The people in Chinese have been some of the friendliest people I have ever encountered in my travels. Surprised? How is it possible when they’re pushing and shoving at the train station? When they seem to try to rip you off on souvenirs? When you can’t seem to get a taxi to pick you up? And when they call you fat?
Think of this as a Part 2 of my observation of the Chinese people.
Location: Xi’an, China
The art district in Xi’an has souvenirs, caligraphy paint brushes, and hand painted wall scrolls. I’ve bought all my decorations for my apartment in this area. This is a great area for Christmas shopping and thought I’d would buy a painting to send home. A small kiosk near the enterence of the art district had beautiful paintings. I know enough Mandarin to ask for a price and bargain. I got a fantastic deal compared to the other kiosks. After my purchase, we began to talk for awhile. His English is surprising good. He self studied and has learned by talking to other foreigners that stop by just as I was. He tells me about his other foreigner friends. I’ve learned that the Chinese like to tell others how many foreigner friends they have perhaps because we are still rare in this part of the world. It’s not that they’re being arrogant or showing off. They are simply excited.
The conversation lasts for two hours just talking on the streets from how he is a converted Christian and how his wife is the owner of the kiosk. We exchange phone numbers and now made a new friend in Xi’an. Two weeks later, I visit him at his kiosk again. We again talk for over two hours. This time however he brings me an entire lunch meal that his wife made just for me. His kindness becomes overwhelming and starts to compliment how nice of a man I am. He tells me that he can tell I’m a good person from my smile and how I was easy to talk to which is why he continued to talk to me the first day we met. Before I left, he tells me that he would love to make a wall scroll for me. He asked me to write my name and Stephanie’s name so he could write them with calligraphic Chinese characters on a wall scroll – at no cost. He would call me when it’s done in a few weeks before Christmas as a gift to me. As promised, he texts me to come over. I meet his wife and baby as well. With a big smile, he hands me the wall scroll with both his palms facing up on each end of the scroll as if handed gold or a crown. I felt deeply touched by his gesture to nearly a complete stranger that has only talked to him for a total of a few hours. I promised him I’d bring him something from Thailand or Vietnam. I’m still amazed.
I’m nowhere near a good singer but as I wrote a few weeks ago, I love karaoke.
I met Adam with Tom on our first week in China at a hostel bar. He is a local. I made a quick reference about him in last weeks post. He invited us to his place for a small get together and party. We get picked up by his car and head on over to the supermarket. Two cases of beer and enough snacks for two meals, we are set. Back at his apartment, we start chatting away for a few hours. He lives with other roommates who don’t speak a single word of English outside of Hello. My broken Mandarin doesn’t get us far in conversation but it doesn’t seem to stop us from still having a good time and trying to communicate. Never in China have I gotten a nasty attitude from anyone for not knowing enough Chinese in the same sense that the United States may have for not knowing enough English.
One skill I feel I have learned in traveling is communication and social skills. Language barriers don’t typically stop me from talking in other countries. They had a deck of cards lying around and I did one of the only magic tricks I could think of. I must’ve repeated it at least a dozen times to everyone. I’m not a very good magician as I spoiled it by telling everyone how it was done. It must’ve killed at least an hour and funny conversations making such a simple card trick so worth it and entertaining for everyone. I later found out one of girls at the party has never met a foreigner before making our visit to their apartment even more memorable. After a few more beers, we head on out to karaoke. We sing till about 7:00am and have really delicious Bao Zi (Steamed filled buns) which happens to be my all time favorite breakfast food. Sure this kind of night could have happened in any part of the world but the fact was that it has happened here in China on repeat for several weekends in a row.
The generosity is more than what you may expect from this country because of the unfortunate image the Western world has. Through all the issues you may have getting a taxi back to your hostel or paying an extra dollar for a souvenir, perhaps there’s more to it than you just being a foreigner. Not all of it will make sense to you but there is always a reason. I think, if you look a bit deeper into these people, or perhaps any person in any culture, you’ll find the kindness you read on here.
Spend some time understanding the cultures reasons for their actions and pay attention to the smaller things that may mean the world to them. Don’t hold back from communicating with the locals although there may be a language barrier because as long as you have your head on your body and movement for expression, you can speak the international language. Well, a phrase book may help too.