Last week Georg and I went to A/V Geeks. We had to meet there because he was working late, so I went to the Q Shack for dinner. They were a little crowded and I asked a young woman if I could share her table. She was studying, and though I didn't pry, I could see enough of her book to see that she was studying Chinese.
I wanted to say something to her but after 20 years, I remember so little Chinese that I didn't know what I would say. I can barely say my own name at this point, much less have a conversation. Besides, she seemed pretty deeply involved in her studies and I didn't want to interrupt. So I ate my dinner and websurfed on my phone, and she studied, and it was a nice quiet sharing of space.
Well we were quiet, but the restaurant was noisy. So much so that I didn't notice at first when she started very softly talking to herself in Chinese. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but it has a distinctive sound (and I'm guessing an American just beginning their studies probably has a distinctive accent, which made her speech sound even more familiar to me). It looked like she was reading out loud from the book. Practicing her lessons at just above a whisper. Adorable. I didn't let on that I could hear her; just kept enjoying my dinner.
Finally it was time for me to leave. I cleared my table, stood up to go, leaned over and said "zai jian" (goodbye). She looked so surprised! She said "zai jian" back to me, and we both laughed, and then I just ... walked away. I felt like the encounter couldn't get any better than it was right then. I could have stayed and had a possibly awkward conversation, maybe interrupted study time she needed, maybe made myself late for A/V Geeks. Or I could leave it at that, preserve the moment, and give her a good story to tell when she got back to the dorm. About this crazy thing that happened and the mysterious person who sat next to her all through dinner and never let on that they spoke Chinese too. At the Q Shack of all places.