Relationships are all over the place. Business relationships. Partnerships. Friendships. Dating relationships. Marriage. Networking contacts. Acquaintances. Coworkers. Family. The people we see at the places we frequent – like coffee shops or libraries or our favorite restaurants. Every time we interact with people we form connections and relationships. Some relationships serve a specific purpose. Some take time to cultivate and develop. Some just happen naturally. Some last for a lifetime. Some for just a short time. Relationships abound in our lives. They are the driving force behind much of what we do and how we do it.
All too often though, we forget the importance of relationships. We take our friends for granted. We become busy and wrapped up in our lives, so we forget to cultivate casual relationships or develop new relationships. When was the last time you asked your barista or waitress or server how she was doing or how her day was? We live our lives on auto-pilot. And if someone drops out, we tend to forget about them and move on.
Living in China has reminded me of the importance of relationships in two very different ways. The first way is rather obvious. I miss my friends and truly value my limited contact with them via Skype, email, and facebook. Talking with them is always very encouraging! I feel much less isolated and alone. But sometimes I realize how much I did take them for granted or just assume that I would always have friends to support and encourage me. Here in China, I don’t have friends. Not friends who live near me. I can’t go out to dinner with them or grab a cup of coffee or have a girly movie night and talk for hours. They all live thousands of miles away across the Pacific Ocean and parts of the North American continent. Soon I will see them again and relish my time with them! But for now, I am relatively isolated… save for my marriage, a few semi-English speaking coworkers whom I see at work only, and my acquaintance-level friendships with the owner of the Milk Bear and the owners of the local noodle shop I frequent almost daily.
The second way that living in China has reminded me of the importance of relationships is through watching and interacting with the Chinese people. Even more overtly than in the United States, who you know in China is of utmost importance. The saying, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know” is entirely true here. From hotel rooms to restaurants to VIP treatment to seats on the bus to cell phones to office space to class schedules to train tickets to prices, everything is based on who you know. I am given discounts at certain hotels because I am friends with Mrs. Xu, the president or dean of our school. I get VIP treatment when I go out to lunch with Diana or Jimmy or Mrs. Wang. Mrs. Wang even gets lunch delivered to the office. They cultivate relationships and will tell you just about anything (and yes, this includes lying to you) in an effort to develop and maintain your relationship. Seeing how much effort the Chinese put into every single relationship they have reminded me that relationships are valuable.
Relationships take work. I don’t like being vulnerable and setting my desires aside sometimes for the sake of my relationships. But it is so necessary. And incredibly worthwhile! My friends and the people around me encourage and help me. I wouldn’t be who I am without them!