The Warmth of a City






[1] Every city, in fact, can be felt by its warmth – not in terms of its natural climate but its human touch.




[2] Personally, I have visited many cities in the world. On my first arrival, the new place and I are mutually alien to one another. We gradually become acquainted after getting down to business through social intercourse. In my view, the attitude towards strangers that the people have in the city thus mirrors its warmth.




[3] About two decades ago, I arrived in the Gold Coast, Australia. Searching for a place on a map in the street, I was approached by an elderly man who asked “How are you? Are you lost? How can I help you?” which really impressed and warmed me, as a survivor of the “cultural revolution” where the consciousness of “class struggle” had overwhelmed common sense. I later became used to the courtesy and friendliness of the people after residing in the city, where people normally greet each other on the road during their strolls. One night, as I was pushing my bike on the sidewalk, a young lady shouted to me: “Carry me please” and then jumped onto the back seat of my bicycle. With a gust of strong perfume, she told me that she had just joined a party and for some reason had been left out. While we had a little chat, she got where she wanted and hopped off my bike with “Thanks, Bye!” At that moment, I had a sense as much of pleasant surprise as of “being trusted”.




[4] Still in Australia, a son of a friend of mine who, with his master attempting to participate in a Taekwondo contest in Sydney, decided to hitch their way to there in order to save some money, so they went out onto the road to start thumbing. A young man stopped, luckily he was also going to Sydney, and so he let them in and even allowed them to drive while he went to sleep on the back seat. About eight hours later, they arrived and he woke up. Saying thanks to each other, they went their separate ways. Had this story set in China, it would be seen as something rivaling the Arabian Nights.




[5] A little over ten years ago, I visited Kaohsiung in Taiwan, China. When I entered the airport bus, I saw a ticket box marked “18 TW Yuan” beside the driver. Apart from big notes there was nowhere I could find the right fare from all my pockets then. Suddenly a handful coins was put into the box by a man behind me, “All yours. Everyone may encounter such embarrassment in a new place,” he said. But we were strangers! While we were seated, he told me that he was the boss of a factory, surnamed Xu, and he had also invested heavily in Dongguan in the Chinese mainland. My Beijing accent had appealed to him, and we kept in touch for quite some time until my cellphone was lost, unfortunately.


〔6〕原来以为,市场经济发达的地方,会人情冷漠,因为人们只是追求利益,匆匆忙忙,无暇顾及他人。后来发现错了,二者其实没有必然关系。在香港这样高度商业化的社会,人们也会很热情; 有次问路,一位女士竟然陪我走过了桥之后,又转身回去赶路了。


[6] It was thought that as a market economy develops people tend to be more apathetic since they all rush for profits which leaves little time for caring for others. The facts have proved that is incorrect, for the two are not necessarily related. Hong Kong, for example, is a highly commercialized city, where people can still be very considerate. One day, a lady accompanied me across a bridge to find a route I was looking for, and then went back along her own way.




[7] Having gone through these years, a regular pattern seems to strike me: wherever a place, when the quality of its citizens (whatever its races) has reached a certain level of civilization rather evenly (at an approximate level), people tend to take less precautions against but more easily trust one another, and a friendlier attitude towards strangers can be expected. For which two key points have to be met: a certain level and certain approximation of their overall quality.




[8] During my short stay in Mainz, a little city in Germany, I commuted roughly the same route and communed with similar people and places every day, we became acquainted through various friendly interactions. On my day of departure, I somehow felt like I was bidding farewell to an old friend.




[9] After more than a decade of living overseas, I returned to my hometown and surprisingly found that the most highly alert place, in terms of self-guarded consciousness, is actually nowhere but here, China, where teachers and parents constantly remind children not to talk to and go with strangers, because cases of this kind are hardly news to people anymore: children-trafficking, cheating the elderly or ignoring them when they have fallen down, even extorting kind people and so on. Not to mention greeting strangers – the greeter is definitely to be mocked as a “brain-damaged guy”. One day, when I enquired from a girl student about a place at a bus-station, she decisively turned aside her head, refusing to say a word. Understandably, for it is only in this way that Chinese students can feel safe.




