Back when they were first-year students who had just moved into the same floor of the Jinqiao Residence Hall, Sarah Armstrong ’22 and Leslie Huang Sijia ’22 would often run into each other at night on the way to raid the fridge. The seniors now describe their chance encounters as yuanfen, a Chinese expression of fateful coincidence or luck that nurtured their friendship. Over the years, they’ve traveled together, celebrated birthdays, and when the COVID-19 pandemic kept them an ocean apart, they stayed connected - and entertained - with routine online game nights in between online classes.
Sarah Armstrong ’22
Hometown: Ridgefield, Connecticut, USA
Major: Interactive Media Arts
Sichuan Food 101: My roommate was from Chongqing, China, and both her mom and Leslie’s mom would mail them Sichuan snacks. Leslie would just be in our room like a third roommate, and they’d speak in Sichuan dialect and compare what snacks they got. Leslie’s mom even mailed her a homemade spicy sauce so she could cook her family’s special recipe for huiguorou in the dorms. When Leslie invited me to Chengdu during our sophomore Spring Festival break, my favorite snack was these flavorful sweet dumplings paired with a spicy sauce.
Is my Chinese that bad?: I took Mandarin in high school, but when I got here and heard Leslie and my roommate speaking Sichuanese, I was upset because I couldn’t understand a thing! But after all these years, I can now understand and speak some of their dialect.
(left) Standing before Anshun Bridge (Bridge of Peace and Success), a Chengdu landmark. (right) Sichuan red oil dumplings, Sarah's favorite.
She’s my number one fan: I play for the women’s soccer team, and Leslie came to every game that she didn’t need to miss a class for. Even Saturday night games, or during finals week, in the rain -- she’d always come cheer me on.
Celebrating Leslie’s birthday, freshman year (left). Celebrating Sarah’s birthday, junior year (right). “Because of our time difference, she was the first and last person I talked to on my birthday during lockdown (Spring 2020),” said Armstrong.
Speaking Sichuanese in Connecticut: When I went home last year and at a restaurant, overheard a mother using the dialect with her kids--I asked her if she was from Sichuan and we started talking. It was wild!
Bubble tea Tuesdays: Leslie’s in all psychology classes and I’m in IMA classes, so we don’t see each other often on campus. This past Spring semester, we developed a routine. I was an Interactive Lab learning assistant, and she’d stop by my office hours so we could order bubble tea together and catch up.
Leslie Huang Sijia ’22
Hometown: Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
Major: Social Science, psychology track
Our earliest convos started out: “Oh, you are getting yogurt? Oh, you are getting ice?” It was my nightly ritual to grab a yogurt from the fridge, and I’d always see her opening the freezer to get ice for her water.
I really love my hometown: It has pandas, good food, and I wanted Sarah to visit it from the first day we met. When she finally came to Chengdu, I took her to a local dumpling shop that my family would eat at all the time. Sadly, when the pandemic happened, that place closed down, so Sarah was one of the last visitors to eat there. Before she left, we said to each other, “See you in [Shanghai in] two weeks,” but then the pandemic happened, and she ended up going back to the US.
During remote learning, we had Friday Game Nights: We logged onto Zoom, talked for a bit, and played games for about two hours to feel like we were still at school instead of just in our bedrooms. One of our favorite games was “Meme Your Friends,” where we swapped photos of ourselves to make memes of each other.
Friends that meme together stay together.
I became more proud of speaking Sichuanese: when Sarah asked me for help on her Interaction Lab final project on disappearing dialects in China. I reflected on a course I was taking called Language and Power, which made me realize that I cannot argue with other people in Mandarin. Every time I get emotional, I switch to my dialect. That's the story behind the meme Sarah made about me that says: “Mandarin, is this an actual language?”
She taught me about Christmas: She’d get me a gift every year, and this last one was a silly Chinese language book that uses English pronunciation to convey Chinese words--it makes you sound very much like an American speaking Chinese. I loved this gift so much, I read it on my flight back to Chengdu and was laughing on the plane.