Tuesday, June 28, 2022

My Pen Pal in China

It was during the mid-90s, right after I retired and returned from the US (after a 40-year stay) to Japan and started thinking about visiting China next. I was searching for a pen pal to exchange letters and I found one. I wrote to him in Chinese and he wrote back in Japanese, both of us benefiting from writing in our second or third language to brush up.

I became acquainted with Zhu Guanshan, a college student of Jilin University, through the courtesy of a Japanese language teacher heading to the university. Zhu-San and I exchanged letters often, Zhu-San expressing his wish to visit Japan as an exchange student while in college (I believe he made it but I did not get a chance to meet him when he did).

Zhu-san, was hired by a company in Shanghai after graduating from Jilin University. Our correspondence continued as before. I visited Beijing, Kunming, and other places in China, each for over a month in 1996. I also started visiting Taiwan as a Toastmaster around 2000. As a side-note, 2003 was my busiest year, starting with visits to Berlin and the rest of Europe in the spring, followed by the Toastmaster Convention in Atlanta, Georgia and then attending the 20th Anniversary of Minato Japanese Language School in San Diego in November.

Zhu-san luckily found my October calendar clear with his invitation to his wedding. I accepted it thinking the ceremony would take place in Shanghai, an easy location to fly into from Kitakyushu. The ceremony happened to be in Jilin in Northeast China, formerly known as Manchuria. Jilin borders the Heilongjiang Province to the northeast, Russia to the east, North Korea to the southeast, Liaoning to the southwest and Inner Mongolia to the northwest, a most fascinating destination for a tourist.

I politely declined his request. Then he promised to send his friend to meet me at Shenyang Airport and accompany me to Jilin for a 400 km railroad trip. How can I refuse such an offer? I accepted.

To make a long story short, I enjoyed the trip to Jilin and the wedding ceremony with more than a hundred people. I still remember the hard drill of memorizing my congratulatory message in Chinese (text attached).

I am happy to post the latest Zhu San’s family photos he sent me here.