Tag: classic


What Not to Say to Your Kid

29

Jun 2006

What Not to Say to Your Kid

Browsing at the new Zhongshan Park Carrefour’s book section, I discovered this book called 父母不该对孩子说的100句话 (literally, “100 Sentences Parents Shouldn’t Say to their Children“). Since I didn’t grow up in China and I almost never watch Chinese TV, I really don’t have much of an idea of what Chinese parents say to their young children. So this book caught my attention. Some of its content is easy to anticipate, but at times also offers tidbits of social insight or even some cultural humor. I’ll share a few of the ones I found interesting (but I’ll spare you the book’s child psychology counseling).

1. 你是从垃圾堆里捡的 (We found you in a trash heap.)
I thought the stork bringing babies was kind of weird, but it’s better than this alternative. The crazy thing is that it seems that the majority of young people in China today are told this by their parents as a joke! They think it’s funny, and the kid believes it. Unbelievable.

2. 你就这成绩以后扫大街去 (With grades like this, you’re going to be sweeping streets someday.)
Apparently in China being a street sweeper is worse than being a garbage man. I think the guys that wash out the septic tank trucks down the road might envy the street sweepers, though.

3. 你怎么这么笨 (How can you be so stupid!)
Classic!

4. 你的脑袋里长草了 (You’ve got grass growing on your brain.)
Chinese caustic creativity.

5. 你看看人家的孩子 (Look at the other kids.)
One of my Chinese friends has told me that she believes that Chinese parents’ constant comparisons between their children and other children are the single most damaging thing to Chinese children’s development.

6. 千万别得罪老师 (Whatever you do, do not offend your teacher.)
Ah, Confucius would be so proud.

7. 别动,等你长大再帮我 (Don’t move. You can help me when you’re older.)

8. 你的任务就是好好学习,其他的别管 (Your job is studying. Don’t worry about anything else.)
This is why modern Chinese kids never have to do any chores or help out around the house in any way.

9. 妈帮你去说对不起 (Mommy will go say sorry for you.)
Yeah, you wouldn’t want your kid to realize he is responsible for his own actions.

10. 我没本事,咱家就看你的了 (I don’t have any real skills. Our family is depending on you.)
No pressure, though.

11. 当心,摔下来我可不管 (Be careful. If you trip, I’m not going to help you.)
Is this supposed to teach independence?

12. 那么难看,你还喜欢 (You actually like something this ugly?)
Sometimes kids need to know they have horrible, horrible taste.

13. 你哪有钱去捐款呀 (Like you have enough money to make a donation?)

14. 你在等我表扬你吗 (Are you waiting for me to praise you?)
Sometimes teaching modesty goes a little too far.

15. 那个人真不是东西 (That person is nothing.)

16. 没事,反正没人看见 (Don’t worry, no one saw us.)

17. 不准失败 (You may not fail.)

18. 你问我,我问谁 (You ask me, but then who do I ask?)
I can’t help but find the thought of saying this to a child funny.

19. 闭嘴,小孩子问那么多干嘛 (Shut up. Kids don’t need to ask so many questions.)
Ah, nipping curiosity in the bud at a young age. This helps prevent the later problem of ingenuity and/or problem-solving.

20. 别问这些不要脸的事情 (Don’t ask about such shameful things.)
Is he asking about the garbage heap, maybe?

21. 你怎么不明白我的苦心呢 (Can’t you understand how much I’ve sacrificed for you?)
The Asian parent guilt game! Gotta love it.

22. 早知道这样,当初就不该生你 (If I had known you’d turn out like this, I never would have given birth to you.)
Ouch!

Clearly, we shouldn’t be too hard on Chinese parents. They have a tough job, and they’re imperfect just like the rest of the world’s parents. But here’s hoping some of these sentences become less common in the future… for the children. (OK, sorry, I’ve never used that phrase before, and I had to do it just once.)


The Chaos Run

27

Jun 2006

The Chaos Run

On the cusp of 2000, I made my first trip to New York City with my friend Alex. We wanted to be in the most exciting place when the ball dropped in Times Square. Some people gave us dire warnings of terrorist threats or Y2K mayhem, but we weren’t worried about that. There was something alluring about the year 2000, and we were two twenty-one-year-olds that would not be stuck in Tampa for it.

For part of our adventure in New York City, we stayed with my friend Dave, a crazy budding director I had befriended in Japan. Dave was a guy that was always excited about something, that loved the 80s, that was fascinated by new toys, and that infected you with his enthusiasm as he leapt from topic to unimaginable topic. He was just the kind of person Alex and I wanted to hang out with in New York.

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal

Our actual New Year’s Eve was a wild ride, but one of the most memorable incidents for me happened well before December 31st, in Grand Central Terminal. Dave led Alex and me into the station during rush hour. The main lobby was magnificent, and it was swarming with commuters. It was at this point that Dave told us about his game.

“This is how you play,” he told us. “Just run, and don’t stop. Keep changing directions so that you don’t hit anyone. It’s a blast!”

“Wait, what?” I started. But Dave had already shot off straight into the crowd. Alex and I quickly followed suit.

We had no time to even notice the reactions of the people around us. There were so many, all melting into a blurry wall, and it was all we could do to avoid collisions as we dodged, weaved, reversed direction, and sidestepped ourselves into exhaustion. Finally we all ended up against a wall, panting and laughing. The masses continued their milling beside us.

This is the kind of thing kids do. Adults reason that it’s silly, that someone could get hurt, that it’s a waste of time. But presented with the idea in the right way, a kid will just try it. And damn, what a thrill.

The way I feel about China is much the same way. This country is like one big Grand Central Terminal. Society is milling about as it always does, but here there are a lot of people doing the chaos run. Some are natives, some are foreigners. Some of them just like the thrill, but many are out for big profits. There is no question that on this scale, the game is very dangerous. Innocent people get knocked down and bowled over. Others run themselves headfirst into walls. And yet, China’s powers of seduction remain unshaken. There’s something about this place that keeps me in a near-perpetual state of excitement. I know there are risks and sacrifices I must face for living in China long-term, and maybe I can’t do it forever, but damn, what a thrill!


27

May 2006

The Myth of Round-eye

We English speakers have at our disposal an astounding variety of racial slurs. I don’t need to give a list here; we all know it to be true. I think one of the most interesting slurs is “round-eye” because it seems to be invented by the very group of people to whom it refers.

If you’re not familiar with the term, it frequently shows up on racist websites or websites that play up the East/West divide (but not on certain ones–more on this below). It is also used seemingly innocuously at times. It’s supposed to be a term that Asians use for non-Asians.

