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A Hakka Excursion

Our most fervent admirerer is still Happy, who, as it turns out, is also quite a rebel. Before coming to WECL she ran away from home and went to live with a relative after dropping out of high school. Her Uncle, who has more money than the rest of the family, offered to pay her tuition, but she can't afford to live in the dorms and instead lives in a tiny room in a poor section of town about a mile away.

She was thrilled to be coming with us to visit some ancient round house villages, Hakka, in southern Fujien province. She has to cut class for a day, as our weekend starts on Friday. This is a big deal because Bob, the head teacher, will be angry if he find out that she is cutting class because of us. Of course, from our point of view, she will learn a lot more English from two days of conversation than in a class of 17 people.


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The round houses in southwestern Fujien Province, were three or four hours by bus from Xiamen. The Hakka, or guest people, a nomadic group from north China, settled in this area as early as 1300. The most famous Hakka is none other then Deng Xiaoping.

The enormous houses are impressive structures, some 250-300 feet around, and are made of a combination of wood, sticky rice, brown sugar, soil and lime. They are said to be bullet proof and earthquake proof with walls more than 5 feet thick. More like forts then houses, the center is open, and the small rooms circle the outside with space for several hundred people on three different levels. The roof is made of slate shingles.


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At one point the US government thought they were missile silos, which is apparently what they look like from the air. We saw several that were 500 years old, but there are many different houses, some built as recently as the l960's, and some of them are square.



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Mostly there are old people and very young children living here, a fraction of the numbers that were here just 10 or 20 years ago. As in the rural villages near Yangshuo, the young and able bodied have all left for the cities where they can make a living.

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Happy, on the other hand, was not impressed with the houses after we were dropped off in the small, rural village surrounded by lush mountains. "They look just like the buildings where I live," she said. Her town is a poor rural area about 10 hours from Xiamen. "They all look the same," she said. I guess if it looks like home, it's nothing special.

Many of the houses are obviously in a state of disrepair and if the government doesn't step in, it is obvious that a number will collapse in the next several years. "The government doesn't care," Happy continued. "They just want to tear them down and put up new ones," and indeed, not far away and sometimes right next to these grand houses, there were relatively new, and to my eyes, exceeding ugly brick houses, covered with the ubiquitous stained white tile that you can see all over the "new China." We tried to point out to her that this was part of the culture of old China, and if all of the houses disappeared it would be a big loss. I'm not sure she bought it, being all of 15 years old, the past doesn't have a lot of meaning. Unfortunately she's probably right about the government. They don't seem to understand the concept of renovation, and unless they can figure out a way to turn it into a tourist attraction that will make money, they don't seem to care.Unesco is considering it as a World Heritage Site and this might make the government take notice. If this happens, the Chinese hordes will descend and pony up millions of yuan to view the "scenic sites," but by then the few remaining locals will no doubt be bought out, probably happily, and the houses left standing will be turned into museums.

After an hour or so at Gao Bei, we found some motorcyclists to drive us a few miles up the road to the local,fan dian, or restaurant, where we had a mediocre lunch. We then started to walk the 5K to Hu Keng, passing a number of other earth houses en route. Luckily after 20 minutes or so we were able to flag down a small minibus which took us to the ramshackle town of a few thousand people. We had our choice of two "three star" hotels, and after Happy negotiated a discount at one, we settled into our room. We noticed a couple of washcloths, but no towels and so we went down with Happy to ask for some. "They say there are towels in the room." "Oh," we said,'' we saw some tiny ones, but that's all." "That's what we use all over china," she said. "They don't have any bigger ones." "Ah," we said, knowingly, and to ourselves, just like the tiny plates and bowls that everyone uses even in the fancy restaurants.

We then hired a different minibus to take us up to a more remote village, further up in the hills. From where the driver dropped us off, we were able to hike a bit into the mountains, and we could look down onto the houses below and across the terraced rice fields into the valley.


