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Moments of Magic in a Park

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Singing in Mandarin in HongMei GongYuan, ChangZhou, April 2011

Now, for a change, I am presenting a photo I didn’t take though the photo was taken with my camera.  On the Saturday before the QingMing Festival, I was in HongMei Park with my partner and a friend.  After wandering for a few hours, it was decided that a rest on a park bench was in order.  Of course, being laowai (foreigner) in China means that one gets stared at a lot.  My normal response is to smile when this happens.  Of course, many take the smile as an invitation to connect in some way.

Most of the time this is followed up by a request to have my photo (or my partner’s photo) taken with the person.  Sometimes the smile has a well-meaning parent trying to coax a young person to practice their meagre supply of English phrases.  And at other times, there is a deliberate attempt to communicate.  Since I have a darker complexion and somewhat sleepy eyes, many think I speak Mandarin.  The truth is, I only know some basic Mandarin, not enough for ANY conversation, just enough for some basic communication.

On this Saturday, an older man eventually decided to sit beside me and begin talking.  Once I got past the fact that I was Canadian and a teacher at a university, it was evident that I couldn’t hold a conversation.  But being Canadian was enough.  I was rewarded with an offer of a cigarette.  Now, I don’t smoke – period.  However, knowing the culture and how important certain traditions are for older people, I accepted the cigarette and puffed along with him, something I don’t do for the president of the university and other important bigwigs in city government.  A few more attempts at conversation and the man decided that singing would be a better thing to do.

Of course, he sang in Mandarin, a song about HongMei, red plum blossoms.  The song was slow enough that I was able to join him in a fair number of points.  I can make the sounds, I just don’t know what the words mean.  By the time we finished the song, an audience of local people erupted in applause.  As my way of saying thanks to this man for his song, I sang a French-Canadian song, “Un Canadien Errant.”

It was a magical moment and it was enough.


Written by Robert G. Longpré

April 13, 2011 at 7:50 pm

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