Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Year-End Show

Every other year, since I've been at this school, we have had a teacher talent review. I quite enjoy those shows.

·         2010: I was invited to perform. Mr Wang, the maintenance manager and I 'sang' my newly-penned Waiguoren Rap, a song about being a foreigner in China. It was suggested that the first 2 verses be translated into Chinese, so that the audience could understand what we were singing about. That made sense.
·         2012: again by invitation, this time I sang a traditional Chinese song about a migrant worker's longing for home and love: 有没有人告诉你 -  you mei you ren gao su ni/ has anyone ever told you? (listen to it here: . The audience was suitably impressed that I could sing a whole song in Chinese.

            On a more humorous note, I had prepared a prop: a battered cardboard box with a masking tape handle, to simulate a Chinese migrant worker in travel. As I walked across campus with it, people stopped me to ask if I was getting ready to travel. They thought my prop was my actual luggage!  

·         2014: I was not able to perform due to my recently mended leg that allowed no performing, and I was not asked to perform. Still, I enjoyed the show.


David, one of our department teachers (and a fantastic vocalist!) told me our department wanted the two of us to sing a duet. Should we do My Heart Will Go On (Celine) or Yesterday Once More (Carpenters)? With little time to decide – he had to inform the event planner right then and there, and knowing David  can sing me under the table and down the street to wait for a bus, I opted for the easier Carpenters' song.

With a twist. Why simply blend our voices when we could split the song up? I fired off an email to him, detailing that proposal: which lines he would sing, which ones I would sing and the ones we would do together, all in different colors.

And then, nothing.

I learned from Sam, in an unrelated conversation, that the school leaders had reviewed the program ideas and were not satisfied with the degree of talent on display. Our department was tasked with jazzing our performance up. 

Wait a minute!

Until now, I'd been convinced that these shows were meant to be fun. And they were fun! Sure, putting on a show is arduous for all concerned, but... isn't it a bit unusual for the audience to have input on what will be done during a show? To be disenchanted with the proposed entertainment and demand more pizzazz?

I was reminded of the sordid monarchs of Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll: “Off With His Head!” Suddenly, these shows we teachers put on no longer seem light-hearted and gay. Might we performers suffer a similar, gruesome fate if we fail to amuse and entertain? Probably not, but the image persists.

Especially after the phone call from David today, who affirmed what Sam had told me the day before: the school administrators want more zing from their teachers onstage. Initially, they had rejected David's and my ballad out of hand, but then had the idea: I should sing my part in Chinese, and David will sing his in English. Never mind my questionable singing ability, compared to his soaring baritone. 

And now, the mad scramble to learn this song in Chinese before the show, next week (while attempting to preserve what little voice I have until the show)!  

Duly thanking all of the technology gods, I found – not one, but two sets of lyrics. One seemed to be a literal translation; the other conveyed more of the feel and meaning of the song. The latter's advantage is that it comes in characters and pinyin, the romanized version of Mandarin, complete with tones (any of the 4 tones that give Chinese characters their meaning). Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to match the music! Panicked, I sent both versions to David, asking him which one I should learn.

Amidst all of this showmanship, we still have classes – hence the fear of voice preservation: some of my classes have more than sixty students. That's a lot of voice usage! To say nothing of David, who is one of the busier teachers in our department. In fact, he teaches at two different schools, just to make ends meet. And I still have an overly full course load, teaching way beyond the number of classes specified as maximum in my contract. David is generally not good at responding to emails, but I fervently hope he will respond to this one. And, from the looks of it, we are going to have to rely on each other to learn our parts separately and hope they come together well, come show time.

Under the eyes of an administration that commands sizzling entertainment. 

And, in the background, that ticking clock: “This is the last time I'll do this, this is the last time, the last... the last...”

The Wedding of Tristan and Linda

You could hardly ask for a better day for a wedding: sunshine from a clear blue sky and mild temperatures. This weather, in December! Only the Wuhan mud smeared the picture. But then, if you're in the know about Wuhan mud, you understand that the street cleaners created it, early in the morning, spraying the dusty roads down so that people wouldn't be inhaling those particles. It hadn't rained in a while, and everything was covered in a drab, dirty coat. Seven years on, I can't get used to Wuhan mud. Or Wuhan dust.

But none of it tarnished this wedding.

Like the street cleaners, I was out early, to catch the first bus to Hong Hu (洪湖 ), Tristan's hometown. I've fallen into the Chinese habit of not pre-booking my ticket; for long-distance buses especially, that is not necessary. I would either luck into a relatively early departure, or have to wait a few hours.

As it turned out, the bus would be leaving within minutes of my buying passage. And, as though the fine weather were an omen of nothing but good to come, the coach was a newer, more comfortable model than I expected. Usually, buses that rumble into out of the way places tend to be small and raggedy, their maintenance questionable. For a change, I rode a long-distance bus that was not only comfortably appointed, but virtually empty! And, even though some commented on 'the foreigner', nobody approached me.

I pulled out my recorder and started making impressions of this trip.

Hong Hu is a small town, about three hours away. So off the beaten track is it that the only way to reach it using public transportation is by bus: no trains anywhere near there. I had been to a village on the outskirts of Hong Hu my first year here to attend the wedding one of my students' relatives.It was quite an affair, and my first traditional wedding in China.

Tristan had called me the day before to inform me that the actual wedding had been moved to 5 PM. I thought this would give me a breather in the morning; I wouldn't have to get up so early and catch the first bus. However, he said that there would be plenty of wedding related activities, and I should still come as soon as I could.

I was glad I did!

Upon arrival at the hotel where the event was set up, Tristan's mother fell upon me, thanked me profusely for deigning to grace her son's wedding – as though it were such a chore!, and took physical possession of me: pulling and pushing me in whatever direction she wanted us to go (how I hate that!). After making our way across the room where lunch was in full swing and every table in the vast hall was fully occupied, with her making introductions all the while, she finally plopped me down in a chair, at a table full of Tristan's old school chums.

I vaguely remembered some of the faces: Jeff, who is now married and a father; Sean, who I met in Shenzhen when Tristan lived there; and Johnathan. You might remember him from the first year I was here; he and his girlfriend came to my home for dinner and subsequently questioned everything I did, even going so far as to take a knife out of my hand so Marie could slice a potato (See How Rude entry, posted 2010). Catching up with them was an odd affair; after each question, one or the other of the men urged me to eat. I was at odds as to whether I should eat or answer questions!

I managed an eighth of a hard-boiled egg and a bit of lotus root soup before being tugged away again.

After posing for endless photographs with anyone in attendance that wanted to, Johnathan invited me to McDonalds' for a coffee. Apparently, he had drunk too much the night before and needed a pick-me-up. As there was a lull in wedding activity, I agreed to ride with him. As soon as we walked in the restaurant, I was swarmed by every teenager in the place, and they all shouted at me in English! I gave them my standard answer for occasions such as this: “I'm French, I don't speak a word of English. Do you speak French?” Of course, I said this in Chinese, and it helped that Johnathan had mostly forgotten his English and we were conversing in Mandarin to begin with.  

