Yesterday, I had the honor and pleasure of showing Maplewood and South Orange to Columbia High School’s new Mandarin Language teacher, Niu Xiuqing.
I arrived at her host family’s home in South Orange, Thursday morning and asked what she’d like to see. Xiuqing said she’d like to South Mountain Reservation and whatever else I thought she’d like.
So, for two hours, that’s what we did.
Our first stop was the reservation. We went to the lookout on the loop and got out. The trees have all but obscured the view, but she was excited to see a small bit of the city. Xiuqing, who is from Beijing, loved the forest and mentioned how lucky we were to have such a beautiful, peaceful space so close to us. As we drove the loop, I pointed the sculpture park, wildflower garden, and hiking paths to her.
Next we went into South Orange and stopped first at the train station. Xiuqing asked if we had to show ID to buy train tickets. I said no and asked why. She said that in China, your name is on the ticket and only you can use it. I explained that technically, the monthly passes can only be used that way, but all other ones aren’t. We went into the station and up to the tracks to get a better view of downtown, which she loved. I briefly explained how the towns sprung up around the railroads and how important the trains are. We spoke briefly about how to get into NYC and that the track work would hopefully be completely soon and she could then take a train directly into New York City.
As we drove around, I asked her what she found surprising, or unusual here. Xiuqing replied that the houses were all different colors and styles. She explained that in Beijing, it was mostly apartment buildings.
Next we drove to Maplewood. Xiuqing has a much better sense of direction than I do, and was able to figure out the relation between places and streets so much better than me. We took Valley Street from South Orange and passed by Columbia High School. And she was very excited. Turns out she hadn’t yet been inside. So I detoured and we pulled into the parking lot. I wanted to introduce her to Principal Elizabeth Aaron, but she was in a meeting.
With CHS still preparing for the new school year, it wasn’t looking its best, but Xiuqing was still so excited to be inside. We peeked into the auditorium and she had to take a photo. I have to think that schools in China are not as old or as grand as Columbia. She also asked if we could take a look at a classroom, so we snuck into one. I explained it was a bit smaller and we were in the older part of the building, but this was what an average classroom looks like.
Off to Maplewood.
We walked from one end of Maplewood Avenue to the other and back, stopping into stores and window shopping as we went. I pointed out a few places to get Maplewood and South Orange branded “stuff,” explained what a bagel was, explained what a diner was and why they are the best thing ever, explained very briefly about the Starbucks controversy, which lead to a discussion on tea and coffee.
Tea is still the most common drink in China. The young people are the ones starting to drink coffee. Occasionally Xiuqing will drink coffee, but she much prefers tea.
We also touched on housing in America. She explained that out of the 10 teachers that came over, she was given the highest housing allowance. I briefly explained why – mainly due to the nearness of New York City and the limited housing resources. We stopped in the Able Baker, where I explained that many Americans love having dessert for breakfast. She was amazed that you could go to one place and get so many things. She found it incredibly convenient to have a “downtown.”
On our way back I asked her what her impressions of South Orange and Maplewood were so far.
Xiuqing replied that everyone was so very warm and friendly and willing to help. She was so very thankful for such a warm welcome.
Read more about Niu Xiuqing and the introduction of Mandarin at Columbia High School here: