Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural sensitivity and how much I have to suspend my own values in order to better understand those of others.   When I first got here, I was so enthusiastic about simply being in China that in my eyes Chinese people could do no wrong.  If some guy had picked a fight with me I may have blamed myself for some misunderstanding of his cultural values.  Now that I’m approaching the homestretch of my time in China, my thoughts have turned to making conclusions about some of the things I’ve learned about life here.  Everyone knows that as a general rule it’s good to be as open-minded and accepting as possible, but I’ve found that for the sake of progress (both personal progress and cross-cultural)  it’s never healthy to accept every aspect of a foreign culture.

What I Love (And Hate) About China.

I hate that it’s so hard to find cheese in China.  I love that it’s so easy find dumplings.

I love it when you have those short moments of listless contemplation, when you’re doing something like staring at your feet in a taxi, and you literally forget where you are, only to be jolted back to reality with alarming re-recognition.  I hate waking up in the morning and wondering if I have enough energy to make it another day.  I love going to bed and thinking I might have just one more in me.

I hate the way I can never ask advice and get a straight answer from some of my Chinese friends.  I hate that a woman who smokes is blanketly given the title “bad girl,” not to be trusted, maybe a prostitute.  I love that every time I sit down to dinner with a middle-aged Chinese man he offers me cigarettes, tea, food, and liquor, in that order.  I love all the cheap plastic crap, the singing dancing golden tigers, the tiny pink kindergartener chairs, the mp3 players.  I hate that if someone or something decides that this blog is dangerous, it could be blocked.  I love my riding my bike through the streets.

I hate the way teenage boys shout “hullo!” and all their friends cackle and howl and they all run away.  I love the way little kids shout “hullo!” and all their friends cackle and howl and they all run away.  I hate the way “guanxi” and “mianzi” have the capability to tie a young Chinese boy into a knot-like social catastrophe.  I love the way middle class Chinese people have this kind of swagger about them, that isn’t so much about arrogance or ignorance, as much as it is about pride and enjoyment.  I love the way Chinese poor people have this march of humble determination.  I hate the way rich men drive their Audi A4’s down dirt roads, laying on the horn and flashing their lights, and the peasants all scatter.  I hate the way everything is becoming more modern, more industrial, more Western.  I love the way everything is changing.

I hate it when people stare at me like I’m from Mars.  I love telling people I’m from Mars.  I hate getting sick, it always seems to happen when I’m traveling.  I hate that the Chinese education system does little to make their students interested in what they study.  I hate that Chinese people often take stereotypes and generalizations as fact.  I love seeing the everyday things that remind of where I am, like a man riding a bicycle with a refrigerator attached to the back.  I hate that I can’t speak their language.  I love trying.

I love the cranes, great urban beasts that invade the sky-line of every Chinese city.  I love street food.  I love shrink-wrapped tofu.  I hate 1,000 year old eggs.  I can tolerate stinky tofu.  I haven’t had sea cucumber but I’ve heard they’re good brain food.  I ate sheep testicles once, but didn’t care for it.

I hate how consumer driven Chinese people can be.  I love how they will do anything for a friend.  I love how family oriented they are.  I love the role of grandparents in a Chinese family.  I love that little Chinese boys have mohawks.  I love to watch people exorcise in the park.  I love how goofy they are. I love how kind they are.

I love being able to say what I love and hate about China, and know that I’m at least not lying to myself. I love knowing the fact that my opinions have and probably will change.   I love knowing that I will never fully understand China.

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