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Foreigners in China
Written by Cool Han

When I came into Gabriel’s room, the first eye-catching thing was a shinning guitar lying on the sofa. Actually Gabriel is quite satisfied with this deal, for the high quality Korean made guitar cost him only 180 RMB. A former guitarist, drummer and composer who had established his own band years ago in his native and far-off island of Puerto Rico, Gabriel is now a university teacher in Beijing. It seems that our artist had fewer chances to get himself involved in music after shifting into an intellectual giving lectures on International Relations every day, so is the guitar a elegant decoration or not?

“No it’s not for decoration. I can play the guitar, but not as a specialist, just for fun and self-enjoyment. For me, music is always a way out, a way to express myself.”

Wearing a black turtle-neck sportswear, he looked like a normal college student. “Yes, to some extent I’m still a student now, for I am still finishing my online courses for another Master’s degree from Bilbao, Spain.” He nodded and smiled, like a child.

Then he moved away the guitar, sat down, folded his legs on the sofa, found himself a relaxed gesture and started to tell me his story. And I must admit, the three-hour ‘talk show’ proved that his strength not merely lies in teaching and music. He’s really a good story teller.

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Before he went to New York, where he got his first Master’s degree, Gabriel had been an islander. And the island is Puerto Rico, which in Spanish means a “rich port”.

When he first came to China and told others that he’s from Puerto Rico, people of different genders had totally different reactions. “Usually boys and guys would immediately talk about basketball, since Puerto Rico’s basketball team defeated the USA team a few years ago. And then they would ask me why Puerto Rico was such a cradle of beauties. You know, many Miss Universe Queens and Miss Universe Teens, such as Ingrid Rivera and Jennifer Rosado, are all from Puerto Rico. Girls and ladies typically regarded it as a perfect travel attraction. Sunshine, beach, tropical climate, everything that makes a perfect holiday resort are all there in Puerto Rico.”

There is a saying that we know what we are by knowing what we are not. Under this assumption, when Gabriel lived first 25 years of his life in Puerto Rico, he knew nothing about his homeland and himself. But it is obviously wrong. The fact is, even from a fairly young age, Gabriel had formed an international mindset and his own perspective towards his own country.

He should be more familiar with español (Spanish) than with English, I assumed, since Spanish is his mother tongue. He told me it is not very common to speak English in Puerto Rico though there is a bilingual school system in which English is taught since a young age. But he speaks fluent English all the time, without any influence of Spanish. That’s quite impressive. He confessed that his English was much better than that of the most people from Puerto Rico because he had always been eager to learn other languages. “The influence of Hollywood, American music and movies is huge on me.”

Gabriel’s mother, a senior journalist who worked for the most influential newspaper in his country, also broadened his horizons and shaped his character. “When I was young, mother always taught me to share what I had and be respectful of others. That’s the two things I never forget.” He does remember it clearly. For example, twenty years later in Beijing, at an internet café, he is capable of sharing his cookie with the stranger that is sitting next to him.

His cross-culture experience at a young age also included one little Chinese boy. “When I was young, my parents often took me to a Chinese restaurant which was run by a Chinese family. Gradually, the owner’s son and I became very good friends. We were of the same age and often played together. Psychoanalytically, probably because my experience with that boy was very good, so everything about China is good to me.”

After he got a BA degree at a catholic university in San Juan, the capital, he decided to leave home for New York. “I love my country, it is a beautiful tropical island and a great place to relax. But I had been living there for 25 years and I wanted to leave to see the world outside. ”

The culture of Puerto Rico is a mixture of Indian, Spanish and African traditions. And the political status of this country is a complicated and troublesome issue. So, are there any identity crises of individuals in this small island? “If you ask me how I identify myself, I will tell you, I always feel I’m Puerto Rican first, Caribbean first, Latinoamericano first. That’s how I feel culturally.” He answered me without any hesitation. That’s him, islander Gabriel.

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Gabriel had his reasons to go to New York. It is a trend in Puerto Rico that some young professionals and students leave their home to live, work and study at ‘the Big Apple’. As American citizens, the procedure is quite easy. “In legal terms, all Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the US, so there is a special relationship between the two, despite many political disagreements. US has been forcing Puerto Rico to become part of it, but in identity and origin we belong to a totally different culture. ”

Even in New York, he found he was not lonely culturally. “In New York there are also Puerto Rican communities. I saw so many people from my own country there, though they are now more or less assimilated by that city.”

