Three weeks ago I flew to the states for a brief visit with friends and a prospective employer. On the flight next to me sat an Asian man of my parents’ age. He appeared to be in his early 70s and was enjoying a rich life in retirement. He had just returned from a cruise on the Danube and was in Hong Kong visiting his daughter’s family. Apparently these two trips interrupted a busy golf schedule near his home in San Francisco.
We talked aimlessly and without substance for a period. Then I stumbled upon a topic of deep interest to both of us. I asked him, “If you could go back in time and offer a younger version of yourself advice, what would that advice be?” He said, “I would tell myself that control is an illusion.”
Asia has presented me a cultural puzzle I struggle to solve every day. The frustration of Asia to most Americans is exactly how un-American the cultures can be. For those of us that want to live here, it is exactly those differences that intrigue us and draw us in. I recently visited Beijing for the first time unencumbered by work. There are few better examples of how un-American a culture can be than mainland China.
Consider the following: most people agree that mainlanders are pushy, rude, loud, and dirty. They spit in the subway. Their children urinate in the airport. They cut to the front of queues and will walk right through you like you are not even there. Seeing all of these in one hour in Beijing could easily lead someone to a simplified and negative view of the Chinese. But this conclusion would be wrong.