Ms. Nuria was holding Zhang Yueran's short story collection translated by her.
To say Ms. Nuria is a China buff would be a gross understatement.
When I first met her, I thought she would be a typical foreigner teaching her native tongue as a side subject to the intrigued Chinese students in high schools. She was well-dressed, soft spoken and has curly hair like many other teachers. When she and I were both invited to a dinner, I was attracted by the fancy food, while she was interpreting the menu into Spanish.
When I learnt that she had translated many Chinese novels into Spanish especially the works by some modern writers such as Yu Hua, Yan Geling and Zhang Yueran, I began to think Ms. Nuria is much more than she seemed to be. After she graciously accepted a request for an interview, I, in my naivety, was not ready for her stories of her life in the two countries in the past two decades.
I arrived at the front gate to the Green Town Yuhua School on a sunny Wednesday morning, and Ms. Nuria was there waiting and accompanied me to a meeting room where the interview was going to take place. She then proceeded to ask, to my surprise, whether I want the interview to be conducted in Mandarin or English. Not knowing how to speak Spanish, I said why not both. Then we were on our way down the memory trip with Ms. Nuria. To my surprise again, we started from the 1990s.
Ms. Nuria was born in the autonomous community of Basque in northern Spain. She moved to Barcelona to further her university education after obtaining a Bachelor's degree in English literature. After graduating with a Master's degree, she became a coordinator in IBM in charge of the computational translation between English and Spanish. When asked about what sparked her interest in China, she replied spontaneously "Tai Chi and Mandarin". Ms. Nuria first saw Tai Chi being performed by a young Spanish returning from abroad in a park and was then hooked. Combined with her interest in linguistics and translation, she found herself drawn to the by then mysterious land of China.
She was later admitted into the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing and planned to return home after one year of studying. Her past experience led her to the assumption that it only takes one year or so of local life to learn a language well. But Ms. Nuria was staggered at how little progress she had made over a year. "I was stuck at saying Hello" she explained, "I couldn't return home because I have not achieved my goals yet." she was put off by the fact that the majority of people who practiced Tai Chi in China were senior citizens. With only one goal in mind, she was ready to spend more time into the sole pursuit of mastering a language.
Ms. Nuria then went to Yunnan Province to immerse herself in the language. After one and half year when she returned to Barcelona, she found the local interest in Chinese and in China had boomed. "All of a sudden a lot of people wanted to learn Chinese," she explained with a smile, "So I quickly landed a job as a Chinese teacher." "But I soon realized that I needed to learn more to teach," she added, "I was a student and a teacher at the same time."
Ms. Nuria started going back and forth between China and Spain which merited many bilingual fruits and even international seeds. Not only had she visited and lived in cities such as Luoyang, Qingdao and Hangzhou, she also directed and coordinated the founding of the Confucius Institute at Barcelona in 2008. Despite all these experiences, she still felt that she did not know the language well enough.
What she couldn't deny was that she had witnessed and accompanied China through 15 years of rapid changes. "China was really different back then and I am truly grateful for all the changes," Ms. Nuria smiles, "I used to carry a flask and get hot water but now it is so much more convenient. I don't think the foreigners coming to China nowadays or young Chinese could even imagine what China was like 15 years ago," she remarked with a huge grin.
"I remembered my first trip to China, teaching at a school," she recalled, "Me and my students had a very special and intimate relationship because I was their window to the outside world, and to me they were the window into China." Ms. Nuria had a collection of many VCDs of Chinese films and TV shows, "I really like Zhang Yimou, Wang Jiawei and Feng Xiaogang," she admitted, "There was a TV show I really liked, I think it is called The Orange is Red."
Though I was in awe with how extensive Ms. Nuria's life stories were, I was really impressed by her journey in China. It is rare for a person at her age to stay long in a city, but she has spent more than 15 years of her life to focus on a foreign language and subsequently to learn about a country. She has settled in Hangzhou in the past 6 years and is recognized for her contributions and is honored the Qianjiang Friendship Award in 2018.
"I don't like big metropolitans," she smiles, "There is too much pressure. But Hangzhou has a finer balance between city life and nature."
Upon leaving, I asked Ms. Nuria how much she missed Spain, "I really do wish the pandemic would go away soon, I do miss my family," Ms. Nuria sighs, "but Hangzhou and Yuhua has treated me well enough."
I am sure Hangzhou is more than happy to be the second home to Ms. Nuria and all foreign friends alike. For a person who has failed both goals upon coming to China, she seems well-contented as she walked me back to the front gate. As I glanced back at her, a sudden realization ran over me: she did not fail anything at all for she gained much more than she could have ever hoped.