Wednesday evening I decided to walk to the temple that is around the block from the hotel. The temple was closed but there were maybe a hundred shops near by and some were still open. I walked around but soon realized they all sell the exact same stuff which is things related to the temple; small statues of gods or incense to burn.
From the temple I walked East a few blocks and then maybe a mile or two down the major street that runs North. It is a commercial street lined with stores and other businesses and runs deep into residential neighborhoods. I was swept along by the traffic and as I walked I realized that the only place I see any westerners is at the hotel. Otherwise it seems that it is just me and 10 million Chinese.
Actually I have heard estimates that the local population may be as high as 14 million. In all my walking around I have never felt any threat or for that matter any hostility. I get some disinterest but mainly I am greeted by a friendly ni hao or at least a smile or nod. The most unfriendly people I met were the store clerks at WuMart but given the similarity to that American store it is hardly surprising. People seem generally happy. It isn’t uncommon to see someone riding down the street on their bicycle singing a song.
I turned around and walked back and across the river into the alleys where all the food vendors are to purchase more bottled water. As I walked the experiences of the last few days both on the street and at work made me think about the meaning of the word harmony. You always hear how the Chinese are all about harmony but at first I thought that is not true. We as westerners tend to think about harmony as akin to peaceful, quiet and relaxed. But harmony is really about more than one note working together to produce a pleasing sound. Nothing in that says it can’t be loud or forceful and that is how China is. Loud, forceful, energetic and in constant motion.
At the office that means even though they may have strong opinions about what is being discussed and they may get loud and animated everyone is heard. Even the least senior person Miss Du the assistant to Mr. Zhou gets to express a view. In the end a true consensus is found and harmony is maintained. On the streets it is loud and seems like absolute chaos but everyone from pedestrians and dogs to trucks and buses manage to use the very limited resource of the road in harmony.