I made my way downstairs and back out into sunshine in front of the house. There were four or five women here with a half dozen children. I said hello in Mandarin, which they probably understood and a few other things that they probably didn't. I was in a different world here. These women spoke a language that was different from the Cantonese that they spoke on the other side of the river, that was different from the Mandarin spoken in most of China, that was different than the now completely useless language that I spoke.
My arrival caused a bit of a sensation. The two of Minxi's sister in laws that lived here were there but I think the other women were gawkers, come to see the first westerner in Xindu. They chatted at me a little and to each other a lot. I arrived wearing socks because my shoes were too dirty to wear in the house. There was some pointing and laughter and I was brought house slippers. There was a lot of laughter when they were too small and several other pair had to be tried before I gestured that I thought I had on a pair that would do.
What was I to do? The sun was warm, people from up and down the street were taking little walks past the house to see me or shouting happily at the women around me. It was just daily life. A mother encouraged her little boy to pee in the grass by the side of the street, trucks rumbled by, the last firecrackers from the Spring Festival sounded here and there. The long tired of Minxi and my's journey was still heavy on my shoulders.
As I sat in the sun, my apprehension about being so fascinating started to wear off. I began to notice something I hadn't expected. All of these people were glad to see me. I'd yet to get a standoffish or hostile reaction from anyone. Some were startled, some seemed confused, all were curious, but no one was tense or hesitant in their reaction to me. I was in a kind of bubble or I had traveled in time or something. Everyone on this street, in this city, maybe in the whole region, knew each other, no one was rich, no one was armed. They didn't tend to greet each other on the street the way American's do, but they also didn't fear each other or me the way Americans do.
I was approached by three sisters, two in college one in high school, who wanted to practice there English. This place ran on rules all right, the younger girls couldn't speak while the eldest was speaking and all three stopped immediately when any of the elder women spoke, but they were social rules not rules of fear or violence. I found the Chinese to be friendly like this in general. They tend to be quieter than we are, and keenly aware of social and familial boundaries but, outside of those, there was a gentleness, especially far out in the countryside. I know, had I indicated that I was hungry, not only the people I was staying with but random people on the street would have rushed to help me.
I was reminded of a story I heard in a Jewish temple once. It was about a man who saw strangers passing on his land. When he saw them, he rushed home, not to get a weapon or someone to help him run the strangers off, but to make sure food was made so that the strangers would not pass unfed.
I'm not a fool, I know life is complex and social issues ingrained but, sitting on that porch in a town with no guns and no jails and no locks on the door, I felt a kind of peace I've seldom really known. I felt I knew these people better and more easily than I know my neighbors at home.
Ba ba came and summoned me to meet with his eldest son's family and I had to go in, but I've got a little tiny place inside me called "front porch in Xinu." I go there sometimes. It's nice. I hope I can go there again in this world soon.
In front of Minxi's Brothers' Houses Looking North West Toward Xindu