Let me begin this entry of Chinese People Are by stating what may be obvious.  I don’t mean to say that all Chinese people are whatever attribute I’ve attributed to them.  If I wanted to be politically correct I would call these posts Chinese People Tend To…But in my opinion that phrasing doesn’t carry the same snappy cadence of the title I have chosen, so I decided to sacrifice some of my niceness in lieu of better writing.  That said, I do my best to avoid sounding like a total jerk, and for the most part I think I pull it off rather well.  If you find any of the material in these posts, please feel free to let me have it in a comment.  Now let’s get down to business.

Chinese People Are…

1) Crafty

There’s a huge culture of DIY, reusing old materials, and general handy man know how in China.  From backyard tune-ups, to homegrown vegetables, to the hundreds of practical uses of bamboo (I’ve even seen bamboo scaffolding before), Chinese people have a larger repertoire of practical skills and knowledge than most Westerners do.  This attribute is probably not uniquely Chinese, but rather exclusively un-Western.  The West is far more automated and user-friendly than the rest of the world, and most practical skills are limited to specialized individuals who dedicate their life to any given trade.  In the developing world, necessity calls for a larger skill set, and as a result most people, especially the poor, are better equipped to handle life’s daily trials and tribulations.

2)  Wobbly

I’ve come to the conclusion that Chinese people couldn’t carry on in a straight line to save their lives.  Watch the sidewalk from a third floor balcony in China and you’ll see what I mean.  As for the bike lanes, forget about it.  I’ve noticed that not only do they tend to wander back and forth across the road, but a lot of them seem like every time they press down on their pedals their front wheel wobbles and their about to take a digger.  It amazes me that they don’t, especially because they often have a passenger or two on the bike.  It amazes me even more that the same people can pull of such mass demonstrations of precision as we saw during the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.

A group of giddy Chinese tourists swarm William and I at the Guan Xian Pear Garden.

3) Curious

If you’ve been reading any of my posts you know that as a foreigner in China I get a lot of attention for simply existing.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that for the most part China is pretty much a homogenous society, but it also has to do with the fact that Chinese people tend to enjoy watching the exploits of others, especially when things head south.  If there is ever some sort of argument in public that gets out of hand—which is rare—you will most likely see a large crowd of spectators calmly and quietly watching the proceedings.  A car crash is an even bigger scene.  If you come across a car crash in the West, you lean out of your car window, peer into the wreckage as much as you can bear, and carry on your way.  In China, they stop the car, and everyone piles out and stands around checking out the scene until the last piece of metal is cleared.

4) Superstitious

Every culture has its fair share of superstitions that might seem like nonsense to anyone.  Don’t walk under a ladder.  Don’t break a mirror.  Avoid black cats.  But Chinese people seem to really believe in a lot of their superstitions, many of which one encounters every day.  I’ve never broken a mirror, rarely have the opportunity to walk under a ladder, and calico cats are far more common than black cats.  But in China, one deals with his or her own fortune on a daily basis.  For instance the number 8 is considered a lucky number.  A couple of weeks ago my friend Tony and I were setting up an English class and Tony insisted that we charge 388 yuan for the semester, because in his words, “This will mean we will make a lot of money!”

During my last visit to China the country was undergoing a bump in the number of births because it was the year of the Golden Pig, which happens once every couple hundred years and brings good fortune and riches to whomever is born in that year.

5) Family Oriented

Historically, Chinese people rarely travel far from where they grew up, and as result most Chinese people grow up in close contact with much of their extended family.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all assist in the raising of a child, and it’s generally considered a duty of a Chinese person to care for their parents once they get old.  This cultural ethos creates what is referred to as the “little prince syndrome” when combined with the one-child policy imposed by the PRC.  It’s similar to what many people believe happens to only children in the United States, but far more intense because the kid doesn’t just have parents to tell him how great he is, he has the entire extended family to dote on him and applaud every minor accomplishment.

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