April 20, 2007

Why I like Yellow Wings

Filed under: blogs,China — Kim @ 5:46 am

First of all let me admit that I still can’t manage the fucking fonts on WordPress, so please be patient with the font mish-mash…Post begins.

If you haven’t already, check out Yellow Wings http://yellowwings.sinocidal.com/ written by a Mr Meursault, who can rant with the best of them.

Here’s an early post (Friday, April 21st, 2006)

what I despise most, is how Chinese people preach constantly how foreigners in China must respect Chinese culture (I’m guessing totalitarian government, racism, and poor hygiene can be considered SOME sort of culture)

and he has more or less kept up that tone to this day. Huzzah! Good man! Sterling work! etc. But I notice from An Apology April 16th, 2007, that this week he seems to have overstept some mark…

If anyone has ever gone through this site, they’ll know that everything on this site is either made up or exaggerated in order to generate cheap laughs amongst my friends back home. This site is nothing more than that and is not to be taken seriously. The comments in the previous post about a certain somebody were in no way supposed to be taken as real or an insult on their character, and anyone who knows the person I’m talking about will know so.

Well, I can’t help wondering whether he shouldn’t be issuing a similar apology to those cynically “Han-dicapped” folk of China who he has lambasted and lampooned over the last two years? Any chance Meursalt?

But why do I like Yellow Wings?

It’s cynical, grumpy, misanthropic, fucking rude, and probably very offensive to some Chinese readers who don’t really get the mindset behind those first three adjectives, or who are nationalistic dickheads. In short, it seems it’s not likely to promote international harmony or world peaceBut who cares? The point is it’s funny.

When I read Mr Meursault’s Thursday, May 25th, 2006 account of his trip from Qingdao to Hangzhou by bus I kick a woman in the face; DVDs are stolen a few hours later I nodded along with his bilious fumings for a few paras and then came this

And to top it all off I had 500 Cuntminbi’s worth of DVDs stolen (most probably by the driver), and had to listen to the racist and childish laughter of the scum who “work” at Qingdao Bus Station as I tried to find out where they had gone.

Cuntminbi! I wonder if he coined that one? I snotted myself with laughter when I read that.

What would a Chinese reader make of it all? I don’t know for sure, but I think that if China wants to be internationally respected then the Chinese need to get a bit more cynical, ironic, and tolerant…and a bit less touchy. They need to be able to read Yellow Wings and laugh. Yes, make Yellow Wings required reading for all Chinese High School English lessons and promote world peace!

April 19, 2007

Waaaa! Waaaaaaa!

Filed under: baby,China — Kim @ 5:15 pm

I guess I’m going to get a lot of curiosity from Chinese over the next few years about my new baby. Babies are always made a fuss of, of course, but a mixed baby…now that’s something! I am thinking of charging for peeks into the pram.

My wife spent 5 days in the maternity ward after her caesarean and I was impressed. She shared a room with 3 other new mums and that cost 20 RMB (just over 1 pound) per night. The baby was bathed every day, my wife had a drip, they washed and cleaned her twice a day, and the hospital food was fine. The service was sometimes with a smile (but those doctors and nurses are very busy and they look tired) and there was a general atmosphere of goodwill and glee throughout the ward. It is not an exclusive hospital at all, it’s a lao bai xing (old hundred names) kind of place and so sometimes huge families would swarm into rooms buzzing with excitement and satisfaction. I received several warm smiles and congratulations and despite being the only foreigner in the ward – I think – I didn’t feel out of place.

Only one sour note. In our room 3 out of 4 babies were quiet and contented and the only one that wasn’t had a micturation problem – she couldn’t pee easily – and let everyone know it. Of itself that is understandable, but the grandma who had been roped in to look after baby kept on berating it with “I want to beat you! I’ll beat you if you don’t shut up! I’ll beat you and beat you, you little monster!” and the mother said nothing. Granny didn’t beat baby of course, in fact she would often be cradling it while saying how much she wanted to beat it, but you have to wonder when they’ll start.

But basically it was a good experience and it strengthened my conviction that China, despite all its knockers and for all its failings, is fast becoming a civilized modern society. You need a little bit of money, sure, but you don’t need that much and there are a lot of people starting to make middle-class-level money in China.

Baby Celia was two weeks early and so perhaps because of that her cries of distress/pleas for food were very muted at first. She mewed plaintively “laaay laaay” which sounds like ‘come, come” in Chinese. But one week later you can really tell the difference. She’s upstairs now, testing out her lung power, WAAAAA! WAAAAAAA! Ah, well, shows she’s healthy. Goodnight.

April 13, 2007

Why come to China?

