Three months back in the U.S., the place my mother birthed me. The country I’d called home for twenty-three years. I think about China every day. Amid these ponderings, I realized what life in the states is missing: 人情味 (rén qíng wèi). Though I know what it means on a visceral level, Pleco’s definition, “human touch; human interest; empathy” doesn’t capture the true meaning of the word. There’s no decent English translation because this concept doesn’t exist in Anglo societies.
人情味 is your neighbor asking if you’d eaten around lunch time. It’s your friends sending you reminders to dress for the weather as the seasons change. It’s a shop owner you met once on a business trip asking about your children. It’s the three-hour buffets followed by a night of drunken karaoke with your coworkers. It’s the police officer you feel comfortable approaching to ask for directions because you know he won’t get aggressive for no reason. It’s the ability to easily forgive others for the sake of communal harmony. The list goes on.
Recently, I made a Facebook post that triggered a ton of backlash. I’d said I don’t like people from other countries who take on the negative traits of Americans. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of things I like about my country: the fresh air, beautiful scenery, down-to-Earth people, and organization, just to name a few. However, I also dislike the view of humans as a commodity, being measured by our productivity, and my generation’s lack of commitment. People aren’t held–and don’t want to be held–to higher standards and that can make for a pretty sucky society to live in at times.
I dislike that life in America is mainly about convenience. Fast food, most people looking for hookups instead of relationships, having to hold down more than one job because the wages aren’t enough to live off of unless you’re a doctor, lawyer, celebrity, or engineer. With increasingly limited options, it’s easy to see why millennials and Gen Z have become despondent. It’s difficult to care about anything in a society that kicks you when you’re down until you can’t get back up.
I like to carry the warmth of China in my heart. My friends continue to wait patiently for my return. What a joy to have experienced 人情味 in this lifetime.