November 4, 2016

An Entirely Different Look Than Disney's View in Shanghai

An entirely different look at Shanghai today. The above map of Shanghai Disneyland tells the story Disney and the Chinese government wants to be told. Yet, today's trip report comes from a friend living overseas, a friend of a different nationality and therefore an entirely different perspective on what it means to be Chinese (or American). The perspectives might be shocking or expected- but none the less, it makes for a veery interesting read. Enjoy.
Days of listening to words both spoken and unspoken revealed much about life in a Socialist country.  I’m startled at how startled I am by the differences between China’s powerful, dynamic culture and my own deeply embedded national-origin values (Liberty, Freedom of Speech, Independence).
Like the good and bad of everything, Chinese fundamental values include some precious and admirable, along with some less-than.  A few examples:
  1. Harmony and cooperation
  2. Family focus – prioritize and plan to care for elderly parents, along with intentional, sacrificial devotion to caring for and investing in the children’s futures. 35% of China’s family incomes is devoted to children’s education.
  3. Saving face – decisions made in order to appease, so others would think of one as a good person and avoiding embarrassment at all cost, even by lying more colorfully than “white lies”.
  4. Impressing others by your success as evidenced by your possessions, even if it means spending money impractically
I wonder to what extent the above enable the political system of restrictions of speech and autonomy.  And that causes me to consider how my own national-origin values drive personal values, both admirable and otherwise.
 Squatty Potties
Every toilet I encountered in Shanghai was a (normal by western standards) pedestal seat, and ranged from reasonably to remarkably clean.
The other 6 Chinese cities’ countless toilets visited offered the non-western variety you see here.  Also, this is an exceptional ladies room in that all the others had individual, private stalls with doors that closed and even sometimes latched.

Men’s and women’s were always separate, and while many women’s rooms had one or several pedestals, the majority of stalls had a porcelain base on the floor and flusher activated by foot pedal or button to press.  Several had a shared trough under the entire row of stalls, and one flush pushed water along the entire trough.  That system was more…aromatic… in a negative way.
Some were as dirty as the worst U.S. gas station bathrooms, but most were reasonably clean.  Near the sinks, many but not all had a roll of paper and many stalls had no paper, by design. Needless to say it didn’t take long to establish patterns:  bring at least 4 “servings” of TP in one’s daypack or purse, and use theirs whenever it was available.  While some women from my tour patiently lined up for the pedestal stalls, others of us enjoyed the flexibility to take care of business the Chinese way.  I found the squatting preferable in dirty facilities, and that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know.
P.S. The men made no comments in my hearing about differences, cleanliness, or otherwise.
China is a socialist country, led by a one Party: the Communist Party.  I’m not aware of history where Socialist or Communist methodologies haven proven beneficial to the masses in the long run; rather I consider them as philosophies that sound good in theory but don’t work in reality.
Last year’s visit to Berlin gave me visual clarity of the contrast: black and white drab poverty colored the pre-1991 side of the Wall that had separated Communist from Free post-war Berlin, while the Capitalistic side enjoyed color that reflected opportunity and a dramatically higher standard of living for the people.  We have so much history from which to learn.
As the U.S. struggles through this election season, I learned that the current leader and ruling party (the Communist Party) choose China’s next leader. Then the Party members’ “vote” either for that nominee, or no vote at all.  To not vote for the “candidate” is foolishly self-destructive for future economic and social opportunities for the individual party members as well as their extended family, so in actuality it’s obligatory.
The several Chinese people I asked told me that the “Party leaders are smart and know what’s best.” Do they have the freedom to tell me if they think otherwise?  One offered that because there are so many Chinese, it would be impossible to have elections like the U.S.
Can you imagine: 1,390,000,000+ Chinese voters?!?

Venturing into other observations about culture, were you aware of the above creative clothing strategy for potty-training?  Note the split rear seam – and take a moment to envision the ease of immediate urge.  