Back to the hotel again, for games! Tristan was going to 'fetch his bride', a traditional activity. En masse, we all trooped up five flights of stairs, arrived at the bridal suite, pounded on the door, and were finally let in after Tristan slid a 'red envelope' under the door. And then, Linda couldn't find her shoe (it was cleverly hidden inside the drape tie-backs). Now properly shod, Linda agreed to marry Tristan. He then scooped her up and carried her downstairs.

An uncle had apparently become attached to me and matched me, step for step, all the way up and then down the stairs. Descending together, he remarked how surprising it was that I could even manage stairs, seeing as I am so fat!

And then, the parade through town. In the first Hong Hu wedding I attended, it was done on foot, with fire crackers heralding our approach. This time in was done in cars, with a videographer hanging out of the car window to capture the bridal car driving by. It took almost two hours to get every shot the artist wanted. Thank goodness for clement weather!

The videographer was a caricature of an artist, complete with beret that somehow stayed on his head, even as he hung halfway out of moving cars.

Back to the hotel, with ample time for Linda to reset the curls that had blown askew during the ride. Tristan and I had a private moment. He's been my protegé ever since he graduated from our school, in 2011. Over the phone and during visits, he's shared his life and his woes with me. I held him as he cried over the death of his father, shortly after graduation. He brought Linda to my home, as though I were an actual relative who must give approval of his beloved (of course, I approved!). Today, I am so happy to see him marry the woman he loves! 

Now, for the big moment: the formal ceremony.

Tristan and Linda's wedding was the most lavish affair I've ever attended, and that's saying a lot: I've attended weddings in four different countries! Everything was perfectly choreographed, even my little speech before the lovebirds took center stage. Tristan, ramrod-straight, escorting a beaming Linda to the front of the room, where they would exchange rings and then kiss. The moving 'thank you' speeches, made to their mothers, and the promise that the newlyweds will not forget their obligation to them. Mothers crying. Tristan crying. Me, crying.

After the sumptuous meal, Johnathan and I loaded up. Long-distance buses had stopped running already and, as he also lives in Wuhan, Tristan had arranged for him to give me a lift back. We chatted lackadaisically. I was never as close to Johnathan as I am with Tristan.

Tristan and Linda's is most likely the last wedding I will attend in China, and certainly the last one I will be invited to speak at. Although this occasion was beautiful and pleasurable and moving, through it all sounded the sorrowful knell, ticking off my 'lasts' in China. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Sammie Gets A Job

Actually, Sammie didn't get a job. I'll talk about that in a minute.

The topic in class was: Boys and Girls. Based on a news article whose headline screamed: it is more difficult to be a girl in America than in Kazakhstan, I wanted my students, most of whom are girls, to reflect on whether it was more difficult to be male or female in China, and on what they could do about it.

To make my case, I delved into the NBC piece, which stated the organization Save The Children conducted a poll on the quality of life for girls all over the world. China was notably absent from the report. I made sure to point that out.

I also pointed out that boys's lives were apparently not worth a report.

And then, the twist: the female students should research and report on life as a boy and the male students should research and report on life as a girl: how is life easier? How is life harder? How can we even out gender responsibilities and privileges? I told my rapt audience that, in order to prepare for their assignment, they should visit that organization's websites:

They should also interview people of the opposite sex:  family members, classmates, boyfriends or girlfriends. That way, they could get a good picture of how life is, on the other side of gender barrier: 

The week before, we had talked about racial discrimination, following a viewing of the movie Freedom Writers. The kids were apalled at what-all that movie alludes to, especially the racism. Because of their interest, I decided to explore their feelings and expand the topic to include gender bias. The boys being girls and vice versa, for the purpose of this exercise, was my way of getting them to discover how life is for the other gender. Perhaps girls would stop being so demanding of their men? Maybe men would be more supportive of their women?

I was eager for the next week's classes, when I would hear what they'd discovered. A lot of what they said was banal; I suspect about half the kids only went with their thoughts/ideas, without interviewing anybody. A few made up whole speeches from lines of the song: If I Were a Boy, by Byonce. Maybe they thought I don't know that song?

A few blew me away with their depth of thought. August got the straight dope from his mother: life is not easy at all for a woman, no matter how good looking she is, or how rich her husband. Quite a few girls expressed sympathy for males, who are called on to be the family provider. Many of them disdained the cultural norm of men having to have a house, car and cash before they can think of marriage.

On that one, I urged my female students to be true partners with their men. Why shouldn't they  contribute equally to their home and bank account?

And then, there was Sammie: a shy, soft-spoken girl with radiant skin and wise eyes. Her turn at the podium revealed a loathing of lordly men, withholding or dispensing to women at will. She hated being at the mercy of males! I was quite taken aback by her seething report and vowed to talk with her privately about her feelings. Surely she must have been grievously injured to feel this way!

No need for private conversation. We soon learned why this shy girl was enraged to the point that she would speak so vehemently in front of the whole class. She had applied for a job the past weekend and gotten turned down: “I'm not going to hire you. You're a girl.”

No, not turned down: humiliated.

I know that feeling of impotent rage she felt; I've been there. I too have been denied work because of my gender, when I was not much older than she is now. And, like her, I had no idea how to assert myself.

China has laws against gender discrimination. It doesn't stop employers from practicing bias, but it does give the likes of Sammie a leg to stand on... if they dare. There seems to be a cavalier attitude towards women who complain of gender discrimination, and that attitude is well-known. Many women simply accept rejection (humiliation) and hope the next time, it won't feel so slimy.

I don't want that for Sammie, or any other female, in China or elsewhere.

Fortunately, more and more women in China are coming forth with outrageous stories of bias against them. The teacher who was fired for being pregnant – her contract specified against marriage or motherhood. The young woman who responded to a 'males only' job ad (yes, those still exist in China!), only to be rebuffed as not anatomically correct for the position: administrative assistant at a language school. Hers was China's first gender employment discrimination discrimination case. She won. 

Her case was arbitrated a mere 2 years ago. She adopted a pseudonym during the proceedings to protect herself from possible negative fallout. Those facts, in themselves, make a statement. Don't you think?

As does the report from Save the Children. I keep coming back to the question: why only girls? I couldn't find a report on boys: does this organization believe that boys do not have any issues? Does Save the Children not consider boys' issues? Are boys' needs less urgent? Unimportant? You might think that, as a female who has endured discrimination, I would be overjoyed that girls are in the forefront. I'm not. I tend to believe that a biased focus, in itself, causes and perpetuates bias.   

In China, there are now advocacy groups in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere to attend to and help enforce women's rights in the workplace. Changes are coming slowly, but they are coming. Recently, an ad specifying only male applicants would be considered was removed, thanks to the diligence of those groups.

Thanks to them, and to the slow-dawning realization that women are equally valuable employees, Sammie and, in the future,  her daughter might never have to endure the humiliation of being turned down for a job simply because they were born female.

