Saturday, October 26, 2013

3 x 1; 2 x 2; 2.5 for 30

Much to your probable dismay and certainly to mine, I’m writing about the state of my health again. The topic is not so much about my health as it is about the Chinese attitude toward their own system of traditional medicine versus modern medical marvels. Unfortunately I have to give you some background information. That is where my health woes come in.   

Those who have followed this blog with any loyalty know that I’ve been sickly since I’ve been here, plagued with this discomfort and that malaise pretty much from the outset of my China adventure. My infirmity actually goes ten years farther back, when I was diagnosed with a low thyroid condition I inherited from my mother.

She could have given me something better than a disease. I would have settled for a nice ring or a necklace.

I was diagnosed with the thyroid condition in my mid-thirties. For 9 years I methodically popped a pill every morning and ‘fed Dracula’ – gave a blood sample for testing every 3 months. All was well and good despite the fact that I resented being saddled with, and to an extent limited by a reputedly incurable condition. At best I could look forward to maintenance by daily ingestion of hormone… until I learned that acupuncture can cure thyroid conditions.

According to ancient Chinese medicine, thyroid disease results from an imbalance in the ‘qi’ – life force. Acupuncture clears up the obstruction, allowing qi to flow properly. Hormone production and thyroid function return to normal. Treatment ends upon confirmation of proper levels of TSH, T3 and T4 hormone levels. As I had in fact suffered a major trauma just prior to the failing thyroid diagnosis, I accepted acupuncture’s explanation for my condition.  

I have reason to believe in the effectiveness of acupuncture. After the first session to treat a long existent lumbar injury and plantar fasciitis in my left foot, my back pain went away and I was able to walk normally again. A total of 7 sessions completely cured those conditions and to this day I have neither back pain nor foot problems.

Upon discovering acupuncture could also correct thyroid imbalance, I was eager to free myself of my pill taking and blood test rituals. After 5 sessions the results were confirmed: my thyroid functions were restored to normal. Under doctor’s advice I stopped taking medicine. Shortly after that I moved to China, relieved I would not have to continue that formerly declared lifelong treatment.

And then Montezuma struck (See Montezuma’s Revenge, posted in October, 2010). Since then I’ve been… not myself. Uncontrollable coughing. Inability to breathe, which disturbed my sleep. I would wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding and gasping for air. No energy. No appetite. And that was just the beginning. Fortunately I had brought some Benadryl and, after putting myself on a regimen of antihistamines, my symptoms lessened.

 And then things got worse. Any dairy product consumption resulted in an abnormally bloated stomach, as did produce consumption. Eating wheat products put me down for the whole day. My right eye could be counted on to at least drag as though I had suffered a stroke, or worse: not open at all. When it did my vision was blurry. Sometimes I had not so bad days but most of the time, I wasn’t doing so well, even with Benadryl.   

I had wondered at times whether my thyroid condition was back, but I showed no symptoms of hypothyroidism: dry skin, brittle nails, excessive fatigue, hair loss – especially eyebrows. Vertical ridges in fingernails are a dead giveaway to a thyroid condition. In fact my nails are growing faster than I can manicure them. My eyebrows require daily maintenance. Every time I questioned the possibility of thyroid I kept coming back to the fact that I showed no classic symptoms of the disease. Besides, everything from upper respiratory blockage and inability to breathe to eye/throat itching and nagging cough was alleviated by antihistamines.

Everything pointed to allergies and nothing pointed to thyroid. But I wasn’t getting any better.

Things got so bad I asked Sam to please take me to a doctor. I enthusiastically agreed when he asked if we should consult a traditional medicine doctor. Remembering acupuncture’s success in treating my back and foot pain, and my thyroid condition, I was keen for another quick solve.

I couldn’t help but notice a certain derision in Sam’s tone when he asked me if I believe in traditional medicine: fire cups, acupuncture, herbology and all that. I found his stance rather intriguing, considering he is, in many aspects, very traditional. However, his wife is a nurse in a modern medicine hospital, so I could see where his loyalty might be at least divided, if not deterred.

We ended up going to the hospital where Penny works. I doubted the doctor’s ability to diagnose me. I was still taking antihistamines and thus would show no symptoms of allergy. However, I had catalogued every manifestation: if I ate this, that was the result. While divulging my medical history Sam told the doctor of my previous thyroid condition. The ENT ordered a blood test. And that is how we found out my thyroid condition was back.

The hematologist interpreting my readings was appalled that I had stopped taking my medicine. When I explained that, through acupuncture I was cured of the condition 3 years ago she inferred that hypothyroidism could require lifelong treatment. She prescribed a synthetic hormone similar to the one I was formerly attached to, with instructions to take 1 pill for the first 3 days, 2 pills for the next 3 days and 2 and a half pills for the next thirty days, and then come ‘feed Dracula’ again.

What surprises me is the disdain of those Chinese who stand firmly on the side of modern medicine for their culture’s traditional medical practices, while I, a foreigner believe wholeheartedly in the benefits and wonders of traditional Chinese medicine.

