Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, October 21, 2010


A guy came up to me in the park the other day and said, "Are you 80?"

I guess it's the beard. I told him I was 56.

Seniority does have it's benefits, but I haven't seen any need to hurry it along. Still, once in awhile reminders like the one above do tend to wake me up to the growing reality. I guess it's the sincerity of his question, you know. He obviously wasn't joking. When friends call me "gramps," it goes in one ear and out the other; they're just giving me a bad time, right? But when little kids in my village call me "ye-ye," it's kinda hard to blow it off, you know what I mean? So it starts to sink in.

But, as I said, the passing of the years does have advantages, and I'm not talking about the senior citizen's discount at Denny's. There are no Denny's restaurants in China. But when I get on the bus and the ticket lady says, "All right, somebody get up and give the professor a seat!" it is kinda nice. I still feel uncomfortable, though, if a young lady stands up to give me her seat. Really caught me off guard when I first came to China. A young lady would stand up for me on the bus or subway, and I would quickly motion her to sit down.

But as time goes on, you know how it is...you just sorta get accustomed to the world in which you live. Then one time you get on the bus and a young lady is sitting there with her ear phones in her ears, chewing her gum, and pretending not to see you, and suddenly a posture that I would not even have noticed in America, presents itself as quite rude within the context of this society. By the same token, when I get on the bus and a young lady who is obviously from a good family instinctively jumps up and runs shyly to the other end of the bus so that I cannot make her sit down again, I am more likely, now, to respect her than to be shocked or flustered.

Some Chinese have asked me if I am offended when a young person stands up for me. Stuffy foreigners have occasionally taken umbrage at the courtesy, I guess. It doesn't offend me at all. I just feel a little guilty, because I'm not really old. If I am riding the bus and I am getting ready to climb the mountain, and a tired working lady gets on the bus, it just doesn't make sense that she should have to stand while I sit down. She needs the rest more than I do. I wonder if I will feel the same way when I really am old.

Some time ago, there was a special program at Haidian Church. Lots of people. Packed to the gills. I came in and one of the greeters motioned me to a chair. I was pleasantly surprised to see a chair still open and was about ready to sit down when I saw Claire walk in. I told her to sit down, but she refused, and pointed to the sign on the back of the chair. It was in Chinese, of course, so I hadn't paid attention to it at first, but when she pointed to it, I read it. It said (in Chinese) "Reserved for the elderly." I don't know. Maybe if you're an old person, that wouldn't seem that funny. But if you're a young person who just happens to look old, it's hilarious.

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