“Man zou” is a Chinese expression that I have grown very fond of hearing. It means, “walk slowly” and every time I am told “man zou” as I exit a store or restaurant, I smile because a complete stranger cares enough to remind me to stop and smell the roses. At least that’s how it feels. I wonder if a non-native English speaker feels touched when told, “take it easy”?
In the days after I was told what “man zou” meant, I took it very literally. As soon as I heard the words, I would make a conscious effort to slow myself down in view of the adviser. As I drifted quietly up the sidewalk for a hundred yards, I looked tenderly upon my surroundings. And in those meandering moments, I would imagine a more peaceful version of myself doing everything more slowly…walking, eating, drinking, and cooking---all in sweet slow motion.
Then, to my disappointment, only a couple of hours later, I would find myself at home trying to put on my pajamas, take out my contacts and brush my teeth all at once.
Whose idea was this so-called “multitasking” anyway? I’ll tell you what multitasking has gotten me: burnt lentil soup, overflowing bathtubs, and toothpaste on the keyboard. It’s hard to think of anything especially positive in my life that has sprung from the ability to multitask. What’s the big hurry? In fact, as I recall, one of the most beautiful days I’ve spent in China was the day after a bout of food poisoning in Lijiang. After hours in the bathroom, I emerged out into the city feeling very fragile and wandered around at a snail’s pace. That evening, I remember thinking I was glad I’d been sick; otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the time to see the city so clearly and find, in the smallest of details, such serenity.
When in a hurry around here, it’s hard to see beyond bad traffic, crowded buses and the sheer frustration of a language barrier; it takes a long hard look to find the beauty. But, sure enough, when you slow down, there it is… bare-bottomed babies wading in a fountain, a fruit vendor and her basket of ripe red cherries or a Chinese dog in a stylish sweater.
I am trying to change my ways and not only slow down, but focus on each individual task until it is completed. So far monotasking is proving difficult; I routinely catch myself wandering off to check my email in the midst of scrambling eggs or trying to floss with a mouth full of foamy toothpaste.
So, thank you, China, for reminding me, in your novel way, to be here while I am here.
Man zou, dear reader.