Tag Archive: China


 

I recently wrote an article on China’s morals which, needless to say, was quite “edgy.” The senior editor of the English magazine I wrote it for, requested I soften it up a bit. I rewrote the entire article from a foreigner’s point of view. Hope you enjoy it.

For most foreigners, arriving in China for the first time is nothing less than an adrenaline rush. Culture shock skips gears and settles into high as our curiosity works overtime. Wherever we go, whatever we see, we witness something new: people trampling over one another to get through a line; construction sites where only women carry heavy materials up flights of stairs; families boarding small motor scooters, and perhaps cuddling a newborn. Our impressions are faced with a new reality – things we’ve only seen in a film, or have read about. We are in the midst of a new world order, behind the great wall of China.

 

Foreigners visit China for various reasons and length of times. Our preparation consists of obtaining our visa, researching cities, tourist sites, cost of living, jobs, and wishing farewell to our friends and loved ones. We visualize obstacles, and how we’re going to cope with the communication gap. Trading the comfort zone of our home country isn’t an easy decision, but we convince ourselves, “Hey, what the heck, it’ll be a new adventure.”

 

Most foreigners I’ve come into contact with planned on staying for only a short term. Most of those foreigners decided to remain here… indefinitely. What changed their minds? Was it the exquisite cuisine? Was it the discovery of 101 uses of toilet tissue? Was it the challenge of dodging taxis? Or was it the people and their culture? Whatever the reason, it’s apparent China has the magnetic capability of keeping a person here.

 

For some of us, it’s an introduction to what freedom is all about. I know where I’m from, every step made is accompanied by a look over the shoulder to see if there’s a waiting policeman ready to pounce on the most petty of actions, especially when it’s nearing the end of the month when their quotas have to be met. In most parts of China, people pretty much do what they want, without fearing consequences. As a foreigner, this is a new revelation.

 

China revels in thousands of years of traditions and customs. In some parts of China, the standards of moral behavior remain in less educated ancient times. Foreigners who witness some aspect of immoral behavior may be shocked at first, but as time elapses, our shock turns into simple acknowledgment – not giving it a second thought. For some of us, I don’t think we’ll learn to approve immoral behavior, but we do need to learn to live with it if we are to remain in China.

 

Confucius visualized a utopian society exhibiting great harmony, made up with rational individuals displaying the values of etiquette and benevolence as its nation’s moral benchmarks. His theory extended to society acting in a manner acceptable to the norm. I don’t think we should forget our morals, but we should respect the existing levels of morals which are “acceptable to the norm.” To borrow a cliche’, it’s just something we must agree to disagree with.

 

Most people in China agree that China lacks the morals and manners of western civilizations. Several students and high positioned authorities in China were asked their opinions for their country’s lack of morals. Their answers were unanimous, lack of education. An intuitive fourteen-year-old student from Dongguan, Harry Ylin Liu, believes that morals should be taught in school, and enforced at home. Perhaps a required reading of Emily Post is necessary? Whatever direction taken, I agree with Harry that education is important to fuel acceptable behavior, especially if a student plans on attending a university abroad.

 

In extreme cases, when lack of morals become life threatening to another, some people believe it’s time for legislature to intercede with appropriate laws. In a recent catastrophic event, people stood by and witnessed a hit and run accident, and did nothing. Chinese legislature is now considering a law similar to America, referred to as, “The Good Samaritan Law.” Nie Lize, an associate professor at Sun Yat-sen University, is in favor, “It is necessary to legislate because the morals of Chinese people are getting lower.”

 

Most of us foreigners were raised being taught proper manners and morals. We have been taught to be polite and benevolent towards others. Our moral standards are at a high level, knowing the difference between right and wrong, not because it was the law, but because it was instilled in us and an early age – manners that assured us we wouldn’t disrespect or offend others, and necessary if we were to succeed in life. Our moral upbringing and manner bearing behavior became instinctive habits – never having to give them a second thought. China makes us review what we’ve learned, and discover examples why we were taught them.

 

Everyday is a sightseeing day for foreigners. We discover new places that have always existed just around the corner; we meet new people wherever we go; and we’re always soaking in new knowledge, or a new Chinese word. Venturing out of our protective caves we call home, we often witness some kind of moral faux pas taking place on the streets. We’re almost tempted to whip out our camera phones and take a snapshot, but we were raised to respect other peoples customs. Besides, chances are we’ll see the behavior again sometime.

