I wake up early in the morning.
GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!!!
I get up and go to the hotel terrace for free breakfast. The lady cannot speak any English and I can't even say thank you and please in Vietnamese, so I bow and smile a lot. Breakfast consists of: coffee, tea, toasts, butter, fruit and a strange, frozen marmalade: mashed banana. The tales about delicious Vietnamese coffee are true, best coffee I've ever had.
I'm setting off. The old town is a labyrinth of streets full of e-bikes and motorcycles. Hardly anybody can afford a car I guess. They make unbearable noise and create a dense, nervous atmosphere. It is more traditional here than in China, crazier. The vendors still carry their goods in two flat round baskets tied to two ends of a pole that they carry on their shoulder. They still wear Asian straw hats and lay their merchandise on the pavement, including raw meat.
Nobody bothers me besides the motorcycle taxi drivers, who try to get me to ride with them every five seconds.
I find the money exchange and I sell two hundred RMB, as people buy them only in the North of Vietnam. They will gladly buy my American dollars everywhere else. The local currency is dong. One dollar is twenty thousand dongs. There was a time that we were counting money in thousands and millions in Poland, long long time ago, when Hong Kong still belonged to the United Kingdom and dinosaurs were walking on the streets.
On every banknote there is Ho Chi Minh: the communist Vietnamese leader and hero. As the country is still socialist, he is still the hero, he united Vietnam by winning the war and capturing Southern Vietnam. On the other side of the bill we can see Vietnam's pride: elephants, Halong Bay rocks, buildings under construction and happy female factory workers.
I'm visiting the Fine Arts Museum. Beautiful old Vietnamese art exposition, although small. Modern art... well, interesting. A lot of Uncle Ho portraits capturing different moments of his eventful life. Here he is playing with children, there he is winning the revolution. Endless images of how joyful the life of a peasant is, and the life of a partisan- even more enjoyable.
Yes, we are in a socialist country.
After the visit I'm starving. I quickly find a street food stand that attracts me with vegetables. The lady asks for thirty thousand, I choose some cabbage, some grass, some beans, a dried fish and rice. I get some chili sauce and some soup that looks green. I sit down on a plastic chair on the pavement.
Before I eat I pray in a way peculiar to travelers: first, I ask God to not let me fall mortally ill after having this meal. Then, I visualize (it is also an element of meditation I think) the bag of medicines that I brought.
It's quite nice, soup especially. I eat it all and a little boy brings me another plateful. I tell them, no, thank you, they are shocked. But why should I waste soup? Vegetables are cooked, which means safety. Fish is completely disgusting. A granny sits in front of me and shows me to eat more rice, also instructs me to use my spoon too.
After I finish I pay them the dollar and a half that they requested, many smiles and goodbyes.
I go to the Temple of Literature. It is not very impressive, but important for the Vietnamese, as this is the oldest university. It is a common phenomenon anywhere you go: many sights are important to the local nation because of historic or patriotic reasons. Although they are not very interesting for the tourists, they are described by Lonely Planet as a must-see.
I observed a rare phenomenon: young people in traditional clothing take photos. This is commonly done in China, however, in China it is done by the newlyweds. Here I can see girls with girls, boys with boys.
The bird flu, tiredness and afternoon drowsiness make me sleepy and I sit down on a bench to rest. I write for a while and two girls approach me. Can they speak to me? Sure.
They are students of finance who want to practice their English. Excellent, so they have to tell me something about Vietnam.
There is an economic crisis in the country and many people are unemployed, so girls want to find jobs right after they graduate. They have no foreign teachers, that is why they try to practice their English as often as possible. Education paid from the primary school, there is no free education. However, it's not so expensive, people generally learn to read and write. Perhaps the tribal communities choose not to, partly because they prefer it this way, pertly because of the poor living standards and the schools being far away from their homes. They are shocked that schools are normally free of charge in the West. Yes, because your country is rich, they say.
The war seems long time ago for the girls. I find it hard to believe, the second world war ended in the forties and yet still we talk about nothing else. They nevertheless have nothing to say about the war that ended in the seventies. They only tell me that the veterans can get free education and some pension from the government even. Many children were born deformed. They parents remember bombings and hiding in the shelters. Grandparents had to fight. Nobody is happy that the Americans decided to give them freedom. Yet, the war was long time ago, now they focus on the future.
They are glad that I'm planning to visit Saigon. The city is much more modern than Hanoi, as it was colonized by the Americans. It is so curious that they see it this way.
Women in Vietnam get married when they are twenty five or twenty seven, but the parents don't arrange the marriage, just nag them. I don't know what's better (or worse).
There are ninety million of Vietnamese people, but nothing is done to stop the population growth. It is hard for them to find an apartment, in Hanoi especially.
Those young people who are talking pictures are not gay newlyweds, but students who are about to graduate from a university. Now it makes sense.
I say my goodbyes, but I invite them to hang out the next day. They are happy and they ask if they can bring their friends along. Sure, why not. Then it occurs to me that I spend the whole semester with Chinese students and when I'm off, I am looking for the company of the Vietnamese ones.
I'm heading towards the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where he lies preserved just like his comrade Lenin and comrade Mao. It's shut down, but I'm not particularly sad that I won't see the corpse today. I'm heading back to the hotel and visiting the Lenin Park on my way. The huge statue is now surrounded by boys playing football. The park is a concrete square filled by people playing various sports. Lenin must be hit in the face with a ball hourly.
I visit the cathedral. There is a Christmas tree and a nativity scene in front of it. Inside, a small crowd of grannies chant Holy Mary in Vietnamese.
I am finally back and barely in time for the happy hour when they serve beer for free. Beer is Vietnam is brewed daily, fresh beer.
Agnieszka and Flor invite me to go for dinner with them, I accept gladly. Flor's colleague recommended a place. We walk there and stop to look at the menu outside. They glance at it, agree that it is so cheap and walk inside, not asking my opinion and giving me a chance to protest that it is in fact crazy expensive. I have no idea how to behave, so I sit by a candle-lit table and browse through the menu for five minutes, desperately looking for something that I can afford. I decide on rice with vegetables, the cheapest dish in the menu, while girls order food for twenty dollars and can't stop talking about how cheap it is. I don't feel great eating my small portion of the cheapest dish in the menu and still feeling hungry. I ask them if really everywhere in the world is so cheap for them, they say yes, everywhere is cheap in comparison with Amsterdam. They recall their visit in Granada in Spain and how insanely cheap it was. I lived there and I remember how students from everywhere in Europe were delighted that Granada is cheap and us, Poles, could afford absolutely nothing.
Well, but some of us don't work in Amsterdam. Some of us work in China and receive their salary in bills with Mao on them. Nice that it is so easy for Agnieszka to forget how it feels to be Polish. I was shaped by my year in Granada too much.
