Monday, July 21, 2014

Some Final Thoughts About China

Here are my final thoughts about China.  Granted, two weeks in a country are not enough to make a person even semi-informed, much less an expert.  But it is time enough to make some observations - nothing new or profound, but still what I saw and thought.  I'll share these final musings here, and then try to think and write about some topic other than China for awhile.

Typical apartment building in the city
1. I observed evidence that China's people and way of life are truly emergent, in the sense that they are both modern and backward.  They want to be a first-world country, and they are coming along, but there is much of the third world that is dragging behind their first-world ambitions.

For example, I was in several buildings that, due to the level of dirt and poor quality, appeared to be twenty-plus years old, or more.  It was a surprise to find out that the buildings were only 4-5 years old.  The philosophy in China is "Build it, let it run down, tear it down, and build it again."  (There is construction going on everywhere.)  Andrew's boss is one of the first ground-breaking thinkers to actively work on this problem, and to try to instill the concept into the national psyche of building maintenance.  A country simply can't put as much energy into improving its state of being, when the current state is constantly having to be rebuilt.

Street sweeper outside my son's apartment building
There are basic services in China that need work if the people are going to completely dig themselves out of third-world status.  They don't seem to know what to do with their mountains of trash.  Their sewer systems are inadequate.  All the agriculture is done by hand.  Many streets are swept by hand, with old-fashioned corn brooms.  I didn't see many, but did see a few donkey-driven carts, as well as many bicycle-pedaled trash carts.  The Chinese have come a long way (train systems, modern architecture, etc.), but they have a long way to go.

Some things are being done well.  I thought that the Air China employees had a higher level of professionalism, both in appearance and actions, than the United Airlines employees I dealt with.  And Beijing (probably because of the Olympics) is much more modern, and somewhat westernized, than where we were.  It was not hard to find a hamburger, or a Starbucks, or many familiar names, in Beijing.  Except for a few KFCs and McDonalds, there were not recognizable names in our city.

2. This is a no-brainer, but I still observed that eastern culture is very different from western.  The visitor is simply not in the same world.

There are few similarities in the food, to what Westerners are familiar with.  Those who go to China had better learn to like sesame oil, soy sauce, noodles, and dumplings.  And they'd better not look too closely at the conditions of the kitchens where food is prepared.  Health department regulations do not appear to be a source of stress for purveyors of food in this country.

I saw people in this eastern culture nation burning money to appease the spirits, and saw people stuffing Buddha statues with money for good luck, and heard fireworks being discharged to keep evil spirits away from new businesses.   

Babies in China are held over shrubbery, or over the sidewalks, to relieve themselves.  Children tend to rule the roost, more so than in the west.  I was told that the main role of a grandmother in Chinese society is to care for the grandchild (usually singular) so that the mother can work.

One day we noticed that lines had been painted on the street we walked on often.  My son commented wryly, "That will be a nice decoration."  It made absolutely no difference in the crazy way people drove.  That is typical of eastern nations.

One college girl, introduced to me, did not want to lift her eyes to me as we conversed - a throwback, according to the Chinese adult who was with us, to the era when girls were supposed to look down at all times.  The acrobat show we went to in Beijing had an act with native Chinese costumes, and the girls' shoes were designed to give the appearance of the old bound feet of centuries ago. 

3. China's people reveal the effects of growing up in a completely secular state.  The main goal of the young people, and the educational system, is to look out for themselves, get ahead, and be successful.  I heard that philosophy stated, but observed it also.  In Wal-Mart, a young man spotted me as a foreigner and introduced himself, and we had a nice discussion right in the school supplies department.  I told him my son was running a world-view camp in a couple of weeks, thinking that if he had any interest at all I might try to link him up to it.  His only comment was "Oh, that's good, he can make more money by running that camp."  (Little did he know!!)

There is a very high level of expectation in the educational system.  The pressure is immense.  (One man at the English Corner, when we were discussing education due to the fact that the American guest was a teacher, made this statement:  "Chinese schools are prisons.") However, partly due to the huge social pressure placed on these students, cheating is rampant.  If there is little to no moral training, other than to make parents proud, it is understandable that any means to the end of being successful would be acceptable.

Most people look out only for themselves.  They think nothing of crowding others on subway or train platforms or squeezing ahead in any way.  They get unhappy if you take too long bagging your groceries ahead of them in a store line.  The rule of the road is - whichever driver can get there first, around the others, gets the advantage.  It's all about self.

Most of the people I saw on the streets did not have joy or happiness on their faces.  If you try to engage someone with a smile and a look, if that person returns the look, it will be with a startled expression.  A few will smile back, but most quickly look away.  I was told that any attempt at friendliness is usually interpreted as "What do you want from me?"  Everyone is out for himself.  Most people work long, backbreaking hours, many at menial jobs, and they are jaded.

Sunday is a day completely like other days.  There is little evidence of it being in any way a day of rest.  We in the west may have taken much out of our day of rest, but there is at least some attempt to keep it as a day set apart - not so in the east.  Also, in my two weeks of traveling many places in this city of seven million, I saw exactly one (state-run) church building.

All these observations, to me, reflected the results of secularism.

Observed in the apartment of a Christian couple
4. And finally, I observed that those who do identify with the Father are serious about their decision.  There is absolutely no advantage, socially, to doing so.  Therefore, most are genuine about their desire to follow the Father.   They are firm in their direction and they are also firm in their desire to help others in the same path.  They are creative in their ways of meeting.  They know that an Assembly is not a building.  And those of us in the West, who are of the same mindset concerning the Father, can learn much from their example.

In conclusion:  It was an overwhelming, exciting, awful, great, tiring, inspiring, and wonderful trip, all at the same time.  Seeing my son, and what he and his teammates are doing, was alone worth the expense and time.  Spending time with my son was sweet to this mother's heart.  And it was a joy to meet brothers and sisters in that setting.  Learning about another culture was great, but it was secondary to the experience of seeing the Family.  (There was no escaping the culture - it was forced on the newcomer in every breath, sight, and sound.)  It was worth the fatigue and the jet lag and the digestive difficulties.  I would happily go again.


Barbara H. said...

I've enjoyed your series. I doubt I'd ever go there but if one of my kids was there I'd think about it. :-) We did have friends who had a daughter who did the same kind of thing your son is doing for a few years and a lady in our assembly has just come home from being there as a teacher for several years.

Ada said...

Very interesting. I have enjoyed all your posts.

Bet said...

Thanks for putting your thoughts down and sharing them with us. Very interesting and challenging!

Rita C. said...

I really enjoyed your musings! Much more interesting since I have been there. Uplifting you tomorrow as you have your procedure. Looking forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks.