See if you can guess what the deal is with this pic. Or, just be lazy and see below.
We ran into this guy in the Holiday Inn lobby. He was being interviewed, and he let me take his picture. This is how he advertises. Chuck has the (very short) story in his blog. This particular ad is for a soccer pool.
Living in China has its fair share of inconveniences. The ones that immediately come to mind are being on the opposite side of the globe from most of my friends and family, and a big long list of things I can’t eat here (oh, cheesecake! I miss you!). But there are some great benefits too. The benefits are so numerous and unexpected that you can live here for years without realizing them.
One of these benefits which I discovered early on in my first semester at ZUCC was the potential for gathering information. Sure, the teacher’s up there to teach the students, and then the teacher can learn from the students as well. But I mean something far more direct. You can gather information on Chinese society straight from your students and even make it part of classwork. My first semester I taught American Society and Culture, and one of the regular assignments I gave was a one-page written response to the latest chapter’s material. I encouraged students to make comparisons between Chinese society and what they learned in the book, or what they learned from me, or what they knew of American society already. At times I cursed myself for giving those assignments because it gave me a lot to read. But what I gained! Students would often write out what they wouldn’t say in class. I learned a lot about Chinese families, government, education, etc. from those papers. More than my students learned from me, I fear.
Anyway, despite the precious info I gleaned from those papers, they were a one-semester thing. It was just too much work to read them, and I had to read them all or some of the students would plagiarize like little fiends. And I wasn’t about to let them get away with that, less because of the dishonesty factor and more because I didn’t want them to ever think for a second that they could outsmart me.
Since then, I’ve picked up this and that from miscellaneous discussions and such in class. But it’s never been such pure information downloading as it was with the papers. Recently, though, something rekindled my lust for data. I think it began when I asked my class if they shared my excitement about a new generation of leadership in the Chinese Communist Party (they very much didn’t), and a little discussion on their feelings about politics ensued. Basically, they felt that they had no control over politics, so they didn’t care. But the idea of taking polls in class took shape in my mind.
So, lately I’ve been surveying my students on various topics. I’m carefully noting the data, and I’ll report the interesting results I find. I have close to 300 students. Sure, my students typically come from upper class Chinese families, because the tuition here is quite high for a Chinese college. But that doesn’t mean the data won’t yield trends that are interesting and telling. I’m loving this. I’ve got lots of good stuff on the way. So without further ado, the results of my first poll…
Is that higher than you expected? Cell phones are definitely common on the streets in Hangzhou. They’re everywhere. The ::beep:: ::beep:: of the SMS message alert permeates every nook and cranny of town. Furthermore, while Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province–a quite wealthy province–keep in mind that this is still Hangzhou, not Hong Kong, not Shanghai, not Beijing (those three places have cheesecake!). Also, the fact that so many of the students bring their cell phones to the classroom is a serious factor for the teacher. There’s little more infuriating in class than a student ignoring you because his gaze is transfixed on the LCD screen of his cell phone. They think you won’t see them if they keep the phone below the surface of the desk. Makes you wanna grab the phone, chuck it out the window, and smack the student.
Anyway, the polls have begun. And may the data collecting proliferate among the foreign teachers here in China…
Things tend to happen to me in China in clumps of weird connections. Example: my first year in Hangzhou I lived with my Chinese friend from UF’s fiancee’s dad’s boss’s son. (Didja get that?) This past Saturday I went to Wuzhen, a small, scenic, historic town (guzhen in Chinese) with a small group in order to film a travel show for the Zhejiang TV station. The trip was unpaid, but I didn’t pay for anything either — transportation, lodging, food was all paid for. And it was a good opportunity to meet young Chinese people. So how did I get that hookup? My e-mail penpal (Erin)’s co-worker (Vivienne)’s date’s co-workers were looking for a foreigner who could speak Mandarin for the show. Turns out they got two from my school. Kiwi Chris can also speak it, and so he went too.
