Growing up my family was never close with the neighbors. Either we lived next to people who were too old to socialize with my parents, we lived next to people that were to nosy, or we lived next to a cotton field in a new housing development. I did get to play with the neighborhood kids after school, but I was never close enough to the neighbors to visit them or have them over at my house.
When I moved away to college, I realized that I love having neighbors. They are there for you when you need a missing ingredient in your recipe, when you get locked out of your house, when you have a question about something and your internet isn’t working, or when you just would like company while walking from the street to your door.
After college, I lived in four different apartments and sadly, I never met any of my neighbors. They just weren’t friendly or they were caught up in their own problems. I tried to say hello and create small talk, but that was as far as it ever went. I don’t think any of them noticed when I was on vacation for a week or two. It is depressing when I think about it now. Fortunately, this all changed when I moved abroad to live in China.
China is a community based society. They raise each other’s children as if they were their own. Everyone has each others backs and they all know everything about you. Being the only blonde white woman in my complex (which is enormous!) I think it’s safe to say I stand out. Now I may get more attention than normal due to my appearance, but I truly believe that if I were Chinese they would still be just as aware of me.
My neighbors speak Chinese, yet they are the only neighbors I have ever had to go out of their way to help me or have a conversation with me. Granted, most of our conversation is a game of charades and me trying to speak Chinese. It makes me happy every time I have these bizarre exchanges. I can borrow eggs from my neighbor when I run out mid recipe and I can call their apartments to let me in when I forget my keys (which is quite frequent).
I didn’t notice how much I had missed the community neighborly love feel, that I had experienced in college, so much until my neighbor told me to go put more clothes on last weekend. Yes. This lady pointed at me, shook her head, and then proceeded to tell me that I needed to put more clothes on or at least I think that is what she said. My Chinese is very basic, but I am excellent at reading body language.
Now, I was not dressed inappropriately people. It was 70 degrees outside and I celebrated this joyous weather by wearing jean capris, a tank top and sandals. I felt amazing. No more winter layers or goosebumps for me. Yet, my neighbor apparently thought it was still too cold outside for me to be wearing such an outrageous outfit… I looked at her shrugged my shoulders, smiled, and gave her a thumbs up as I walked away.
The point of this long neighborly love rant is that my next door neighbor cared enough about my health to tell me to put more clothes on. It was so nice and comforting to have this coming from someone I see in passing and who speaks a different language than me. Alright I was also embarrassed and felt like I had just been scolded my grandma, but still, I felt like it was a right of passage. I am now one of the neighbors. When we see each other in passing, they make more of an effort to wave and give me advice about what to do or buy. I try to reciprocate this.
Some people might think this a nuisance,but coming from America where I had no luck establishing a bond with any of my neighbors, I accept it with open arms. I love seeing my neighbors front door and knowing that if I ever needed anything I could knock on it, play charades to get my message across or whip out my translator app.