The hematologist based her diagnosis and prescription solely on the blood test results. The only time she actually looked at me was when she exclaimed, aghast about my not continuing my medicine. She did not examine me or palpate anything.

A traditional medicine doctor would have taken the whole body into account before formulating a diagnosis. Had a traditional doctor examined me, he/she most likely would not have concluded ‘thyroid’. One look at my skin would show it to be well hydrated. One look at my hands would show long, strong fingernails. One look at my face would reveal shaved eyebrows and strong, healthy hair. A few questions would have clued him/her into my appetite and eating habits. Hearing that bit of a rattle in my upper respiratory system and the wheeze in my breathing would have revealed there is indeed an obstruction.

Even though I had enthusiastically agreed to visit a traditional medicine doctor when Sam suggested it, he immediately tempered his offer by claiming many foreigners cannot tolerate the bitterness of the potions or the duration of treatment, sometimes months long. As he has been wont to do, learned from past occasions, he arbitrarily decided what would be best in spite of my wishes. I’m used to that phenomenon; many Chinese take that tack. That is why we went to Penny’s hospital rather than the traditional medicine hospital first.

Now medicated for 3 weeks I have to admit I am feeling better. On the other hand, I have been moderating my food intake strictly, only ingesting what I know does not adversely affect me. I’ve regained muscle control, I’m sleeping through the night, my stomach is behaving and my hands and feet no longer tingle as though just ‘waking up’. Sam has noticed the difference too: more vibrant, more energetic, more ‘there’.

Recently at lunch he asked how I was doing. Glowingly, I related my joy at rediscovering my former self. We discussed my follow-up examination – to take place in about 2 weeks. And then he told me Penny had suggested to him that I visit a doctor trained in modern medicine as well as traditional.

That should be interesting.



At Risk

Another school shooting this week, this time in Nevada. Fortunately, not much in the way of casualties: only the teacher, who leaped in front of his students, saving their lives. Of course, there is no barometer to indicate the degree of damage done to the community, to the witnesses or to the family of the fallen one. They will carry their burden from this lone incident for years to come.

America has long been aware of social pressure causing irrevocable harm to individuals who, for lack of better means of expression or emotional outlet, go on a rampage. It is frightful, unpredictable behavior. However, America and Americans have taken long strides in recognizing at risk behavior and identifying potential meltdown situations.

In China, the subject of mental health, so long taboo but now unavoidable, is gaining ground. Incidents of random attacks by knife wielders are multiplying. Those on the street corner or public parks seen muttering to some invisible conversation partner or yelling to citizens at large have now become a legion.

On my little corner, this campus, we have our very own Crazy Woman (see The Campus Crazy Woman entry, posted April 2012). Some of the students are coming unraveled (see What’s Happening to my School entry, posted November 2011). A few have become cutters, maiming themselves in order to feel something or to let their toxicity out (see Who Will Save Sasuke entry, posted March 2011)

A current student of mine has openly admitted to cutting herself, much to the horror of her classmates and to my dismay. She seems like a cheerful girl, full of smiles and joy. I would not have pegged her for a cutter, but I will definitely pay close attention to her, just in case.

Clearly mental health is not a new phenomenon in China. Until recently, the Chinese have hidden any form of personal or familial weakness – physical, mental or emotional behind the characteristic stoicism endemic to this society. Only because of sweeping changes in the culture have these ‘weaknesses’ become prevalent. The dilemma is that people are free to remove barriers behind which these ‘flaws’ were hidden, but the medical/psychological community is not caught up on the demand for treatment or rehabilitation. In fact, according to Sam, there is only 1 clinic that treats mental or emotional illness in Wuhan.

One clinic for over 8 million people. That would be one busy doctor!

The educational community is not caught up on recognizing at risk behavior either. To my knowledge, there is a mental health counselor on campus. Whether effective or not is not the issue. More to the point would be that students and teachers recognize at risk behavior and make recommendations or seek to intervene before something drastic happens.

Enter Leo.

When I met him last year, he was a self-confident freshman with the world at his feet. He joined my classes for a while, expressing the wish to learn as much English as he could. He wanted to be rich, famous and own a sports car. For Leo, everything was falling into place. Everything about him smelled of success: his upright walk, his cocky grin and his energetic presence.

During the intervening months, something happened. He stopped coming to class. Regretfully, with a plateful of activity, classrooms full of students, armfuls of friends and lingering health problems, I lost track of him. Sometimes we would connect by text message but even that fell off when he changed his phone number.

We ran into each other about a month ago. I was coming home and found him ambling around the Over the Wall Community. He was a little more stooped but otherwise recognizable as the brash young man I remembered. As we walked back to school together, he asked if he could talk with me sometime. Remembering his enthusiasm, and being the keeper of many student secrets anyway I told him he would be welcome anytime.

