So obviously I haven’t been updating much recently. Insert standard “I’ve been awful busy with work / side projects / taking on freelance work at insultingly low pay” boilerplate here.
One of the things that I’ve been busying myself with is my weekly column in Chinese for the 珠海特区报 Zhuhai News. They don’t seem to be putting it up on their website, so I’ve restarted my Chinese blog attempts over at 在北京找不着北, and you can find my previous columns, in unedited form, there.
I say “unedited form” because this last week’s column apparently had to be tempered somewhat before going to print — not all that surprising, I suppose, since I was pretty much deliberately pushing it. Here’s a translation:
There are times when absolutely everything pisses me off. Even small things (like migrant workers halloo’ing at me on the street or people disharmoniously cutting in front of me in line) can instantly put me out of my usually good mood. I’ll think to myself, “that would never happen in the States!” What really gets me going isn’t running into vendors who like playing “screw the foreigner” or commuters who don’t understand the basic moral principles of waiting for people to disembark the subway before getting on it; it’s getting stuck behind people who don’t know how to walk.Maybe it’s an East Coast thing. People from the East Coast of the US are known for being direct – in business and in speech, yes, but even more so when it comes to perambulation. There is only one correct way to walk when you’re in the downtown area of a major city, and it is this: pick your destination, put your head down, fix your eyes firmly on the sidewalk in front of you, get over to the right-hand side of the pavement, and start walking forward as fast as possible. Hands should be placed in pockets; eyes should not linger on anyone else; pace should be steady and rapid, and under no circumstances should you stop walking. Chinese commuters do not get this; I am forced, multiple times daily, to stop walking suddenly because the person in front of me has halted, blocking the sidewalk, to gawp slackjawed at something or another. O my Chinese brothers and sisters, I beg you, get out of my goddamn way. It annoys me as nothing else can.
When this happens, I have to pause, take a deep breath, count to ten, and list to myself all of the things that I like about China.
I started studying Chinese 6 years ago, and haven’t gotten tired of it yet. Every time I go back home, I worry that my Chinese will rust up from not being used. I always liked languages. Every language has its own feeling – Spanish is excitable; Italian is expressive; Irish is lilting – but of all of the languages I’ve learned, Chinese comes most easily to the mouth. When I was back in the States finishing my degree last year, I itched to speak it.
Look, Western food isn’t as simple as most Chinese people think it is, and Chinese food isn’t my favorite — that’d be Vietnamese food (or possibly Indian or Mexican; I haven’t decided yet). That said, Chinese food is so richly varied that it’s hard to get sick of. I particularly like Sichuan and Hunan cuisine, both of which are hard to find in the States.
The first time I ever came to China was in 2001. When I returned to the Beida area in the summer of 2002, I found that all of the places I remembered near the campus were gone, nothing more than memories. A couple of friends from Philadelphia came to visit me last year, and one day I decided to take them to the hutong alleys around Qianmen, only to find that almost all of them had been torn down. In preparation for the 2008 Olympics, Beijing’s busying itself with destroying what few nice places remain; my disorientation at no longer being able to find my way around in the orient is a symbol of China’s rapid economic, cultural, and aesthetic development.
It wasn’t until after I moved to China that I discovered just how dangerous it is to live outside of China. When I first got here, people asked me if I didn’t feel that China was much safer than the US. This struck me as strange when I first heard it, and when I asked what the questioner meant, they explained: isn’t it true that everyone in the US has a handgun? Aren’t there severe tensions between the blacks and the whites? More or less the next day, I was watching the news when I saw report after report on various natural and man-made disasters, violent crime, human rights violations, and other terrifying stuff going on in other countries. I never knew the Western media was so censored! It really opened my eyes, I can tell you.
Also, I remember that newspapers in the US were full of articles about environmental degradation, official corruption, the growing gap between the rich and poor — stuff you just won’t find in China’s newspapers — proof positive that the quality of life here is way higher than in Western countries.
After thinking all of this, and counting down, and reminding myself of why I enjoy living in China, I can relax and continue walking happily forward.