Tuesday, September 29, 2009

60 Years of Communism

On November 1st, all of China will celebrate National Day. This year is the 60th Anniversary of Communist Party and that is a very big deal! Preparations have been going on for months to make sure this is the biggest celebration ever. You thought the 2008 Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies were elaborate? They pale in comparison to what has been planned for the celebration in Beijing. Security around Beijing (and all over the country for that matter) has been stepped up considerably in the past several months. Popular internet sites like Facebook and YouTube have been blocked as well as tons of blog sites. The only reason I am able to access mine is because a friend of mine purchased a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for me that gives me a US ISP address so I can get around the Great Firewall. The truth is, I’m a little confused by all this. China has become more and more open to media influences and is beginning to establish itself as a developing, stabilizing power on the global scene. So, why the need for such heavy handedness when it comes to the media? I realize there is always some nut job out there that wants to disrupt significant events by doing outrageous things, but please! Shutting down the internet? Having check point miles and miles away from Beijing to ensure that nothing happens? Who is this massive celebration for if no one can get into Beijing to see it. Is it for the people or just for the broadcasters to give the world an image of what a "new China" looks like. I have heard Chinese both applauding the government and criticizing it for this showy display of progress. It gives some a sense of pride in the accomplishments that China has made over the past 60 years. For others, it is an enormous waste of money and resources when the country has so many more pressing issues to deal with. Personally, I think China has changed a lot since the first time I came here in 2003. The development of industry and urban sprawl is mind boggling. Since I live in the city, I can get almost every foreign food import my little heart long as I’m willing to pay the big bucks for it! Travel is easier. I can now live in a Chinese community rather than an ex-pat development and most of the time people are pretty friendly to foreigners. It’s too bad there is still a feeling among officials that controlling things is the only way to get results. Of course, there are still plenty of limitations on things that people are and are not allowed to do. Let’s not forget that China as we know it today is only 60 years old! It has a long way to go in catching up with developed nations that have been functioning as such for many years. Will it happen overnight? Not on your life! With 1.32 billion people it is a big boat to turn and China is being very cautious about how fast and far she wants to go. I think China should be given credit for the progress that it has made, recognizing that the road ahead will require many more changes if progress is to be maintained. Will China ever arrive in its standing as an equal among other developed nations? I believe it will, but I doubt it will be in my lifetime. Although I disagree with the Communist ideals on many levels, I say that we should let China have its day to celebrate, stop being so critical of all that is wrong or things that have not yet changed and encourage China’s leaders to step up and continue making progress. Happy 60th Anniversary, China! Zhongguo Jiayou!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Character" Education