We finish the meal, pay up and leave. To my embarrassment, the waiters made a mistake and make me pay more, I have to complain. They are really trying to make me suffer tonight. After sorting it out the dinner is mercifully over.
Yes, I promised to write more often. Yes, I know. But wait, I have a terrific excuse this time. This time I had a five-week long holiday and I just couldn't find the time in spite of having nothing but time. Nevertheless, I created so much new material to publish. I travelled through Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines, writing down my impressions in hotels, bars, bus stations, airports, streets. I am not sure a couple of months will be enough to type it, edit and translate it. Since everybody is stubborn not to learn Polish, there it is, all translated into English.
Here it starts.
Before it starts, I had to prepare. People who know me here are well aware how I packed the day before setting off, run out of time and panicked. Fortunately, I prepared money and visas in advance.
I exchanged one thousand American dollars by making two tours to the bank, since foreigners in China are allowed to exchange five hundred during one day. I wiped my Chinese account clean and took the rest with me in RMB. I was optimistic that this is enough for budget travelling.
Visas: you can get visa upon arrival in Vietnam only if you fly there, that is why I visit this country first. I had prepared the document that allowed me to get the visa at the airport.
Luggage: change of clothes for a week, no make up, no nail polish, nothing. Small bottles of liquids, one moisturizer for everything. Sleeping bag, plastic flip-flops (I'm not staying in hygienic hotels), sandals, shades, kindle, Lonely Planet guides on kindle, mobile, camera, that would be all. Medicines. The bags are light.
The journey starts at the bus stop near my house. The adventure starts there too, as Ningbo is not some normal city, where stations are in the same place all the time. If a student had not helped me to buy a train ticket, I might have not noticed that the name of the station is different. I might have gone to the old station and wondered, why is nobody here?
That would be hilarious.
Young people, who speak good Mandarin, assure me that I am going to the right place. I ask a lady on the bus, she doesn't understand and laughs at me. Well, she is the one who doesn't understand Mandarin, I wouldn't laugh. Fortunately, I can also read and I get off at the right stop.
First, I go to Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province. There I meet Lois and we spend three hours walking around in the cold and rain. That is what we consider fun. We would have spent more time this way, but we were invited to dinner to Jason's parents' house. Jason is Lois's boyfriend. All three of us met in our previous job. We have time to remember the old times and have a look at how China changed our lives. A year ago we were very different people with very different assumptions about life. Only China changes people so much and gives you such opportunities to change.
Jason's parents are wonderful, warm people and we have a very nice dinner together. Lois and I try to speak to them as much as our Chinese skills allow us. At least we are trying.
Next day: wake up before five a. m. Go to Hangzhou Airport. During the check-in three people check my document that allows me to get the visa in Vietnam. Finally, they approve and they apologize for keeping me waiting.
For the first time in Asia somebody apologized for keeping me waiting. It is a shock for me.
First I fly to Hong Kong. When I see the Hong Kong airport, I almost have tears in my eyes, it is so civilized. Much to my chagrin, there are no hot water machines. Therefore, I will carry my plastic cup and green tea for three weeks in vain. Really. Did nobody tell them that hot water is healthy?
There are still many forms of entertainment here. Computers with free Internet access and all existing alphabets on keyboards. Free wifi. Hilarious announcements:
- Because of the cases of humans contracting bird flu, everybody experiencing even one of those symptoms: cold, cough, shortness of breath and fever is obliged to inform the medical services.
I have a cold, but I decide to keep it to myself.
- People trying to smuggle baby formula and milk powder will be punished by law.
The Vietnamese immigration inspection takes place before the boarding. They know exactly who is on board and welcome the foreigners by their first names. They have a problem letting a Chinese pregnant woman on board. I understand, you can't smuggle baby formula, but what is wrong with unborn babies?
After the landing it takes fifteen minutes to get visa on arrival. It is totally pointless to have visas if you grant everybody one. Unless the point is to raise money. Forty five dollars and I'm allowed to stay for a month.
I get on the bus to the centre. It costs two dollars, they offer to take me to my hotel for five. No thank you. It is so far away. No, thank you again, I will be fine.
A Vietnamese man sitting next to me speaks fluent English. He shows me on the map where my hotel is. When the driver gives me change for my five dollars, he has a look and approves. I should get sixty thousand dongs, as a dollar is worth twenty thousand.
It is obvious that some people have just arrived in Asia for the first time. They see a Vietnamese man talk on the phone and laugh, their eyes bright with interest.
We arrive and a tourist agent comes, pretending to help, but really trying to persuade people to stay at his hotel. I ask him where to go, he again tries to dissuade me from going on foot. I ignore him, ask which street to take and I'm gone.
After a couple of minutes I see a hostel, not mine, but I walk in and ask for directions. A young receptionist presents me with a free map and draws where I should go. The walk takes me not more than fifteen minutes.
This walk in itself is interesting and it would be a shame to miss it by listening to all those people and taking a taxi. The first impression of a new place stays in memory. I can see a swarm of motorcycles that gives unbearable noise. Wires hanging above the street in untidy bundles, most of them probably useless. Narrow streets, people eating, selling, sitting on pavements. Lavishness of decorations for Lunar New Year for sale, the streets are golden and red.
One German guy stops me and complains about the motorcycles. I tell him that I just came from China and until he pointed it out, I carelessly walked in the middle of the road looking at my map, motorcycles going around me.
I reach my hostel, check in and get settled in the dormitory. I ask a guy where I can eat for sixty thousand dongs, as I don't have any more. He points to a place where I can have pho
for forty thousand. Later I will cause panic in the dorm speaking about this guy because it is a female dorm only. However, it was a girl with an exceptionally low voice. Since she was one of the panicking girls, I don't mention my mistake. That is how urban legends are born.
I go to a tiny local restaurant to have a bowl of pho.
It is a noodle soup with meat and grass, absolutely disgusting. Nevertheless, somebody once told me that dying of starvation is unhealthy, so I take a plastic seat on the pavement among the locals and eat.
I come back to my dorm and meet two newcomers: friends who live in Amsterdam, an Argentinian Flor and a Pole Agnieszka. She doesn't want to speak Polish to me, so I can easily guess it is her first day in Asia. After a year she would be jumping at every possibility to speak Polish. I can't understand her well either, she keeps repeating that she is from Poland and mispronounces it, saying /poland/ instead of /peuland/. I must look very dumb when I ask where she is from for the third time and still don't understand, she must think I don't know any English.
That is all I have power to do that night. I fall asleep.
I would like to wish everybody happy New Year 2014. I can't believe it's already 2014.
Among my many New Year's resolutions is one to write here more often. I hope I'm going to keep at least this one.
So, all the happiness in the world to you, love, companionship and peace wherever you are and whatever you do.
There are many ways of celebrating your birthday. Some people choose to travel. Some people choose to ignore it. Some people take a day off. Some of them like adrenaline and do something like a bungee jump.
