Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Portrait of Lu

I wanted to dedicate a post to my home-stay family, seeing as they've played such a special role in my time here in Beijing. Specifically, I thought I'd try to paint a picture of my home-stay dad for you all. I've given little tidbits on him before, but he's such a great character that I would feel amiss if I didn't give you all a complete portrait of the man, the myth, the legend: Lu Chunhua.

He's a man by many different titles. To me, he's Shushu (uncle); to my home-stay sister, he's Ba (dad); and to everyone else, he's simply Lu Shifu (Master Lu). He works as a fix-it at the West Campus facilities department, specializing in electrical work. His office sits right next to the building where I take all my classes, so not only do I often have a chance to see him when I'm on a break from classes, but he's become something of a legend among my colleagues: he has a great habit of intercepting students on their way to class and asking them questions in his thick Beijing accent. While most don't understand him, they universally come away with an awesome impression of the guy.

My (real) dad can attest to this. When my parents came to visit last February, my dad got to meet with Shushu with me serving as translator. For the most part, I wasn't even needed. Shushu came right up and tugged on my Dad's jacket with the classic Chinese line, "天气冷!你应该多穿一点儿!", which means, "It's cold! You ought to wear more!" While this comes across strange translated, it really is a sign that the speaker cares about you and your health. He doesn't want you to catch a cold, don't you know. Shushu proceeded to launch into stories about my life in the apartment, cool sights near the university, and every bus route you could take to get there. I struggled to get across a lot of what he said, but the exuberant mood and good-natured humor he showed that day is a true snapshot of my daily life here.

Life for him is relatively routine. He gets up at 6:30 each morning to take the dog for a slow morning jog around campus, comes back, washes up, goes to the cafeteria for a breakfast of rice porridge, a pork dumpling and a hard-boiled egg, and starts work by 8 am. That night, he usually finds me already home, studying, and I call out, "叔叔,你回来了吗?" (Uncle, are you back?), to which he yells back a hearty, "回来咯!" (I'm back!). It seems like a bit of an overly-obvious question, but it really is a part of Chinese culture. These 'canned' phrases are a deeply ingrained part of everyday parlance, and I never, ever tire of it.

He walks the dog, and when he gets back, we make dinner. When it's done, we sit in front of the TV, watching the nation-wide broadcast state news, talking about whatever comes to mind; from politics to public parks, from the million varieties of Chinese vegetables to the students he's chatted up on their way to class. As the meal wraps up, he inevitably asks the question: "你吃饱了吗?" (You full?), to which I can honestly reply, "撑死了" (I'm stuffed). Same routine for the last six months, and I love it.

That he lives his life so simply hides what a remarkable facet of China he really is. He lived through the Cultural Revolution, when at 19 years old he was sent down to a communal farm north of Beijing to labor for a year. He's lived through China's economic 180 through the '80s, and made off OK from it: he got a stable, low-stress job, a good apartment, and a outward sense of fulfillment with how things are.

He represents, too, a piece of Beijing that goes under the radar for many Westerners living here. He raises songbirds, a truly classic Beijinger pastime that goes back to the Imperial days. With an accent thick as , he's capable of a salty sense of humor, using words I will likely never hear my predominantly-female Chinese teachers say out loud. But most of all, he lives with a quiet vigor and compassion that I straight-up admire. He's a good guy.