Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | August 12, 2010

Mei Jia Hui

It’s official; I have a Chinese name. It turns out that the 22 hour train ride was actually not so terrible after all. Yes, I was packed into a section of 6 seats with 7 people, I used a hole in the floor to go to the restroom, the chair didn’t lean back at all, and I had feet propped up onto my seat in other people’s attempts to stretch their legs, but I did end up making a few friends and picking up a Chinese name along the way.

It’s important to know that if you want to feel famous, you should take a trip to China. I’ve had at least 5 different groups of people ask to take their picture with me, I’ve had tons of people smile and wave at me, and lots of people practice their English with me. I’m not Chinese or Asian, therefore I cause mass curiosity. This played into how I got a Chinese name.

I boarded the train that was supposed to leave Beijing central station at 11:57 am. I was not supposed to arrive in Shanghai until 10:03 am the next morning. The train was hot, packed and smelled like smoke. I was in car 9, seat 10 with about 200 other people packed in there with me. On one side of the train there were 4 seats (two seats facing two seats with a small table in between) and on the other side of the aisle there were 6 seats (three facing three). I was sitting next to a window on the side with 6 seats to a section. The seats around me quickly filled up until there were 3 other people sitting in the 2 seats next to me as well as people standing and sitting in the aisle…and people sitting in laps. Apparently, they overbook trains, and the passengers that don’t get a seat have to wait until other people get off at stations along the way.

Once we started moving I realized that at least 10 people were attentively staring directly at me. It was a little weird, but what can you do? I decided to get out my notebook and write a letter, but with zero table space, I had to put the notebook in my lap and write. This caused the 5 people nearest me to duck under the table to watch me write. I couldn’t help but laugh at the reaction, and ended up holding the paper up so that they could see. Talk about excitement. I flipped through my notebook to show them some more writing; everyone was happy. The three people across from me started talking to each other, and the one in the middle finally asked in broken English if I was a student. She acted as a translator from then on out as best she could, but her English was basic. We ended up communicating mostly by writing out words because she could read and write better than she could speak. I learned that the three of them were teachers with UNESCO for early childhood education in China. They wanted to practice their English and get to know me better.

One of the women wrote out the alphabet and wanted me to teach her how to pronounce the letters, so we went through them until she knew how to shape her mouth to say them correctly. Once she could say them, she wanted me to teach her the “abc” song, including the words at the end, so I sang it for her a few times and then we all sang it together about 10 more times. Once the singing started, they wanted to hear another song. I decided that happy birthday was as generic as American songs could get, so I learned one of their names and sang happy birthday to them. They all clapped, and I asked them to sing a song for me. The three of them started singing a song that must be well known in China because a handful of people around us started joining in. It was really awesome to be able to experience something like that. We could barely communicate, but we ended up spending almost 10 hours of the ride getting to know each other. I got out my guide book for China, and they suggested places to visit. They asked for my email address, and one of them had her middle school son text me from her phone to practice his English. After writing and asking questions back and forth, they learned that I did not have a Chinese name and decided to give me one. After a lot of thought and a lot of trying to figure out the English translation, they came up with “Mei Jia Hui,” which means “beautiful, best, and knowledge.” (It might be a little different in Chinese, but that’s the best translation we could figure out) From then on out, I was Mei Jia Hui, which was convenient since they couldn’t really pronounce “Kristen.”

Unfortunately they got off at a station 12 hours before Shanghai, so I didn’t get to talk to them any longer, but I was glad to have been able to get to know some people and learn a lot about China’s from them.

I got to Shanghai, rode the subway the rest of the way to my hostel, and took the most needed shower of my life.



  1. OMG that’s such a funny story! Sounds like your having a great time! Love you, Mo

  2. Each time I share your Alphabet/Birthday song experience with a teacher at school, they break into a broad smile. Sharing and helping others learn is at the core of their hearts, and they can’t help but be in awe of my daughter, the American ambassador/teacher! Love you, Kristen!

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