I woke up a real Christmas grouch.
From having to work at 8:30 a.m. to misplacing my itouch and prickling my finger fumbling through my bag in search of it (don’t worry, I found it), to doing a mad-Christmas-gift-dash in the busiest part of the city, to coming home to an empty house, you might understand why I was not feeling the spirit.
Yesterday was more eventful. To start the day off pleasantly, I received a package all the way from Boston from my friend Grace, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more awesome.
I requested that if my friends ever send me anything in the mail, it be themselves. So, thoughtful as Grace is, she sent me a mini-cardboard cutout of herself (to the right of the cookies) on top of the best box of cookies ever, a life-size Santa hat and a children’s book which I’ve already read twice to my students (Grace and I have a tradition of giving each other children’s books as gifts–I think that’s pretty cool). It’s hard to beat those gifts, especially when my students came over later with gift-wrapped fruits and a can of cola. I was so confused.
Rather than calling Christmas Eve “Christmas Eve,” the Chinese refer to it as Silent Night, or literally translated from Chinese, Peace Night (pinganye, 平安夜). The tradition–I now understand–is to give apples (pingguo, 苹果) to wish someone peacefulness. I also got an orange (juzi, 橘子) to symbolize good fortune and a can of Pepsi (kele, 可乐) to symbolize happiness. Clever, but also a waste of plastic–oh negative Nancy, it’s the thought that counts!
As for Christmas Day, my spirits were eventually lifted when my aunt and uncle arrived from Kunming, and we rushed off to catch my cousin perform in a typical Chinese “gala”–the kind of event you see on any Chinese TV channel–which consists of food, drinks and live performances. We ended the night eating hot pot, not exactly Christmasy, but it was shared with family. If I recall correctly, this is the first Christmas since junior year of high school that I’ve spent with my parents because they were always either working or were already in China. Growing up, I mostly celebrated Christmas with family friends, which–while I consider them family too–was always still a bit lonely.
Well, Christmas flew by this year; it came and went. But this is just the beginning of the holiday season! I expect Chinese New Years to be explosively festive (lots of fireworks involved I hear)!
Any-Cindy-Lou-Who, it’s time for bed. Stuffed to the brim, it’s going to be hard to fall asleep tonight…
To end another Christmas, I leave you with a classic. Wham!
Merry Christmas (to those who celebrate)! Happy Holidays!
I have been teaching Luke, a Chinese high school student, spoken English. He comes from Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province, and traveled by train to Beijing, the only other Chinese city besides Shanghai he has ever visited, to study English. He’s an awesome kid who yawns a lot, but he is very enthusiastic and diligent about his studies. Luke’s regular school schedule in Zhejiang would be unimaginable to anyone outside China; 6 days a week, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. with two breaks in between for meals. Personally, knowing what I know and seeing what I’ve seen, life would be utterly unbearable forced to stay within school walls for more than half the day, everyday. For Luke, though, it is a nice thing to be around his friends all day.
For our English classes, I have been selecting newspaper articles from the New York Times and BBC for him to summarize, but more importantly, for him to learn about the world outside his home. To my surprise, I, a foreigner, was also teaching him about his own country. I have had him read articles about India’s missing children, Arizona’s immigration law, orangutang habitats, former NBA player Stephen Marbury now playing for the Beijing Ducks, and most recently about the Chinese government’s attempt to censor the nation’s microblogs against “rumors,” aka any utterances against the government.
Somehow Tiananmen Square came up in one of our heated debates (I like to play devil’s advocate with Luke–he hates it). I mentioned the Tiananmen Square Massacre, after defining what “massacre” was, but Luke had no idea what I was talking about; he vaguely knew about the protests, but he didn’t know people were killed, tanked. My jaw literally dropped below my knees, and so I began my rant about dictatorship, censorship, Communism, and the Chinese education system that intensely suppresses the smallest ounce of information that suggests anything negative about the government. This he knew; many Chinese students I have met know that information is missing from their lessons but they also know that any questioning of or disagreement with a teacher is pretty much forbidden, unless you’re a masochist.
I forgot to mention that my 22 year old cousin also had no idea about the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Can you picture my jaw literally scraping along concrete as we were walking in the street talking openly in Chinese about this national incident hidden from Chinese youth?
