A Smiling American Fisherman

Last month I played host to a group of new and old friends who came to Beijing for a week of activities to help my mom celebrate her 85th birthday. We had more fun than should be allowed running around the city seeing the sights, meeting people, and of course eating great food.

One of the best parts of the trip for me was having all my friends (many of whom were visiting for the first time) fall in love with China and the people here. One of the teenagers is already planning his future career here.

One of the partiers, Jerry, is a commercial fisherman from California. He sent me a note this weekend telling me of his encounter with some Chinese tourists in Santa Barbara.  It is too good not to share, so here’s his story:

I was on the dock yesterday afternoon, when about ten oriental people crowded around the truck to watch us unload our big catch of Red Rock Crab. Lots of big digital Nikon cameras emerged while the onlookers, between the ages of 40-60, closed ranks on the back door of the truck.

Noticing they were Asian, and didn’t seem to have any regard for overstepping the boundry of the “personel loading area”, I wondered where they might be from.  China perhaps?  I didn’t hear any ‘familiar’ words that I learned after spending a lengthy stay in Bejing this spring, so I carefully observed their hand gestures and determined they were asking me to hold up some big crabs so they could get pictures.

A wave of “oohs and aahs” erupted from the foreigners as I pulled two jumbo male crabs out of the box and I listened as they spoke in their native tongue. Lots of pictures with the friendly smiling American fisherman ensued.

Remembering that a truck needed to be loaded with several thousand pounds of crab, I thought to myself, “OK, back to work!”

I jumped onto the dock with my back to the crowd and managed to pick up a gentle word from one of the men.  “Xie Xie”.  I turned and looked at all of them in the eye and said, “‘xie xie, ni hao” ?

They all looked back at me and said, with loud cheerful laughter, XIE XIE !!!

Oh Lord, you’d think there was a family reunion going on right there on the dock of Santa Barbara Harbor.  Hand shakes, more pictures with crab followed.  Then, as I leaned in to be in a photo, with my long lost “xie xie” brother, one of the oldler women pushed me into him and also leaned in with her arms around me and we had a lovely family photo taken.

After the photo, my new Chinese mother started firing off a series of sentences in Chinese at me.  I panicked!  I didn’t understand.  I looked at her speechless, my mind grasping for any word from Jo’s  book Survival Chinese Lessons.

Then came that awkward moment.  I realized we weren’t related. Silence followed.  She put her hands together as if she were going to lift a soup bowl to drink from.  Then it hit me.  I said, “Da”.  She nodded enthusiastically saying, “da da da da da da da”  (which I believe meant, big) thank Spring for that!

Turns out, they were from Shanghai.

As they walked on, I turned to go about my business and noticed Devin (my crewman) staring at me with a blank look on his face.

I smiled and said, “I never would have thought I’d be speaking Chinese to tourists here on the dock upon my return from China.  I love the Chinese”.

He just smiled back at me.

(image source: ScenicUSA)