Night time here is my favorite time of the day. The slow pace of life punctuated by the occasional honking of the horn and the sun melting me into a human puddle gets replaced by a nearly dead quiet. Sometimes a car passes by but usually the only sounds I here are from friends sitting around a table eating dinner served by a noodle or rice stand.
It reminds me a lot of my time in Thailand. In Thailand I lived just outside of city in a province called Samut Prakan. Both where I live now and Samut Prakan are industrial areas. During the day the workers are busy in the various factories and mom and pop stores that are the economic life blood of this part of the city. It is here, in the heart of China, that one gets the truest feel for how China become the economic superpower that it has become
I stopped by a small stand get some potato chips。The store owner， now familiar with my purchasing habits, knows exactly what I am going to buy. He asks , of course, what I want just in case I have changed my mind in the past twenty-four hours , but the fact he already has his hand poised over the chips . A customer , standing in the line next to me strikes up a conservation.
The store owner waves off the customer. I think he tells him I don’t speak a lot of Chinese。 However, the customer is not deterred The customer asks me where I am from。
“Mey-gu-a” America . I reply. The customer then decides that the store owner really doesn’t understand my speaking ability in Chinese. He continues Some questions I have been asked enough times that I think I know the answers to, although to be honest it is really just a guess. I struggle mightily with the answers. First giving up on speaking Chinese, then I give up on speaking Pidgin English. The man, probably in his late fourties or early fifties doesn’t seem to mind the fact that his very clear and articulate questions are being answered with broken, and probably incorrect Chinese, broken English and over dramatic physical gestures to explain my answers. I do manage to convey where I am from, possibly enough that he understands I am from Seattle and not Washington DC. I explain that my family is America and not here with me in China and which school I teach at.
This for me is why I am in love with Asia. People here genuinely are interested in your story, even if it very different from anything they have experienced themselves. There is also a genuine concern about the fact that I am alone. In a society where you have a billion plus family members the idea of a very independent person is as foreign to them as the language they listen to. it is of course logical, and something I wish Americans went back to doing.
There is stregnth and safety in acting in a community.They find safety with family and friends. My coworkers , for example, volunteer to help each other at the slightest hint of distress of another coworker, often dropping the very important work they are doing themselves .I have been told saying “No” to help is not a common thing. Helping each other is a equalizer that transcends social status.
I reluctantly leave this conversation with this nice gentleman. Like many other before him. Numbers are exchanged and the hopes of having dinner with him his wife and kids are expressed. Like many times in the past though, I know it will never happen. Not for the lack of sincere intent on both sides , but more for practical reasons , namely I would not know how to have a conversation with on the phone with him and I am terribly afraid to ask anyone to help, because I know they would be glad to. What this particular part of the city lacks in financial resources it more than makes up for in pure love for your fellow human being.
As I walk home I watch two chickens chasing each other in a circle. This is a new habit for these feathered pets. The owners of the store , presumably also the pet owners , watch them carefully. An invisible coop keeps them in a one or two square area. Suddenly the chicken who is being chased sharply turns and the pursuer, quite unaware that the other chicken has lef the game continues going in a circle.
Putting distance between himself and his increasingly bird-brained friend, the second chicken cautiously approaches the road. He stops at the curb of the street.
Could this be the moment I have been waiting for?
Could I finally find out the answer to the question the has befuddled mankind since time began.
The chicken looks down one side the street.
Will we finally find out why the chicken crossed the road?
Another pause as the chicken stares at the other side of the road.
I check my pocket for camera. I can finally have proof. I can finally explain to my students why this joke has sent generations of Americans into fits of hysterical laughter. Alas, I have forgotten my phione and my camera. Life’s greatest mystery will be answered by someone with as much reliability as your average Loch Ness monster photographer.
The chicken continues to pause.
I understand. He is building up suspense. I look around and notice no one else is watching this historical moment. Maybe they know something I don’t know.
The chicken steps closer to the curb and pauses. He must be preparing for some oscar nominated movie and that is why he is dragging this out so long. Marlon Brando would have gotten far better roles if he took lessons from this chicken.
The chicken pauses and then starts pecking at the ground. Eventually he turns around. Really? Then he starts walking towards his friend who had look ago realized he was playing tag by himself.
A great moment in history is lost forever.
Disappointed, dejected really, I walk towards the corner . I turn the corner . already I can see my apartment lit up and rising high above everything else. Areas that are making the slow transition from industrial area to suburbs have an odd mix of countryside, small town life and modern trappings. After two blocks the sidewalk ceases and I share the road with the occasional bicycle and electric bike.
In the distance I here the alternating beat of what always seems to me to be a very old fashioned ceremony. I walk closer to the sound and the steady alternating beat becomes louder. Tucked away in my memory a small voice tells me it is a factory producing some unknown product that will fuel the Chinese economy. But here on this lonely stretch of road my mind passes the time imagining drummers in traditional Chinese formal wear with traditional Chinese brass instruments readying a couple for the world of marital bliss or the shockingly firecracker free opening iof a store. For ten minutes the stars, the crickets and the occasional car passing through the new feeder road are my only company and it is relaxing. The mind likes routine, and this ten minutes tells my mind that after a quick shower, some watermelon I will soon been sleeping and my body will soon be preparing for another break of dawn start.. I slow down my pace considerably and allow my brain time to imagine what the sounds are. Another day will soon be upon me, now it is time for me to rest.