To the last group I recommend an activity that gives you more adrenaline than anything else: a visit to a Chinese dentist.
I love visiting dentists as much as everybody else. When the dentist can't speak any language that I understand, the visit becomes simply terrifying. That is why I felt so happy when I broke my tooth last Saturday.
A friend took me to talk to a dentist who works just around the corner from their house (where the accident happened). He said that it is not a big deal, but I should see a doctor as soon as possible.
As soon as possible was on Monday. Monday was my birthday, however I decided to deal with it in the morning and get it over and done with. I would have classes in the afternoon, then come back home and prepare a party.
Oh naïve lao wei. That could never happen.
The university officer, Tony, took me to the most remote hospital in the city by his car. He explained that because it is impossible to get there by bus, there are almost no people there. He dropped me off, told me that he is busy and left me.
I was sitting there and reading my kindle patiently. Then a patient came, sat next to me and lit up a smoke. Nobody reacted, here smoking in hospitals is normal.
I moved and sat next to a man who put up his feet on a nearby chair. Also very hygienic.
Finally the nurse called me in. Her boyfriend could speak English and she called him to come and help. We waited for a while and then he arrived.
He was talking to the nurse, talking to the doctor, guiding me. Translating instructions, translating what the doctor said. Explaining in detail what is going to happen to my tooth, choosing materials with me, making sure I will not get a silver tooth. After all this effort, when we were parting, I said “thank you” and he said “no no no no no no no,” which means that I shouldn't thank him at all.
The only thing he associated Poland with was our pathetic football team and he was almost rolling on the ground with laughter that we can't find eleven players to win with the Chinese team that is already terrible. I am quite sick of being ashamed of the Polish football team. The only good thing about it is that I told this story in class and made the students laugh.
The doctor put some medicine inside my tooth and told me to come back in the afternoon. The next day he was busy, so I couldn't put it off.
I called Tony to ask if he is going to pick me up from this remote hospital. He said no, he was having lunch. Then I asked if he was going to take me there again in the afternoon. He replied: “Yes, I will take you this time, but foreign teachers usually go to hospitals alone. I suggest that next time you go alone.”
Well thank you!
I thought that assisting me is Tony's job. Until now I'm not sure if it really is.
I had time for a quick snack before class. My colleague visited me and gave me a scarf for my birthday. We spent time discussing if taking us to hospitals is Tony's job or not. I sent Tony a text saying that I'm going alone in the afternoon thank you very much. At school I knocked at his office door to make sure he got the message. He was all apologetic and said of course I am going to take you, don't go alone.
Had a class. Went back to the hospital. It was already 4 pm and cold. I waited and waited, starved and tired. The doctor finally saw me. I was sitting there just wishing it to be over. While drilling my tooth, the doctor was:
-chatting with a patient who came to ask him questions;
-chatting with a nurse who came to give him some brochures;
-talking to a nurse who came to ask him something.
And it was also normal. I admire his dexterity, if I were in his place, I would drill the patient's eye instead of tooth. Moreover, some patients thought that the insides of my mouth is very interesting and leaned over me to have a look. Nothing wrong with that either apparently.
They made a model of my tooth and took my mobile phone number. They are supposed to call me when it's ready and make an appointment. Until now I get nervous when my mobile rings, I'm so scared that it's the nurse who wants to talk to me in Chinese. They haven't made the tooth yet though.
We went downstairs to pay. Yes, in China there is no free health care. They told me that the insurance doesn't cover the new tooth. I thought they were kidding me and called Tony, only to learn that they were right. Since then Tony has tried to explain to me how the insurance works fruitlessly. I think it is his way of making up for his behaviour.
Came back, it was already 6 pm. My colleague, married to a Chinese girl, texted me that his mother-in-law found out about my birthday spent at the dentist's and cooked a soup for me. I found it hanging for my doorknob. I was so starving that I ate it in a second and I'm still moved by their kindness.
I had one hour to prepare the dinner, just enough time to cook pasta and a soup. Every dinner consists of a soup and then something solid, every Polish person knows that.
My colleagues came and I had a lovely dinner. I added too much pepper into the soup and nobody in Poland would touch that, but in China it was just spicy enough. Plus, it's cold, and pepper is yang. I had a beautiful piece of meat, but no time to prepare it. Susan brought wine and we could drink a birthday toast. We stayed up late and I had a very good time.
After the guests left it was already late. I opened my laptop and read all the wonderful birthday wishes.
Then I dropped dead. Next day had classes at 8 am.
All in all, the next anniversary of my coming to the world surprised me in peculiar circumstances: I'm obviously getting older and losing teeth, but also feeling more confident about the reality. Even in distant and cold China there are people to visit you, care, bring you wine, new earrings and cook a warm soup for you. If there is hope for humankind, it is this one.
Today comes the time to describe the incredible experience of the English Corner.
What is the English Corner? It is the most condensed Chinese cultural experience. It is like drinking a raspberry syrup instead of eating five kilos of raspberries. It is like drinking a bottle of vodka in ten minutes instead of having twenty beers over two months.
English Corner takes place weekly. All students are welcome and the aim is to let them talk to us, foreign teachers, and practice their English. All the foreign teachers are present, but we say hello to each other and that is all we have time for before the swarms of students surround us with curiosity in their eyes. At the beginning I talked about the designated topics, but I gave up recently, inspired by my colleagues, who just let the students ask questions and talk about what is troubling them.
Dear foreign teachers of mine from the past, if you read this, forgive me for asking pointless questions. We have to answer the same questions over and over again and once more. The level of pointlessness varies from a question to question. For example, those ones:
“How long have you been in China?”
“Why have you chosen China?”
are quite reasonable and I can understand why people are curious. It is just the amount of times I have to answer them that makes it tiring. Moreover, those people are young and they have no idea that in life you make decisions like this mostly driven by material reasons or no reasons at all. Nobody will tell them: “I've chosen China because I've always been interested in Chinese culture.” This land is full of foreigners, who, like me, came here because there are no more jobs available for foreigners in any other country. The story: “I was tired with my life and I went on-line and saw this add that said come to China to teach....” is repeated over and over again. I try to make my story more appealing, telling them that I wanted to study Chinese, as it's an important language nowadays. But yeah, the job factor is the most important.
The problem with the question: “What places have you visited in China?” is that I really don't want to repeat the list for the hundredth time, so I just say: “many,” especially that the list is getting longer and longer.
The questions more pointless are those:
“Do you like Chinese food?”
“Do you like China?”
That is what I am going to say next time: No! I hate Chinese food and China! That's why I live here!
The one question absolutely infuriating me is: “Do you like Chinese men?”
