August 4th, 2008
It’s so easy to say or do something that either annoys someone – or gets misinterpreted by innocent bystanders.
The other day, for example, in an email about eating raw horse meat, I told about Chinese people often beginning a conversation with the phrase: “Where are you from.”
I don’t know about you, but I like to get creative with my responses to questions, especially those I’ve heard a gazillion times.
Hence, my answers. To recap.
“Where are you from.”
“I’m from the moon.”
“Waaaah. Where are you from.”
“From the sky.”
Had a gent from down under who wrote to tell me that I was “irritated” by these questions – he even offered an affirmation to help me out on my next trip to China. How kind.
Yet what he missed was the real heart of the story.
When someone asks where are you from – why do you answer with the name of a country. Why not “from my mother’s womb.”
Or why not cut straight to home base and say, as I often do, “From the sky.”
Responses like mine make for FAR more interesting conversation, or the lack thereof. Believe me, getting to read peoples’ faces when I throw this mind bender at them is great fun. And almost no one gets that I am, as far as I can tell, answering truthfully.
Whilst in Thailand, after leaving a tattoo temple – yes, this is where a spiritual master tattoos the faithful – a lady asked, “Where are you from.”
When I told her “from the sky,” she laughed, as do the Chinese (that’s what the word ‘waaah’ stands for) – then replied, “EVERYONE is from the sky. But what country are you from.”
She had me there. A wise woman indeed. And the very first to skillfully bypass my standard conversation buzz off.
I replied: “I am not from a country. I am not even here right now.”
“Neither am I,” she said.
We ended up speaking for several more minutes after this initial exchange. In contrast, I have rarely answered, “I’m from America” and had a meaningful conversation afterward.
One man wrote to tell me that the reason the Chinese ask “Where are you from” is because they want to size me up to figure out how much respect to pay me; to see where I rank in comparison to them on the socio-economic scale.
Well, me thinks by looking at my Gucci or Panerai watch and Prada shoes, they already know the answer to that one.
And believe me, the Chinese are extraordinarily brand conscious. My wife knows the brands better
than I – and if it weren’t for her, I’d still be wearing black velcro triathlon style digital and a pair of
JC Penny high-toppers.
So no, I’m not irritated by questions like, “Where are you from.” But I will tell you something I needed an affirmation on – as well as a better visualization.
Yes, it’s my brother-in-law once again. Perhaps it’s time I gave you his name. He goes by Mr. Fan. And I usually go by Mr. Fun.
“So you’re Mr. Fun and you’re Mr. Fan,” an astute inquisitor will ask upon hearing both our names.
“You got it,” I reply. “I’m Fun and he’s Fan. Sort of like Yin and Yang.”
When Fan and I go out for breakfast, he usually orders a couple eggs ‘sunny side up.’
I order twice that many ‘over easy.’
Now get this: When his eggs arrive he grabs a straw, inserts it into the egg yolk and begins to inhale.
The first time I saw this I sneered, snarled and did an eye ball roll. It was all I could do to keep from throwing my computer bag at him.
I got over it – the first time, by plugging my ears with my index fingers and looking the other way.
Then the next day, he did it again. So I began to sing loudly – far louder than his slurping, and this drowned out the illusion dancing before me.
Although Fan most certainly could have, and probably should have, he did NOT object to my awful melody.
The third time he began to syphon his egg yolks I grabbed my watermelon juice, inhaled a mouthful and began to argle as loud as possible while he did the hoover maneuver.
He wasn’t affected whatsoever. He kept right on sifting while I practice a variety of infantile expressions and sounds.
Then one day, just before the slurping began, I decided to change my mental picture about this scene. I decided to relax and enjoy the music coming from his plate.
That morning, all was well in my Universe. The illusion of eggs being syphoned through a straw disappeared into another realm.
Two days before leaving China this summer, I was at breakfast with Mr. Fan and my son. After eating my ‘over easy’ eggs, grabbed a slice of bread and began to soak the remaining yolk into the grain.
“Gross,” my son said, covering his eyes. “That is DIS-gusting.”
“You’re right,” I said. “Now find a way to enjoy it. After all, it could be worse. I could be using a straw.”
Yes, it’s a strange world we live in. The things that upset us are often inconsequential. Reminds me of the poster I saw on the wall back in sixth grade. It featured a man mountain climbing. In the backdrop, the following admonition, “It’s not the mountains that wear us out. It’s the grain of sand
in our shoe.”
If we can remember that line more often, I think we’ll get along much better. If we can remember to metaphorically remove our shoe and let the pebble drop to the ground, life will be much better.
P.S. Got any grains of sand in your shoes. Perhaps it’s your job – or the people you work with – or the amount of time you spend working – or the things you have to do at work. Well, consider dropping those excess grains of sand. Go to my 4-Hour Workday Seminar and climb the mountain without fatigue.