There is one kind of Nivea chapstick that is sold in some drugstores, but for the most part, lips go chapped in this country.
So when an old man crossing guard asked me for my cherry Chapstick last Tuesday, I forgot all the teachings of generosity and told him that it was my only one.
It was a selfishness check.
And I failed, then passed. I'm guessing that G0d still honors delayed generosity? ;)
You see, I was hauling butt across West Nanjing Road in Shanghai trying to make it to my 8:15am appointment at the US Citizens Services to get more passport pages. I was a little high on the stress meter due to being in unfamiliar territory and under a time deadline.
I noticed that the crosswalk would change to red before I reached it, so I slowed my pace, took some deep breaths, and made a concsious effort to be...happy.
Early morning Shanghai is a jam of pedestrians, luxury vehicles, and motorbikes, so crossing guards are stationed at most intersections to keep people from venturing out into the road before the green light - and thus preventing pedestrian deaths due to stupidity.
This particular crossing guard, in his neon green get-up, was singing Christmas songs in Chin.ese with his back to me. "Merry Christmas to you, Merry Christmas to you...." he sang. As I approached the corner, he turned and saw me then said to me, "Christmas is coming quickly, Merry Christmas! It is G0d's come to earth!"
"Yes, Merry Christmas." I replied, my curiosity piqued, "are you a Xtian?"
"Yes. Every day G0d blesses me," he said, continueing singing his Christmas songs.
"So we will see each other in Heaven, then," I said.
At this point, a few people had joined us at the corner. One man in particular, a business man in his 40's, looked at the crossing guard like he was crazy. The guard noticed him and walked up to him, "G0d blesses me every day, you should know your blessings, too! It's true!"
As he was talking ot the other guy, I pulled out my chapstick. It was a blustery cold day in Shanghai and my lips needed some lovin. The guard turned back to me, "Is that foreign or from China?" "It's from America, this is much cheaper and better in America," I replied while lathering up my lips with $0.99 cherry goodness.
"Give it to me," he said so bluntly that I almost couldn't understand what he was saying even though it was so simple.
"No. This is my only one," I said, and tucked it back into my backpack. I was taken aback by his blunt request and started to question him. A person who a minute before was a jolly fellow beliver rockin' out the street corner with Christmas tunes was now a demanding old man who was taking advantage of our common-ness.
How dare he? Was the prevailing thought.
The old man had gone back to singing his Christmas tunes, undeterred by my shooting down his request. About 20 seconds later the light changed to green and the man waved his crossing guard neon flag to tell us pedestrians we could continue on our journeys.
Struck with a feeling of 'wow, you are so selfish' I reached into my backpack pocket and handed the man my chapstick before crossing the street in the rush of Asians.
"Thank you," he called out. I just nodded my head in reply.
I could hear him singing as I made my way through the crowd.
I have several thoughts about this interaction. Why would he just outright ask me for my posession? Why did I hesitate to give it to him instead of giving freely? Was he afriad about speaking so openly about taboo things on the corner? Does he do that everyday? And what did he say to his family when he went home that day after his shift and showcased his brand new foreign object - probably the only foreign thing he's ever owned?
One thing's for sure, there is going to be a very supple lipped Chin.ese crossing guard when we get to Heaven.
I'll know him by his cherry scent.
walk slow. xoxo.