Saturday, February 11, 2006

'To have no hate nor love toward people'

My Chinese study is slowly overcoming inertia and has some movement forward after a break of about a month and a half. I am absolutely flabbergasted in retrospect at my study work-rate last year. I was a machine! It is impossible to return to that state immediately, so I am doing what comes naturally: Indulging in reading, recovering my vocab, listening to Chinese radio and chatting with Xin's mum.

One of my favourite ways to study has been to read in that language. Every student I have ever had, I have recommended it to - but few take it up. When you find something you are interested in reading, it is an amazing motivator. I am fortunate enough to have found my perfect reading material in Chinese - a magazine called Duzhe (meaning: The Reader). It is an assortment of various genres of short reading sections. Small stories. Essays. Jokes and the like. Short enough to immerse yourself in and finish in a break between lessons. And with enough variety so that you can move on easily when you choose wrongly.

One of the readings I did today was called 'To have no hate nor love toward people', which is a line from a Chinese poem by Su Manshu (unless that is a transliteration of a foreign surname). To the author, the line describes a state close to what he thinks would be heaven. He then boldly says, that that is how he describes many places in America. Friends and neighbours don't 'love' each other (love naturally means platonic love). They don't have the expectations on each other that people do in China. As there are few mutual expectations, there is nothing to bind them, and very little to repel them. He lived in America for 20 years and says he never had someone whom he could call a friend. Everyone in the places he lived just had a pool of people that were more mutually recognising acquaintances - very few had what he'd regard as friends. He suggests it comes from individualism - by believing in our requirement to be ourselves, it makes it hard to really meld together, and there is an emotional barrier that is virtually impossible to traverse without making people uncomfortable or making the other person suspicious. That is like New Zealand. In societies that are not as individualistic, the barrier just isn't there and people can intergrate themselves emotionally and also be more repelled when there is not that connection.

This coincides a little with a short story I am writing about someone with an overwhelming desire to connect with people. Someone who I am not, but sometimes play the role of. It is someone I might want to be. But interestingly, someone from that other side of the equation - sees our situation as a paradise - blissfully uncomplicated.

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