So that was my Friday and Saturday. We were a group of only 6, and it was nice. 2 foreigners, 1 Wuzhen tourguide, a camera crew of 2, and 1 show hostess. There were times when the Chinese and foreigners would detach for separate conversations, but there was plenty of friendliness and good feeling as well. I’ve gotta say, Wuzhen was just a little bit boring, but it was cool to learn how they do some of the traditional crafts like making rice wine and weaving cloth. Check out the pictures. As far as the location, I think I still prefer the first guzhen I visited: Xitang.
I’ve been told that the show airs this Saturday (Nov. 30th) at 9:55pm on Zhejiang TV-3, then again the following Saturday (Dec. 7th) at 11am and 4pm, Zhejiang TV-3.
My blog entry entitled “Ghost Alien Love” got quite a few interesting comments related to love and women in China. I have also discussed love/women issues with my Thursday night advanced conversation class, and I learned a few interesting things about Chinese law and society:
1. It is illegal for a woman to have a baby out of wedlock in China. An unmarried woman is required by law to get an abortion if she somehow gets pregnant. (But that couldn’t happen in this conservative society, now could it?) Well, until recently… (see below)
2. If a married woman is pregnant, it is illegal for her husband to divorce her until well after the delivery.
3. If a married man is found to be cheating on his wife, and the wife doesn’t want a divorce, she can force him by law to give her monetary compensation for his infidelity. (Yeah, I’m sure that gets used a lot. No colossal loss of face for the woman or anything…)
Kinda crazy, eh? But there’s this new law in Jilin province (way up north) that allows unmarried women to have a baby through a legitimate fertilization clinic. I’m wondering why?? Is there a big demand for that up there?? And it’s not like this is a democracy, so even if there was a big demand, that doesn’t guarantee results in legislation. This is still a rather conservative society on the surface, so I find this bizarre. I couldn’t find any English news on this, but here’s a Chinese link if you can handle it: [Yahoo News China, Nov. 11, 2002].
As crazy as I thought all this was, though, a Chinese friend recently told me about a female cousin in Shanghai, late twenties, who wants to have a baby on her own. And get this: not the Jilin way. She’s out looking for “Mr. Right” to do the deed and plant the seed, and then she’ll just raise the baby on her own! You may not find that outrageous, but you have to realize that an illegitimate child in China has a hard life. They can’t be properly “registered,” and so aren’t eligible for schooling. There are all kinds of headaches. Not something you choose, if you can help it.
Not long ago, a page on Bokane.org reminded me of a question that’s been in the back of my mind and close to my heart for over two years now. It’s a question that I started asking in 1997, and which has become especially persistent over the past two years. Now it’s in the forefront again, running amuck and causing havoc. Oh, it’s not doing any real damage, of course. It’s tantalizing. Like the puppy in the short box, no matter how many times you push it back, it just keeps emerging. And though you may lose patience with it, it remains interesting. But what can you do other than push it back? You’ve got somewhere to go. It isn’t a part of your itinerary. Yet it won’t be ignored. And its teeth, while mostly harmless, can hurt.
I asked Wilson recently, “During all this time you’re spending in China, are you becoming more and more yourself, or more and more someone else?” I tend to hate those kinds of questions, because the person asking them usually just seems smug that they’ve thought up an annoying meaningless question to irritate someone else’s intellect with. But this time I cared about the question, and I cared about the answer. I really wanted to know what was happening with Wilson, and what he perceived of it. And, of course, whatever mysterious forces there are that have been messing with Wilson’s identity for almost a year have been doing the same to me for over two years. It was personal.
Wilson said he’s becoming more and more someone else. Someone he likes. Someone with purpose and drive.
And me? I know I’m different, but I’m not even sure I know how I’ve changed. What’s scarier is the prospect of how much change there is that I don’t recognize.
Who am I now? Is this a result of my decision to come to China, or a result of being in China?
Am I really so different?
So I’m keeping busy lately. Life just won’t slow down.
