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?
Tonight I went out for the first time in a while. It’s only 11:45 p.m. Beijing time, so you can imagine how unexciting it was, but it was a momentary high I’ve been lacking lately.
On the cab ride home, my friend and her boyfriend were “discussing” marriage in their drunken state. My friend, who I’m going to call Lucille, is my age–23. Lucille kept asking her boyfriend, 26, when he would take her hand in marriage so that she could finally stay out all night, or spend the night with him. I asked why she couldn’t move out of her parents’ house before marriage, but she only shook her head, “no.” I guess as modern as China is getting, many aspects of tradition are still intact–the role of women being among them.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve only been in a serious relationship once, and it ended horribly–HORRIBLY–the idea of marriage is as shocking to me as Brad Pitt leaving Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie (is that that shocking, actually? Angelina is prettier.). No, I think the idea of marriage is shocking because I’m still 23 and have so many things to accomplish before settling down with someone. There is no doubt that marriage works out for some people my age and I’m genuinely happy that soul mates exist, I just hope my soul mate doesn’t show up till I have more checked off my to-do list.
This past summer, a family friend suggested that I get married soon. I’m closing in on my mid-20’s but come on! I’ve barely grown out of the training bra of childhood! I’m still new to life and its complicated facets that bring heartache, love and disappointment, feelings that I’ve only just begun to experience! Heartache stinks and disappointment hurts, but I’m eager to know what it’s like so I can learn how to avoid it in the future. As for love, I’m still waiting for the next round.
I’m in no hurry, although being around Lucille and her boyfriend makes me wonder when my own loverboy is going to come around. Maybe springtime, the season for love. Or is that summertime? I can’t remember. Maybe it’s reversed in China, like the clock. Maybe love blooms in the wintertime in the east. Oooo that’s soon!
But like I said, there’s no hurry. For now, I’m patiently waiting, unexpecting (because things tend to happen when you’re least expecting. Funny and frustrating how life works.). Anyway, I’m going to sleep on these thoughts and leave you with a classic which I found quite fitting:
The single most attractive quality of a man (in my opinion) are his hands–aside from his facial features, his body structure, and oh yes, his personality (so easily overlooked). My friends know this about me. Big, strong, and rough, but I can do without the dirt under the nails. I’ve found plenty of these in America and Europe, which I think explains why I have always been attracted to “Western” men and rarely Asian, particularly Chinese, men (NO OFFENSE, CHINESE MEN, IT IS JUST A MATTER OF PERSONAL TASTE!). Biology might also have something to do with the difference between western and Asian hands, but I’m not gonna go there because I got a 540 on my SAT IIs in high school.
People ask me all the time why I don’t find a Chinese boyfriend. Well, here’s the thing; most Chinese men don’t have the kind of hands I’m looking for (that is as shallow as I get, I swear!). Why not, you might ask? Here is my answer based on my observations:
Since I moved to China where I ride the subway daily, I have been able to observe many hands. Most of them are silky smooth and delicate, with nails firmer and longer than my own (especially the pinky nail–I think Chinese people have long pinky nails to clean their ears with. Gross, I know, and they do it in public all the time). Once in a while I will see darker and rougher hands amongst the tender ones, and I know right away that hand must belong to a working man. But then I’ll look at the hand to his left attached to an arm in a suit-sleeve that belongs to another man and I’ll wrinkle my nose and think, huh?
This happens all the time. Then the realization hit me. Men with fragile, snow-white hands are often young and decently dressed, on their way to work in an office while men with rough hands tend to be older or are dressed in working gear.
So, my theory is that the new generation of China who grew up alongside the blooming economy generated a larger group of men who do not have to suffer from hard labor that wrinkle and toughen their hands. Instead, they are wealthier bank tellers, home realtors, retailers, and accountants–jobs that do not require much “handy” work. Migrant workers, construction workers, restaurant chefs, and farmers, on the other “hand,” are laborers that require physical strength. Also, older men of my dad’s generation have such toiled hands because during the Cultural Revolution everyone–men and women–were sent to the fields, thus producing a generation of rough hands. It was also generally much poorer back then so everyone had to work.
