Tuesday, June 3, 2014

As American as Pain Au Chocolat

Twice lately I have been reminded of how lucky I am to simply have been born where I was. 

Understand this right off the bat - I am not particularly patriotic, not at all really.  I have no “Go USA” bumper stickers.  I do not fly an American flag.  I am not saying I am ANTI America – I am just not a gung-ho “America is the only good country” and “The USA is the very best and no one can ever beat us” kinda gal…  I have traveled to several other countries and am open minded enough to realize that the one I currently live in is not the only one that has a lot to offer its citizens.

But TWICE lately new friends I met from China have given me pause – and caused me to not be able to speak for a moment.  They reminded me what good fortune I have simply because I am an American.

The first was at an opening night party for a theatre festival.  His name was Wangkai and he spoke almost no English, but was totally enthralled by my husband David.  They had no common language but by the time I walked up to them they were well into a lengthy conversation about, well, about life!  There was a Chinese/English interpreter present but she was a total slacker (frustrating for me as a professional interpreter) – sometimes our new friend would speak for a minute or two and her “interpretation” to us would be a sentence…  Hmmm – I KNOW he said more than that…  Our smiles and our gestures seemed to communicate more genuine meaning that what she could provide.  At the end of the exchange (and the photo taking – many photos on his phone) – I said, “Let’s be Facebook friends!!  Are you on Facebook???”.  THAT caught the interpreter’s ear, “No.  No Facebook.  No Facebook access in China,” she answered FOR him, without even interpreting my question.

I was floored.  Sure, I had heard that on the news.  I knew that China is not an open society like the one we 
are privy to.  But Facebook – it seems so innocuous, so simple and frivolous.  Yet I also know from the news how strong of a tool it can be to support an uprising.  How it can be a channel to both learn what is happening in other countries and to share what is happening in yours.  And our new friend’s government had deemed it off limits.

Then tonight, a new friend from China, Chong, caught me off guard.  He just arrived and is staying with us for a couple of months.  In the normal “get to know you” banter I asked if he had brothers and sisters.  “No – China has a one child policy,” was his reply.  He didn’t sound like he thought less of me for not thinking of that before I opened my mouth (though part of me thought, “I KNEW THAT – WHYYY did I ask that?”).  He was just stating a fact.  But what a bizarre fact for an American – a person who lives in a country where a family with 19 children is “famous” and has their own tv show and the “average” family has 2.5 children…  So, even though I do not have children, I have the RIGHT to have them.  I am grateful for that.

So, am I going to put a big flag pole in my yard tomorrow?  No. But I will keep quietly tearing up as I sing along to the National Anthem when I hear it, and I will be grateful to live in a country where things like social media and children are not regulated by my government. *

*And don’t start dissing the NSA about spying on me, yes, I know they are reading this.  HI NSA!   

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