He called me later that evening, asking to borrow 900Yuan. I was shocked. Students have asked to borrow money before. Each time I demur, stating that I do not lend money on principle. Not that they ask for much: maybe 100Yuan, or just enough to buy food or a book. If it is for such things as food I will treat them to a meal or take them to the grocery store, but never do I fork over any cash. 

I believe that, if word got out that the foreigner teacher lends money, I would have students lined up around the block with their hands out. Much better to refuse all requests, even for small sums.

One time a student asked to borrow 300Yuan, but never has anyone had the audacity to ask for as much money as Leo had. Having talked this matter over with Sam, I learned that the school has discretionary funds for students in a jam. The process of applying for and receiving school money is humiliating for me, a ‘westerner’, but ten times more so to the proud Chinese.

When I told Sam about Leo and the amount of money he asked to borrow, it was because I wanted Sam to explain to him the process of asking for money from the school. Sam, apparently angrier than I thought he was, essentially chewed the kid out and told him I was forbidden to lend anyone money and he’d better not ask me again. I understand that my friend would be outraged, but I don’t believe he needed to go as far as he did in chastising the kid. Nevertheless, I appreciate him standing up for me. Until Sam called him, Leo called or texted me several times each day. After that dressing down all contact from Leo stopped.   

Since Leo’s loan request, thought niggled at me that he might be in a bad way. Actually seeing him, two weeks after Sam’s dressing down convinced me. Leo is an ‘at risk’ student.

His complexion is now pasty verging on ashen, and pockmarked with blazing red acne. He has put on a substantial amount of weight. His movements are sluggish and his tone is lackluster. He walks with his head down and constantly travels alone – no dorm mates or classmates to chatter with, as is so common here. His clothes appear unkempt and he seems unwashed and uncared for. Between his appearance and demeanor, coupled with the amount of money he asked to borrow, if I didn’t know better, I would swear that Leo is on drugs, at the very least.

To my knowledge the teachers on our campus have received no training in recognizing at risk behavior in students. I don’t even know if it is our responsibility as university teachers to deter or identify at risk students. My greatest concern is that students who are at risk will harm themselves of course, but now, with growing numbers of public attacks, I also think about how students living in close proximity to each other, as they do in the dorms might harm more than themselves.

I don’t know what to do. It would seem cruel to finger Leo as ‘at risk’ and subject him to humiliating exposure as a danger to himself and others if in fact he is not at risk and I’ve misread the whole situation. On the other hand, what if I’m right and the kid ends up maiming his dorm mates before doing himself in?

That actually happened in some far flung city in China, about a year ago. A student killed his 3 dorm mates and then hid their bodies because he was A. ashamed of himself and B. didn’t know what else to do. Earlier this year in Shanghai another student poisoned his dorm mate over some grudge he held.

As I reported in the Social Studies entry posted October of this year, either crime is on the rise or salacious reporting of crime is on the rise. Either way statistics are on the rise. I would hate to have Leo or any Leo action fallout on my conscience because I failed to act when clearly all warning signs were there. Conversely, I am not the only teacher who interacts with Leo… but I may well be the only teacher with any training or experience dealing with at risk behavior. Besides that, for all of my guan xi and acceptance, both in this community and with my fellow teachers, I am still a bit of an outsider when it comes to Chinese ways, tradition and lifestyle.  

What should I do?         



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Going Disney

So, I was thinking, when you come this year, we could go to Disney World…”

Although still about 5 months away, stateside trip planning is in full swing. Surprising that I don’t already have plane tickets. Loose itinerary includes all the usual hotspots: Cali, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania. Possible stopover in North Carolina. No Memphis this year. What I’m doing is gearing up for a grueling but happy reunion with all my loved ones. What my loved ones are doing is planning to make the most of their allotted time with me.

That is my Jenn’s big plan for my visit this year. Going to Disney World and cruising the Everglades. Our conversations of late sound like a Dr. Seuss book, something straight out of ‘Green Eggs and Ham’:

“Would you like an airboat ride? O’er the water we would glide!”
“I surely do like airboat rides! O’er water it’s best to glide!”

“Would you go to Disney World? See Magic Kingdom’s flag unfurled?”
“I would NOT go to Disney World! I don’t care if their flag’s unfurled!”

“Would you go if it were free?”
“I would not go if it were free!”

“Would you go if lines were short?”
“’I WILL NOT GO’ is my retort!”

You get the idea. She was pleading the Magic Kingdom’s case. I was digging my heels in, equally determined: Goodness! That’s a lot of money! (military discount), we have to eat park food (we can pack a cooler), overnight lodging (park is 2 hours from home), the kids will be back in school (you’ll spend at least one weekend here). I don’t find standing in line for 45 minutes to ride a 2-minute ride fun (we’ll get speed passes). For every argument I had she had a rebuttal, and a few arguments of her own.

“I thought it would be something you’d enjoy doing with the kids.” “I don’t mind treating if I have time enough to budget and plan.” “I thought it would be something you’d enjoy, never having been.” “It is my Christmas gift to you: time at the Magic Kingdom with your grandkids.” The clincher: “I love how you get childlike when seeing new things!”