Let's spend some time on this one. While it is normal in China to ask private questions, I'm not sure they usually ask their teachers for sexual preferences, so it is weird. At the same time, they show concern that I'm not married in my age yet, which is not a pleasant thing to hear. For Chinese people the age of thirty is a borderline for women. One Chinese acquaintance described unmarried women in their thirties as “illegal.” It is that unthinkable to be single. Worried about me probably, they consider it a good idea to marry a Chinese man, as long as I like them. They even told me once that children from mixed marriages are smarter and prettier, so I should marry a Chinese man. Unfortunately, they don't take under consideration the fact that all Chinese men are not alike and don't look alike, so how can I say yes or no? They probably are curious about my private life and don't know how to ask about it. Also, they probably expect me to say: “Yes, I like Chinese men.” I will never say such a thing, as it is a generalization over a huge group of people, although a positive one. Therefore, I always struggle to find a suitable answer. I usually go with “The nationality is not important,” but when I finally lose my patience, I'll say “No, they're all ugly.”
One of my colleagues was so bored once that he decided to allow the students ask him any question. Any. No matter how personal would it be, he would answer. He expected a question like: “How many girlfriends have you had?” The circle of students was silent for a long time and they were staring at him with blank expressions on their faces. Finally, a boy asked: “Do you like Chinese food?”
I am somewhat introvert, so having dozens of people staring with me with sparkles of curiosity in their eyes makes me feel claustrophobic after some time. They also like to inform me how beautiful I am and sometimes they add sincerely that I'm beautiful because I'm white. This is the funniest part, as in China no matter how ugly you are, you are perceived as beautiful when your skin is lighter, so they are basically informing me that I am white. Nevertheless, I still believe that they are saying this sincerely, which might be a problem, as I absolutely don't care what I wear and never put on any make-up when I am in China. What's the point in trying?
Don't misunderstand me, the fact that I'm an introvert makes me whine a little bit. Although they make me tired and by the end I'm dreaming of going home and having to talk to nobody for a long while, they are an intelligent group of young people. In the English Corner you can observe the problems that this country faces right now and the changes in culture that take place or not at all. Students like to talk about how much they would love to travel abroad freely, be able to see the world. They ask about the cultural differences between them and the West. They complain about their government and standards of living. Young people talk openly about their disappointment with the Party. Even today a student who quotes the Chairman with love in his eyes told me that the Party is hopeless. They know that we have much more freedom in the West, they also would love that freedom.
On the other hand, you can see how un-Western they are. If you ask them any question about life, like: “What do you want to plan to do in the future?”, they will always bring up their parents, how they must care for them, secure their future. Also, they will just say what their parents wish them to do. If you ask about their dreams, they will say that above all they wish for their parents to be happy, nothing more, nothing they want for themselves. Disagreeing with parents is unthinkable. I think they must suppress many feelings towards their family members that they are not allowed to voice in public.
Also, they are very materialistic and very un-Western in this aspect. Yes, Western people are extremely materialistic, but we still view it as a negative quality. In Chinese culture money is the source of everything. When I ask people what job do they want, they say that a well-paid one because otherwise it will be difficult for them to get married. Doesn't matter how pretty and nice you are, without good money nobody will want you as a son or daughter-in-law. Without money they will get no respect from others, as poor people don't. Without money there is no power and no connections that make living in this country possible. Without money your children will not be educated nor are you allowed in the hospital. It's a country where nobody cares for you, so so must take care of yourself. So yes, money is a priority for young Chinese people. Moreover, they don't value individuality. In the West, half of the stories we read, listen to or watch (as a movie) are about individuals who swam against the current, did something that the society didn't approve of, were rejected by their families, the society, even persecuted. Most of the great painters and poets, scientists, even Jesus. To be against the society means that the society is not ready to appreciate you, that you are ahead of your times. Therefore, all teenagers in the West dream about being novelists, singers, poets, actors. Chinese teenagers don't, they dream about being successful members of society.
Sometimes you get incredible answers to simple questions. For example, a colleague asked a student what would he do, if you could travel in time. The student said without thinking that he would go back in time to fight the Japanese during the Japanese invasion. Convincing him that he could go anywhere back in time didn't help, he found it the most important to kill the Japanese and perhaps die in the process.
Sometimes you meet peculiar students. Last time we talked to a boy named Jason. Although cooking is forbidden in the dormitories, he decided that campus food is too expensive. He cooks everything: mutton, fish, all kinds of meat. Recently his father came and they slaughtered a turkey together (for those who haven't seen a turkey: they are huge). Then, they drank its blood and decided that it's not very tasty. The student is from Jiangsu Province, where they eat snakes and drink their blood. Jason has a 10-litre bottle of snake blood drink prepared by his grandmother. Snake's blood, unlike turkey's, is tasty. He also likes drinking baijiu with snake skinned alive and thrown into it. He believes that it will give him snake's strength. Ask, which animal he would like to eat, he replied without hesitating that people. He says that in China people eat unborn babies. His father's boss does, he told us, smacked his lips and added: it is very nutritious.
I hope, how much I hope that he was talking about placenta and just didn't know the English word for it.
What do we do when we hear all those things? What we were told to do when we were trained to be teachers: listen, let them speak, ask follow-up questions. It's only that in teacher training courses they don't prepare you to listen to people talking about eating babies. Doesn't matter, you come to China and learn.
It is written somewhere in our contracts that we are not allowed to talk about politics, sex, religion and other “sensitive topics.” Guess what the students want to talk about. And guess who is scared, only me, other foreign teachers don't really care much. I tend to listen, there is nothing in my contract about stopping students from talking what they want to talk about. That is how I learned about Chinese sexual education in schools (or absolute lack of it), their willingness to change their country, their religious beliefs. Recently two students asked me in class if I'm religious and I told them I shouldn't talk about it, but we are friends and I can tell them. What can I do, they are really curious! Once in English Corner we were talking about improving the Chinese environment and I told them that in Poland much has changed during my lifetime. We didn't care about the environment when I was little and then we started and now it is visibly better. They asked when had the process of change begin. I was saying, well, in 1989 we.... I wanted to say: “stopped being communist”, hesitated, and actually said: “changed our political system.” but had I said it, it wouldn't really be a big deal. Nobody cares.
One curious thing about the Chinese people is that they stand too close when they talk to you. It is especially uncomfortable if they are of the opposite sex. Once a boy stood too close to me in the English Corner and asked:
-Where are you from?
-Oh I know. Poland during the second war, very bad.
-Hitler a very bad man.
-Yes (getting irritated, Holocaust is hardly the best topic for the small talk, especially when people are too close to you).
-What did you feel in those times.
-I don't know, I wasn't born yet.
-When was it?
-Eighty years ago.
-Eighteen?- the student looks at me with astonishment that I'm younger than eighteen.
-Aaaaa. Sorry, my English not good.
I finally managed to escape. To be honest, it is the weirdest incident of all the English Corners, so it's not that bad.
