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Husband's airline job led couple to China:
Housekeeper-friend enriched the Friesens’ two years across the globe
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Del and Judi Friesen of Collinsville lived for two years in Xiamen, China. This picture was taken at the front gate of their apartment complex.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Accent Editor

While her husband was at work all day, Judi Friesen made her way around her new home — in a foreign country.

It was her housekeeper-turned-friend, Amy, who made Xiamen, China, wonderful for her.

Del and Judi Friesen were married in October 1965. Their vows included the verse from the book of Ruth, “‘Whither thou goest, I goest,’” Friesen said.

“That day, I had no idea how many places I’d go,” Judy Friesen said with a chuckle. The Collinsville resident told her story at a gathering of the Morning Glories community fellowship group, which meets at Bassett Church of the Brethren.

Del Friesen’s career in airlines took the couple to 11 states and three countries. None was more interesting than China, she said.

In 2006, the couple moved to China where he worked for Martin Air of Holland. He was to oversee the conversion of a 747 passenger jet to a freight carrier.

“I had envisioned living in other countries, but never in my wildest dreams, China,” she said. For one thing, she did not speak Mandarin, the language of the region.

Their experience was made easier by a fantastic coincidence — or perhaps a gift from God, Friesen said. They were living in Florida when they learned of the job assignment. Their neighbor had a colleague who lived in Xiamen, China, Warren Hu, and offered to set them up with him.

Making friends

Hu was at the airport to meet them. He took them to their hotel and helped them find an apartment. “We really felt blessed” to have his help, she said.

He surprised them with the advice to hire a maid. Such a thing never would have occurred to Judi Friesen, but it was appropriate for their new situation. It would “help with the feelings between Chinese and Western people,” she said Hu told them.

Hu introduced the Friesens to a woman they only ever knew as “Amy” (the Mandarin word for a woman who helps in the house is ‘amah.’) Though they didn’t speak the same language, the couple immediately were won over by her “radiant smile,” Friesen said.

“Over the two years” the Friesens were in China, “she became my very dear friend and confidante in many, many ways,” she added.

Learning new ways

On Amy’s first day of work, Judi asked her to do the laundry. It was Amy’s first experience with a washing machine. Amy could not believe you just pushed a button to let it do all the work, Friesen said. She called the apartment manager.

The manager read the instructions for the machine. “They talked and talked and tried to figure it out,” Friesen said. It took a while for Amy to become comfortable with the idea of letting it run by itself.

“My first (English) word for her was ‘automatic,’” Friesen chuckled.

After that, laundry was the first chore Amy tackled every morning.

Judi tried explaining about the microwave oven, especially the importance of not putting anything metal in it.

“These are things she had never experienced before that we just expect to have in our homes,” Judi said.

Amy taught the Friesens a very important part of getting around: “how to cross the street,” Friesen said. A six-lane highway was in front of their apartment complex, and a four-lane road was nearby. There were no stop signs or traffic lights.

To cross the road, one must “look to the right, hold your hand up and just start walking and hope that they see you. In the middle of the road, hold your other hand up. It was unnerving,” she recalled with a shudder.

When they didn’t walk, they took taxis. Sometimes they went by bus. “The bus was so crowded you’re not sure there’d be any room” to ride on it, she said. However, “the Chinese have such respect for older people” that younger people usually would offer her their seats.

Amy also helped outfit Friesen. She “took me to the most fabulous fabric place that I had been in,” Friesen said. Then Amy took her to a tailor. Friesen drew pictures of the outfits she wanted, and the tailor made them for her.

The Friesens loved Amy’s fried rice, but Amy was tired of it, Judi Friesen said. Amy had never eaten salad, sandwiches, steak or baked potatoes and enjoyed those foods. She also did not know how to use a fork or spoon.

The one-child-per-family rule is still in effect in China, Friesen said, but “you can buy a permit to have another child.”

One day, the couple found a notice on their door. They could not read it, so they took it to their neighbor. He “just burst out laughing — ‘This is a notice for Judi to be checked for pregnancy,’” he told them.

The notice turned out to be for Amy. Even though she was 48, she was required to be checked for pregnancy each month.

In the hospital

Once, Del had to go to the hospital. A co-worker went with him to translate.

Hospital services were on a pay-as-you-go basis. “The first thing you do is pay 10 Renminbee (Chinese money). Then a blood test, another 10 Renminbee,” she said. Then seeing the doctor costs another 10 Renminbee, “all the way through the hospital.”

They saw the doctor in a 10- by 10-foot room with a desk, a computer and two stools. There was no privacy: Seven or eight people stood in the room to watch.

Then Del Friesen was sent to the emergency ward to receive an IV for eight hours. There were 40 beds in the ward, with no curtains or divisions for privacy. His co-worker chose the cleanest bed for him.

“No one came into change the sheets and pillowcases between patients,” Judi Friesen noted. “I decided then I would never complain” about medical care in the U.S.

The hospital did not feed patients, so each patient’s family or friends had to bring their meals.

Del Friesen said that in China he met “a lot of (American) medical consultants, including from Harvard Medical School. The government had told them to get up to the the 21st century, and Americans are the ones you are going to learn the most from — so we got treated royally.”

Public bathrooms took some getting used to. Judi Friesen’s first encounter with one was at a bank. It was for both men and women. It had a porcelain hole on the floor with treads on either side for the feet.

Toilet paper usually was not provided. “You had to make sure you never left the house without some Kleenex in your purse,” she said.

Love and marriage

For the Valentine’s Day meeting of a church youth group, Judi Friesen was asked to talk about the couple’s marriage and caring relationship. An interpreter translated her words for the group.

Amy was in the audience, and “for the first time she heard our story and knew why we treated each other with respect and why we loved each other,” she said.

“In China, the man is the powerhouse in the home,” Friesen said. In contrast, the Friesens have an equal partnership.

“Amy could see that our lives were different, and she wanted to know why.” Afterward, Amy talked with the pastor who explained Christianity to her.

“The following Monday (when) she came in her face was just radiant. She had accepted Christ.”


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