Watermelons rattle and rumble in the back of trucks on every corner of every street. Competition is fierce and with a quick ‘knock knock’, the winner of the watermelon wars can be identified pretty quickly. That’s when you know you can trust a fruit seller. The simple techniques they use to distinguish the good from the bad. A sniff here, a shake there, and you’ve got the best apples in town. They care. They want you to enjoy their fruit so they’ll go the extra mile to ensure you get the best of the best. That’s why it’s nice to buy local. Fruits of the season from the fruit bearers themselves. It’s all well and easy to hop into Walmart for a bunch of grapes or a conveniently-chopped up pineapple, but where did they come from exactly? Don’t you want something fresher?
I love China for that reason. Well, as long as they’re not using too many pesticides that is. You can live your life here according to what fruits are in season. Right now it is most definitely watermelon season and I am positively devouring them on a daily basis. For some reason this fruit talk reminds me how easy it to forget where you are and how different your life is from the one you grew up living. When I was a kid, I could never have opened my front door and had my every sense overwhelmed in the way I do now. I kind of love the way you can just buy fruit from the back of trucks and freshly-baked bread from two Uyghur people who have set up a mini mobile bakery under the trees near my office. Once they’re done baking, they take turns sleeping in a hammock. They have been there for years and I love crossing the bridge and knowing that I’m getting closer as the sweet, salty scent of the baking bread wafts up to rest on the end of my nose.
Sometimes when you think about something, it just happens. This past week I think I started to feel a bit isolated from people here. I have decided to start revising all my old Chinese that I might have forgotten so that I can start having more deep and meaningful conversations again. I also thought how much of a pity it is that we often sit next to people and shove our faces into our phones instead of making eye contact or striking up a conversation. On Monday I was on the bus on my way to yoga and I really wanted to read my book. The man next to me started asking me the usual questions in Chinese such as ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What do you do here?’ etc. I politely replied, but then not so politely pulled out my book and stuck my nose in. I felt guilty but at the same time, I wasn’t really in the mood for chatting to a stranger.
And that is our big problem as humans. Back in the day, I’m pretty sure we would have been happy to talk to anyone. We were more community-focused, more dependent on our neighbours and fellow human beings. Nowadays we’d rather talk to our ‘friends’ who live in our phone. I don’t like this. So on Wednesday night after yoga when I hopped off the bus and saw a guy who lives in the same building as me, I immediately smiled and walked over to him, and without even asking I just walked home with him and asked him how he’s doing? What does he do here? Does he feel happy? etc etc. I could have just nodded my head in acknowledgement and continued on my merry way, and believe me, the introvert inside me was screaming for me to do this, but I decided to take the opportunity to be more friendly and isn’t that how we make friends anyway? By stepping out of our comfort zones, approaching people and recognizing that they too, are a human, just like you, and they deserve to be given a chance to become more than a mere stranger.
I think this is a chain effect, because as I turned the corner out of my apartment complex today, I found myself walking directly next to an elderly Chinese man. I’m talking synchronized walking, step for step, exact same pace. I actually admitted to myself that this felt pretty funny and I looked at him to see if he had noticed this too. Before I even had time to catch his eye, he had struck up a conversation. And that is how I found myself walking to the bus stop today with a total stranger, chatting about life and work and the differences between China and Scotland. As I neared the bus stop, I said bye and have a nice day! I may never meet this person again, but it sure was nice to know that not all humans are cold and unfriendly. Of course, I’m not totally naïve here. I know it may have purely been because I am a foreigner and he was just curious, but hey, it’s better than nothing. And afterwards, I spotted a colleague on the bus and said good morning, and then I though to myself, wow! Even in such a bit city you can still build a little community and feel like you really belong, no matter your age or gender or where you come from.
Here’s to more talking and laughing with strangers that may become friends, to more positivity, and of course…more watermelons.
Image by the talented Chhuy-ing.