Clearly she wants me to go to Disney World. When did she get so persuasive? We left the discussion at her serving green eggs and ham, upside down, around town, and my not wanting them even if I were a clown, with the understanding that I would think about it and get back to her.

Life goes on. The school year has started. From the training field, freshmen shout cadences. If you’re in any way familiar with life at Chinese University or preferably, this blog, you know that college freshmen in China spend their first 3 weeks in ‘boot camp’: military drills, tai chi, learning principles of what makes good people good. But mostly military drills.

Teachers gear up for the new year. They’re a bit apprehensive about facing a classroom, especially those who’ve not exercised their English skills over the summer. Buses are crowded again - Wuhan’s student population having flooded back into the city underscores the fact that this burg is fundamentally a college town.

Sam is a busy guy these days. Besides teaching his full course load and managing Foreigner Teacher affairs, he’s been selected to be Teacher Coordinator, a position he had held in the past but had relinquished to Hellen Shao (the Unpleasant Hellen, for those in the know). In a sweeping declaration that took us all by surprise, Ms. Shao has quit her job, leaving that administrative position in chaos and her classes teacher-less. There goes all of her Guan Xi. 

There goes any free time Sam might have had.

Although missing my friend and in fact, having some bureaucratic matters that need his help straightening out, I’ve resisted contacting him. I’ve been here long enough to know that the start of school year is hectic for all, especially administrators. And he needs time to get used to being back in the classroom, too. And… well, he’s my friend. If he had time, he would contact me or drop in. That’s the way we roll, being the friends we are. After weeks of being incognito, Sam invites me to dinner with his family. Can’t wait to go! Since celebrating Baby Erica’s birthday a few weeks back, we haven’t had a chance to catch up to one another.

Erica is my little buddy. At first fearful of the big foreigner, she would shy away, hiding behind her parents, usually never saying a peep the whole time I’m there. Maybe something about my getting down on the floor and playing helped break the ice. I think it was the day we discovered we had so much in common, down to the same color panties that made us fast friends. Whatever clinched it, I thrill when she casts her elfin smile my way.

And so, we play. In spite of the language barrier – even at 3 years old, she speaks better Chinese than I do. We get along famously. She’s not really hungry come dinner time. She fills up on apple flavored milk and nibbles on deep fried spring rolls.

This precious, beautiful child, dressed all in pink! I’ll bet she would love to go to Disney World! I can just imagine her gamin grin as she runs from Mickey to Minny, from Goofy to Scrooge. And OH!!! When she sees Cinderella with her own eyes for the very first time! Why, I believe she would stop dead in her tracks, wondering by what alchemy the princess in her book became real.            

As is wont to happen at pivotal moments like this, thoughts came crashing in. As though in an arcade suddenly brought to life at the throw of a breaker, I saw the light.

Erica would love a trip to Disney. If they could, Sam and Penny would sacrifice limbs to treat their daughter. They might never step foot on American soil even though it is a dream of theirs, let alone have the chance to take their child, the only one they will ever have, to see fairy princesses and ride carriage rides. And here I sit, being given such an opportunity, and I balk.

When did I stop wanting to have fun? When did I decide to live so narrowly that, when offered an experience outside my rigid perspective I find reasons not to partake? Since when do my desires take precedence over what anyone else is so eager to share with me? And who am I to disappoint my daughter who, at this very moment is planning grandiose schemes to ensure I am fully entertained and will return to China with the memory of a once in a lifetime event?

Of course, you might argue the flipside just as persuasively. Over half the worlds’ children don’t have enough to eat. There are people in war torn countries that will bed down with fear and not wake up because of a drone strike. Lack of water, lack of food. Dysentery, tse-tse flies and dengue fever. Cholera, malaria, machetes and guns. And Disney World?

It is said that you grow old once you stop being a child. I’ve always seen myself as a child at heart, approaching life with élan. Going places I’ve never been, seeing things I’ve never seen, doing things I’ve never done… and then, of course blogging about it all. But maybe I’m not as zesty as I thought I was. Remember how I would not climb the mountain to the temple I waited 3 years to visit (See Wu Dang Shan, a few entries back)? Of late my adventures have become script opportunities: I constantly record impressions instead of just enjoying.

Have I *GASP!* gotten OLD???

I aspire to live my life at austerely as possible, in solidarity with those whose lives, by necessity are so. Comfort, luxury, frivolous spending… as long as there are hungry people in this world, running for their lives and sleeping on the ground, what right do I have to wantonly pitch money out in pursuit of a good time? On the other hand, what right do I have to dash my daughter’s desire to please me? Why rob myself of the joy shining from my grandchildren’s eyes and gleeful cries? And how can I look at Baby Erica, who will never be invited to the Magic Kingdom, and tell my daughter it is impractical to exercise frivolity just to lose one’s self in fantasy?