So, isn’t it interesting that even hands can (mostly) identify the classism of Chinese society? Hm…
Another observation (1 of 2) I’ve made is of two family friends, both married men of my dad’s age with children. Jack and Bob I’ll call them, have been to the United States and think it’s a wonderful place, especially to raise children. They believe the US has an awesome education system (compared with China, I’ll have to agree) that prospers the mind rather than injects you with facts and details that turn out to be useless anyway (wait, does this happen in the US too? Arguably…). Anyway, they always talk about how great the US is and how independent the children grow up to be (like moi), and how they wished their own children could live there. Jack and Bob speak so highly of the American way of life and want their children to grow up with western morals and values (?!?!?!), yet, Bob will turn to his wife and say, “Don’t speak! You’re a woman. A woman should not interject with such idiotic words!”
You can imagine my horror when Bob said that to his wife at the dinner table. Bob is not a bad guy–in fact, he’s actually quite a loving father–but his treatment of his wife does not reflect well on his daughter who he wants to send to America so that she can grow up to be an independent lady with thoughts and opinions that she can freely share.
And Jack, who wants to move his entire family to the United States, he is also stuck in some age-old man-wife traditions where the mother is the child-rearer and the father is the ricewinner and gets to go out with his friends (Bob also brings home the rice, at least since his daughter was born). I went out to dinner with Jack and family a bit ago and his wife barely said a word!
I have portrayed Jack and Bob unjustly here because they really are good people who love their families, but I wanted to point out how some Chinese men who have been exposed to western culture are stuck somewhere between western values and Chinese ones. Of course people should keep their traditions, but we’re at a weird point in life where it’s hard to balance the old and the new. So instead, we’ll adopt two opposing values–independence and patriarchy–and raise our children.
Paradox seems to be a way of life in China, a Communist country with wealth gaps noticeable by comparing men’s hands.
The Chinese elderly, like children, always seem to find things to do. And they have so much fun doing it! With public parks scattered throughout every city and courtyards in every neighborhood, all you need is a few pals, a thermos of tea, some playing cards or mahjong, some music, and you’ll have yourself a ball!
While the folks above are having fun, others still have to work.
When the retirement age is 55, what else are you going to do?
It’s funny…I find myself constantly thinking about this blog, about what to write, of what I see and what I hear wherever I go. But when I sit my butt down, I suddenly lose that inspiration. The upside is I find myself reading other people’s blogs (which I have come to LOVE doing) and learn tons about lives all over the world. It’s really quite fascinating. The world and its people are something beautiful, and I want to contribute with my stories and photos of life in Beijing, but since I have writer’s block, I guess I’ll start with an easy topic, like babies.
I have a problem with staring and smiling uncontrollably at babies. Personally, I don’t think it’s creepy but I don’t know how other people would react to my gazing. My friends tell me it’s weird. Oh well, they’re cute! Especially Chinese babies! I now understand why that American lady I met in Chinatown, NY frequented the park to watch Chinese babies (she even helped me get bird poop out of my hair while we chatted). Aware that my staring may anger some folks, I decided against taking photos, too, except for one.
Anyhow, I think some people can agree with me when I say Chinese babies with their beady black eyes, fat red cheeks, and little buttocks poking out of their pants (instead of diapers, they wear pants that are easy-breezy in the crotch area for bathroom convenience) are just adorable.
Alright, enough with babies. How about a brief update on my new job?
Well, my friend Hannah got me a job editing college application essays. It is more tiresome and time-consuming than I thought it would be. First of all, the job requires me to sit in front of a computer 8 hours a day. I am prepared to need glasses and bigger pants by the end of the year. Secondly, I’m reading about students who have dreams they want to pursue, which gets me thinking about my own dreams that I’m not following through with by sitting here reading about other people’s futures. Of course that sounds a bit selfish because it’s a wonderful thing if I can take part in helping these students get into good American colleges (that’s what these applications are for, American universities), but I just graduated college and would like to fulfill some of my own goals.
Gosh, I am such a grouch today. It must be because I slept for 11 hours.
Here is the building I work in, on the 18th floor!
In Boston, my grandma used to wake up at dawn to gather ginkgo that fell from the tree in front of Clear Flour Bakery by our house before the other elderly Chinese neighbors got to them. So when I came across this lady poking at ginkgo trees on the way to work Friday morning, I realized my grandma must’ve done the same while she was living in China. How resourceful and totally stinky (raw ginkgo smell rancid)!
I decided I didn’t like the previous name I gave the table, “The Table of Life.” It may have religious connotations I did not intend. Therefore, I want to give it another name, like “The Friendship Square” or “Table 90210” (but that’s just silly), or maybe even “The Pit Stop.” I don’t like any of those names. Any suggestions?
Also, I have plenty to blog about – my new job(s), photos, IKEA, another concert, babies – but I’m too pooped to do so right now. Stay tuned!