silent view

500px (1 of 1)-25

Year 2005. “Silence is a true friend who never betrays.”  Confucius

The project I was assigned in Beijing was coming to an end. I had the responsibility to teach printing operation and printing quality perception to twenty four young Chinese during fifteen consecutive months. Well, not all were young. Some were coming from the old factory the company had opened middle eighty’s when China started to open-up for foreign business, a factory just outside the third ring road east side which was considered far from the center at the time the company started its operations in Beijing. Because the Olympics 2008 all factory buildings within this range would have to be demolished as they were then considered englobed within the city limits! It took only twenty years to extend the city to these limits!

Anyway, some of my boys were coming from that factory and of course they were close to their forties. Like everywhere in any country there was quite a personality diversity differences among them. I always tried my best to read about history and culture of the country I was about to set myself to avoid culture shock. Regarding China though I have to admite one thing, during my twenties, I had particular sympathy to the revolution in China and particularly to chairman Mao. This made me read quite allot about China, though what I read was distorted by the brain washed translators, I realised it quite early too that the reality on the field was very different, has been very different and that the cultural revolution was a historical disaster in terms of victims as in any regular war. So when I talked to them about their revolution they were quite surprised by the quantity of information they didn’t even knew themselves.

Many times I used a translator but as many spoke a little english I had a tendency to dismiss the translator that, sometimes, did more damage than the other way around. One of the boys was very shy and most of the time stayed away from our talks, I thought. His looking was a distant and vague one, he seemed not very interested in the matter I was teaching and I thought he had other plans for his career or for life. I did never ignored him because I tried to give the same information and opportunities to all, I tried to be just as much as I could, so he got all the others have got. But he never talk to me, he always looked from the corner of his eyes and almost never talked to me unless I ask him something. I thought he didn’t got along with my face but that I learnt to accept throughout my life. We don’t please all, not all please us. After three weeks of theory or almost, it was the time for them to show their technical capabilities. This boy surprised me, he was by far the best!

When I was about to leave the project, two days before I was due to leave for good, I was alone sorting out all paper work from the project and that boy came to me to give me an envelope. As usual, he approached me timidly and still looking from the side of his eyes, he said; This is for you to read after you leave, not now, please.  And he left my corner. I put the envelope in my computer’s backpack and, as promised, I only opened it after I left and was sitting in the lounge of the old Beijing Airport Terminal 1 before boarding.

“Dear Joaquim,

I have asked a university friend to translate my words to english so you could understand what I want to tell you. So you know I could not write this in english. I hope my friend did a good work.

You have noticed that I am not an out spoken person. I prefer to live in my world by means of solitude. I am not an autistic person though in school they though so, it just I like to be on my own and do not like mingling. This fact, I mean my way, does not mean I did not appreciate your work or I dislike you. No, not at all. And is because that that I want to express my feelings through these few paragraphs as I could never do it directly to you let alone in public.

In the first day you presented yourself to us I remember to listen the translator say what you had just said; ” I’m not your boss, I’m here to transfer to you my printing knowledge, my technical expertise. The day I will leave I will not carry anything back in my pockets, I will teach you all I know, I will give to you all I have, I will be empty, I want to make sure you don’t need me anymore. During the time we will be together if you have any technical questions please do it in our morning briefing or during our afternoon debriefing before we disband for the day. Don’t do it when you are alone with me because there are no private answering from my side, your question is important to you but my answer is important to all. I also would like to apologise for not speaking Chinese and because this is China, your land, your country and your home please do never say sorry to me for not speaking English, never one single time. To me and to any foreigner, as the opposite should be the righteous thing to do. I don’t see myself being apologetic to foreigners in my country for not speaking their language. On contraire, in the worst case I expect them to do so. That type of apology is a sign of subservience, a sign of inferiority, a weak behaviour. We are all equal and above all this is your home. The Opium War is well over long time ago”

On that day, during the dinner, at home, I told my parents about this and much more you said along those months we spent with you but I can’t describe in this letter to do not bother you because you seems to know more about our revolution, our culture and our country than many chineses do, and it was a lecture you gave us about our recente history. I must admite that we are ignorants of our own history. My parents response was that; we want to meet that 教师 Jiàoshī (teacher)! But I told them this; the silent is many times a bigger sign of respect. We have a lot difficulties to show our feelings through emotions but I am sure he knows what most of us think. He also told us not to show any sign of extra gratitude because, he said, he was doing his duty, nothing extraordinary on it, he added. 

Although I believe what I said to my parents, I did not want you to leave without a word of appreciation. I personally don’t have enough words to express my gratitude. Yes, you have done your duty but you went two steps beyond your duties, you have been like a father to us. We have had some foreigners here in our organisation, some as managers and some as technicians like you. And I though all foreigners were all the same kind; distant and rather self-important. You taught me the biggest lesson so far of my life; don’t judge by the look, wait and listen the silent of the heart. Thank you!

Your friend; Xu Quiong”

The name was changed for obvious purpose. I believe his colleagues have never guessed he could write this to me. I received many words of appreciation during my project in Shanghai, just before this project in Beijing, but this letter did let me speechless beyond any doubt. It is me who thank you Xu for your honest and reflected appreciation! You are right but I still insist that I just did my job. And by the way, your university friend did a very good job!

This photo was taken in the new Imperial Summer Palace that replaced the old Yuanmingyuan Summer Palace destroyed by British and French troops during the 2nd Opium War in 1860. Westerns got used to call it the Yuanmingyuan Summer Palace but in fact the Imperial family lived there most of the year, not just for resort purpose.