China Series

A version of this story was published as part of monthly series that ran in the Warrensburg, MO The Daily Star Journal from Oct. 2000 through May 2001.

Our Homecoming Tradition

From 28 years, we watched every Central-Missouri homecoming parade, afterwards enjoying KFC, often with out-of-town guests. Somehow, we wanted to continue the spirit of that tradition even in Beijing.

We checked out the local KFC before the big event. The results were somewhat disappointing. The chicken looked the same; the side dishes were different: soup, French fries, no mashed potatoes, rolls, not biscuits and no cole-slaw. There was no English menu. Still, it would have to do.

On the day of homecoming, we left the old flat just after 11:00, to have ample time for lunch on the way to Chao Yang Culture Center, for the 3:00 English Corner. The KFC along the bus route was nicer than the one we had visited. It had no English menu, but an advertising board next to the front door had pictures of the selections, including mashed potatoes and cole slaw. We entered with great expectation.

Inside, I looked at the pictures and Sara said, "It's a nice day. I'd like to eat outside." Seeing that request as a means of delaying the task of ordering, I suggested that we find the spot first and then I could come back and purchase the food.

Then, magically, appeared before our eyes, a young woman with an order pad, asking, "may I help you?"

"You speak English?" I said.

"Only a... little."

I pointed to the pictures of individual items, but she wanted to sell us meals, including the soup and french fries. So, I asked her to follow me.

Outside, we pointed to the pictures on the promotional sign to tell her what we wanted. Everything was great. It was only 1:30. The Culture Center was only 30 minutes away by bus.

Back inside, they gave us the slaw, the mashed potatoes, and the Sprite without ice. We felt pleased. Then, they told us it would be a few minutes for the chicken. They asked us to find a seat and they would bring us the chicken. We attempted to tell them we would eat outside. Finally, we just took a seat.

After a few minutes, Sara suggested it might be a good idea for her to go outside. A few minutes later, I agreed her going outside was a good idea. A few minutes later, someone came and sat where she had been. A few minutes later, I attempted to get our helper's attention.

Finally she saw me. I saw this "upps, I forgot" flash across her face. However, she was busy. So, I tried to get the manager's attention, without success. So, I went, tray in hand, to the counter area and stood. That got his attention.

He said, "chicken?" I nodded. He indicated for me to have a seat, saying, in Chinese, they would bring it to me. I said no. He insisted. I refused, saying, "you forgot me once." So, he stood and talked with me, then in fairly good English, about our families.

We enjoyed our meal, authentic KFC, while feeling something of a time constraint. When we were finished, the helper brought hot water so that we could wash our hands.

We still had 35 minutes to catch bus 101 to the Center. Alas, there was no 101 in sight. Bus 112 was there. I was fairly sure that 112 went directly to the Center. I suggested we take it. That time I was correct. It got us to the Center on time.

The English Center was celebrating its third year in existence; our traditions coincided. Of course, there was a promotion for the Olympic 2008 bid which brought representatives of the media and the press.

They honored Sara and me, along with four other foreigners, by naming us Academic Advisors. After the presentation, the students entertained us with song and dance.

Having the KFC was sufficient for us to say we followed our tradition. However, the "parade," afterwards, made it a unique homecoming indeed because the Chinese people made us feel at home while treating us as if we were special.