April 21, 1999 – It looked like a Bruce Rotary cultural exchange dinner and program on a recent Saturday night simply wasn’t going to come off when the foreign guests did not arrive on time with the food. As a part of the club’s emphasis on international relations, incoming president Don McMaster worked out a program with 11 Ole Miss students from China for them to prepare real native food and bring it to the fellowship hall of the Baptist Church here, where the Rotary regularly meets.
More than 45 Rotarians and guests gathered just before 6:30 to await the arrival of the guests.
It got later and later and no show. McMaster was still at the blinking light on Highway 9.
Well after 7, Rotary president James Wright announced that the group was supposed to be on the way.
It seems they had left Oxford in three cars, but only one had arrived at the blinking light.
Realizing that the others were not there, that car turned back to see where the others were.
Later, Ph.D. candidate Edward Yi Wei, president of the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Ole Miss explained it this way.
Most of the 108 Chinese students at Ole Miss are relatively poor, he said. The exchange rate between the Chinese Yen and the United States dollar makes living here much more expensive, he said. So after the cost of tuition, books, a place to live and food, very little is left for automobiles.
“We buy cars for $2,000 or so,” he said.
So one of the cars got hot and died, and after the lead car retracked, all 11 loaded up, with the food, in two cars and arrived at the church at 7:30
Edward explained that the old car that quit simply did not want to leave Lafayette County, and had refused to cross the county line. It had been purchased there didn’t want to get too far from home.
McMaster, who said he had an extra car, loaned it to them for the return trip and until the overheated provincial vehicle could be repaired or replaced.
Several of the students, all of whom were working on masters and doctorates, were in mechanical and electrical engineering and such, so I suggested they might be able to fix it themselves.
I expressed concern about the vehicle being left on the highway overnight, but Edward said, “A thousand dollar car. What could happen to it?”
The food was very good, though it might have been better an hour earlier, especially the egg rolls. There were shrimp and beef with vegetables, white and fried rice, tofu (a soybean curd-based delicacy) which was very spicy, hot wings or whatever you call them in Chinese, and several other dishes.
Dessert was American cake, ice cream and sherbet.
Edward, who was the spokesman for the group, expressed appreciation for the exchange, and suggested that we might get together again sometime and have “bob-e-que.”
Earlier I had introduced the young lady in charge of the food to Rotarian Paul Wood, who is famous for his bar-b-qued pork shoulders and fried catfish. He promised to share cooking secrets.
Cooking secrets were not the only thing shared that night, however. The students presented a brief history, as briefly as you can summarize more than 5000 years of history, which everyone realized without it being verbalized, far exceeds our just 223 or so.
Another student showed slides of the major areas of the country of more than 1.2 billion, 80 percent of whom live in rural areas.
Many cultural differences were noted, including that the Chinese government is communist and discourages any religious belief, other than faith in the government. But slides included several churches and temples, including Christian and Buddhist.
A major point of interest was the country’s efforts to control birth rates. One child per family is the government allowance. The government provides birth control devices, they said, and encouraged abortions if a second child is conceived. Social and business ostrazcization and a fine follow if abortion is refused.
The fine, payable to the government, is often done in rural areas where larger families are needed for labor and ostracization is not a factor. It is this situation which also many times leads to female genocide.
It was an unusual and open discussion between two very diverse age and cultural groups.
It lasted longer than scheduled, but the students seemed reluctant for it to end. One said they hungered for this kind of exchange with persons outside of academia — with real America.
I felt we were also experiencing an exchange with the real Chinese culture, even if it was with the best and the brightest.