Questioning Stares

I’d been in the country less than 24 hours before I became lost—and I don’t mean I struggled to locate the campus cafeteria; I mean LOST in the border between Hong Kong and Mainland China. I’d gone to visit Shenzhen with my new Mainland friends, not knowing my student visa for Hong Kong wouldn’t admit me. Luckily, I could see where my friends waited on the other side of Immigration; I called to them and Ricky agreed to return and accompany me to campus.

So I waited for Ricky. And waited…

After yet more waiting, I realized I needed to do something—but what? I couldn’t leave Ricky wandering the building in search of me—and besides, without Ricky I’d never remember the way to campus.

I tried talking to one of the officers. We couldn’t understand each other, but sensing my panic, she called over someone more fluent in English. I explained the situation—“I’m a student at Lingnan University and I went with some fellow exchange students, they’re from the Mainland. Now they’re in the Mainland. I’m here and…” Questioning stares. I tried again, “I’ve lost my friend.” Several loudspeaker announcements later…no Ricky.

So, tight with worry, I followed the pointing fingers of the officials to the Hong Kong border, completely unsure where I would go from there. I walked until the crowds subsided, and there stood Ricky. He offered no explanation as to why he’d been unable to locate the only blonde person in the room, but I was too relieved to complain.

Instead of immediately returning to campus, we thought we’d wander the city. We ended up sitting on a park bench, where Ricky told me about his life and goals in Mainland China. Ricky most wanted to earn a million U.S. dollars before age 30. I didn’t yet know what I most wanted. He taught me how to count to three in Mandarin and how to say “Get off my back!” He asked to learn more idioms, but I couldn’t think of any. We took the bus back to campus.

The next day at lunch, those friends who'd successfully spent yesterday afternoon shopping in Mainland China rushed over with apologies and plastic-wrapped glutinous rice balls with sesame seed paste.

“Xie xie. Thank you.”

Dorothy said there’s no place like home. But when home is still an ocean away, and the main emotion of yesterday was “frenzied panic,” there’s no place like the Lingnan University cafeteria.

S Kubik

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