I have to be honest and say that for most of my first year of studying Chinese, I was completely clueless. It was all Greek to me! Haha! Seriously, I wondered if I was wasting a lot of time and money trying to learn a language that was far beyond my ability to learn and frankly, I was a little worried that it would never happen for me. By faith (and probably a little stubbornness) I just kept studying, listening, and believing that somehow, someway, it would all come together. Now that I have started my second year of language learning, I am happy to say that I really enjoy learning Mandarin, which is a big relief! I also love the opportunities it gives me to have deep level talks with my teachers. That is really a plus! Actually, Chinese characters makes a lot of sense in the way that they are formed-certainly a lot more sense than how English words are spelled or put together. For example, the Chinese word for home is Jia (written in Pinyin-the Romanized spelling of the character in Chinese) The top part (or radical) of the character represents the roof of a house. The lower part (or radical) of the character represents the pig which is found on the land where the house is. Put the two radicals together and it means “home.” It’s the place where your house and your livestock are. This makes reading and remembering characters easier. If you can learn the radical then you can figure out a lot about a characters and its meaning. Of course, I can remember and read a whole lot more than I can write, but understanding how characters are formed is helpful, and makes learning Chinese interesting, and kind of fun! Writing is a whole different story. Each character has a specific stroke order which must be done correctly, to form the character correctly. This is a very tedious process which takes hours and hours of practice. I know this is something that I really need to do to be proficient, but in the past I have been resistant to the idea. I tried it early on, but after several months of frustration I gave up. I decided that speaking was difficult enough, and although reading was within reach, writing was a totally unrealistic goal. Well, believe it or not I am slowly feeling prompted to change my mind on this. I think I was so overwhelmed my first year with transitioning to a new country, that the task of learning every facet of Chinese was daunting! I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility of actually writing. I mean, come on! Success for me was speaking enough understandable Chinese to survive and get my everyday needs met! Phooey on whether or not it was pretty. A win was a win! Now I’m at the point where I realize that survival Chinese is not good enough! Yes, I can usually remember how to write my name in characters, but big deal! If I really want to be part of this culture and live here indefinitely, I need to embrace language to the fullest! No, I probably won’t be getting a Chinese character tatoo any time soon, but at least I will be able to read what is written on other peoples’ bodies! And if by chance I did decide to get one, I would get something meaningful, not something stupid that I couldn’t even read! So much of a culture is wrapped up in communicating both orally and in writing! Imagine what it would be like to live your life as a functional illiterate. That’s what it’s like for me right now! I can’t read a newspaper, a menu, street signs or a simple notice on my door. It’s really hard! Not only that, but think about what it would be like being illiterate in America. Think of all the things you would never know about American culture and American people if you couldn’t read the great books of literature like the Bible, the poets, and the historic accounts of how our nation was founded! Yes, I have been re-thinking this whole language idea. If I am here to love and serve the people of China, then I need to really show it in my language learning. For me, this is the true meaning of “Character” education! It will definitely develop my “character” as I literally learn to read and write Chinese characters and i am in the process of writing my own legacy here by the way I live my keep encouraging me to "Write on!"


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Futility of "Why?"

It’s always been in my nature to be curious, to discover the ins and outs of how things work and to question why this is so. In this respect I’m like a perpetual 3 year old, always pushing the envelope and I suppose getting on peoples’ nerves by asking sometimes unanswerable questions. Well, if it’s true that curiosity killed the cat, than I really must have 9 lives, because living in China has given me tons more opportunities to seek answers for some seemingly strange behavior.

They say that every behavior is communication and I know this is true. Behavior communicates our deepest values, beliefs, our underlying cultural assumptions and our personal ideas. Different cultures have different ways of expressing these things and believe it or not, within the context of the culture, these behaviors usually make sense.
The trick for me (and every other foreigner) is to put aside my own cultural framework and try to see the world with a different set of glasses. Not an easy task!

I want to know why~

1. People write on their hand to show me the character they are talking about instead of writing it down on a piece of paper, so I will have it available when I need it again… especially since most of the time I don’t know the characters anyway.

2. It is OK to hold a baby over a public sink to urinate when everyone will have to use the same sink to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom.

3. I have to take part in the “Human Amoeba” process of getting on a train, being pushed and shoved everywhere, when everybody has a ticket with a numbered seat already waiting for them to sit in.

4. It’s OK to tell me how fat I am, but it’s not OK to openly talk about relational issues, an impending death of a loved one, or to cry in public.

5. People think it’s OK to publicly hack, spit, pee, pick their nose, fart, or launch snot rockets wherever or whenever they feel they need to. I mean seriously! Who does that?

6. People would rather send me in the wrong direction, than admit that they have no idea where the place is that I just asked them about.

Can I explain all the reasons behind the behaviors that seem to drive me crazy in this new culture? Definitely Not! But I have come to the conclusion that it is futile to be constantly asking “why?” After being in China for just over a year now, I have switched my questioning strategy to something much more practical. More and more I am beginning to ask, “What?” ….and I don’t mean “What the @#%& is this all about?” I try to ask myself what this behavior means in this context. What does it say about China, the culture, the belief system and values? What are the assumptions I’m making from my own cultural framework that are making this behavior difficult for me to understand or accept? What am I supposed to learn about Chinese people and what am I learning about myself in the process? I am sure of one thing. I will never figure out all the whys or whats of any culture…my own included, but I know that if I am going to call this my home I sure need to keep trying!