I recently started imagining my dear friends from Poland visiting me and taking part in the English Corner. I wonder how traumatic would it be if it happened during one's first stay in China. It certainly would be a more valuable experience that visiting both Forbidden City and the Great Wall. However, it might be like giving that bottle of vodka, which you drink instead of having twenty beers over a month, to a baby.
My usual excuse for silence has become boring I'm well aware, yet I've been ill again. This time I've asked Jiejie if I should consult a traditional Chinese doctor in order to get some herbal medicine. To my surprise, Jiejie advised me to stick to Polish herbal medicine and even helped me to buy necessary products on taobao (Chinese on-line store. In my opinion, you can buy everything there, so when one day I decide to have a baby or launch a rocket into space I will check the prices of babies or rockets on taobao first). She said that Chinese traditional medicine is very mild and helps, but you need to cook the medicine daily in your own kitchen, which will make it smell like Snape's dungeons, then you drink a bitter potion every day and get better in about a year.
China is a country famous for its medical tradition. The first fully medical book was written around first century B.C. This branch of science has developed for around four thousand years and is still alive in China and around the world. For instance, as a child suffering from numerous bronchitis, I was constantly subdued to cupping therapy that comes from China. I'm reading about it now and all Western sources condemn it as “having no scientific proof for its effectiveness.” Well, the proof for my family was that it worked for me. It works basically like this: you take a special glass bowl, you smear strong alcohol inside it and put fire to it, which burns all air and creates a vacuum inside, then you quickly put it against the patient's skin, so that it sucks it. My grandmother always did it to me, my mother was dead scared. Afterwards you stay in bed with the duvet up to your eyes all the time because if the skin that was treated with the cups gets cold, you get seriously ill. Born and raised in the West, I told Jiejie that there is no explanation why the therapy works, she said that of course there is and a Chinese traditional doctor could explain it to me.
That is the crucial point. In the West, we like to think that we believe only in the methods proved scientifically. At the same time, people tend to believe the ads that tell you that certain cosmetics or pills will make them forever beautiful or healthy. Moreover, we turn to Chinese, Indian and our countries' homeopathic methods, but only when they are expensive enough to be fashionable. Popular, often rural, medicine is at the same time ridiculed.
Not in China. Here traditional methods are still alive and practiced along with the modern medicine. For example, the belief in yin and yang is common sense for all Chinese. Yin means cold and weak, yang means hot and strong, in the universe the balance between the two elements must exist. Some foods are yin, such as vegetables, tofu, fish, green tea, they make you cold. Even when they are hot, a Chinese person will describe them as cold. Some foods are yang, such as meat, freshwater fish, eggs, milk, coffee, black tea and chives. A healthy person should eat the same amount of yin and yang ingredients during a day, but not the same amount, i. e. you mustn't eat as much meat as vegetables. Sometimes more yin foods are recommended, for example during the summer. Then you drink hot green tea, as it will cool you down. In winter and when you are sick and weak, you should eat more yang foods. Now I understand when a Chinese person tells me that I shouldn't drink green tea when I'm ill because it's cold even though it's hot. The meaning of this sentence is clear, isn't it?
It is not all old wives tales, it is a way of understanding the world. A Western doctor, when you are sick to your stomach, will tell you not to eat fruit because they are raw. In China, they will give you the same recommendation, but say that fruit is cold. Same thing, different concept.
The practice of traditional medicine is preserved by traditional doctors. A traditional doctor and a doctor are two different professions in China. Doctors go to medical schools and acquire the common medical knowledge, here in China called the “Western” medicine. It is of course not only Western, since it has roots where the Western civilization does, in Middle East, Greece, India and even China. In modern times, however, medicine developed mostly in Western countries, hence the name. This is the area of expertise of all Chinese doctors, as well as Polish, English, Canadian and Mexican doctors. Wherever you go, a doctor is a doctor.
A traditional Chinese doctor is a different profession. They work in separate hospitals of traditional Chinese medicine. There, young doctors study with old professionals and acquire skills necessary to diagnose illnesses and proscribing treatments. They do not treat patients in critical condition nor can they do serious harm with their herbal medicine. The Chinese medicine is viewed as additional, homeopathic treatment. However, nobody ridicules it as not being scientifically proven, I'm not sure, if the Chinese would understand this concept. Chinese medicine is a respected profession and valid science, since it has been curing the Chinese for millennia, who needs other “proof” from Western people?
Simultaneously, people in the West are often fascinated by it. They buy books on it, practice yoga, take acupuncture. It is all very positive, but at the same time the Westeners are often taken advantage of. Chinese medicine is fascinating, exotic, an alternative to Western medicine, especially when the scientifically proven methods fail. That is why personal trainers in the West often call themselves Chinese medicine professionals, which of course they are not, as this knowledge is unattainable outside China. Everybody can read books published on the subject in the West, you don't need to pay people who have done only this to advise you. Moreover, then they come to China, the foreigners get lured by, for example, a certain doctor in Yunnan recommended by Lonely Planet. He gives foreigners traditional medicine and takes amazing amounts of money. Especially those suffering from cancer give him any prize. I met a group of Poles, one of them paid around 500 yuan for medicine for two months and saw a woman suffering from a breast cancer give the “doctor” a thick roll of bills. That is outrageous, especially that the same medicine in a traditional medicine hospital is most probably a hundred times cheaper.
Of course, not all traditional medicine practices are all so wise, which is one of the reasons why I laugh to myself when people in the West pay any money for any piece of information on ancient Chinese wisdom. For instance, Chinese women don't wash themselves after giving birth for a month. A month. It is commonly believed that a shower would kill a woman during this period. My gynecologist (in Poland) on the other hand, doesn't understand why they don't get an infection and die.
A woman not only cannot take a shower, she can't move. Move. Watching TV, reading, doing anything is out of question, she is too delicate. Yet somehow they don't die of infection coming from the dirt.
Less exciting piece of advice is that you mustn't eat ice-cream when you are having a period. Hard as I tried to explain that the period has nothing to do with your digestion, nobody believes me that you can eat ice-cream during the period. The argument of my ex-colleague was that I can because I am not Chinese, our bodies are different. The proof: Western women wash themselves after giving birth and suffer no consequences. My contra-argument was that Chinese women would be OK if they washed themselves, but I only scared and scandalized the poor girl, who thought what I just said unthinkable.
To conclude, the only was to become an expert on Chinese medicine is to speak Chinese fluently and undergo years of training in a traditional Chinese hospital. Or perhaps even be Chinese, as those practices are quite obscure to the Western understanding. Yet, it all soaks into your vision of the world when you live here. I am scared of drinking cold water, as we all know, it will make you sick. People: drink a lot of hot water! And honestly, take care, as autumn is killing us everywhere around the world.
