Friday, May 19, 2006

Teachers in China usually live on campus, or are provided with modest housing that is adequate but not too nice. I lived on a campus when I first came to China. It was somehow associated with Beida, (Peking University, or Beijing University), it was basically a dorm room or like a hotel room. It was not near anything except the 5th ring road which meant there was still some agriculture and apartment buildings but it was not near anything. It really was designed to keep the teachers isolated. This is a throw back to the old days in China which had designated living areas for foreigners. It was modern, quite nice but it did not give you a "real" experience in regard to living. After moving to Harbin because of SARS, I have never lived in this type of situation again. The picture here is my current home/school. As you can see it is quite spacious and quite nice. Most Chinese could not afford this. Most teachers could but prefer to save money as this would take about half of their salary. It is not only the nicest place I have lived in here in China but the nicest place I have ever lived in. Well let me qualify that, the nicest place that I have completely paid for by myself. I don't want to mislead anyone as you will never be provided with a place as nice as this. You will be provided with an average apartment that will be about 40 square meters, which will have two main rooms, a kitchen and a small bath which probably will not have a shower in it. You may have to buy a hot water heater. This is the way a large portion of the population lives. They shower at public bath houses, carry their little baskets from their homes to their shower. Well I just can't live that way.

That brings me to another point of culture that is interesting and a bit strange, to the western mind. There are many contradictions here, most Chinese have homes that are very well kept. They may be very nice inside, when the exteriors are very unattractive. Even though most keep a very nice house, the don't hesitate to throw crap out of their windows onto the streets or exteriors of the buildings. Street markets are littered with food, papers, plastic bags, fish guts, donkey dung, you name it it's there. Not to mention the gallons of spit on the streets, which comes from men women boys girls, gramma, gramps. There must be something in the culture that says you should never swallow anything. You see spit in elevators, stairs, restaurants, where ever there are people. So, there are a lot of jobs for street cleaners. They are everywhere, and streets do get cleaned, the debris is cleaned up and there is a short time when it is not littered. It is just a never ending cycle of filth and cleaning up. In the west we have garbage day when the truck comes and picks up your can. Here, everyday people just tie up the trash in plastic bags and put it outside their apartment door, it is then picked up by the workers who will sort through it by hand and remove any recyclable that have not already been saved by the resident. The toilet paper is also thrown out as it is not flushed. Go figure. There are thousands of people who scour the streets pushing hand carts to collect cardboard, bottles, plastic, metal. They carry an upside down bucket of plastic between the handles of the cart and bang away with a rubber hose, starting quite early in the morning and continue to the evening. That and the totally insane use of the car horn are probably the two most annoying aspects of living here. Here's a cultural bias example. I used to live near a sportsman's club in Washington. It was really a rifle range, and starting at nine in the morning the sound of gunfire could go on all day. You learn to ignore it, someone asks what's that and you say, what? I have not managed to do that with the car horns or the recycler's bang on the buckets. You see this the nature of a bias, something you can't forgive in others but do yourself. Another example, the trains don't bother me and I live near the tracks, which run through the middle of the city, but the car horns drive me nuts. I have tried to deal with my own inability to ignore it and I figure it is connected with my attitude towards Chinese drivers. Now anyone that lives in the states has probably commented under their breath, errrr, Asian driver. I could spot them blocks away as we have a large Asian population in the Puget sound area. I know that many of them were born in the states too. Of course this is a sort of prejudice and a generalization, but how many Asian race car drivers do you know? There is a sort of awe and wonder about it here as everyone has the same crazy habits. You wonder how it all manages to function with not just the occasional knuckle head, but 99 percent of the population doing it this way. The police drive as bad as everyone else, there are no traffic patrols, no cruisers waiting to catch you, no stopping at red lights when turning, no stop signs at most intersections. People walk in the streets and drive on the sidewalks, literally!

As an American we imagine our society is very free and we can do as we please, what we don't realize is the intense order of our society which governs our behavior. We do not think of our society as a police state, which it is, in contrast to China. I still don't know what the police do, as most of what they do is not visible to me. We chide China for having the Great Firewall on the net, but don't even blink when it is revealed that there is a database of all phone calls since 911. Chinese people are very patriotic, like Americans, very proud and yet very detached politically. Perhaps this comes from the one party system, but we are only a two party system. It works for them and things are changing fast, but many things that need changing remain. Perhaps this is just priorities. This will probably change too. When I was young, made in Japan meant cheap as in poor quality, this is not the case today. I can remember playing with a very small model car that was made from a juice can. There are some companies that are emerging as leaders in quality such as Haier, or Lenovo. They will flourish but the crap will remain as long as wages are low. As long as you can navigate the system, any decent business man can make a killing here in China. This is what the Germans, Japanese and others including to a lesser degree American companies have done, but it requires a sort of company culture, or re education.

Well that's it for this post, hope you enjoyed it and got some insights. I also want to stress the point that I enjoy living here very much and have a great time teaching my students and enjoy the differences in the culture.

Larry Rhoe aka worldtour


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