Still trying to figure out where I’ll be next semester. Many possibilities, little time to figure out which to go with. | I shut myself in all weekend this past weekend writing my book. It’ll be a nonfiction masterpiece that will rock China (in a good, PC way) when it’s released. Making good progress there. Talks for publication in progress. | I’m the new DJ on campus. (I burned an “introduction to punk” CD, complete with voiced intros to each song, all done by me. The station is supposed to start airing it this week. They want more.) | Still lots of plans for my site, to be slowly implemented over the period from now to eternity. | The internet is still fun and amazing, after all these years. Who’da thunk it?? | Still have classes to plan and teach, but all is well. Next week is song/commercial week. I have the whole Budweiser “Wazzup” series on DVD. China must witness. | I think I need to start a juggling club on campus. | Polls are in the works. | I need to reinstall Windows XP for the fourth time, thanks to Chinese pirated software. | My friend Miya was supposed to come for a visit from Japan this coming weekend, but now she can’t make it due to a family emergency. | I need to go learn some Chinese so my tutor doesn’t scold me too harshly tomorrow…
A while back I wrote about how China blocked Google and it was driving me crazy. Later, it was unblocked, but it was widely reported that China has some very sophisticated technology in place that causes you to lose connection if you run certain seaches. This morning I was doing a search for a picture of a famous Chinese leader. At first it was fine, but soon the links to the pics stopped working, and then Google itself became inaccessible, and then nothing would load. Fortunately everything works fine now. But internet censorship is very much in effect here still.
Related to the above is the fact that tomorrow the CCP convenes for its 16th party congress. Now, I’m well aware how boring politics is for many of us, but this meeting is significant. There have been only three main leaders of Communist China: Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and you-know-who*. Tomorrow it is widely believed that you-know-who will step down, and a new guy will take his place. In the past, each new leader has represented a new direction for China. So it’s an exciting time.
In class this week, as a follow-up to last week’s Halloween activities, we had a discussion on Ghosts and Aliens. Last week I provided vocabulary such as ghost, alien, UFO, abduct, monster, egg a house, TP a yard, Flaming Bag of Dog Poo, etc. I also had to give some cultural background about simple things we take for granted. For example, when I asked the class where ghosts come from, most people answered “hell.” I had to explain to them that according to Western tradition, ghosts are the souls of dead people that have not yet gone on to heaven or hell. Angels are what come from heaven to earth, and devils and demons are what come from hell to earth. They seemed interested. They also liked the “trick-or-treating” at the end of class (sans costumes and door to knock on).
Anyway, this week we discussed Ghosts and Aliens. At the beginning of the semester I eased into the discussions with a practice discussion to allow them to practice the discussion techiques I had taught them, and to give them feedback on their technique before any grading began. The practice discussion topic was Internet Romance. The first real discussion was Age Difference in Love Relationships. One of the students commented that the discussions were all about love, and why couldn’t they discuss something else. So this week was their big chance to discuss “something else.” Here are some of the discussion questions that students prepared on the new topic:
Which would you choose as a lover: a ghost or an alien?
If you fell in love with someone and later found out that person was a ghost, what would you do?
If you fell in love with an alien and the alien wanted to take you back to its homeworld, would you go?
I rest my case. I think I’ve stumbled upon an axiom for teaching college-level English in China: Chinese college students love to talk about love. I think this axiom ranks right up there with “Germans love David Hasselhoff.” Those first two discussion topics are tried and true.
One more interesting thing I learned from the discussion is that most of my students don’t believe in ghosts (though some do). Most of them seem to think of it as superstitious, and lump believing in ghosts together with believing in religion. (And, given the topic Ghosts and Aliens, in their discussion preparation homework some students even included questions such as “do you believe in Buddhism?”) However, the matter of aliens is different. Not only do over half believe that aliens exist and visit Earth, but about 5% of my students even claim to have seen UFOs with their own eyes! Interesting stuff.
OK, I just don’t know when to quit. (Or when to sleep.)
