Thursday, July 18, 2013

In Defense of Complexity

by Miki Kashtan

When I was a girl, somewhere before ten years old, it was already clear to those around me that I wanted adventure in my life. At the time, I asked my mother why it was that the people and children in the books I was reading had all these astonishing adventures and I didn’t. It is only in the last couple of years that I had the sudden awareness that I did, indeed, grow up to have a life full of adventures, even if I’ve never tracked down a murderer or exposed an international network of crooks, as the heroes and heroines of my childhood books did.

It was this sense of adventure that was ignited when I received the itinerary for my recent trip to Thailand and realized that I had, twice, a six-hour stopover in Shanghai. Without thinking twice, I decided to find my way to Shanghai, to experience, smell, see, walk in that city, feel for myself what it’s like to be in China. I’ve been curious about China for many years, both culturally and politically, and I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity, despite the warnings of the travel agent.

When this turned into actually having people waiting for me at the airport, people from the Chinese Nonviolent Communication (NVC) community, I was so excited I could barely wait. Then I met Yin Hua, the person who’s been most influential about bringing NVC to China, who stayed in Shanghai an extra day after doing a workshop there (unrelated to me, just perfect timing), and the two of us got lost on the subway and barely made it to town. 

The second time I didn’t even know there would be people waiting. I was getting ready to go change money and hop into a taxi when I heard my name, and was greeted by three smiling women, local to Shanghai, who took me under their wings and into a car that one of them had, heading into just the perfect part of town, where old and new, beauty and rush, commercial and residential all mix together. We walked, we laughed, and we ate dim sum Shanghai-style.

Quite apart from this level of excitement, I also had an adventure of the heart and soul. One of the women who greeted me, Liu Yi, spoke English so well that I wondered where she learned it. That’s when I found out that she had lived abroad, in the West, for six years, then four years in a remote province in Western China before going back to her home town. What a story, I thought to myself, so many people would find this choice unthinkable, and yet she was so clearly radiant and pleased to be where she was. The inevitable why jumped out of my mouth, along with letting her know that I was living outside my own country of birth, and we launched into an intensive and satisfyingly connecting conversation.