One late autumn afternoon, as I rounded the corner of the North Oval on my way home from work, I saw a baby stroller slowly start rolling along the sidewalk, threatening to cross the path of my bike. I went wide as an older Chinese man stood up and pulled the stroller back to the bench, where an older Chinese woman was holding a swaddled baby. I looked back at them as I biked past, curious if they were from Beijing, how long they had been in the US, and if they knew any English. I quickly brushed off the fact that I had “promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep,” and turned my bike, looped around the Clock Tower, and headed back to where they were sitting. They glanced up at me curiously as my squeaky bike brakes indicated my arrival. I smiled, and then immediately greeted them with a “Nihao!” as I stepped off my bike. The older man, whose English was quite good, said in surprise, “You speak Chinese?” I then replied in surprise, “你会说英语吗?” (You speak English?) We laughed.
I greeted the older woman who only spoke Chinese. She then introduced me to her grandson, Norman. His grandfather explained to me, “Because he was born here in Norman. He is a US citizen!” He beamed with pride as he looked down at the small black-haired bundle in his wife’s arms. He then explained to me that their daughter is studying for her PhD at OU, so they had come to Norman to help take care of Norman for a few months as she worked.
We chatted together in Chinese and English for a good half hour. We shared stories about Chinese food, crowded Chinese cities, the American way of life, and language-learning experiences. They warmly invited me to their apartment in Norman for dumplings, and even encouraged me to visit their beautiful hometown in China someday.
As the sun set, we said our goodbyes, and I took one last look at baby Norman. I thought about his childhood, and how different it would be from his grandparents’. I thought about how he would feel when he first went back to China to visit his grandparents, outwardly looking exactly like those around him, but inwardly being different, his environment having shaped him more than his DNA. Then I laughed as I promised myself that I would never name my child Beijing.