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" A waterfall," Sunny exclaimed. "I love waterfalls." We hiked along the narrow terraces, which reminded us of so many we saw in [Peru, until it started to rain and made the path muddy and slippery. A bit reluctantly, we turned back, and then wandered around the village, taking pictures of the old people and children still living there. One couple in particular seemed to get a kick out of posing for photos, but were quite disappointed when Happy had to explain to them that even though we could show them the picture, we could not give them a copy.

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Hurrying back to our impatient driver, it started to rain heavily as he negotiated the deeply rutted and narrow road back to town.

We rested an hour or two and then, getting hungry, we donned raincoats and went out in search of a restaurant. Shockingly, the town seemed to have none. Was this really China? Everywhere else we had been had dozens of them. Finally, after wandering around forever in the rain, we discovered a one table place near the center of town. The food was awful, and Happy, got into a shouting match with the cook, after he heavily salted our food when we specifically said no salt. What really got him upset, was when Happy started shouting at him in English. "I'm a university graduate," he said, "don't talk to me this way." None of us believed that, and finally we had to usher Happy out of there. "I'm so angry," she said. "He put salt in food and he say did not."

Glad to get back to our room, the hotel clerk managed to find a deck of cards for us and we taught Happy how to play rummy. This seemed to take her mind off of the cook and a good time was had by all. The next morning it was still raining hard, disrupting our plans to walk to a few nearby villages. We went in search of breakfast which consisted of some fruit and crackers that managed to be both sweet and salty at the same time. Returning to our room, we played a few more rounds of rummy until it was time to leave. Surprisingly, it cost more to go back then it did on the way in. Maybe the bus company knew that people would pay more to leave once they saw the town had no place to eat. Not only that, the bus took a different route which took an extra hour and a half. So we had to pay more for a slower ride. But, as one of the other teachers said, when we got back, "You don't expect anything to be logical here, do you?" Of course, our progress was also slowed by a few landslides caused by the heavy rain. Despite the fact that it was a new road, the government had neglected to stabilize the hills along the sides of it.


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Posted by jonshapiro 12:19 Archived in China Tagged buildings living_abroad Comments (2)

The Olympics and the Earthquake

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On Tuesday we all trooped down to the ring road by the beach to watch the Olympic Torch Relay. It was a mob scene and it was impossible to tell whether or not the torch runners actually went by. About all we could see were a couple of Samsung and Lenovo floats with pretty girls waving to us from on high. The crowd was unruly, pushing and shoving. The police, who were few in number, tried to control the thousands of people, but were unable to keep them away from the path where the runners were supposed to be. What kind of a police state is this anyway? We later heard that because of the crowd, the runners were put in a bus and never did actually run along the intended path. Everyone was screaming GO CHINA and waving Chinese flags of all sizes. People were everywhere, including in the small trees along the road, some of which couldn't bear the weight and lost big branches.


The summer games are a very big deal here in China. Most people see this as their world debut and are very concerned that it comes off flawlessly. They have been deeply embarassed about the Tibetan demonstrations which, almost universally, they feel are unwarranted.



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The next day we read about the big earthquake in Chengdu which didn't effect us at all in Xiamen. At first it didn't seem that bad, because the city itself was largely spared the worst of the damage. After a few days, however, it looks as though more than 50,000 people lost their lives, including many Tibetans. The Chinese press has been open about the whole thing, in contrast to previous disasters, and the premier flew out there and has spent a lot of time appearing on TV comforting babies and old people. They are obviously trying to prove to the world that they know how to handle themselves when something like this happens. The government is probably more sensitive to pr issues after their heavily criticized response to the Tibet demonstrations and their less than optimal response to the winter blizzards.


Many of the students seem openly moved by the loss of life, even to the point of tears. This is in marked contrast to their usual non-emotional demeanors. They have taken up a collection at the school to donate to the victims. On the other hand, they didn't really react to the loss of life in Myanmar, and the recent cyclone there, Nargis. They are much more focused on events in their own country, but perhaps this is no different than in most countries.

