Thursday, April 23, 2009

I Wanna Hold Your Hand!

Bill Brown ...
Adapted from "Magic Xiamen--Guide to Xiamen"
Copyright Bill Brown

I nearly fell off my trusty rusty Forever Brand bike when I saw a gate guard sitting in another’s lap, arms about him, eyes locked intimately.

Chinese men are very intimate -- unlike us Westerners who religiously defend our inviolable body space (about 30 inches, according to space cases who study such stuff).

Chinese view privacy and body space differently because with 1.3 billion people there isn’t a lot of room for either one. Men have no qualms holding hands, arms, or bodies, which is all well and good for Chinese who know the ropes, but not for foreigners.

Consider the simple handshake. Americans grab, squeeze, pump for oil 3 times, and escape, but Chinese may grab your hand and hold it intimately in theirs, even stroking it throughout the entire conversation. It still unnerves me, even after 12 years.

I eventually gave a lecture on how not to shake hands or other body parts with unsuspecting Laowai. And the very next day, I ran into Foreign Affair’s Lao Huang, (Lao means “old” or “venerable”), one of my sons' favorite Chinese grandfathers, and handholder par excellence.

Lao Huang grasped my hand and caressed it for a good 15 minutes while he chatted away. He eventually asked, “Xiao Pan” (which means “Little Pan,” not “Unvenerable Pan”), “Do you feel awkward holding my hand?”

“A tad,” I confessed.

He roared with laughter, threw his arms about me (that I could handle), and confessed, “I heard about your hand-holding lecture yesterday!”

And ever since then, the old rascal has greeted me with an American pumping-for-oil handshake—and a sly chuckle.

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