The teacher who gave me my Chinese name died in my arms after a long bout with cancer. She had no family in the States. They were all in Tianjin. She never married, never had children. For months, I went to her home every day. For weeks, I slept in her spare room. While taking care of all of her needs, I also kept her company. Her mind was always lucid. Her body continued to deteriorate until the end. On that final day, hour, and moment, her head was on my chest. I cried. I am crying now.
She was a real Dragon Lady, very severe. One time, I made the mistake of flattering my own Chinese ability. She did not speak to me for a week. Old enough to be my mother, her coldness broke my heart. When I went to her to apologise, not knowing what I had done to offend her, she said that my Chinese would never be good enough to brag about. Given a lifetime of devotion, there was still no way that I would ever master the height, depth, and breadth of the Chinese language. Humbled, I begged her pardon. In mild acquiescence, she confirmed that my Chinese was ‘not bad’, ‘不错’.