Two incidents. The first happened as I was cycling home. I nearly crashed into another cyclist. Both of us stayed on our bikes. No bones broken. No scratches. A limp, apologetic smile from me.
The biggest shock was yet to come. "I do hope I did not discommode you too much," the other, blameless, cyclist said. The clanking sound was of my jaw dropping.
"Your English is very good," I said.
"Yes, I studied in Manchester."
"But they don't talk like that in Manchester."
"No. I hope I did not inconvenience on your way home to have dinner with your family. Have a safe journey home. Goodbye." As they used to end cowboy films, he rode off into the sunset. Bikes that pass in the night.
The second incident had me looking up an orthodontist to fix another dropped jaw.
A man down on his luck was approaching me. As I prepared to fob him off my phone rang. I answered it. The man passed. Seconds later I get a tap on the shoulder. In taking out my phone from my pocket I had dropped a 10 yuan note on the pavement. He was handing it back to me. I let him keep it and gave him another.
Expert, after a week, not so sure after two, totally confused after three. Beijing can do that to you, upend all your previous opinions, and that's just after less than a month here.
Now in my sixth year, when asked about China on my visits overseas I have to give an honest answer: "Wo bu zhidao (I don't know)."
Even enquiries on subjects as simple as the food can leave me at risk of seeming indecisive. I like dumplings but there is such a variety of edible delights on offer.
When I mention just a handful, hotpot, cold noodles, dim sum, spicy duck neck, steamed fish, I can see the eyes of any audience glaze over.
That's even before I mention that I have a particular fondness for tofu that emits, how do we say in polite society inside the fourth ring road, a certain odor.
I am on firmer ground when questions focus on living here.
Safe on the streets, I respond and it is something I fervently believe that China could teach many countries. There are many ways to gauge a civilization but my own favorite is how safe are the night streets for women? On that score, China does well.
One of the most amazing sights for me in China, and one that I never fail to appreciate, is the sight of families with young children on the street.
Taxi drivers? When I arrived six years ago I tried to tip my taxi driver from the airport. He seemed almost annoyed by my gesture. That reluctance to take a tip is now less common, and rightly so. They have a tough job. Never underestimate the kindness of strangers and never acquiesce to the strangeness of kindness.
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