“ON FRIENDSHIP & FRIENDSHIPOLOGY” by Jana McBurney-Lin – New Years Day 2021

Jana with husband Hui Hui Lin

Several months ago, BIlly asked if I would write something about friendship. You would think that, given all the intervening time (slowed to molasses by Covid), I had written a book by now.  Yet, I still struggle. I spent a third of my life in Asia, and have traveled to lots of new places, made many new friends. Yet, I can’t define friendship. With each new connection, the definition is massaged into something different:


In the 80s, I lived in Japan. One weekend, I was planning a party with a Canadian friend.  I had different categories for different people. There were the people I knew from church, my publishing-company colleagues, random acquaintances, Japanese people who didn’t speak English, foreigners who didn’t speak Japanese, etc. Which group should I invite?

“All of them,” my friend advised. “They may not be from the same group, but they will find a way to relate.”

And they did.


In 2000, I returned to the U.S. with my family: a husband originally from China, and our four children. Fast-forward to 2016. My youngest daughter came home from school saying her friend had called her –well, I won’t repeat it. I don’t want to give it life again. Still, as the result of the nastiness hurled at my daughter (and because she wouldn’t allow me to “make it worse” by talking to the mother), I started a blog called Bridgeoverthepacific.blogspot.com. I interviewed other Chinese-Americans to explain where they came from, why, and what amazing things they had contributed to America.

One woman I interviewed, Gerry Low-Sabado, was  a 5th generation Chinese-American, who took me on the historical journey of her ancestors in Monterey. Everywhere we went, and I mean EVERYWHERE, she reached out to talk to others, to find out their story, to share hers. She said that she couldn’t be on a schedule, as it would restrict her ability to get to know other people. It was then I noticed quite starkly that I move with ME in mind, and am stingy with my time. I fill each minute with my own busy-ness…and talking to others gets in the way of that.


My husband and I are from very different worlds. I grew up in the midwest of America. He grew up in the south of China. I grew up eating TV dinners. He grew up eating whatever grew in the village gardens. I grew up believing in Santa Claus. He grew up believing in KuanYin. Still, despite our numerous differences, we have a similar set of basic values, similar sense of humor.  


When my youngest was in middle school, an online chat group of parents started. One afternoon, the chat was abuzz with a sighting of a pervert hanging around one of the bus stops. A stranger. Looked suspicious. Leered at children as they disembarked. This went on for hours. Then the man entered the chat.

 “Sorry,” this pervert said. “It was my daughter’s first day riding the bus. I wasn’t sure when she would arrive, but wanted to be there when she got off.”

I can only imagine if this communication had not happened. The spiral of panic could have led to a town council meeting with parents demanding volunteers standing guard at each bus stop.


Over the years, my definition of friendship has morphed in different ways, as the world and I change. These days, as I wash and fold masks for the first time in all my decades on earth, I sense that I’ve reverted back to square one.  I’m back to talking about people in categories: high risk or safe.  I’m back to judging: “Why isn’t that idiot wearing a mask?” I’m back to ignoring strangers in public—every encounter feels like a gamble. My world has been whittled down to Zoom conferences, and the occasional hike with old friends (wearing masks, walking 6 feet apart). I realize that the only definition of friendship that endures—whether it is person to person or country to country– is that of common values. Yet, I also realize that it is only by not judging, by reaching out and communicating, that I am able to discover those threads of commonality. In this strange state of the world, I will have to work overtime to do so.


Jana  McBurney-Lin


Accomplished writer and editor, with 32 years experience working with more than 40 different publications in seven countries. Authored two award-wining novels:

            Blossoms and Bayonets, (2012, Redwood, ISBN 9780988494008)

            My Half of the Sky, (2006, KOMENAR, ISBN 0977208117).

Fifteen years of living overseas, and extensive international travel experiences, have contributed to a well-rounded perspective from which to edit and write.  Fluent in English, intermediate knowledge of spoken Japanese and Mandarin.


California Writer’s Club, member since 1999. President, 2001-05.   

  National League of American PEN Women, member since 2006

   U.S.-China People’s Friendship Assoc., member since 2007, President 2013-15