As one of the more mature students put it, this has been a difficult year for China. They thought they were going to have a smooth coming out party, but it has not worked out that way.

As a postscript, we learned that many local school children died in sub-standard buildings which didn't conform to code. In the school buildings built for the kids of government officials, almost no one died. There were many demonstrations in the weeks following the earthquake when this became apparent. A few low level officials paid the ultimate price, but when the demonstrations did not abate, higher ups in the party intervened and they were quashed by the army.

Last night, we went out to a classical symphony concert with a few of the other teachers. The soloist was a violinist from Chendgu, who played a very moving encore dedicated to the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. It turns out that the piece was orginally written to commemorate the holocaust. On the bus ride home, we sat next to a member of the orchestra who told us this.

Posted by jonshapiro 03:06 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Guilin, Yangshuo, and Surrounds

For our one week vacation we flew from Xiamen to Guilin, about 800K. The area around Guilin, including the tourist city of Yangshuo, is famous for its green karst mountains, straight out of a Chinese landscape painting.

We spent two days in Guilin, wandering around on our own in the city's extensive parks and along the riverfront. We found it to be quite an attractive city, but wherever we went, other Chinese tourists and some locals wanted to take their picture with us. We felt like celebrities.

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Disney characters it seems, are very popular in China with both children and adults. Here is a view of them from another section of the park pictured above.





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The riverfront had it's share of wooden rafts and boats, some of which were floating restaurants.



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In our guesthouse, we ran into Karen, probably the only black Canadian teacher in all of China. She too worked for WECL, though in Beijing where they had another school. Just prior to our trip we happened to be looking at the WECL newsletter and saw her picture, and there she was right next door.


We soon headed for Yangshuo, about an hour by bus. The town itself is an interesting mix of Chinese tourists and western backpacker types, complete with "Western Street" because of the number of western shops and restaurants.



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The surrounding area is indeed gorgeous, with very green karst peaks sticking straight up from narrow river valleys and rice fields.





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We are staying in a charming, but simple hostel, the Yangshuo Culture House, which is a few blocks away from the hustle of the main drag. The food, all part of the deal, is fantastic, and at the family styles meals we met some really nice folks from Holland and elsewhere. Nanette had a brush painting lesson with the owner Wei, which he offers free of charge.

We went on a long bike ride through several villages along the Yulong River, with our young Dutch friends.



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This is ancient China, full of rice paddies being tilled the old way, by farmers with water buffaloes.


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Narrow and rocky paths took us in between the villages and almost everyone was friendly and smiling.




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The people live in old brick houses or houses made from adobe with slate roofs, and most of them looked to be as old as the houses. The young have all moved to the city to find work. It was a delight to get away from the hordes of tour groups that fill the main streets of Yangshuo. We ate lunch near Dragon Bridge, several hundred years old, and watched the bamboo rafts ferrying other tourists up and down the river.




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The following day, we went on hike starting at Yang Di and ending at Xing Ping. We were told it was 24K in total, but it didn't seem quite that long. The trail and dirt roads weaved along on both sides of the Jiang Li River, which we had to cross about four times. The scenery was breathtaking, with sheer, rocky cliffs with lush vegetation rising directly from the river. Waves of misty peaks stretched into the distance with the occasional Buddhist shrine impossibly perched atop some of the rock outcroppings.



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At one point we waded out on the slippery rocks and splashed ourselves with river water to cool down, as it got quite hot in the afternoon. At the same time a few old village women were trying to sell us fried fish and rice wrapped in banana leaves, which we didn't eat, anxious to avoid getting sick. They got big kick out of the lawei swimming in the river. Modernity has not touched everywhere in this country, at least not yet.

We find that even the few word we can say in Chinese make a big difference when we are touring like this. We can ask for simple directions and even find the bus station. This might not sound like much, but to able to make ourselves understood with all of the tones, feels like a big accomplishment.

