May 11, 2010

Little Spring Pleasures

The weather is finally turning warm here in Beijing.  For most of March and April the temperatures were hanging between 0-10C.  But suddenly one day, the temperatures spiked to 30C, and since then they have been hovering in the mid 20's.  Just fabulous!  We are not roasting yet (that should happen within the next two weeks), but are enjoying wonderful days.  No matter how tired I am I want to be outside. 
This has partly to do with my changing perspectives on our neighborhood as well.  Until now I have been veiwing it as extremely urban, where every time you step out of the house you see strangers, and where the street outside our complex is the size of Winnipeg's biggest highways (with far more traffic).  Well something changed.  When I step out of the house now I often meet people I know or recognize.  There is something very homey about having someone greet you.  It also helps that I can now recognize people.  It is embarrassing to admit that for a long time all Chinese people looked the same to me.  However, on that same note I have been comforted to know that they feel the same way about us foreigners.
Additionally, even though the roads are big and packed with people and cars, they are starting to feel small and neighborly compared to the truly large highways.  The other day as I rode the bus home, I was able to imagine that I was in a cute little neighborhood with shops and friendly people milling about.  As I imagined this, it suddenly didn't seem so strange and that little daydream has actually had a lasting change on my perspective.  Suddenly it was easy for me to imagine that if I had grown up here, I would be nostalgic for it.  That perspective has served to make me feel more attached to it myself. 
Since posting that blog about taxi drivers, James and I have been contemplating a question that has been inspired by them.  Why is it that everyone in China seems so interesting?  Everyone has a story to tell or an opinion about something and it is always fascinating!  Perhaps it is because we come from a fundamentally different culture?  Yes and no, because regardless of culture, my predominant feeling when talking to them is just how human and relatable they seem to me.  Does it mean that people in China have more interesting lives than people in Canada?  That depends on what you define as interesting.
What we finally came up with is this.  People in China actually talk about themselves.  It is not uncommon for an old grandmother to approach me as I watch the boys play outside and tell me all about herself, her children, her grandchildren, her life's hardships and her opinions.  Then she will ask me all kinds of questions about myself.  This is not something that happens in North America.  We are very caught up with this idea of "You don't bother me and I won't bother you".  Personal is personal.  I'll keep my personal things to myself.  Strangers generally have an unspoken understanding that both parties probably don't care too much about the other's personal life.  Until coming here, this seemed very normal and even polite to me.  To some degree it is polite, but it is also just very convenient.  If we don't know about other people's lives we don't have to care about them.  But it is so isolating!
It is amazing how the sharing of personal stories with someone that you have no longterm relationship with can still create a sense of community. Even if I never see that old grandmother again, she and I still shared a momentary bond with each other.  She was interested to know about me and I was interested to know about her.  However short it was, it was a meaningful encounter that changed my day and I will remember her story for a long time.

Granted, we are something of an exception so that makes people here more curious about us. Many of them are just curious to hear a foreigner speak Chinese.  In the first few sentences they are bound to watch with amusement and then inevitably make some comment about how well you speak.  (On a side-note, this can be very irritating.  If you didn't do well, they will tell you so.)  I don't think they approach discussions with other Chinese people they don't know with the same leisurely attitude and degree of curiosity.  But I have overheard strangers striking up very open conversations on numerous occasions. 

Anyway, all of that is to say that I want to actively change my attitude toward people from one of indifference to one of interest. I don't expect that people on the streets of Winnipeg will start confiding in me, but I do think that people can tell when you are actually interested in them, even if you only have a 30 second interaction with them.

In other news, James and I celebrated our sixth anniversary this past Sunday, May 9.  It was fairly low key.  I played piano for church in the morning, we went out for lunch and in the evening we watched Honey I Blew up the Kid with the boys (very romantic movie).  However we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.  While it is nice to have a special day to celebrate, it is also nice to know that we have had many good years together, instead of just having one good day together.  We are also often able to do a lot of things together even if the boys are around.  When we take the boys out to play, we'll often play Chinese hacky sack together or play badminton.  Those types of small interactions make daily living much more meaningful.

We thought that the boys would like the movie (a very lighthearted movie about a giant 100ft baby), but Ari in particular seemed to think it was very creepy.  He watched the screen with great concern and horror at a giant baby innocently destroying Las Vegas.  He seemed especially disturbed that it happened whenever the baby interacted with electricity.  He was quick to point out that he would never be that big and scary.  

We have also struck up a bargain with a friend of ours.  She needs to practice her English for an exam that is coming up, and in return for our help she will teach Ari to play the accordion.  We invested some personal funds into buying him a small accordion this weekend and he is very excited about it.  It was rather cheap and we felt that we got a good deal on it.  If he likes it and does well, we'll need to get him a bigger one eventually, but this one will be just fine for a trial run.  He'll be Oom-Pah-Pah-ing sooner than you can say lederhosen! (maybe we'll have to get him a pair of those!).  See the the picture at the top to envision Ari's newest destiny!


Cindy said...

I love your updates! Meant to come back after your last post to tell you I ate a rhubarb muffin in your honour, but I didn't know if it would make you feel bad. Hope Jude is doing okay. Those emergency visits are never any fun.


derrydown said...

Too much to comment on! Poor Jude seems to be the one who visits the emergency room, doesn't he? I have to laugh over Ari's observations and perspective on life. I'm glad he will never be a 100-foot boy who destroys cities. I also plan to tell my life story to everyone in Winnipeg. As for the accordion, that's how Weird Al Yankovic started. His parents thought every boy named Yankovic ought to play the accordion, because there was an unrelated guy named Frank Yankovic, the Polka King.