Tag: John B


Apr 2006

Successful Beer Bartering


satellite dish = beer

Thanks to Dan of Shanghaiist who spread word of my “satellite TV for beer” deal, yesterday I successfully traded a satellite dish with box for 4 cases (96 bottles) of Sol beer. Lenny and John B can verify that the Sol is much tastier than the satellite dish could ever be. Thanks also to Peter for his generous bid.

I’m leaving for the States tomorrow for a two week visit. Will there be any beer left when I get back? Hmmm…

This visit home is a first in a way because of the awesome deal I got on my plane ticket. It’s the first time I have paid less than 8000 rmb for a round-trip plane ticket to Tampa–I only paid 5600 rmb! It’s also the first time I’ll have less than two connecting flights. This is the simplest (best) route I’ve ever taken: Shanghai – Chicago – Tampa. The American Airlines direct flight from Shanghai to Chicago just started.

Anyway, if posts are light, it’s because I’m busy trying to gain 10 pounds in 2 weeks.


Feb 2006

Irate Football Fan

Two weeks ago was “Super Bowl Monday.” At 6am John B and I caught a taxi to Windows Scoreboard, the place the Carl said would be “the place” to catch the big game. Well, “the place” insofar as it’s a pretty decent sports bar, beer is cheap (in the Windows tradition), and you can even get a decent American breakfast for a reasonable price. Plus they were showing the Super Bowl through satellite TV, so we didn’t have to put up with that outrageous 15-second delay.

I’m not a big sports fan at all, but I enjoy a good football game from time to time. I’d never started drinking so early before, and it was a good reason to hang out with John B and Carl, my former roommate I hadn’t seen in a while.

Excited by the breakfast food which Carl assured us would be very tasty, I ordered a 30 rmb omelette with cheddar, bacon, onions, and tomatoes. I was really looking forward to that.

When we arrived at 6:30am, the place was fairly crowded, and breakfast orders were flying. I waited a good while for that omelette, and I was getting hungry. (Plus, like a wuss, I wanted to eat before I started on my beer.) At one point I decided to go up to the bar and check on my order.

There was a foreigner in front of me trying to put in a food order. He got the extremely busy waitress’s attention and started giving her his order (in English). She gave him an embarrassed laugh and told him she didn’t understand (in Chinese). The guy tried again (in English). She apologized again (in Chinese) and started to leave. I sympathized with the guy, because the bartender could take his English order, but the bartender was really busy too, and so the foreigner might have to wait another while just to put his order in, let alone actually eat. So I stepped in and told the guy I’d translate for him. I started telling the waitress in Chinese what the guy wanted.

The foreigner did not like that. He gave me a nasty, “I’d like to order my own damn food, if that’s OK with you.” So I immediately backed off and left the guy alone. I eventually got my omelette and it was goooood. (More memorable than the Super Bowl, in fact.)

So what was the guy’s deal? My interpretation is that the guy was just in a bad mood (maybe he was a Seahawks fan?), but maybe not… I wonder how many other foreigners would be pissed off by what I did. It’s been my experience that any newcomers with no language skills are typically grateful in a situation like that. But maybe the guy has been in Shanghai a while and he’s pissed off that he still can’t order food, and thought I was trying to show off? If the guy was trying to order food in broken Chinese but the waitress couldn’t understand him, I could understand how he would get pissed at me for butting in. I wouldn’t have said anything in a case like that. But he wasn’t speaking any Chinese at all.

I find these multilingual/cross-cultural exchanges and all the emotion-laden sociolinguistic baggage they come with to be very interesting.


Jan 2006

No Wendy's in China


Wendy’s Ad

While reading an article (via John B’s latest blog) about how awesome my alma mater is at basketball this season, I came across this Wendy’s ad.

My first thought was, “Wendy’s would have a hard time succeeding in China.”

My second thought was, “I hope, for the sake of my own health, that Wendy’s never comes to China.”


Jan 2006

My Ayi Crush

About a month after saying goodbye to Zhou Ayi (the housekeeper that went bad), I found a better job that once again enabled me to be home evenings for a cooking ayi. I was not at all discouraged by my previous bad experience; I was ready for a new ayi (and so was the apartment).