On another excursion we took a local bus, accompanied by Karen, Bart and Maleenja, our Dutch friends, to Putao,



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and then another one to Shitoucheng, which was about 10k down a very bumpy dirt road. On the bus we hired an old wrinkled farmer, just how old we found out later, to be our guide for the day.



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It turns out he was 83. He took us up a steep set of old steps, muddy from the humidity and clay-like soil. We went further into the mountains and entered a world of stone houses, narrow rock walled lanes, and verdant bright green rice field interspersed with well tended vegetable gardens.


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We hiked for an hour or two when our guide asked if we wanted to have lunch. We realized later that he barely understood a word of Karen's Mandarin, because he only spoke a local dialect. Karen spoke better than we did because she had spent the preceding year teaching at WECL, but obviously it was of limited value in this situation. Somehow, we managed to communicate, as we continued walking up past the old stone gates of the town and then down into another valley until we eventually reached his house. Also made of stone, the primitive place was an interesting mix of the the very old and the relatively new. The walls were adorned with a big picture of Mao, and some other old Chinese Mandarins we didn't recognize. Nevertheless they had an old TV set, and yep, you guessed it, a cell phone. They cooked our rice and vegetables on an open fire while we took several pictures of the house, and the old NiNi's and YeYe's, grandmothers and grandfathers.


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Bart happened to have a pink balloon, which he blew up, and one of the grandchildren was entranced for quite a while.




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We debated how many westerners had made it into this town. Opinions ranged from once a day to once a month, or hardly any.

They brought out a live chicken and asked if we wanted that for lunch, which we declined, not wanting to witness the execution. We opted for vegetables and rice, but no matter, they butchered it anyway, carefully saving the blood, and then they ate it.




Our Guide Trying to Decipher the Dictionary
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We soon had our illusions shattered of being the only westerners to "discover " the place, when another young American who spoke quite good Chinese walked in with his guide. . The guide said that almost 50 westerners a day came through the town, and not only that, lunch was going to cost us 100 Yuan, $15 US, and grossly overpriced in rural China. Sure enough, they asked us for 100 Yuen when we finished. At that point we began to think that maybe the old man rode back and forth on the bus everyday, just looking for tourists to guide and bring to his house for an expensive lunch. The Chinese are certainly very canny businessmen. It took a little of the joy out of the experience, but we still got some great pictures and had an enjoyable time tramping through the village and exploring the old stone walls and gates of the the town. When we got back to Yangshuo, the town was even more packed with Chinese tourists on their May Day holiday. It was wall to wall people, complete with firecrackers going off in great bursts, buses and cars honking adding to the general din.

Today we managed another nice bicycle ride to another nearby, but uncrowded village. We had lunch at a nice spot by the river, at a "farmer food" restaurant, though once again we were overcharged. We then pedaled through the narrow lanes and found an idyllic spot to dunk ourselves in the water. For about 20 minutes our only company was a water buffalo, also enjoying the coolness of the water. After that. a couple of cute, but rambunctious boys showed up and we skipped rocks in the river with them.. They each crunched loudly on cucumbers, spitting out the seeds and skin wherever it was convenient, sometimes almost on top of us.



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Getting used to the lack of personal space takes some time. The Chinese, all 1.3 billion of them, seem to love a crowd which is just as well.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:00 Archived in China Tagged photography living_abroad Comments (3)

Thoughts on Chinese Culture and Teaching

We have had very interesting discussions with some of my older students. One of them, who will remain nameless here, described the Chinese character as basically selfish, in that everyone just considers his own self-interest or the interests of his immediate family. He or she said that few people pay attention to the law, and that most everyone tries to get away with things and cut corners. We talked about the traffic situation in Xiamen as an example of this. Traffic laws are not enforced and pedestrians have no rights whatsoever. When two drivers get to a corner at the same time he said, each one doesn't wait for the light, and they both try to go first (basically a game of chicken).