Like a duck to water, he gently released himself from his tiny island, took a deep breath and submerged into the experience. It is New York, after all. People across the world rush to get there.

He studied International Relations at City University of New York (CUNY). As an organizer of the International Relations Society, he arranged activities, invited speakers to give lectures, kept the club going when the president left. He was also the assistant to the director of his department. “Quite busy, but I was also happy about my life there.”

He used to work at Rizzoli Bookstore in midtown Manhattan, an Italian bookstore, which is probably the premier art, design and architecture book store in the city. It is a classy place where celebrities prefer to go, so Gabriel was accustomed to seeing big names there. But one day when guitar legend Jimmy Page came in, his heart lost a beat. “Everyone who plays the guitar must know Jimmy Page, he’s such a guitar legend. I had a few words with him and asked him for his autograph. He’s really a humble person, very kind and easy-going.”

He lived in New York for almost three years, enjoyed the diversified culture atmosphere, but was still not satisfied. Maybe it was because he heard the voice of inner-self, or maybe it was the revival of his childhood dream, anyhow, he finally made the decision to come to China. He took a Chinese course learning Mandarin, and his thesis at CUNY was also about China. His reason for wanting to come to China was the same one given before leaving Puerto Rico: “I wanted to get to know more of the world.”

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Through the internet, Gabriel got a job teaching English in China. “The company which hired me told me to fly to Chongqing, but they didn’t tell me my work place was in Luzhou, Sichuan province. And the only thing I knew about Luzhou was its famed alcohol.” Finally he reached Naxi, a small district of Luzhou. It is a rural place with a river nearby, lots of green hills and very nice people. “I became quite popular since I was the only foreigner in town. Everyone in town would say ’hellooooo!’ to me when I walked around the town, even while I was shopping for groceries.

When we started talking about his students, his pace slowed down and his voice became tender. “I taught junior school students for about four months. I was the only foreign teacher so I taught 28 classes, 40 students in each. From Monday to Friday, I had no time to think about other things except teaching. But I really cherish the experience with my students there. They often visited me, we watched movies together, and they even taught me to cook Sichuan food. Until now we contact each other through emails frequently. I’m always thinking about going back to visit them. And I miss them so much.”

He traveled within Sichuan during his vacations and “saw some really beautiful Sichuan girls.” He liked the city Chengdu for its life pace and people’s lifestyle. He can’t forget the Sichuan food his students cooked for him. That is the calling for him to go back.

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Gabriel now teaches college students in Beijing. His students told me he’s a popular teacher. So what is his understanding of teaching? I’m curious. “Being a teacher, I hope that students are interested in what I’m telling them. At the same time, I’d like to give them enough space to present themselves and think critically. I can’t teach them what to think, but I can help them to be critical thinkers, to see the world in a different aspect. Actually all my students are smart and hard-working. Their Power Point presentations are far better than mine.” He is obviously proud of his students. From his expression I saw the dignity and merit of a good teacher.

He also has established a Spanish corner in the school, communicating with students using his mother tongue every week. He is busy teaching, studying, doing exercises and playing guitar. But if anyone asks him for help, he will immediately put away his things and listen to your request carefully. The most frequent sentence he uses is: “Tell me, is there anything I can help with?”

At the end of our talk, he was no longer my interviewee but my mentor and personal counselor. I told him my worries about the future. “Okay, for you, my recommendation is, first,…second,…then,…”

By the time I left, Gabriel told me one phrase: “Mi casa es tu casa.” In Spanish it means ‘my home is your home’. “Do come again, for it is your home now. And don’t hesitate to email me if you have any other questions. Do you know my email address?”(By Krokodil Han)








    当他第一次来到中国告诉别人他来自波多黎各时, 不同的人反应各异。“通常,男人和男孩子们会立刻跟我聊篮球,因为几年前波多黎各篮球队曾经打败过美国队。他们还会问我为什么波多黎各‘盛产’美女。要知道很多得过环球小姐桂冠的女孩子像英格丽德•倪薇拉和珍妮弗•罗萨多都是波多黎各人。女人们和女孩子一般都会把波多黎各看成是一处旅游胜地。阳光,海滩,热带气候,波多黎各满足所有成为度假胜地的条件。”






















     离开的时候,加百利告诉我一句话,在西语里的意思是,“我的家就是你的家。”“有空一定要再来,因为现在这里也是你的家了。如果还有什么别的问题,用电子邮件问我。你知道我的邮件地址吗?”(By Cool Han)


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