I have been trying to write this post for months. Because I care so much about the story, I want the post to be perfect. Because I want perfection, it’s very difficult to write. I think I’ve finally settled for less-than-perfect-but-at-least-published. I hope you’ll catch a glimpse of my heart as you read.
Just over a year ago, I wrote a post entitled “Chinese Cheers” in which I described a favorite local restaurant and my desire to get to know the owners there better. Here’s a quick synopsis if you haven’t read the original post:
For the first three years I lived in Taiwan, I frequented a special dumpling restaurant (known to us only as “the tang bao place”) with my sisters, other friends, and my parents (whenever they came to visit). We had always greatly enjoyed the food at this restaurant, but it was during my fourth year in Taiwan, that a friend, Laura, and I came to really love the owners of the restaurant as well. The only problem was that language barriers kept us from really knowing them well. We didn’t even know their names, but we hoped to get to know them better.
The Beginning of a Friendship
One day, Laura and I were having dinner at the tang bao place, and it was a slow night for business, so the restaurant owner’s wife, a young, beautiful Vietnamese woman, wasn’t scurrying around taking orders and helping in the kitchen like normal. Instead, she was hanging around our table as we ate our meal and played with her little boy who had the freedom to roam the restaurant.
Laura, being the bold one but not knowing any Chinese, encouraged me to ask the lady her name. We had wanted to know it for so long, but we had never asked. In broken Chinese, I said, “I’m embarrassed that I don’t know this already, but what is your name?” She told us we could call her Ah Hang. This was the beginning of a very fun and interesting conversation during which we learned Ah Hang’s age, asked her about her home and family in Vietnam, discussed her Taiwanese family and her son, and talked about her pregnancy (she was pregnant with a second child–this time, a girl). We even traded phone numbers so that Ah Hang could call us when her baby was born.
During the course of conversation, we asked what we could call her little boy. His Chinese name was very difficult for us to pronounce, but before we had a chance to even try to learn it, Ah Hang said that we could give him an English name and call him that. Well, that gave us something to think about.
The next couple of times we came to the restaurant, we continued to connect with Ah Hang. Once she brought out handmade earrings, a pair for each of us. What a sweet gift! Ah Hang asked us several times if we had thought of a name for her son, so we realized she was very serious about us giving him an English name. We began to ponder it quite seriously at that point.
We decided to give the little boy the name James, after my father. We wrote out a brief note about the meaning and significance of the name and had a friend translate it to Chinese on a pretty card. We also bought a little photo album and filled it with pictures of us at the tang bao restaurant, including some very cute photos of Ah Hang and her family. When we had prepared our gift we took it with us to the restaurant and discreetly presented it to Ah Hang as we were leaving after a scrumptious meal.
Later that night, I got a phone call. I didn’t recognize the number, and it took me a moment to recognize the voice. I couldn’t believe it: it was Ah Hang! She was speaking all in Chinese, and let me tell you it is a lot more difficult to understand a foreign language without visual cues to help you. Still, I managed and we talked for probably 15 minutes on the phone. She just kept saying thank you for the photo album and the name for her son. She also said she wanted me to bring back pictures of my wedding to show her after the summer. I was elated when I got off the phone with Ah Hang because this was the first time that our relationship reached outside the boundaries of the restaurant.
Disappointment Turned Opportunity
The disappointing truth was that I would be leaving for summer vacation in just a few short weeks, and after the summer, I would be moving to Taichung. I was discouraged because I thought my relationship with this woman and her family would end when I moved. However, God (I believe this has all been his work) had different plans. And it started with a new iPhone.
When Charles and I moved to Taichung after the summer, we both wanted to get smart phones. Neither of us had owned them before, but living in a new and foreign city on our own, we really wanted access to the 3G network, to maps/GPS, etc. So, I bought an iPhone and Charles got an Android phone. Not long after my purchase, I got a message on the Line app, and who do you think it was from? None other than Ah Hang! We started communicating regularly via Line, using a mixture of Chinese and English writing. She often sent me pictures of her and her family, and I responded with pictures of me, Charles, and Emi. Ah Hang and I chatted on Line multiple times a week; here I was in Taichung, and I was communicating more regularly with her than I ever had when I lived in Kaohsiung. I couldn’t help praising God for his goodness in this relationship!
