seoul_skyI am now in Korea. The first reason I came here is not embarrassing – I missed my friends. However, the reason I missed my friends here so much is because I felt lonely in Hong Kong. This is a bit embarrassing. Although the Hongkongese are also Chinese, I don’t feel the same kinship with them as I do with the Koreans, who are foreigners, but folks with whom I feel close.
The reasons I find it difficult to make friends (not acquaintances) in Hong Kong are complicated. Although the Hongkongese still write and speak in Chinese, they were greatly influenced by the British. Hence, they are quite different from others residing on mainland China. In traditional Chinese culture, “qing (情)” is very important. It emphasizes the importance of relationships among people, placing importance on taking care of each other. The existence of “qing” appears to be the main difference between traditional Chinese culture and Western culture. The Chinese generally feel comfortable in the culture of “qing.” That’s why many Chinese in western countries miss their life on the mainland, although the living conditions in western countries might be much better than on the  mainland.
Koreans, influenced by traditional Chinese culture, often adhere to Chinese traditions more than modern Chinese do. Thus, it is easy to feel the “qing” among Koreans and it is often easier to make friends with Koreans. For that reason, I miss Korea.
Another reason why it is difficult to make friends in Hong Kong is because of a lack of tea friends in Hong Kong, although I have no doubt there are tea people somewhere there. I have visited the tea houses of Hong Kong looking for tea people. Although there are many nice tea houses, their owners do not treat people equally. During a recent visit to a Hong Kong tea house, I was ignored because I suspect it was obvious that I was from the mainland. Western people were made to feel more welcome. Therefore, I found making tea friends a challenge in Hong Kong. So although I am Chinese and speak the same language as others around me, the “ging” I long for is not present.
That is not the case in Korea, where I have felt much more at home, even during my short stay. In addition to my tea friends, I also have two non-tea friends with whom I have spent time before in Korea. Before I contacted my tea friends, I contacted my non-tea friends. They were happy to hear I was coming to Korea, but they have both been too busy to meet me. I believe that it is true, but it is hard to believe that people are too busy to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea together. We had a good friendship before. Maybe it is past for them. Or maybe they still regard me as a friend, but less important than other things in their lives, such as going to church.
However, I feel fortunate that my tea friends have always had time to meet an old friend. Thanks to my tea friends, I have not had to stay in any hotels during this trip. In Seoul, I stayed at a tea friend’s tea center, meeting with tea friends every day. Now I am in Jinju, where some other tea friends have been so warmhearted that they fought for me to stay with them: “Lisa, please stay at my house!” “No, Lisa, her house is not bigger than mine, you should stay at my house!” In Boseng, there are already tea friends waiting for me. Because of my tea friends, Korea is the right choice for me to visit this summer.
Sometimes, I cannot help thinking why the same Koreans who emphasize “qing” practice it based on their interests and the “value” of each friendship. Is it worth the time and energy to spend an afternoon with a particular person, or is it more important to engage in other activities? The nice thing about relationships among tea people is that they are based on the pure “qing,” without any expectations. We just enjoy tea time and meeting people who enjoy tea. The tea people in Korea are often Buddhists practicing tea rituals. The idea of impermanence in Buddhism and the principle of “a unique meet for never” permeate the thoughts of tea people, leading to behaviors that are welcoming regardless of one’s background. What is better than enjoying time together with fellow tea people and treasuring the moment?