Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cultural Observations

The past few days here have been relatively low key. The weekend just ended, and for the past two days I just hung out with the Newton kids and hung out in my apartment. Like I said, pretty low key. The most exciting thing is that tomorrow's my first real day of school. When I say excited, I don't exactly mean excited. For the next week, all us exchange students are sitting in our classes with nothing to do. You see, the special classes that only our group has don't start till the second week of school, so this week we're just sitting in each of our classes with the Jingshan kids. It's going to be possibly one of the most boring weeks of my life. But at least I have a uniform (and I promise I'll post pictures of it soon).

What I wanted to write about in this post was some more things about China that I find interesting.

The first is another note about the driving. While before I said Chinese people can't drive, I think it's more appropriate to say that driving here requires real skill, and is almost an art form. Here, you have to have your eyes on the road 120% of the time, never wavering. Because everyone ignores traffic laws, you have to be constantly vigilant. Cars also have the right of way, not pedestrians. Cars and buses do not stop for pedestrians, pedestrians have to get out of the way. Drivers also do very crazy things you'd never see in America. For instance, one night I was taking a taxi home. The driver missed my exit, but instead of taking a different route like he would in America, he did this. He stopped in the middle of the street (we were on one of the Ring Roads, sort of like a highway in the city), backed up about 20 feet, and continued onto the proper exit. Surprisingly, at this point I'm used to this kind of thing, and it didn't scare me. By now I just laugh to myself and say "That's China."

President Nixon. This might seem like a strange thing to write about, but it's fascinating. In America, we all know how Nixon's remembered. We all know about Watergate and the debacle of his presidency. In America Nixon's seen as a criminal and a lier. Not so in China. In the late 1970s (I think 1977), Richard Nixon traveled to China. He was the first American president to travel to China since the Communist Revolution (I think maybe even the first period). While there he reestablished diplomatic ties, ties that were severed 30 years prior. In China today, everyone thinks of Nixon as a hero for establishing these ties. When they first asked me if I knew Nixon, I laughed and said he was a terrible president. They laughed and said they loved him. You may now be wondering if the same is true for former president Dubya. Not so. They hate him here as much as we do in America.

Dating. In America, many people start dating in middle school. In high school some people have serious relationships, and they may branch out even further in college. The point being that dating while young is not taboo in the US. In China, it's much different. Before college, dating (and frankly much interaction between the sexes at all) is frowned upon. Not to say that it doesn't happen, but much of that is in secret. When you're in middle or high school, you're supposed to study, not date. Once you're in college, however, if you're not dating someone you ought to be. I think many people actually marry the first person they publicly date. 

Cigarette smoking. Here's the one area where I'll say I think the US has it right and China wrong. I have seen so many people smoking in so many places here. It's disgusting. There are many more places where smoking is allowed in the US, for instance inside many private buildings. There are no smoking signs, but I've seen those be ignored. This isn't so much a cultural issue as it is a public health one. I'm scared that in 10 or 20 years, you'll see a huge epidemic of Chinese people getting lung cancer, emphysema, or any one of the other 1000 smoking related illnesses. It's the same with fast food. Sooner or later China's going to have a huge obesity problem on its hands (remember, China has 1.3 billion people. that's several US's put together).

Tomorrow's the first day of school, and I'll blog about how (bad) it was. I should go to bed now, have to wake up at 6:10 tomorrow morning (versus about 7 back home. OUCH!)

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