Unfounded fear

            I wonder why we fear people who are different?

          Perhaps due to years of stranger danger caution from our parents. Maybe because our news media profit when they makes us worry. Or is it a survival instinct? I hope it isn’t only me, but I suspect it’s universal. I remember reading about a woman who travelled the world and invariably was welcomed but told that the people in the next town or across the border were less hospitable and she shouldn’t trust them.

            Whatever the reason, I’ve been afraid of visiting China for the 10 years my husband has been travelling there on business. Last month his itinerary was ideal for me to accompany him; I’d be able to spend time in several cities, including Beijing. He raised the incentive by arranging for us to visit the Terra Cotta Warriors that had intrigued me since I first read about them. I waivered in my reluctance.

            I reminded myself I experienced the same hesitance to visit Israel three years ago. Preparing for that trip, I imagined car bombs and terrorists waiting around every corner. Yet even when I joined a 4-person tour to Bethlehem, not realizing Bethlehem is in Palestinian territory, I was treated there with great welcome and hospitality.

            But China is a communist country. I’m a child of the Cold War and I remember it being big news when then-President Nixon travelled to China, an unheard of destination. I feared visiting a country that wasn’t known for respecting individual rights.

            Yet, my travel in Israel remains one of the highlights of my life and I had nearly let my fears keep me from that experience.

            I agreed to visit China, but I worried.

            So what did I experience? Without exception, everyone treated me with courtesy and respect. Men asked if they could take a picture of me with their wives. Women asked if I’d pose with their children. Teenagers stood to give me their seat on a subway, as they did for anyone my age or older. Tour guides politely asked me about my opinion of Obama, or which party I belonged to. Some shared their own worry that without a strong Russia, the USA’s dominance would endanger world balance.

            I can’t speak about China’s leaders or its politics. I only know that the everyday people are very much like our everyday people. They wait with smiles and hugs for their children to burst out of the building on the first day of school. They work hard to improve their families’ lives. They dance in the park when they hear music that suits them. They photograph what is unusual or beautiful. They carry iPods and cell phones and are frustrated by traffic jams and delayed flights. Both the church I attended and an acrobat show were full.

            Yes, their culture differs from ours, but in ways that seems minor, like the softness of voices, the use of parasols, the prevalence of bicycles, the acceptance of population density, or the challenge of living in a country of single-child families.

            I never felt endangered while in China (other than riding in a taxi) even when lost. My qualms were unfounded and I feel foolish to have waited so long to accept my good husband’s invitation to share his experience. I’ve been blessed once again by facing my fear. When will I learn to trust in God and never let fear direct my life?

  • By Jennifer, October 23, 2010 @ 9:00 am

    I really like the paragraph about our everyday people and their everyday people, the things that we have in common. At the end of my time in Chile, Maria and I were asked to be on a panel discussing experiences abroad, and I remember (in the best Spanish that I could muster) talking about the same idea, that the lines between countries and cultures begin to blur, and you find your family and friends everywhere you go, that we are more alike than different. We have the same goals and hopes for the future, many of the same values and virtues. Nicely done!

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