It may be obvious to many Asians, but as a white American, I didn’t notice anything strange about the way the term is used until after living in China for some time. The truth is, I’ve never heard any Chinese (or Japanese) refer to whites or any non-Asians as “round-eyes,” in Chinese or any other language. At times non-Asians in China might get called hairy, simian, uncivilized, or even evil, but never round-eyed.

not-slanted

Asian eyes: not slanted

The reason for this is simple. While non-Asians often see Asian eyes as “slanted,” Asians do not see themselves that way. If you ask a Chinese person about the difference between Chinese and white people’s eyes, for instance, they will tell you that white people’s eyes are often blue, but Chinese eyes are “black.” In addition, white people’s eyes are usually much deeper set, and all seem to have the “double eyelids” that the Chinese find attractive. What they don’t say is that “their eyes are rounder than ours.”

I think it’s pretty obvious where this racial slur came from. The logic went something like this:

> Asians have slanted eyes, but we don’t. Asians’ most readily identifiable feature, to us, is their slanted eyes. So our most readily identifiable feature to them must be our non-slanted, or round, eyes. We can’t understand what they call us in their languages, but it’s gotta be round-eye!

The fact is that the Asians themselves just don’t see it that way. I’ll admit that I’m basing most of what I’m saying on my own personal experience in China, and to a lesser extent my experience in Japan. It’s possible that some groups of Asians use this term, maybe as a reaction to being called “slanty-eyed” by racists. However, I suspect that it is a wholly non-Asian invention, and that the most likely Asian groups to use it would be ones living as minorities in the West.


Related: Making the Chinese Face, Center of Civilization


03

Feb 2006

Remember that calendar we always use?

With Chinese New Year comes many annoyances. Nonstop fireworks for a week ranks up there pretty high. But another thing that annoys me is that during the Chinese New Year season, Chinese people lose the ability to refer to dates using the normal calendar. I use the word “normal” not in an ethnocentric way, but in the sense that it is the calendar that all of China uses for the other 50 weeks out of the year. When Chinese New Year comes around, however, attempts to use non-lunar date nomenclature result in East-West communication breakdown.

Witness:

> Me: Let’s do it on February 2nd.

> Person: I’m not free on the 4th day of the lunar new year.

> Me: OK, so is February 2nd OK then?

> Person: Is that the 4th or the 5th day of the lunar new year?

> Me: I don’t know. It’s February 2nd. February. Second.

Even bizarrer:

> Me: So can you come next Wednesday?

> Person: Wednesday? What is that, the second day of the lunar new year?

> Me: Wednesday. You know, Wednesday.

> Person: Oh wait, I think that’s the fourth day of the lunar new year…

Call me culturally intolerant, but this is super annoying. The latest casualty of this phenomenon was me missing out on a meal cooked by my awesome ayi, Xiao Wang. Oh well. She deserves another day off for the holidays anyway.

One of these years I’ll get around to realigning my temporal frame of reference to the moon just two weeks out of every year. But until then I will be annoyed for those two weeks a year.


Living in China is like an RPG

13

Jan 2006

Living in China is like an RPG

dice

nerdy RPG dice

For a foreigner, living in China can be like a (classic, non-computer) RPG. Let me count the ways…

1. It offers an escape from an ordinary, monotonous existence

2. It appeals to nerds

3. There’s more than a reasonable amount of dice rolling going on (Chinese bars)

4. Money is counted in “pieces” ()

5. The fast way to do things is “on horseback” (马上)

6. Dragons are real (恐龙, lit. “terrible dragons”)

7. Players usually enter the game with special abilities (e.g. English, foreigner charm)

8. It’s really fun at first, but can get old pretty fast

9. It takes place in a magical world where people believe in mystical concepts like qi and fengshui

10. The people take legends very seriously (even 5,000 year old ones)

11. The word “peasant” doesn’t seem out of place

12. There are plenty of barmaids in the taverns and women of ill repute on the streets

13. The background story: a legendary kingdom has fallen under the control of a powerful, malevolent force, and heroes are nowhere to be found…


Snobs in China

18

Oct 2005

Snobs in China

When I lived in Hangzhou, the “snobs” were the foreigners that lived in Shanghai and thought it was so great.

After I moved to Shanghai, the “snobs” became the foreigners in Shanghai that didn’t learn any Chinese and spent all their time and money in Western over-priced restuarants and bars.

Carl helped me realize how “snobby” I can be, towards foreigners that spend a lot of time in the bar scene (some actually are cool). They’re not all assholes.

There are so many kinds of snobs, really. (Maybe it cheapens the term to apply it so liberally, but who cares?) When I still lived in the US the ones that annoyed me the most were the music snobs. Here in China (and especially in Shanghai), there are so many other kinds of snobs to be found in the expat community…

– There are the “Real China snobs”. Their experience in China is the real one, in some part of China that the snob deems respectably “rough.” This type of snob holds nothing but contempt for the expats in Shanghai. The funny thing, is, you can find this type of snob in Hangzhou. (Life in Hangzhou is anything but “roughing it.”)
– There are the “Chinese study snobs”. They’re usually bookish and don’t openly show contempt. But they might mention that they don’t hang out with foreigners.
– There are the “I speak Chinese snobs”. They speak at least basic Chinese, and unlike the “Chinese study” snobs they do hang out with foreigners, mostly because they’re always trying to impress them with their Chinese skills. Their snobbery is only half-hearted, because they love to be needed by those without the Chinese skills. They limit their contempt for the Chinese-unequipped to occasional snide remarks.
– There are the “I am so 老百姓 snobs”. These are the opposite of the traditional snobs. They arrive in China and move right into the slums to live with their Chinese “brethren.” They get 5 rmb haircuts and eat 5-10 rmb meals, exclusively Chinese. They usually don’t show a lot of contempt for those who want normal conveniences, but neither do they recognize the absurdity of their own actions. This kind of snob is specific to big cities, but is otherwise basically the same as the “Real China” snob.

I am guessing that some of my readers find me writing about this ironic, as on more than one occasion I have been accused of being one of these types. So here’s where I’ll get honest.

I was certainly never hardcore about it, but I did feel the “Real China snob” in me resisting the move to Shanghai. I lived out my “Real China” snob fantasies in my first year in Hangzhou and when I traveled in my first 2-3 years in China.

I was sort of a “Chinese study snob” my first year in China, but that was mostly because I was poor and didn’t really know any other foreigners. I’ll admit that I am still somewhat bewildered (frustrated? shamed? saddened?) by foreigners who live in Shanghai long-term and don’t make a real effort to learn the language. I’m not sure if that makes me a snob.