To begin with, I’ve recently spent an hour staring at a map explaining the etymology of nine European words in every language. Did you know that “orange” comes from an expression “an apple from China” in Slavic languages and that “bear” is “honey eater”? What’s more, the Chinese borrowed the word for beer from Slavic languages, including Polish. http://www.businessinsider.com/european-maps-showing-origins-of-common-words-2013-11
The map showing the etymology of the word “tea” forced me to learn more about Chinese languages. In Portuguese, the word comes directly from Cantonese. The rest borrowed it from Cantonese via Persian, but it sounds similar, like chai
in Russian. English tea
and Spanish té
and the rest of similar words come from Amoy dialect. Polish name is the weirdest, it’s a combination of herb
from Latin and te
from Amoy: herbata.
OK, the question now: what the hell is Amoy.
It’s the dialect that originated in Xiamen. Spoken in Fujian province, similar to the Taiwan language. Its variation is spoken also in Wenzhou.
In fact, the proper Wenzhou language, (in Chinese you say Wenzhou hua) in unintelligible to anybody. Yes. There is a language more obscure than Chinese! Wenzhou people are still proud because their language was used to encode German secret messages during the world war two. They had one Wenzhou person on one end, another one was receiving the messages and even if the communication was intercepted, nobody in the whole world could understand it.
What is Wenzhou? It’s a city in Zhejiang province I’ve never been too. Besides the most unintelligible language in the world, it’s famous of its clothes and shoes production and a trait in the culture of this city that makes its inhabitants travel the world and make money. Most of the American Chinese restaurants are owned by Wenzhou ren (Wenzhou people). The inhabitants of Granada should know that the Chinese who populate their city and run an incredible amount of shops are also mostly from Wenzhou. I know for a fact that all Chinese restaurants in Granada are owned by one Wenzhou family. Those people earn about eight hundred euro a month, but the employer provides them with clothes, food and accommodation, so they can easily save most of this salary, which is an incredible amount of money in China.
So, people in Wenzhou speak Wenzhou hua or Amoy.
People in Fujian and Taiwan speak Amoy.
People in Zhejiang speak Wu.
People in South-West China and Northern China speak dialects similar to Mandarin.
People in Guandong and Hong Kong speak Cantonese.
Mandarin was created on the basis of the Beijing dialect in the twentieth century and introduced by the Communist government.
In Zhejiang province the dialect varies not only from city to city, but from a district to a district. Sometimes after driving twenty minutes by car away from home you enter a place whose dialect is different to yours. That is why we call the dialects like this: Ningbo hua- the dialect of Ningbo, Cixi hua- the dialect of Cixi, etc. Those languages are different, but yet those people still can understand each other.
If they speak their dialects, an inhabitant of a Northern or South-Western China will not understand a Zhejiang ren, Guanzhou ren, Fujian ren nor Taiwan ren. They will understand him (or her) because his dialect is similar to Mandarin.
Only a Wenzhou ren will understand a Wenzhou ren.
The curious thing is that all those languages are called dialects. It is the will of the Chinese centralized government for sure, but not entirely. It seems to me that the Chinese have always believed to be one Chinese nation, although comprised of many Chinese nations. The Cantonese, for example, don’t show any need to create a separate country, but they still preserve their Cantonese culture and language.
The foreigners happily dismiss the dialects as being “only the dialects, they sound the same.” If we adopt this line of thinking, we can invent a common European language, force everybody to learn it at school and call all the spoken ones “dialects.” If the Europeans were Chinese, they would have probably done it already. You could easily do it with Slavic languages (that have a lot in common), but we would not allow it. Yes, I understand Slovak, but it is definitely a different language, not a dialect.
Here the language seems to be the mark of your identity. Shanghai and Zhejiang attract many immigrants from other provinces who come here to work. None of them makes any effort to speak the local language and nobody expects them to. They do not understand Wu any more than I do by the way.
The rest of the people communicate in Mandarin. It is a relatively very new language. In the twentieth century a phonetic alphabet, pinyin, was created, establishing once and for all the correct was of pronouncing the language. Children at school learn Mandarin and are forced to communicate in Mandarin only. People who are thirty and less are definitely fluent, fifty-year-olds might not speak it at all. That is why I always ask for directions or anything else young people, preferably smarter-looking too. From older citizens and physical labourers I can get a response, but only in Ningbo hua. This rule is of course very flexible. As all teachers know, some kids are particularly opposed to learning, thus many young people address me in Ningbo hua. On the other hand, Mandarin is the language of the media, so the elderly can teach themselves.
That is also the reason why people understand Mandarin, it is the language of the media. They respond in Ningbo hua though. Sometimes they repeat what I have just said, but in Ningbo hua, as if asking if they understood correctly. How would I know?! The most peculiar are the female neighbours chatting me up in Ningbo hua and then laughing because I don’t understand. Look at me. Just look at me. Do I look like somebody born in Ningbo?!
Mandarin is also a language of the young people. Not only are you forced to speak it at school, you go to school with people who were not born in your district. It is therefore their means of communication, which makes it an alive and developing language.
What was before Mandarin? People spoke their languages, but communicated in writing. That is probably why when I tell people that I can hear them, but not understand them (that is the correct way of saying it) they take out a piece of paper and write, only to learn that I can see, but I can’t understand. It usually provokes laughter because everybody knows that you can communicate in Chinese writing with everybody. Even the Wenzhou ren.
Last, but not least, is a riddle for a Chinese language book for first grade Chinese children. It is apparently very easy for them, but I’m afraid you need to be Chinese to solve it, as I couldn’t. Everybody: add a comment, have a try!
The riddle: two small trees with ten branches. Leaves don’t grow on them nor flowers bloom. They can write and calculate. They work every day and don’t speak.
I sincerely hope that my long silence can be compensated by this post. I have a great set of excuses anyway: they include being out of town AND being sick. Let’s start by being out of town part.
We paid a short visit to Shaoxing. It’s located some two hundred kilometers West from Ningbo and a journey there takes one hour by train.
It’s famous by the Shaoxing wine, used in China for cooking (or by some tourists, no names mentioned, to be drunk by a bridge) and by Lu Xun.
Lu Xun was the first writer to create in modern Mandarin. This is the link to the English translation of the first story to be even written in this language, “The Madman’s Diary”: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lu-xun/1918/04/x01.htm
The main protagonist is convinced that his family are trying to fatten him up in order to eat him. This cheerful tale is beautiful in itself, but everybody tells me is must be viewed in its social context, here probably China being consumed by the feudal system. As much as I find social contexts unimportant in interpretation, the free interpretation of Lu Xun’s text doesn’t exist in China. The pupils learn his stories by heart and recite them. Exams on his work look more or less like this:
Task one: Here is a text of Lu Xun with some words or entire paragraphs missing. Fill in the gaps from memory.
Task two: What did Lu Xun mean when he wrote: xxxxxxxx.
