When you live abroad, you are reminded, daily, of how different one place can be from another. Lately however, I’ve been having the opposite feeling. Places may be different – they smell different and look different – but I’m starting to realize people, are mostly the same.
Nolan and I ventured to my least favorite grocery store in Shanghai. No matter when I go, or who I have with me, I always leave feeling like I’ve just been run through a washing machine. It’s big and loud and crowded and I swear, every single cart, every single one in the whole store has at least one wonky wheel.
We got there early hoping I could push back Nolan’s morning nap but alas, 10 minutes in and he was not having it. So I strap him in the baby carrier and wrestle my limping, obstinate cart down the poorly laid out aisles. I’ve tried to make sense of the store’s lay out but, there is none. I tried rationalizing that maybe they sort by imported vs. domestic items but that theory doesn’t hold true. Cereals are in the first couple of aisles, except for Cheerios. Those are over by the vitamins, obviously. Cooking oils are around aisle 4 but then reappear in the horizontal aisle that cuts right through the middle of the store, for no reason. Beverages are kind of all in the same area but you’ve got to know that the good juices are over by the candy. No joke. It makes no sense. And is exhausting.
So my bambino crashes, hard. We get to the checkout aisle and his head has tilted back, mouth open, drool everywhere. I am trying to move his head, without waking him and maneuver my crippled cart through the annoyingly narrow checkout lane. It’s hot, I’m thirsty, he’s heavy and I take a minute to try to will the items in my cart onto the cash register belt. And just then, an elderly, gap-toothed, Chinese knight in shining armor, generously offers to take my groceries out of my cart. I hope he can see how grateful I am and I smile to myself and think of all those truths about the kindness of strangers. It’s not until he passes me out the door, (as I have to rearrange all my bags to make sure I can carry them to the taxi, without waking the baby. Good God, don’t wake the baby.), that I think perhaps this wasn’t some random act of kindness but rather a guy who didn’t feel like waiting 15 minutes for the lady in front of him to unload her cart, one item at a time. Regardless, I appreciated the gesture and was reminded that strangers are almost universally kind to frazzled looking women with small children.
The reason I didn’t have Hunter with me too, is that he’s started “school” two days/week. It’s only from 9-noon and there are no classes. They sing and play games and learn about animals (this week anyway). I decided to send him for a couple of different reasons but mostly because when we visited (unannounced), I got a really good feeling. The teachers are lovely – warm and kind – and Hunter responded to them. So again, I was reminded that while I know Tiger Moms are real and unapologetic, most people who work with kids are lovely, warm and kind.
One of the other, purely practical reasons, I chose this particular place was because it is within walking distance. Along the way home, we usually make a stop at our local wet market. There are probably 15 different stalls with a few people selling the same things – a couple of vegetable stands, a couple of fruit stands, a couple of meat stands, a couple of fish stands. I’ve come to discover, I have no loyalty. They are all friendly and all sell the same stuff. There is a cat at one of the fruit stands so we go there and buy a few things but then the other fruit stand sometimes has better looking strawberries so we go there too. One of the vegetable ladies gives Hunter cherry tomatoes to snack on so I like her, but another lady gives me a clove of garlic and some herbs for free so I go to her too. But I’m starting to feel like a fruit and vegetable whore. Maybe I could get free cherry tomatoes AND herbs if I stayed faithful to just one lady. And I reminded again, like anywhere in the world – whether it be giving away free cherry tomatoes or garlic or using a cute kitty – everyone needs to hustle to make a buck.
Perhaps I’m merely feeding stereotypes but construction workers ogle passers by in Shanghai, just as in New York. Kids love bubbles, doctors are scary, taxi drivers can be hit or miss, business people are in a rush…people are people.
And here in China, like the US, and Europe and the Middle East, most people are good. Flawed but peaceful. Imperfect but harmless. Strange but loving. Let’s not let the few who are not, question and forget this.