We are heading back in now, having waved our goodbyes to the boys and squealed our hellos to all the little ankle biter dogs on the way home. My fingertips are nearly numb with cold, even under layers of wool and fleece, and Scout's cheeks are pink as a near ripe tomato, along with her nose and tips of her ears peaking out from under a hat.
At the top of the hill, where we all congregate to send off our kids, a fellow mother who is Chinese had shuffled and shivered, vowing to return home to add one more layer to the four she was already wearing. I had laughed, almost incredulously, stating how proud I was to have even taken the time to put on my one under layer this morning. We shook our head at the differences, the not quite genetic but somehow merely cultural circumstances that could lead such similar bodies to such different conclusions. It's always a point of wonder between us... they dress for arctic conditions (when we are still layering tshirts), and would rather sweat out the unbearable heat than turn on an air conditioner.
In the way that a mind does, it reminded me of a story Jung Chang shares in the preface to her book, Wild Swans. In the mid 80's, when China was just beginning to open up, Jung who was one of the first students to be allowed to study abroad in New York City, had attended a small forum where a professor shared some slides from when he had visited a school in China. The weather in the photos was obviously freezing, and the windows broken with no heating system. The visiting professor had asked the teacher, "Are they not cold?" and the teacher had responded, "No. They are not." After the slideshow a woman approached Jung and said "You must feel hot here."
It was probably a statement made out of not knowing exactly what to say, but Jung left in tears, feeling the weight of all the stories she knew and the misunderstandings she witnessed about the treatment and lives of the Chinese. As if they were so different than the rest of humanity, that the things we "westerners" would deem insufferable and miserable, were things they enjoyed. She writes, "I thought of the old observation that Chinese lives are cheap, and one Englishman's amazement that his Chinese servant should find a toothache unbearable." In the end, it inspired Jung Chang to write the stories of her people and her country, to tell the world how very human we, and they, all are.
We make it to our door half frozen and once inside start peeling off the layers. This is a ritual we repeat several times throughout the day, and though it is done with a two year old and at a pace I'm not always patient enough for, in some ways I am grateful to be putting on layers.Was it not only a few months ago that I was panting for relief from the heat and humidity? And now today I am haunted by the idea that what little discomfort I am feeling at the tips of my fingers and toes has only been multiplied by the thousands and millions who have and do suffer from lack of warmth.
And I am heavy with the responsibility of being a foreigner in a place where I am surrounded by human beings who are in every bit of their being the same as I am, and yet in a vast amount of unsearchable ways, are culturally so different than me.