I can hope, can't I?   


What is Rude?

Early morning, my neighbor clatters down the stairs. Just about when he hits the first landing, right by my front door, he makes a great honking sound, snorts, and spits a wad as he descends the last few steps to the foyer. I can hear 'floop!' as he ejects his mucous and the 'splat' as it hits the floor.

A few buildings away, another man engages in a sneezing fit. It seems to be a ritual for him. I can hear him every morning. He does nothing to muffle his affliction.

At noon, a loving and engaged Grandma returns home with her charge. How do I know she is loving and engaged? Because she constantly exhorts the small child, all the way up the stairs (and then down again, after the noon break). She does not do it quietly.

On the bus, a phone jangles. “WEI???”, and thus begins an exchange the entire bus can hear.

In the supermarket checkout line, an elderly woman pushes past to take a place at the front of the line in spite of the rest of us, who have patiently been waiting our turn.

A workman comes to repair a water leak in my bathroom. He smokes as he works and throws his cigarette on the floor when he's done puffing. He squashes it with his boot as he walks out.

            Related to cigarettes, a common occurrence: smoking in restaurants where 'No Smoking' signs      are prominently displayed.

In restaurants, it is not uncommon to see/hear people loudly smacking their food, open-mouthed.

Every evening at 6:30, save for when it rains, the neighborhood people, from the one I live in and the community next door, gather to dance. Their music reverberates and echoes through the buildings. Sometimes they dance past 9 PM. Most recently, one of the groups hired a dance instructor whose amplifier is particularly loud.

Mercifully, the drumming team only practices during the summer. This past September and October, it sounded like the two dance teams, the dance instructor and the drum team were competing to see who could be the loudest.

During evening hours, when the area by the pond is most full of people, I don't suppose anyone does this but, one fine day, holding class outside, my students and I arrived at the pond area to find a woman defecating by the gazebo, in plain sight. Being a stroke victim she couldn't squat down; she stood, with her pants around her ankles, slightly bent over and holding on to a railing. I was mortified but my students shrugged it off, and the woman continued until her bowels were voided, and then sat down next to some of my kids and asked them questions about their teacher.

The questions! “How old are you?”; “How much money do you earn?”; “Where's your husband?”; and the comments: “You're so fat!”; “You're so tall!” and once, a helpful soul dug into my wallet as I was counting out cash at a train ticket window while muttering approvingly about a foreigner who can navigate China independently.

Here I might mention the lack of personal space: the Chinese like to crowd!

According to the customs and manners I was raised with, all of these behaviors are rude. The people practicing them would be considered ill-mannered. Maybe someone would even chide a person who spits in the foyer of their building or is too loud. And woe to anyone who cuts in line!

But these behaviors are... if not accepted, at least condoned in China, in spite of an ongoing campaign for civility.

Since I've been here there have been public service adverts on buses, on television and on the subways: you should give your seat up to the elderly, the frail, expectant women, or parents of small children. You shouldn't eat or drink on the buses or trains, nor should you spit. I can't imagine how much the government has spent on these educational campaigns, or on dual refuse bins: one for trash and the other for recyclables, with a small inlet for cigarette butts.

Throwing cigarette butts on the ground is one of my pet peeves. Trash too. Especially since these wastebins are liberally scattered all over China's cities; why throw trash on the ground?

Most parents of young children that I know often chide their progeny after an uncouth act: Is that civilized? (那是文不文明? - na shi wen bu wen ming?In my opinion, that is laudable. We learn our best lessons as children. But the question remains: if children are being taught what is and isn't civilized behavior, and those behaviors mirror the ones I learned as a child, how is it that these bad behaviors persist? 

And so, I wonder: with the perpetration of acts that would be deemed uncivilized, ill-mannered or downright rude by the apparent guidelines set forth by the government, acts that I understand to be uncouth because of those campaigns and because of my upbringing in a different environment, and these acts are apparently condoned, what would be considered rude, in China?

Please note: in no way am I demeaning China or her people. Never would I say that anyone here is being deliberately offensive. I understand that this is a different culture than the ones I grew up in, with different standards and different norms, and there is nothing at all wrong with that. I am genuinely trying to understand what would be considered rude to a Chinese person, so that I don't inadvertently offend anyone. Please help me!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Love Me, Marry Me, Cheat on Me!

China's Lin Dan, Olympic badminton gold-medalist, is in the news again, but not for swinging his racket. He is caught up in a different racket: an extra-marital affair. Adding insult to injury, this athlete indulged himself while his wife endured life as a near-term pregnant woman.

Lin Dan

Social media exploded! All over Weibo, China's Twitter equivalent, people decried his outrage as the act of... of... well, there aren't really any words to describe his tumble from grace. Girls and women all across China are now declaring they will never marry because they don't want their husbands to be unfaithful, like that worm of a man called Lin Dan.

And, in their opinion, that is doing worms a disservice.

I have been to several weddings in China – more like wedding receptions the west is familiar with, as they are held in restaurants and hosted by an emcee. I've even had the honor of hosting a wedding. At no time during any of these events did I hear the words standard to weddings elsewhere: “To have and to hold, to keep solely onto each other...” - in other words, to be faithful. And I did not say them at Gary's wedding.

Is monogamy implied in Chinese marriages? And does the concept of 'faithfulness' relate only to sex?

Many Chinese women I know are quite satisfied with their husbands having a sexual relationship with other women, as long as he continues providing for them and their child. In fact, it has long been a standard of Chinese culture that affluent men take a mistress or two: it is a symbol of their wealth. As long as the husband faithfully discharges his duties to his wife, namely that she does not suffer economically or socially, all has been OK, at least on the surface of things. How those wives actually feel about their husbands laying with another woman is obscure, most likely because of 'face' (see previous entry). Being monogamous has only recently become important to China's unions, as far as I can tell.

What is so scary about people's reaction to Lin Dan's 'sidestep' – as such affairs are called in German, is women/girls saying they now do not wish to ever marry. Not that I believe such a ritual is a necessary step for anyone in these days where women have the right to secure employement and housing for themselves – as opposed to past times when women were not allowed a career or to own property.

Except... in China there is an archaic belief that if a woman is not married by the time she is mid-twenties, she is an old maid. And if a man is not married by mid-thirties,  there must be something wrong with him. Even in these days, those beliefs persist. If only for convention, marriage seems necessary in China.

However, there is a greater for worry for this country.

As it is, China  labors under a gender imbalance. The ratio of men to women in China is: 115 eligible men to 100  eligible women. Sociologists and family planners are looking for solutions to this gender imbalance. Where to find marriageable women for 'leftover' men? And when they marry... IF they marry...

A detriment of the Chinese family planning policy is that, for years, each married couple were permitted only one child. In sociological terms: they weren't producing enough children to replace themselves. While the one-child policy has merit – it controlled population growth in accord with the resources China at the time, it has caused negative population growth, a sociological term that expresses the number of births versus the number of deaths a society. 

The Ukraine currently tops the list of countries with negative population growth: scientists project that country losing 28% of its population by the year 2050. Close behind is Japan, the only non-European country on the list, with no increase in births from year to year, and an ever-aging population. They are expected to lose 21% of their population within the next thirty years.  (

China's family planning policy has relented to allow each married couple 2 children. That is great foresight and urgently needed, seeing as China's population is aging faster than young marrieds can produce children. Sociologists predict China will be playing catch-up to maintain population growth, if only in order to sustain its elderly citizens.

But family planning policies do nothing for unwed mothers.

Women about to give birth must present a marriage certificate upon admission to the hospital to deliver. Without a marriage certificate, they could (would?) be denied care. At the very least, they would be reported to the authorities, and, according to the family planning policy of their region, fined, possibly up to 2 years' wages. Furthermore, unwed mothers do not receive reimbursement for medical expenses; they must bear the cost of their (and their child's) hospital stay alone, quite possibly with no family support – financial or emotional. And that says nothing about the shame they would incur for being an unwed mother. You can see why not many women would choose that route to motherhood.
Read about single mothers in China here:

And now, the faithless act of one public figure has turned women all over China off from marriage. In spite of traditional beliefs that women must be married or dubbed 'old maid' (剩女 - sheng nu). In spite of almost being legally bound to marry in order to have a child.

If social mores remain the same – heavily stimatizing and penalizing unwed mothers, there is a good chance that population growth will screech to a halt. As long as women refuse marriage, there won't be any children born, unless women break the rules and pay that heavy price, not the least of which is being ostracized from family.

Lin Dan might have gained fame for more than winning a few Olympic gold medals. He may well be the catalyst of an evolution in Chinese culture unlike anyone could have foreseen.

The 'Face' Effect

Giving 'face' is the Chinese expression for respect and civility. In everyday society, it is common to 'give face' to people, even those you don't like or respect – not exactly fawning, but courteous: frosty but polite, one could say. Face-giving is essential in business relationships, where a single act of disingenuousness can cost years of relationship-building effort.

When you break it down, giving face equals not saying what you really feel.

Recently, in America, a law was proclaimed that underscores the supposed importance of 'face'. In May, 2016, President Obama issued a decree outlawing the words 'Black' and 'Oriental', used to describe those of such origins. The law is ostensibly designed to prevent or eradicate ingrained racism toward such persuasions. 'Asian American' and 'African American' are now the correct terms. This move was heralded in China as an advance toward civility, one that other nations should adopt.

Civility is apparently no longer a social more but a matter of law?

True enough: change the words, change the meaning, as in this example. “You have a face that would stop a clock!” - meaning: “You are so ugly even clocks break when you look at them!”. Said another way: “When I see you, time stands still” alludes to the clock being stopped (by ugliness), but the sentiment is much less offensive. The logic follows that changing the name of certain races/ethnicities might have the same effect, right? 

What has that new law done for America? Since November 9th, when Donald Trump was declared the winner in the presidential race, hate crimes against those of other races have flared: more than seven hundred instances in the past 2 weeks, laws regarding civility notwithstanding. People of racial/ethnic origins other than white are living in fear of attack. In the streets, in schools, on college campuses: no one is safe.

On a college campus in Michigan, a student wearing a hijab was threatened because of her religious garb: “You can't wear that here anymore. Take it off or I'll set you on fire” the accuser said, brandishing a lighter.
Read the full article here:

That young man did not wake up, the day after the election, suddenly deciding to harm other individuals because of their beliefs. Such prejudice is ingrained! It takes years of conditioning to arrive at the conviction that one has the right (the duty?) to offend and threaten and harm others because their beliefs are divergent. To believe that one is absolutely in the right, simply because of their race or ethnicity.

Britain has also seen a spike of racially motivated crime since Brexit. Figures show a 41% surge of racist or religious abuse in the month after the UK voted to leave the European union.

Standing at a bus stop, a Brazilian-born man was speaking to his Mexican wife in Spanish when a woman approached them: “Do you speak English? Can you understand what I'm saying? This is our country. We are leaving the EU. We will stop having so many people like you over here.”

How can mere words change so deep a prejudice? What law can be made to prevent such hate and disdain? How can anybody think that 'face' is going to stop people from hating and fearing what they do not understand?

And that is the danger of 'face'. Not just concealing your feelings from those you wish to direct them to, but the fact that those feelings and ideas are left to fester and grow like the very worst social cancer, eating civilization from the inside out, one person, one family, one generation at a time, and nobody sees it until it explodes onto society, virulent and rampant.  

Bernie Noel, a man in Britain who runs prison gyms for the inmates, puts the fallacy of 'face' succintly: “(... in the 1970s) you knew who the racists were – they were shouting their heads off. Now I look around and think, well some of you are still thinking those things but I don't know who you are anymore.”
Read the article here:

And that is the sad truth of 'face'.     


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Like I Ever Had a Dog or a Cat

“I love you so much! I love you! I love you like I ever had a dog, or a cat! I LOVE YOU!!!”

I roared with laughter at this declaration of love from my 7-year old granddaughter, Katherine. No longer should we say 'I love you so much'; there is now a more profound way to express love. And, it can be amplified: 'I love you like I ever had 7 dogs and 5 cats!', for example.

Besides, 'I love you so much' is grammatically incorrect. There is no comparative or superlative to love, only degrees: an affinity for, liking, loving, revering, and adoring. Before I received that voice message from her, I would have said I adore that little girl; now I am on par with her: I love her at least 5 dogs and 5 cats. At least that much. 

Fortunately, she sent her tidings via voice text, so that I can play it as often as I like, for as long as I own this phone.

It just so happened that, that day, I was expecting company. My guests had barely made themselves comfortable when I begged for their attention and played them Katherine's message. They too laughed to tears. And then, the inevitable “You must miss your family so much!”.

From my students' perspective – they, who actively miss their family and home life, it must seem like sheer insanity for me to have abandoned my little red-haired love in order to live on the other side of the world, year after year. As we prepared our dinner together, the conversation turned once again to how I could possibly live with what must be a huge hole in my heart that needs my family nearby to fill it.

Strangely enough, I do not actively miss my family. Do other expats feel the same way about their families?

What with all the technology available today, we can stay in close contact with our loved ones, can't we? At times, especially around the holidays, my family and I chat daily, and we constantly send pictures back and forth. I am with them on Christmas morning, when the children open their gifts, via video call. This supposedly lonely outpost of mine is not as it would have been one hundred years ago, when teachers and missionaries only had the solace of sparse, handwritten letters to relieve their longing for home.

For me, where is home? With one grandchild living on the west coast and the others living on the east, should I be living on the same continent as them, I would most likely only be in touch with them via voice call, and would probably only visit once a year, as I do now, living in China. Well, maybe I would visit more than once.

Still, living in China prohibits many family doings. I can't touch, hug, kiss or play with my grandchildren. There are no trips to Mema's (what my g-kids call me), and no sleepovers at my house. I'm not physically present for their birthdays or other siginificant milestones. Forget dance recitals and boy scout outings; I only get to hear about them.

