My parents have been hosting a Chinese immigrant that was sent from China 15 years ago by a good friend of mine.
Lao Dou (Old Bean) came to my American family as an unexpected guest.
I was leaving Nanchang, China, after 3 years of teaching English at Jiangxi Normal University. My good friend, Mr. Wu, was seeing me off at the train station.
“I will send something for your father,” the elderly Wu had said, showing me a small brown packet. The contents shifted and rattled mysteriously.
“I will send in the mail,” Wu explained. “Please tell him to look for them.”
Sure enough, several weeks later, Mr. Wu’s packet arrived. My father carefully opened the stained, brown envelope they had come in. Inside, he found a number of seeds wrapped around a thin piece of paper. On this, Mr. Wu had painstakingly written in English: “I send you Lao Dou (Old Bean), which I grow in my garden every year.” He then gave detailed instructions on when and how to plant this Chinese vegetable.
The first year Old Bean joined our backyard community, war erupted. My father had crammed him in among his prized Big Boy tomatoes and a battle ensued. Both vied for ownership of the metal stakes, their vines choking one another in an intense twining match. Eventually, they spilled into my mother’s ground cover, the Japanese ribbon grass. As the summer progressed, there seemed to be no end to the fight for land dominance. Lao Dou’s foot-long beans torpedoed the tomato vines, the Big Boy tomatoes bombed the Japanese ribbon grass and the ribbon grass slashed at the two like a well-trained samurai warrior. Then, too, my parents weren’t happy with each other. My mother blamed my father for the chaotic mess, and my father criticized my mother for her hostile ground cover. It was a summer of great conflict and no resolution.
The second year, cultural sensitivity took root. Old Bean received his own plot, the Big Boys became a close neighbor and the Japanese ribbon grass formed the boundary between the two. With this territorial re-mapping came a new understanding among the plants of the garden, not to mention my parents. The backyard community united, and it has remained this way ever since.
As the summers went by, Old Bean’s progress was continuously reported to Mr. Wu. My father wrote about Old Bean’s health, his growth rate, his coloring, and even his goodwill gestures. When my brother’s Chinese-American neighbors invited their parents to visit from mainland China, it was Old Bean who welcomed them into the country. My father sent over a sack of his Chinese vegetable harvest, which we later heard was wok-ed up with great delight. How proud we were that our Chinese immigrant possessed such ambassadorial skills as to bring comfort to those far from home.
This summer marks the fifteenth anniversary of Lao Dou’s arrival to America. Mr. Wu and I don’t live in the same province anymore, but reports from my father have informed us both that Old Bean (or rather his saved offspring from the previous summer) is especially splendid this year. The Midwest’s abundant rains have given him a vibrant green hue and a healthy plumpness. Pictures have been promised us, and we are anxiously awaiting their arrival.
My parents have received a number of gifts from China over the years, many sent by Chinese friends of mine wanting to be kind. These have included silk scarves, porcelain vases, clay teapots, hand painted scrolls, and embroidered slippers, all of which weren’t cheap. But the most precious and valued gift of all is the one that came with no expensive price tag attached, sent from the heart by our Mr. Wu. That’s the one we always call Old Bean.
From Chengdu, hoping your summer garden harvest is a generous one and wishing you "Ping An!" (Peace)
REMINDER FOR AID IN BUYING TENTS, VACCINES AND NEEDED SUPPLIES FOR EARTHQUAKE DISASTER AREAS
(Yes, still needed with 5 million having no homes)
United Methodists: UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response, China Earthquake