f3604303-309f-4a2a-8573-d4d4ed4cc104In October of 2015, I hosted a young man from China who was here to run the Chicago Marathon. His name was Wu and he signed his first message to me as “Wu from ancient China”.  Well actually, that is his last name which he offered to those of us with zero Mandarin skills. When he told me his actual first name, Xintong, I tried to pronounce it but then fell back into the lazy ease of saying Wu. In addition, his profile user name on Airbnb was Zinc Copper. For the longest time, I thought it had something to do with his work. In my imagination, he worked for a company that manufactured zinc and copper products, but no. He chose that name because of a fascination with high school chemistry and the periodic table of elements. Oh, and in his message to me explaining this, he phrased it as “You must know the periodic table of elements, found by the Russian chemist Mendeleev.” Hmmmm. Honestly, my all time LEAST favorite class in high school was “Science” and the closest I came to loving chemistry, was kissing a boy with long eye lashes and the various chemicals I had swallowed along the way. But please,  pay no attention to the teenage bad behavior of this currently upstanding citizen with the “Super Host” badge!

Wu had never been out of China and here he was, first stop Chicago at my apartment. He arrived bearing gifts of postcards and chicken. Chicken?  The idea of chicken flying all the way from China in a suitcase, kind of freaked me out, despite the shrink wrap. Still it was a specialty from his home town and proved to be delicious! I had made mention on my profile that I loved postcards so he brought me a big pile of images from China. It struck me as so kind to bring all those gifts even though he was paying a bunch of money to stay at my place. It was clear to me before Wu even arrived, that this trip was going to be a big deal for him.  I thought it would be nice to offer him a bike tour. Something to make him feel comfortable and welcome. He was very receptive to the idea and so a couple days after he arrived, I borrowed a bike for him and we road the Lake front path, cut over to Lincoln park and did a little detour through the zoo. Unfortunately, I got a flat tire which stopped that adventure short but luckily he still got to see some of this beautiful city by the best choice for transportation! I could tell he was happy.

The next day, serendipity strikes with a simple hallway encounter. Wu meets my second floor neighbor Maggie as he’s leaving the building. He introduces himself and mentions the marathon. Maggie tells him that her friend, a priest from the neighborhood church, St. Gertrude, has been running the Marathon for 25 years.  She says she will mention Wu to the priest. Next thing you know, father Mike wants to meet Wu. He arranges for them to meet up  pre-marathon and Wu is introduced to other runners. Then he is invited to attend a special mass where Father Mike blesses the runners. I’m pretty sure, Wu doesn’t have any experience with Catholic rituals but he is so touched by the whole thing. He absolutely loved it!

During Wu’s stay we talked a lot of cultural differences. For instance, in the beginning he told me that I had “a typical American home”.  My reaction to this was “Huh?” In my mind, the only thing typical in my place is maybe the toilet. I thought he was talking about my aesthetic. When I questioned this, he explained that he was referring to things like my fireplace or the lawn in front of the building. He said in China, you don’t see fireplaces, or lawns for that matter, except in the movies or on television.

He wasn’t overly impressed with our food. Wu clearly had great love and pride for Chinese cuisine, beginning with the shrink wrapped chicken he brought and extending to the many pictures he sent to me of local dishes I had to try when I came to China. Seriously, for a couple of weeks after he went home I received texts with photos documenting his favorite foods.  As if to say, if there is only one reason to visit China, it’s to eat some real food!

During Wu’s visit, I had a guest from Singapore staying in my third bedroom. Sinyee, a lawyer and adventurer, is one of the most independent souls I’ve ever met. The three of us did a little bit of hanging out. Here comes another cultural difference. One night in the kitchen Sinyee expressed her distaste for shopping. Wu, replied that he thought all women loved to shop. Apparently the only two women in the world who did not love to shop were standing in the kitchen! In addition, Wu had the opinion, that driving and parking were not on the list of female skills. He couldn’t believe that I drove a manual transmission and also couldn’t believe that I knew how to park it without any help. I was like Wonder Woman. Cool! It’s true that for a moment, the defensive feminist within got a little pissed. Then I realized this guy is so kind, innocent and well meaning. It’s what he knows in his world.  I relaxed and it was just funny. I was proud to be the parking Wonder Woman that hates to shop!

Wu came from China with a bunch of pre conceived ideas about the U.S. and Americans,  just like we all do when we go someplace very different than what we know. He was surprised that Chicagoans were so friendly and did not expect to feel so welcome. It was a joy to witness his wide eyed wonder at all that was new and different. He could have stayed downtown in a hotel or anywhere closer to the Marathon than Edgewater. Because he chose to use Airbnb and stay with a host, he had a completely different experience. These kinds of encounters, on a very simple level are what will take us down the path towards world peace.













4 Responses to “Wu”

  1. 1 dave June 10, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    Wonderful story; reading it made me feel like I was sharing in the adventure.

  2. 3 empathy75 June 21, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    Lovely post. Thank you

  3. 4 Ralph July 1, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    I read a little bit your blog. You are a woman with real interest for others.

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