Qian had told me before the flight that he found an American guy named Lowell who would come to the Houston airport and pick us up. "How did you find him? And why would he do that?" I asked. Qian said he asked around for organizations that had helped foreign students at L University. The church Lowell was working for at the time was high on the list. So Qian contacted the church, and Lowell said he would come to pick us up. "Church people are really nice people." Qian said. "They will help anyone, including strangers." After living in the U.S. for many years, I now know that the statement is not always true, but at the time I was so grateful to the "church people".
Lowell spotted us at the luggage reclaim. He came over to introduce himself, picked up my two large suitcases (each weighted 70 lbs, and there were no wheels on them), and walked away like they were feathers. I was so relieved, because I couldn't lift any of them. Lowell was working for a church which was right next to L University's campus at the time. He came to pick us up partly because he liked to meet all Chinese students coming to the university, so he could invite us to go to his church for bible study later, partly because he had a rental property near the campus that needed tenants. I don't care what reasons he had, he made my first day in America a lot easier, and for that I am forever grateful.
The drive from Houston to City B was the first opportunity for me to actually see America, and my goodness what a shocker it was. Before that day, I had always pictured America to be like Manhattan, with modern high rises everywhere. But after leaving Houston, we didn't see any high rise. In fact, there was hardly anything to see at all. Vast amount of space was left unutilized. "What a waste of land! What don't they use them to grow crops?" I remember thinking. And the trucks on the highway were so huge. They were at least four times bigger than the trucks in China at the time.
Lowell drove us directly to his rental house after we arrived at City B. It is a 5-bedroom house with full carpets in the bedrooms, multiple full bathrooms, huge kitchen, big yard and many other things that I considered luxury at the time. Living condition in Beijing (or in China in general) back then was so much worse than this, that it hit me for the first time just how rich U.S. the country was. It is not about how rich people live in the country. It is about how ordinary people live in the country. As the only money maker in his family, and many kids to raise, Lowell not only put his kids through college, but also owned at least two houses like this. I thought that was remarkable.
Lowell charged $125/month per person for rent, he'd put two persons (all Chinese at the time) per room if he could manage to find ten tenants. It's a pretty good deal considering that the house was furnished and the rent included local phone service, and all the utilities. There was just one problem. The house is ~30 minutes walk to the campus. It may not be a big deal in other places, but in southern Texas, that's too far a walk in the summer, so I moved out of there after several days. Qian stayed on for maybe a semester before transferring to a different university somewhere else. I lost contact with him ever since.