There stood John, my Chinese coworker, in front of our office building, just as he promised moments ago. “I’ll be watching you in the bus.”
Would he really still be there after I boarded the bus downtown, the bus that took me to the gym where I exercised many evenings? It was a thoughtful sentiment, but one I’d never heard before. Was this just another joke, the same jokes I’d heard before when sitting with the translators? I turned the corner before the intersection, and walked north a few meters to the bus station, wondering who I would see before our office building.
But there he was, motionless, and awaiting my safe passage, as if I had just boarded the slow boat for North America. It was as though John had all of the time in the world, as long as it was for me. The John I came to know was not just any Chinese man.
John didn’t just stand up for me — he stood up for his village, as he told me one afternoon.
There are stone factories in his hometown, processing marble slabs extracted from the mountains surrounding the area. But the village allows the factories to sit anywhere, even next to homes, like John’s. Pretty soon, the noise — which droned on all day and all night — and water pollution (the creek in the valley turned a milky white from runoff) angered him, and many of the local villagers. It turned their peaceful hamlet into an industrial area, without their consent.
“So, I decided to confront the boss of the factory next door. I told them it was too noisy. She said she had a license from the environmental bureau, and told me, ‘you go to the court.’ So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’ Then I went back and wrote up a lawsuit. I also talked to a neighbor, and the neighbor supported my lawsuit.
“The boss found out about the lawsuit, and then came to my parents. She expressed her helplessness about the issue, that she could do nothing because she got permission to build the factory. But she did apologize. I ended up not filing the lawsuit, because my parents asked me not to.”
John suddenly stood far above every man I’d ever met, even though he was the shortest guy I’d ever flirted with. He watched over the village with such a passion, and now I felt that same passion over me, even in ordinary moments with him.
One afternoon, when I got a call on my cell phone and had to take it out in the hallway, I happened to see John as he returned to the office. He lingered at the doorway, his eyes an emotional chasm deeper than the West Lake, full of yearning and sadness. It was as if he wanted to see me safely from one conversation to the next.Â He never said it, but I knew what he meant. I’ll be watching you.
Did your Chinese boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife ever charm you with their reliability — that they would be there for you, even to see your bus off?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.