And that means that we have to put special effort into our relationship.

Would she work so hard to find new ways of expressing her deep feeling if I lived next door? Would Katherine be aware that the world is such a big place were I to live in her immediate vicinity? Probably not. Even though I live exactly 12 time zones away from her, I am comforted to know I am in her thoughts, as she is in mine. I think of how remarkable it is for this little girl to be able to cultivate a long-distance relationship with someone who only appears once a year, and that makes me admire her even more.

So now I tell you: don't wait until Valentine's Day! Tell that special someone how many dogs and cats you love them right now. Go ahead: I dare you to!      

Sunday, November 6, 2016

My Strategy, and How It Played Out

When I made up my mind to relocate to China, I had intended for the move to be permanent. I sold my house, my cars and just about everything I had. What was worth keeping I put in storage; what I would need I took with me. I envisioned finding a nice place to retire to and, perchance, welcome friends and family from abroad.

I knew, coming into this  gig, that China doesn't hand out green cards to just anyone, and I had that covered. You see, I was privileged to receive training in environmental sciences and safety and health. Knowing that China's pollution has become a global, life-threatening concern, I intended to put all of the knowledge I have to use in order to help remediate the waters and soil, and maybe start a recycling program – not that I wish to take anything away from the senior citizens whose subsistence consists of pilfering through garbage to salvage the odd plastic bottle or soda can.

Furthermore, as China and I had made our acquaintance just after the massive earthquake in 2008, I thought that, surely my skills/training as a safety specialist and emergency responder could help people. I saw myself helping emergency teams in rescue operations, and maybe could help train and educate people in what to do in case of fire and earthquake and severe weather.   

Before I did all of that, certainly I would have to learn Mandarin. That, I started stateside, while dreams of helping people and this great country danced in my head.

Knowing that guanxi is an integral part of Chinese business culture, I sought out friends to share my ideas with. Of course, that is not the only reason that I sought out friends, but after becoming fast friends I confessed my ambition. They nodded eagerly and agreed to everything, and then, nothing happened.

Well, things did happen.

I got pretty sick. Dizzy all the time and robbed of energy, barely able to withstand a single class, my dreams of helping China went on the back burner. Falling down and bashing my head in was a turning point; a doctor's visit revealed the return of my nemesis: thyroid disease. Once that was all better – well, managed, I broke my leg.

Now that my thyroid is balanced and my leg is healed, I am once again ready to tackle my plan.

And that's when I learned that my efforts were... not needed. Maybe even not welcome. The friends I had hoped to enlist enthusiastically embraced these lofty ideas of mine but come time to do anything with them, suddenly hemming and hawing were all they seemed capable of. Even something as simple as initiating Fire Safety plan on our campus was stonewalled: “We already have one in place” I was told.

In the 7 years I've been here, I've yet to witness or participate in a fire drill (I have witnessed a fire). The dorms, offices and teaching buildings have no alarm or sprinkler system. When I quiz my students what they would do in case of fire, they invariably answer: “Run!” or “I don't know.” Ditto with earthquakes and severe weather. Even the recently built apartment complex I live in has no fire safety equipment in place. And heavens forbid a fire truck should need to make its way through this housing area! Jam packed full of cars as it is, they probably wouldn't make it through.   

As part of my duties here include involvement with the 2 English clubs, I thought: “There might be opportunities here!” More fool I for thinking that.

Year after year I have suggested – at first casually, and then in writing, and finally formally that our club members could conduct a paper drive, collect used clothing for charity, start a recycling program, even donate to the blood banks around town, seeing as blood donations are abysmally low in China.


Mind you, I don't think that everything I say should be adhered to or adopted. It is just so hard for me to see a real need, and be capable of helping the environment, capable of helping save lives and...

And my green card. Obviously, seeing as they are not given out like candy over here, and all of my efforts to make a positive impact, if only in this one little area – and who knows? Something we do in our school might catch on nationwide! Bottom line: I am not likely to earn a residence permit with no substantial contribution to China.    

At least I learned Mandarin. 

In Engineering Terms

I don for a moment my engineering hat, that I wore for more than fifteen years before hanging it up to become a globe-trotting teacher.

Fundamentally, there are 2 types of maintenance: preventive and corrective. Corrective maintenance occurs when a system suffers what's called catastrophic failure. Machines cannot run, buildings cannot be occupied and roads cannot be driven on in that condition. Workers/technicians are deployed to effectuate repairs, and they stay on the job until the system is again safe for use.

Preventive maintenance is the periodic care of systems. Daily, weekly, monthly and at greater intervals, aspects of the system are cleaned, inspected and oiled/greased/lubed/tuned. Belts and chains and other moving parts are checked for wear. If they show any, they are marked for replacement. If failure is imminent, the component is replaced immediately. After that check-up and possibly any needed  corrective maintenance found during the preventive maintenance tasks, the machine or system is returned to service. 

As a cost saving measure, preventive maintenance has a proven track record. The adage 'time is money' applies in any manufacturing concern, and lives could be at stake if the system in question is a building, a bridge, or a road.

By comparison, corrective maintenance causes costs to skyrocket! System downtime, possible replacement/rebuilding costs, probably injury to humans. My calculator just reached an error trying to figure it all up.

Let us parlay the concept of preventive and corrective maintenance to health care. Annual checkups,  mammograms and physicals would fall under preventive, and 'Oh, what a pain I have!' or 'What is that bulge in my abdomen?' would obviously be corrective.

Just as systems (and buildings and computers and roads and bridges) require preventive maintenance of select components at certain intervals, so do humans. Women are recommended to a bone density scan after age fifty, to name one. Another would be a colonoscopy after that age, for both men and women. 

I have not had a physical exam in the 7 years I have been here. I have no idea what my blood pressure is or if I, like my father, suffer from hypertension and high cholesterol (another routine check after age 50 – and I am 4 years past that age). This very minute, I could be incubating a cancer, like everyone in my mother's family succumbed to, including her.

Since moving here, I've only been to the doctor for corrective procedures: balancing my thyroid, getting stitches in my head and having X-rays done on my leg. At no time during any of those visits was my blood pressure measured, my temperature taken, my cholesterol checked (high levels is a common side effect of thyroid disease, that can lead to heart attacks) or my weight recorded – all standard health screening procedures used in the west.

I think about healthcare in China. Doctors are put upon, overworked, underpaid and under siege – from all of the reports I've read and from what I've witnessed. And, it seems no one here really goes for the preventive care approach so prevalent in the west. From what I gather, healthcare here is all corrective.

Perhaps there is no opportunity. After all, with patients far outnumbering doctors and those worthies constantly assailed, maybe the idea of routine patient examination is too far out of the realm of possibility.

But on the other hand...

Were yearly checkups the norm, doctors might not be under siege by supplicants and their families demanding the unwell be 'repaired'. Perhaps if such conditions that drive people to the hospitals in droves – cancers, heart attacks, respiratory problems and gastrointestinal ills were caught early, they might be treated, easier managed, or prevented altogether before a catastrophic failure sets in.  

