Once you have lived in a foreign country, experienced the world outside our comfortable borders, you will never be the same. I spent countless hours looking out a car window, walking the streets, and experiencing life in Asia. It never grew tiring.
Below is a post from April 7, 2009, written on my original Super Five Shanghai blog.
Today, as we drove down the local street to the children’s school, I thought about the differences of the world and how lucky we are to experience different cultures. In the States, if I were to pass by a house which had a pool table in front of it, I would be a little bothered. I would feel a lack of order, that a piece belonged indoors, but was outdoors, like when I see living room furniture on someone’s porch. This morning, however, I thought it quite charming that a local Chinese gentleman was enjoying a game of pool outside on a beautiful day. In all likelihood, I am sure that pool table would not fit in his tiny house, but he wanted to play so outdoors is where it stood.
In China, card and board games, singing, dancing, sleeping, and exating, is often done outdoors. The people of Shanghai love to be out in nature, and I admire the time that they spend enjoying the beauty of the day. There are parks everywhere, and they are full of people. They are flying kites, doing tai chi, playing badminton, walking with babies. Activities that cost nothing but reap great rewards for the body and spirit. Although I know that many people in the U.S. enjoy parks as well, I have noticed that the activities that take place at parks in China are much more diverse. Most Americans would not feel comfortable singing or dancing in the park, and most could never compete with the Chinese on kite-flying abilities.
In China there are rules, but they are not always followed. The main roads are well manicured, swept, and washed, but it is not uncommon to see a trash heap gathering next to a small local road like the one near the school. The rich and the poor areas of town are intermingled all over the city, the grandiose and the dilapidated are steps away from one another. The people are much more vocal, and many do not have a sense of personal space. The traffic is chaotic.
In March, while we were in Japan, we experienced some time with the Japanese culture. Although we were not there very long, we noticed that they are much more rule-oriented than China, and they make sure that the rules are followed. The locals are more subdued and quiet, and are always polite. Sales associates and restaurant staff want to please, and are stressed if they cannot. In stores, when something is bought it is wrapped like a present. There is an obvious attention to detail, everything is immaculately clean and organized. The cities are more consistent in appearance. The traffic is orderly.
Last summer we visited Hong Kong. While it looks similar in some ways to mainland China, it is a fairly westernized version. Most people speak at least some English, and there are more American and European stores. The taxis were clean and friendly, much like in Japan. The traffic was again, more orderly than in mainland China. Shopping experiences and stores were set up and run the same as in Shanghai. Courtesy and manners were similar.
I enjoy living outside of my culture, at least for a while. I’m glad that my children have this opportunity. Reading books and learning about other places in the world is a wonderful thing, but living in it is something entirely different. It is absolutely amazing.