Finding wu wei

This is a story about accidentally finding myself while trying to find a Beijing pizza restaurant.

[I originally posted this on MySpace on about 24 September 2007.]

A Chinese woman I was dating was kind enough to find a pizza place for me. According to her research, Westerners love the food there because it tastes just like home. We decided to meet for lunch, so she sent me three maps and the address in English and Chinese. I carefully copied the address into my notebook and marked the location in red on my map.

I hailed a taxi, got in, and showed him my map and notebook. We went through five or six iterations of him asking me a bunch of questions in Chinese that I didn’t understand and me sayingzhèga” (this one), “nàgè” (that one), and the name of the street while I emphatically point at the map and the notebook. When I was able to recognize that he said the name of the street, then I would say, “duì” (correct). When I would recognize that he was asking if I wanted to go to the Summer Palace or the Ruins (both near the restaurant), I would saybù yào” (I don’t want thatpronounced likebooand Yao as in Yao Ming the basketball player). After three or four minutes, we were on our way.

Men in a hutong
Man in hutong, Beijing

We get to the area and it becomes apparent that he has no idea where I want to go. He asks three or four people where Fu Yuan Men (the street) bụ, and they all look at him as if he was speaking Greek and had a spoon growing out of his nose. “Fu Yuan Men ma?” They would say it with a tone that would translate toWhat the hell is Fu Yuan Men and why the hell is a taxi driver asking me where it is?” One person ignored him completely. We drove up and down a few side streets, but they were clearly wrong because we ended up in hutongs each time. He was very frustrated when we finally stopped on one of the side streets. The street was lined with a long wall (opekempe 1 km) and we were next to a lone, small, door that appeared to open into a courtyard. A postman emerged from the door and the driver asked him for directions. After the now-familiar exchange of confusion, the driver insisted that this was the address.

m 99.5% sure that this was not the address, but I paid him and got out. From the cab, I couldn’t see through the door, but it was possible that it lead to a series of shops. I went through the door and found: a small atrium with a guardhouse. The guard was sleeping peacefully because no one ever comes in here. The sign indicated that it was some sort of dan wei (a state-owned business unit that is more like an authoritarian communethey used to control almost every aspect of their employees’s lives, including who they married). I left and started walking to the main street.

I’ll finish the story below because the lesson I learned is above: I wasn’t upset with the situation. Not one bit. I didn’t like that the driver was incompetent. I didn’t like that I couldn’t communicate with him. I didn’t like that he was getting mad at me for not having a better address or because I couldn’t call a Chinese person on the phone. I didn’t like that he dropped me off at a dan wei in a hutong on the outskirts of Beijing. I could recognize how stupid and silly all of these things were, but I still wasn’t upset. I didn’t even have to make an effort to not be upset. Somehow, I knew that getting upset wouldn’t help, and that I should just relax and take the situation in stride.

I want to react to everything in my life in the same manner. I want to be able to recognize problems and not let them make me stressed. I don’t want toacceptinjustice and then do nothing about it; I want to recognize problems and fix them without being stressed by them. I don’t want to be passive in my approach to life—I want to actively work to improve everything around me, but I don’t want life’s problems to give me stomachaches any more. I believe that this is the essence of wu wei and the secret to living successfully.

The rest of the story is boring, but you probably want to know how it ended. I was walking to the main road, and when I was almost there, the cab driver suddenly came back. He had a huge smile on his face, and based on his gestures and his tone of voice, I could tell that he found the restaurant. I got in and he drove me there—it was maybe 500 meters away.

By American standards, the pizza was good. By Chinese standards, the pizza was heavenly.

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