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[This article originally appeared in the Shenzhen Daily on March 15, 2004]

Rounding and Smoothing

by James Baquet

Why did you come to China?

Many people have asked me this question, and sometimes I give the "easy" answer: to be with my lovely girlfriend, to teach English, to learn more about Chinese culture (and especially Chinese religions), to travel.  These are all true, but they are not the full answer.

The real answer is: "Rounding and smoothing."

Let me explain.  Imagine a ball made of a light metal, like aluminum.  Parts of the ball may be dented in, and they need to be rounded out.  And other parts may stick out, and need to be smoothed off.  So, through "rounding and smoothing," the ball is restored to its true shape.

My philosophy is that if a person is to be a complete human being, he or she must go through this process of rounding and smoothing.  For some, this can be done in familiar surroundings.  Some do it through spiritual disciplines; some through therapy; some through just applying themselves to a schedule of "self-improvement."  I find the best method for me is to put myself in new and challenging situations, especially through experiencing life in other cultures.  My five years in Japan put me on the path to being, like Diogenes and Thoreau, a "citizen of the world."  By living outside of my "comfort zone," I have found those aspects of my personality, my understanding, my self that are under-developed.  Likewise, there are certain aspects of my self that make people from other cultures uncomfortable, and these need to be softened or eliminated.

Shenzhen offers many opportunities for rounding and smoothing.  Sightseeing within Shenzhen-at Hong Fa or Tian Hou Temples, for example, or the Folk Cultural Villages-gives me a connection with China's deeper traditions.  Just riding a bus (or a mini-bus!) gives me a chance to practice patience and tolerance toward others!  Trying to express my needs (with no Chinese language skills) in a market, a restaurant, or a taxi can lead to greater communication with others.  And teaching my first English salon for the Shenzhen Daily gave me a chance to discuss deeper ideas with wise, wonderful Chinese people.  I hope to do many more salons all over Shenzhen, to increase my opportunities to learn from the people here.  I also hope to create some discussion groups for foreigners living in Shenzhen, to share their experiences of living abroad, and to learn from each other.

Through all of these experiences, I hope to become the roundest, smoothest member of the human race that I can possibly be.


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