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Monday, March 13, 2017

The 'cat' came back

Some readers of this column will recall we hosted two boys from Suzhou, China at the farm a few years ago. When applying to be international students, both young men requested rooms on a farm. They wanted a taste of Canadian farm living. 

The problem with having two boys visiting from the same country is that they are more apt to revert to their mother tongue when conversing with each other. This makes learning English a whole lot more difficult. John and Jerry had friends at school who would help them with their conversational English, but it was just too easy and too tempting to switch back to Mandarin when they got home. Their progress was very slow during the year they stayed with us.

Farm life, as well, turned out to be not such a good fit. Perhaps the boys thought they could play with the animals, tractor and ATV, but maybe we had farm hands to do the dirty work? Wrong. I don’t even have help cleaning this huge house. That first season, the Farmer took the boys out to the stable and gave them a lesson in mucking out the horse stall. The first time they did it, the boys declared it was a fine form of exercise. The second time, they said they needed a shower right away, followed by a nap. The third time, in late spring, they said they had never smelled anything so awful in all their lives. I told them they were lucky we didn’t have chickens at the time.

After a few months of settling in, the boys declared they couldn’t even fill the wood bin. It was too much work. (It takes me about ten minutes to carry wood in from the back porch, by the way.) They spent their time in their rooms using the Internet, or in the kitchen, eating everything in sight. I worried they wouldn’t earn the required credits to pass their year.

The next fall, John did not return to Canada. His father decided to put him to work to pay off the money he ‘wasted’ sitting in his room on our farm, learning nothing. Jerry, on the other hand, had spent the summer being tutored in English by a college graduate. He was ready for year two of his international experience, and this time it showed. He lived with a family in town (having realized the farming life was not for him) and worked hard on his studies. At the end of the year I was able to watch him graduate with his friends. He was pretty proud of himself. He enrolled in college and was accepted, although he would once again have to work on his English over the summer. I hoped he hadn’t bitten off more than he could chew.

Imagine my surprise when, the other day, a brand new silver BMW pulled carefully into the yard. I thought it strange that the driver pulled up to the barn instead of the house. Then the door opened and Jerry stepped out. He had hoped to catch the Farmer at home. He wanted to show my husband his new car. He had also brought someone he wanted us to meet.

Richie is graduating from Algonquin this year, a practical nurse. She comes from the same part of China as Jerry. He met her in his first year of International Marketing. He has one year left to go.

I watched as the six-foot Chinese man led the young woman around the farm. He showed her the cows and pointed up at his old bedroom window, telling her it had a great view of the sunset. He asked about the dogs, the donkey, the horse and the sheep. I told him we had moved into the retirement phase of farming, with just a dozen cattle. Then I handed him a copy of my book for his memories, and told him I was very proud of him. He said he would read it, to practice his English (which, by the way, was absolutely perfect). Then he promised to return one day soon, when the Farmer was home.

Just as they were leaving, one of the barn cats emerged from her hiding spot under the couch and darted past Jerry. He leapt a foot in the air. So not everything has changed about the big guy from China. He’s still terrified of cats.

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