That is a deep well that I'm unwilling to fall into. I can tell you this, though: I do not regret having bashed my head in (See The Things I do for Research entry posted October 2012). From that experience I learned firsthand about emergency medical treatment and healthcare in general in China. I also experienced the kindness of strangers: that fellow who took us to the hospital in his van and didn't complain when I bled all over his truck. And I experienced again the devotion of friends.
Vanessa and Summer were the two student/friends who saw me through that ordeal. Sam did too, of course but he wasn't with us when it happened. The girls and I had gone out, enjoyed a pizza and were wending our way home when I found a convenient post to split my skull on.
I've already talked about that episode and there is no need to rehash it. This is to revisit those friends: Summer and Vanessa, who graduated 2 years ago.
Summer is now up to her eyeballs in work. She flouted family tradition by quitting the job her grandfather secured for her. All she was called on to do was type a little and file. She really did not feel like she was making the most of her abilities, nor that she had a future as someone's secretary. Especially not when 'protected' by her grandfather's guanxi. The old man deserted her when she quit and, to my knowledge has yet to embrace her again. However, she is happy to have struck out on her own... that being: finding her own job.
Summer is really not 'on her own'. She still lives at home with her parents. Occasionally she will go out with friends or with her mother, who is retired. As yet she's not found a boyfriend, but her family is working to find a suitable match for her. It almost broke my heart to hear her say she is no longer excited by living an adult life or earning her own money. Summer is a very traditional girl, sadly mired by those very traditions.
Vanessa is perhaps the least traditional woman I've ever met. Note the difference: I still refer to Summer as a girl but Vanessa is a powerhouse. While Summer stayed in Wuhan, where her family is, Vanessa struck out on her own. First going to Fujian Province to live with her sister. That's when she did that stint as a KTV hostess (See It Never Gets Any Easier entry posted May 2013). That didn't last long and soon she was looking for respectable work. She found it as a receptionist at an Audi dealership.
You might have guessed that Vanessa and I have stayed in touch. Infrequently, I grant you but when she summons, I respond. Eagerly. Vanessa is not the type you would want to forget. I would have a hard time doing so because, before graduation she gave me a lovely shadowbox frame with a butterfly mounted to a bamboo reed. (You might know that 'Vanessa' means 'butterfly'). I have it set in a montage of family pictures because I felt very maternal toward this dear child.
How do I feel about her now?
She returned to Wuhan briefly, her hometown being just a hour away by bus. She called, hoping we might visit before she headed back to Hangzhou (No, I didn't know she had moved there). I jumped at the chance even though we would only have about an hour before she had to catch a bus to the airport.
Seeing her for the first time in about 2 years I found that her merry, sparkling eyes were a bit wary-weary. She is no longer bubbling, on the verge of glee. Her childlike demeanor has been replaced with a sleek and worldly countenance. It didn't stop either one of us from throwing our arms around each other as soon as we met. Once apart, sitting across the table at the train station's KFC I realized she's still adorable but no longer cute. She is downright beautiful. After exchanging gifts and shedding a few tears I demanded she tell me everything.
From her stint at the Audi dealership she moved on to an administrative position. I'm not sure how she ended up in Hangzhou. She has taught herself how to cook and manage money. She has eschewed her family and lives by herself – unusual in this culture. In fact, all of my students turned friends live at least with roommates, if not with parents. Vanessa is living large, on her own terms.
Is she happy? I would have to say: yes. She is a woman who knows what she is about, knows what she wants and when and how to get it.
She does not have a boyfriend, nor does she want one right now. She says: “I'm too selfish to have a boyfriend right now. I don't want to share all my time and my space. I'm enjoying learning about life.” Vanessa has had a bit of a background with boyfriends. Not saying she is/was promiscuous – there were only 2 boys, after all. Actually, for her there is only one boy, but she is not ready to concede her single life just yet.
They have known each other since high school. He was a goner the second he laid eyes on her. He wore his heart on his sleeve, pledging undying love, even though they were to attend different colleges. Vanessa always knew there was more for her besides becoming someone's wife and bearing a child. She set about to find it. That is the journey she's on now.
I'm guessing it would take a Superman to gain and keep her attention. So far, four years on, this boy is sincere. He is now serving in the military and due to get out next year in April. Vanessa says that will be the time she will join her life to his: “He would make a good husband. At the time he gets out of the Army I will go meet him in Beijing.”
Knock me over with a feather! I know people in their 30's and 40's who are not that honest or self-possessed. My Vanessa, unlike other girls her age who seek Prince Charming astride a white steed bearing bucketfuls of money, acknowledges that a good match for her would not be a romantic stereotype, but someone who can give her the space she needs to evolve from her chrysalis state to become the butterfly she was always meant to be.
As opposed to most students who are given an English name by their teacher, Vanessa chose her name by herself. Did she know what it means? Whether or not, she has named herself perfectly.
I will have the pleasure of seeing Vanessa again, this time in her world. I plan to visit Hangzhou after Shanghai. I'll be sure to tell you how our visit goes.