Traditional funeral for a Swiss friend who loved China
By Li Xinran
A traditional Chinese funeral was held in the central city of Zhengzhou on Sunday for a Swiss native who had spent his final six years, and some of his happiest moments, with a Chinese family.
Johann Hodel and Song Yang met in London in 1999. Song, then 19, had just arrived in London to study and it was only because he took the wrong subway train that the two ran into each other.
Song, who had been looking for a place to stay that he could afford, saw Hodel on the street with too much stuff to carry and he offered to help.
A grateful Hodel invited Song to his apartment. “He repeatedly told me, ‘you help me, I help you,’” Song recalled.
After their chance encounter, Hodel offered Song a place to stay at his home, which was not far from the Thames Valley University where Song was a student. In exchange, Song would do household chores for the 66-year-old.
Hodel, who was born in Switzerland in 1933, had moved to Britain to earn his living and had run a pub before he retired.
He helped Song find part-time jobs, taught him English and even filed a compensation claim for him after Song was injured in a traffic accident.
Song returned home in 2007 with a master’s degree but the two kept in touch.
When he heard Hodel had developed problems with his legs and was on a long waiting list for surgery, Song paid for him to be treated in China.
Since then, Hodel had lived with Song’s family.
He had his own bedroom and Song downloaded movies in English for him and bought him a puppy. Hodel taught English to children at neighborhood communities and sometimes worked as a volunteer on community projects.
When a reporter asked him last year if he wanted to go back to the UK, he replied: “No, This is my home!”
When Hodel first arrived in China, Song had a girlfriend and Hodel asked: “Will you abandon me after you get married?” Song told him he would never give him up and his wife joined him in taking care of his friend.
Song’s family called Hodel by his nickname “Hans.”
Hodel died on December 2 at the age of 80. The Swiss Embassy in China sent an official to be present at the funeral to pay its respects.
In an emotional speech, Song said: “Hans was a meteor in my life. He arrived suddenly, but disappeared shortly after ...”