Friday, June 5, 2009

"30 Rock" or "Leeds Preserves Her Own Rice Bowl"

I've finally bought the DVDs for 30 Rock, since it's been recommended to me by a number of people. I admit, I really don't know much about it. Thankfully I have the program description on the back of the DVD to help me out. Here it is copied in its entirety:

The chief screenwriter is not good does. Must worry the script to be obsolete, must worry that the viewing ratio is not good. If high-level has the little change, under will look like the donminoes equally to have the consecutive reaction along with it, finally will make a snowman likely is the same, evolves bad and the abomoinable Italian chaotic condition. "I for Comedy Crazy" the leading lady am meeting such life difficult position, although has the magnificent reputation. Is works as red comedy Xiu chief screenwriter. However was old boss to die of illness recently, takes office newly the new boss seems is not too recognizes her style, in addition in the program these size stars are also troublesome very much, all of a sudden let leading lady Leeds be tired out from the press. However regardless of how the worry, the life can also continue, should bow also to bow. Therefore to preserve own rice bowl, also to defend oneself chief screenwriter's dignity, in a metropolis the white-collar may meet frequently the scene started. How to maintain own individuality, and can simultaneously maintain the comfortable livelihood, this is not a gate relaxed curriculum, even if is the body is the chief screenwriter, the work place sways back and forth many year Leeds, must graduate also the non-easy matter.

I'm ready to watch.

(Link to Don's post about Chinese DVDs here)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Am I Angry at China?

I've never written anything really all that negative about China. I've always viewed crazy taxi drivers and other chaos as part of the fun. Sure, there are frustrations and things I don't like, but today was the first day I actually felt angry at China.

Maybe it started with all the websites that have been blocked leading up to the June 4th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. It was mostly just a nuisance, but it's also been a reminder of how far China has to come to enter the modern international community.Then yesterday, Don sent me this blogpost about an expat man who witnessed a suicide attempt. The bottom line is, he tried to help, and none of the Chinese onlookers did.

This led me to follow some links to a blog by a North American couple which had a lot of good information about why this phenomenon exists in China. They explained that in China, helping someone is considered an admission of guilt. I found one story in which an expat man who helped someone in an accident was actually taken to the police station and questioned, because if he was helping he must be at fault. We've been warned by expats more experienced that we, to avoid getting involved for this very reason.

The blog also points out that some people belive that Confucian thought supports this attitude. Confucius said, "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." Think about how different this is than the Western Golden Rule version. Telling someone to not do bad is very different than telling someone to do good. Confucius also stressed the importance of the family unit, which when taken to the extreme, may explain the Chinese reluctance to help people who are not in their family, i.e. not their responsibility.

Chinese culture very much values the group, often at the expense of the individual. Individualism can certainly be taken too far, but when the group is valued most, many bad behaviors towards people right next to you can be easily justified. Anyone not "in the group" can be discounted, and the needs of the group can be used to explain away any moral misgivings one might have about the needs of an individual.

While I have fortunately never seen an extreme example of apathy here in China (remember I live in China-lite), I have been baffled by other more mundane examples of the Chinese lack of value for the individual: pushing, reaching in front of my face, pretending I'm not there, staring as though I'm not human, etc. The complete lack of traffic courtesy or rules could be another example of not feeling they need to take others into consideration. We often witness people yelling at each other in public, and saw a man and his friend reduce a store clerk to tears while a crowd looked on, as Don wrote about in his blog back in September.

The amazing thing is, there are so many, many generous and nice Chinese people. When we have been guests in Chinese homes, all the stops are pulled out to be the most gracious of hosts. We have many people smile at us, try to talk to us, pose with us for pictures, etc. While this could be seen as a negative, I really think they are genuinely please and happy to meet us. So the contrast of the behavior I described above is all the more confusing.

And there are so many beautiful things about Chinese culture as well. They very much value art, knowledge and music, and take great pride in the beautiful city I live in. They traditionally take care of their parents, planning for and inviting them to live in their own homes. Imagine that happening in the US, where everyone values their space and privacy.

I could go on. But I guess the lesson to learn is, every culture has warts, my own included. I'm not going to say that it's okay to walk past someone in need in China or anywhere else. I think being compassionate is always a moral obligation. I hope China will absorb some of the West's value of the individual, and with it compassion for others not in their family. And maybe the West can learn from China's example of how to take care of your family.

So, I will hold to my belief that some things are just wrong, whether it is in Chinese culture, American culture or anything else. And just like with family, sometimes you're angry, and sometimes you flat out disagree. But in the end you love them anyway.

(Note: I'm hardly an expert on anything Chinese, I just live here and observe what I can. This post is my attempt to make sense of what I'm seeing around me. For a much better written and researched article about the same topic, please go to the first of three articles entitled The Good Samaritan with Chinese Characteristics located on the blog I paraphrased in paragraphs two and three.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Indignities of Learning Chinese

Everyone knows that the best way to learn a language is to live in the country. Immersing yourself in the local language and culture provides opportunities to learn from natives, practice new vocabulary, and pick up natural speech patterns. Compared to learning from a book, cd, or even in a class, there is nothing like living in a foreign country for learning a language quickly and well.

Too bad I don't live in China.

I live in Expat World, a fantasy land that hovers somewhere on the periferal vision of the local Chinese. Occasionally, our worlds collide, often with messy results, but by and large, we coexist in a kind of blissful ignorance of one another.