Despite the occasional accusation, I don’t think I am a “I speak Chinese snob,” although certain friends of mine might say I have definitely exhibited symptoms. (It was tough love, I swear!) But yes, I speak Chinese, and not badly. If you want to label me a snob for that, have fun.

I am not a “I am so 老百姓 snob,” but I think I know a few people who exhibit symptoms.

So… how many kinds of snobs did I miss? What kind of snob are you?


06

Oct 2005

Betrayal

When I visited Yunnan in February 2003, I was, of course, interested in seeing something of the lives of the minority people that live there. I didn’t want to participate in exploitation, but I wanted to satisfy my own curiosity and learn something about their ways of life.

A unique opportunity presented itself when I had dinner with my Japanese friend at a local restaurant in Jinghong (景洪). It was one of those minority-themed restaurants you might expect to find in an area with a large minority population: the servers are of the minority, wearing traditional dress, serving traditional minority dishes (undoubtedly modified to suit Han Chinese palates). They even had minority music and did minority dances. The complete minority entertainment package designed to satisfy the Han tourist.

My friend and I arrived as the entertainment was ending. Everyone else, it seemed, was in the restaurant because that was where and when their tour group dictated they would be getting their dose of evening cultural and culinary nourishment. At the appropriate time, they all filed out. At about that time, our food was served. As we ate, the staff cleared all the other tables. We exchanged some friendly small talk.

On the way out, we passed a table where the entire staff was gathered, eating their own dinner. I noticed it was a little different from what they had been serving everyone. They explained that it was the real thing, and they invited us to join them. We had just eaten, of course, but we were delighted by their friendliness and sat down for a chat.

The next day my friend left Xishuangbanna. I had some time to kill in that area, so I found myself showing up at that restaurant at their dinnertime for several more chats. I can’t say I learned about their way of life in a way that no other tourist did; I merely talked with them on a few occasions. But they seemed to appreciate my sincere interest, and I ate up a pure friendliness unmotivated by the desire to sell me anything.

My last day in their town, I stopped by the restaurant one more time. I wanted to get a picture with them. On previous visits I had felt that it was somehow exploitative to want to take pictures of them, but I felt it was entirely harmless to take a picture with them before I left. They agreed, with an expression I couldn’t quite interpret.

After I took the picture, they asked if I would send the picture to them. I said I would. “Really?” they asked, apparently unconvinced. “Many other travellers have taken our pictures before and promised to send them to us. But they never do.” What assholes those other travellers are, I thought.

“Yes,” I told them. “I will send you the picture.”

yunnan-137


I moved from Hangzhou to Shanghai in January, 2004. I gathered a lot of papers in my stay in Hangzhou, and it all had to be sorted through before the move. On one such afternoon of tedious sorting, a tattered pink slip of paper caught my eye. Opening it up, I realized it was the address of the restaurant in Jinghong. I had carelessly misplaced it upon returning to Hangzhou, which meant I had been unable to send the photograph. But here it was!

I was about to move to Shanghai. I had a million things to do in the next 48 hours. Yet, this pink slip of paper represented an unfulfilled obligation that really bothered me. It would not be ignored or further postponed. Its time had come.

I looked at the pice of paper and remembered what the girl had said. Many other travellers have taken our pictures before and promised to send them to us. But they never do.

What assholes…

I slowly crumpled up the pink slip of paper and dropped it into the garbage bag, paused for moment, then hurriedly continuing my urgent sorting.


26

Jul 2005

Courage and Fear

Over the weekend I watched the movie Donnie Darko for the first time. I loved it. It reminded me a lot of a Murakami Haruki book, and a little bit of Slaughterhouse Five. It’s one of those pleasantly confusing stories, at once entertaining you and enriching your for the mental struggle it puts you through.

Completely by coincidence, I ended up reading The Courage to Live Consciously later the same night. I found the advice there vaguely reminiscent of Jim Cunningham‘s philosophy, only much more useful.

I found the two sources’ takes on courage and fear to be equally valid.

The Courage to Live Consciously–and this quote in particular–got me thinking about the decision to come live and work in China:

>Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.

–Erica Jong

When I was visiting the States I got to thinking about how easy and comfortable it would be to just stay in Tampa, where my friends and family are close, and just find some job to do. But that would be totally betraying my passions and my potential.

Some say moving to China to work takes a lot of courage. Numerous times, Americans from back home have told me that they admire my courage for doing what I do. But does what I do take any courage, really? I don’t see it that way.

To me, learning foreign languages and coming to China is simply a matter of doing what I like to do. I really enjoy studying Chinese, and helping other foreigners learn Chinese is something I genuinely like doing. I don’t think I deserve any special credit for doing what I like doing. If I’m hungry and I have a hamburger in front of me, am I courageous for eating it? No. That’s the way I see it.

That said, I do know that some people are living out what they feel are boring lives in the USA, Canada, or elsewhere, and they’d love to be able to move overseas and try out a new life. They see the hamburger, but they have a million reasons why they can’t eat it. Or maybe they’re afraid of what the hamburger has in it. I can’t be sure, because I’m not one of those people. I just eat the damn hamburger. I don’t think it’s courage.

Related? Those Who Dare.


23

Mar 2005

Closer Subtitle Surrealism

Everyone knows that in China piracy of American movies runs rampant. The USA acts all angry, and every now and then Beijing makes an attempt to do something about it in order to placate the WTO. Nothing new. I really couldn’t care less about Hollywood’s lost revenues. China’s pirated DVDs do affect my life in other less expected ways, however.

New American releases are obtained as early as possible and mass-produced in China quickly and cheaply. The earlier an eagerly awaited Hollywood title hits the streets in DVD form, the quicker it will be snatched up by movie fans. It should come as no surprise, then, that the quality of translation of the Chinese subtitles for these DVDs can be less than reliable. I’d say that the translations for Chinese subtitles on DVDs fit into three categories:

  1. Professional. These are usually obtained from an official source and are quite trustworthy. The Chinese is often natural and idiomatic.
  2. Hit and Miss. Whoever did the translation could understand a lot of the English dialogue and translate it with a degree of accuracy, but there are clearly some mistakes. Sometimes you can even tell what English word or phrase the translator thought he heard, based on the Chinese. This category can cause some confusion for Chinese viewers, but it’s usually good enough overall to tell the story.
  3. WTF?! For some movies (often the earliest, fuzzy camcorder pirated editions) the “translator” clearly did nothing more than guess at what the people are saying based on visual clues. This can be pretty hilarious if you can understand the original dialogue as well as the Chinese, but it must be very frustrating for the average viewer relying on the Chinese subtitles.