The students are previously informed what Lu Xun thought by their teacher. I’m not sure if the teacher has found it out from Lu Xun.
I can mock it as much as I like, but what do I know? The fact, expressed by the writer himself, is that he desired to write in order to improve, or even mend, the Chinese society. He decided to become a writer when he saw an execution on a Chinese man accused by the Japanese of being a spy. What shocked the young author was that Chinese people came to see the execution for fun and were indifferent to the suffering of their compatriot. Lu Xun immediately gave up his studies of medicine and returned from Japan to China to become a writer who will make a difference.
He started as a translator of foreign literature. He translated, among others, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Polish nineteenth-century Nobel Prize winner. Having read most of this guy’s work, I congratulate Lu Xun on his persistence. His major inspiration was, however, Gogol and his short stories, which became his favourite genre.
He was the beloved writer of Mao. However, he never joined the Communist Party. After writing in service of the new country most of his life, he died of tuberculosis.
But he was born in Shaoxing, where you can still see the house where he was born, converted into a museum. In fact, the whole old town of Shaoxing is a living museum. It’s the first city in China I’ve seen with the preserved old part. Now you cannot change anything there, but the locals are allowed to live there. They live in the old way: do laundry in the river, hang it on the street, cook outside, leave their doors open and sit in front of their houses until it gets dark. The time seems to have stopped there until you see them use mobile phones or go online.
Unfortunately, the happiness cannot last forever and after returning to Ningbo I got sick. As I suffered from fever of almost 39 degrees, I called the university officer to take me to the hospital.
Let me explain to you how it’s done in China.
First of all, the doctor will give you neither diagnosis nor medicine until you take the blood test. They need to be hundred percent sure what’s wrong with you. When last year I’ve heard that I needed a blood test I completely panicked thinking that I was seriously ill. Nothing of the sort. You catch a cold, you take a blood test.
A sophomore student of English Major was accompanying me. She had no idea what a food poisoning is, not even after I explained: “you eat something bad, then you feel bad.” How is that a difficult sentence? I almost cried. Yet she was very sweet, holding my hand, stroking me and trying to comfort me. She even tried to feed me candy and insisted that I should eat something.
We waited for the blood test results for one hour. With the results in hand, we returned to the doctor.
This time there was a queue. It is not any type of a queue that you’ve ever seen in Europe. Here, the doctor’s office is open, people stand around him and push one another, trying to make him take their health book or results first. If you’re too weak to push others you probably just die. Fortunately, the students were pushing, I was standing by. The doctor takes the results, asks whose they are, reads them, asks some questions and gives prescriptions.
Rule number two of Chinese medical practice (rule number one was blood test) is that being sick is unhealthy, so if you are too sick to get better immediately, they need to give you the amount of medicine they would normally give to a horse in Europe. It’s a bit hard to swallow, so you get a drip.
Just imagine a room the size of a lecture hall full of people taking drips. Really cheerful.
After the drip I felt better at once. The next day the temperature dropped, the day after that I was perfectly healthy and working.
The miracle of Chinese medicine.
It all started with fixing the TV. As it turned out, it was never broken, I just needed to plug it in. Plugging in is usually helpful when you try to make something electrical work.
There is only one English channel, CCTV News. They are quite Africa/USA/China- centric and approved by Chinese censorship, but better this than nothing. The TV informed me that the typhoon was going to hit Zhejiang the next day.
The problem was I had already made plans to visit Cixi, where I lived last year, to say goodbye to Lois, who was going home after finishing her contract. Promise is a promise, I was really annoyed with this typhoon getting in my way. I decided to go anyway, everybody was assuring me that typhoons are normal, buses are the last thing to stop.
So, I did go. When I was leaving the house on Sunday morning, the wind was blowing hard, it was dark and gloomy, like it tends to be before a storm, but this time it lasted for the whole day. Scared as I was, I still took a bus to Cixi.
The rain started during the party. It wasn’t rain, it was RAIN. I immediately started to panic that I wouldn’t be able to get to class on time the following day. Not that something would happen to me on the way, no, just that I will be late for work. I’m such an amazing employee.
The typhoon couldn’t stop me from going out to eat either. My friend Hayley had to take me to a small shop to have some dumplings in the middle of the storm. I’m very sorry, when I’m hungry, I’m hungry. Nutrition comes before safety.
Luckily, I’m a sound sleeper and I didn’t hear the typhoon that hit at night. Had I heard it, I would have been to scared to be able to sleep at all. I woke up at 6 am, which is the middle of the night actually, and started freaking out that I surely there were no buses to Ningbo. I ran to the street and got wet immediately because there was no point in opening the umbrella, the wind was just too hard.
The buses were running and people were travelling, since it was the end of the National Holiday and they were still returning home. Therefore, one might say I wasn’t so crazy to travel after all.
It was raining heavily, but I’ve seen worse rains in Poland and especially Spain, so it didn’t look dangerous to me. I felt relieved. How little did I know of what was awaiting me.
I was convinced that when I reach Ningbo, I will be almost home and the adventure would be over. Meanwhile, it turned out to be only the beginning.
The station was packed with people who were, like me, on their way home from holidays or students on their way to Monday classes. I waited fourty five minutes for the bus to arrive. I don’t know how I gathered the patience, I was just standing there and reading a Mario Vargas Llosa novel, not even one of the most captivating ones. Hailing a taxi wouldn’t be a better idea, the line was huge and few of them were coming.
Finally, the bus arrived and the driver was shouting something in dialect. I asked him in Mandarin if he goes to my university, but he said he didn’t understand me and laughed. I shouted at him that I’m speaking Chinese, how dare he not understand (so perhaps I wasn’t so calm after all). I found a seat next to a girl, who selfishly didn’t want to sit next to the window and I had to squeeze in there with all my luggage. I hope I kicked her hard on my way there.
We set off from the station into the streets and it it soon became clear that the area around is flooded. People were wading in water to their knees, with shoes their in hands. Parked cars were ruined. The bus was going through the water and splashing it all around. Suddenly, it met some obstacle underwater and stopped abruptly, throwing people and bags against the front window. They reacted in a very Chinese way, that is, nobody complained. They just checked if everybody is fine and started to laugh. In China nobody minds reckless driving, even if buses nearly crush with each other, unless somebody is killed. I’ve never seen bus drivers that careless. In Poland I would be so anxious about travelling around in such conditions, but I adapted amazingly well to the circumstances and I don’t mind along with the rest of the Chinese people. Until I get killed.
The bus driver opened the door and refused to go any further. In the distance, I recognized one of the sky-scrapers of the Tienyi Square, the main city square. I went there and waited for a long time for another bus, while it started to rain again. When it finally arrived, everybody was pushing the others to get in, especially the old ladies. I will never match the Chinese old ladies in art of pushing others, it’s amazing how strong and determined they are to be first. I’m pretty sure that if it was legal, they would stab others in order to get on the bus before them. As long as murder is illegal, they continue to shove you with their elbows and to fix their stare fanatically at the doorway they want to get into.