I have added “the least technologically advanced message board ever” to the bottom of the China Blogs page. I’m hoping that people who use my China blogs links page will provide feedback on recent posts and stuff for other users. Check it.
Also, Wilson took a few picks of our stroll around West Lake (and other “adventures”) yesterday afternoon. He made a nice little photo album. Includes some excellent shots of mouth-watering Chinese Muslim noodles. Take a look.
OK, so I finally got a commenting system for my weblog! (The “comments” link is at the bottom right of each post.) We’ll say this is part of the upgrade to 1.2 also. It’s through Haloscan, and I think for the most part, it’s pretty good. It would be better if I had my own, but I’m too lazy for that at this moment in time. This one works well enough, and it’s even customizable. It’s the Blogger for commenting.
So, I’m hoping to see a little commenting, particularly from family members. (Hint, hint! That’s you guys!) And from friends would be nice too. And of course anyone that wants to comment.
Hmmm, it’s a new weekend already and I seem to have neglected to mention what went down last weekend. Nicola and I headed over to Shaoxing to meet up with Erin Shutty and gang. Part of that gang is Vivienne Carr, who the ZUCC gang had already met earlier in October when we went to Putuo Shan together. Erin was the connection to Vivienne, but I hadn’t actually met Erin face to face until this past weekend. (As I’ve mentioned before, I was supposed to meet both Erin and “Black Man in China” Aaron over the National Holiday vacation, but neither worked out.) Erin and I have been in pretty regular e-mail contact ever since she wrote me in the spring about teaching in China. Now she’s been here months, and we finally met up. Here’s the pics.
Oh yeah, and Erin and Vivienne are coming to Hangzhou this weekend! Erin is also bringing “the Brit,” whom we met only in passing last weekend in Shaoxing.
Do you ever wonder how software developers decide on version numbers? I do. I mean, what is the difference between Photoshop 6.0 and 7.0? Sure, you can read out a list of new features, but who decides that those particular features equal one full point on the upgrade scale? It’s beyond me.
And yet I myself am caught up in this game. Six months since its release, Sinosplice is up to version 1.2, baby! It gets the extra 0.1 because now it’s got two language versions for the front page. The site autodetects your system’s language and directs you to the appropriate page. Snazzy. This should please my Chinese audience a little. (Version 1.1 was simply adding the “log” button to the nav bar.)
Next comes CSS. Maybe. (How many upgrade points is that worth…?)
I don’t want to get stuck on the whole taxi thing, but I’ve got another little story. And it begins with me riding in a taxi. This time the driver was a woman.
Female taxi drivers are not so common. This driver, however, was top-notch. I mean that in the Chinese sense. When she takes you somewhere, she takes you in a hurry. That means not only serious speed, but also lots of passing and swerving — above all, not stopping. We saw three accidents on the way back to my school. Fortunately we weren’t involved in any.
We chatted on the way to East Zhou Shan Road. We passed a billboard which featured a woman who I thought was the famous Chinese Olympic diver Fu Mingxia. She thought it was too, at first, but then decided it wasn’t. We then started talking about the likelihood of Fu Mingxia participating in the next Olympics. My driver thought it pretty unlikely, since the pretty star is now married to a 50-something rich Hong Kong big shot. A child is probably in her near future, opined my driver. And after having a kid, your body will never be the same, she assured me. She went on to talk about her own 6-year-old son, and how he looooves to eat KFC.
We were close to the home stretch — the turn to East Zhou Shan Road was just ahead. Bearing down on us fast from the opposite direction was a big 4WD police vehicle. My driver made a bold turn directly into the path of the police car, forcing it to brake fast. It really was quite close. As we squeezed through the opening, I must have let out a gasp. Turning to me, she offered this explanation: “I’m trying to earn money here. They’re not doing anything — they can take their time.”
The police, of course, just continued on their way, not taking any more notice of the offending taxi than was required to avoid a collision. This is China.