One factor deterring Chinese from seeking routine medical care is shame, according to one study. This applies especially to women, whose reproductive system ills are simply ascribed to the female condition. Money is also a factor. Since the privatization of healthcare in China that started in 1979, many simply cannot afford a doctor until one is desperately needed and, even then, sometimes the funds do not cover needed treatment.

At this point, with so many Chinese finding new wealth, the latest craze is medical tourism; America being the prime destination. That country's health care system is touted as the best in the world and I admit: they have preventive care down to a science.

However, the American medical system has its flaws, probably the biggest being cost, and insurance to offset it. All attempts to make health care affordable, such as the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973 and, more recently, the Affordable Care Act, neither of which necessarily make health care more affordable, are dismal attempts to alleviate people's suffering. 

What China and America have in common with regard to health care, besides cost, is the referring of patients to specialists or for further tests. In America, it seemed my General Practitioner sent me to another doctor with every visit I paid her. In China, one fee guarantees a consultation with a 'front line' doctor, maybe equivalent to an American GP?, and then patients pay upfront for each further service: X-ray, lab work, or to be seen in the proper clinic for the ill currently being suffered.

The end result is the same in both countries: more money, more money, more money. Some of my friends here complain that the 'doctor runaround' and additional care recommendations are solely for the purpose of generating revenue. It certainly seems to be the case, seeing as most every doctor's visit ends with a stint in the 'transfusion room', where patients are to endure an IV drip of... antibiotics? Could be just saline, for all I, or any other patient knows.    

The preamble to the WHO constitution reads “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". It goes on to say that good health is a fundamental human right. Surely that means health maintenance, not seeking a doctor when an ominous symptom manifests, right?

And if health maintenance is a fundamental right, shouldn't it be affordable and guaranteed?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bill Cosby v. Donald Trump

Bill Cosby

Year of birth: 1937.

During high school, his talent for comedy was discovered, which would become his career. He was an athlete – captain of the baseball and track&field teams in school, and also worked various jobs before and after school to help support his family. He did not complete high school, instead working full time.

At 19 years old he enlisted in the Navy. During his 4-year enlistment as a physical therapist, he worked with disabled Korean war veterans. He also obtained his high school equivalency diploma. He then won a sports scholarship from Temple University, where he studied physical education, while still playing sports. From his experiences in the Navy and at various jobs, including the one he worked during his college years, he decided to take his talent for comedy to the stage. His first major show was at the Gaslight Cafe in New York City, in 1961.

Mr. Cosby became known not just for standup comedy but also for authoring several books and working on various television shows, including: The Cosby Show, The Cosby Mysteries, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. His shows generally portrayed characters of upstanding moral value and social consciousness. Indeed, Mr. Cosby received many honors and honorary degrees during his 55-year career, most reflecting his outstanding record of social service. Mr. Cosby has contributed both time and money to various philantropic efforts.

Bill Cosby married Camille Hanks in 1964, and is still married to her. Together they have 5 children, of which their only son, Ennis, was shot and killed while changing a tire on his car, in 1997.

Is that incident perhaps what caused him to reflect on the African American community? In his Pound Cake speech, he berated young Black men for putting more emphasis on sports, fashion and 'acting hard' than on education, self-respect and self improvement. He continued urging youths toward more moral lives, attacking the 'sag' fashion – wearing one's pants down past the hips; the current trend of mysogyny in rap music and the growing drug culture.   

Donald Trump

Year of birth: 1946

He was born into an immigrant family – his grandparents were all born outside of the U.S.. The Trump clan became wealthy through various real estate deals. Young Donald was sent to an expensive, exclusive school. However, he was expelled from there because of excessive bullying when he was thirteen. He finished his basic education at New York Military Academy. He avoided military service during his college years, using the draft deferment option offered to students. He was certified fit for military duty in 1966, but later obtained a medical deferment. Mr. Trump has never served in the military.

Prior to graduating college, Mr. Trump went to work in the family business, and ultimately took it over. He is listed as one of Forbes' top 500 billionaires, but his business dealings are considered 'sketchy' because of various bankruptcies and because the company does not trade publicly. Thus, little is known of the actual business holdings. However, much is made of his many bankruptcies, and he boasts of dodging his tax obligation through those losses.

The Donald J. Trump foundation, while bearing his name, does not receive any benefit – time, effort or money, from Mr. Trump himself. Furthermore, it is unclear what this foundation supports. Recent investigation has revealed that foundation monies have gone to finance Mr. Trump's personal whims.

Mr. Trump has married 3 times; twice to women who were not American citizens at the time of the marriage. His first marriage dissolved in part because of a sexual relationship with American actress Marla Maples, who became his second wife. He engaged in a relationship with Melania, twenty-two years his junior, while still married to (but separated from) his second wife. Melania is his third wife.

Mr. Cosby – hard-working and socially conscious; Mr. Trump – anything but socially conscious (and dead-set against immigration, even though his family and 2 of his wives were immigrants). It appears those men have only one thing in common: sexual misconduct.

As far back as 1989, Mr. Trump has been accused of rape and/or unwanted sexual contact. Since then, and especially since October of this year, when a conversation between himself and a young reporter revealed Mr. Trump stated his superstar status gave him the privilege of groping and kissing women, other women have come forward with similar stories. Mr. Trump flatly denies all allegations, further insulting the women by saying they were not attractive enough for him to want to kiss.

In 1965, just as Mr. Cosby's career was taking off (and only 4 years into his fifty-five year marriage), a woman accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting her (no charges were filed). In February 2000, another woman reported his lewd actions against her. Since then, scores of other women have come forward, claiming Mr. Cosby drugged them and had unwanted sexual contact with them. The accusations go back for decades; for almost as long as he has been in show business. Mr. Cosby does not deny having sex with the women, or even using drugs, but he states that any contact was consensual.

I am not here to judge, and I am certainly not calling those women liars, or hoping to trivialize their experience. I am just trying to understand why Mr. Cosby - Black, and with a proven record of helping society, is on trial for sexual assault; while Mr. Trump - White, with a proven record of helping himself, and repeatedly accused of the same crime, is running for president?

Besides skin color and philanthropy, one other factor distinguishes these two men: wealth. Mr. Trump was born into money and high social position. Mr. Cosby grew up Black in pre-Civil Rights America.  The Trump name is well-known the world over; the Cosby brand is restricted to the U.S. - and at that, for only certain generations. His name is now ill-reputed, with many previous admirers withdrawing their support.

True, the Republican party has withdrawn their support for Donald Trump, but the American public has not. Quite possibly the same people that condemn Mr. Cosby are avid supporters of Trump for president: the far-right conservatives who would probably string up a rapist... as long as it is not their candidate.

Doesn't all of this – Black/White, poor/rich, do-gooder/bully - make you wonder about the polarity of American society?