After sharing with Luke what I knew about the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the only crime I’ve probably ever committed, I then asked Luke if he had heard of Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner (crime #2). This time unsurprisingly, he said “no.” So, I went on spilling the rotten beans about his home country. Thankfully Luke was very eager to learn more–he likes anything “tragic”–and pressed me on to continue my disenchantments of China. Don’t worry, after our lesson I wiped all the new vocabulary–dictator, censorship, freedom of speech, Communism, massacre–off the board.
A few days later, I had dinner with a Chinese friend I met in my first year at Ithaca College, in the States. I brought up my shock and horror of China’s ability to manipulate and suppress news, simultaneously wondering how that is even possible in the digital age where information is accessible to everyone–except China obviously, although sites like Wikipedia, BBC and NYTimes are still available. So then how can people still be so oblivious to horrific crimes that occur in their own country?
Well, my friend said plainly, if there is no interest, no suggestion that would lead one to search for such events, why would anybody go out of their way to find the information?
That made complete sense to me. If nobody ever told, or hinted, to Luke that violent crimes occurred in 1989, what are the chances of him googling “Tiananmen Square Massacre” or Liu Xiaobo on his own? None! You can’t find what you’re not looking for.
I have been in China exactly 4 months and my mind has already been blown to pieces by numerous and various forces. As I am still unaccustomed to many Chinese ways and have much more to learn about how this country works, I will take advantage of this “ignorance” as defense in case any scary Red Guards chase after me and continue my rants about what I think my students deserve to know. Information is meant to be known; it can’t be hidden forever. I have much to uncover, much to learn, as do my students, and the Chinese government. It’s just a matter of (jail)time, exiles, and many disappearances.
I’m writing all of this in the wake of Kim Jong-il’s death. Oy.
Well-known Chinese Human Rights Activists/Dissidents (that I, and you probably already, know of):
Chen Guangcheng - blind civil rights activist who defended women’s rights against forced sterilization and abortion
Ai Weiwei - an influential artist highly critical of the Chinese government
Liu Xiaobo - a writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner who helped draft Charter 08, calling for political and legal reforms
My list is a short one, but it’s a hopeful one.
This post is long overdue, but it is never too late to thank others. So, THANK YOU Antonio Occulto, artist extraordinaire, for giving me the Liebster Award and the Versatile Blogger Award!!
Liebster is a German word that means favorite or dearest, and the award is given to bloggers with 200 or less followers.
Here are a few rules that come with the acceptance of this award:
- Thank the blogger who gave you the award (which goes without saying!), and link back to their site
- Pass the award on to five other bloggers; however, they must have less than or exactly 200 followers
- Let every nominee know that they have been given the award by posting a comment on their blog
- Display the award on your blog
1) Mooselicker – He cracks me up every time, no matter how inappropriate.
2) Alan Cook Photography — One of my most loyal blog readers and a fantastic photographer!
3) A Single Year — A new favorite of mine. She documents each day in Japan in 100 words or less; perfect for my short attention span.
4) A Boy with Shoes — A novice photographer seeking advice from other photographers. He documents parts of nature that I rarely see. And, I think he was my first WordPress buddy.
5) Creativity Aroused – Another blog I just started following for the beautiful photographs and inspiring haikus.
These are the rules for the Versatile Blog Awards:
- Nominate 15 fellow bloggers.
- Inform the bloggers of their nomination.
- Share 7 random things about yourself.
- Thank the blogger who nominated you.
- Add the Versatile Blog Award logo on your blog post.
1. John Fanai
2. Mimo Khair
7. Have a Dream
8. World Music
Now, the 7 random facts about yours truly:
1. I can’t sit still, unless I’m blogging.
2. I’m a sucker for romantic comedies and other mediocre films.
3. I’m a hopeless romantic, which might explain my taste in movies.
4. I’m allergic to cats, dust mites, pollen, not-so-fresh shellfish, soy milk, and sometimes apples and eggplants. My allergies fluctuate.
5. I sleep on my stomach, but I’m trying to find a new comfortable sleeping position because I hear it’s bad for women to sleep on their stomachs. It does something to your womanly parts.
6. I’m a first generation American in my family.
7. Once I find a hairstyle I’m comfortable with–currently it’s a messy bun, with bangs and two streaks of blonde–I’ll stick with it for YEARS, no matter how hard you try to urge me to change my look.