 

One of the things that appeals to many foreigners is the fact they are never judged or ridiculed for their behavior or looks – a newfound freedom to be who they are. China is an opportunity to express ourselves in ways that perhaps were not acceptable, for one reason or another, in our home country. Being a foreigner in most parts of China must be how celebrities feel, always the center of attention. That being said, I believe we have a certain standard to uphold, to set an example with our behavior. What’s defined as acceptable morals in one country, may not be considered acceptable in another. As we are not judged, so shall we not judge others. Sound familiar?

 

Enamored by the way of Chinese life, many foreigners want to “fit in” with the populous. In America we have a TV show called, “Girls Gone Wild,” which could easily be translated to, “Foreigners Gone Wild.” There is no shortage of nightclubs, parks, bars, and other foreigner frequented fares. During the day, we’re respectable and knowledgable, teachers or business people; at night, our inner demons are released and encouraged to come out and play. Every night in China is a Saturday night, and a foreigner is never alone. We toss immoral behavior aside, and blend in with the others. Gotta love China!

 

On the other hand, there are some foreigners who believe it is their responsibility to act as saviors, and preach the importance of morals. They use their positions as soap boxes to grandstand their righteous beliefs. As tempting and commendable their intentions, they border on displaying a superiority complex, which Chinese people have a tact for recognizing. Unless a foreigner’s job specifically designates, humanitarian efforts are highly recommended to be shelved until such time they are requested.

 

I first arrived in China at the tail end of the coldest winter in thirty years. My first stroll down a street was more of an exploration, acquainting myself with my immediate surroundings. Although my new home was a far cry from even a three-star neighborhood, I was surprised to see how many doctors lived in my area. There were more people than not, donning surgical masks. Pretty strange, especially since there was no hospital nearby. I soon found out that they were worn to help prevent the spreading of ones germs. That’s something I’d never see in my country. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a foreigner in China wearing a surgical mask. Maybe there’s something we can learn from this? I’m sure if we probe further, there are many explanations that would reveal the logic as to why certain behaviors are acceptable. Allow me to digress, although I’ve been explained the reason for painfully pinching oneself to take the place of over the counter medicine, I still have a difficult time trusting its effectiveness.

 

For some foreigners, China is a giant playground full of freedoms we couldn’t enjoy in our home country. As time goes on, and people continue to be more educated, and legislature enacts laws, the emerging superpower of China will eventually raise the bar on its moral standards. For now, we go with the flow, and be careful not to chip away at the great wall of China.


American Chinese New Year

There’s two types of people that come to mind, when I think of American’s making New Years resolutions: those who reflect on the previous year, and carefully plot out their new year; and those who reflect from their head inside a toilet bowl, screaming out resolutions the morning after, “Never again!” It would be remiss if I didn’t reluctantly admit to experiencing the latter on a few occasions. We’ll save those details for another time.

Resolutions are basically goals we promise ourselves for the new year. The most popular resolutions are: losing weight; quiting drinking; and quiting smoking. If you’re overweight and a smoker, it’ll be like making a pineapple upside down cake without the pineapple. Then there’s many people who refuse to adhere to the harshness of resolutions, but it’s probably a result of never following through with their resolutions in the past. In my case, I just prefer not to be a conformist.

In addition to making resolutions, it’s also time for celebration. Recognized as the world’s melting pot, America experiences all different kinds of ways to bring in the New Year. Some treat it as a religious event; some spend it with family; some enjoy social gatherings with friends or strangers; and many just prefer to share a romantic encounter with someone they love… or plan on loving. No matter what the preference, everyone celebrates New Years.

If you prefer to avoid crowds and traffic, you might want to consider bringing those things into the comfort of your own home. Practically every station on TV broadcasts parties and concerts from around the globe, providing vicarious enjoyment of New Years celebrations. If watching others have all the fun is too depressing, there are always marathon TV series and movies to. The most popular New Years Eve televised event, is watching the glowing ball descend in Times Square, in New York. Thousands of people from around the world gather on this typical frost bitten evening to watch this six ton lighted ball drop, signifying another year passed, and another year beginning. It’s a street party rife with concerts and interviews of celebrities publicly announcing their resolutions for the world to witness.