Most of my life is lived with the echo of the unfortunate. One month out of the year I indulge in frivolity, enjoying pleasures that perhaps the elite would see as their due. Sharing loved ones’ thoughtfulness and care is certainly one of life’s sweetest obligations. What are grandchildren for, if not to play with, indulge in fantasy with, hear their laughter and share their joy?

Sweetie, I gladly accept your offer. Not just to share the magic with you and the kids, but so I can bring Sam, Penny and Erica in my heart and share it with them too.

Get ready, Goofy: This kid is going to DISNEY WORLD!!!  



The Chinese Dream

This week is National Holiday – commemorating the birth of modern day China, when millions of Chinese take to the roads, rails and airways for their second sanctioned vacation of the year – the first being Lunar New Year.

To facilitate the massive influx of travelers on the country’s infrastructure, the government has ordered more trains and planes put into service, and has suspended toll fees on all national highways. Quite a difference from global tourist destinations that raise prices during peak travel times.

With the Chinese becoming more affluent more and more are taking to the highways and byways, visiting such exotic destinations as The Red Beach, located in south Yunnan province, the country’s second Club Med, opened just in time for travel season in Guilin and, of course, such landmark destinations as The Great Wall, Mount Hua Shan in Shaanxi Province and even amusement parks, such as Happy Valley, right here in Wuhan.

This carefree excursion period in China coincides with the government shutdown in America. Many Chinese are shocked that their America, idolized for her democratic platform and seeming freedom granted to her citizens should suffer from what apparently boils down to a simple argument over what one party wants and the other cannot agree on.

America’s citizens are the ones paying the price. The economy is still floundering from its crash 5 years ago and now, with so many government workers furloughed, with so many national attractions like parks, museums and monuments shuttered or barricaded, the economy may well suffer another downturn as the shutdown dams the flow of tourist dollars and reminds Americans to be cautious of their spending. Somewhere, in a dark, seldom explored corner of the Government Complex – Capitol Building, White House, Washington Monument and the National Mall, the Great American Dream whimpers under the force of these new blows.      

While the American dream suffers, the Chinese are realizing their dream… or, at least, their power to dream.

“The Chinese not only have the power to dream but the duty to dream” – quoted from a panel of scholars on CCTV’s English channel, on a program titled ‘Dialogue’.

What is the Great Chinese Dream?

People tend to think of the Chinese as collectivistic, and fundamentally they are. However, with growing business opportunities, larger salaries and dual income households, The Dream is becoming more personalized.

Today’s China is very different from the fledgling nation formed over 60 years ago when Mao De Zong vanquished oppositional factions. The China that he envisioned entailed an ‘all for one and one for all’ mentality, brought about so painfully that in the scourge, millions upon millions suffered economic loss, heritage abandonment and death.

Recovering from those dark days while still maintaining the ideal of what China might one day represent has called for a delicate balancing act. Too easily that ponderous pendulum could have swung the other way, resulting in hedonistic pleasure and secular lifestyle in an attempt to overthrow the shadow of The Great Leap Forward’s devastating impact on society.

Today’s China is capitalistic…within the confines of her fundamentally communistic economic system. She is socialistic…with Chinese characteristics. Today’s China is a mass of contradictions, operating nearly seamlessly to maintain financial stability, economic growth and present a marvel of 21st century permanence… from its roots as a five thousand year old, continuously civilized feudal system.

Who are the Chinese Dreamers?

From my perspective as a college English teacher, my students and this generation of young Chinese are. However, I am not entirely correct in saying that only this demographic dreams. These jiu ling hou – those born in the 1990’s carry in part their parents’ and grandparents’ dreams, along with their own. The Great Chinese Dream, long stifled is now seeing the light of day from some who, by necessity denied ever having dreams. These industrialists, pioneers in business and those poised at the forefront of burgeoning markets are all Chinese dreamers, ready to make a go of whatever they aspired to, or their parents and grandparents envisioned.

They dream of riches, power and prestige. They dream of independence and of world travel, unimpeded by stuffy diplomatic guidelines. They see love as a real, not ephemeral component of interpersonal relations. And they see sex as an integral part of love, not just as a duty to procreate. They are almost vulgar, obsessed and arrogant in the need to establish their ideals before such possibilities are quashed.

What about the American Dream?

In my opinion, The Great American Dream is alive but maybe not well. Currently it is taking shelter behind the hooded eyes and peering out from the watchful gazes of enlightened Americans who know something is amiss in their political system, their country, their economy and their lives. It sleeps uneasily, tossing about, just waiting for a chance to manifest itself anew in a people who are not intimidated by budget crises, cries of the hungry, the malcontent or the invective hurlers.

Who dares to dream?

The audience of Britain’s Got Talent was blown away 4 years ago, when a frumpy/dumpy 49-year old church marm who confessed to never having been kissed took the stage and sang ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ in her pitch perfect voice. The rest of the world took heed and SuBo, as she is now colloquially referred to is an international singing sensation. She had a makeover, a few harsh lessons on the pressure and demands of superstardom and now she is managing just fine. So it appears. She dared to dream. 

