UNC senior lecturer Jock Lauterer is on a two-week Fulbright to China to give lectures and lead seminars at three Beijing universities. He is the author of “Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local,” 3rd. Ed, and most recently was the project manager for Prof. Chen Kai’s groundbreaking 2012 book, “An Introduction to Community Newspapers in the U.S.” 

 

Monday, May 21, 2012

My new Chinese friends have asked me several times: What has surprised me the most about China so far? Well, that’s a softball; it’s the people themselves, how friendly, open, accessible and genuine they treat me – or seem to treat me.

Though Zhang Hai’s only word in English was “Photoshop,” we were able to speak the international language of Photography. (Photo by Prof Chen Kai)

As a Southerner accustomed to the veiled politeness of the South, I am skeptical. But there are too many delightful little examples to ignore the truth.

Yesterday on the Great Wall tour, I noticed this little man with a big camera who kept edging closer to me through the morning, and soon I discovered he was a famous freelance photographer. When he learned of my profession, he glommed on to me.

Though he spoke not a word of English, Shang Hai, 53, became my shadow yesterday, presenting me with a photographer’s map of China, much to my delight.

I’ve always said that photography is one of those international languages, like music, math, art, dance, drama and athletics, allowing people who, although they cannot speak the same tongue, to connect with one another and share a common bond that transcends mere speech.

And it was at that same lunch that I encountered my second example of “peeps power” and yet another international language.

At our table were seated eight folks, four of them Chinese men, who broke out big bottles of the local beer. Now, mind you, it’s only 1 in the early afternoon and way before the sun sets behind MY yardarm. But who am I to insult my hosts by refusing their hospitality?

And so one glass of beer followed another – only to be enthusiastically refilled by yet another – each followed with a rousing clinking of glasses. What became immediately clear was that the fellow to my left, a big swarthy Mongolian fellow, had set out to get me sloshed. Right from the start, his countenance and demeanor reminded me of Kevin Costner’s Lakota Indian bud, “Wind in his Face,” from the classic film, “Dances with Wolves.” He clearly liked me, but he was testing me, challenging the American to keep up with the Chinese, and all in good fun.

Then it struck me: I’d discovered yet another international language! Though we could share no common language, we were bonding over — BEER.

At last I had to concede defeat, which pleased the big Mongolian immensely — just as my valiant attempt to keep up with the drinking game in the spirit of camaraderie and good cheer had the entire table full of travelers sharing in the mirth.

One small step for Sino-American relations?

Urp.

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