If I can claim to have a private Chinese preceptor, that title certainly goes to Junwei. We have never met (although we came short of doing so last year in Chengdu), but we have been in touch for over two years on the internet. While he was working at the 17th bureau of China Rail, which were charged with digging tunnels in Fujian province, he had plenty of time on his hands and he devoted a lot of it to helping countrymen with their English, as well as foreigners with their Chinese.
His help was certainly beneficial to me, as it was to other young learners who even sent him small gifts in gratitude for the tutorship. I must confess my willingness to tackle the vagaries of the Chinese language has known ups and downs, but at least since the end of the summer I have been highly motivated. I met foreigners who were so proficient in this language that they set an example and spurred me to higher goals. Therefore, I have been in continual touch with Junwei.
He says that when we first met online my Chinese was an unintelligible mumble, and still he encouraged me to use my limited knowledge to practise. After months of intermittent study, I can't say I have made the most of this time, but I know definitely more than when I took it up, and this encourages me to keep up the effort.
Now, the last time I applied for a Chinese visa I found that the procedure had been stiffened and I was required to enclose documentation that had not been necessary two years ago. Among these things, I was asked to produce hotel reservations, which I was not likely to make because I'm for living a day-to-day holiday experience without constraint. As an alternative to this, I could submit a letter of hospitality, which Junwei was all too eager to give me, even before I'd asked him for it.
When the visa was happily arranged, I wanted to send my friend a postcard from Italy. I set out to patiently copy the several lines of his address, all in one paragraph as he had sent it to me, until I feared the space would not be enough to hold it.
The day after I mailed it Junwei asked how long more it might take to arrive. I expected a couple of weeks, but this time passed in vain. The question was asked every now and then in the following month, but I left for China and the postcard hadn't arrived yet.
I started joking with my friend that he'd given me a false address, and on the other hand he accused me of not being able to handwrite Chinese characters (this is certainly true if I have to start from memory, but I can manage the copy).
When I was in China in late August, and the postcard was still missing, I tried sending a new postcard, this time from within the country. I asked a Taiwan boy to write the address for me so that at least one possible cause of failed delivery would be removed. But again, the postcard was slow in being delivered, many days became a month, Junwei asked about it less and less, and I resigned to the fact that once more the postcard would never reach its destination. If anything, I now knew that my bad handwriting was not accountable for the mishap, but the Chinese postal service.
Then suddenly one day, two months after I had returned from my journey, Junwei triumphantly announced he had got the postcard. It had taken this long to travel within China – true, from its far West until its far East, but still with no borders to cross. I said that if two months were needed to cover this distance, in two year's time my postcard sent from Italy will be delivered, too!