I used the “agency method.” When I walked into the little office, there was a woman at a desk, several middle-aged woman sprawled across chairs around the room, and a youngish woman knitting in the corner. The woman at the desk ventured a cautious ni hao at me, and 5 minutes later, after paying a one-time 30 RMB administrative fee, I was talking to my new ayi. She was the one in the corner knitting.

My new ayi was in her thirties, a little too young to be an “ayi” really, since someone you address as “ayi” is usually roughly in your mother’s generation. She wanted me to call her Xiao Wang.

Xiao Wang was from China’s northeast, from a town outside Harbin. She spoke with a fairly strong Dongbei accent, but I didn’t find her hard to understand. I’ve always found the Dongbei cadence to be rather amusing, so while I can’t consider it “normal,” I still like hearing it from time to time. Maybe it was partly because of my last experience, but I was soon crazy about my new ayi.

Don’t get the wrong idea, now… at no time were there any inappropriate thoughts. It was just that to me, Xiao Wang was everything I thought an ayi should be. And I was so relieved to have a great ayi in charge of the housework once again that even her faults somehow seemed endearing. It was a kind of crush, all right.

Some of Xiao Wang’s qualities:

– She actually gets dishes clean.
– Her cooking is not oily.
– She never makes just qingcai. She adds hot peppers to them. Tasty!
– She talks with that great accent, with the wrong tone on the occasional word.
– If you ask her not to clean/tidy an area, she stays well away. (She never goes in Lenny’s room… hehe)
– She forgets things a lot. (The first week, she forgot to bring the new mop three days in a row.)
– She gets food for cheap. She knows, for example, that vegetables are cheaper at noon than in the evening, and cheaper on weekdays than on weekends (and takes advantage of that fact). Our food bill is now less than half what it was under Zhou Ayi.
– She voluntarily writes down all her expenses for me — every single item she buys.
– She makes authentic Dongbei dumplings for us and calls it a meal. (She even made enough to freeze a bunch to eat later.)
– She throws carrots into a lot of dishes that I’ve never known to have carrots.
– She has no watch and forgets to check the time, so she frequently stays past the two hour mark. I often find myself urging her to get on home to her family.
– She makes good kung pao chicken — without those annoying tofu pieces that get in the way of the meat.
– She almost always arrives 10 minutes late, and apologizes every time.
– She refuses to taste her own food, relying on my description of the taste to make any changes to a recipe.
– She keeps the house really clean.
– She doesn’t know how to use her cell phone except to make and receive calls. (I thought I’d do her a favor and teach her how to use her phone to receive and send text messages, but then I discovered that “Bird” phones really are impossible to use.)
– For the first month, she complained repeatedly about how dirty the kitchen was, and that she didn’t understand how the previous ayi could have let it get that bad.

Needless to say, Xiao Wang is great. My girlfriend loves her. John B and his wife love her. Lenny likes her. We moved from the hourly wage to the monthly payment system pretty quickly and gave her a decent raise. We hope she sticks around a while.

This entry is the final part of a series on ayis. See also: To Ayi or Not to Ayi, The Ayi System, Farewell to Ayi


Dec 2005

Chinese Character Mnemonics

John “I build an entirely new weblog every two months” Biesnecker has just put up an interesting article on his newest new weblog, My Chinese Life. The article deals with mnemonic devices for memorizing Chinese characters. (You probably want to read it before you continue if you want to understand fully what I discuss below.)

John talks about how he remembers the characters (“manure”) and (something like “business”). For the former, he uses the actual meanings of the character’s constituent parts: 米 and 共. For the latter, he assigns his own meaning to the character in order to remember it. Both work.

This mnemonic device thing is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time… I think most Chinese would be quick to suggest that students learn the actual etymologies of the characters in order to remember them, but in many cases, this task is ridiculously complex and just places more of a burden on the student. It reminds me of my Calc 2 teacher’s response when we asked if we could use a formula sheet for our tests: “why would you need a formula sheet? If you forget a formula, you can just derive it on the spot.”

