How I made a friend from Hangzhou and joined him to China at age 16

Last week I was in Netherlands and I met a friend of mine. I had joined him at age 16 to a holiday to his home country – China. From my preschool days, I still remember when the teacher said that a Chinese family was moving into our small Dutch village to start a Chinese restaurant. Their eldest son was placed in my class. I already knew about the Chinese but had never met one, meeting this boy from far away intrigued me and soon we started to become good friends. 10 years forward, I had experienced unique Chinese culture at a young age for a Dutch boy; I learned to eat real Chinese food with chopsticks and was influenced by Chinese culture by observing them and their TV and had been thought my first Chinese words. My parents took pride in their son opening up to new cultures and had gained an interesting role in this Sino Dutch/Chinese relationship as well. My dad teaching my friend to cycle, play soccer and my mom was unofficially involved as a junior high school counselor, reading teacher’s notes. My parents were also intrigued with this family and soon they were also invited to intimate family gatherings like Chinese new years. One day when I was 14 years old, the parents of my Chinese friend asked me if I wanted to come for a holiday in China some day. My enthusiasm was calmed when I reported to my parents at home, China being far away and dangerous and all. However, two years later I was allowed, saved enough money, and got my parent’s agreement since the two families gained trust I got my visa and joined the family to China. This was in 1999. We spent a two weeks in Beijing visiting the forbidden city, the peace palace, Great Hall of the People. Then Hangzhou for another week, we also visit Qiandao. A trip that I will never forget. It all breathed an energy I had never experienced in the Netherlands. 11 years later I find myself living in Shanghai for these exact same reasons.