Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

The most intricate Chinese lyric I've written so far is the song <把我当家人>(Treat Me As One of Your Own) it's about the kindness of strangers and dependence thereon.
In my first two years in China, I had some amazing experiences meeting strangers: including getting my guitar out and giving a mini-concert in a train-carriage; getting a lesson in local history from a veteran of the Sino-Japanese war; having a meal with a group of 18 year-old builders; and playing my earliest Chinese songs by a lake in a campus, letting curious people come and go.

Often, as a foreigner in China, when in public, one walks into a wall of friendliness: as expressed in introductory questions, light conversation, and the taking of photographs. I have no reason to believe that there is a sinister side to all this attention we get, but, if I were getting racially abused, I wouldn't take it personally, so as it is, I don't take it personally.

In November last year, I was ordering a meal in an expensive restaurant, and the young waitress was being exceptionally friendly, exceptionally friendly. I'm told she was a beauty, but I didn't make eye-contact, I'm told she was into me but I only gave one word answers to all of her questions. My companion at the time assures me that it was a missed opportunity for a one-night-stand, but I have long since developed a distaste for Chinese people who single westerners out for special friendliness, it would have been like spending the evening with a talking Linda Lovelace.

There's a difference between kindness and friendliness, and I don't believe there is any correlation.

Anybody who knows what a cliche is knows that cliches are a bad thing. But it takes education and experience to develop a distaste for cliche. The friendliness I encounter in China is always a cliched kind of friendliness. After a while, it ceases to matter that most of the time, it is motivated by sincere kindness.
My biggest fear in life is not being used (being used means that I must be useful). It is living in a world where conversations follow a formula; individuals adhere to stereotype; and self-expression is trivialized.

Just as a one-night-stand is no substitute for a romance. Reflexive friendliness is no substitute for learned and leisurely hospitality.


Tommy Slash said...

K-Man. Where is my friendliness from you! Email me back!!!!

Tommy Slash

Nice blogging btw.

Nick Herman said...

2500 years of beautiful conformity.
How many can be broken and set free?