An example of the complexities involved in using etymologies to memorize characters is the way that a human “hand” is written as part of many characters. Can you identify the seven components which each mean “hand” in the following four characters?

友 祭 授 手

If you can do it without some really lucky guessing, it means you know your Chinese character etymology. The problem is that the forces which created the modern Chinese character set were often not systematic, or at least not systematic enough to make memorization by etymology a simple matter.

The logical solution, then, is to use a mnemonic system not totally based on etymology. There are two approaches to this. One could take the “semi-etymological” approach to mnemonics by using the real Chinese meanings of the character components in mnemonic devices. For some characters (such as John’s example of 粪), this is not hard to do at all. Your mnemonic may very well be very similar to the logic of the character etymology. In this case, etymology is your ally. For other characters, however, this proves quite ineffective.

When studying the etymology and analyzing the meanings of the component parts doesn’t work for you, what can you do? Well, you could use some kind of rote memorization method, or you could try the other approach: the “to-hell-with-etymology” approach. In this approach, you make up your own meaning for the component parts (like John did for 商).

I first read about this method while I was studying in Japan. I discovered it in an excellent book by James W. Heisig called Remembering the Kanji. Heisig’s method for associating meaning with form readily abandons the original meaning of characters’ component parts if the original meaning does not aid in systematic memorization through simple mnemonics. It works, although the specific system Heisig developed for Japanese limps in a few areas.

I think that this concept of devising a self-consistent mnemonic system for remembering Chinese characters is the holy grail of Chinese character pedagogy, considered impossible (for very good reasons) by many. It’s a problem I hope to tackle down the road. There’s just got to be some systematic method of learning a large quantity of Chinese characters that’s better than rote memorization.


Nov 2005

Blame it on John B

A while back I decided to try an experiment. I said that I would begin posting one entry every morning (China time), Monday through Friday. And I’ve been doing that, for over 14 weeks now. So how do I feel about it?

Well, it wasn’t that hard. My inspiration (or desire to write uninspired posts, as the case may be) comes in spurts, and during those times it’s pretty convenient to write up a bunch of posts and schedule them for the next week or so. I like that.

The problem is that for the past two weeks or so I’ve been really busy. So when I thought of something I wanted to write about, I would think of a title, make a note or two, and save it as a draft. Then I would still end up writing the actual full entry the night before, in most cases. Sometimes that can be pretty inconvenient.

But what’s the point anyway? I don’t think it improved my readership or my content. It improved the quantity of my content, maybe. But big deal.

So I’m going to stop with the clockwork posting. I’ll probably post just as often, on average, but my rests won’t always be on weekends. And my new entries won’t always appear sometime from 7am to 10am Shanghai time.

Why blame it on John B? He was the one who mentioned he liked my weblog (to at least appear) more spontaneous. I think I agree now.


Oct 2005


New CBL logo

John B and I put in quite a lot of work over the weekend, and the new version of the China Blog List is now mostly complete, up and running on its own domain. John really did a great job on the new functionality, and I’m very grateful for all the programming hours he put into the project. I focused on the design and organization of the new site.

After putting all that work into the new site, I’d like to take a post to not so subtly call attention to its multifarious awesomeness.

First of all is the hierarchical geographical labels. I’ll quote the CBL Help section here:

> Having a very specific location for each blog is useful because the location filter is hierarchical. A blog listed as based in San Francisco, for example, will show up in the listings for (1) All locations, (2) Outside China, (3) USA, (4) California, and (5) San Francisco. A blog listed as based in Hangzhou will show up in the listings for (1) All locations, (2) Greater China, (3) mainland China, (4) Zhejiang, and (5) Hangzhou. Including the specific location of each blog is to that blog’s benefit.

You can filter the blog listings by location on any level of the hierarchy.

Categories have also been added. To prevent abuse, no blog can claim more than three categories, but I think it could prove very useful for filtering purposes. I have added categories myself to a lot of blogs, but there are just too many; I’m hoping blog owners will submit blog corrections telling me which three categories they would like their blogs listed under.

Traditional methods of sorting are still there, as well as sorting by “date added.” This is great if you want to see, for example, the latest Shanghai blogs or the latest Beijing blogs. Confine it to a specific category, if you want. Simple.

