How I discovered Unitarianism
Xiao Wang (December 31, 2006)
Xiao Wang, a student at the University of Guelph, presented part of his Master?s thesis to the congregation on January 3rd, 2007. It is printed here.
"My name is Xiao Wang. I am 26 years old. I am originally from Shanghai, China and have been living in Guelph for over four years. In June 2006, after 4-year-long marathon, I finished my Masters in Sociology at the University of Guelph.
I discovered the Unitarian Service when I was in Ottawa. A good friend of mine took me to the Unitarian service there. She literally was moved to tears when at the end of the service, everyone held hands with each other. I like the service for being non-judgmental, open and tolerant. I like singing to honor our community, land, and the world instead of something incomprehensible. Although I have only attended the service for a couple of months, I am sure I will be able to discover more about the Unitarianism."
Chapter 1 Come
On 30 August, 2002, an Air Canada flight took me from Shanghai, China, to Guelph, Canada. On the flight, most attendants were middle-aged women and even men. This was not usual in Chinese airplanes, which were served by young and good-looking female flight attendants. I was not aware that this is an issue of gender equality until I began my study of sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
An airplane is a micro society and I am not the only one who has an interest in observing it. When Piscine, the boy in the novel Life of Pi, flew to Canada by a Japanese plane, he discovered the officers of the plane were Japanese while the staff were Taiwanese.
We were offered rice gruel on the flight, a stereotypically traditional Chinese breakfast. During the flight, a Chinese movie was played. We heard Mandarin Chinese all the way to Canada.
This is a contribution of globalization.
Globalization blends things together, sometimes in a quaint way. After I had been in Canada for a short while, one day, my housemate, a guy from Hong Kong, and I, from Shanghai were driving back from a Scottish festival. We were driving a Toyota, a car made in Japan, on a Canadian highway, listening to a CD of Scottish music purchased at the festival.
In New Society, Robert J. Brym depicts globalization as a Bombay schoolboy listening to Bob Marley on his MP3 player as he rushes to slip into his Levi?s, wolf down a bowl of Kellogg?s Basmati Flakes, and say goodbye to his parents in Hindi because he?s late for his English-language school.
Chairman George is a documentary film about a man finding his place in our globalized planet. The Greek-Canadian statistician learned Mandarin, printed up some trilingual business cards and re-invented his life in China. He aspired to bring the ancient cultures of Greece and China together for a brief moment at the Olympic Games.
The plane landed at the Vancouver airport. The airport was large but remote, clean although transparent, bright nevertheless dizzying. I walked to a glass wall, watching airplanes sliding, turning and crossing outside.
"Here I come, Canada." I said to myself.
The Customs House:
"Sh, Th, Qi?how do you spell your first name?"
"Where are you from?"
"Why are you coming to Canada?"
"I am going to study of the sociology and anthropology department in the Guelph University." (My English was poor then.) "..."
Silence, reluctantly maintained, challenged by the noise at the Custom House.
"OK, you can go."
These four words announced my 2-year legitimate stay in Canada, a country of which all I knew before was Celine Dion and Niagara Falls.
Since: 4 words = 2 years
Thus: 2 words = 1 year
Since: 4 words are OK, You, Can, Go
Thus, 1st year = OK you (I was OK in the first year, that's right!)
2nd year = Can go (I went further the next year, precisely!!)
At Vancouver airport, an Indian-looking guy selling phone cards kept asking me about the one child policy in China. I assured him that this policy was real because I am a living example, and told him proudly that now I could marry a girl, and if she too was the single child, we could give birth to two children. The man was content and I was smug. I didn?t know why.
Chapter 3 Environment and Difference
The balcony of my room faced a grove of maple trees. Several branches stretched into the balcony, and thus provided a resort for some natural visitors. Spiders spun webs patiently at the corners of the balcony. Squirrels dropped by but were too fearful to wander. Birds popped in and flapped away as they wished. In Shanghai, I had not seen things like that.
In my mind, Shanghai and Nature are two words not accommodating each other. Shanghai has a few so-called green areas, however, they are the clumsy cosmetic some girls put on the faces for the sake of artificial beauty. Just as some girls do not understand what beauty really means, Shanghai did not know why the city needs green. Even so, those precious green areas face the challenge of being turned into construction sites. In Shanghai, 7,000 buildings over eight storeys high were built in the past ten years. The model of the city is the biggest such installation in the world and requires 100 model-makers to keep it up to date. Even the city-planning department has a hard time tracing the constantly increasing number of new buildings.
Parks in Shanghai were both the paradise of my childhood and the escape from urban intensity when I grew up. My father always took me to a park when I was a little boy and he had a permanent joke about that park. He said he knew how many trees were there exactly.
"How many?" I asked.
"True, if you don't believe, you can count yourself."
He challenged me to empirical thinking early on.
Not an extra, parks in Guelph are a part of the city; they contribute to the city's identity. Actually, the city itself is like a park. In the spring, tiny buds burst out and grow fearlessly. In the summer, greens are everywhere; I am cocooned in joy. In the fall, leaves parachute, one as a poet, two as a story, three as an indication, tenderly covering the footpath. In the winter, naked trees show the meaning of pain, then the snow comes, as a gift for these indomitable creatures. I never discovered this kind of sensitive side of myself back in Shanghai.
I visited the university arboretum the day after I came to Guelph and was almost lost there. It was wildly huge. Although the orange marks on trees reassured me I was heading in the right direction, I kept worrying I might not be able to get out. The trail seemed endless. The trees were so near one another that their branches grew into each other's spaces; they touched and twisted around each other so that it was hard to tell where one tree ended and the next began. The canopy was so dense that the sky was quite blocked off, or another way of putting it, the sky was solidly green, only scattered sun light guided my walk. Growing up in Shanghai, I had few chances to walk in a natural surrounding, let alone by myself. I searched my pocket, realizing I didn't take a cell phone, which I was so used to carrying in Shanghai. At that moment, I felt the arboretum was another world, a world different from the real one, a dream.
What is the line between reality and a dream anyway? In the story of Dreaming Butterfly, Chinese philosopher Zhou Zhuang woke up startled. He dreamed he had become a butterfly. His thought: was I a butterfly in the dream or am I a human in a butterfly's dream?
Tradition or modernity, simplicity or sophistication, rural idyll or urbanization, idealism or realism, Guelph or Shanghai, which one is more real? I was a well-frog staring at the sky the size of the well mouth and thought: all right, that's what the world is all about, that?s what life is all about till I jumped out of the well and found out in my unknown territory, there are real people and real lives. There are alternatives.
Until that point, I had met Canadians as taxi drivers, campus housing officers, guests and attendants of the hotel, staff at a bank, and sellers at supermarkets. They were all nice people. They said hello to you. They said "thank-you," "you are welcome," and "have a nice day." They seemed open and mature, had strong personalities and spoke wonderful English.
They were different from me.
Riding my bike and passing a plaza the other day, I saw a young couple hold their son by the hands, one on either side. They counted "one, two three!" When it was three, the little boy jumped and they lifted him up. The boy was hanging all the way down to the ground and was carried by his parents all the way across the plaza. He giggled and the parents too. When I saw this, it just clicked me that my parents did the exact same thing to me when I was a kid. They took me to a park; we walked on the trail and played this game all the way along. The only difference is that in English, parents say: "one, two, three," while in Chinese, parents say: " (yi), (er), (san)." However, the joy of childhood, the happiness of a family stay together and the preciousness of the moment remained the same.
It doesn't matter, whether that moment is presented in English or Chinese.