I asked how selfishness fits with the desire to save face, and the concern about what others think of them. The Chinese character is very complicated (s)he said, agreeing with me, that there is a kind of built in contradiction between being selfish, trying to get away with things, and concern about what others will think. It seems that if you can get away with something without anyone noticing, then face saving is not an issue. I asked about the contradiction between a very controlling government, and a people that are always trying to break rules. He/She nodded and agreed that here was another complicated issue. From his/her perspective Westerners are much more likely to obey the rules and do things fairly. Perhaps he/she said, because there are more negative consequences if they get caught trying to get away with something. From this I understood that you can get away with a lot here in China, so long as you don't challenge the government openly. Nobody seems to care about enforcing the laws and that is one reason why there is so much corruption. Of course, if there is a public scandal and you happen to be the fall guy, the consequences can be lethal.

Perhaps there is an inverse relationship between rigid centralized authority and individual rule breaking. The more tightly controlled you are from above, the more you try to get yours because there is so much inequality built into the system. Or maybe the Chinese have always been ruthless businessmen? As everyone knows by now, quality control is often lacking. I have experienced this in a direct way. So far we have had to have an electrician come into our apartment three times, to repair switches and lights, not to mention the lock on the front door which is about to break. When I told people in Cihina that I lived in a two hundred year old house at home, they were amazed. They said no one lives in a house more than 20 or 30 years. After that they tear it town. The implication was that they tear it down because it was put up so badly that it might fall down if they didn't. Planned obsolescence is a fine art here, or maybe its not planned? The constant construction is not just because of a fast growing economy.


The longer we are here, the more I realize just how conservative a society China really is, and not just the government The other night, we read a short article on values. I won't go into detail, but there were three classifications, and when I asked the students in the class where they would put themselves, all said they were traditionalists, whose main characteristic is an adherence to traditional values such as hard work, obedience to authority, and doing things the way they have always been done. They all talk of being raised by parents who on the one hand, would overprotect them to the point of cooking and cleaning for them while they were in college, but on the other hand expected total obedience. Any questioning would result in a beating. It is not just the education system that stifles individual creativity, but also the family structure remains highly rigid, based on Confucian values.

Children are taught that their parents always know what is best for them, and from a very early age parents decide what their their children will study, based on their test scores. These tests are based on rote memory . It is almost impossible to switch fields at some point later in life, because most kids are exposed to a very narrow range of ideas and information. As one person in the class put it, from age 4 or 5 children are pushed to enter a race for a good job or career so everything is scheduled for them. They have almost no time to have fun and and really not allowed to be children. Independence is simply not valued. This is slowly, very slowly, starting to change, but the pressure not to disappoint your parents who have sacrificed so much on your behalf is enormous. Even if your family has money, and you don't have to worry about a job, there is still enormous pressure to live up to your responsibilities and continue to expand the family business. Boys feel this more than girls, because they are still heavily favored and more is expected of them. Given all of this, it is really not surprising that the government can continue to operate in the way that it does. And this is not to say that on an private basis people don't question the government, but they have obviously been raised to obey authority and focus on their families.

One night someone asked me to teach more "business English", not surprising since all of them are in one kind of business or another. I suggested that we might want to brainstorm different ideas about how to do this. I explained what this meant, and they agreed it was a good idea. I asked whether brainstorming was ever something that was done at their workplace, and the answer was a definitive no. It was clearly a very non-Chinese idea.

China seems to be at a crucial time in its long history. Either it will continue to open itself to new ideas which will inevitably force greater changes, both in the government and the family structure, or the forces of conservatism, so strongly rooted in the fabric of Chinese culture, will reassert themselves, and China will shut itself off from the world, as it has many times in the past. Probably the most likely outcome, at least in the relatively short term, will be a constant push-pull between these different forces. As long as this it the case, it will continue to hamper the ability of the Chinese people to respond to world events, economic and political, in innovative ways.

