Monday, January 7, 2013

Meddling, Plus My Return to the Middle Kingdom

The contrast between my placid, hybrid-car-fueled, lane-respecting ride to Dulles airport on Sunday and my chaotic, gasping-at-near-misses return to a very polluted Beijing yesterday is symbolic of the differences between the U.S. and China. But I'm happy to be home, honestly, and I spent some of the 14-hour plane ride yesterday thinking about my trip home and how I've changed.

It occurred to me about 10 days into the trip that I had developed a habit of meddling in my friends' lives. I nearly ruined a lunch on New Year's Eve by bugging one friend about quitting smoking. I asked a newly married couple when they were going to have a baby. I asked someone when she and her boyfriend were going to get married. I told a friend to go for a new job that probably paid less but would have been far more satisfying. I tried to play matchmaker for a couple of single people.

Why was I doing this? I suppose I thought that these changes would make them happier.
Then, on my final day home, a friend told me she wanted me to become her personal nag. Asking family members would only tick her off, she said. I was to bug her about starting a new project, something that had many steps but none of them insurmountable. Before then, she had had a hard time getting going on it.  We figured out a plan and I said I would email her once a week to check in.

Suddenly I was being encouraged to meddle, to insert myself in someone's habits, daily activity. Maybe I should become a life coach, I started to think, since it's always easier to tell other people what to do than to do those things myself.

I was still a little puzzled, though, about why I had evolved into one of those people who can't seem to resist telling people what to do. There was a time when I thought: live and let live. You don't bug me, and I won't bug you.

Finally, I was sitting on the plane about to take that 14-hour trip back to Beijing. The flight, as usual, was filled with Chinese people. I took off my heavy boots so I could be comfortable. Suddenly, the man across the aisle from me pointed to my boots, which could barely fit with my purse under the seat in front of me. He gestured that my boots were not fully stowed away.

Why was he telling me this? The flight attendants were leaving me alone. And then it hit me. Few people in China can resist meddling. They love to tell you what you should do with your life. I've picked up the habit from them.

Two more years in China and I should be able to start an advice column.



  1. So glad you're back in China. This blog is full of insights into that fascinating country.