OK, so this whole situation is kind of funny… except for the fact that it can ruin my movie experiences. Why? Because if I’m watching an American movie with my girlfriend, she reads the subtitles. Conscientious boyfriend that I am, I can’t help but do periodic translation checks to ensure that my girlfriend is getting a decent idea of what’s going on. The more mistakes I notice, the more I pay attention to the subtitles so that I can clue her in on important dialogue. Often, before long I’m finding myself explaining the movie in Chinese instead of enjoying it. I guess I can live with that, though, since the movies cost $1 each.

But back to the absurdity of the whole thing. Can you imagine it? A Hollywood movie. The original dialogue has been chucked out the window, save for a few sturdy globs here and there. The rest of the dialogue has just been… made up. Fabricated. By some Chinese guy who’s undoubtedly poorly paid and under a lot of pressure to get the subtitles done now. And I don’t think I have to say that he’s unlikely to have a strong education in Western culture. That’s OK, he can still do subtitles for Western movies with themes ranging from terrorism to Catholic traditions to abnormal psychology. No problem.

The scary thing is that if he’s any good, some Chinese viewers might not realize they’ve been swindled. They may have gotten an alternate version of the story — which shared the same visuals as the original — that was convincing enough that they think they understood it as it was meant to be understood. “I thought the reviews said something about brilliant social commentary,” they reflect for just a few moments after finishing the movie. “Those silly Americans….”

Well, I can do more than just make suppositions, in this case. I actually transcribed a scene from a Chinese DVD copy of the Oscar-nominated film Closer. I transcribed the original English dialogue, but I also translated the Chinese subtitles into English for comparison.

closer-char

Dan’s lines are in a rich blue. Alice’s lines are in a dark pink. Since the Chinese subtitles are only a shadow of their English counterparts, Dan’s lines translated from Chinese are in a lighter blue under the original, and Alice’s lines translated from Chinese are in a lighter pink under the original. I have added a at the beginning of the translated-from-Chinese lines just to keep it as clear as possible. You’ll find that it can be a little difficult keeping the parallel (occasionally intersecting) dialogues in your head at once.

(On the bus.)

A: How did you end up writing obituaries?
A: What kinds of things do you like?

D: Well, I had dreams of being a writer…
D: I like drinking beer.

D: But I had no voice — what am I saying??
D: But I don’t drink often. Also…

D: …I had no talent. So I ended up in obituaries, which is…
D: I love singing. I can sing many songs.

D: …the Siberia of journalism.
D: …including German folk songs.

A: Tell me what you do. I wanna imagine you in Siberia.
A: I hope I’ll have a chance to hear you sing.

D: Really?
D: Really?

A: Mm.
A: Mm.

D: Well… we call it “the obits page.”
D: Well… we don’t often sing.

D: There’s three of us. Me, Graham, and Harry.
D: Because everyone is really busy.

D: When I get to work, without fail — are you sure you wanna know?
D: Especially when I’m working. Extremely busy.

(She nods.)

D: Well, if someone important died, we go to the “deep freeze.”
D: If someone died, we would sing the funeral hymn.

D: Which is, um, a computer file with all the obituaries, and we find that person’s life.
D: Although I rarely sing, singing is something I can’t do without in my life.

A: People’s obituaries are written while they’re still alive?
A: Do people like your singing?

D: Some people’s. Then Harry — he’s the editor — he decides who we’re going to lead with…
D: Some people. Sometimes we get invitations [to sing].

D: We make calls, we check facts…
D: Some are favors, some paid…

D: At six we stand around at the computer and look at the next day’s page…
D: We’re all happy to do it; the money doesn’t matter. It’s great.

D: …make final changes, add a few euphemisms for our own amusement…
D: It’s a kind of addiction. But it’s not like alcoholism.

A: Such as?
A:

D: “He was a convivial fellow.” …meaning he was an alcoholic.
D: I have a really strange friend. A homosexual.

D: “He valued his privacy.” …gay. “Enjoyed his privacy” …raging queen.
D: But he’s content with his lot in life.

A: What would my euphemism be?
A: Guess what kind of person I am.

D: “She was disarming.”
D: You’re a cute girl.

A: That’s not a euphemism.
A: I’m not cute at all.

D: Yes it is.
D: Yes, you are.

(Some time passes…)

D: What were you doing in New York?
D: What were you doing in New York?

A: You know.
A: You know.

D: Well, no, I don’t… What, were you… studying?
D: No, I don’t know. Are you… studying?

A: Stripping.
A: Struggling.

A: Look at your little eyes.
A: Your eyes are so pretty.

D: I can’t see my little eyes.
D: Your eyes are even prettier.

Impressive, no? For my own amusement, I have graphed the two dialogues below:

Closer - Graph

I should note that the whole movie was not this bad. This is a particularly WTF scene subtitle-wise. The subtitles of my copy of Closer are probably halfway between the WTF and Hit and Miss categories overall. Love stories are not so hard to figure out, but a relatively inconsequential bus ride with few context clues just unleashes the imagination of the “translator,” it would seem.

This example, I’m afraid, is by no means unrepresentative of the subtitle work provided by the hard-working DVD pirates. What are the ramifications of this? Well, it means every time I talk to a Chinese person about a movie we’ve seen separately, I feel a gap. Sure, we watched the same movie, but we may very well have experienced a somewhat different story. Exaggeration? Perhaps. But then again, maybe every scene of that movie was translated similarly to the scene above. You just don’t know. Furthermore, until this situation changes, the average Chinese citizen’s efforts at foreign film appreciation have been thoroughly sabotaged.


07

Mar 2005

Picking at Alternative Word Choice

Among students of Chinese, it’s relatively well known that Taiwan and mainland China have a few differences in terminology. Things like “peanut” and “potato” and various household appliances. Nothing to get excited about, or even very interesting. There were only two such word usage differences that I found interesting when in Taipei, Taiwan.

First is the word for “internet cafe,” which is 网吧 in mainland China. The 网 means “net” and the 吧 means “bar.” It works quite neatly. In fact, the Chinese love this “net bar” literal translation into English so much that they use it at every opportunity and even brainwash foreigners into abandoning the term “internet cafe” in favor of “net bar.” (Not me, though — I’m onto them!)

