The day before I left for Kashgar I made a phone call to the Northwest Airlines office in Beijing to make a change on my ticket home for Thanksgiving. I had called the day before to ask some questions and had talked to a very nice young man who had been very helpful. I told him I’d use the information he gave me to make some decisions, then would call him back.
The next day, while I was at the airport awaiting my flight to Urumqi I called back, and ended up talking to the same guy. "I remember talking to you yesterday," he said. I told him the changes I wanted to make, then said that since I was on my way to Xinjiang that I wouldn’t be able to go down to the ticket office until the following week. He assured me that was no problem. I thanked him, then before he hung up, he added, "by the way, the weather is changing these days, and it is cold in Urumqi. Please be careful of the cold and wear more clothes." I assured him I would.
In Chinese discourse one of the ways to demonstrate friendliness (what we Americans might call neighborliness) is to give another person advice, or suggestions, especially as it relates to the health or well-being of another. Especially this time of year, it seems that someone is always telling you to wear more clothes! When westerners first come here, they tend to be puzzled by this and to be annoyed. What business is it of theirs what I’m wearing?? And at home, we certainly wouldn’t ask another if he/she is wearing long underwear nor tell them we think they should nor scold them for not doing so, all of which are regular topics of conversation here.
Here, friends (and sometimes strangers) will even grab our legs to see if we have the prescribed number of layers on (often up to 5 or 6), to which we want to shout get your hands off me! But as we adjust and learn the new rules, we discover that this inordanite attention to what I’m wearing isn’t merely being nosey, it’s a way of saying, "I like you. I care."
So, as fall approaches, and the weather turns cold, please…wear more clothes!