Winding down in our time in SE Asia

May 30, 2013

During two previous trips, I blogged about different worldviews such as honor and shame. While in Southeast Asia, I was confronted with the concept of ‘face.’ This is a more difficult idea to me although in reality, it is simple. All it means is not behaving in a way that would embarrass someone and cause them to lose status in front of their peers. One way to lose face is to lose your temper in public. Not only will the person targeted lose face, the person who lost their temper loses face as well for being weak and unable to control their emotions. The Chinese pride themselves on self-control and when flustered or embarrassed will often giggle or given an evasive response, rather than deal with the situation directly. As a rather direct and pragmatic person, this can be challenging to me. I sometimes do not know what the person wants or prefers. There have been several cross cultural challenges I experienced the last couple of weeks but let me share one with you.

There is one student that goes to the coffeehouse that I know is very poor. She is there every night it is open and she never has a drink, I’ve noticed. So I have asked if I could buy her a beverage there. But you have to ask three times before they will say alright. Someone told me later (after I got her a warm milk drink), that she wasn’t sure she should accept since she didn’t know if I really wanted to buy it for her.

On the flip side, Chinese people are quite friendly and like to ask a lot of questions. They do not hesitate to ask how old you are, your marital status, or about your career. I’ve learned it is merely friendliness on the part of the inquirer, not meant to be nosy. As with all of our teams that go out, we brought long small photo albums of photos from home of friends, family, and hobbies and this is a great way to engage in conversation. I also brought postcards from central California and people loved seeing the area in which I live. Some of the special friends, I wrote on the postcard and gave to them as a gift.
It is part of our American culture to say thank you. That is expressed to pretty much anyone, whether they are a stranger or a close friend. That isn’t true here. Here close friends do not say thank you to one another. If you do say thank you, it expresses the sentiment that you are not so close after all.

We had lunch with the principal at a school where we were teaching. There is so much protocol to remember! You have to give him the seat of honor – facing the door. They served wonderful milk tea with our lunch. When he would make a toast, we had to make sure our cups where lower than his in order to show respect, especially as we “clank” the cups. When you give money or a business card, you should do it with both hands. Also, this is how you receive them as well. I had thought that was only a Japanese culture, I did not realize it was practiced in the Chinese society.

We talked with our Chinese friends about having fast food at home. That term has a different meaning here! Here it means you have your own bowl of food and do not share with others. I much prefer the communal way we have been eating as we all dip our chopsticks into the same plates of food and eat.

I feel I better know the Chinese culture and people than I ever have. Spending almost three weeks in the daily lives of dozens of people here has made me realize what sweet, gracious and lovely people they are. I’m so thankful for this experience. We only have a few more days before we have to say goodbye to our new friends. We are taking lots of pictures home with us and wonderful memories.