I just gambled away a small fortune (in Yuan, so divide that by 6.2 and you’ll have an even smaller fortune in $$) in Macau. Don’t judge me. I’m just trying to assimilate.
My 90 days were up on my visiting visa so I had to make a reentry into China. Macau, one of China’s two “special administrative regions” in Southeastern China (the other is Hong Kong), was a close getaway so there I went for two nights with my parents. We stayed at The Venetian, a fancy hotel casino for a fancy lady.
It was pretty astounding to drive around this little city on a peninsula scattered with towering casinos. It was also pretty bizarre. Macau was a Portuguese colony until 1999, when it was handed over to China, but most people speak Cantonese. I couldn’t figure out who were ethnic Macanese (Portuguese descendants) because the city was overrun with tourists, mostly from the mainland. There were also a few Russians, several Indians, some Europeans and groups of young Americans–the most diverse atmosphere I have encountered since my trip to the Maldives. I’m not talking ethnically diverse, though, because if I were, mainland China is definitely most diverse.
The historic centre of Macau is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its symbol of an east-west relationship as it is the oldest international trading port. The city’s architecture is a blend of Portuguese, Chinese and contemporary Western influence (huge-ass casinos), with Chinese and Portuguese on every street sign. Walking through Largo do Senado (Senado Square), I was actually quite reminiscent of my days in Europe where buildings are small, pathways are narrow and cobblestone, and windows have shutters. If there hadn’t been so many Asian faces, people in general, Chinese store signs and undergarments hanging from windows, I would’ve thought I was in Europe. Sort of.
Near Largo do Senado rests the Ruins of St. Paul’s, a 16th century Portuguese cathedral, the largest in Asia at the time but one of several churches throughout the city. Aside from the casinos, this area around Largo do Senado was all I saw in my day and a half in Macau.
One thing I did enjoy immensely about Macau, besides the multicultural architecture, was the food. I tried Portuguese oxtail which was okay–too sweet–and their most popular pork chop sandwich–a thin filet of deep fried pork chop tucked between two buttered toasted buns. But Chinese-Macau food, I believe similar to Hong Kong cuisine, was the bomb, and thanks to my uncle’s superb connections, I got to try some of Macau’s best and most authentic cuisine. With seafood so fresh I forgot I had allergies. From meaty sauteed crab with bitter melon and Hong Kong style dim sum, to salt and pepper prawns and Macau’s special hot pot, it was an Asian gastronomer’s dream come true.
If you asked me to visit Macau again, I would definitely go just for the food. As for gambling? I can do without.
There is a very disappointing and frustrating hierarchy that exists in China; it is one not to be meddled with because you’ll never win unless you have a good connection and a wad of cash the size of a small house.
My stomach is still churning from an upsetting incident that occurred on my way home from a night on the town with my folks. We were stopped at a red light with our friendly driver, Mr. Li, listening to Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” on the radio when a black Volvo rear-ended us. It wasn’t a big deal until the decently dressed woman in the passenger seat opened her big mouth and blamed us for rolling backwards into their car. It was an infuriating lie that had no reasoning behind it–the only way we could have reversed into their car was if Mr. Li had changed gears from Drive to Reverse.
Anyway, the police came and tried to settle the ordeal, but then the driver of the Volvo said his car was sensitive and was probably internally damaged from the accident. As soon as those words came out of his mouth, I yelled, “HA! HA! HA!” and even clapped my hands from the hilarity of it all. To add on to this comedy, the woman of the Volvo said Mr. Li, a man society considers to be near the bottom of the class ladder because he is a gypsy-cab driver and comes from a family of farmers, admitted to reversing into them and that we had asked for money before the police arrived, implying that we were trying to wheedle cash out of this situation (which does happen often in China actually, but those weren’t our intentions). My dad was irate at those accusations–he had asked for money to settle the situation then and there to avoid police involvement. Besides, the Volvo driver even agreed to pay for the scratches, but Mr. Li wanted to talk about justice, not money. He didn’t like the lady’s attitude (nobody did) and was furious that they were spitting one irrational lie upon another.
