Ted: ‘My heart belongs to the world’

By Ron Burtz

Waiter He HaoZhe chats with a family dining at the Custer Corral on Friday. “Ted,” as he is called at the restaurant, says coming to Custer as a J-1 international student worker this summer is step one in his journey to possibly finishing his college education in the U.S.

He HaoZhe’s Custer Corral waiter name tag reads “Ted,” and there’s a good reason for that. Although his Mandarin Chinese first name is only one syllable and is spelled “He” in English, it isn’t pronounced at all like the Anglo masculine pronoun. Ted speaks his name with an open mouth and a quick burst of air so that it comes out sounding like he got hit in the stomach. “Hhhuuch!” And that’s just one of the challenges the young student from Shanghai, China faces in coming to America.

Like many J-1 international student workers, one of Ted’s reasons for coming to the U.S. was to improve his English. And while he has a long way to go in that department Ted gives every indication of being a quick study, and will probably do well.

Ted arrived on American soil for his first time about three weeks ago. He boarded a jet at Shanghai International Airport and made a 13-hour flight to Dallas, Texas, where he changed planes for the much shorter trip to Rapid City.

When asked about his reasons for wanting to work in the U.S. this summer Ted responded, “I wanted to go this place, and try myself—try my English—and make me to know the Americas, and if I have a chance I will go to America to study college.”

The college junior says his initial trip across the Pacific is a first step to possibly finishing his schooling here. He says he wanted to study American culture to see “if I think I fit here then I will come here for my studies.”

Ted says back home in Shanghai he studied the “wiki” about Custer on the internet, and chose to come here because of the history of the area, indicating he is attracted to the western heritage of the Black Hills, and considers it a good place to become immersed in American culture.

While Ted doesn’t appear to be all that impressed with Rapid City—too many people—he does love the mountains, lakes and beauty of the Black Hills.

“It is the best place for me,” he says.

As for keeping in touch with his parents and younger sister back home on the east coast of China, Ted says he is able to talk to them often using the WeChat app on his phone. The app, which works through Wi-Fi, even offers him the opportunity to video chat with the folks at home.

And it appears that whether she lives in Shanghai or Cheyenne a mother is a mother. When asked what his parents say in their long-distance chats Ted says they want to know if he likes it here, if he’s getting exercise and if he’s eating right.

I’m not sure Ted completely understood the question when I asked him if he missed his mother’s cooking, because he replied, “Not yet,” and then added, “My heart belongs to the world.”

That seems to be Ted’s way of saying that he is pushing out the boundaries, exploring his world and hoping to see if there is room for him, at least as a student, in the United States of America.