The Taiwanese don’t say 网吧, though, they say 网咖. It’s short for 网络咖啡厅 (“network cafe”), just as, presumably, 网吧 is short for 网络酒吧 (“network bar”). In this sense, the Taiwanese version is closer to the English, but I just couldn’t get used to it. For one thing, wang ka just sounds kinda ridiculous to me. For another thing, it sounds to my ears a lot like the British word wanker. Nice one, Taiwan. (The mainland term for “network card,” 网卡, sounds less to me like “wanker” because the ka is third tone rather than first.)

I just mentioned the mainland term 酒吧 up above, and that brings me to my next Taiwanese coinage. Instead of saying 酒吧 they said pa bu. This apparently has no characters (gasp!); it’s an approximation of the English word pub. Lame.

[Check out a similar rant of Micah’s on one of China’s most beloved words: 朋友! Those in China may find it more convenient to visit Micah’s RSS-aggregated entries.]

Note to my uptight commenters: the above are my opinions on language, and if you are upset by them, I don’t care.


12

Feb 2005

Taiwanese Men Bite

I’m in Taipei, staying at Wilson‘s apartment and still kinda just hanging out and getting a feel for this place. We’ll start some trips around the island tomorrow.

Some observations…

There are large men here. It used to be that back in Hangzhou I could just look for the big Chinese guy and that would be Wilson, at 6 feet 1 inch tall and 200 lbs. Here in Taipei I’ve seen quite a few guys as big as Wilson.

I’m not exactly “enchanted,” and I’m not getting many friendly vibes. Gone is the curiosity relentlessly poured on me, but in its place, at times, is something other than indifference.

My first night in Taipei I went with Wilson and Wayne to a club. I was minding my own business, but some guy (not one of the larger ones, and kind nerdy) insisted on doing the “I’m dancing here now, so you better move” thing, getting in my space. I didn’t budge, so his backside probably got a little more intimate with my leg than he intended. Next thing I knew he was yelling FUCK YOU at me, furiously giving me the finger. I laughed at him, to which he responded by throwing a glass at my head full of something that stung my eyes. In moments we were all out on the street. What happened exactly is all a blur, but it looked like Wilson dealt out some punishment to that guy while I got swarmed with security. When the taser came out, we jumped in a taxi and got out of there.

Next morning I just had a bruised hand (don’t worry, mom!), whereas Wilson had a big bruise on his waist from where the rabid guy from the club had literally bit him. Crazy. (Don’t worry, Mrs. Tai, he’s fine!)

Aside from that, Taipei is a much smaller city than I imagined, and it’s also lower tech. The Japanese influence is very obvious to me; at this superficial stage of my observations the “China-Japan fusion” view of Taiwan seems very accurate.

Lastly, sometimes when I talk to Taiwanese people and their Chinese sounds really funny, I think that they’re mocking my Chinese. But then I remember that’s just their natural accent. Oops. I’m still not used to that accent. It’s kinda cute, though.

UPDATE: Pictures of the bite are now online.


22

Dec 2004

Ding Ding Dong

The name of the Christmas song “Jingle Bells” is 圣诞铃声 (something like “Christmas Bells”) in Chinese. But the famous English refrain “jingle bells, jingle bells” in Chinese is the onomatopoeic “叮叮当, 叮叮当,” which sounds like “ding ding dong, ding ding dong” to Western ears. It doesn’t sound at all like sleigh bells ringing to us, it just sounds really funny (or maybe like doorbells). In my experience, every Westerner who learns these Chinese lyrics busts out laughing.

I tried to find a Mandarin Chinese version of “Jingle Bells” using Baidu MP3 Search. All I turned up was a version which I originally thought was Cantonese, but two Cantonese-speaking friends say it isn’t. The refrain definitely sounds like “ding ding dong” though. My guess is it’s Vietnamese. Can anyone identify the language?

I was disappointed because I can’t understand the lyrics, but I think the song may sound even funnier this way. I’m not one to mock any language, but this song — like the Chinese version — just sounds really funny, for cultural reasons, I guess. Give it a listen:

Asian Jingle Bells (1.2MB MP3 file, 64kbps)

I was able to find the Mandarin “Jingle Bells” lyrics, but they obviously don’t match up to this MP3. If you’re interested in the Mandarin version, continue reading below.

Merry Christmas!

(more…)


Rapping Flight Attendant

19

Dec 2004

Rapping Flight Attendant

Through “anonymous sources” I’ve been hearing for a while now about how unhappy the flight attendants at China Eastern are. They have little job security, their lives are not their own, and they get treated terribly by both passengers and management. Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to start pretending I’m a journalist. This is just the context which has produced the following MP3:

《旅客不是上帝》
Passengers aren’t God

(4.34 MB)

The rap is in Shanghainese, and it’s basically a flight attendant venting about passengers and their attitudes. The first verse goes something like this (my apologies in advance for the translation):

Ah, poor me, poor me
Let me sing about it like a bird (yeah)
Why are there so many morons in our society today?
They think just because they’ve got some money
They’re all big and bad
Know what pal? I can’t do everything
Don’t get on my plane and cause a big fuss
You’ll know I mean it
When I smack you upside the head
Damn, what do you want?
Filing complaints at the slightest thing
Who do you think you are?
You’re a moron (yeah), a moron

The young lady who raps in this song has quite a few other tunes as well, which have made the rounds at China Eastern and are now getting around on the Chinese internet in general. My source tells me that at first the singer succeeded in staying anonymous, but then she was caught writing lyrics on the job by co-workers. There are actually several girls involved. My source does not know of any repurcussions that the writers have suffered thus far.

I’m not going to bother translating the whole song into English, but I recommend you give it a listen. It’s really quite professionally done (a little “borrowing” from Eminem aside), and the background vocals are funny. It also has a cute ending.

Below you’ll find a Mandarin version of the lyrics which a friend wrote out for me, followed by the “Shanghainese” lyrics which were posted online. The “Shanghainese” lyrics are pretty annoying because they’re written phonetically — things like 弄 being used for 侬, 进早 for 今朝, etc. Anyway, I didn’t write any of these, so I can’t guarantee their accuracy. If anyone wants to make corrections (Naus?), they’d be welcome.

(more…)


22

Nov 2004

Modesty and Honesty

I had a full weekend, and I’m feeling a bit lazy. So rather than write about one of the new topics bouncing around in my head, I’ll make a sequel to my last entry, which generated an absolute fury of comments. I’m thinking that there may be so many at this point that some people don’t want to read any new ones.

So this entry consists mainly of a comment by Wayne (the original inspiration for the last entry):

John, you neglected to mention that we were also talking about ‘false modesty.’