Blog listings are now paginated, and the user can specify the number of listings per page.

You can also use the map feature to filter blogs. It’s not especially useful, but I made it in Flash, and it looks pretty cool. You could use the map to quiz yourself on the locations of Chinese provinces, if you were that bored.

On the front page you will see that there is now a popularity ranking based on clickthroughs. Clicks are limited to one per day per IP, and there are security measures in place. But that’s not the only “Top Ten” list you’ll find…

All new to the list is two additional ways of getting China bloggers more involved in the CBL: China Blog Reviews and China bloggers’ Top Ten Lists. The CBL itself remains neutral, but it hosts the opinions of other bloggers in these two forms. (Currently you’ll find the top ten lists of Dan Washburn, Peking Duck, and me. More soon.) Both the reviews and the top ten lists give China bloggers a way to simultaneously promote other blogs as well as their own.

Last but not least, the dead blogs have been removed. If your China blog was down over the weekend for whatever reason, it’s no longer in the CBL. An astounding 30-40% of the blogs in the CBL were dead. Wow. We have a plan for keeping it from getting that bad again. (There are also some other features planned that are not yet ready.)

The design is intentionally minimalist. I can’t believe I managed to only use one image and two flash files for the whole site. I’m not satisfied with it yet, though… I’ll be tweaking it some more later.

Anyway, now is a better time than ever to use the CBL. The blogs in it are all essentially current, and there’s lots of new functionality. There will be a new wave of additions soon. ChinaBlogList.org is the new URL.

I need a break from all this computer mumbo jumbo. Posts will resume in a few days.


Oct 2005

New CBL around the corner…

The new China Blog List will be finished pretty soon. John B has done some amazing work, starting from scratch, and the new version will be way better than the current one. I’ve known for some time now that the burgeoning CBL is decreasingly user friendly. The new version will change all that.

I’m not going to spell out all the new features at this point, but I will say this: during the switchover there will be a lot of deletions of dead (resting?) blogs. The China Blog List will stop listing “no longer updated blogs.” I’m going with the definition of blog which includes “frequently updated,” so anything that hasn’t been updated in the past three months or so gets axed. That means if you use any of those links, get them while they’re still there.

New submissions have been suspended until the switchover is complete. Thanks for your patience.


Oct 2005

Maps and Chinese

I like maps. When I was younger, I especially liked looking at maps of imagined fantasy worlds. I drew quite a few myself (although I was never quite nerdy enough to actually use them to play D&D or anything like that).

In high school, fantasy writer Piers Anthony‘s map of Xanth caught my attention because the geography was clearly (mostly) Florida’s, and yet so much was not the same. I think it’s a similar charm which results in my fascination with Chinese maps of the world.

As long as I’ve studied Chinese, I often still experience a kind of initial “orthographic shock.” There’s just something about picking up a newspaper completely covered in Chinese that my brain still rebels against every now and then. Even if I can read every word in the newspaper, my brain will still pull a “Whoa, that is so not English!” thing from time to time. It probably happens more often with books. And it happens with maps. But somehow with maps the “shock” seems to translate into that fascination with unfamiliar maps, resulting in attraction rather than aversion.

So I was happy to discover an index of Chinese maps of the world on Tumen.com.cn. A lot of the maps seem a bit old, but they’ve got a lot of them, and they’re quite large. They’ve got a huge map of China (11935*8554 image size, 21.5MB), and lots of individual maps for different provinces and cities (which may or may not be outdated).

To me, the really interesting part is the maps of the world. The site has two world maps: small (2194 X 1374 image size, 537k) and large (5182 X 3887 image size, 11.7MB). In addition, it has maps of other places around the world:

Asia: Japan
(Tokyo), North and South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan
The Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey
Europe: the UK (London), France (Paris), Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Greece, Russia (Moscow)
Africa: Egypt, North Africa
North America: USA (Washington, DC, New York City), Canada, Mexico, Cuba
South America: Brazil, Argentina
Oceania: Australia, New Zealand

I find it interesting and amusing that Tampa is listed on both the world map (pictured below) and the North America map, but Orlando isn’t. (Take that, John B!)


