Ma and Bu were patient and good natured, and sometimes countered with a question that made me think a little.
When we got to our house my mother was home and of course surprised that I had guests. She greeted them and we showed them around the huge old commune. She seemed to communicate easier with Ma and Bu than I did, and they started doing the grown up talk thing which inevitably excludes children, and made me jealous, After all I met Ma and Bu first. I decided that we should show them the hand crank ice cream maker that my mother had found in a closet. I insisted that we make ice cream, and it was difficult to explain to me that ice cream took a very long time to make, and Ma and Bu would need to be getting back soon. We made them some chicken noodle soup instead and I drew them a picture. I made the sunshine with slanted eyes and two large front teeth. I told Ma that it was a Chinese sun. For some reason my mother told me that was not very nice and apologized to Ma and Bu. I was very confused. Ma folded the picture quickly as my mother tried to take it away, clearly ashamed. I started to cry and said I was sorry. Ma patted my shoulder and he said that he was not offended, that the sun I drew had his characteristics and that he took it as a compliment. He said that he would always treasure my picture.
Ma took my address and I got his. He wrote me a note thanking me for his nice trip to Bluemont. It was typed on delicate rice paper and placed in a beautiful hand painted card. I lost it after a few years, and this year, as my grandmother was cleaning out her attic, she found a box with some of my childhood treasures; a rock, a fake jewel, a blurry picture of my boarder collie, and Ma’s note which was signed with his name and Chinese Radio Correspondent after it. Over the years I have thought back on Ma’s visit, and how extraordinary it was. Ma and Bu shaped my belief that people from different countries can be great friends and learn from each other if their barriers are removed. When I meet someone of a different culture I have always greeted them through the eyes of that 8 year old farm girl.
This I believe: In order for their to be peace, we need to make different and new friends, and ask each other questions without fear.