Six months, four weeks - roughly 210 days. That's how long it had been since I'd given my mom a hug or high-fived my brother Michael. But after months of planning and waiting, they arrived in Beijing for a 10-day tour of the Chinese capital in early April, with me as their tour guide.
While touring Tiananmen, traversing the Great Wall, and eating authentic Chinese cuisine had taken up the majority of their stay, I tried to weave in visits with my friends here in Beijing.
On the first weekend of their stay, I wanted to take my mom and brother to the perfect Peking duck restaurant. So I called my American friend Ken McManus, inviting him to join us.
Ken is a Beijing restaurant connoisseur. Be it Western or Chinese, he knows the best spots. But his expertise isn't just limited to eating establishments - Ken has been a great mentor and friend, offering various tips along the way to make life in China more doable. Having lived in China for almost eight years himself, there's very little he doesn't know about the Asian country or Beijing in particular.
We all had a great time over dinner - Ken got to meet some of my family who I'd often talked about and my mom got to put a name to a face of someone I often mentioned when calling home. She later told me she was glad to know I had someone "to take care of me" should anything serious happen. But I like to think I'd be able to take care of myself, having lived here for almost a year.
I also wanted my mom to meet my former Chinese housemate, Vivian. Vivian was always ready to lend a hand in helping me practice my Chinese around the apartment, laughing at my funny pronunciations but encouraging me to keep trying. She also liked to cook, and would prepare tea and other Chinese remedies when I was sick during the winter. Although she was too busy to get dinner the week my mom visited, she went out of her way to stop by the hotel to say hello, bringing small gifts for my family.
As if visiting the Great Wall and numerous temples of old weren't enough, my mom had to see one other landmark during her visit - the Beijing Review complex where I work. My colleagues had eagerly awaited my mom's and brother's visit.
Family is important in China, and meeting one of the foreigners' family is a real treat for the Chinese. My bosses and colleagues asked about their trip so far, insisted that my brother and I must be twins (a remark I grew tired of by the end of their stay), and commented on what a nice co-worker I was. One of my bosses made green tea for my mom and brother, and even invited them out for lunch the next day, which we had to decline due to more sightseeing.
But of all the people my mom met, I think she was most impressed by the dinner at an authentic German restaurant [in Beijing] with my girlfriend Layla.
I knew the dinner would go over well - Layla is German born Chinese (her parents are both Chinese but she was born and raised in Germany). She speaks German, English, Mandarin and Cantonese fluently. My mom is a German teacher. And of course, they both noted how terrible my German speaking abilities are, despite having lived with a German teacher my whole life. But it was fun, and we got to have a great German meal, which Layla approved as authentic.
And having met all my friends, seen all the temples and ancient structures there were to see, and eaten as much rice and food boiled in oil that they could tolerate, my mom and brother's trip came to an end.
It seemed like only yesterday I was saying goodbye to them at Newark Airport to take my journey back to China in September, and now here I was, bidding farewell. There were tears all around as we said goodbye.
As I made my way to the Beijing-bound train terminal I thought back to the day I picked them up at the airport. I had been eager to show them my home away from home, Beijing, and everything that made me want to stay here. In those 10 days, I'm sure I did just that because soon after arriving home my mom sent me an e-mail telling me what an amazing time she and Mike had and she also mentioned things she wanted to see on China Trip 2011.
It had been one thing to tell them all about Beijing and China through e-mails and phone calls home, but to show my mom and brother firsthand was truly rewarding.
And having successfully hosted two family members, I can now work out any "technical difficulties" for my dad's visit in July.
(Brandon Taylor is a language consultant/foreign expert for the Beijing Review, an English language weekly newsmagazine in Beijing, China. He is a former correspondent for the TIMES NEWS. Read Brandon's blog at http://www.btay200.blogspot.com/. He can be reached at email@example.com.)