You could argue that these same forces are at work in many parts of the world. It seems that the fundamentalist and traditionalist thinkers are in the ascendancy, at least in the United States. When it comes to conservative social, and increasingly even economic values, large segments of the US population are not so different than the Chinese.


My world culture class with the advanced day students continues to be a challenge. At the end of each chapter in the book there are a couple of "critical thinking" questions, and I said that I would ask these same questions on a test, which the school administration scheduled in two weeks. I went over the answers in class, but many did not understand the concepts, although they did know the meaning of the words. Of course, most of them made it clear that they had not read the book as it has nothing to do with learning English per se. I typed out a study page which contained all of the important information, and they seemed happy with this. I will obviously have to give up on my fantasies of getting them to think critically.

For the most part, they are ignorant of world events outside of China, and many don't seem to care. For example, very few of them know about the genocide in Rwanda, and they don't know that Laos and Burma border China. Of course, plenty of college kids in the US know little about events in Africa and nothing about Chinese history, but I think that more of them would be able to pick out the important things to talk about in an oral report. It's not that these kids are stupid either, but they are used to sitting in large classes of more than 50 students and being lectured to. Their role has just been to memorize whatever their teachers have told them, and they are heavily criticized for making any mistakes. This is not an atmosphere which is conducive to independent thinking.

Speaking of which, we have questioned the administration as to why tests are necessary at all. Many of the students don't take them seriously and know they will "pass" no matter what their grade happens to be. The powers that be at WECL however, want to maintain that this is a real school and how can they do that without tests. Bob, the head teacher, has turned out to be a very controlling anal type, who is full of unhelpful advice and totally unreceptive to new ideas. We try to avoid him as much as possible, but with a staff of six, this is not always easy to do. The other teachers have also been a bit of a disappointment. You might think that anyone who would choose to go abroad to China and teach would be interesting and adventurous, but that has not turned out to be the case. We prefer spending informal time with the kids and going out to dinner with them, which we do often. As it turns out, we spend more time with the less advanced students since we teach more classes with them, and since Bob has more or less corralled the others into his orbit.

The four months we have signed up for will be the right amount of time. We soon get a week off and will fly to Guilin. That will be a welcome change.

Posted by jonshapiro 05:32 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Getting to Know our Students

Our day students, mostly in their early 20's, love to hang out with us and have dinner etc., while our evening students, because they are older are generally working. The more advanced group is easy to be with because their English is good enough to have real conversations. All of the students have English names which they have chosen for themselves. At times this makes for a humorous combination. Several of the students including Prince, a pretty 22 year old woman, have chosen to confide in us perhaps because we told them we are psychologists? She wrote a story in which she mentioned the incredible pressure she feels to get a good job, and not to disappoint her family who have sacrificed so much for her. She apparently was sickly as a child and her father, a doctor in a small town, took care of her. He now runs a seafood business because it is more lucrative. She seems to have a very bleak outlook on her life, and has several stress related problems including Irritable Bowl Disease and a constant sore throat.

Larry, one of the best students, is 24, and as the only son in a family with several girls is expected to take over the family business in the next few years. The business is a factory with over 1000 employees that makes inner tubes for trucks and bikes etc. He feels he cannot spend anytime having fun and must be very serious in order to perfect his English before the end of this year. He is also expected to get married and have male heirs within the next couple of years. He complains about chest pain, says he has grey hairs and nightmares because of all the pressure he feels. He wants to know why westerners seem to have happier lives than the Chinese people he knows. He can't talk to his family about these things because he doesn't want to worry them, and he can't talk to his peers because they won't understand. Here is a really bright student, in what most would think of as a very enviable position in China, but even at 24, he can't enjoy his life. No doubt when he takes over the factory things will be even worse. China may have more options for people than in the past, but it seems that even in wealthy families there is pressure to make more money and achieve. Enjoyment seems secondary.

