Dear Mr. and Mrs. Adam,
Thank you for kindly taking the time to come to campus. I am most grateful that I had the chance and honor of meeting you last week. I hope you may forgive me for not having contacted you earlier, or perhaps, for unkindly contacting you now, but I hope I may take this time to share with you some memories I have of Alex, while we were in the Princeton in Beijing program together, summer 2004.
All students in the program had to sign a language pledge on the first day, promising not to speak in English, so I knew Alex by his Chinese name, "Ai Dan." Alex had been in the second-year class and his friend, Raleigh Martin '08, and I were in another Chinese class, which was how I was introduced to "Ai Dan." My favorite memory we shared was when we went to the China vs. Qatar soccer match at Beijing Stadium. While the Princeton program had organized traditional trips to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, soccer games were not on the menu, so we decided to go on our own "unofficial trip."
Seated next to one another were me, Raleigh, Gabe Collins '06, Alex, and a high school student in the program named John Kennedy. The entire stadium was filled with an orchestra of excitement -- of drums, horns, and cheers, accompanied by profanities, shouts and cringes at how awful the players were. We were thrilled to join in on this merry and authentic Chinese experience. After the game, the boys decided that even though the Chinese team they were cheering for had lost, they, being the good sportsmen that they were, would celebrate Qatar's win at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Beijing, which indeed, they happily did afterwards. :)
They were a goofy bunch and I am so thankful to have been blessed by their friendship. The Princeton in Beijing program is often descibed as a "boot-camp", with vocabulary quizzes each morning and a few hours of homework in the evening. I was seventeen years old at the time and I felt waaaaay out of my league, drowning in panicking thoughts of, "Uh oh...I did not sign up for this..." I felt nervous and was overwhelmed by the intense demands of college work (in the summer!) I was also anxious because I didn't know anyone in the program. The Princeton students were already friends with one another and I was pretty sure they did not want to be hanging around with a high school kid like me.
I cannot tell you how thankful I am for people like Raleigh and Alex, who invited me to join in and graced me with the honor of their friendship. The kindness of students like them was the reason I decided to come to Princeton and some of my closest friends today remain those whom I met that summer at PiB. Not only were the kind to me, but they had extended that warmth to my family. My cousin, who lived in Beijing, had joined us at the soccer game, and they all personally took the time to introduce themselves to him and spoke with him in Chinese. I was very touched by how gracious they were.
I believe Alex's memory lives inside each of us, in the hearts of all those he touched, and in the atmosphere of that summer evening in Beijing, surrounded by Princeton friends, Beijing fans, and clumsy Chinese soccer players :) Your son brought warmth and joy to my summer; his humble presence and soft smile made me feel welcome and gently at ease.
I have included for you an image of his name in Chinese, along with a photograph Raleigh had taken at the soccer game we attended together. Pictured from left to right are Gabe Collins '06, Alex, and John Kennedy. Raleigh plans to visit Princeton this spring, and so, too, may Teng Kuan Ng '05, the co-ordinator for the Princeton in Beijing program. If you'd like, we may get together and share with you some memories of our time in Beijing.
I had also hoped to share with you the meaning behind Alex's name in Chinese. Chinese names begin with the surname, followed by the given name. His first character, "ai," is a common Chinese surname; it is pronounced the same way as the word for love in Chinese. The second character, "dan", translates to "cinnabar." It is a soft wood and also an artistic technique, which is described as follows:
"The creation of a cinnabar lacquerware piece begins with application of coats of lacquer onto the foundation of the piece. Up to 500 coats of lacquer are applied, according to the style of the artwork to be carved and the size of the piece. Each coating of lacquer is applied, and allowed to dry before the next is applied. It can literally take years for a piece to receive the needed coats of lacquer. Once the piece has the desired layers of lacquer, a highly skilled artisan carves the ornate designs into the lacquer that cinnabar lacquerware is noted for. The tools of the artisan must be sharp, and his skills proficient. Sometimes layers of different colors of lacquer have been applied, and the artisan has to carve at the required depth to bring out the contrasting colors."
I believe Ai Dan is the soft wood upon which the Creator's artisan hands lay, and he was made deep, brilliant, and loved like his name. I trust that the Lord coated each of Alex's days with care, blessing him with loving friends and family throughout the years, and carved him so that his memory would be carved into the hearts of others, with the same depth that he himself experienced. Thank you for the gift of Alex and the honor of his friendship. I wish you and your family love, peace, and joy this spring; may your spiritual life be fulfilling and your faith be strong.
Grace and peace,
Sherry Zhang '10
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