Americans… do they dare to dream? I contend they do. While some surely bemoan the passing of the good ole’ days, others are fomenting their plans, just waiting for that proper moment to step to the forefront, take command, take control and exercise what is constitutionally guaranteed them: the pursuit of happiness. They intuit now is not the time. In these catastrophic days of budget cuts and political bickering, they sense it is best to sheathe their ideas, keep them tucked safely away until the sun shines again on the Vista of Dreams. 

The Chinese dare to dream. With every startup business, every new internet commerce venture and every step away from tradition, people in China are reveling in their newly granted license to dream. Maybe because of culture and societal demands their dream muscles are creaky and atrophied but every year sees a new group of graduates taking to the job market, initially trepidant, with only the idea to earn enough to live on and then eventually, ultimately to fulfill they and their families’ dream   

And they help carry the American dream. For every despondent American there are at least 3 Chinese who wish them well. For every disillusioned citizen of the United States, there are at least 5 Chinese who maintain the illusion of what America means. For every apathetic person dwelling in the contiguous 48 states, Alaska and Hawaii there are at least 10 energized Chinese prepared to do whatever it takes to encourage their American counterparts rouse the Great American Dream.

‘Jia You! Jia You!’ the Chinese say. ‘Go On! Go On!’ they rally their American friends. Even though all signs point in that direction, the Chinese disbelieve even the possibility that America could fail. And, given any kind of a chance they would do everything in their power to prevent the downfall of the America of their dreams.

If the Chinese dare to dream and carry a torch so high and bright that America, on the other side of the world cannot help but see it, then surely the country that the Chinese revere at least as much as their own will find that light and use it to guide herself out of its current eclipse.

Jia You!!

Note: In no way am I implying that the Chinese are poised to invade America. I’m trying to convey the disbelief, empathy and concern my Chinese students and friends have expressed over the current political situation in America. I couldn’t figure out a way to write about it without it sounding like the Chinese are just waiting for a moment of weakness to storm the borders and teach everyone Mandarin. Please don’t blame the Chinese. Blame me.              



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Social Studies

Some of these topics have been touched on before, as recently as the Mish Mash entry posted back in June of this year. With this report I seek to sharpen focus on 4 distinct social phenomena. It is ponderous and heavy handed, I’ll confess… but, as my friend’s mother was wont to say: life is not always peaches and cream.

Here I offer a serving or two of roughage.

According to television reports, centers for elderly are the new cash cow in China. Families no longer have the time and sometimes no desire to care for their parents. The financial burden can be overwhelming, to say nothing of the constraints on the new social lives current generations enjoy. Such has been the neglect of elderly recently that the government passed a law imposing filial responsibility. This law, enacted in the last few months has already challenged the intellectual community: should there be laws on moral/ethical issues? If so, how to enforce those laws? The debate rages on but the law is staying on the books.

Clearly the government cannot continue to pay all retirees their stipend, as is the case right now. Besides, the individual payout is not nearly enough money to live on independently. Getting a grip on this urgent situation is leaving the government scrambling for solutions. They turn to the West for answers. One of the places they look at is America, a country that reputedly ‘manages’ their elderly crisis much better than does China.

What about children?

I’ve often reported, also in a compare/contrast format about issues surrounding children in China. Originally I reported there was no such thing as latchkey children. The last 2 years have rendered my statement false. Because more and more elderly are either neglected by their family or are engaged in their own life away from family, school aged children are left to care for themselves till their parents come home. This is a statistic that is so new as to have no hard data compiled but it is another wrinkle in the brow of social affairs managers, especially in light of emboldened criminals.


Formerly, newscasts reported very few incidents of crime – break-ins, theft and the like. Either crime rates are now drastically climbing or they are being reported more. I’d prefer it to be the latter rather than the former. Either way, it is disturbing. The idea of escalating crime rates suggests a population getting more out of control, more bold, more restless and more demanding.

In a recent report a man stabbed and killed 4 people on a bus in Sichuan province. A week later, in another province another knife-wielding man went on a rampage on a bus, killing 3 people and injuring 12.

While this is a alarming trend, the media’s focus is not on the killing as much as on the reasons these men have gone on rampages. Both cite financial and family strain, isolation and distance from their home, as well as frustration at not being able to find balance between secular – or even hedonistic life in the city and sending all the money they earn back to their families. Sociologists ponder the need for more mental health awareness, better wages, education and living conditions for migrant workers and greater accessibility to mental health professionals.

In an unusual twist this article also suggested that microbloggers, comparable to Twitter in the states and Netizens – the online community be more cautious in reporting and discussing such crimes for fear of encouraging copycats.

In the west, America especially, people have long suspected the sensationalism of criminal acts is in part responsible for the vast proliferation of same-type crimes. Yet each new instance is again ‘glorified’, speculated over and mulled ad nauseam in virtually every media outlet available.

It is debatable whether media reports spur crime rates or individual frustration drives criminals to their deeds. Either way, escalation of crime rates signifies an immediate need for some type of social reform or at least consideration into matters regarding society.

