Neighbors

The concept of neighbor has somehow changed, for me at least. I mean it is different in the States than in my hometown where I grew up. The dynamics between neighbors are completely different. When I was young, we lived in places with communal restrooms and communal kitchens. When I was in middle school, my family was upgraded to a place with private restroom for each family and private little kitchen area, but nobody used the private kitchen area as a kitchen–instead it was frequently used as a dining place. Each family would put their honeycomb briquet stove–a little stove about one and half feet tall with honeycomebed coal bricks stacked up as fuel– in the communal corridor outside. Before lunch or dinner time, a parade of people would be standing in the corridor in the open air to cook. Inevitably in such a communal setting things could get lost and neighborly quarrels would rise. The coal bricks, the tongs to pick up the hot bricks, the pot left on the stove could each became the target of thievery. Now that I think of it, I am actually surprised that there’s not more thefts happening in such an environment. Neighbors are people locked in a forever fight and assist and fight. When my parents went away for reasons I can’t remember now, I staid with our neighbors and played with their daughter’s toys. So neighbors are essentially like relatives who live close by. My best friends Li and Yin and me lived at the same building–they are closer to me than any of my relatives.

I heard a lot of stories about neighbors from my friends and acquaintances in New Jersey. What can one do when your neighbor blows dry leaves to your front yard, when the garbage bin is pushed over the property line. I was a little shocked to learn that sometimes the police was called on neighborly disputes, complaints filed at the township, even revenge plans hatched. I just think that if I were in my friends’ situation, I probably would think the same. However I am not living in a house and can only listen to their story with polite reciprocating comments. I had not known that such small daily annoyances can send people’s emotion to such a high level. It reminds me something in the Bible on neighbors–neighbors should love each other or something to that effect. I am not religious–or probably I am a little bend on Buddhism, but not really devout or practicing.

Now my friend was asking me for advice on his neighbor. This is different and my polite comments of nothingness cannot serve the purpose. I have to get serious on my advice. He was saying that his neighbor was picking up garbage on her lawn and throwing them to his lawn. Should he confront her or not? I said if you see with your own eyes that she’s doing that, you can tell her to stop. If not, you can’t since you don’t have the evidence. He was very upset since this neighbor has been quite arrogant and did some minor injuries here and there before, though those injuries are almost all out of selfishness rather than deliberate malice. I think my friend is more angry about his neighbor, who lives alone, being arrogant than anything else. I told him that he gets what he deserves, which did not amuse him. Not that I don’t sympathize a friend. I have plenty of sympathy for people in trouble, especially immigrants. However in his case, he really deserves it to some extent. He likes to live in those uppity areas with overpriced real estate, manicured neighborhood, a little vertical elevation above the surrounding zipcodes. I am not saying he is rich or anything–he is a typical middle class. I really can’t write about my true opinion about snobbish people since I might injure people I know. How can I express my true opinion without injuring those people is something I have always strived and have never achieved. For example, Charles Dickens, who wrote about inequality and still managed not to offend the upper class. For example, Nora Ephron, who is not shy about her elite status, but managed not to offend poor immigrants like me.

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