People back in Europe or the US (that haven’t been to China) often have the wrong kind of image of Chinese people. Many people seem to think that all that Chinese people ever do –is to cheat foreigners. I often get questions from friends or people that are coming here for a visit, wondering how alert they should be for “scams” and such. And sure, there are some infamous scams (like “art students from Beijing/Xi’an/Suzhou who try to sell you their crappy paintings after befriending you on the street” –but you easy learn how to spot those ones), and every now and then a taxi driver will make one extra turn in order to earn some extra kuais (I have to say though, that I don’t think taxi drivers are bad guys. They are often helpful and friendly and keen to get you where you want as fast as possible. For their own sake as much as yours), but generally speaking, I don’t think people here cheat you that much.
Yesterday was a day when I realized how awesome Chinese people really are. I first had a great day at work, chatting to my Chinese colleagues that I like a lot, and then went for a haircut –I have been going to the same Chinese girl since I came here, so for soon 5 years. About 1 year ago she discovered that I can speak Mandarin, and since then it’s been a pleasure to go for a trim. I don’t even have to tell her what I want her to do with my hair –she already knows. And she does those small little extra things for you that a hairdresser back home would never do. Also, she works together with her sister and brother (biological) and they are all just lovely, friendly and helpful –without being too much. When I left them last night they were all standing together, waving me off with big smiles on their faces.
On my way back I passed a fruit stand and decided to get some bananas. It was an old, Chinese man selling the fruit, and he watched me with an amused expression on his face. Every time I touched a fruit, he ran up to me, touching the same fruit, and telling me its name in Chinese. “I know, I know!” I finally said in Chinese with a smile, and that resulted in his amused expression turning into a delighted one.
I ended up buying heaps of stuff, strawberries, bananas, kiwis… and I didn’t even ask for the price. Only when he was filling up a bag with strawberries did I ask how much they were.
-Don’t worry, I won’t charge you much.
And he didn’t. In the end he asked for 9 kuai (!). When I gave him 10 and said it was OK like that, he came running after me with 1 kuai, smiling, and telling me to come back soon again.
I walked home feeling as if I was walking on clouds –not for any specific reason: not because I bought cheap fruit or had a good haircut or because I really like my co-workers: But because I’m so happy I live here and can communicate with all of these people, and share stories with them. Yesterday my hairdresser ended up telling me about what it was like growing up in a poor village in Anhui –and it’s just so interesting and fascinating to listen to stories like that. You would think it would be a sob story –but it’s not. More often it’s a down-to-earth story of how someone who’s had very little, still has managed to make the most of it. And that’s pretty fascinating and inspiring if you ask me.
Although I’ve had my ups and downs with China (and not to mention with learning Chinese) I have to say that coming here, and especially learning this language, is one of the best things I’ve ever done.