First, a true story. Before my trip in 2003, I perused the local library for any information on China, and all I could find were pictures of men and women dressed in blue uniforms, riding bikes from a book published in the mid 1980s. China wasn’t in the news, wasn’t a rising power, but most importantly to me was different, a literal Wild West for a native Californian who had grown up in the Silicon Valley during the 80s. In many ways, my experience mirrored Anna Leonowen’s experience in Thailand during the 1860s (she also thought her employment in Siam would be a romantic excursion), and continues to mirror the experiences of expatriates working in China even today. I would[…]
Depending only on our assumptions to understand a culture is dangerous. Trompenaar and Hampden-Turner (1996) state that the only way to manage cultural change is to use stories to rewrite our assumptions about implicit culture. In this short essay I am going to talk about assumptions I had about Chinese culture (based on my initial reactions to experiences I had), and then relate several stories that changed my mind, and through these experiences explain some of the key differences between an American upbringing and Chinese culture. “The Funeral” When I first came to China, I had an opportunity to attend a funeral in the mountainside. Even though this was a funeral, I was curious to know how funerals among Chinese[…]
Society is fundamentally ruled by the powerful, who maintain their power by offering others security. The powerful offer physical security, personal security, familial security, and quite often moral security that is based out of how that particular powerful group views the family and how they view the interplay between different members of the community. Opposing this “security” is more often viewed as a threat to the whole and put down immediately. The Pope was a shining example of how a leader could offer both moral authority and security, while at the same time stand out as a monstrous vehicle of power and dictatorship, “the leader of the world.” However, the United States was one of the first forces to truly[…]
Memories of Old Beijing: the swirling, stone fairytale bridges of Beihai, crossing over crystal clear lagoons of budding flowers and jeweled rocks. People pace on the hillside, reading from the classics, while children run and hide in the caves beneath, playing hide and seek from their shadows. A long corridor of brightly painted wood shadows them as the readers descend from the hill, where they sit and watch the small waves curling in the vast lake beyond, little boats dotting the water like intrepid explorers. This is Beihai, the treasure land of Beijing. I am walking up the hill, toward the towering and bulbous White Dagoba, the crown of a four hundred year old temple that was built from the[…]
“How much farther?” she asks me, her breath already starting to sound heavy. The air is thinner up here, and the cars less. A few pedestrians pace on the sidewalk, while a gentle evening breeze comes on, racing through the shadows of skyscrapers. “I can see it, up there,” or at least I think I see the building. In truth, there are so many trees and buildings blocking the view, it’s hard to tell if the building up ahead is actually the tram center for Victoria Peak. We decided to take the Mid-Levels tour, a staggering 800 meter-long escalator that runs up the belly of Victoria Peak from the sea. It was mostly because last time we were in Hong[…]
I stepped through the portal and felt an ethereal sense wash over me, as if I had donned a new skin and personality. There were dragons playing among waterfalls and sharp crags before me, and I could hear the sound of battle-axes and war cries from the distance. A faint green hue flooded the room, giving the walls an ancient, decrepit look. Painted onto the walls was an elaborate mural showcasing a great war between men, beasts, and even fouler things, with magical energies swirling about their strange horned mounts and a sky torn open by a rift. Before I could take another step into the maelstrom, however, a waitress cheerfully greeted me and asked me how many to seat.[…]
I admire Lu Xun. Not for his timidness, which he was not; not for his resolve, which faltered often; not for his calculating mind, which carried the burdens of a man blinded with inhibited sorrow; and not for his kindness, which crossed blades with his cruelty so often he might have been his own doppelganger; rather, I admire his perspicacity with words, his transparency of soul, and his exuberant passion in the movement of ideas through the vehicles of people and systems. Once a teacher myself at Peking University, Lu Xun exhibits ideals I wish I had but also showcases the dangers of adorning the armor of a hundred ideals, each engaged in civil strife. “The present passes step by[…]
The filmy dust of the new year floats, no, hovers over the edge of the earth. Coming back to familiar territory, I hit a sudden realization that Brazil has finally arrived. The paint on buildings is flaking off like waves dried against a tombstone, and my breath is heavy with the weight of fallen dreams. But unlike those visions of the future, something is amiss. In the corners of this world, where shadows meet light, there is laughter and joy. The scent of boiled pork and herbs, the feeling of fresh steam escaping like clouds into the sky, and the light inside people’s hearts shining through the gloom – these are differing alignments, hopeful buds on trees that are only[…]
Whisperings under lantern. A god goads me from the wall, and around him pumpkins dance. Red apples shine from the slick wipe of a dishrag, stacked in symmetrical circles over a plate of ivory memories. Children are fleshed out in our words, giving life to space which would otherwise remain motionless. The patterns of letters and sounds coalesce into models of tranquility and chaos, transfixed with a key centrality which I have yet come to understand fully.
A curious thing, setting aside various inhibitions, is to stare outside the window while staring at your feet at the same time. You get a unique understanding of where you actually are. The clouds overhead become like whitewash, filling the skies with a dull sense of being *someplace* familiar yet set apart. The birds twittering tells you the morning has come, but don’t birds also sing in the evening? My horizon is a green burough of leaves, cement pathways, and red brick memories clustering together in a menagerie of voices and images hard to forget.