Man-man zou is a common Mandarin term used as parting words between friends and family members meaning walk slowly. A gracious host might say to a dinner guest, man zou, or eat slowly. These common phrases reflect a much slower pace of life lived here in China, as well as other parts of the world. It is common, for instance, for Chinese people to spend hours at a restaurant, eating slowly, smoking cigarettes, and drinking a fair share of tea, and baiju, or rice wine. The same is true for negotiating the price of any given object, as was the case when Tony and Wang took me to have my computer fixed. Instead of getting down to business immediately, the workers at the computer store wanted to poke around my computer first, and ask me questions, by way of Tony’s interpretation, about computers in America. They wanted to know the price of everything piece of electronics I had, why American students preferred Apple computers, and if I really thought Google was a better search engine then the Chinese equivalents. It wasn’t until all these questions and more were exhausted did they actually begin to talk about how they could fix my computer.

Chinese people are never in a hurry to get anything done, and are rarely worried about being late. This is one aspect of Chinese culture that could drive someone from the states up the wall. The importance of punctuality goes hand in hand with the American culture’s hatred of time “wasted.” But in China it’s generally understood that if a person is running late that there is most likely a good reason. And even if there is a good reason, waiting for someone to arrive might be viewed as a welcome opportunity to explore one’s own thoughts, continue a discussion, or perhaps even to do nothing at all (imagine that!).

During my last visit to China my group did a service project in a very rural part of Southern China, where we were helping to install a water system for a series of small villages. We would wake up at about 9:00, eat breakfast, and then sit around for about two hours, drinking tea while the villagers and local communist party officials smoked cigarettes and took pictures with us. This was especially disheartening for the group of us American students, because we felt as though we could have been doing more good instead of just sitting around and chewing the fat. (For the record, a 90 year old chain smoking woman from rural China can do about twice as much hard labor in a single day than any fit American college student. Mark my words.) But in the end we got a lot of work done, and the villagers were grateful not only for our help, but also for our company. I also felt as though the experience was entirely worthwhile, because here were four bright young college bound kids from the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world sleeping on dirt floors and conversing with some of the world’s most poverty stricken people. I will finish today’s post with a request for my friends and families back in the states. Please man man zuo.