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Zhou Lin's Firsts in Boston
June 17, 2006
Brecken Swartz
Zhou Lin, her mom, and Xu Lan arrived here in Boston about 11:30pm on the night of June 5th. American Airlines was kind enough to arrange their airfare from Shanghai to Boston, and to allow me and the documentary cameraman from VOA to go all the way down the boarding ramp to meet them as they disembarked. We were all amazed to see Zhou Lin coming off the plane riding on her tiny mother's back. I was wondering if they would be nervous or scared to be overseas for the first time, but they were all smiles from the moment they got off the plane. I was touched to find that the Customs Inspector at the Chicago Airport had let Zhou Lin bring the pink roses she had been given by American Airlines in Shanghai all the way through to Boston. We will dry them and make the bouquet into a decoration for her room here.

Our apartment, provided by Hospitality Homes, is wonderful and only about a block from Shriners' Burn Center. Once we got to the apartment, I took a while giving them a tour and helping them get settled. They told me they were too wound up to sleep right away, so we sat up until after 2:00am drinking tea and exchanging gifts. I put out some small crackers for a snack, and Zhou Lin was very adept with her hands taking full advantage of those, which was nice to see. She can also use chopsticks quite skillfully, despite the condition of her burned hands.

The American-style bathroom in our apartment was hard for them to get used to (the awkward shower handle took a while to figure out), and they find our large American towels kind of odd. Everyone seems to be settling in nicely now, though. It's a one-bedroom apartment, so Zhou Lin and her mom are sharing the double bed in the bedroom, Xu Lan is on a chair that folds out into a bed, and I'll be sleeping on the floor. Zhou Lin let me carry her on my back on the way to bed, which was fun and sent her again into peals of charming laughter.

On our first morning here, we went straight to Shriners Burn Center to give Zhou Lin and her mother an idea of what the hospital is like. We were given a very nice tour by one of the volunteer Shriners, who gave us a chance to see the playrooms, the treatment and rehabilitation rooms, and to meet some of the staff and a few of the patients. We also learned about the unbelievable amounts of money donated by the Shriners to support this and their many other hospitals that provide burn and orthopedic treatment to needy children free of charge.

After visiting the hospital, we went to the local supermarket, Whole Foods Market, which was a major adventure in itself, since they had never seen an American grocery store. We wandered around the produce section alone for about a half an hour. The staff at Whole Foods were delightful to us, letting them have a taste of anything they wanted. Zhou Lin was particularly impressed with the fresh cherries, so we bought a bag -- which turned out to be $16 worth! We'll definitely have to find a less expensive place to shop. Hopefully one of the local Chinese students here can help drive them to a Chinese store to buy foods they are familiar with. Zhou Lin is definitely nervous about what lies ahead, but it is obvious that we are in very good hands.

One of our first sightseeing trips was to Harvard University, where a good friend of mine is studying now. Although Zhou Lin and her mother had never heard of Harvard, they were impressed with the beauty of the campus -- especially the lovely squirrels. (You can always tell people who have newly arrived in the US, because they get a real kick out of the squirrels that run around everywhere here.) We also got to pet a gorgeous white Samoyed dog, who frightened Zhou Lin at first because of his size, but she decided after petting him a bit that he was very sweet and "guai" (obedient).

We've already taught Zhou Lin how to use a computer, and she typed her first message all by herself. It reads (in Chinese pinyin), "I want to walk, so my mom and dad don't need to carry me to school. That way, I can go and see my friends. If they have a birthday, I can go, which will definitely be really fun."

A typical 14-year-old, huh? :)

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