Thursday, January 17, 2013

So Good.

She left Tuesday morning, after five nights with us.

Over the past decade, Sealth High School in West Seattle, has been oscillating across a cultural zip line to Chongqing, Seattle's city in The People's Republic of China. Scores of teachers and students have ventured to and fro across the frothy Pacific, as have Chief Sealth's principal and Seattle's mayor.

The whole thing got a little more awesome Saturday night. For the first time, the girls' basketball team from Nankai High School in Chonqing played the Chief Sealth Ladyhawks. But I'll get to that in a second.

Last fall, our daughter brought up the idea of hosting a player sometime in January. My wife doesn't process information like this, but I thought "Okay, sounds good. Let's do it. Now I’ll forget about it and get back to this bag of Pop Chips."

And not until the Ms. burst through our front door cradling an Aerobed (which I highly recommend—Costco, $139.99. Slather on a strip of memory foam and it feels like lyin' in butta'.), did the old tickler file kick in—"Oh, yeah. That’s right. She’s coming on Thursday.” I may not be quick on the uptake, but nothing jogs the memory like a big box of inflatable mattress in the middle of your living room.

Thursday evening arrived. The two teams had already met and spent a couple of hours getting to know each other over pizza at the school. Around 6:30, our daughter's text told us she and her new friend were on their way home in our Kia Minivan, evidence that we truly are an international family.

Everyone was nervous as the girls stepped slowly into our living room from the chilly air. She stood a couple inches shorter than our daughter and ducked slightly behind her. She appeared slender in her purple and white team warm-ups and wore her black hair tightly cropped. When she smiled, I could feel a jolt of psychic energy emanating from my wife and younger daughter—"Oh, she's adorable." She was cute.

We took turns introducing ourselves and even though I'd previously told myself, "Her hearing will be fine, don’t yell. Just speak slowly," when my turn came, I barked my name out like I was trying to be heard over a blow dryer.

“Follow me,” my elder daughter said. “I’ll show you where to put your suitcase.”

She smiled and rolled her suitcase a step behind her host. “Your house is beautiful,” she slowly pronounced. Over the years, when people have initially surveyed the interior of our three-bedroom, one-bathroom rambler, I’ve heard things like, “I love the color of your walls” or “I like your wood floors,” but never those simple words, “Your house is beautiful.”

“Thank you,” replied my daughter. “Come sit down.”

The four of us sat around her, competing to ask questions, which made us talk faster and louder, which made her not understand. After a while, we calmed down a smidge and got to know her a little.

She’s seventeen. At fourteen, she moved away from home to attend Nankai. While she talks frequently with her family on the phone, she sees them only during the summer and a short winter break.

She doesn’t watch TV. Like ever. I think that one threw for a loop the two television master watchers in the room. I won’t say which daughter, but when I glanced over at her, her eyes said, “How sad. There’s a whole world you're denied.”

Springing up suddenly, our guest jogged into her room and returned, not jogging, balancing an armful of artwork, chopsticks and spicy meaty delicious things in clear little envelopes. And as a special added bonus for my co-workers, I’ve put up one of those gifts, a cool hanging thing, in my cubicle. Come on by.

Over the next few days, the two girls hung out constantly. When they weren’t atop the Space Needle or at Pike Place Market with their cohorts, they were at our house, where we plied our guest with as many Western foods as her constitution could muster. Beverage of choice? Either Coke or coffee. Dairy products, especially cheese which is a rarity in the PRC, became a favorite. We loved it when she’d remark, “So good.”

Back to Saturday, night of the big game. The festivities began with a few words from various program supporters, including Seattle’s mayor, Mike McGinn, who arrived late. At the conclusion of his speech, a group of “lion dancers” took the floor for a traditional Chinese dance in which two people occupy a lion costume, mimicking its movements while dancing to a pounding rhythm section.

But then, controversy. During the middle of the performance, with the entire audience spellbound by the show, Mayor McGinn decided it might be a good time to meet the Nankai team. Within ten seconds, he was engulfed, first by a ring of Chinese players and then by an outer ring of paparazzi, their flashes exploding in rapid succession and completely distracting everyone.

It was freaking ridiculous. Look, I voted for Mike McGinn and I may vote for him again when he seeks a second term later this year, but come on, Mike, that was a chumpish move. How rude is it to show up late and miss your photo op with the team, and then completely diss the lion dancers halfway through their show? I’m jabbing at my temple right now, mister. Think.

My daughter had been anxious about the game, since apparently, Nankai is the third ranked team in all of China. That’s not exactly like being number three in Luxembourg, you know? And they were good—fundamentally skilled and aggressive, pushing around the yanks from the getgo. Our guest was lightning quick, constantly driving into the paint and either dishing off or laying it in. After a close first half, the Chinese team pulled away in the second, winning by twenty.

Afterward, the teams embraced and assembled for an impromptu “Gangnam Style” at center court. Nothing beats the international language of obnoxious pop music that sticks to your brain for days on end.

Forty eight hours later, she sat on her last night with us. We surrounded her on the couch as usual. “I will miss you,” she said, making eye contact with each of us. Then she looked away and everything got quiet. She was crying. While my wife grabbed a box of tissues, I hurried out of the room and came back with a couple of things we thought she might like.

Seattle skyline socks:

And some adidas slides:

According to well-placed sources, these two items are crucial in displaying the off-court "baller" look. It didn’t exactly lighten the mood, however. In fact, she just peeked into the box then closed it and looked away with a pained expression.

“Do you like them?” our daughter asked.

“Of course,” she replied softly.

My wife, younger daughter and I hung out a little more, then excused ourselves, leaving the teenagers to enjoy one more night together. By now, they’d become quite adept at communicating with each other; they shared music and got themselves hooked up to a Skype-type software that will hopefully allow them to communicate in the future.

Funny how five days can change your outlook on so many things.

So good.

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