No, this is not what you're thinking.
On a trip to Xi'an to visit the Terracotta warriors (a future post) I stayed near the downtown area. I did not know prior to arrival how big this city is. It's huge! There are 12 million people living there. How did I not know more about this place prior to my visit given its size?
I actually had a couple memorable events occur during my stay in the city, but I will relay the girl incident here. It occurred while I was walking the downtown area. I was simply exploring the city as I often do, walking the streets.
Street in Xi'an
As I was walking I noticed a young girl following me. She was quite close and keeping in step only a step behind me. I didn't know her motive but assumed she was likely a working girl looking for business. I crossed the street in an effort to get some distance. She pursued. I was sure a this point she was seeking a customer, so I stopped and turned towards her. Not knowing if she spoke English I asked if she would please stop following me.
She was a bit surprised at my confrontational approach, but undeterred she replied in English, "I'm sorry to bother you but I am looking for a western person who speaks English so I may practice my English."
Well I was deeply ashamed at my earlier judgment, This young girl of only 18 years was simply trying to do the thing I always seek when I'm in a foreign land, to interact to improve herself. Why was I so quick to judge the worst in her?
I told her I would be happy to walk with her through the streets and in return she could educate me on the city. Well, she never really talked about the city, but I was happy to hear about her dreams and hopes as a young Chinese girl drowning in a big city.
She told me her hopes to go to college one day but it was difficult on her father's meager salary. She wanted to travel (as most people in big cities do) and perhaps live in another country one day. I thought these aspirations were a pipe dream for a young female with little money in China, at that time anyway.
We talked and walked for about an hour. Then it was dinner time for me. I invited her to join me for dinner, but she said she would not eat but sit while I did. Well, that made me uncomfortable. I expected she had no money so I offered to buy her meal. She refused but simply sat there continuing her conversation with me while I ate.
After a while she pulled a book from her backpack and asked me to write something in it. I can't remember what I wrote, but I was surprised upon opening it there were many others who had already written in English in it. She explained to me she does this often, seeking interactions with foreigners and documenting the experience. I thought, what kindred spirits we are!
We talked for about two hours all together until she said she needed to go home to cook dinner for her father. Then I understood why she did not eat with me. Now it was dark outside so I thought it safer if I offered to pay for a taxi to take her home. It was then she told me her father was a taxi driver and she would simply call him.
I wished her well and was about to depart when she made a strange request, She asked if she could sing a song for me. Well, we were walking a busy street so I thought it odd, but I did not want to tell her no. So, of course, please sing.
She sang the American National Anthem to me on the streets of Xi'an. China. It blew me away. Not that she sang it, but she knew it. How many Americans do you know who blow the lyrics when sung? But she didn't miss a word.
It was odd, though, as she sang the song with a low voice. I had to listen intently. I thanked her for the rendition but then asked why she sang in such a soft voice. Embarrassed she answered, "I didn't want anyone to think I was unpatriotic."
What an amazing young girl. One who might very well have gone on to do great things, I certainly hope she did. I had no illusions of keeping in touch with her to see how she would make out in life. With the age and gender difference it would not be appropriate, But I am curious what happened to that Chinese taxi driver's daughter. If she ever reads my blog, please comment and let me know!
I took our picture together before she departed:
Such an amazing and brave young person!