I’ve reported several times on the quality of life for the elderly, women’s changing role and growing burden of responsibility in society, and children’s development. One demographic I’ve not spoken of at all is men’s roles and responsibilities. That is because essentially, men’s roles and privileges have not changed.    

Men are still regarded as the cornerstone of financial and social foundations. As privileges expand and financial freedom grows for women, so do they for men. But men’s activities have remained the same throughout the ages. If women have found more financial freedom in recent times, as evidenced by shopping and dining venues, Men have gained greater access to and permission for leisure activities as well. However, primary outlets such as alcohol consumption, sex, and idle pastimes have remained the same.

If women have earned more latitude in making personal choices such as when/whether, and who to marry, men, who have always had that privilege are exercising it more. If women can choose from a broader range of career choices, men have to leeway to forge new business ventures. If women have discovered increasingly relaxed standards of modesty, men have embraced the ability to flaunt themselves in decidedly non-traditional ways. Some sport tattoos and radical hair styles and colors, while others find expression in more relaxed, arrogant or even aggressive body language and attitude.

That is not to say that males do not feel social pressure. They too are caught between traditional roles and values, such as: running the household, to include decisions regarding finances, child rearing and how to manage care for their family elders; and modern social pressures such as keeping up with trends, forging their way into business and making their mark on the world.

One aspect of male life that has changed dramatically is emotional. A lot of the young fathers I know have no qualms about expressing their love for their children. Traditionally males hid behind an inscrutable mask of duty toward their family, making decisions and issuing edicts formulated strictly by pragmatic concerns. These days, men are allowed to agonize over choices for their parents and grandparents and to express how much they miss their daughters and sons while they are away – either the fathers are away from the family, or the children are sent away to live with grandparents.

Officers of the law are scrunched between 2 very uncomfortable positions. On the one hand they are charged with upholding the law and on the other, they must have an understanding and responsibility to maintain civil harmony.

If they operate strictly to the letter of the law, lower castes of society would rebel. However, unless they rein in those farmers who sell fruit illegally on street corners that impede foot traffic and cause safety and sanitation hazards, legitimate small business vendors who pay taxes and buy business licenses will rebel.

Rounding up those farmers and fining them would result in the farmers not being able to make a living. The base fine, 50Yuan, is what a hustling, enterprising vagrant farmer can expect to earn in a good day, selling for 10 to 15 hours straight. The paper trail incurred from fining these farmers would further stigmatize them, so that the farmers would eventually not be able to earn any money, and be driven back to the farm, where eking out a life was impossible in the first place.

More often than not these officers seek some sort of compromise between the vagrant farmers and legitimate fruit markets. If a stall rents for 10Yuan a day, the officer will help negotiate it down to half, or even to a percentage of the farmer’s daily take so that everyone can find benefit in the situation. Sometimes illegal vendors find redemption in the officers’ compassion and other times they decide it is worth taking their chances on the street corner, under the reasoning that if they stay mobile, the same officer will not find them twice.

Into this world my students forge ahead. Since their return to class they have reported the relief at being remanded to student status, where nothing more than studying and spending time with friends is expected of them. Those that did find part time jobs this summer project gloom at eventually being forced out of the relative safety of the dorm and the spongy middle ground of being a grown up child.

Those graduates that I visited with during my wanderings this summer have reported dismay at how society and the professional world operates, while others openly admit to dealing with outright depression. Prospects are not good for them. As with young adults everywhere, they are suffering the injustice of employers who demand experience when experience is impossible to earn, having just graduated.

What is the answer?


Boys and Girls

FEMALES: “Be Careful!” “Take a rest!” “You should drink more water!” “Where is your umbrella?” The sun is so hot, it is imperative in their opinion that I should be shielded from it, as they shield themselves. They will go so far as to hold their own umbrella over my head, even if it means walking on tiptoe and stretching their little arms up to the point of shoulder strain. They constantly admonish me about one thing or another. Heaven help me if I should want to do something so carefree as splashing in a puddle.

Females are likely to pull me, tug me, take physical possession of any number of my limbs or my bag and not surrender it. They tell me when and how to cross the street. They zip my bag and my coat for me. If the weather is hot, they will hold a beverage to my mouth and force me to drink. If it has been a while since we’ve eaten they will attempt to force feed me. There is no end to the care administered to me when in company of females of any age. Once, one young lady thought my fingernails were too long and endeavored to cut them while we were eating dinner. 

MADDENING!!! Compare female protective behavior with:

MALES: “Do you want water?” “No, I have, thank you.” End of discussion. “Are you hungry?” “Yeah, a little/no, not at all.” Either way, their response, usually an action, matches my assertion. Guys feel no need to take physical possession of me, although they will carry my bag. As far as they’re concerned, if I get hit by a car while crossing the street, I should have been more careful.

Well, that’s not exactly true. The guys show just as much concern, but they feel no need to overpower me with care or duty. Note John and his friends’ reaction to my total soaking, as mentioned in the Swimming entry a few posts back.  

