Wu Tao

Me and Wutao

Earlier in the week, I received a call from Wu Tao, the son of Gung Gung’s (my grandfather’s) brother.  He is therefore my Mom’s cousin and a first cousin once removed to me.  I last saw him when my whole family was in China in 1998, when I was ten years old.  At that time he was twenty-one and worked for a small computer networking company of which he was part owner.  Now twenty-one myself, I would meet him again along with his four year old daughter, and wife.  We arranged to meet for dinner and he came to Beida to pick me up around 6:30 p.m.

He is just as friendly as I had remembered, and welcomed me with a great big smile.  On our way to the restaurant, we talked while stuck in traffic, a chronic and frequent occurrence in Beijing.  Thankfully, he speaks English rather well and can understand me; I tried to speak with him in Chinese and needless to say our conversation was limited.  He now works in the environmental sector 保护环境 (protecting the environment) although it was hard to get details. He said he would bring me to a western restaurant, which I was psyched about.  We pulled up at a Friendly’s, and as we approached, two doormen held open the two glass doors for us.

Inside, you would have thought we were in the states, maybe even out west somewhere.  Every decoration was wholly rustic American, from the old leather ice skates on the wall, to the tarnished wooden signs for the “western rodeo” or “bill’s steak house.”  All the waiters were wearing funny hats, and had “flair” like in the movie “Office Space,” which I suppose may be characteristic of Friendly’s although the contrast was pretty comical.

Sitting at the table was Wu Tao’s wife and his little girl, Wu Shuting (Wu Shoo Ting).  She is absolutely adorable, and was walking around everywhere handing out the plates and taking pictures of me the whole time.  Hearing a four year old speak Chinese (infinitely better than me nonetheless) is one of the cutest things.  We talked but unfortunately the language barrier was a difficulty; his wife does not speak much English at all, but with Wu Tao’s help we exchanged some general information.  They both work and have two residences due to the grueling commute—they stay at Wu Tao’s in-laws house during the week, and live in their apartment during the weekends.  They told Wu Shuting to call me 哥哥 (gege, older brother) which was really kind.

Me and Wu Shuting

Me and Wu Shuting

As I looked over the menu I thought I was dreaming.  Burgers, steaks, mashed potatoes, and all the goodness that comprises the American culinary portfolio were before me.  I ordered a huge cheeseburger and I savored every bite, contented by the fact it wasn’t another dumpling or undecipherable piece of meat.   While his wife was walking around with their daughter (because she got antsy and wanted to walk around with her “Friendly’s balloon”) he started telling me how much his wife loves kids.  She wanted to have two, but they couldn’t because of the one child policy, and even if they could, they couldn’t afford it.  He said that kids are so expensive and it costs a Chinese roughly 500,000 Yuan to raise a kid to 18 years of age, an enormous amount of money for Chinese.  As reference, in one of my classes we found out that teachers often start at making only 2,000 Yuan annually-about $320.

After dinner, they drove me back, and I gave Wu Shuting the Barbie doll I had bought for her before leaving the states—she loved it.  I was extremely appreciative for their generosity, as I know how expensive western food is here, and that they drove more than an hour to take me out.  Throughout the night, I said thanks constantly, to which Wu Tao’s wife simply replied, “We are family.”


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