My Chinese sister, Li Xiaolian (Cathy), and I finally accomplished a 10-year goal: for the two of us to meet up in the pool together for me to give her a swimming lesson. We’ve talked about it for years but it wasn’t until this past Saturday morning that we finally succeeded.
Seeing us giggling, speaking in English and splashing around in the water caused quite a stir among other pool patrons. They marveled at Cathy’s English and my skills at teaching strokes. We certainly made the most of that 10-year wait, the length of time our friendship began in 1993 with my arrival in Luzhou.
Cathy is the former Dean of the English Department at our college. This is why we know each other so well, but she left 6 years ago to take up another faculty position at the Luzhou Police College, located up the road from us.
In the past, I’ve written about Cathy, including her son’s matriculation into a top Beijing university. As was the custom, Cathy and her husband threw a huge celebratory party to invite friends, family and neighbors to share in their happiness. It’s hard to believe that blog was written 4 years ago with photos of a young, 18-year-old “Jack” heading off to study.
Now he is graduating and will be working as an engineer for the Army, which gave him a full-ride scholarship to attend the top engineering school in the country. His mom’s hope is for him to be stationed in Chengdu, quite near Luzhou, so that she can see him more often. He is their only child and, as all one-child policy parents, is their greatest pride and joy.
As for Cathy, who is my age, we’ve kept in touch over the years that I’ve been gone from Sichuan. We consider ourselves sisters, sharing everything of importance about our lives, families and personal secrets.
A Missed Opportunity Due To A Stupid Mistake
As mentioned before, Cathy and I share everything, including her darkest and most regrettable time in life.
This happened about 5 years ago, when Cathy’s dream of entering the PhD program at the prestigious Beijing University came to a stunning end.
PhD programs in China are very difficult to get into, especially for us older folk. Programs place age limits on candidates, rarely taking anyone in their 40s. Yet Cathy, then 43, managed to get her application accepted and with permission from the Police College, she was allowed to attend the PhD entrance examinations held in Beijing. (Note: College faculty in China must get permission from school leaders to take exams to enter any higher education program. This is why it’s always best to have excellent relationships with the higher-ups. If you don’t, most likely you’ll be out of luck when you are looking for favors.)
The Beijing University entrance exams were a 3-day affair. Cathy arrived early to study and brush up on all that would be required of her. This included an English language interview, held in the afternoon after her basic English test was to be taken.
She had exams in Chinese philosophy, Chinese education and other noteworthy topics designed for those entering any PhD program. She had studied and prepared for this for over 6 months.
The fundamental English exam, however, was to be the easiest one.
With her vast experience in the language, not to mention all the educational articles she’d had published in English and her excellent verbal skills, the one test she knew she’d easily pass was that one.
After her test was finished that morning, she headed over in the afternoon for the one-on-one English language interview. I was such a success that the interviewers couldn’t help but tell her that of all the candidates, her English ability ranked the top.
That evening, Cathy told me she went to bed with soaring hopes of getting excellent results the next day.
And excellent results she did get.
She was called into the dean’s office where all her marks far outshone every other candidate that they had interviewed, a total of 5. All the marks, however, except one: The basic English exam, where she had not only failed miserably but gotten the lowest score.
“How is that possible??!!!” she asked in shock.
It seems that from question 2, Cathy had mistakenly missed answering a question on her test paper but continued to fill in her ovals. In other words, from Question 2 onward, all the answers she completed were wrong due to her not paying attention to the number she was answering.
This disastrous mistake cost her dearly.
She was not accepted into the Beijing University PhD program, despite being their top candidate, although they told her she could try again next year. Her heart was broken, however. She confided in me she cried for almost 2 weeks straight before finally accepting this fact and leaving her dream of a doctorate degree behind her.
Five years later, Cathy’s energetic spirit has returned and we can now enjoy spending time together after my 3-year absence. In fact, this evening we’ll be meeting up for a family dinner . . . of sorts. Cathy is scheming with her best friend to do a little match-making: her son (Jack) and her friend’s daughter (Lily). Lily will be attending this little family dinner along with myself.
Will romantic sparks be flying? We shall see!
Until next report, here’s wishing you Ping Ahn (Peace) for your July 4th celebrations.