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I’m winding down my quarantine. One more week at this swanky hotel, and I will be able to go to campus and meet my students in person. I’m getting into a routine, and I hope I can keep it up even beyond this little world.

I have to work early in the day when my internet is still strong. When they come to clean my room, I go downstairs for a walk, listening to music while I lap around the lovely hotel grounds.

I wear a mask and stay away from people, of course, but it sure is lovely to get out into the air. To see the sky above me and hear the birds.

I’ve seen a long-legged bird fly out over the little canal. Today, I got close enough for a picture, and my phone identified it from the photo as an intermediate heron.

After my walk, I try to work some more, but building a week’s worth of activities and lectures on a slow internet is like making peanut butter by crushing one peanut at a time with a hammer.

I comfort myself with tea. My compressed life here has become a series of small comforts. Naps, tea, kumquats. Michael would laugh to see me swoon over this cup of Earl Grey. My husband likes it when I swoon over something silly.

When working gets too frustrating, I go back downstairs to the lobby to knit. I’m about to finish a pair of socks. I measure my time here in China by socks. I’ve been here for a pair and two toes. I think I brought the right amount of yarn. Skeins for four pairs of socks. When I finish all four, I can start on a mitered square blanket with the leftovers, and then I’ll come home.

When I’m knitting in the lobby, I like to watch people. Families come in, and they are usually small. One or two parents, and one or two children (usually twins if there are two).

One young man who befriended me in Shanghai exclaimed in a chat when I told him about our three sons, “That’s too many sons for me to keep track of!” he said. “Here, we are all one child.”

In the afternoons, I sit down in the lobby and knit, listening to the news or an audiobook.

Yesterday, a little girl came sailing through with her father, playing a little push-me-pull-you game. They were both laughing, and he was pushing on her shoulders as she leaned back, rocking and making a looping path through the lobby. When she spotted me, her face brightened in curiosity. I waved, and her father acknowledged me, but, smiling, steered her toward the restaurant.

A few minutes later, she was back, alone, and made a beeline for me. I held up my knitting, but turns out she wanted to practice her English.

I would guess she was about 7, though I’m out of practice guessing children’s ages. She had a wide, toothy smile and pink glasses, crooked over curious eyes. “Hello, my name is Mina.”

We exchanged simple sentences. She likes cats and dogs, and I tried to show her pictures of my chickens, but I had to scroll back through so many pictures of food. Finally, I found the dogs and showed her. I showed her some snow. “It’s snowy at my home,” I said, and she asked me how I liked her home (China). “Very much!”

I asked her if she liked school, and she nodded. “I like English class.” She told me her grandpa was here in the hotel, and a moment later, he came up behind her. I said hello, and he nodded awkwardly, and then started scrolling his phone. He tried to pull her away, but she wouldn’t budge.

Next came her grandma, who smiled and nodded at my knitting. I showed her the finished socks, and she pulled open her jacket to show an exquisitely patterned jade green sweater, far beyond my skill set. Then opened Mina’s sweatshirt to show a yellow one, rows of cable stitching running up the front of it. I exclaimed in English. She answered in Chinese.

Next came Mom and Dad, who each apologized in simple sentences for their poor English, and I told them their daughter’s English is excellent. Eventually, the simple sentences ran out, and her parents finally dragged her away to her dinner. I sat basking in the visit for a while, and then ordered my own dinner to be sent to my room.

Translate Beauty; Communicate Peace; Blessed Be

Mary Lucille Hays is working in China. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland Letters in The News-Gazette, you can read them every week in the Piatt County Journal-Republican. You can see pictures about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at or via snail mail care of the Journal-Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856.

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