The Chinese laugh at the concept of ‘false modesty.’

Here is some more food for thought.

Suppose Garry Kasparov (the great Chess champion) walks into the room and a journalist asks him, “Garry, are you a talented chess player?”

And Garry responds, “I am so-so.”

Question: Did Garry just lie?

It is quite obvious that Garry’s chess ability is better than ‘so-so.’ He is in fact not telling the truth because his ability is far beyong ‘so-so.’ Therefore, it is fair to declare Garry a liar, i.e. he is not telling the truth.

However, most Chinese would think it is absurd to say that Garry is lying because being modest exempts one from lying!

Hmmm, I guess the question here is: did the journalist honestly not know how good Garry was, and if not, did Garry know (or suspect) this? That would make the difference between an intent to deceive and polite modesty.

On the subject of modesty, I find Chinese modesty tiring. I know that it’s an important part of their culture, so I do my best to adopt it. But I feel so fake deflecting compliments with formulaic responses every time when I’d rather just smile and say thank you.

Some Chinese people would probably argue that it’s perfectly fine for me to just say thank you, that nowadays some Chinese people do that. But I feel like it’s not the norm, and I don’t want to just play my foreigner card; I’d like to handle these social situations the Chinese way when possible.


18

Nov 2004

Versions of Truth

My friend Wayne (no, not that Wayne) is a great source of interesting conversation topics. The other day he and I were eating at a Turkish restaurant by Xiangyang Market with two friends. One friend was a Chinese girl, and the other was a Chinese American girl. Wayne suddenly asked us this question: “Have you ever noticed that the Chinese and Westerners seem to have different concepts of truth?

Of course we wanted to know what he meant by that. His reply: “OK, let’s do a test. Here we have two girls, one Chinese and one Western. I’ll prove my point with a question. Suppose John had two eggs for breakfast. I ask him what he had for breakfast, and he tells me three eggs. Did he lie?

The Chinese girl, after a few moments’ thought, replied “no.”

The American girl immediately answered, “of course.”

We were impressed. His question demonstrated his point beautifully. We concluded what Wayne probably already had: that the Western concept of a “lie” is based on a concept of objective truth independent of human intent, whereas the Chinese (and perhaps Asian in general) concept depends on a human intent to deceive.

To the American, saying I had three eggs when I actually had two is a lie simply because two does not equal three. My intent is irrelevant.

To the Chinese, it’s ridiculous to call this statement a lie because it wasn’t outright deception. I didn’t stand to benefit from the inaccuracy, and no one would be harmed by it either.

I don’t doubt that philosophers and anthropologists have already been all over this issue, but I’ve never paid a great deal of attention to that kind of thing. I think most attempts to reveal how fundamentally different two cultures are amount to mostly a load of bunk. I’m more of the school of thought that believes cultural differences are interesting, not dividing. I believe division comes mainly from ignorance and miscommunication between cultures.

But then something like this comes along, and it’s right in front of my eyes in black and white, and I’m left a little stunned. I wonder what subtle ripples of this “fundamental difference” have affected me. I probably haven’t even noticed.


13

Oct 2004

Hospital Acupuncture

Recently I mentioned that I had been in the hospital. I’ll share some of that experience now.

The reason I went to the hospital is that over the past year I have developed a case of varicose veins in my right leg, behind the knee. I’m not crazy about going to the doctor in China, but since it has definitely gotten worse over the past year, I decided it was time to have it looked at. There’s an “international” hospital near me I’ve gone to before that seems very clean and professional, so I decided to go there again.

When I showed up at reception they asked me in English what trouble I was having. I had done my homework, so I told them in Chinese that I thought I had varicose veins (静脉曲张). That sure surprised them. I guess they don’t get many Chinese-speaking foreigners, let alone ones that diagnose themselves in technical terms using Chinese.

The doctor took a look and did a few simple tests. She concluded I had varicose veins in my right leg. She sent me down to another floor for a more thorough ultrasound examination to make sure I didn’t have any major problems with other veins or arteries inside either of my legs.

So then they put some clear gooey stuff not unlike vaseline jelly on their ultrasound probe and ran it over various parts of my leg. The woman running the ultrasound machine was communicating the results with another woman in Shanghainese, so I couldn’t understand a lot of what they were saying. But I sure perked up when she started giving special attention to my left leg (the one that was fine) and saying “wa te le,” which is Shanghainese for 坏掉了 or “it’s gone bad.” She was saying that one of my blood vessels in my left leg had gone bad, which, it’s safe to say, pretty much freaked me out.

I went back to the first doctor, and she interpreted the ultrasound results. “You have varicose veins, but your deep vessels are fine,” she told me.

“But the lady downstairs running the ultrasound machine said that one of my blood vessels in my left leg had gone bad!”

“Really?” She looked at the test results again, frowned, and excused herself to make a phone call.

I grabbed the test results and took a look myself. They seemed to indicate that everything was normal.

The doctor returned, telling me, “no, your deep blood vessels are all fine.” That was a relief, but I felt like going back downstairs and smacking that other woman.

That resolved, the doctor finally got to the bottom line. “Your varicose veins are not serious enough for surgery. They won’t get better, but you can do some things to prevent them from getting worse. You’re not in pain, so there’s no reason for surgery, but if they do ever get really bad, surgery is an option.”

“Is that surgery expensive?”

“Well, what do you consider expensive?”

“I don’t know… about how much does it cost??”

“Around 20,000 rmb [$2,500 US].”

The things I could do were (1) avoid standing for long periods of time, (2) wear an elastic band around my leg, (3) take the medicine they gave me, (4) — optionally — acupuncture.

acupuncture

The doctor told me she didn’t know how I felt about acupuncture, but that it could possibly help my condition. They had their own acupuncture specialist there in the hospital, and I could have my first session right away if I wanted to try it.

I think I’m a pretty open-minded individual, but I’m definitely skeptical about a lot of Chinese medicine. Still, I don’t lump acupuncture together with tiger penis soup and that sort of “Chinese medicine.” After having been told that my condition wouldn’t get better, I was eager to try something that might help. So I agreed to it.

A nurse guided me into the acupuncture room. She had learned that I spoke Japanese, and for some reason liked to talk to me in Japanese. So, with a douzo (“please”) I was ushered into the acupuncture room.

The acupuncture doc was a thin, oldish Chinese man. He seemed very confident. He asked me to lie face down on the bed. It was one of those beds with a hole for your face so you don’t suffocate. Then he asked me not to move.

