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They've been firm friends through thick and thin

By An Baijie and Xiang Mingchao  (China Daily)

09:20, July 06, 2012

Johann Hodel, 79, lives with Song Yang's family in Zhengzhou, Henan province. Xiang Mingchao / China Daily

Song Yang met retiree Johann Hodel at a subway in London when he was a business management student at Thames Valley University, in 1999. The 32-year-old from Zhengzhou in Henan province says he was feeling lost at the time.

"I was 19 years old and it was the first time I had been abroad," Song says at his apartment in Zhengzhou, where Hodel, 79, also lives now.

Song says the Swiss national had asked him to fix his watch and he did so, which was the start of a 13-year relationship.

"Song is clever and I like clever people," Hodel says.

Hodel then showed Song around London and invited him to his home, not far from the university.

Song was shocked at how dirty and disorganized the man's house was. Hodel had just retired and was living on his own.

Song cleaned the house and cooked a meal for Hodel, who then invited him to stay for free if he did simple housekeeping chores.

Song had no other friends in the United Kingdom at the time and the arrangement suited him.

They quickly became close friends.

"I did part-time jobs to pay my tuition fees and one time Hans (Hodel's nickname) helped me clean a car. He didn't have to do that since he didn't need the money."

After cleaning the car, Hodel handed over the cash. It "was just several pounds" but Song appreciated the gesture.

"Sometimes my friends from China visited and Hans would offer his bedroom to the guests and sleep on the sofa," Song says.

Their relationship changed one day, after Hodel was robbed and beaten up.

"I decided to protect him after that," Song says.

They lived together in London until 2007, when Song got his master's degree and returned to China.

He found a job at Zhengzhou Health School and kept in touch with Hodel by telephone.

Hodel had a femoral head necrosis and was on the waiting list for treatment at a public hospital in London, so Song suggested he should get treatment at a Chinese hospital instead.

Hodel arrived in China in 2008 and lived at Song's apartment, embarking on a course of treatment.

Song paid the 100,000 yuan ($16,000) cost of the surgeries.

"My wife is a nurse and we are not short of money," Song says. "We want to provide Hans a happy life."

Qu Liyuan, Song's wife, says they often take Hodel out for dinner and he is always curious about Chinese food.

"He likes drinking Tsingtao beer and eating noodles," Qu says. "We don't think Hans is a burden and he brings lots of happiness to my family."

Hodel also teaches English to children in Song's residential community, which keeps him busy and makes him feel useful.

"People here are very friendly, and I don't feel lonely any more," Hodel says. "All of my family members in the UK have died and I consider Song's family to be my family now."

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