Thursday, July 17, 2008

Misconceptions of China

Those who travel to China form lots of misconceptions of the place and many take these misconceptions back to the mysterious West and spread them. I would like to balance out these malicious lies with some of my own.
They are all debatable but some are barely even matters of opinion.

Strangers approaching you speaking English=friendly
Strangers muttering about you in front of you=rude and uncultured

It's a common occurence, particularly in towns full of University Students to have young and attractive people approach you with the sentence "would you like me to be your translator?" or more bluntly "can I help you?"
Does this mean that they roam the streets all day offering help to able-bodied adults who appear to be minding their own business? or cripples, or beggars, or old ladies? I never even saw a Chinese person acknowledge a stranger who wasn't of foreign appearance.
As for those who talk about you in front of you, well that also happens to me in the English-speaking world, so it never really bothered me. But as I got to a level where I understood what most of them were saying I realised that things like "he's so handsome" and "I can't approach him, my English is fucking rubbish" are much more common than racial slurs (I'll get to racial slurs in a minute if I remember). It's if they go into the local dialect that they're probably taking the piss.

Many people lack inquisitiveness and initiative. This is the result of Communist tyranny, and more recently, vapid consumerism
Read up on ancient Chinese history and mythology. This is not an exclusively modern phenomenon. And is it really exclusively Chinese anyway?

Western style industrialisation/consumerism is stripping Chinese culture of everything that was once valuable about it
At both leaving parties in Longchuan, Students (aged 16-19) were pouring coke into paper cups and gan beiing* to the time about to pass and for the things that are yet to come. That's coca-cola or pepsi, there were both on the table. My mental image of them raising their cups and then draining them in unison is a very unusual real-life example of innocence and justifiable optimism.

Although Coke has been available in China for well under a century, and ganbeiing beer and baijiu dates back into the mists of time, the latter is unhealthy, unpleasant, and (as far as I'm aware) completely unnecessary.

*ask a Chinese friend what ganbeiing is.

Chinese people drive selfishly
They drive like idiots. Most drivers don't wear seatbelts, most motorcyclists don't wear helmets, and the lawlessness of the roads would disgust Sergio Leone. But clearly it's not selfish. It's more like, self-destructive.

Chinese people don't discuss, or express opinions on, major issues in public places
You just have to learn the language and enjoy earwigging other peoples' conversations to know that this is simply not true. As with anywhere, the majority of people prefer to chat shit about nothing than to put the world to rights.

In China, image and presentation are everything. Genuine quality is nothing
In history, for example during the SARS outbreak in 2003, obsession with keeping up appearances, has done great damage.
But just because some people live beyond their means (having lived in America I can't imagine anybody doing such a thing), and few people, however friendly, ever actually invite you into their living quarters. It's not necessarily because their living quarters are shamefully squalid, it might be because you have B.O.

Chinese girls (aged 16-25)fall neatly into two categories, traditional and westernized
Let's do an association of common words attached to these two archetypes:
TRADITIONAL-refined, virginal, uptight, remote, can sing but can't dance, hypocritical, virtuous, incorruptible, giggly, irritating
WESTERNISED-bubbly, promiscuous, talkative, honest, vibrant, confident, potentially mad, can dance but make white men look rhythmic, confident, giggly, irritating

I suppose I met a few girls who fell neatly into one category or the other, but people are much more interesting and adaptable than that.

Although appearance and face are very important in China, we should refrain from judging people by their appearance
Well, you shouldn't comlpetely judge anybody by their appearance, of course. But what about these guys who dye their hair orange and shape it like a pineapple. They've taken time and effort to look like a complete douche. Of course it says a lot about them.

There is a connection between the level of noise pollution and the fact that it's a totalitarian state
In any Chinese city, there is an obscene amount of noise from shouting, car horns, and really loud, really shit music.
In the early days, I thought this was because the subjects of a tyranny are frightened of the sound of their own thoughts. But then, I realised that the noise was made with consistency, regularity, and efficiency, so is probably not the responsibility of the Chinese Communist Party.

I'll get onto the issues of the role of the foreigner and the very real problem of racism, if and when I can be bothered.

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