Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

Archive for November, 2009

We are the world…

Posted by w_thames_the_d on November 29, 2009

I was just reading a great article by Chen Zhimin on Chinese nationalism and foreign policy. This sounds boring but is really telling in terms of modern day China, its culture, behavior and beliefs. Basically nationalism is an unhealthy form of patriotism or a fanatical belief in ones country or desire to defend it. In the article, he states that since the 20th century China has consciously utilized nationalism to further the goals of the reigning government. in other words, the use of nationalism is a form of manipulating the people that everyone is against you if you disagree whatsoever with their beliefs or policy. (kind of like the GW philosophy). What really struck me was how readily this concept is embraced/accepted by the typical citizen. The modern nationalism seems to be that since China is older, that it must somehow be a world leader, thus they invoke nationalism in the sense that if you disagree or do not see the merits of this logic, then somehow you are against China. Regarding the widespread embrace of nationalism; it seems that the two main reasons for the acceptance of nationalism are historical beliefs on China being the ‘center of the world’, and a history of foreign invaders into China.

The first idea is that there was a historical belief that China was the center of the world or universe (China in Mandarin is Zhong guo or center country.) Thousands of years ago, the Chinese had developed considerably in comparison to the rest of the world, and according to Chen Zhimin, considered the rest of the world to be barbarians. Thus in China, the belief was that there was ‘us and them’. The key was that, initially ‘us versus them’ was not based upon race, but acceptance of Chinese ideologies based upon thousands of years of history. As they had one of the oldest histories, they claimed the others inferior. All was not lost however, for the barbarians, one could ‘China-ize and rise to a non-barbarian status. If a country was relatively new, they only had to agree with Confucian ideologies and such and could be accepted.

Of course this was thousands of years ago, but this fundamental belief can still subtly be found in China. For instance, there is a common reference to her history, as if by saying that one invented chopsticks negates the power and contributions of the rest of the world over the past 200 years. In the literature and communication, there is the subtle hint as if to say, “yeah you (the rest of the world) have done a bit as of late, but we have the history, in reality we lay claim to be the ‘center country’ based on our history and early development of society and culture. Ironically China is somewhat silent regarding the pyramids of Egypt, Macchu Picchu, and Teotihuacan in Mexico, or their advanced societies. One gets the sense that this notion of ‘center country’ and something akin to being chosen or leaders of the civilized world is alive and well in the thoughts and actions of modern day China.

The impact that many today in the west miss, is the on-going attempt to relegate fewer things to barbarian status by China-izing them. For instance, the Chinese government does very little in the international venue with disclaiming that it will be obeyed, but will use Chinese considerations. For instance, they may consider China not to be an open market, but a socialist one with free market considerations which best serve the country. Basically this works as a disclaimer that they will do it the Chinese way, as being the center country, they have this right. Or when they won the Olympic bid, although they agreed to many concessions, freedom of the net, not to delay the broadcast etc, few of these were followed. The party line was that due to national security issues, they would not comply with all they had promised. After living here, I am not surprised. This is another form of saying that the son of the heavens knows best and will do as he wishes.

The second reason for the intense nationalism is more logical. China is basically a peaceful country. by this i mean, historically China is not war like. They seem to be happy to contain thier people, promote harmony and not act aggressively toward other countries.
Unfortunately, they have been invaded and attacked quite a few times and the amount of people, form of control etc. have made this difficult to avoid. Thus, China has quite a bit of ammunition to fire when speaking about hostile invaders and how they must love the mother land, promise allegiance etc. to avoid this in the future. Consider this, the Chinese government controls the distribution of ALL TV, Movies, Magazines etc. sold legally in China. Nothing you will see on TV has not received the blessing of the government! The impact of this governmental control is that if one watched TV here, one is constantly forced to view some savage conflict, usually with the Japanese, that appears to me to spark feelings of angst and keep the nationalism alive.

Of course, the basic China man is no different than we are. The majority of the educated ones can see through this veil, but the problem is that there are so many of them. The issue if that when one is traveling here or doing business, that these issues will always be there. They may not be obvious, but they are present…

still loving Beijing…

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Beijing Moon

Posted by w_thames_the_d on November 28, 2009

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Air over Korea

Posted by w_thames_the_d on November 28, 2009

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More Pimp Panda Rabbit…

Posted by w_thames_the_d on November 26, 2009

Yeah, can you feel it…

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Give me a hand…

Posted by w_thames_the_d on November 26, 2009

Just went to Wodoumei, that bakery here that really doesnt suck, and I was reminded of an episode of Time Warp. Confusing, well let me explain. In the episode of Time Warp, they had a vignette whereby they wanted to show how bacteria can be spread from person to person. To illustrate this, they "infected" a man and had him join in a group of people who were playing cards. The "infection" was actually some sort of paint that was not visible to the naked eye, but merely a substance that was painted on his face. After a few hours they would use one of those fancy detective-like devices to illuminate the "bacteria" and show how much bacteria can be spread in a matter of hours.

After two hours or so, the place was infested. The man who was initially infected had touched his face, his glass, the cards, the chips etc. and basically all of the members of the group were exposed to the bacteria. This got me thinking…

I went to Wodoumei, and the process for getting food is the following:
-enter, grab a serving plate (unsanitized) from a community bin
-grab a pair of tongs (unsanitized) from a community bin
-proceed to food
-cashier takes your tongs puts your item in a bag
-cashier takes your money (doesn’t sanitize hands)
-cashier makes change
-cashier replaces tongs and serving plate (all unsanitized)
process is repeated.

