When I was a high school junior in Woodland city, California, I lived with a host family that my school had found for me. Woodland Christian High School is two blocks away from Woodland downtown. My host father could not stop talking about how he disagreed with Obama’s policies, and he could argue politics with his friend for a whole afternoon. My host mother was Miss California in 1968, and she is now more than 300 pounds. She always tells everyone that ice cream is the reason she is this way.
It was difficult for me to have conversations with my host family and schoolmates. At school, boys liked to talk about football and TV shows; girls liked to gossip and go to the football field to cheer for their boyfriends. I had a hard time starting conversations with them. I started to practice my English skills by talking with someone online, and that was how I got to know Peter Shik. We knew each other through Facebook. He was a student at UC Davis at the time. He played electric guitar for five years, but now he played acoustic guitar. He has his own music website link through the university site, and that’s how I had the chance to connect with him. I told him that I love music, I can play piano, and I love the song he wrote. We had a nice ten minute talk and planned our first meeting.
It was a rainy Sunday, and I was walking on my way to the downtown Davis bus station (that’s the place where we planned to meet). I was nervous and was thinking what if he looks like an old-fashioned western guitar playing cowboy? Maybe he will wear a Stetson and dirty jeans with a farm shirt. In my mind, due to the effects of old western films such as The Comancheros, I always thought a man who plays guitar should look that way. When I first met him at the bus station, I saw him standing there smoking a cigarette. He was tall, and a short beard covered half of his face. He was wearing a gray plaid shirt, dirty jeans, and boots. Basically, he looked just like what I had imagined. I stood on his left side; he was looking at me and suddenly he just smiled, and threw the cigarette butt to the ground. He said “hello” to me. We did not go through the regular Chinese social norms like asking about the weather and introducing ourselves again even though we already knew each other’s names. He spoke first: “What kind of food do you want?” I replied, “How about Cantonese food?” He thought about it for a few seconds and then nodded.
The first meeting made me feel very strange and nervous, because of our mutual reservation to speak. He looked just like the Marlboro man or a Chinese gang member from a Jackie Chan movie. Just as I debated whether he was a bad guy or not, a pregnant woman in front of us was trying to get into a grocery store. She could not open the door with the shopping basket in her hand. Peter walked right up and opened the door for the lady, and at that moment, I told myself that this guy is not a troublemaker at all.
We went into a Cantonese restaurant for dinner, and started talking after we sat down. He told that he was a Taiwanese-American, and that he was thirty-three years old. He served in the Taiwan Self-Defense military after he graduated from university back in Taiwan, and he had learned how to play guitar during his service. We talked a lot about music, and this topic made us feel at ease. He spoke loudly, as if he was still in the military and responding to his officers. I felt a little awkward to be sitting with him after people sitting near us started to turn around and look at us with disbelief.
He is an outgoing man. He told me about his family in Taiwan, and the story of his last three girlfriends. He used the words “bitch" and "whore” to name his ex-girlfriends, and he loved to start a sentence with “Fuck! Man, let me tell you that…” This was a challenge for me because I studied in a Christian school, and I was not used to hearing those words; but honestly, it was a relaxing thing to talk with him, even when nothing in our conversation was very valuable. He stepped outside the restaurant to smoke four times while we ate dinner, and he always looked so serious when he was smoking. But once he came back to the table, he was excited and started talking with the same beautiful smile on his face. Still, he was very anxious to smoke. This might have been an impolite action in my mind, but he seemed like he did not care about it.
When he came back to the table, he asked me why I learned to play piano. I told him, “My grandmother was a piano teacher, and she taught my dad how to play it, then my father taught me.” I had given this answer to many different people in my life, and I always felt very proud to saying it. It makes me sound like some kind of a son of a musical family. But he just responded to me with, “Oh, I see.” He seemed very disappointed. Maybe in his opinion, music should only be learned through one’s own decision, not some kind of inherited interest. We ended our dinner after two hours and jumped on our different buses after short farewells. Perhaps that is how most people’s first meetings with strangers ends - fast, direct and hasty. I realized it was not an embarrassing thing to make a new friend, and that the only things I needed to do were be a good listener and open up topics of conversation.
After our first meeting, we began to talk on Facebook almost every day, sharing our ideas about music by exchanging songs and scores that we loved. Sometimes he would come to my host family’s house and play a new song of his for me. We would edit the song together, and sing a famous Chinese song together called “Exist” with guitar and piano accompaniment. We both love that song a lot. It’s a song about people who are trying to figure out how they live their life, but no matter how hard they try, they realize that every path they choose is difficult to get through.
I think this friendship is built on music, and maybe this is why we became good friends. We probably don’t play the songs perfectly, but we both feel relaxed by playing together. I made many friends in my high school, but I would choose my words carefully when we had conversations, mostly because they are Christian. I moved out to an apartment after three years of ‘suffering’ with my host family. In some way, Peter helped me to get through the transition period when I was trying to assimilate in the U.S. We drove around all of California on the weekends, attending concerts and visiting many beautiful places I never would have seen otherwise.