To Mr. Li, who agreed to arrange a court hearing with the Volvo liars knowing that they would never show up, this car accident was so trivial he doesn’t expect anything out of it. In America, the two parties would most likely have first, moved their vehicles out of traffic to somewhere safe; second, exchanged phone numbers and insurance information; or third, admitted wrong-doing and agreed to pay a small sum for the damages. The reason we spent so much time arguing in the middle of a rotary was to find “the truth.” Unfortunately in China, “the truth” doesn’t matter. It has no consequence. It can be bought if you have the cash to pay for it.
I frequently overhear well-off Chinese people make snide comments about poor Chinese people and farmers–there are many derogatory names for them. They insult the poor by remarking how uneducated they are (that would be the fault of the government), how they lack good manners, how irrational, how dirty, how dangerous they are. But from my daily observations, it is people like the Volvo drivers–nicely dressed, white skin (yes, racism exists in this country, too), expensive car, clearly people of money–who are most irrational, rude, and pick a fight about everything. (Like that man who punched my three-wheeler driver in the face, or young wealthy women who are so easily angered by the slightest discomfort on a crowded train–I am MOST annoyed when I hear someone bicker about how somebody lightly grazed her foot, or someone’s bag was caught on her cashmere sweater, or how someone shoved her too hard when squeezing onto the train. One of these days I will respond, “Oh I’m sorry, princess! I didn’t realize you owned the subway and that the world revolved around your comfort! My bad! Let me kneel down and shine your shoes, reknit your sweater, and massage your back!”)
The title of this post is a Chinese expression that describes the current structure of Chinese society. If you are poor, you have no chance against someone with money because they can bribe the police, the jury, your best friend. If you are rich, you have no chance against someone who holds power because he has higher status than you. Don’t try to buy your way out of whatever it is because chances are, the man with power will crush you and your family.
It really is infuriating, especially knowing that there’s nothing anyone can do. There’s no point of getting angry, like Mr. Li said, because it’s a waste of energy since YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO WIN. Of course I don’t like that kind of defeatist attitude, but what can I do? Honestly? In a country where speaking out against the government will get you arrested, or make the rest of your life a living hell, the only thing one can do–especially if you are poor and have absolutely no power–is to keep your mouth shut and move on.
My cheeks are red from thinking about this fish-eat-fish, dog-eat-dog, human-eat-human society. I have to admit I’m even a little nervous about publishing this post, especially with my full name displayed, but WordPress is one of the censored internet sites in China–I have my ways around it–so maybe nobody will ever find this measly little blog.
This minor car accident doesn’t fully exemplify the expression in the title, but it is one of many situations that proves how justice is not attainable for someone like Mr. Li, who represents the majority of Chinese people. In a country that sought independence through Marxist ideals and Mao’s revolution, it is a wonder how far and askew society is from Communist theories written on paper. From the outside China might seem like an exotic, culturally and historically rich, and beautiful place–don’t get me wrong, it totally is–but now that I’m on the inside, there is so much I find wrong with this country. By living, observing and researching, I am learning more and more about the country my family is from, and even though there is ugly to be found, out of bad always comes good. Right?
The city was covered with a thin layer of snow early this morning. By lunch time, it all melted. And by night time it turned into black ice; one of my greatest fears. But at least there’s a chance I’ll have a White Christmas this year…a girl can dream.
Another highlight of my trip to Chongqing a couple of weeks ago was the boat ride along the cityscape. The port at which the boats are anchored is where two great rivers of China–Yangtze and Jialing–intersect.
The boats are quite extravagant, and so is the lady who runs the boat above.
My parents and I were tricked into paying more money for a fancier boat (should it be called something else? Yacht? Ship? Chitanic?). The smaller one docked next to ours looked far more exciting.
My family is Chinese, but we’re a gullible bunch and fall for tourist traps all the time. Oh well, so our boat had chandeliers and spiral staircases and 80 yuan kettles of tea, at least it was a peaceful cruise.
Irony, or perhaps I should use the term disparity, runs this country. Here’s just one example:
Can you guess which boat I was on?
I’ll give you a clue, I was not on the same boat as this lady who was cooking up a small storm. Though I would’ve gladly given her a hand if I got something delicious to eat in return. I’d do anything for food, except light the stove with a match–I’m afraid of fire.
Anyhow, it was a short ride up and down upstream Yangtze, but I had a pleasant journey.