The Top Five

With no set curriculum to teach and no mandatory assignments to give out, I have the latitude to talk about anything that strikes our fancy in class. This is a privilege I am ever grateful for. Now, well entrenched into my 7th year of teaching, I pause to think about the Top Five most appreciated/engaging lessons that are a part of the standard teaching toolbox I have built over the years. These lessons are chosen as 'prime' based on participation and student enthusiasm.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Mental Health and Depression: (Sophomores)

Born of the tragic loss of young actor 桥任梁(Qiao Renliang), AKA Kimi due to suicide last month, and incorporating a lesson on public speaking, the students are to give a persuasive speech on mental health awareness and suicide prevention. After hearing their (limited) knowledge about depression and suicide, I thought it would be a good idea to give them some basics about clinical depression and what to watch for. 

I was taken by surprise to see most of my students sitting up and taking notes (or take pictures of the informational slides). Normally, they are not engaged when all I do is lecture. Seeing their interest in this topic convinced me they are thirsty for this type of knowledge.

NOTE: in the course of the public speaking portion of this lesson, I introduce them to Toastmasters International, an organization for those who are interested in public speaking or building their confidence, with clubs all over China. (

Body Image: (Freshmen)

Modified year by year to reflect the current 'thin is beautiful' craze – last year, it was the A4 paper challenge, this 'show' includes everything from cultural beauty concepts to aesthetic beauty – PHI (pronounced 'fee'), otherwise known as the golden ratio. From calculating body mass index to keeping a food diary. The necessity of body fat is emphasized, as is drinking water for health. Eating disorders are also featured.

The highlight of this presentation is when students are invited to calculate their BMI. A discussion follows about healthy eating habits and how damaging some media ideals of beauty are.  The lesson generally wraps up with 'how to keep a food diary'. 

Cooking Class: (Sophomores)

What student isn't crazy about food? And who (in China) doesn't want to know about cooking western food? Usually around Thanksgiving, I pack up my oven, implements and some food for a lesson on western cooking.

We start the class by making a fruit cobbler or some cookies, from scratch. While the aroma of baked goods wafts through the room, the students are treated to pictures of a typical western kitchen, and what cooking utensils might be found in  it. We then have a 'guess that tool' activity, in which I offer the students measuring cups/spoons, a potato masher, an egg slicer, some silicone spatulas and other tools, and they have to try to guess its use.

And then, we have an egg slicing contest, in which one student slices a hard-boiled egg with a knife, while another uses the egg slicer. Everyone is amazed at how efficient the egg slicer is, and from  there, we make egg salad, served with crackers.

I have introduced pasta salad and mashed potatoes in the past, but they got mixed reviews. The most favored dish is macaroni and cheese casserole, baked to a golden brown, with spicy chicken chunks mixed in. For dessert, we enjoy the cake or cookies that had been baking while the fun was going on.

This is, hands-down, the students' all-time favorite lesson.

This is CCTV, Channel 15 news! (Freshmen)

Depending on the size of the class, 6-8 students 'volunteer' – they have no idea what for. I send them into the hall while I tell the remaining students about the day's activity.

In groups of 2 or 3, they are: a family who will not leave their village even though the government has evacuated everyone else; the family of a kidnapped child; scientists who have discovered the Fountain of Life (drink the water and live forever!); plane crash survivors; a gang of thugs who are terrorizing the city; the country's oldest married couple; foreign teachers who have fallen in love in China;  students going to Beijing for a conference on education reform; and a famous rock group who will give a concert that night. I give each group a prompt sheet, with questions they might have to answer when interviewed.

While they rehearse their part, I visit the students in the hall. They are reporters who will interview the groups in the room. Each 'reporter' receives a prompt sheet with questions they might ask their interview subjects.

After everyone has had enough time to prepare, the game starts. The reporters and interviewees are not permitted to talk to one another until time to play...

“This is Kathy Krejados, with CCTV, channel 15 news. Today, our top story is...”

As I announce each 'story', the reporter and interviewees come to the front of the room and do their role-play. It is made more fun because I bring props, and the kids love to make use of them!

The last news story is invariably the famous rock group, and usually they will sing a little bit. With that, just as the bell rings, the news anchor signs off: “Thank you for watching CCTV channel 15 news; I'm Kathy Krejados, and we'll see you again for the 6PM newscast.”

Smiles and laughter drift out as the students leave.  

The Online Class: (Teaching Majors classes, Sophomores)

This has been, by far, my most ambitious project. Changing from our standard, lecture-style classroom, this series of 6 lessons is held in the school's computer lab. The purpose is to introduce students to resources they might not know are available to teachers.

Here I instruct on proper use of PowerPoint, introducing OpenOffice software (, a free office suite comparable to the MS (and better than WPS) office suites.

Fully 2 days are occupied with Quizlet – how to use it and how it benefits teachers and students alike, and another 2 for Wikispaces. The students' assignment is to create a study set of Chinese words for me to learn, using both of those applications (haha!)

The last week is dedicated to Camtasia, as screen-capture video capable software. Their final exam is an assignment: produce a 2-minute teaching video on any topic they choose.

Overall, this teaching gig has tested my creativity to the limits, but it has also given me free reign to explore what can be done in a classroom and how I can help these kids develop a love for learning. I believe I am lucky that I am not expected to be a traditional teacher, regurgitating the same material year after year.

I wonder if, were I to be a 'standard' teacher, if I would keep up the level of enthusiasm and energy I get to project in class? I wonder, if other teachers were to have the same latitude I have, would they deliver their lessons with more zest and zeal than my colleagues currently display?

And sometimes, I wonder: do zest and zeal actually matter when teaching?  

The Little Prince's Rose

Surely you are familiar with The Little Prince, written by Antoine de St. Exupery? Maybe, in the halcyon days of your childhood you curled up in your parent's lap and listened to the voyage undertaken by this Prince? Perhaps you read it by yourself, when you got a little older? Maybe you have seen the movie, or even heard it on the radio.

In case you haven't, let me summarize.

The Little Prince, on a voyage across the universe, happens on a pilot – an Earthling, stranded in the desert with his crashed plane.

“Please, draw me a sheep.” was the Little Prince's opening gambit.

Our aviator, very much preoccupied with earthly concerns such as his dwindling supply of water, the fear that he might not be able to repair his craft, and a snake that wends its way sinuously through the story, initially fears he might have lost his mind, for there was nothing but sand, as far as the eye could see.

“Please, draw me a sheep.”

How could the Little Prince have known, coming from far across the stars, that this aeronaut had once aspired to become  a great artist? Unfortunately, his elephant-inside-a-boa-constrictor drawings resembled hats and, persuaded by the adults in his life,  he soon gave up his dream of art. And now, this odd little man, this prince, in white breeches and a long blue coat, with his hair as fair and fine as cornsilk, wanted him to draw a sheep.

Through the various sheep presentations – that one is too sickly, that one appears old, we learn that the Little Prince's concern is less for a sheep than for what he left behind.    

The Little Prince's home is an asteroid. It has 3 volcanoes: 1 active and 2 extinct, that he cleans regularly. He gardens meticulously lest baobab trees take over his little planet. His drifting rock is so small he can witness the sunset thirty-seven times simply by moving his chair a bit.

