The Lincoln Abes own Fuzhou, Tacoma’s sister city in China.
That’s no small feat, considering the metropolitan area has a population of more than 7 million. Still, everywhere the group of 97 Lincoln High School students goes, a police escort leads the way, and what must be scores of police block intersections clogged with cars and small electric bikes.
On Wednesday, they became rock stars upon their arrival at a high school, where 2,100 students in school uniforms stood on a playground, clapping in unison to marching music until their visitors had been escorted to their seats.
They continued standing on three sides of their guests for an opening ceremony that lasted almost an hour.
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“I feel like a celebrity,” Shayla Trinh, a 17-year-old senior, said later.
The students at the Affiliated High School of Fuzhou Education College showed warmth throughout a morning of activities, she said. They included games of basketball and ping pong, lessons in paper cutting and blue-and-white porcelain designing, and singing and dancing.
“I felt there was so much enthusiasm,” Trinh said. “I felt like I belonged here, like people really wanted us here.”
Abranna Romero, student body president at Lincoln, recalled the “pleasant surprise” of a year ago when President Xi Jinping, in a visit to the Tacoma school, invited 100 students to China as guests of the government.
“Here we are today, a year later, enjoying ourselves in this wonderful city you call home,” she said in greetings at the opening ceremony.
Lincoln Principal Patrick Erwin signed a memorandum of understanding with the Fuzhou school’s principal, Zhen Shu Hang, pledging to continue and expand an earlier agreement of cooperation between the schools. Future exchanges of students are a possibility, he said.
With photographers squeezing in, associates nearby and the American and Chinese flags between them as they sat at a table, the two principals signed the documents with separate pens, giving the appearance of the signing of a peace treaty.
And there was peace and happiness throughout the day.
Just like at a school the Tacoma students visited Sunday in Hong Kong, they posed for countless selfies, most at the request of Chinese girls.
They inundated Logan LaRue, asking him to pose 47 times. Some of them stroked his long blond hair — he hasn’t had it cut in two years — which seemed to hold a fascination for the students.
Others wanted autographs of the Lincoln students who participated in a basketball game — none of whom had played varsity ball at home.
The Fuzhou students shoved scraps of paper in front of them, asking them to sign.
Isaiah Cuadras, a 6-foot-1 senior, signed his name “Isaiah C,” while Isaiah Lenard, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, signed as “Isaiah L.” Good thing. It might be confusing for the autograph holders should either one become famous one day.
Girls pushed for the cellphone number of Cuadras, and he complied.
“They said the kids from America are really handsome,” he said.
The visitors also play pretty good basketball, eliciting “ooohs” from the student fans when they stole the ball or showed off a fancy move. They played two 10-minute halves, beating the Fuzhou team, 45-6.
But the Lincoln students weren’t concerned about the score.
“Basketball is a universal language,” Cuadras said. “We got to communicate with them when we couldn’t do so in other ways.”
Few of the Fuzhou students spoke English well, but the school paired each Lincoln student with one of theirs, and they learned to communicate during a full day that ended with entertainment and a talent show.
After the morning at the school, they ate lunch together at a nearby restaurant (the Lincoln students are doing well with chopsticks, even if the sticks don’t always behave.)
Then they headed out to visit the tourist attractions of Three Lanes and Seven Alleys, a well-preserved architectural complex of 150 buildings from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties, and the nearby mountain resort of Kuliang.
All the while, the students built on their relationships.
“It’s mind-blowing,” said Haley Naparan, a Lincoln junior, midway through the day with a boy she later called her best friend.
As the morning activities wound down, they sat on chairs next to each other sharing earbuds, one in her left ear and the other in his right. What were they listening to? Rap music.
“He’s amazing,” she said that evening.
“She’s cute,” he said.
They smiled at each other as if they had known each other much longer than a few hours.
Aubrey Shelton, a U.S. history teacher and chaperone on the trip, said the pairing of the students “was more valuable than anything we’ve seen. I’m seeing kids becoming best friends in a day. They’re having the time of their lives.”
Until it was time to say goodbye. Then the tears flowed, followed by hugs.
A Lincoln girl said to her new best friend:
“I love you.”
“I love you back,” came the quick reply.
Jonathan Nesvig, a former News Tribune reporter, is traveling with the Lincoln High School students in China.
The Lincoln High School students were to rise at 4 a.m. Thursday (Oct. 12) for an early departure to Chengdu, where they were to split up to visit one of three schools in the afternoon.
On Friday, they will visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.