China through My Window

China through My Window

China through My Window

China through My Window

Excerpt

A balcony is not a place to take the summer's sun in China. It is not a place to sit and type your lessons or to lean over the railing and study your neighbors' living habits. A balcony is a place to hang laundry. From here your just-washed sheets fall on the muddy ground and your unseemly Western underwear blows into your neighbor's garden because you don't have much experience wielding six-foot bamboo poles. Here you watch your jeans turn into ice legs in the winter while you wonder how the granny next door manages to get her clothes dry enough to put next to her skin.

A few days after I moved into my apartment just outside the gates of Zhejiang University, I set up a little table on my balcony so I could enjoy the spring sunshine, type my lessons, and study my neighbors' daily habits, but I soon discovered that while I was reading my neighbors they were also reading me. And why not? Given the ugly history of foreign intervention in China, perhaps the people didn't want me here at all. I was the first foreign teacher to live in the community in more than thirty years--perhaps I seemed like a Martian to them.

As I stood on my balcony thinking these thoughts, a small fleet of neatly constructed paper airplanes and missiles landed on my table. On them were crayoned, in Chinese and in English, the words "friend" and "comrade."

I was deeply moved by this welcome. In the two years I lived and worked in China, though I often found myself at odds with institutions, I always felt welcome and comfortable among the people. I learned, concretely, what we all abstractly know: people are the same all over the world--and very different. The young people, in particular, helped me articulate the similarities: people want a decent standard of living; some degree of vocational, financial, educational, and health care security; sufficient love and affection; some fun; and, finally, a useful . . .

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