Monday, April 12, 2010

In the Moment

I'm talking about my adventures at the the Xinyang free market.

“I hate bargaining,” says the British guy across from me. “I'd just give whatever they asked.”

He met his wife in London, agreed to settle in her country. It's been a year, but he's not adapting well. He hangs his head, chews his lip.

Next to me is the grinning Canadian. He's just returned from a Buddhist retreat in Laos.

“In North America we have no freedom,” he says. “There, every aspect of our lives is structured by rules and regulations. Here, there are no rules, so people are free to do whatever they want.”

He leans back in his chair, takes a deep breath.

“My body feels so relaxed here,” he says.

The British guy hunches his shoulders. He complains about the food, about the daily struggle for survival here.

“You don't understand,” says the grinning Canadian. “Western society, with its rule of law, is a perversion. Here, people live naturally, the way our species has lived for thousands of years—alive in the moment, in tune with their fellow humans.”

The British guy just shakes his head.

It's interesting how the same situation can be experienced so differently. In China, one has found Hell, the other Nirvana. But my experience is also different, somewhere between the two.

I can empathize with the British guy. I felt the same when I first came to China. Because I'd lived so many years in Japan, I thought I knew Asian culture. But Japan too is a highly structured society. China was so different, so overwhelming.

To a degree, I think the grinning Canadian is right. When society is tightly structured, it's easy to go through life in a semi-trance, gliding through the day on autopilot, focusing attention inward, ruminating over petty personal problems. Certainly I've fallen into this rut back in America.

But here, as I cross six lanes of traffic against the light, dodging taxis and motorcycles, I'm keenly aware of everything around me—I'm in the moment—and I feel so alive, even happy. The grinning Canadian would call it “stepping outside yourself.”

The Chinese are not always selfless beings in tune with each other, though. On the crowded trains and buses, for example, they use their iPods and iPhones to shield themselves from the masses pressing against them.

I don't have an iPod, rarely use my mobile. So how do I hide within the crowd? I think about things to write on my blog, of course.

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