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.
I thought some people might find interesting the answers I gave to some questions my dad asked me recently by e-mail:
> You know, we hear about all the neat times that you have — & we’re glad to hear about them. I’m wondering about the day to day stuff:
Sorry… It’s sometimes hard to think of what day-to-day stuff I haven’t mentioned or what might actually be interesting to you. I’ve lost some of the outsider’s perspective.
I write for my own pleasure as well as my readers’, so I tend to go light on day-to-day stuff.
> What do you have for breakfast?
Hmmm… Maybe this is why I go light on the stuff. A lot of the answers to seemingly simple questions have to be really long because of cultural differences. A lot of the things I eat are Chinese, and not available in the U.S. I sometimes eat rolls or bread, but usually a “roubing” (fried breadish stuff with meat filling in the middle) or a “danbing” (sort of a crepe with egg and chives and sauce). I usually drink milk or juice.
> What’s a typical everyday day like?
Hmmm… I don’t think there’s a “typical” day… I usually have class in the morning. I frequently eat lunch with Wilson and/or Helene or Nicola. I have to plan for class, but only in the beginning of the week. I still study Chinese. I hang out with Wilson quite a bit. Sometimes we watch DVDs at night. I go online, read and answer e-mail quite a bit. I also post new blog entries pretty frequently. Unfortunately, I don’t spend a lot of time with Chinese friends these days. I just don’t feel really close to anyone now.
> Do you eat out most meals?
> Do you cook for yourself?
> Do you guys have “pot lucks” in the dorm?
> Is your cooking a la Chinoise or a la Americaine?
It’s really hard to cook a lot of American things here. Examples… You can buy spaghetti, but the sauce is almost impossible to find at most stores in Hangzhou. Furthermore, just asking if they have it is difficult, because it’s not an item that Chinese people are familiar with. All pasta is referred to as “Italian noodles,” and if you translate “tomato sauce” it means “ketchup.”
The Chinese seem to be fond of lumping unfamiliar concepts together and then applying generalizations. Examples: “Foreigners are tall.” “Western food is bland and simple.” Some of the few American things I can make without too much hassle are ham and cheese sandwiches (only processed American cheese, though), tuna salad sandwiches, and egg salad sandwiches. Even those, though, require special (expensive) ingredients: sliced ham, cheese, mayonaise, canned tuna.
Maybe you’ll suggest I try this or try that, but the simple fact is that going shopping, then cooking, then cleaning up is a big hassle for one person. Coordinating groups efforts is also a hassle. When fully prepared Chinese food is so cheap and ubiquitous, it’s the way to go (except on special occasions).
> Do you go to movies?
No, I buy DVDs.
> Do you have a radio?
Yes, but I rarely use it.
> What kind of things can you listen to there?
I buy CDs (Western and Chinese) occasionally, but I mostly listen to MP3s.
> Do you use your computer to play music?
> Do you take buses, rickshaws, taxis, private vehicles, or Shank’s Mare to get around?
Yes, no, yes, no, and HUH?
“Rickshaws” as you probably imagine them do not really exist in modern China. They were banned by Mao. Pedicabs (big cargo tricycles) are everywhere, both for human transport as well as all kinds of cargo. I rarely ever use those, though. They’re not a whole lot faster than walking, and I’m way faster on my bike.
> Is public transportation inexpensive?
Yes. 1 or 2 yuan ($0.125 or $0.25). Taxis usually range from 10-30 yuan depending on the destination.
> Do you spend all day at church on Sundays?
> Are you still working w/ the kids at church?
No. One hour a week for kids so young seems to do nothing. They don’t retain anything.
I’m a little late in reporting it, but autumn has definitely arrived in Hangzhou, and we’re enjoying the great weather. As you can see, there are indesputable signs that fall has arrived. Even the 10rmb midget potted tree on top of my refrigerator is behaving accordingly. So we’re desperately soaking up this beautiful but ephemeral weather. It’ll be dreary rainy cold before long.