The doctor proceeded to insert five disposable acupuncture needles into each of my legs behind the knee. The first few in my left leg I hardly felt. Then he stuck one into the nerve. I felt like a powerful electric shock was surging through my lower leg, from the knee down. My leg jerked wildly, but I managed to restrain the rest of my body.

“Ah, you’re sensitive,” the doc observed. Cute.

The right leg went a little more smoothly, but there was still a bit of discomfort accompanied by an involuntary jerk when he inserted the needle into the nerve.

The needles inserted, I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t sure what was next, but I figured the worst was over.

Then, to my horror, the doc brought out some clunky electrical device and started hooking it up to the needles. “You may feel a little something,” he told me as I braced myself.

I was not at all prepared for the electric shock that came next. It was even more powerful than the insertion of the needle, and my leg went into involuntary spasms. I think I might have cried out a little. The doctor quickly turned down the voltage, but not before I decided that he was an evil, evil man and I hated him. He then repeated the process with the other leg, the second electric shock being just a bit less violent than the first.

He adjusted the voltage so that the current kept my legs involuntarily twitching, nonstop. It was very uncomfortable. It kind of felt like I had had too much caffeine and was all jittery, but I couldn’t move around and work off the energy. Plus I was very conscious of the feeling that there was an electrical current running through each of my legs. Twitch, twitch, twitch went my legs.

I was able to bear it, though. I asked the doc how long he needed to leave the power on. I figured I could handle five minutes of it. “Half an hour,” he said cheerfully as he left the room.

Needless to say, it was a very long half hour. I can tell you from experience, your body doesn’t get used to an electrical current flowing through it. My legs twitched nonstop for the whole 30 minutes. The doctor put on some classical music, but it just seemed to taunt me.

By the end of that treatment, I was sure I would not be back for more acupuncture. It also turned out to cost way more than I had understood. 400 rmb ($50 US) for each session! Not continuing the acupuncture treatments was the easiest decision I’ve made in a while.


20

Jul 2004

China’s Solar Visor Craze

China is currently in the midst of a new headwear craze. It’s like a typical sun visor with a swivel down piece of dark transparent plastic which shades the face from the summer sun’s harsh glare. The protective plastic can serve as an extended visor (up), or sort of a whole-face “sunglass mask” (down). See the pictures below, modeled by yours truly. I’m not entirely sure what to call the new hat-like apparel.

John: Visor Up John: Visor Down

The Chinese just call them 太阳帽, which could be literally translated as “sun hat” and my (normally awesome) good dictionary lists as “sun-helmet.” The thing is, I’ve been in China nearly four years, and I can assure you that this is an entirely new product, so the dictionary term can’t possibly apply in more than a very general way. Anyway, I can’t call these new “sun-helmet” things “sun visors” because that name is already taken by the traditional sun visors without the crazy swivel-down tinted plastic piece. So I’m calling them “solar visors.”

The whole point of this post is that China is going nuts over these solar visors. Like I said, as far as I know, they weren’t even around before this summer, and now I see them everywhere. They’re particularly popular among the bicycling crowd. Russell just got back from trips to Beijing and Sichuan, and he said they were all over there too. These solar visors are taking the country by storm. And they’re just so tacky. But practical. The Chinese go for practical.

Here are a few shots I took last Saturday of the Solar Visor Madness coursing through the streets of Shanghai these days, and, indeed, possibly all of China:

Solar Visor Madness

I hope you’re thinking, “wow, those look really ridiculous.” Because that’s the idea. It’s madness! But it’s kinda fun.

Why do the solar visors look so ridiculous on people in the street? Perhaps they remind you of something? Here are two possibilities:

othermasks

Of course, it’s not the entire country that has gone mad. A lot of people stick to more traditional (and sometimes quite creative) methods of protecting themselves from the sun:

sunprotect

I just stick to sunglasses, myself. After taking my pictures I gave my own solar visor away to someone who would use it for more than a blog entry. It cost me 7 rmb (less than $1 US).

Have you seen these things before? If not, you probably will soon.


Update: You can buy these on Amazon.


23

Jun 2004

To Stay

This last time that I went home for a visit was a special one. Not because of who I saw or what I did, but because of the message I bore with me that time. It was a message that was a long time in the making, slowly gaining substance and taking on a concrete form. It was a message that had to be shared with my family, and I wanted it to be done in person.

In the very beginning, when I first decided to go to China, I told people that I planned to stay for a year or two, to get a feel for the language. In reality, I knew it would be longer than a year, and likely longer than two. I had experienced life abroad in Japan, and I liked it. I knew any proficiency in Chinese would take time, but I also had a special feeling about China, even before I had ever been there. Still, I didn’t really expect anyone to understand those things. It seemed best to keep telling everyone that I planned to stay for a year or two.

Well, year two came and went, and as I expected, I was not ready to leave China. Friends back home would ask how long I intended to remain over there. I usually gave an elusive “maybe another year.” I didn’t want to say that I had no idea when I would be ready to leave. That would make it seem like I had no direction. The truth of the matter was that the longer I stayed in China, the more direction I felt I had. But again, I found it hard to explain. “Maybe another year” was an easy answer, and most people didn’t really need to know anyway.

Still, I had conflicts. I knew that my main interest was Applied Linguistics, and the program at UCLA looked appealing. I knew I could get in and do well in that program, and I wanted a Masters from an American university. But what after? It seemed logical that after I had my degree it would be time to settle back down to life in the United States, time to “get a real job.” The only problem was that I was not ready to leave my life in China behind, and that was what going for the degree seemed to represent for me.

The summer of 2003 a friend who was also teaching English visited me from another part of China. We got to talking about our lives in China and our plans for the future. What he said shocked me. “I’m staying here. I’m going to make a life for myself in China.” Up to that point, I had never seriously considered such an option. It was a possibility I would mull over for some time.

Throughout my own confusion, I had no problem giving friends vague answers, because the truth of the matter was that my own plans were still pretty vague too. I longed to share some of my thoughts with my family, but I wanted to sort everything out for myself first. The question I found to be the hardest to bear, though, was one that I really only got when I visited home. It was always asked innocently, yet in complete earnestness, and it pinched my heart every time. It was my mother’s quiet, “John, when are you coming home?”

I think it was that question, more than anything, that put definite pressure on me to adopt a real plan in lieu of a “take things as they come” philosophy. I needed to know for myself too.

I weighed the factors. What did the USA hold for me? Family. Old friends. A miserable job market. What did China hold for me? Passion in my life. Excitement. A society that would never fully accept me. The possibility of a real, promising career in the very field I was into. And a love relationship I was not willing to leave behind.