Years ago I read, from my Fav Lady of Irony/Comedy Erma Bombeck something about the difference between boys and girls. If girls are playing upstairs and suddenly get quiet, you would ask them: “What are you doing?” They’ll get all secretive and sweetly float: “nothing” with a lilt at the end that makes you feel you should either head upstairs to see for yourself, or head to your closest fallout shelter and wait for the air to clear.

Same question launched at sons: “Yeah, we flushed the cat down the toilet and it was cool!!!” 

As with females in America up to the mid – to late ‘60s, females in China are aggressively trained to be care takers. Or would that be care givers? Males on the other hand… are also trained to be care givers.

Other ways that males and females behave differently in similar situations:

Females are overeager to assure proper care of a body as long as situations are familiar. Should the script deviate from caring for and protecting, they get muddled and lost, figuratively flapping their hands and wondering what to do.

Males will tend to get blustery, clear their throat a lot, divert attention from themselves all in an attempt to give themselves time to find a solution.

Going places is a good example. When I invited Jinkey to Hanyang with me, she took over route planning and directed us onto the wrong bus, headed in the wrong direction. After asking several passengers and eventually the bus driver, she finally capitulated and conceded we should be on a bus headed in the other direction, as I had said from the outset.

Why is it so hard for people, especially females to believe I can navigate this city?

While at the bus stop one day, I met Tulip, who expressed her surprise that I was heading out. Did I know where I was going, and how to get there? I whipped out my pocket guide of bus itineraries. She snatched it away, and then thumbed through it. “It is all in Chinese!” she remarked, accusingly.

It was beyond my ability to explain to her in any way that assuaged her that, as long as I can find my way to the train station I can find my way home. She scrapped her plans and accompanied me to make sure I got to my destination and returned safely to school. What was maddening about that trip is that I had planned to shop a little, and then lollygag around town. I even had a book in my purse to help me while a few hours away at some café.

Guys also try to take command of the situation, but not of my person or of my time.

One evening, heading home from a relaxing meal spent in mixed company, my friends felt obligated to see me to a bus stop with a bus line that will take me directly home, and then watch me board that bus before they made their way home. We walked past several bus stops, all from which I could have ridden a bus and made connections to another line that would take me back to campus. According to George, the male of the duo I had spent the evening with, that was not good enough. Even though I asserted I was capable of making the connections unsupervised we ended up tramping around the neighborhood until a bus line that passed directly in front of my school was found.

In another instance, I was directed by my male outing companion to board one bus. After paying my fare, he shouted at me that that was actually not the right bus to take, yelled at me to get off the bus and then instructed me to board another bus.

Now you know why I do my best to be invisible when leaving campus.  

“We can help you!”

My girls are always offering help. I’ve already talked about all the ‘help’ I get when out and about so I will gear this segment to domestic help: cleaning, shopping and the like.

My definition of ‘clean’ is substantially different than that of any Chinese. To the Chinese, house cleaning generally involves splashing a great deal of cold water about, flicking a mop or a rag here and there, leaving everything soaking wet and calling it good. You know this from the Seven Pony Tailed Heads experiment back in June 2011, and more recently after the Great Rat Party, when the school hired two women to clean my apartment for me. Usually, if any extended cleaning is called for I do not announce or advertise it for fear of having anywhere from 3 to 10 girls descend unannounced on my apartment, ready to ‘help’.

The irony is, when people do come over, they can’t believe how clean my house is.

Guys like to volunteer their help with domestic chores too, but it is more in the sense of supervising than actual doing. For instance, when some students came over to help me decorate the house for Christmas, the girls did most of the work while Martin, the lone male in the bunch mostly sat on the couch and directed their efforts. He did rouse himself to hang the lights from the curtain rod, saying he was qualified to do so because his father is an electrician.

After they all left I rehung the lights so that the plugs could reach an outlet.


Both males and females have a good sense of worth when shopping, although again, females tend to work smarter and men work harder.

Females will price compare and do the math to calculate value for the money, presenting me with their conclusions and suggestions. Usually their suggestions are valid. Should I choose brand loyalty over economic value, they will sigh but allow me my choice.

Males will snatch my selections out of my hands, declaring them a bad choice. Regardless of my reasons for selecting the product – familiarity, brand loyalty, a specific reason one brand is selected over any other, they will replace my selection with the item they would prefer I buy. Usually their reason is economic rather than qualitative, although sometimes their choice is predicated on what their mother has always bought. Even Sam and Gary are guilty of this action.


Both genders are appalled that I live alone, go out alone, do things alone. It is simply not natural in Chinese culture to have any measure of personal space or live an isolated life. However, it seems to affect females much more than males. My girl friends are much quicker to express sorrow and disbelief, and advance their company. I daresay the guys appreciate my ability to stand alone.

Not that I would normally make a big deal of gender difference. It is just that over here, the difference is so remarkable. Besides, I had posted a while back in Blurry Lines some of my thoughts with regard to global gender differences. I thought I should make a deeper study into the subject.