Several years ago, about 2007 to be exact I heard about a program named Skype. I found it by way of watching a news interview and the reporter was being patched into the live news program via a program called Skype. I looked up Skype and read about it and at first I thought it was just another chat program. I never really was into chat, after all who would I chat with? If I wanted to talk to someone I would just pick up the phone. So I went on to read and learn more about Skype and I found it was a little different (at the time), so I downloaded it. Ok… Now I have it downloaded, but nobody I know has Skype so now what? It was like sitting in a sports car with no gas in the tank. After a few days of thinking about it and pondering I remembered reading that companies used Skype for global communications. So if I had a friend on the other side of the world I would be able to talk to them and… ah so what, I barley know myself let alone somebody on the other side of the world. I always wanted a Chinese pen pal, I have always been fascinated with Asian cultures, Chinese in particular because it dates back so many centuries and has an enormous history. Also China is so large the cultures are not the same in all regions.
So why not get a Chinese pen pal, there must be a website for that. Right? Now before I go any further I know a lot of you are thinking “he’s crazy” and that’s ok because for the most part I’m right there with you on that thought. But I like crazy, that’s me. So yes there are pen pal websites although now they call them “language exchange” sites. I pick out a site and spend time reading and studying all about it. Many times when I tell this story I get asked; how did I know how to do this? Do what? I just spent hours reading about it. But isn’t that boring? Yes, but remember I’m crazy. So after reading I make a profile and then I sit there and look at the screen… now what? Maybe about two weeks later I get an email that someone wants to contact me, then a day or two later another contact comes in. I contact the person back and tell them I have Skype and nothing really happens. Now you must know this is strictly plutonic on my end. I am not in any way looking for online relationships other than to talk about culture and daily life. The second contact was a hit and we would chat. It was a Chinese boy who was a swimmer training for the upcoming Olympics. His English name was Ben. He was very interesting to chat with. Then a girl named Grace contacted me but not through the exchange site but rather by way of the Skype directory (like a big phone book). She just pulled my name out of the directory because I was in the USA and that intrigued her. We chatted and she told me many stories about her life in China. Nothing special, just everyday life.
As time passed I made many friends in China both male & female, from different regions with different jobs or careers. Some worked in science laboratories, one lady was a coal broker and another was a purchaser for a manufacturing company. One person I found very interesting was a college student who had very strict parents. They wanted her to learn English and paid for a private tutor for her and her younger sister, one hour every day. She also was learning proper American etiquette and would contact me when she had a question about her homework. I remember teaching her how to set a table with the placement of each utensil and what that utensil would be used for. She ate with chopsticks so she had no knowledge at all of what a salad fork vs. dinner fork was. It was truly a fascinating thing for me. Boring for anybody else, fascinating for me. I remember a young man about 22 or 23 contacting me and asking if I would re-write his résumé in correct English. He was applying to a Japanese company that specialized in disaster rescue after catastrophic events like earthquakes and tsunamis. He got the job and moved to Japan and I never heard from him again. I learned about what they learn in school, what they like & dislike, how they live, work, play commute. I also learned what they think about USA, Obama and all our politics or what they know of it. I learned what they hear in their news is not always the truth (as we know it) and I learned more so what we hear in our media is not always the truth. Funny thing I learned is that Americans always talk about how our media sucks (for the lack of a better word) but we’ll defend it as the truth if another country’s media says something different. I would hear things like “what the hell do they know… they’re China.” And yes the Chinese do the same, they defend their media. I guess you could sum the whole experience up as “we are all the same” we are human; we are the people of the world. My chat friends had the same problems we all do. They had divorce, cancer, love & hatred, careers, college, vacations, pets, loneliness, depression, happy, domestic problems, religion, and a zest for life.
I still have never traveled to China and most of my chat friends have moved on except for Grace. We stay in touch through email and exchange photos. She has a job as a travel agent and sends me photos of the places along her travels. I know I will travel to China one day and I know it will be the time of my life. I like most tourists want to see the Great Wall but that is about as far as I want to go with the “normal” tourist travel, for having friends there that you personally know sheds a whole new light on things and opens so many more possibilities for being able to see other places like farms and the countryside. Maybe having a chance to go to an out of the ordinary place that and American tourist would never get to see. If you have read some of my previous blog posts about travel you will know, yes I like to travel but I hate the masses. I have never been on a tour bus in my life. Not to say they are bad but it just is not me. So there you have it that is how I became known around the world (I guess you could say). It certainly changed the way I view the world, that’s for sure. I think the one thing that hit me the hardest and has never left my brain is the fact that Chinese children (today) start learning English at about the 3rd grade. Problem is they are taught by other Chinese and not by a native English teacher so the reading and writing is there but there, but the speech is horrible. A Chinese person who can read, write & speak English can at this moment triple their yearly salary working for an American company based in China. Now here is the real kicker and the ironic contrast as I call it. Chinese people, 1.8 billion are willing to openly let English come to they’re daily life. But here in the USA where we are 300 million plus and we are having Spanish shoved down our throats and up our ass by 15 million wanna-be residents. Just think about that… and let it sink in.
The reason I wrote this post was to let people know a little about how I became friends with people I never met face to face 8000 miles away.
I also met my wife via Skype as a 100% cold contact; I just picked her name out of the directory. That is another story for another day.