When first arriving to Zhongdian I was hesitant to communicate with the townspeople in any way because I did not feel sufficiently educated on the social norms. I was nervous to even wave at or make eye contact with people because I believed this could be offensive or disrespectful. I also restricted my interaction with the CERS staff for this reason.
On the second day upon arrival we were taught about Chinese and Tibetan culture which influenced me to interact more with the townspeople. In the lesson I learned that saving face was very important. Saving face is how much respect a person has in a community, and it can change all the time as a result of a person’s actions. Tibetans take this very seriously because filial piety is among the most important aspects to their culture and having little to no respect is reflected poorly on one’s family. Therefore, my actions towards others can affect the amount of respect a person holds in this community. For example, not appreciating a meal cooked for me could tarnish that cook’s reputation in town. After learning this I became more engaging with the staff and local townspeople. I did not have full conversations with them, but I would try to say the food was good to the cooks in Tibetan or smile at and say hello to people on the street. I could tell that the townspeople appreciated my small attempts to interact because they would smile and often respond with a cheerful hello.
A few days later when walking back to the CERS center I said hello to three young kids and without hesitation they all responded with a hello and began following me. They would repeatedly speak to me in Tibetan, but I had absolutely no clue what they were saying. When they would say things to me I would smile and do my best to communicate through gestures, but it was kind of useless. Despite the language barrier I could tell they enjoyed my company. At one point the youngest boy started holding my hand as we were walking which caught me by surprise because I just met him and could not even talk to him, but I did not mind it. When we arrived back to the CERS center we all said goodbye and parted our ways. It was interesting how friendly they were to a complete stranger.
Given my interactions with the townspeople and the kids, I realized that the cultures in Zhongdian and U.S. were similar in ways. In both cultures people appreciate it when others go out of their way to simply say hello or smile. However, it seems that the townspeople in Zhongdian are friendlier around strangers which I appreciate since I do not know anybody in town.