^yes, I know that’s an impressive and creative blog title.
The past few months have been filled with work. Teaching, grading, homeworking, job searching and surviving whatever China throws my way. Living here for so long has given me a chance to absorb the culture in a deeper way. Visiting China for a few weeks or months lets you see only superficial differences and similarities. The same can be said about any country but China often takes longer to digest, particularly for Americans. It is vastly different than our home. For example:
-Chinese use “squatty potty” toilets. These are porcelain bowls that lie flat on the ground, sinking in the center to collect your business. If you can’t hold your own body weight in a squat position, good luck to you in China.
-Getting around on public transportation in a crowded country is much different than driving yourself everywhere. I use a basketball defense tactic to survive here. I “keep my head on a swivel”. As explained by my high school basketball coach/dad you have to keep one eye on the ball and one eye on your offensive player while still communicating with your teammates. In China, you have to keep one eye on surprisingly strong and agile grandmas and one eye on motor bikes while still trying to figure out where you are going.
-Food habits. Chinese people eat: smaller portions, healthier food and from what I can tell way more fruits and vegetables than we do. They often prefer tea to coffee. Everyone seems to eat meals at generally the same time. Many times food is shared among several dishes, instead of everyone having their own plate.
-Language barriers. English is hard, just ask my students or look at your Facebook newsfeed if you disagree. It’s not like Chinese is any easier for us to learn. Often I’m reduced to communicating like a 3 year old in China. I can say things like “I WANT THIS” or “GIVE TO ME”. Many times I resort to grunting and pointing. Example: “Uh! Uh!” *points at piece of cake* ….. “HOW MUCH”?
We have different education systems, schools of thought, measurement systems, governments, etc. But at the end of the day, I think we have more in common than we realize.
Hear me out.
Men have no problem saying what they want to strangers.
What is this phenomena? Whether it’s an unintelligible yelp or an unwanted comment on appearance, guys love to talk at strangers. I have no memory of a woman I don’t know ever yelling at me from afar or bluntly asking personal questions. Men have talked at me or ‘hollered’ at me all over China and all over the continental United States. A while ago I was in a massage chair sitting next to a very old Chinese man. I could tell he wanted to talk to me. I could see the curiosity in his eyes.
After ten minutes of staring he poked me and asked “are you Russian”? I said “No, American”. He was visibly thrown by my nationality. I noticed a lady with the same curiosity sitting on the other side of me, she did not say a word. Guys have hung out of car windows in China shouting “ HALLO!!! HALLO!!” at me. You might be thinking “aww, they are just curious!” Which is true. It’s just odd to me that men feel it is OK to speak bluntly and/or loudly to whomever while women, who are presumably just as curious, have a tendency to be quieter. In America comments are usually flirtatious in nature. One time this toothless man leaned out of his red rust bucket of a truck and asked me for my phone number while I was waiting to cross the street. What on earth gave him the confidence to ask?
I feel like most women wouldn’t do such a thing. I think I know why though; the dressing room mirrors at H&M have sucked the confidence right out of us. This leads to my second point of commonality.
H&M’s dressing room mirrors are the worst.
Never have I ever left an H&M dressing room and said “wow, glad I went in there! I feel thin and beautiful and I have great pores!” Since this is the only store in China where I can find clothes that fit, I’ve been forced to break a rule I made for myself in America. Never ever under any circumstance go into an H&M dressing room. Self-esteem, pride and any form of dignity are ruined if not for the rest of the week at least that day. If they fixed those torture chambers, I’m pretty sure customers would buy more. Can I get a woot, woot? Come on, H&M! I need to look good so I can attract more men in rusty red trucks.
Don’t we all want to be beautiful? The desire to be deemed beautiful is also something we share.
Our culture is obsessed with looks and the individual. We want, so desperately, to be perceived as beautiful and financially stable by our peers. Why else would we spend hours getting the best selfie for Instagram? Humblebragging is too real. I remember being in 6th grade and really a caring a lot about my blue glitter eye shadow and whether or not the boys would think it was pretty. Is this where guys get their justification for commenting on our looks? If our goal is to be attractive then are cat calls not signs of success? Hmm. What a complex.
Anyway, there is a new class of young Chinese who are obsessed with looks and money. As the economy continues to gain strength, so does the pressure to look the wealthy part. Make up, plastic surgery, hair care, fancy clothes and accessories have exploded in popularity. That’s usually followed with a healthy dose of vanity and sprinkles of narcissism. I watched a girl conduct a full selfie photo shoot over dinner while her brother held his iPhone flash to give her the perfect lighting for the perfect picture. She was moving around her table, posing and changing angles and making a scene for an hour or more. We thought maybe she was famous, so the guy at our table asked. She wasn’t but was incredibly flattered by his blunt question.
I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous she looked and how ridiculous I’ve probably looked time and time again trying to be ‘pretty’. There are many ridiculous photos of me and all I can do is laugh at them now. I believe fully in laughing at yourself and life in general because it’s ridiculous no matter what county or hemisphere you are in.
I was riding one of the public buses a few weeks ago when a group of old men, presumably buddies, all sat around me. Busses often have videos playing for passengers. Sometimes it’s news, sometimes it is funny home videos. That day? Videos of babies, adults and animals falling down. It was hilarious. The best clip was a big fluffy dog steam rolling a toddler. The balding men with belted slacks up to their belly buttons howled in laughter, as did I. Chinese people have a great sense of humor, just like Americans.
Chinese people also love their country and are typically proud to be Chinese in the same way we love America and are proud of our country. They know China isn’t perfect and understand the problems facing their giant home. China has: smart people, dumb people, kind-hearted and broken-hearted people. China has poor people, rich people. Most are generous, some are selfish. Many are hardworking, but plenty are lazy. Essentially, China has many different kinds of people. Just like we do in America. We are uniquely human and as Miranda Lambert says “it takes all kinds of kinds”. This holds true in both countries.
For so long China and the United States have been enemies with nothing nice to say to one another. We think differently and we operate in a totally different way. But I think the biggest source of resentment comes from our strongest similarity. We both (generally speaking) desire to be in charge of the world order. China feels it has been duped by foreign powers in the past century and is on its’ rightful path back to the top. The US sees itself as the global peace keeper, dutifully managing the world.
Can the two co-exist at the top? We both value stability and rely on each others’ success for our own. Chinese watch American movies and TV shows. They listen to our music and send over 400,000 students to our universities every year. They are well on their way to being a bi-lingual nation. China’s government has bailed out our federal government, more than once. They know about us, but we don’ know about them. I’m oversimplifying the relationship, but we should know more about our powerful friend in the East. This is why it is so, insanely important more college students study abroad in China! I think that’s the best place to start better understanding.