So about the vacation to Zhou Shan/Putuo Shan… Our group had about 14 people in it. 5 Americans (I was the only non-Chinese American of that group), 2 Kiwis, 1 Scot, 3 Japanese, and 3 Chinese (including our driver). Plus there was Bob, our tour guide in Zhoushan. He didn’t even know his name was Bob, but it was. So decreed Helene. I don’t think the driver knew his name was Joe, either, for similar reasons.
We had our own private minibus, and we drove all morning (leaving around 6:30am!) to get across on the ferry to Zhoushan at around noon. Then we met up with Bob and ate. We soon learned that in Zhoushan you eat a LOT of seafood. Every meal. Fortunately, it was good stuff. Probably the best shrimp and fish I’ve had in China. Way better than Wenzhou. Then we checked into our hotel, which was right on the sea in an area called Shen Jia Men, and it was off to the Sand Sculpture Festival.
I was annoyed at Bob at the beginning of the trip because he would speak to me like I was retarded, speaking really slowly and exaggerating pronunciation, all the while gesticulating to get his point across. He even said to me at one point, “We can even communicate, if I speak really simply.” I wanted to smack him. You can’t stay mad at Bob, though. He’s a good guy at heart. Toward the end of the trip he was speaking more normally to me.
We were kind of disappointed when we first got to the Sand Sculpture Festival, because there were tons of people there, all seated around a distant stage. Where were the sand sculptures?? We figured out pretty quick that what was going on onstage was just typical China singing/dancing entertainment–the kind of thing that’s on TV in China all the time–and nothing that really interested us. So we migrated over to the actual sculptures. They were pretty massive, and amazing. Check out my pics.
That night we went to the seaside outdoor restaurant. It was within walking distance from our hotel, and the cook tents and tables seemed to go on forever. There was some weird food there (stewed barnacles, anyone?), but good shrimp and fish, too.
The next day we did Putuo Shan, which was sort of a bunch of temple-type stuff, all on the sea. It was nice. Huge Buddha statue and all. I can’t get too excited about this kind of thing anymore, because I’ve seen too many places like it in China. But the seaside part added something.
One of the temples was selling Xian Shui — “mystical water” — for 1rmb ($0.125) per cup. Lots of people were buying it and drinking it. I overheard another guy telling someone it was clean, safe to drink. I bought some and tried it. Tasted OK. I got Chen Yao, our trip coordinator to try it, against her better judgment. Then we met up with Bob, and he promptly informed us that “mystical water” gives you diarrhea if you drink it. Great. If that’s the “mystical” part, then a whole lot of food in China is mystical! Fortunately no one drank more than a few sips.
The trip home was looong… There was a huge traffic jam getting onto the ferry. Everyone was trying to get back. Putuo Shan is a famous vacation spot. Somehow the Chinese people on our bus convinced the police to let us go straight to the front of all the backup just because we had foreigners onboard. Amazing. We wouldn’t have made it out of there that evening if not for that trick. We somehow made it back to ZUCC that night around 11pm, pretty much on schedule, even dropping Vivienne off in Shaoxing on the way. After two packed days of travel, we were all exhausted.
So the week long “National Day Holiday” is now over. I went on a school trip with some fellow teachers from ZUCC to the Zhoushan International Sand Sculpture Festival and the famous Putuo Shan Island. Fellow China blogger and friend Erin Shutty was supposed to come over from Shaoxing with her Scottish friend Vivienne, but instead she tried to devastate us by getting ridiculously sick and cancelling. But Viv still came. Of course, we missed Erin, but we had a blast somehow anyway. More on this trip soon, at a time which isn’t dangerously past my bedtime.
