Anna is from Waxhaw, NC and an alumna of the 2019-2020 Chinese academic year program in Beijing, China.

Melodious music flooded the area as the fountain flared its water to the beat of the music. As I looked around for a place to sit, I spotted an open area next to an elderly Chinese couple. I mustered up all my courage to sit next to them and strike up a conversation. Unexpectedly, what began as a simple hello grew into a discussion about our families, traveling experiences, homes, and even the diversity of America. At one point during the conversation, I noticed that the man was repeatedly rotating what looked like two brown seeds in his hand. When I inquired, he explained to me that they were Wenwan Walnuts, used as a form of Chinese medicine by the elderly to prevent chronic diseases.

I was so captivated by our conversation that I didn’t realize an hour had passed and it was time for me to go. I was even more surprised that I was able to execute a conversation in Mandarin for that long! Explaining that I had to return, I began to say goodbye, but before I got up, the man put out his hand and offered me one of his Wenwan walnuts. In the Chinese manner of refusing gifts the first time, I said “That’s yours, I can’t possibly take it.” The man simply refused to back down and firmly put the walnut into my hand. I thanked him for his sweet gesture and gripped the walnut tightly as we parted ways.

anna holding a wenwan walnut

A week later, my host dad and I took a stroll around the markets. There I spotted a pair of Wenwan walnuts in a glass case. Flashing back to the encounter I had just days ago, I took a peek at the price tag. I was shocked. The Wenwan walnuts were extremely expensive! It was then I began thinking about the true value of the Wenwan walnut given to me.

Although certainly not cheap, the Wenwan walnut was not important for its monetary value. When the old man had given me one of the walnuts, he had sacrificed their use. Without a partner, the Wenwan walnuts became devoid of their purpose as a medical treatment. At first, I couldn’t understand why the old man had so generously given me, a complete stranger from America, half of something so valuable to him. Today, I can only conclude that he wanted it to serve as a reminder of a shared bond between strangers from two different parts of the world who had come together to exchange their stories.

The Wenwan walnut has taught me a multitude of lessons. It has given me the courage and self confidence to go out of my comfort zone. It has inspired me to model the same generosity once shown to me. It has displayed to me the power of language as a connection to others. Today, I keep the Wenwan walnut proudly displayed in my room, waiting for it to teach me more lessons, reminiscing upon a shared memory, and most importantly wondering how its other half is doing.