I talked to Larry about the importance of relaxing and doing fun things. Maybe he took it to heart, because the next day he came with us and several other students to the beach to go bike riding and afterwords we made a big meal together. He seemed to enjoy himself.



A Day at the Seashore
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Certainly not all the students are like Larry and Prince. Before we got to China we had the sense that all Chinese are hard working and diligent. What we realize now, is that this was an assumption based on the skewed sample we saw in the States. Those students were obviously the best and the brightest, while the others never get to study abroad.


And then there is Marjorie, age 26, who has more or less taken us under her wing. She lives now with her older British boyfriend in an upscale apartment near the water. She has been around the block a few times, has a sense of her attraction to men, and an appreciation for some of the finer things of life. She is a part time WECL student and part time Yoga instructor, but is obviously not killing herself with work or pressure. Her English is only fair, despite having the advantage of living with an English speaker. At the same time she is gracious, self effacing, and very generous.

Marjorie Posing for Nanette
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Marjorie took us shopping for a mattress pad when we complained about our rock hard bed. She accompanied me when I had my first Chinese haircut. It was 10 Yuan or about $1.50 US for a process that took well over an hour, complete with washing and scalp massage. Perhaps I was his first lawai (foreign) customer.

She has also had us over for dinner. We went with her to help pick out the food at Shinpo market, more like an outdoor South American market than any we had been to before. There were all kinds of fresh veggies, fruit, and many varieties of fish, almost all alive. Marjorie picked out a dozen clams still spitting water, and shrimp still swimming around in a big tank. She also purchased half a Peking Duck, already cooked, complete with scallions and pancakes. Our contribution to this feast was Nanette's attempt to make brownies from scratch, using chocolate bars instead of baking chocolate. There was no baking soda, which resulted in unleavened brownies. Considering the lack of ingredients, they tasted pretty good. Ovens are practically unknown in China and so are baked goods. We met Frank, her 42 year old boyfriend, who is divorced with two teenaged kids in Britain. He is running the sales department for an American high tech firm. It was nice to talk to a fellow lawei for a change, and drink his imported vodka and wine. It was all very civilized, and they made us feel right at home. After dinner we were joined by another Brit and his Chinese girlfriend. Jim works in the family business making equestrian equipment in China for the British market. Both of these men make foreign salaries and are able to live very well here. While local wages are going up rapidly, party to keep up with inflation which is more than 10% a year, salaries are obviously far less than in the States and Europe. However, it may be that in the future goods from other Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Cambodia will be cheaper than Chinese goods.





Inside Nampo
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We have taken other excursions with different students. For example we went to Nampo Temple, accompanied by Juna, Nancy and Tammy. Nampo is one of the older Buddhist temples in this area, but rebuilt several times after it was sacked by various emperors. We didn't know that it was Buddha's Birthday, and the place was packed. The incense was so thick it was hard to breath. We climbed the many steps of the hill behind the temple along with hundreds of others to see the view of the city. We were surrounded by throngs of people, a very Chinese experience. After that we had a huge lunch which our students insisted on paying for, and then walked around Xiamen University. One of the oldest and best schools in China, the campus is large and beautiful with a lake in the middle. There were university students sitting on the grass, some studying, and others making out with their girl/boyfriends, something that would not have been tolerated a few years ago. Others were hanging out and shopping on Student Street, a bit like Telegraph Ave in Berkeley, minus the head shops.

Both Juna and Nancy are from nearby cities and are relatively wealthy, whereas Tammy is from Hunan province where her family members are farmers. She only gets to see them once a year, and this year, because of all the snow, she couldn't get back at all. Juna says she is a Buddhist, as is her family, and she was very surprised when she first heard about our interest in Buddhism. She actually knows very little about the sutras however, and was asking us questions about them. It seems as though most of the temple goers, including Juna, are most interested in praying to the fat sitting Buddha, known as the Buddha of Prosperity. He is ubiquitous here.

Left to Right, Rita, Amy, Tammy, Marjorie
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Posted by jonshapiro 13:21 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

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