I get up in the morning and get on the staff bus that takes me to school, along with my family. I work all day with other expat staff, most of whom are native English speakers, teaching an English language curriculum to expat students. On weekends, I go to church with other expats, no Chinese are allowed to worship with us, or us with them.

Do I ever speak Chinese? Sure, I do. Two hours each week with my Chinese tutor. A couple of sentences to taxi drivers, or a few words to store clerks. And I always say "ni hao" to the nice guards at our apartment complex.

I intended to write some posts about how frustrating and humbling it is at times to learn Chinese, and I think I still will. But when I think about how few natural opportunities I have to speak Chinese, it really depresses me. So, I'll keep taking my classes and reading my grammar books. I'll start talking to my kids in Mandarin, or try to strike up conversations with the guy at the corner store. I'll watch some grueling Chinese TV.

And maybe one of these days I'll speak enough Chinese to find China around here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Moment at the Great Wall

I'm a dreamer. I'm constantly thinking about what's around the next corner, making plans (or "schemes" as Don calls them) and looking for possibilities. I consider this one of my strengths, and yet it is also a weakness. Sometimes I find that I'm looking too far ahead, not appreciating the present, and undervaluing what I already have. So when I have an experience that grounds me firmly in the present, it makes a big impression on me.

I can only name a few such occasions. One was standing in London's Hyde Park with Don and the kids, our first trip overseas together as a family. We couldn't believe that we were actually there with our three young children. Another would be any time I see the Grand Canyon. It humbles me, makes me feel small, yet amazes me that I'm part of something so large. It puts me in my place.

This trip to the Great Wall was just such an experience. I had been to the wall before; three years ago I went there with another teacher, a friend of mine, for a teacher exchange program in China. The wall was crawling with tourists, and our tour guide was hounding us to keep our visit short. It was great, but I knew I needed to go back to see it differently.

And this trip was entirely different. The few tourists at that part of the wall went east, and we went west. We pitched our tents in an original watch-tower with no roof. We spent almost 24 hours absolutely by ourselves, just the wall, the hills and us. As dusk approached, we watched the sky glow orange behind the next tower. We slept with the tower walls around us and the stars for our roof. We woke as the sun and the wall met at the horizon. The entire time I was in awe of our surroundings and the solitude. And most of all, I was grateful that we were experiencing it together.

It was and entire day of being in the moment, and not wanting the moment to end.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

That's So China: Taxi or Formula One?

I'm usually a cheapskate about transportation here and insist on taking buses whenever possible, but we were running late, so we took a taxi to church. You never quite know what you are getting yourself into when you get a taxi here. The drivers range from the rare careful driver, to the more common race-car-driver-wanna-be. Today was one of the latter. He grunted when I told him the directions, which I've found to be a sign of a fast driver, and, sure enough, he sped through red lights most of the way (Moral dilemma: When you're late for church, is it okay to hope the driver runs red lights?). We're so used to this kind of thing that none of us flinch or even notice anymore when breaking the traffic laws. I don't even cringe when driving in the path of an oncoming bus. All to be expected here.

This guy, however, was notable because he had been smoking before he picked us up, and so he thoughtfully held his cigarette out the window with his left hand while he steered and changed gears with his right. It sounds impressive, but the prize for the most skillful taxi driver I've experienced goes to the guy who used his left hand to talk on his cell phone, while his right hand held his wallet, and still managed to steer and shift gears. Imagine the admiration I felt when this same driver shot the gap to pass a long line of cars, and just made it back into the right lane in time to avoid the oncoming traffic.

I do have other favorite rides, though, that are on the other end of the spectrum. There's the chatty woman driver, I've ridden with her twice, who when I tell her directions, repeats them over and over, asks me for confirmation, and thanks me profusely. She says a whole lot of other things to me, while I nod and pretend like I understand her. Another guy I've ridden with more than once played easy-listening music and drove at an even, leisurely pace, obeying all traffic rules. I felt like I'd just had a good 15 minutes of meditation after getting out of his cab. Of course, I must have jinxed it by telling him, "See you again," because I haven't seen him since. Another memorable driver hacked and spit out the window with great gusto for most of the drive. This skill still enables the driver to use both hands to maneuver the car, so all in all I considered it a good ride.

So, whether it's driving with one hand, sqeaking through an intersection by just missing the cross traffic, or hocking a juicy loogie, I have to hand it to the taxi drivers here: they're one talented bunch.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

That's So China

Today when I got home from work, I was walking up to my apartment building and heard a chicken squawking. I turned around to see a man in a sports coat and slacks taking a chicken out of his black Peugeot sedan. The chicken was uncooperatively trying to escape from a cardboard box, so he put his black leather briefcase on the box lid.

I went up to my apartment, but few minutes later when I was again getting on my elevator, he was coming out, with the box and the chicken. He put the chicken in his trunk and drove away.
I'm not exactly sure what happened, and why, but a story that involves a chicken, a briefcase and a Peugeot is one that needs to be shared.

I never cease to be amazed by the juxtaposition of things both modern and undeveloped that make up China today.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Since we had no tombs to sweep for Tomb Sweeping Day, we went to a nearby city, Hangzhou, for the long weekend. Hangzhou is known throughout China as one of the most beautiful cities in China, along with Suzhou. There is actually an old Chinese saying : Heaven above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below.

Xi Hu, or West Lake, is the main attraction. Decide for yourself if you think it's a little bit of heaven on earth.