Charles and I have had the opportunity to visit my sisters and friends in Kaohsiung several times since moving to Taichung. Every time we’ve gone back, I’ve made it a point to let Ah Hang know we were coming and to visit the restaurant. Each time we visited, we spent a long time chatting with Ah Hang and playing with her children.
One special moment was the first time we visited, just after the summer. Ah Hang’s beautiful baby girl was less than a month old. In Taiwanese culture, parents do not bring their babies out in public when they are that young. However, as soon as I walked into the restaurant that day, Ah Hang said, “I’ll go get the baby.” She brought her out and let me hold her. The baby was so tiny and precious, and I couldn’t believe I was getting to see and hold her when she was so young.
Another time, Ah Hang was talking to her little boy (he’s about 2 1/2), and she told him to call me his second mother. In Taiwanese culture, most women who are close to the family would be called “ayi” or “auntie,” but Ah Hang told me, “my children are your children.” I am overwhelmed by the love this woman shows to me.
An Important Invitation
The final piece of this story (so far) happened during one of our visits to the restaurant a few months ago. Ah Hang asked me if I would be in Kaohsiung during the New Year. I asked her if she meant American or Chinese (Lunar) New Year. She meant Chinese. I said I didn’t know if we’d be in Kaohsiung or not. She then said, “You should come here and eat with us.” (By the way, this whole conversation was taking place in Chinese). Since my Chinese is not that great, at first I thought she just meant that we should come to the restaurant. Then I realized she was saying that we should come to eat with her whole family.
Now, let me pause for a moment. In case you don’t know, Chinese New Year for Taiwanese people is like the 4th of July, Christmas, and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. It is by far the most important family holiday on the Chinese calendar.
So back to my story. When I realized that we were getting a personal invitation to this family’s CNY celebration, I was flabbergasted. Ah Hang said, “Yes! Bring your husband, your sisters, Laura. You can all come.” Well, of course I told her “yes!” I knew well enough not to pass up an invitation like this.
The months passed, and we visited the restaurant once or twice more. We were waiting for a follow-up invitation since we wanted to make sure that this was a legitimate request. Well, while Charles and I were visiting over Christmas, Ah Hang’s husband pulled out the calendar and showed us exactly which date we were invited for Chinese New Year. They told us to come at 5:00 on Thursday, January 30, which is the actual New Year’s Eve here. So, in two days, Charles and I will be heading down to Kaohsiung for this very important celebration. Laura and my youngest sister Ashleigh are serving on a mission trip in Tacloban (the Philippines) right now, so they won’t be able to join us. However, my middle sister, Sara, will attend the event with us. We’re super excited, and we’re even ready to face the nightmarish CNY traffic in order to get to Kaohsiung.
More to the Story (Hopefully)
Well, I’m hoping that there’s more to this story. We plan to take lots of photos and to share stories about our Chinese New Year celebration with our friends. And I’m hoping and praying that this is just the beginning of a long friendship that will continue to thrive even though there is physical distance and there are language barriers between us. I’m also praying that someday God will give me or someone else a chance to share with Ah Hang and her family about God’s sacrificial love and redemption.
Breaking All the Rules
I know I’ve broken the rules of blogging by writing a post this long. Let’s just chalk it up to the English major in me that loves Dickens and Tolkien and Austen (think about how long their stories are!). Maybe I wrote this story for me more than anyone else. Maybe someone will be encouraged by this story of God’s orchestration of an unlikely friendship. I hope you enjoyed my story, and I hope there will be more to tell. In the meantime, enjoy a few more photos of my friend Ah Hang, her family, my family and friends, and me.