So I’m out on my driveway washing my car last weekend, when my neighbor walks by. He is an old Chinese guy in his late 90s. I see him often, making his way to the corner and back, a distance of about 40 yards. The round trip takes him about 20 minutes. You do the math.
Anyway, I have to bite my lip not to say hello, or I will be mired in a conversation like a gulf seagull trapped in BP oil. But I can’t help myself, my southern hospitality is all mixed in with the manners my mother beat into me, and the two conspire to make the chance of me keeping my mouth shut an impossibility. So I say, “Hi, how’s your day?” I’m thinking this might lead to a “Fine, thank you” or a “Doing good, and you?” I hope for an answer that’s short and polite so that I can get back to scrubbing the bumper, but as expected, I’m not so lucky.
I call the old Chinese guy “China Man.” Well, at least in my head. I have asked him his name many times, but he always responds with a fake, easy-for-an-American-to-understand name like “Joe” or “Lee” or “Juan.” I know he’s lying, because he never uses the same name twice, plus everyone in his extended family has at one time or another told me their name was “Lee.” I know it’s not their last name, and I doubt that everyone in the house is named Lee. (If so, could you imagine the irony?)
After my brief interrogative, China Man picks up his pace and heads in my direction. He looks intent–like I have just asked the meaning of life and he has a possible solution–or perhaps he just didn’t understand and wants to come over to clarify. But I think neither is true. After he gets a little closer, I say again, “Hi, how is your day?”, emphasizing each word a little more carefully. He slows to a stop, plants his walking stick on the wet pavement, and after a pause that was either about 10 seconds or a minute, he said, “I Love America. But things are becoming clear.” “Oh?” I say. “Yes!” he replies about an hour later. “I believe…this war is not what you think.”
This is a REALLY loaded topic, so I stand still and say nothing. I know from several past “how do you do’s” that he is an ex-military man, Chinese military that is. To be specific, he didn’t play for our team during the Cold War.
So, you might think his war reference is about Iraq or Afghanistan, but don’t be so sure. He could be talking about the Vietnam war, for him Vietnam only wrapped-up last week. Or maybe he means one of the “WW” wars. This is a more likely choice, but he was around for both WW’s and now has trouble keeping them straight. “Did the Germans invade Poland, or was that before Franz Ferdinand was assassinated?” It’s hard to keep that kind of thing straight, you know. But this time China Man is on his game and says, “The thing that is most clear…is that however good intentioned you Americans are, you are wrong. And those in the world you think to be your friends most probably are not.”
Well, the next 45 minutes were a blur of international politics, some current, some relevant, some not. In the end, I think China Man had it right. Things ARE becoming clear. And more Americans agree that we just might be doing it wrong. And, I have learned the hard way several times now, that those we think to be our friends may actually not be our friends at all.
Slow-moving Joe or Lee or Juan got it right…way to go, China Man!