Confucius asked his disciples: Isn’t it nice to meet friends from far away? Isn’t it possible that some gentlemen don’t become angry when they are treated as somebody random?
According to my primary school teachers and textbooks in China, the answer is absolutely “yes” to all of these questions.
Having moved to Sydney to study my PhD, I am not so sure anymore. Is it actually nice to meet friends from far away? Is it actually possible to befriend someone from a different culture, let alone do something nice together? The Internet can only teach you so much—for a long time I couldn’t tell the difference between cricket and baseball.
Can I be someone’s friend, not just some colleague or acquaintance? Is it annoying to have me around?
And that second question—is it even possible to not be angry when you realize that people around you don’t think that you have a personality? I am more than my education and my academic interest but despite the fact that I speak English quite fluently, I cannot express myself in English, I cannot communicate my personality in English.
In Chinese I am humorous and smart. In English I am someone without character.
These doctrines, planted in my mind when I was six years old, have turned untrue most of the time since moving to Sydney. I must say that the answer to both of these questions is usually no. After a year and a half of life here in Sydney, I have mostly been treated as colleague and an acquaintance, and I am still angry that people do not recognize me for who I am, for being someone with a personality and rich inner life.
But it is also sometimes yes. Some people here have come to treat me as a friend and find it nice to be with me. I have let go of some of my anger and I have patiently developed my personality in English—one that is humorous and smart.
I have to admit it is the existence of the both that makes my life in Sydney really a pleasant experience.
Maybe the reason Confucius asked these questions was to show how difficult these situations can be.
More often than not, we just have to bravely accept that the answer is no. However, we must be willing to say yes and make an effort sometimes—these opportunities are precious.