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City Life - Blogs & Columns
Written by Mary Higgins
Ah...face. Notice how people save face? They do not gain face. They avoid losing it. Perhaps this is simply a pointless semantic discussion but perhaps it is not. I’ve encountered a few very interesting situations in Xi'an and other cities in China that involved someone losing face.

No one likes to embarrass themselves but when something embarrassing happens we are given the opportunity to witness a person’s true nature through the manner by which they save face. Here are a few of my favorite stories. I was standing in the subway in Beijing and waiting for the doors to close. At the last moment, as the doors were closing, a woman tried to squeeze through and avoid waiting for the next train. She didn’t make it. She was stuck in the doors. Normally, the doors should open automatically but they didn’t. You could see the look of terror on her face as she started to panic. No one moved a muscle. No one on the train did a thing.

Anyway, to make an incredibly short story short (since this whole thing occurred over the course of 10 seconds), I jammed my foot in the door and helped push them open. Here’s the kicker: as soon as the doors opened, my maiden in distress walked over to a seat without even a word of thanks. Our eyes met for a split second but that was all.

I caught a kid in Xi'an picking a girl’s wallet from her backpack. I grabbed the kid and called the girl over to give her back her wallet. She obviously felt silly and she took the wallet and walked away. She acted like nothing had happened.

On a long-distance bus to Yan'an, a small kid, maybe 4 years old, threw up on my foot while I was wearing flip-flops. Yeah, I know, kids throw up and it isn’t their fault. I was upset (given that I now had rice/potato congee on my bare feet) but I didn’t blame the kid. The mother reached over and gave me a little tissue and then ignored me for the rest of the trip. When the bus stopped and people were awkwardly stepping over the dried vomit, she didn’t say a word.

Was it because I was a laowai? Was it because I am so insecure that I desperately seek attention? Was it because these people were simply rude? I don’t know but you can be sure that I notice when someone gets on the elevator after I hold the doors for them and I don’t even get a head-nod of appreciation. Here’s a tip: next time someone doing something kind for you here, repeat this magic phrase times to yourself. You’ll be amazed at the results.

They are not my bitch. They are not my bitch. They are not my bitch.

Our valuable Editor Mary Higgins has been with us since Tuesday, 24 November 2009.

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