I think it’s obvious which I chose. Yet to feel good about it, I felt that I really needed my family’s full support. I knew my sisters would support me, and that my parents would tell me they wanted me to follow my dreams, but I wanted more than that. I wanted them to understand why I was doing it, and I wanted them to support me with their hearts, because I already found it so difficult to see them a little older every time I went home. The years before they’re actually old were dwindling, and I couldn’t continue my life in China and be with them at the same time. I didn’t want there to be any resentment or disappointment on anyone’s part that I had spent those years in China.

On my recent visit home I had a talk with my family. It was really hard for me to do. And they gave me the support I hoped for. I know that they’ll miss me as I do them, but they understand what I’m doing, and they would never ask me to do anything other than that which I love.

Now I am ready to confidently proceed with my life and my career in China. I still plan to go to graduate school in Applied Linguistics, but it will be in Shanghai, in Chinese. My life here is more full of promise than ever.

And when people ask me how long I’ll be in China, I know my answer.

Indefinitely.


22

May 2004

The Name Nazi Defied

Some time ago I become known as the “Name Nazi” at ZUCC, the school in Hangzhou where I used to teach. Allow me to explain.

If you know anything at all about teaching in China, you know that Chinese students usually have English names. You also know that the names they choose are often ridiculous, bizarre, and/or funny. A few real-life examples: Fantasy (boy), No-No (girl), Snoopy (girl), Icy Cat (boy), Shiny (girl).

After grinning and bearing it for two years, I decided not to put up with these names anymore. When students I taught had ridiculous English names, I told them they had to change their name. They would often protest, saying they had used the name for years already. I would tell them, “well, you can keep it, but you can’t use it in my class. Pick a real name.” Then I would hand them a big long list of popular baby names that they could choose from.

I would try to win them over with reason. My reasons are below.

Why Choosing a Silly English Name is not a Good Idea

  1. If you ever go overseas, you will be laughed at. You’ll think it’s funny at first, but you’ll eventually realize your English name is stupid and change it. Why not sooner than later? Save yourself the grief.
  2. How people are named in a language is a part of the culture. By ignoring this process, you are completely disregarding a part of the culture. While this may not be outright offensive to native speakers, it certainly isn’t impressive. Why not take the chance to learn about the culture of the language you’re studying?
  3. Names are chosen in a certain way. We choose names from baby name books, relatives, movie stars. We do not choose names from dictionaries or take the names of cute cartoon characters. Just as Chinese people would never choose a name like 孙悟空 or 烤面包 for their babies, you shouldn’t do it in English either. It’s not impossible to create a good English name, but it’s also not an easy thing to do, and if you’re not a native speaker, you probably cannot judge what sounds good and what doesn’t.
  4. Names are a kind of vocabulary. When you hear “Mary” you know instantly that it’s a woman’s name because you learned it long ago as a woman’s name. You know it’s not a verb, or an adjective, or any noun other than a person. It’s firmly in your “name vocabulary.” The more English names you hear with frequency, the bigger your “name vocabulary” grows. This is an important part of your English development. Your classmates’ English names should all be contributing positively to your “name vocabulary,” not junking it up with ridiculous non-names.

So those are my reasons. That’s why I’m the Name Nazi. People say I take the issue too seriously, but honestly, you really do get tired of the stupid names after a few years, and my class is not playtime. I’m a serious teacher, so I expect my students to take learning English seriously in my class. And that includes names. We have fun in my classes, but not by calling each other stupid English names.

Flash forward to last week. Gwyneth Paltrow recently had a baby girl and named it Apple. Apple!!! What a dumb name! (Other people agree with me on this one.) “Apple” is one of the non-names I used to forbid during my tenure at ZUCC, and for some reason Chinese girls used to looove to choose that name. And now Gwyneth is directly attacking my efforts! Arrgh!

At my new job I continue the mission of the Name Nazi. Many of these Chinese kids get their English name in kindergarten. I’m making sure none of the teachers are assigning ridiculous names (and oh, you better believe they were). The source I use for “good names” is the Social Security Online Baby Name page. It’s great.


Speaking of names, I recently discovered a new Japanese band with a pretty cool name (keep in mind the guys who named the band are not native speakers of English). Asian Kung-Fu Generation. No, you haven’t had enough of emo, because Japan is not through with it yet! They have pretty cool retro style artwork on their CDs too. Check out this song called 君という花 (A Flower called You).


21

Apr 2004

When Culture Lets Go

For this month of April, Wilson has been visiting me, staying at my place. As with any close friend, he’s more than just fun to hang out with; he provides me with new ideas to think over. He inspires me. Our conversations cover a broad range of topics, but they usually center on China. On us, and why we’re here. And on where all this is going.

After staying in Hangzhou, China for a year and a half, Wilson returned to an America he has discovered he’s pretty unsatisfied with. There’s one sentence he keeps repeating. America is culturally bankrupt.

wilson134x100

Wilson

In our many discussions, when Wilson refers to characteristics of life in the States, I can’t help but think that what he really means is life in California. California has a distinct subculture of its own, one that I associate especially closely with materialism and narcissism. But then, I’ve never really spent any time in California, and to be honest, I haven’t spent enough time in the United States in the past four years to be any real authority on current cultural trends. Regardless, one thing is clear: the lives we imagine ourselves living back in the United States right now are unfulfilling.

If it’s merely materialism we’re shunning, however, you’d think that Shanghai would be the last place either of us would want to settle. The scramble for wealth in all its forms here is nauseatingly apparent. But we don’t feel such a steely grip on our souls here. Why?

You could say that living in China has been sort of an “out of culture experience.” We have left our cultural bodies back home to float over here for a look. The result is that not only do we gain an outsider’s perspective on what’s going on in China, but we can view much more objectively what’s going on back home, and how we’re enveloped in it.

Change is unavoidable in any society. In China, it’s coming in a raging torrent, but we actually feel like we can be part of what’s directing the flow. That’s exciting. In the United States, the change feels much more sluggish, but it nevertheless seems to sweep us all away along with it, like drowning rats.

Living outside of one’s home culture just feels empowering to us. We feel much more capable of rejecting the values with which we disagree, both those from back home as well as those from China.

In spite of all these feelings, we can’t deny that it is American culture that shaped us. And we’re grateful for that. But there comes a time when you have to gather what you’ve gained and spread your wings. I like where I’ve come to rest. Like I said, the view is great.

NOTE: Those that like reading about cultural issues regarding Americans and Chinese should definitely take a look at an excellent new blog called Zai Mei Guo. It deals especially with stereotypes.



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