Finally, as long as I’m on the subject of maps, I should plug Wang Jiangshuo’s Shanghai Map 2.0. It’s much better than his first one (it now has click and drag functionality!), which I wrote about a while back.


Sep 2005

The ZUCC Chronicle

Jamie’s recent post outlined his history with China. It was a history which crossed mine. The most significant common experience was had in a college in Hangzhou we call ZUCC. (If you’re American, you say Z-U-C-C, kind of like F-B-I. If you’re Aussie or kiwi, you say “Zook,” rhyming with it “book.” I have always wondered about that little cultural linguistic difference.)

In chronicling my three years at ZUCC, I aim to do three things:

  1. Create an easy reference for myself, since I’m very forgetful.
  2. Provide a reference for friends and family with regards to ZUCC friends.
  3. Provide an idea of what kind of salary you might expect. (Yes, I’m going to disclose how much I was paid for each semester I worked at ZUCC.)



Aug 2005

Wedding in Changchun

I just attended my friend John’s wedding over the weekend, in Changchun, China. Changchun is pretty far north. It’s north of North Korea, and probably the farthest north I’ve ever been in China. It was a great time to be there; I got to trade Shanghai’s sweltering August heat for Changchun’s crisp early autumn weather. Not a bad deal.

The wedding was nice. It was the first Chinese-style wedding I’d been to for one of my non-Chinese friends. Despite all the horror stories of Dongbei baijiu chugging I’d been fed, the drinking really wasn’t too bad. Yeah, a few of my old ZUCC buddies were ensnared by the evil stuff, but I think they wanted to be martyrs. Or to have baijiu horror stories to tell. Or both.

I was also asked to play interpreter for John’s parents, as most of the ceremony was in Chinese. I was happy to do that, of course, although I felt a little unqualified. Interpretation is hard work! Fortunately, what I was translating into English was not too hard: the host’s good wishes for the happy couple, the bride’s father’s speech to the guests, and even John’s speech in Chinese. It was an honor to be the one translating John and his bride’s love story for his parents, but I had to choose my words carefully. The emotional effects of my every word were plainly visible on his parents’ faces.

What I wasn’t exactly prepared for was to interpret John’s father’s speech into Chinese for all the Chinese guests. Fortunately, he had it written out and let me take a look at it beforehand. It was written in a straightforward way that could be translated without loss of emotion even by an amateur like me. The crowd liked the speech. No one threw tomatoes at me.

My interpretation failure came a little later when they asked me to come up again and do some more interpretation into English. I don’t know if they were testing me or what, but when I got up there, the host just started spouting chengyu after chengyu that I had no hope of understanding, much less translating. I was utterly clueless, and yet, there I was, on stage with a mic: the interpreter. It went something like this (luanma used for chengyu I didn’t understand–I still don’t know what was really said):

> Host: 弐尗曑暪! (grinning and gesturing at the couple, then looking at me)

> Me: Ummm… “This is a happy day!” (I hear a few giggles from the crowd)

> Host: 戼枩枀毜! (grinning even bigger)

> Me: “…very happy!” (the Chinese guests are laughing now.)

> Host: 仴仺佷凷! (triumphantly)

> Me: “Ecstatic!” (at least most Chinese guests wouldn’t understand my last word!)

All in all, a very fun, interesting, educational experience.

Congratulations to the newlyweds!


May 2005

Suspicious CBL Issues

John B first reported to me about two weeks ago that he was getting “Document Contains No Data” errors when he tried to view the China Blog List from Hangzhou. Now, since yesterday I’ve been getting the same errors consistently. Other sections of my website seem to load fine, but as soon as I try to go to http://www.sinosplice.com/cbl/ (or http://cbl.www.sinosplice.com/) I get “Document Contains No Data.”

If you are in China, could you please try going to the CBL page and let me know the results? (Warning: if you get the DCND error, you may need to close your browser and reopen it to view any pages on Sinosplice again.) Thanks!


