Friday, August 18, 2006


On the metro today coming back from work, a middle-aged Chinese dude sat down next to me and started chatting. Normally I hate serendipitous conversations because I'm still not great at holding up my end; but this guy was a real pleasure to talk to: he had good stuff to say, and in good quantity. He works for some company related to the Shanghai World Fair, and specializes in putting together exhibitions. As an organizer, he has travelled to about thirteen countries including Finland and Canada. Despite never having been to the United States, he was real down-to-earth and stereotype-free when the topic turned to the US-China politics, the pervasiveness and influence of American pop culture and the frustrations of getting a visa to visit the US. When I mentioned that I majored in physics, he noted that just yesterday he had downloaded and listened to a four-part audio series on the life of Einstein made last year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the physicists death. And when he noticed that I had been reading Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities ("Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism") he was polite enough to be earnestly interested in my summary of the book's main points and informed enough to make some intelligent historical observations about nationalism in China and abroad.

This kind of subway conversation partner I wouldn't mind having more often.


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