Monday, January 24, 2011

Sam This and Sam That; Sam, Sam, Sam

I have been talking about him pretty much since I’ve been here but I have yet to dedicate an entire entry to my friend Sam. Now is the time to do so.

When I first met him at the train station after my harrowing journey here, I thought he was a student aid. He really looks that young! In my defense, it was a reasonable assumption, considering that American Universities make use of students all of the time, and because an older man was driving the van that brought us to campus that first time, I saw no reason to change my mind about Sam’s presumed status. However, since I laid eyes on him, my friend Sam has been nothing but a bundle of surprises.

I am ashamed to admit that I really did not observe any social graces the first few weeks I was here. I did not ask him to tell me about himself, his family… anything. So, when he and I were out that first time – for my mandated physical a few days after I got here, remember? And Sam blurted out over lunch that his wife was going to have a baby, I nearly spit my tea all over him. Wife? Baby? Aren’t you just a student?

Well, he had told me he was twenty-nine years old, but I think I thought he was just pulling my leg a bit. Surely this chubby-cheeked creature could not be as old as my own daughter and expecting a child! Yes, he is.

And he is smart, too. In no way am I being facetious when I say that Sam is one intelligent man. Not only is he a revered and excellent teacher on campus, and not only is he the foreign teacher liaison – on call 24/7, but he is also studying for his MBA, and he is darn close to earning it, too! Part of his MBA requires him to speak two foreign languages. He has English pretty well whipped, so now he is tackling German with a vengeance.

Beyond that, his curiosity about everything is astounding. He constantly asks questions about life beyond the borders of China. He borrows books and movies from me. He and I have had some very engaging conversations in which we compare language, culture, politics and philosophy. I have come to appreciate Sam as a challenging and enticing conversation partner. And, I appreciate him as a friend.

Mind you, he had to work really hard to get me there. For the longest time I thought of him as my boss and, without necessarily intending to, I held him at arm’s length. He, being the intuitive person that he is, did not press or drive for more; he gave me all of the time and room I needed to get completely acclimated before gently chiding me for being so closed. That doesn’t mean he didn’t chip away at the walls I had set up, it just means he was biding his time until he sensed he could get completely through. He is a little pushy in his own way, but it is a good way. Of course, I’ve already confessed to being slow on the uptake, too.

He managed to get through to me on the day of the computer crash and the chair breaking (see Walking Pneumonia and Computer fever entry). While being completely non-accusatory, he did a great job of pointing out that I had a way maintaining distance and, while I could have denied it, what’s the point? He is right, and I’m aware of it. Not to say that Sam is the only person, or indeed the first person who deserves my trust. However, being as I am determined to learn how to trust, why not trust Sam? He has certainly proven a worthy candidate.

He likes to drop by my apartment just to visit. Now that I’m learning to accept him as a friend and only incidentally a liaison between me and the school, I find his visits enjoyable. Especially when we get going on one of those conversations that leap from deep to deeper topic. He too likes discussing politics and philosophy. Sometimes over tea and sometimes over something stronger, we will sit on the world’s ugliest couch and exchange ideas until either his phone rings or one of us has another obligation. Usually him.

As time goes by and through our talks, I’ve formed a mental picture of Sam that I constantly have to revise. Recently, over lunch I asked him what he likes to do to relax. As he is always so busy, I genuinely wondered. He said he likes to go fishing. Now there’s a surprise! I wouldn’t have thought that this dedicated professional, continuous scholar, deeply intellectual man, father of one and husband to the lovely Penny would enjoy disconnecting from the world. The man is just full of contradictions!

I have had the privilege of going to visit his home and meeting Penny. Also, Sam has accorded me the honor of giving his sweet baby girl her English name. I chose Erica, a name that delights him. And it really suits her too! Erica and I have bonded; she coos and talks with me and I talk right back with her. She is a perfectly delightful baby; a reflection of her parents. Sam says she really likes me. I say she’s really precious… just like her father.

This Spring Festival, Sam and Erica will go to Sam’s hometown to show her off. Penny will join them on her days off from the hospital, where she works as a RN. It will be Erica’s first time there. A big to-do is planned for her homecoming. It will be my first time there, too. Sam has invited me to meet his family, emphasizing what an honor it would be for his parents if I were to come.

No Sam, the honor is mine. You’d better believe I will take you up on your invitation. How do you refuse when your friend invites you home?

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