A few days into our trip, my daughter commented that people in Qingdao seemed nicer than people at home. She said, “Even when it’s their job to be nice to us, they just seem to mean it more. Except for the traffic, Qingdao feels safer than Seattle.” I knew what she meant, and I had to agree. I talked about the curious stares and occasional stink-eye in an earlier post, but the truth is, more often than not, once people figure out our relationship, the most common response is a thumbs up. After a couple of days in Qingdao, the first two words that came to mind to describe Qingdaonese were “kind” and “gentle.”
Despite the fact that most Chinese work long hours at hard and often tedious jobs, I rarely heard anyone bark at their kids the way I do when I’m tired (which is most of the time). People seemed to smile more readily than I’m used to. Even when taxi drivers would look at the address on our card and sigh, they never seemed to resent us for sending them onto the freeway at rush hour or into an unfamiliar neighborhood. Service workers in Asia always go the extra mile by North American standards, but Qingdaonese make it feel like a gift.
One morning at breakfast, my daughter was chattering away, full good cheer. I argued with her a bit in defense of strict teachers, but mostly I just sat back and enjoyed the stream of bubbly nonsense that I’m usually too busy to appreciate back home. Even in the restaurant of our “international” hotel, there was only one other white person in the room, an American man sitting at the next table with a Chinese woman. She was watching us, but I didn’t pay much attention to that. By now I was used to people staring.
A few minutes later, the American greeted us. He was in Qingdao on business. He had two granddaughters adopted from China living in New Hampshire. Once he broke the ice, his companion told me, “You have the most beautiful smile. I was watching you smile at your daughter. I used to smile at my son like that. Now he is grown.” She held up her hand to show that he was now much taller than his mother, “I don’t get to do it so much. Sometimes I was in such a hurry taking care of his needs, I forgot to smile like that. But it’s the most important thing, to smile at your child.”
And I thought, “Oh.”
With parenting philosophy like that, no wonder Qingdao people grow up to be kind and gentle.