If you’re a hopeless member of the lonely hearts club, for a small fee, you can venture out and join parties held by local restaurants, clubs and organizations. Whichever venue you decide on, be prepared to experience a typical New Years party decorated room: multicolored streamers; banners; balloons; party hats; noisemakers and confetti which make up the dress of a typical American New Years Party. For American’s, the stroke of midnight is immediately followed by the customary kiss; sealing your luck for the new year. I recommend arriving early to give yourself time to troll for a willing participant.

I’ve enjoyed every New Years while living in California, but the one New Year I’ll never forget was in 2009, in Huizhou City, Guangdong Province. My English sidekick and I were bi-weekly “regulars” at Shui Li Fang, a small nightclub with a large personality. We were on a first name basis with the manager and staff, who invited us to celebrate their annual New Years Eve party. The club was decked out in typical New Years decor and full of dance, song and music. The evening included stage dancing with the beautiful, (and risque) staff dancers; parade dancing around the interior perimeter; and everyone singing to classic English songs. We accepted invitations to nearly all tables for an overabundance of friendly “gan bei” (cheers) sessions, and exchanged greetings of “xin nian kuai le” (happy new years). All this propelled us into the early morning hours. As the last noisemake blew, the last bit of confetti fell, and the last person was seen standing, my sidekick, Peter, and I stumbled out to a waiting taxi and headed for home. Yes, that was a year for making resolutions from the inside of an echoing toilet bowl.

No matter what you do or who your doing it with, I hope all your dreams and wishes come true in 2012.

Student Art Exhibition

Chinese people love to view and collect art, especially if it has a western influence. Almost every weekend you can find outdoor art exhibitions in parks, gardens, and even displays lined up along sidewalks. Art enthusiasts gather around to witness first hand the artistic bravura of its creators.

Like the west, art is introduced and taught at an early age. Beijing Normal University Hanlin Experimental School, in Dongguan City, recently held an art exhibition to boast the progress of their students in the Art Department. Easels of sketches were arranged under multicolored canopies just inside the entrance of the school for all who entered to view. The soccer field and basketball courts served as the backdrop, with a size and resemblance of an American University. The art displays were grouped from the most simple to the most complex. Although these art students may be considered too inexperienced to be given the official title of “Artist,” their work exhibited maturity and talent required of those seasoned.

Like writing, art has its cliche’s. Fruit and vase on a table was the theme of most sketches, measuring 2’ x 3’, completed with charcoal pencils. Students were allowed to add items on the table to sketch, should they have chosen. Some placed combinations of hair dryers, books, wine bottles and glasses, bottled water, and even a mountain goats skull in their sketches. Scattered throughout the arrangements, were sketches of Greek columns and the head of David.

From a distance the sketches all appeared basically the same. As you neared the display, details of each particular piece seemed to take shape. Viewing them again in the afternoon light, it was clear to choose two sketches I felt stood out amongst the rest. With the assistance of one of the students viewing the collection, I tracked down the artists responsible for those sketches.

During a short interview with seventeen years old, Mindy Liu and Vivi Chen, I learned they both enrolled in the art class last year with no previous art experience. When asked why they chose art, they agreed, “To be admitted into a better University.” Not quite the artistic answer I was expecting. Art was only an additional course for them to place on their University application.

Knowing beforehand their sketches would be displayed outside, their focus was on light and shading. Their intention was to render the sketches with equal appeal throughout the day, taking into consideration the direction of sunlight at each given point of the day, an almost impossible feat considering they used charcoal pencils.

At this point, neither student has a desire to pursue art as a potential career, but were proud to present their personal sketch books for me to view. The first pages could have been easily been mistaken for a right handed person drawing with their left hand. As I quickly turned the pages, it was clear to recognize their talent taking new form. They had sketched: human figures; landscapes; the Eiffel Tower; historical buildings and monuments in Paris; skyscrapers; and clothes from different periods of time.

The exhibition attracted hundreds eyes from students, faculty members, and cameras. Mindy and Vivi discovered their hidden talent, but like so many Chinese students, modesty gets the better part of them, which prevents them to excel. It is my hope they will continue, and at least use it for a hobby, sharing their art with others to view.