Dec 2003

Hard Drive Dead

Oh man, I am pissed. I know I should have been backing up my hard drive all along, but I’ve got remarkably good luck with computers. But John B and Carl convinced me to reinstall Windows using XP Corporate edition in English, since the language support is all there anyway. I also wanted Office XP. I also wanted to reformat my hard drive and get off of the FAT32 file system. So I had to back everything up.

Well, wouldn’t you know it… right when I’m starting to back everything up, the hard drive dies. I’m not a hardware expert, but hard drives have these little thingies inside them that spin around at very high speeds. They must spin. It seems some of mine have fused together. So instead of doing its job, my hard drive makes a sad clicking noise, and my CPU fails to recognize any hard drive at all.

Besides losing my entire addressbook AGAIN, I’ve lost a bunch of pictures, which really bums me. I can try to recover data from the crashed HD, but I’ve been advised not to get my hopes up too high.

I had to take Carl back to the computer market today to swap out his motherboard for a working one. My original plan was to buy a new hard drive immediately, but I had a fateful telephone conversation with my girlfriend last night.

Why is it that girls pretend to be strangers to logic most of their lives, blithely prancing about their affairs of shopping and gossip, but then can cruelly whip it out at the opportune moment and spear a vulnerable man with it?

“Why don’t you wait until after you move to Shanghai to buy a new hard drive? That way if anything goes wrong, it’s a lot easier to return it?”

I can’t argue with that. So I’ll be without a computer for a while. The final move is scheduled for January 4th.


Sep 2003

West Lake & Beer

Last night Russell, Greg, John B, and I took the two new Aussies to West Lake. West Lake’s Nanxian (南线) area, newly renovated, looks very nice at night. If you’ve been to West Lake before but not recently, you have no idea what you’re missing. The newly renovated section, Xixian (西线), is opening for the National Day vacation throngs, and it’s also supposed to be very nice, in the old school traditional Chinese style. I’ll go check it out after the tourist crowds depart and put some pictures up (something I haven’t done in quite a long time, as Wilson kindly pointed out to me).

After checking out West Lake at night, we headed over to a very cheap bar I know of. The name is 西部小镇; Old West Town is their translation. There’s a cowboy hat on the sign. It’s in a prime location, in a string of little bars right next to West Lake. It’s not a great bar. It’s very loud, and the music is always bad. The bar serves little more than beer, despite the plethora of Western liquors on display. The bartender’s job is basically to pull out more beers and open them. The one saving grace of this bar is its beer special: 3 West Lake beers for 10rmb ($1.25). West Lake Beer is not the greatest beer in the world, but it’s always so cheap that in Hangzhou I find myself drinking it more than any other beer. Apparently it’s owned by Asahi now.

So we did what so many Chinese people do in bars — drink and play a dice game called chui niu (吹牛). It’s this game where everyone has a cup of 5 dice, and you have to estimate how many of a given number there are out there, under everyone’s cups. Ones are wild. Bluffing is key. It’s a fun game, but not quite fun enough to warrant its popularity in China, in my opinion. Anyway, it was good for the new Aussies, Ben and Simonne, because we played it in Chinese and they got their numbers down (kinda). We left a little while after the bar ran out of cold beers.

On the way to West Lake, I was given this flyer:

> Restaurant Bar Club
Nothing Comes from Nothing.
Nothing comes from Nothing.

> In celebration Z Bar begins a new chapter, in a new city
that mix our minds and drinks our souls.
We stamped the ground and strung the lights to launch this new theme Restaurant-Bar-Club of modern artistry.
Experience the sight, the sound, the taste,
the energy —
We welcome you to experience our

I think English in China is getting better…


Sep 2003

White Boy Antics

I have thus far neglected to mention that while I was in Japan, two more twenty-something teachers arrived at ZUCC. They are John and Greg. John has his own site as well, which is morphing into something of a China blog itself. (Side note: there are now 3 Johns among the 16 foreign teachers here, one of whom also has a son named John.) Anyway, they’re great additions to the team of teachers here; the new crew is shaping up to be really good.

John     Greg

The new ZUCC Foreign English Teacher page in now online.

Speaking of new China blogs (yes, an update to the list is coming!), Carl would have a conniption if I didn’t finally mention his new site, which he daily spurns as being “the stupidest blog ever.” It’s about China, though, and it’s not nearly as bad as he claims.