Now, as of yet, I have not experienced food poisoning or anything of that sort during my 2 years in China, but that show got me thinking. If you just imagine what I have described, you can see the tremendous potential for me as a consumer to be exposed to the bacteria of others.

Then I began to think some more…In the subway and in the streets we see many people with those face masks, the ones that will keep us from getting the piggy flu. My question is this: Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest all of the money spent on masks etc. for some hand sanitizer, or even classes in elementary hygiene?

It astounds me, as I stated, I have yet to get sick here and in EVERY country I have been to, but China, I have gotten sick while my body adjusts to the local microbes etc. I really dont understand why it hasn’t happened here. Maybe they have some seriously benign microbes or there is some collective unspoken will developed over thousands of years that doesnt permit the passing of the bad bacteria. Either way, I have learned to accept it, knock on wood and hoep for the best.

today no snow in Beijing, I am just living… and learning the culture…

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Slowly Down

Posted by w_thames_the_d on November 26, 2009

Sign from the police, advising us to "Slowly Down". I understand and appreciate that I am in China and it is great that instead of making us read hieroglyphics, they accomodate us and put it in English. The thing that gets me is, if you are going to do it, pay a little cash and do it right. It reminds me of all of those B school case studies where American companies went to foreign countries and mauled the language or committed huge cultural faux pas (the case of the Chevy Nova comes to mind). My advice is to not ‘slowly down’, but race ahead, do it, but pay a little extra and do it right….But thanks for the effort…

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Shanghai Shizzle

Posted by w_thames_the_d on November 25, 2009

Went to Shanghai the other month and met up with the bane of all foreigners who come to China, or most of them at least. I came up against the ‘squat pot’. Yeah, the toilets they use here are usually nothing more than a hole drilled straight into the concrete or floor, no toilet seat, nothing. Usually it is about 1.5 feet long and maybe 1 foot long and made of porcelain. There is no fancy plumbing, no fancy handles nor seating apparatus, just you and a big gaping hole, looking into it is like staring into hell.

I had not planned on this occurrence, and actually had avoided the dreaded squat pots for most of my time in China. This time, however, nature didn’t call, she screamed, and I had to obey. Now understand, I’m not the most squeamish person, I come from a farm town in Iowa and have used my share of outhouses. But those are outhouses, something that belongs, as the name implies, out of the house, not in a modern city in a modern hotel.

But, as stated, I was walking and the Kung Pao chicken came knocking, as it were. I dutifully quickened my pace, tightened my innards and was off to find a suitable place to perform my bodily functions. I walked nearly two blocks, and understand, blocks in China are not like a US city block, these things are a country mile. So I walked, passed the small eateries, almost sure that they would not have adequate accommodations. Finally i settled on what appeared to be a four star hotel, I entered. Being a foreigner, they just assumed I stayed there and I inquired as to the whereabouts of the loo.

As I approached the WC I was overcome with relief, no embarrassing squatting on one of the devilish pots, adjusting all of my clothing, feet spread wide, looking at what I am sure must be a close approximation of a cagey pole dancer. I have had to use those pots in a pinch- pardon the pun, and found them nothing less than embarrassing, like reverse Darwinism.

I gathered all my belongings and opened the stall door…

Yeah, squat pot. I panicked, checked the other three stalls, usually at least one is of the conventional type. None of them were. Not much a guy can do in a situation like this, I mean its kind of like that old cop said in Cool Hand Luke
"What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach."
Yeah, maybe that old prison warden of Chinese fate was telling me that I can fight all I want but in the end, sometimes you just gotta squat.

…or maybe I just made a bad choice…

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Lets be friends…

Posted by w_thames_the_d on November 25, 2009

When I came to China I was surprised to see how many ‘friends’ I had. Everywhere everyone was asking me if we could ‘be friends’. Friends, I thought, hell yeah, cant have enough of them…

Now ‘being a friend’ in China can mean many things, just as in the States. For instance, if you have amorous desires towards a woman and she says this, well, just walk on. Or, for instance, in the fifth grade, this is akin to a pact, being a friend may mean best friend, or to be on one’s sacred friend list. A list of people with whom one can chat, phone, generally annoy.

What I have found out is that in China, if asked, answer in the affirmative that you will be a friend to all. When they ask they question here, they are basically asking if they may communicate further with you in the future. The beauty of it all is that they are pretty timid people, so keeping in touch may mean nothing more than a text message a week or an email.

Being accepted into a friendship in China, is like being in the mob. They have several layers, like an onion. Typically when asked this question, you may feel it odd, seems somewhat sophomoric. Basically it is a benign request, unless it is from an overbearing student or 20something who wishes to improve their English, it is just another person for them to put in their list of names in their cell. Maybe its for prestige when showing others, maybe to help you, doesn’t really matter, just say "Yes, I would be honored to be your friend."

All about Chinese culture…

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Beijing Hutongs

Posted by w_thames_the_d on November 25, 2009

This is a shot of Beijing’s famous hutongs, or alley’s. Basically hutongs are one of Beijing’s ways of not losing its cultural heritage. The hutongs are near the Lama Temple, and are in stark contrast to the sky scrapers that pollute the sky in the Central Business District. This area offers a taste of Beijing’s history as the streets are lined with stores and houses, the construction of which has remained unchanged for over a half-century. The place is charming, has great food, tons of foreigners and angry locals who resent being the constant flood of foreigners. This area is a must see if you ever come.

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Posted by w_thames_the_d on November 25, 2009

Beautiful area, tons of people, lots of … um fog or smog, depending on who you ask…

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