Guanxi. This Chinese word describes a set of personal relationships that drives the social network in China. These relationships often span generations, but can also be formed between relatively new friends. It was within this relational network that Sparta resident Tim Stamper was referred to as “Laoshi.” The English translation is “My Teacher.”
Tim and Sandy Stamper are well known in Alleghany County. Graduate school brought them to North Carolina and they moved to Alleghany County in 1990 to start a business, Pilgrims Rest Family Care Home. With a strong background in the construction trade, Tim later became a teacher at Alleghany High School (AHS) in Construction Technology. While at AHS he also served as an assistant wrestling coach with head coach, Paul Crouse. He later spent time in Texas working on pipelines and enjoyed the interactions with the rough and tumble crews. His has been a varied occupational journey.
A few years back, Tim and Sandy considered how to best use their variety of gifts and skills. They explored different options and the one that caught their eye was through the English Language Institute (ELIC). ELIC assigns teachers to universities around the world where they teach oral English to undergraduate students, and language and culture to graduate students. After being accepted to serve with ECLI, Tim and Sandy left the comforts of family and friends in Sparta and soon found themselves at Jiangxi Normal University in Nanchang, China.
As one would expect, there were challenges moving to a different country. After living in a county of roughly 11,000 residents, Tim and Sandy found themselves in a city of over 5 million people. The air quality was poor due to industry, the volume of automobiles, and the high usage of coal. Their apartment had little insulation. During the summers it could be hot and in the winter it could be cold. The Internet service was notoriously slow. But, they found the people to be engaging, friendly and eager to share their culture with Tim and Sandy.
While Tim was assigned to the university, his teaching extended beyond the classroom. Dinner parties became cultural exchange events where he taught western culture while learning the culture of the east. He learned that the Chinese citizens admire Americans and the United States. Older citizens recalled the American role of their freedom from Japanese oppression during World War II. The younger Chinese often teased Tim that the Chinese have become true capitalists while the Americans are becoming socialists. One of Tim’s most memorable encounters and lasting relationships began with a hospital visit.
Throughout their time in China, Tim was plagued with gastrointestinal problems. Those problems finally got to the point where he needed medical attention. Tim made the trip to the hospital with his interpreter. There they saw a 78 year-old doctor. Aware that the Chinese paid before the delivery of any service, Tim asked the interpreter to ask the cost of the examination. The doctor, who turned out to be the chief of staff raised his hand and said in English, “You owe nothing.” Subsequent conversation revealed that the doctor had lived through the Japanese occupation and was a young professor during the Cultural Revolution. His desire was to improve his English while getting to know someone from the United States.
That encounter led to a deep friendship. As their relationship grew, the doctor shared with Tim his desire to see growth and development of the hospital staff’s English skills. He asked Tim and Sandy to come to the hospital twice a month. There they met with the staff, assisting them with English and leading discussions on western culture. Those conversations covered everything from Santa Claus to the Good Samaritan. It was this 78 year-old doctor who gave Tim honorable title of “Laoshi” – My Teacher.
The Chinese concept of “guanxi” is akin to an emotional bank account whose primary purpose is to assist or help others. Deposits are made and both parties understand that a withdrawal or favor may be requested in the future. This definition doesn’t describe the actions of Tim and Sandy Stamper. Whether they are in Sparta or Texas or China, they have spent a lifetime giving freely with little expected in return. It is a life philosophy that is countercultural in both the United States and China. But, it is a great model for those of us here in Alleghany.
If you or your group would like to hear more about the work ELIC does in China and throughout the world, you may contact Tim and Sandy at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 336-572-0900.
Photo are courtesy of Tim and Sandy Stamper.