[10] Certainly, there are always exceptions in any places. In Japan’s Kyoto, for example, a lady bluntly declined my request to take a photo of me, she just simply ran away (perhaps due to some untold reason). However, it did not disappoint me at all since at the same time I was offered plenty of kind helps from all sorts of people in the city. In a way, you can always get the general feeling of a place by the people you meet on most occasions.




[11] In my opinion, no matter how developed and advanced its economy and infrastructure are, if in general a place presents itself with a cold and indifferent face to people, especially to strangers, even keeping them highly alert not to be cheated all the time, can perhaps hardly be classified as a land of civilization.




[12] Generally speaking, for all of us, including those living in their homeland, our wellbeing is in fact dependent on numerous strangers: the food we eat, the building we live in, the news we get, the public transport we use, the education we receive, the protection we acquire from the police and so on – are all provided by people unknown to us, living and dead. In this sense, people’s attitude towards strangers in a place naturally reflects their overall quality.


〔13〕从文化根源上讲,西方发达国家大都信仰基督教,而中国的主流传统文化是儒学。耶稣和孔子的共同点是利他主义者;面临饥荒,他们都会把干粮分给他人,但耶稣会不分亲疏地给,孔子则要讲究名分,这就是区别。儒家的“推己及人10”是有条件的,因而如何处理公共空间11、对待陌生人,是中国传统文化中的一个薄弱环节, 而改革开放后单纯对物质的追求和信仰理想的淡薄,更使得问题严重了。


[13] Tracing back, the cultural roots of Christianity and Confucianism, which underpin the developed countries in the West and the mainstream traditional Chinese culture respectively, may be responsible for the differences as well. Confronted with famines, for example, while Jesus distributed food indiscriminately, Confucius would identify different statuses before handing out provisions. Since the Confucian doctrine of “devolving our own thought to others” is conditional, the theory of traditional Chinese culture concerning public affairs and strangers has thus been poorly established and the pursuit of materialistic goals and the weakening of faith since the “opening-up and reform” have only made the problem worse.




1. 博士,暨南大学翻译学院特聘教授。


2. 一般译成temperature、hotness、heat等,但这里主要是指人情冷暖,故亦用warmth、warmness等。


3. 字面意思为One to two to the ground,如“一来二往地,他们相爱了”(One to two to the ground, they fell in love),还有in the course of contacts。这里主要讲的是人与人的交往,故用了social intercourse。


4. 通俗的译法,还有be surprised but glad、be both surprised and delighted、have mixed feelings of surprise and joy、“half frightened, half pleased”等。


5. 通常译成ride a bike、cycle、bicycling等,但澳大利亚人的俗语是push bike。


6. 一般可为 simply、just、as it were no less than、nothing short of、nothing less than等,此处用rivaling,是一种更强烈的对比。类似的,如:The Ming Dynasty was in fact not bad, in a sense rivaling any other great countries in the world during that time.(明朝其实还是不错的,简直可以与当时世界上的任何一个国家媲美。)


7. 似乎是intimacy、cordial feeling、affinity、affability等,但此处更多的意思是引起了对方的注意和好感,故用了had appealed to…。


8. 最直白的是come to realize…、have leant that …,此处用了to strike me,语气强烈一些。


9. 一般是unexpectedly、actually、go so far as to、to one’s surprise、have the impudence to 等,为了强调地点(竟然是自己的母国),故用了is actually nowhere but here。


10. 还有许多译法,如consider others in one’s own place、do as one would be done by others、do unto others as you would have them do unto you、extend one’s own feelings to others、judge others as you would like to be judged by them、place oneself in another’s place、treat other people as you would yourself 等。


11. 最直接的似乎是 public space,但这里讲的实际是处理这类的事,故用了public affairs。