At this time, I am giving an exam to an adult level English class at an industrial equipment manufacturing facility in the Tianxi district of Shenyang. It may be uncommon to write a blog entry while monitoring an exam, but it is a useful way to pass the time and I can tap into that creative energy that often seems to hit me at odd and unscheduled times of the day.
Before the exam, I smoked a cigarette with one of the students and chatted in both American English and bad Chinese. I told the man that I usually never smoke or drink beer but I will do these things with my Chinese friends because I enjoy it. Smoking and drinking beer—a northeastern cultural norm for men—always provides me with a happy feeling when I share this custom with Chinese friends. I never drink or smoke so much that I suffer any serious short or long-term consequences any more dire than a feeling of belonging.
Few habits are as blatantly harmful, but I would argue that I could do worse. I would also be unforgivingly brash about it: When we men smoke or drink, we will all say how bad a habit is smoking or drinking, and then we’ll light another cigarette or pour another beer and celebrate our mutual agreement of this idea. Some may say to indulge in these bad habits is terribly fraternal and maybe even a little juvenile and I would agree and say that it’s a reindeer game I love to play.
It’s also an opportunity to open and create dialogue, improve understanding and ensure environmental harmony. Not the environment as Americans understand it—the controllable land and air and water of the external natural world—but the kind of environment of which people are an indelible and integral part: the environment of land and air and water and you and me. The environmental harmony I refer to must exist in order for a large and dense population of people to live together peacefully and happily.
Peace and happiness are long-sought-after qualities of life for many people, not excluding the Chinese. Famine, war, or disease—of which China has suffered her share—does not bring peace and happiness. For China’s dense and high-contact population, famine, war and disease can be intensely damaging. They can weaken the center of Chinese culture: the family. Famine, war and disease are disruptive. Disruption is not a good thing.
Harmony is a cornerstone of Chinese culture. This is one of those things that is good to know but better to practice. Time spent enjoying some tobacco and adult beverage with others is an investment in relations, and relations are a measure of a man’s value and worth as a person and the subject of a different blog entry. Good relations can bring mutual prosperity and happiness; bad relations can bring disruption and isolation. Good relations bring harmony; bad relations don’t.
Today’s exam concludes an intermediate level adult class. Like many times before, I have created a fond memory of this group of people and I leave them hoping that I’ve somehow enriched their lives. I hope that I’ve set a good example of my country and culture. I hope that, through our dialogue, we have improved our understanding of each other. We have laughed and learned and smoked a little bit. I hope that my simplest gesture makes clear my grand intention to pay respect and promote harmony. I could do worse.