Ahoy from Amoy, China!
In the summer of 1995, I built a tree house in the garden outside our Xiamen University apartment. And of course every Chinese neighbor and passerby asked, "What are you doing up there". Chinese greetings always consist of asking what you are doing, even when it's obvious--and they do expect an answer...
"I'm building a tree house," I said, as if it weren't obvious. And every person asked the second question, "Why are you building a tree house?" That too should have been obvious, but I said, "So when my wife is angry, I'll have a place to sleep."
The Chinese barely betrayed their shock. I can see where foreigners got the idea of Oriental inscrutability, but I saw the signs--a barely arched brow, a jaw that almost dropped but was caught and fixed back in place, and plastered over with a "humor the guy until the white coats get here" smile. Not one asked a third question, but within 24 hours, every Chinese on campus knew that the American teacher had such a strict wife that when she got angry he had to sleep in a tree.And when Sue found out, she was so angry I almost had to sleep in a tree!
By the way, I just started writing a book for Foreign Languages Press about our 27 years in Xiamen--how both China and our family has changed. It's fun looking back. :)
Xiamen University School of Management