He left his home on a quest for knowledge and has traveled far and wide, and met interesting – and some not-so-interesting people. Now, on Earth, lonely, homesick and tired of traveling, he asks for a sheep to accompany him on his long journey home.

And why would he want to go back to that churning bit of rock, when the whole universe is his to travel?  

Because his asteroid has one feature that he absolutely loves.

The Little Prince's Rose is a character onto herself. She blew onto his planet and sprouted – nearly was eradicated because our Prince thought she might be the beginning of a baobab! Avidly curious, he watched her grow and finally bloom, and he was captivated by this capricious Rose who demanded so much of him.

Did his heart break when he left her behind? I think he didn't realize how much he loved her, when he left her. Still, he had to have an inkling of his feelings to be so concerned that she might catch cold from the night air, or that a tiger might get her.

“I have my 4 thorns to protect me” Rose boasted.

Four thorns! Against tigers or chill air! What will those 4 thorns do against all manner of danger?

China reminds me of The Little Prince's rose: staunch, proud and believing that all she has – and all she is, is enough to protect her against anything, when those four thorns are not nearly enough to defend herself against all the ills of modern society. That the sheer sovereignity of being Rose is enough credibility, China believes. That her delicate beauty is reason enough to be loved, in spite of her caprices.

In another time, on another planet, four thorns might have been enough to defend itself from the world. But not today.    

Of course, beyond the enchantment of this classic tale we find that, really, his Rose is all that matters to the Little Prince. He might have continued on his journey had he not seen a garden full of roses and realized his Rose is not very different from that whole horde of bobbing, nodding roses. Still, the flower back home is special because she is his. 

And this very love for what is uniquely China enraptures the Chinese. In spite of global social advances, in spite of the bias (against the poor, against women) and hardship of traditional life, people here cling to their mores, no matter how damaging they can be.

I await the time when China will realize, as the Little Prince did, that one's singular -albeit remarkable qualities is not enough to engender unconditional acceptance. I wait for China to find its place on the global stage, no better or worse a country than any other.

But then again: I wait for other countries to adapt to not being better or worse than the rest of the nations, too.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

On A Tear

Considering the topic of my last article, the perverse desire of Chinese to hang on to inaccuracy, it might seem that my new pastime is ranting about everything I might perceive as wrong with China: the language, the customs... everything!

I assure you I am not. I am simply compiling a series of observations made over the years of living here. In no way am I intimating that I alone should be the catalyst for change in Chinese vernacular or society. I hope I am offering up food for thought, though.

Besides, with my schedule this semester, there is not much else to write about. So, here goes!

Sons, Daughters, and People of Dark Skin

In Mandarin, sons are called 儿子 (the first pictogram, 'er' meaning 'son' and the second, 'zi' also meaning 'son'). Nothing wrong with that. Daughters, however, are called 女儿 ('nü' meaning 'female' and... I already told you what 'er' means). From a purely linguistic standpoint, daughters are designated 'female sons'.

Understand the lesser social position that females have traditionally held in China – indeed, all over the world, and you might reason why girl children were called female sons. Could that tradition's stigma enshroud the 'female sons' of today?

There is evidence of that. Female children, historically and today, are not listed on family registers until they marry, and then, only their husbands' names qualify for entry. That is just one example of unspoken social disparity against females.

I am not accusing China of deliberately lessening female impact on society, nor am I suggesting that females have fewer rights (although, there is rampant discrimination against females in the workplace, something China is working very hard to eradicate).

I am aware that language is not static. It evolves. Words and phrases change meaning as the times change. Perhaps now, 'nü er' does in fact mean 'daughter' – with no lingering history of how baby girls were less desirable than male children. With no implied denigration.

The reason I pounce on this example of misused language is because there is a more balanced and fair substitute. – 'hai', the word for 'child', can be combined with – 'nan', male; or – 'nü', female, to give a less biased description of one's progeny: 我的男孩 – wo de nan hai, meaning 'my boy-child', or 我的女孩 – wo de nü hai, meaning 'my girl-child'.     

A comparable example in English would be the eradication of the word 'n i g g e r', now considered one of the most offensive words in the language, and with good reason: that is what plantation slaves were called. However, at one time, this word was not only socially acceptable, people were encouraged to use it in describing those with dark skin and kinky hair. We find examples of this word, casually bandied about in such classics as Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn novels. If you've seen the movie Twelve Years A Slave, you'll know that slaves were referred to as 'N-word' .

Another example of offensive English vocabulary, mercifully archaic these days, are the many words used to refer to women, 'broad' being perhaps the worst. Movies made as late as the 1960s refer to women as broads, a term generally accepted as being derogatory. Its meaning, 'coarse, gross, indelicate' was everything a woman was not supposed to be. Today it is chiefly used as an insult: “What a dumb broad!”

if we accept that language evolves, shouldn't we also hold that words which reflected the values of a society once upon a time should be discarded if those values have changed? Especially if a more equitable/acceptable synonym is available?

On Getting Colder

Without fail, every autumn/winter I have been in China, people have advised me of dropping temperatures, and that I should put on more clothes - as though I had no idea winter was approaching. As though I were confused about what to do when I start getting cold.

This week, the temperature dropped precipitously in Wuhan. Tina messaged: “It is cold today. Wear more clothes.” I wonder if, in her imagination I am sitting in my house, lightly clad and shivering, clueless as to what I should do. 

I know that such utterances are expressions of caring in China, but what does it really say?

I am incapable of discerning temperature changes. I have no knowledge of the concept of keeping myself warm, comfortable or healthy. I absolutely need someone to tell me what to do when the weather changes.

Compare Tina's 'wear more clothes' with 'stay warm!', a standard a standard sign-off  in English used texts and phone calls, when the weather turns cold. That phrase credits the person to whom the idiom is directed with enough brains to bundle up against the chill. 

Can you see why I find Tina's intent kind, but her message offensive? And I am not the only one: elders all over China, who get fussed and clucked at, irritably push against their well-meaning carers, who try to drape them in blankets and quilts at every slight gust of wind.

I have often written about how the elderly in China are treated. It is a hot topic for me because, apparently, I am also elderly, by Chinese standards. Never mind what abilities I demonstrate and that I am obviously in full possession of my faculties, of prime concern for everyone is my supposedly declining mental abilities – to wit, that I must be told to wear more clothes.

Again, tradition trumps common sense and decency. It is traditional for parents to sacrifice everything for their young, even food and comfort and warmth. And it is traditional for grown children to take care of their parents, gently suggesting the parents should don their clothes, rather than saving them to perhaps swaddle chilled children in. And this is accepted as caring, rather than being seen for the offense that it is.     

Well-meaning infractions, such as mentioned above, happen everywhere around the world, and on all levels of society. The trick is to recognize its intent while not bristling at its obvious insult. And, of course, to highlight that such instances are offensive and insulting. And try to bring about, or at least hope for, change.