However, “squat where you are” is problematic, if there are not pooper-scooper laws like the U.S. established years ago for dogs – I mean, their owners. I didn’t see it happen, but am told the “product” is left where it’s deposited by these darlings . . .
Are any readers aware of this strategy in any other country or culture?
Our Tibet guide sang to us enroute to the airport during our final time together. His use of a nearby water bottle/microphone prop was spontaneous and charming!
Driving through cities ranging from 35,000,000 to 6,000,000 in mainland China revealed towering high-rise condominiums alongside old, single story dwellings and dwarfed dilapidated apartment buildings targeted for removal and renovation respectively. Standard practice of drying clothing outside rendered surprise to the eyes of my fellow travelers from the U.S.  Since it’s the norm in much of Israel, it’s become my norm as well.
Doors are closed and privacy is ensured for the safety for those speaking about how the government operates, discussions about propaganda, mistakes by the government, etc. Predictably, suggestions for change to the government are typically dismissed as merely the voice of one, while petitions listing many signatures are at least considered more seriously.
However, the tone must not include any implication that the government is wrong or mistaken.  If someone were to appear to be criticizing the government, their extended family to three generations could be vulnerable to recriminations interfering with employment, promotions, education, etc.  I was startled, rattled really, to learn of 21st century people accepting the directive of government without any option for facilitating change or freely voicing questions, concerns, disapproval.
In 1980, the Chinese government imposed substantial fines and even forced abortions upon families having a second child.  Exceptions included minorities, farming families, and of course those who knew someone important who could grant absolution from the restriction. Finally realizing that the economy cannot support an aging population without more workers paying taxes, the government has recently changed the policy; no surprise that the campaign launched to encourage each family to have 2 children completely contradicts the preceding decades of rationale for having only one.
The blend of Chinese characters with western influence was at every turn, from knock-off Colonel Sanders fast food to genuine Starbucks and Hagen Daz, to this merry-go-round.   

We enjoyed a lecture by a foreign language and linguistics professor from Xi’an International Studies University, whose specialty is teaching courses in Chinese culture and international studies.  She presented an overview of Chinese philosophy and religious evolution along with highlights of the many ruling dynasties.
Do people still play Trivial Pursuit?  If so, perhaps you’ll be interested to know that Confucius’ name was really Kong FuZi.  The Wikipedia specifics on his name explain pulling clan name + given name + Ancestral name come together into “Kong FuZi.”  Saying that quickly has resulted in “Confucius” as we know him today.
I guess I found that interesting partly because names are so important and I struggle terribly with them in Israel. Meeting other guests at a dinner or event can be a challenge for all of us.  To remember Mary, Sam, Judy is one thing, but hanging on to a handful names around a dinner table that I’ve never heard and can’t immediately link with a name or word I know is a challenge at which I typically fail.  I appreciate the gracious patience of Israeli’s as I struggle to remember and wrap my mouth around foreign sound combinations and stress.
Back to Kong FuZi:  I recognized Konf FuZi’s teaching as foundational to what I learned to be Chinese life-philosophies.  He taught filial piety, loyalty to rulers, love for siblings, and that at birth everyone is good but bad people make them bad by modeling or by abuse. Some think that respect as a foundational principle of the culture is to be blamed for China’s inability to resolve political problems. I see how respect carried to extreme could interfere with reasoned analysis of problems and solutions.  What do you think?

Chinese Chess

Online resources are restricted in China. Even Google! Gmail was not accessible, as were links in various news sources. Facebook and Linked-In? Inaccessible! My Gmail address is forwarded to my primary email address, so I received all email, but my tour companions with only Gmail simply could not access their email the entire trip.  I could not access Google’s maps or translation sites either.
It’s hard to imagine why some were blocked, but more understandable when researching Chinese or related events, places, or people mentioned during touring, some apparently restricted.  By the way, it was clearly not the hotel wifi, because I accessed my bank, Quicken, and other sites having nothing to do with China.
(Top image copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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