When we first arrived in China, I was concerned that we would be ripped off by locals. We had traveled in Asia enough to know that westerners can be seen as fair game/are not good at negotiating, so assumed this would be our experience in China. However, it has been the opposite. Last week, we enjoyed a series of generous gestures from local friends and strangers and it made quite an impression on us both.
Firstly, Raymond arrived at work on Monday morning to a small gift from Damon, his Chinese friend who is the IT guy at Raymond’s school – a few extras for both our cellphones – including screen covers because he knew that Raymond had recently paid to get his cracked screen fixed (turns out your screen cracks when your phone falls from the bed onto the floor up Mt Everest, at over 5,000 meters). It was unexpected, thoughtful, and we were both very touched.
Secondly, we needed to replace the battery for our scooter after the battery stealing incident. Raymond found one in a motorbike shop near our friends who live down south, but realised, when he lifted one of the six cells, how heavy they are and decided he needed a vehicle to transport them. So he contacted Joe, the driver we use, who I have also mentioned in an earlier blog. Joe researched places near us to purchase batteries, picked Raymond up, drove him to the shop he had found, negotiated with the shop owner to have his technician come back to our place to help install the battery, worked with Raymond and the technician to install it, took the technician back to the shop, and later picked up the temporary charger the shop had given us until the new one was available (don’t ask), took it back to the shop and went out to the school to give Raymond our new one. And Raymond had to fight him to pay extra for all his time helping, and Joe simply refused to be paid the second time.
Thirdly, last Saturday at our local markets over the river, we had several experiences of strangers being generous.
I have already shared that in the market people are honest, returning extra money that we accidentally give them – because of still getting 50 and 5 kuài notes confused, or mishearing the amount. They also round down rather than up for sub- kuài amounts and can insist on returning change that we try to give back to them. Last Saturday, I had quite a tussle with the banana seller trying to get her to keep the equivalent of NZD10c, before deciding it was not worth the effort fighting. Last night, I asked a fluent Chinese speaking friend how to say ‘keep the change’. I will see how that goes next weekend.
We usually buy meat, fruit and vegetables. However, last weekend, we also wanted to find nails and wire so that we could hang up our impulse buy painting from the fundraiser bazaar silent auction a few weekends ago.
So, we wandered through the many small specialist shops around the food market. Here, you can buy all sorts of clothing, all sorts of things for inside a house, such as pots and pans, cutlery, crockery, cooking utensils, and all sorts of things to make a house, such as tiles, wood, toilets – and nails and wire.
While searching for hardware shops, I noticed a cute baby’s outfit that made me think of our first, yet-to-be-born grandchild. We stopped to look, the charming shop assistant came up to help, and ten minutes later we were buying it. She took our money, ducked to the back of her shop and returned with a little pair of socks for no extra charge. We did wonder if others bargain and she was filled with such remorse that we had just paid the asking price. Either way, it was not necessary, it had been a very pleasant exchange, and we were all happy.
We then refocused and found a shop that looked like it might have nails, I looked up the word for nails, and asked if they had any. No, but he pointed to another shop over the road/dirt track, and we went in there. They had them, but they were too big. Raymond mimed screwing in a screw and they produced a box of screws just the right size. I said we would like 20, because it seemed unfortunate to only buy two when they were being so helpful, and we may need a few more as we want to rearrange our other paintings. Both our friendly assistants laughed at such a small order, tipped the box, poured a handful into Raymond’s hand, and mimed that we did not need to pay anything.
We then went around the corner and found a shop selling wire. As I started in Chinglish, a woman appeared who could speak English and offered to help us communicate. She told one of the men sitting out the front of the shop that we wanted a couple of meters from the coil of the skinniest wire. He picked up that coil out of the bunch beside him on the dirt at the front of the shop and pulled out a pre-cut length. We decided that was too short, he cut a new longer bit, and said a few words to her. She said, ‘he said it is fine in English’, so no money exchanged hands there either.
Finally, last Sunday, we made the most of our new battery, and rode our scooter out to our friends half an hour south of here. We had been unable to find a place to buy helmets here, so returned to the shop close to our friends. The brakes were not working too well, so I asked them to help us, leading them out in front of the shop where the bike was parked to point to the brakes. Both assistants grabbed screwdrivers, took the front of the bike off with the air of two who knew exactly what they were doing, squirted brake fluid in the right places and fixed it right then and there. When I came to pay for the helmets (NZD10 each), he made it clear that there was no extra cost for fixing the bike.
Each of these things is relatively small, but by the end of the one week, we were feeling quite overwhelmed. On Sunday, I shared these stories with another kiwi who has lived here for a couple of years, but lived in Bĕijīng for a number of years previously. He said that this is more of a Sìchuān attitude, and we might not find the same generosity over on the east coast.
So, we are very glad to have ended up over here on the west, and have had another lesson in not making assumptions about others, particularly those from other cultures, thinking the best of people until you have reason not to, forming views based on your own experience, and celebrating the Godness in all of us.