Today I finally went to pick up my name seal. I was really excited (and still am since I spent years thinking about getting one) but a small comment and other things have dampened my feelings a little. When I went with my liaison, I knew that since she worked as an English teacher it wouldn't be fair to expect her to be highly knowledgeable about something like name seals. It's not her job and not what she trained for. After all, part of the pull in learning about another language and its culture(s) is studying a world different from your own. (It makes me think of reading Pico Iyer whenever he describes the dreams that Westerners bring to Asia and vice versa.) I just didn't realize how out of depth the adventure would be until she insisted that we not find something so expensive and "just get one for 10 kuai". I took her to the one shop where they didn't make and sell only name seals. I'm happy to have met someone who extended an invitation to learn about Chinese culture in his shop but after getting the reaction of one man who told me that it was poorly made (when I wanted something special) I was a little sad. On the other hand, it's mine and I can't say that it's not what I wanted: something unique from my time in Zhuzhou that has something of myself and something of China. My name in Chinese and an animal that represents both the year of my birth and my first Chinese new year here. Even if this isn't work done by the greatest carver in Zhuzhou, he is still a good painter and a kind man. His shop was the only place selling seals while kids painted inside and it was the only one where I was comfortable telling him I was American and trying to learn Chinese. I guess there's time until next year to save up for a really nice one from the man who does a very particular style (and it's pretty clear from the minute you see his shop and his work that it's a very special kind of art). I'll try not to focus too much on that one comment and focus instead on the ideas that drove me to wait until I came to Zhuzhou to buy a seal. The man who carved it wasn't there when I went to pick it up, but two people were there who offered me a seat and some tea. I said no, but I feel like I should go back and give him some fruit to share with his family and students as a way of recognizing the kind offer he made (that I plan to take him up on). It just seems like the most acceptable move. Food is one of the easier ways to build relationships here. It makes me think of the origins for the word "company" in English: the idea that the people you work with are close enough that you share bread with each other. Here, it's a lot of invitations to lunch or dinner. Anyway, here's the picture below.
I think it's cool that he has these cards with his business information and space where he can stamp and show you the final end product of his work. Knowing it took him a whole week to do this keeps me from being too critical of his work and knowing that he wants to share what he knows does kind of make this seal the beginning of my relations with "shi fu" as I call him in my head. Besides, I wanted to fill this with meanings so I guess there's nothing more true of who I am right now than a roughly carved stone. There is much to learn still about China (like if you really can get bugs in your hair by walking through the rain without an umbrella) and as a foreigner my Chinese manners are pretty unnuanced and unrefined. I still remember watching Raz quietly moving around a table and toasting people who had organized an event, a gesture they appreciated that in my year here I hadn't really grasped. All I can really say when drinking is "Gan bei"/"Empty cup" with a ton of other people. What Raz must know and pick up on after living here for 13 years is something I plan to look out for when I run into him next year. Talking to him comes pretty easy after seeing how excited he gets when people ask him about what brought him to China and what he's seen. I wonder how many people actually do ask him. I honestly don't know many people who stay beyond 5 years.
I'm a 3rd year WorldTeach volunteer.