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avant-garde_chauvintist wandering through the garden of ideals

Eastern emotions

CHINA | Monday, 19 November 2007 | Views [514] | Comments [1]

My observational abilities force me to see the stereotypes of this nation.  I witness the Chinglish signs and laugh to myself, I see the short little Asians constantly wearing heels, and I hear the now all too familiar out of tune piano sounds of Chinese.  

But I also see things I didn't expect.  I tend to lump these into stereotypes as well, for lack of complete understanding.  Like the asymmetrical hairstyles and the lack of personal space. 

But one observation has left me a little floored. 

It is not uncommon at all to see Chinese girls, women, ladies crying on the street.  Often the scene is something out of a romantic comedy: a boy, man, teenager will be holding a female and cooing things in her ear.  Or just sitting there and letting it happen.  It happens so often that I started counting one day.  I don't remember the final tally, but it was enough to make me wonder why.

It's happened in my classes as well.  A girl will have smeared eyeliner or just red accents to her black eyes.  I usually just try to ignore it.  Today, though, it was hard.

Today was the first day of my midterm exams.  I had a spoken portion and a written portion.  The spoken portion involved sitting in the hallway with me and answering some questions.  Easy enough.  One of the questions was about a time when they had to act sympathetically (it was one of our vocabulary words).  Several of the stories involved rural China, and several of the girls started tearing up. 

It made me think about yesterday.

Yesterday, I met again with my language exchange partner, Fiona.  She really is a great girl.  We met for coffee (I treated this time; she only drinks cha...I mean tea, so I felt a little bad for her paying for my outrageously expensive cappucino last time).  We settled into the nearest Starbucks by my house to endure another session of language exchanging. 

I had a few questions (what are the words for we, they, us, etc.; how do you say "what time is it?"), which she answered in about six minutes flat.  She even helped me get my pronunciation nearly correct in that time.  Afterwards, with cappucino and tea in hand, we started her session.  Bascially, just chatting. 

It was slightly awkward at first. 

"What do you want to talk about?"

"I don't care.  I'm from the South; I can talk about anything!"


"How was work?"

And from there, from a simple question about her job, we somehow started talking about the Cultural Revolution.  I don't know why or how, but I definitely initiated this.  I felt my journalistic instinct come out and stay.  I did the quiet, let them talk thing.  I should have had a steno to make the scene perfect.  I should have had a steno because I would have loved to record the things she talked about.

Her grandfather was killed during the Cultural Revolution.  For not being part of the Communist Party.  He was wealthy, successful, married to four women (one was her grandmother), and then killed for succeeding in life.

She has never met her grandmother.  She is Japanese, and she moved back to Japan when her husband was murdered.  She only knew one of her grandfather's wives.  She lived in southern China, talked lovingly about Fiona's grandfather, and died two years ago still believing that her husband, the man she loved, had escaped to Taiwan and was still alive. 

Fiona, like many Chinese girls on the streets of Beijing, started crying.  This time I knew the reason, I could understand what she was saying, and I lamented with her. 

It's hard to comprehend a life where people who are relatively my age have had to deal with so much.  To quote a movie I recently watched (Shortbus):

"Why are so many young people moving to New York?  It's so expensive."

"9/11, honey.  It's the only real thing that's ever happened to them."

I think this is true for most of middle America.  (And yes, we can now discount most of the Gulf Coast, thanks to Katrina, but that's a different kind of catatrophe.  That we all expected from the moment we were born.  That can be predicted.  Having a country turn on its most affluent and successful citizens cannot be expected.  Cannot be forgiven.  Cannot be understood...)

Our discussion continued.  I relentlessly pushed and prodded my way to details, such as how her family deals with it.  How her family views her grandfather.  But as this was not an interview, I let the missed questions slide and only got a few of the details between many shed tears.  I know her family still suffers because of her grandfather, but I don't know if they hate him for it.  The impression I got was that they don't, but I didn't get any verbal justification of that inituition.

The conversation ended with my promising to bring the geneology that Nana wrote out for me and mailed to China.  After thinking about how all these people I'm surrounded by are Chinese and only Chinese, I started wondering about my American and only American family.  Which led to an email to my grandmother.  Which led to a handwritten and wonderfully detailed family history.  Including a picture of my great grandparents, one of whom I was named for. 

So it's my turn to tell about Poland and the Alamo and that time in Isabel, La., when Great Grandfather Leo said, "How far is Baton Rouge from here?  I've been there before."

Hopefully, I won't start a stereotype of American girls who cry all the time.  They know enough about us from movies already.

Tags: Culture



i love you and your journalistic tendencies! i hope all is well :)

  t-bone Nov 20, 2007 9:18 PM

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