Look beyond the spitting, shoving and find kind folks

Source: China Daily [16:17 July 14 2009]

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A few nights ago a friend and I rode in a crowded elevator to have dinner together. When the door opened on the top floor, my friend instinctively stepped out first, brushing past a middle-aged Caucasian woman on the way.

There was a brief pause and the woman sneered: "Polite."

I hesitated for a beat. Should I tell her to wipe off her sarcastic superiority, and take it or leave it? This is what China is like - people don't necessarily follow Western norms of decorum; but deep down, like my friend who is ignorant of proper elevator-exit etiquette, they are nice - in a very Chinese way.

Then I realized that five years ago, when I first moved back to China, I would probably have mouthed a condescending "polite" as well. Back then, after a 12-year absence, I was both repulsed and fascinated by people spitting in the streets, shoving at bus stops, and talking loudly in public. I was like a foreigner in my own country.

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