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?