Filed under: intro — Kim @ 2:01 pm

Forgive me… I haven’t explained myself to the occasional non-friend who may stumble upon this blog. I’m an English English teacher who’s lived and worked in Hungary, Japan, Thailand, England, and now in Dalian, North-East China. Why did I come to China? Well, like many a western man these days my significant other is from the east. We met in Tokyo and lived together in Thailand and England before coming to her home town of Dalian. Life seems good in this city and we will probably bring up our daughter here. So, a decade of Dalian beckons, more than likely, and that’s about how long I’m going to need to learn to speak and read Chinese.

My daughter is now 1 day old. Yes, she literally was born yesterday (April12) and is a bouncing eastwest baby girl.

But this blog is not the place for baby photos! Only adult content here.

The Big Kid on the Block

Filed under: east-west,politics — Kim @ 1:49 pm

Shortly after General Douglas MacArthur took over as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan in 1945 he called the Japanese ‘a nation of twelve year olds’ and what he meant by this notorious comment is debatable. It could have been that to his big round American eyes the Japanese were very keen and enthusiastic, very eager to help, and very willing to learn. Or it could have been that they were kind of short and often came across as stroppy. (Hey, you just occupied them Dude and you wonder why they’re stroppy?) But in any case, it was crushingly condescending.

In a recent British” Question Time” the not exactly pro-Bush novelist Martin Amis opined that it was time the US was put back “under adult supervision”, and that seems closer to the mark.

I was reminded of this adult/child trope while chewing the fat about Taiwan with a colleague. He said that whenever Taiwan’s President Chen needs to distract attention away from his own foibles he will make some pro-independence noises in the knowledge that he can rely on the CCP to “behave like a spoilt child” and attack him with clumsy aggressive rhetoric. He will then get at least some sympathy; not only from his duped followers but also from those who don’t like bullies.

So it got me thinking…it is a common trait for spoilt children to dislike hearing criticism, and hence the censorship by the CCP. And also, the concept of “face” (that makes it so a Chinese man – usually a man but not necessarily – will find it very hard to back down or admit mistakes, perhaps especially so in dealings with a foreigner) is rather a childish one. For me at least, one of the characteristics of “maturity” is that while you might not necessarily feel comfortable admitting your errors or backing down, you can do it without feeling your whole mindset, integrity, and way of life is being threatened.

And since I noticed it I have kept on noticing it. I keep on hearing and inferring when I talk to westerners about China and read the western press that China, and especially the Chinese government, is not just misguided, wrongheaded, corrupt, etc, but that it is immature. It seems that the “China is (still) a developing country” point, which I’d basically agree with, has been extended by analogy to “Chinese are like children, we westerners are adults”, which makes me uncomfortable and surely isn’t fair or true.

Way back when I was a student studying litcrit, I first heard the sixties’ feminist slogan “The personal is the political” and it seems that in this case the political has become the personal, in so far as it seems the Chinese are accused of being childish because China is a developing country with a government that not only behaves childishly from time to time but often treats its citizens like kids.

Actually, come to think of it, the whole trope could probably be extended even further to “The East is childish and The West is grown up.” So who’s your Daddy? However, although it sounds bad when put so bluntly, there is an important and persuasive point lurking somewhere behind the western condescension. Chinese (Asian) education is strong on Maths and Science and weak on History, Literature, Social Sciences, and critical thinking in general. Chinese civil society is nascent. The Chinese media is censored and therefore superficial on many important topics, and it tends to treat its listeners/readers like innocent children/naïve dupes. Chinese government rhetoric all too often comes across as retarded. Cumulatively, this helps to create an impression of immaturity to many western eyes. But to go from this to saying that China and the Chinese are somehow childish compared to us…of course I’m still not comfortable. I think it’s patronising and I think it’s false. I do think that the CCP want to keep people innocent/ignorant and that this means that political discourse and media debate in China are immature, but I also think that a mature Chinese is as mature as a mature European. I think that Chinese culture is not lagging behind western culture and that I personally am not more individuated or sophisticated or adult simply because I was brought up in England not China.

One thing is for sure though; Chinese youth take longer to become young adults. It’s still kind of rebellious for partners to hold hands in a university campus! Similarly, when I first went to Japan to work in a Japanese university I was horrified by the Freshman Party. It involved balloons, pass the parcel, lots of photos with the teachers, and lashings of ginger beer and cola. (Yes, it sounds like a McDonalds’ birthday party.) I looked back fondly to my fresher’s partying in England in which any game of pass the parcel would have meant a prize of condoms and weed. Now, I know sex and drugs and KTV are not what maketh a man, and there are other differences too; like the Japanese freshman’s lack of political and historical awareness, ability to think critically, and cynicism and irony. But the youth in asia (sounds like euthanasia, innit) catch up within a few years, and I don’t just mean they start drinking and shagging. Most of the final year students I talk to in Japan and China are clued up and look and behave like adults.

