We don’t often see people here choosing to spend time alone. One book we read said Chinese are more likely than Westerners to equate being alone with loneliness. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do know that after eight months in Tianjin, the only people I’ve seen choosing to spend large amounts of time alone – or any amount of time, for that matter – are old men who fish. I don’t know why, and I don’t mean to imply that the quote below gives an appropriate explanation. But if I ever got to choose from among the locals who to sit with and listen to for a long while, these old men and the stories they could tell would be at the top of my list.
Throughout Chinese history scholars and mandarins have traditionally taken up fishing when they were disillusioned with what the emperor was doing. Fishing suggested a retreat to nature, and escape from the politics of the day. It was kind of a symbol for disenchantment and noncooperation.
– Jung Chang, Wild Swans (2003 ed.), pg. 287.
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