Completely soaked and miserable by that time, I arrived at the campus. I even had time to go home, change and cycle quickly back. It wasn’t raining, so I was sure it was over. I was very proud of myself.
The building was completely flooded. I think students forgot to close the windows or did it on purpose, as it was humid. Sacks of sand were lying everywhere and students were wearing flip flops and wading through water. We did the class in wet classroom and it started to rain again some ten minutes before the end. This time hard.
I waited for some time and read my book, but then I thought that, first of all, it was not stopping, and, secondly, the way between my house and my apartment door takes me ten minutes, so how long am I exposed to the rain, five minutes perhaps?
It wasn’t even like standing under the shower. It was like standing under a waterfall. I had my waterproof super- expensive jacket on and it didn’t stop me from getting soaked to my bra. The water on the street got so deep that I was cycling in the water up to the chain.
When I got home and changed, I thought again that it was over. The following morning it was still raining, but it was a normal rain, the jacket protected me a little, I changed clothes before class and it was ok. I was convinced that everything was coming back to normal.
The problem was, it was still raining.
On Tuesday evening I was sitting quietly in my apartment and suddenly I realized I’m sitting in the dark. Soon after it the water went. Luckily, one colleague shared his candles. Before he kindly did so, I was using my mobile to shed light on my kindle. Pretty miserable evening. I went to bed at 9, scared and dirty.
But surely, they repaired it the next day? No, they didn’t. For five days. They kindly moved us to a hotel though. Walking down fifteen floors to get there (no elevator during the power cut) wasn’t fun. Walking those fifteen floors up the next day to change shoes because it unexpectedly got boiling hot wasn’t fun either.
My friends Jiejie and Joery don’t remember such a catastrophe in their lifetimes and they are my age. Joery lives close to Yuyao and she didn’t have running water for five days. Yuyao suffered the most actually, people were wading in water up to their waists. I’ve also seen (on CCTV) the images of Wenzhou. Some people died there due to bad wiring, which was leaking electricity to the water. They died as soon as they touched the water. It makes me so angry, nobody cares about the safety, until people die, just like with the reckless driving.
Now we’ve returned home. You only appreciate home after a typhoon, when it’s taken away from you.
When you stop teaching children, who just learn basic English, you realize, that students actually have something to say. If the students have been raised on a different continent than yours, the stuff they say might be even interesting. Don’t get me wrong, when I was teaching in Poland, laughing at what the students said or did was my favourite pastime, yet here I learn new things every day. Amazing how much the students old enough to talk can teach you. Every class I learn about the Chinese culture. For example, did you know that in China it is very rude to name a child after a relative? Or that sometimes people merge wife’s and husband’s surnames, but it is very unusual. Also, apparently it is ok in China to say in front of the whole class: “I don’t want to go to Africa because black women are ugly” (that is the student who asked me out, he’s evil).
This week I did a lesson on romantic relationships. How much did I learn about life!
We started with a picture of an old couple and of them when they were young. The task was to guess their story. Chinese version of a love story: they met and they fell in love, but the parents didn’t approve of the boy because he was poor and they had to break up because the parents told them to. Then the boy got a job and started to earn a lot of money and they got married.
Yes. The first rule of relationships in China: if the parents disapprove, it’s over. There is no arguing, doesn’t matter if you are twenty or fifty years old. The second rule is that the both families must have the same material status. No way somebody is going to marry somebody poorer than them. Before the boy and the girl arrange a blind date to meet, they exchange information on:
-how much their parents earn and where they work
-how much they earn
-the apartments that the family or they own
-the cars they drive
-height, age, pictures, etc.
Dear Chinese readers, correct me if I’m wrong here. I know I must be generalizing. I don’t even hope, I know that there are more exceptions to this procedure than people who carry it out to the point.
Furthermore, if you even mention gay people, the class burst out with laughter. Gay people, so funny! And if they mention it, they mention gays, not lesbians. By the way, I saw a poster in Ningbo, it must have been an HIV awareness poster. There was a syringe and silhouettes of a naked man and a woman together with joined symbols for a woman and man, and a man and a man. I was wondering, why no joined symbols for a woman and a woman? Does lesbian sex not exist in China? Or you cannot get HIV this way? I’m still confused. Please enlighten me if you can.
Next, we have five statements to discuss. So much fun!
Firstly, the ideal age for a woman to get married is twenty five and for a boy twenty seven. True, of course! It is the best age for a woman to give birth to a child! I love that one girl in the English Studies (let’s call them ES from now on) group argued, at least one of them wanted to enjoy life a little bit longer. I high-fived her, or at least I’ve tried, as she didn’t understand the gesture. Another argument to get married young was that when you are thirty, you are so old, that you are too old to enjoy life and marriage, you are too tired. Shut up eighteen-year-olds.
Secondly, the most important reason to get married is to have children. Of course not, the only reason to get married is TRUE LOVE. Then a girl in ES (I love ES) argued that having children might be the only reason to marry sometimes. If a boy loves another boy he still has to get married and have a child to “satisfy his parents” and the main reason for this marriage would not be love, but having children. The class almost died of laughter, since someone mentioned gay people. Fortunately, there were voices that such marriage is a dishonest thing to do.
Thirdly, a big age difference is not a problem if the couple are in love. Some say yes, some say no. One boy openly said that he doesn’t like older women.
Fourthly, a couple should live together before they get married. Here you can see a difference in upbringing between them. Some say Noooooo and are scandalized. What if the girl gets pregnant, it’s unthinkable! Some say yes, it’s a good idea. In Chinese tradition the couple can move in together if they are engaged. Everything must be parents-approved, of course.
Last but not least: it is OK to lose touch with one of the parents. No! Mostly, they had valid reasons to say no. A child needs both parents, both are important, both offer different things to a child. All true and very mature. Unfortunately, there was a strong tendency to voice a different opinion. A child must have both parents because otherwise kids at school will laugh at them. A girl was explaining it to me in first person (“If I don’t have a mother or a father, the children will laugh at me...”), so I asked her: “Oh, are we talking about you?” How appalled was she to hear this question! How dare I insinuate that she might do such a dirty thing as having only one parent?! This led me only to conclusion that growing up in China is really a nightmare. Bereft children, whose one parent died or left you, you must pay the price for something you are not guilty of and learn that you are inferior to everybody else.
Nevertheless, it is so nice to listen to teenagers and their untainted ideas on love. You mustn’t marry for money, I’ve learned, parents won’t force you to marry somebody you don’t love, twenty-five is old and somewhere far away in the future and by the time people are twenty-five they all find true love and get married happily. Here, the teenagers from all the countries around the world are just the same.