And anyone on this topic really should mention Edward Said (rhymes with “heed” not “head”) and his “Orientalism”. Ever since it was published (1978) it has provided a hefty cudgel to knock down western criticism of the east. The book’s thesis is that there is in “The West” an entrenched structure of thought, a pattern of making certain generalizations about the part of the world known as the ‘East’. It is, to quote Said, “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction between ‘the Orient’ and . . . ‘the Occident’…by which European culture was able to manage—and even produce—the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively”. Well, it’s not exactly a popular book because of the academic jargon, (I can imagine him writing about this blog topic…“This essentialising discourse creates an episteme in which the infantilisation of the Orient becomes ineluctable” etc, etc), but it certainly has a point and it has punctured a lot of patronising nonsense by westerners about the east.

But it hasn’t changed the general (western!) consensus that by and large women get a harder time out east, that the rule of law tends to get more bendy the further east you go, and that the good folk of the east have to put up with a fair bit more censorship and bullying from their governments. (If you push me, then I would go along with these claims too.) However, if you say something along these lines too crudely then some touchy types assume that you yourself believe that there are ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEMS in the west and that YOU THINK YOU ARE A SUPERIOR PERSON simply by grace of being born western. And then all too often come the clumsy counterarguments quite typical of blog comments where, for example, angry proud easterners will flat out deny that women are treated as inferiors in, say, Saudi Arabia, (I mean really, what the fuck?) and will respond to any criticisms or unfavourable comparisons of their countries or cultures with a long list of just why it is that western countries are fucked up. Not mature debate. Oh yes, and there’s nothing big about swearing either.

In any case, China is the big “new kid on the block” and the world has to deal with that. My hunch is that most westerners feel that while China is certainly catching up with the west economically, it is still culturally just a kid. In other words, many, perhaps most, westerners like to think Chinese are childish. Be honest…what do you think? Mea culpa too, from time to time, but after more careful consideration I think it’s not fair and it’s not mature thinking.

Globalisation does not necessarily mean westernisation and if Big China does not always behave like a western society then we should not be surprised. It is right that we (by which I mean right-minded adults from eastwestnorthsouth) should protest about points of principle like the treatment of Tibet, censorship, imprisonment of journalists etc, but we should not then make large claims about “the Chinese character” because of these stupidities or injustices.

It is true that China is a developing country with a heavy-handed and patronising government that sometimes treats its citizens like children. But it is smug, and lazy thinking, to call the Chinese childish.

April 12, 2007

We Got Goat

Filed under: east-west,food — Kim @ 12:23 pm

 

On my walk to my part time job these days – a pleasing 5 minute stroll to what Chris “Eyes East” Amico has described as “one of the nicest office buildings I’ve ever seen. Not in China, mind you. Anywhere. This place holds its own” – I have been bemused by the sight of a freshly severed goat’s head set proudly atop a blood bespattered fleece on a ledge outside one of the little shops that line the side street leading to my swanky corporate tower. I know it is a freshly severed head because the blood has not congealed (much) and it is definitely a different goat every day because I have been carefully inspecting the horns.

I’m not really squeamish about this because, if you’ll forgive a little wander down memory lane, back when I was a very little Kim growing up in the South Downs of Sussex our family kept goats. Two nannies called Emily and Suzy and a dangerously stupid billy called Charlie. Charlie was so dumb that one day while tethered to a tree he walked round and round until the rope bit into his neck and then kept on trying to go the way he’d been going until he fainted, fell over, and throttled himself. Quite a feat to strangle yourself, but Charlie pulled it off. Good country instincts of waste-not, want-not meant that when my brother and I got home from school we were confronted by the flayed corpse of a billy in the bath. It was, I recall, a little alarming and weird but our parents assured us that Charlie was soon to be turned into lots of very tasty curry and that we were not to worry. So we didn’t -and he was- and since then I’ve not been much troubled by butchery.

But anyroad, I was nonetheless a little baffled about why exactly these grisly goats’ heads were grinning at me from the shopfront. So after about a week I did as all good foreigners should when confronted with the mysteries of the east and asked a local, in this instance my wife. She winced at the description but immediately had the explanation. Apparently a few kebab shops are under suspicion of catching cats and dogs for their skewers (chuan) and so the goat is there to vouch for the authenticity of the wares. Of course! And how much more persuasive than a certificate from the Health and Safety!

I wonder how this sort of customer assurance would go down in my hometown of Brighton? I guess a few people would faint, a few would vomit, and a few would think it was connected to satanic rituals and call their village priest/try to get a piece of the action. Health and Safety officials (fascists!) would froth at the mouth and have a stroke before shutting the place down, or maybe the whole lane down. England doesn’t do that sort of advertising any more, although Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall might be allowed to do it in his River Cottage on the telly. In any case, there would be no end of bleating about it – though not from the goat of course.

Anyway, it’s a nice snapshot of the new/old China cheek by jowl. The gleaming skyscraper next to the medieval alley. Of which more soon…

 

Anyone coming for a goat kebab in downtown Dalian this weekend? I can promise it’s fresh.

 

yours aye

 

K