For the last month, we traveled around Yunnan from place to place, rarely stopping for more four days at a time. Even in Hongpo village, where we spent twelve days in a rural homestay, we didn’t have our phones. Without the powers of wechat, developing personal relationships that would last after we moved on seemed difficult.
Now that we are back in Kunming, with seven months of NGO work and homestay ahead of us, opportunities to join new communities surround us. During this next month, I hope to develop as much GuanXi with locals as possible. ‘GuanXi’ roughly translates to ‘connections.’ In America, we often think of making connections in a negative light, as something one needs to do to get ahead. We picture sleazy act of networking at conferences, or getting internships with your father’s golf partner. In America, ‘connections’ can be a tool of privilege, that prevent the realization of a just society.
In China, GuanXi contributes is a positive term. It fits with the collectivist nature of society, and is an important tool to build community, with benefits on all sides. Our program leader Jesse develops GuanXi with the security guard at the entrance to our program house by simply letting him know every time he leaves and comes back. It is small talk like this that can humanize us as foreigners to the local population, making integration much easier. In many ways, developing GuanXi overlaps with simply being a polite person, but in a more active way than most Americans are used to. For the next month, as we meet the people we will live with, work with, pass on the street, and buy coffee from, GuanXi will be most important to our success as bridge year volunteers.