In other news, three of us had a mooncake-eating contest in honor of Mid-Autumn Moon Festival the other day. I’ll leave the details for later. I plan to devote a whole page to it (kinda like the Junk Food Review) if I can ever get the photos from Carl. In the meantime, you can get a taste from the Chinese blog if you read Chinese.

I’ll end this haphazard entry with an amusing incident that happened the other night.

> [Scene: a small Chinese bar]

> Me: You should talk to her. Practice your Chinese.

> Greg: But I don’t have anything to say.

> Me: Well just say something — you need to practice!

> Greg: Actually, I learned a great Chinese sentence today.

> Me: What is it?

> Greg: [I like cake.]

> Me: OK, great, tell her that!

> Greg: What? Why should I tell her that?

> Me: Just do it! It’ll be cool.

> Greg: I’m not going to tell her that!

> Me: Why not?

> Greg: It’s stupid.

> Me: But just do it anyway. Something good will come of it.

> Greg: I’m not gonna do it.

> Me: I’m telling you, something good will come of it.

> Greg: Forget it.

> Me (to her): [He says that he likes cake.]

> Her (to Greg): [Really? My family makes cakes! I can give you some cake, no charge!]

> Greg: [I like cake.]

No, I didn’t know the girl or that her family makes cakes. But that kind of thing seems to happen in China all the time.


Oct 2002

Taxi Tale Interpretation

Not long ago I got pissed off about a little episode involving a Chinese man and a taxi and I made a little entry about it.

I got one response on it from one John B. He’s a guy who taught in China for a short time, and I happened to get in contact with him through some really odd coincidences.

John B. suggested in his e-mail that “the ‘me first’ attitude comes from simple competition for resources. With 1.2 billion other folks to compete with to get everything, I guess you learn to take any opportunity you can get.”

That explanation makes sense, and I might accept it, were it not for my experiences in Japan. China may have the world’s largest population, but the population density of Japan is, for the most part, higher. I can’t quote any statistics on this, but I’ve lived extensively in both places now, and I can assure you that’s the case. So in Japan there should be higher competition for resources.

You might answer that China is poorer, whereas Japan is now a land of plenty (despite the current economic slump), which curbs the “me first” competitive drive in Japan. Recall, though, that after WWII Japan was a third world nation. China may be newer to modernity, but the pre-WWII generation is still around in Japan as well. Both societies have undergone monumental changes in the past 50 years, but China has come out of it seeming much less civil. Why?

My adult Chinese students at the English Department recently offered a compelling explanation. Since they are still young themselves, the students drew mainly upon anecdotes from their parents and grandparents to offer this explanation.

Before Communist China, China was at war. War with Japan, civil war, war with Western imperialism. It was chaos. Out of this chaos came Communist China. Early Communist China was actually Communist. It was communal. People cooperated. People shared. As the U.S. quaked in fear and rage at the global spread of Communism, Chinese people felt a national spirit of goodwill and just plain human goodness that surpassed anything that the nation had experienced in a long, long time. You might dismiss such warm fuzzy good feeling descriptions of early Communist China as propaganda, but I’ve heard a lot of stories. Regardless of certain realities (e.g. the failure of efforts such as the Great Leap Forward*), a lot of Chinese people felt really good. It was a golden time.

That era was followed by the Cultural Revolution*, of course. Cooperation, goodwill, and social progress were replaced by backstabbing, malice, and social disintegration as co-workers, friends, and even family members betrayed each other in the madness of the times. All sense of brotherhood was obliterated by the absolute necessity to look out for number one. One’s reputation, livelihood, or possibly even life depended on it.

The effects of the Cultural Revolution were profound. They linger. Furthermore, Capitalism has long since had its foot in the door, and the Party is looking the other way as the entire leg sexily slides its way in. I’m thinking Capitalist consumerism probably doesn’t help the situation either, right?

And so jerks steal my taxi in China.

They’re still not excused.

* This site on Chinese history, maintained by the Chaos Group at the University of Maryland, is cool because it contains the Chinese (traditional characters) for a lot of the important names and events mentioned.

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