In other news, Wilson and I took the plunge today. We just had too much money sitting in our bank accounts, I guess. We both decided to get new desktop PCs. I thought that I wouldn’t go back to using a desktop, but notebook PCs are just too expensive now, and desktops are too cheap to refuse. My poor little P1-233 is more than ready to retire. We went down to the “computer town” and put together our new machines from our own specs. Ahhh, I will soon have a P4 1.7GHz, with 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, and a flat screen monitor. It’ll be ready Wednesday. After I get that bad boy up and running, some major updates will follow (e.g. new photo albums and other goodies).
On Sunday Wilson and I made a little alcohol run to the Metro. The Metro is a big supermarket with lots of Western food and stuff. It’s one of the few places you can buy vodka in Hangzhou, and the prices are actually decent.
Anyway, we had to get our vodka and a few other goodies that are hard to find elsewhere (Hellmann’s mayonaise, French’s mustard, good bread, canned tuna…). But we were kind of in a hurry, because I was trying to get back to ZUCC to hear one of my students sing at a concert on campus. She has a really amazing voice.
The problem with the Metro is that it’s in the middle of nowhere, on the east edge of town. You have to take a taxi out there and back (unless you want to be on the bus for like an hour each way), and it’s not always easy finding a taxi back. (The other problem with the Metro is that the stingy bastards actually charge for plastic grocery bags! What’s up with that?! It’s not a normal Chinese practice.)
Anyway, we were holding our groceries, standing on the side of the road outside the inconveniently-located Metro, waiting for a cab.
5 minutes went by. A cab pulled up, and some guy further up the road from us flagged it down and got it. Was he there before us? Who knows. He got the cab.
5 more minutes went by. No cabs.
5 more minutes went by. Two guys in suits that looked to be in their thirties came from a sidestreet and stood a little further down the road from us.
5 more minutes went by. Another unoccupied cab finally appeared! Fortunately there was no one waiting further up the road to grab it this time. He approached our frantically waving figures. He kept rolling, coming to a stop by the two guys just past us, further down the road. One of the guys got in the front seat as quickly as he could.
I was pissed. I rushed over there, still holding my grocery bag in one hand and a Smirnoff Vodka bottle in the other. I got in front of the door so he couldn’t close it.
“Get out,” I told him firmly, in Chinese. He stayed rooted to the seat, with the stubborn look of a kid who refuses to eat his brussel sprouts. “Get out!” I repeated, as he urged the driver to get moving. He wasn’t budging.
Meanwhile, Wilson was looking on, kind of stunned (hoping I wasn’t mad enough hit the guy with the vodka bottle, he told me later). The partner of the guy already in the cab, apparently made nervous by the tense situation, was making no move to get in the taxi.
My demand was falling on deaf ears, and the taxi finally took off, the door still open. I yelled something I probably shouldn’t have. It was English, but I’m sure he got it. The cab went about 100 meters down the road and stopped. The other guy went to go get in. Apparently angered by what I yelled, stubborn guy in the front seat pretended like he was going to get out and come fight me. I made the manly “bring it on!” gesture, and they promptly drove away.
It was all a ridiculous incident. I certainly wasn’t going to get in a fight over a taxi. It’s just too stupid. But underlying it all is an anger, not just at one guy in one particular incident, but at a whole society.
I’ve never been in a country like this, where people are so “me first!” crazy. There are no lines for buses, just a pushing hoarde. The other day in McDonalds, after I had already stood patiently in line for about 5 minutes, some woman suddenly pushed her way in from the side and placed her order right in front of me! I just stood there and let her. What am I going to do, change a society? It’s the same in banks and at ticket counters. I’ve been living with this every day for two years now.
But still, this incident was just too infuriating. I really believe that in the USA, there are few people who would quickly hop into the taxi instead of doing the civil thing and saying, “you were here first, you take it.” I think that in all the other countries I’ve been to — Japan, Mexico, Korea, Thailand — most people would do the same. What is it about this place that makes people so drivenly self-centered? Why does the concept of a “line” or of “waiting one’s turn” not seem to apply here?
I’ve heard people say China is not ready for democracy, and I think that idea has a lot of merit. China isn’t even ready for the concept of “wait your turn.”