Posted by Pete DeMola on 14. Jul 2010
By Francis Tseng
BEIJING, JULY 14 -- It's obvious that experiences in China are unlike those back home. In fact, that is often the reason people come to China in the first place. Once your feet touch China's concrete and cement, you are dipped into a unique landscape and strung into a string of surprises.
I've been delighted by the strange flavors of 1 RMB ice cream and entertained by the daily routines of the elderly in parks. I've faced squat toilets consisting of sloping ditches occupied by the accumulation of who-knows-how-many days or weeks of feces and urine.
I've sweated furiously and feared asphyxiation from the thick, wet air of shoulder-to-shoulder buses, and I've found it peculiar that locals prefer hot water at restaurants rather than cold water.
The pungent, almost offensive odor of public restrooms when wandering through hutongs have challenged my stomach. And I've found that crossing the street can be a little overwhelming, requiring significantly more strategy than I'm used to.
In general, there will be many intriguing differences.
But these amusements and disappointments are not "China moments." These are merely the result of minor cultural peculiarities that have little significant impact.
Some of these are encountered outside of China, being common characteristics of developing countries.
True "China moments" are borne out of two disparate cultures vying against one another. They are spawned by the unique nature of Chinese culture, and created by circumstances that it seems like only the Middle Kingdom can generate.
These events push and pull you to the extremes of human emotion. You're driven to either crippling frustration or elated to eternal gratefulness.
On one end of the spectrum are those moments that crack open a deep well of anger: the wrong-lane cyclists who invariably and unwittingly challenge you to a game of chicken, stubbornly staying on course.
Even worse are the cars that bully their way through bike lanes. Or the phenomenon where people will always give you directions somewhere, even if they have no idea how to get there.
It's when you discover that your bike has been stolen on your way to work. Or when, wandering the streets, a black car with tinted windows drives up and a man tries to convince you to come to his bar where, according to him, girls are waiting to "sex you."
A moment when you drop your phone, and it's run over by a cabbie who thought you were hailing him.
Or when you come across a group of grown men torturing a dog to death.
Or if a self-righteous behemoth fights you on the street for dating a white girl, accusing you of betraying your heritage (when he arguably has other problems). Or when packed on a bus, your girlfriend turns and asks, "Is that your hand on my crotch?" and it isn't.
Any stay in China is likely to be peppered with incidences like these.
You curse this place and wonder how or why people would act like that. You think that only in China could these sort of things happen to you, that only here could people be this way.
It's tempting to refer to these experiences as representative of the general nature of this place.
But on the other end of the spectrum is some kind of salvation from this gloomy impression. As if apologizing for it's hardships and frustrations, China may also extend a hospitable hand and help in the most peculiar of ways.
A woman closing her stand humbly apologizes that she has no dumplings left and gives you a consolation bag of edamame. The man you rashly bought a dog from -- which you returned an hour later -- gives you his number and tells you to call him anytime for a free puppy.
A stranger on a moped goes well out of his way to tow your broken bicycle for you, with you on the seat. The cabbie that ran over your phone apologizes and gives you a free ride.
These rare moments are the silver lining of China's clouds of smog.
You ask yourself the same things you asked before, only now you praise the place. You think that only China could these sort of things happen to you, you think that only here people could be this way.
It is all too easy to generalize the Chinese population, damning them as a rude, selfish lot -- or exalting them as kind, hospitable people based upon a loose pattern of these particularly poignant or pointed China moments.
The Chinese aren't the only that are victimized by quick, rash judgment.
People are quick to demonize or romanticize any foreign culture as human filters whittle down vast experiences to a few select good or bad memories; memories which tend to misrepresent, often tailored to our desires of how an event should be remembered, rather than as it truly was.
The diversity of these moments epitomizes the fact that there is nothing to generalize. It makes it clear that there is no clear stereotype, and that like any other place, China is a land where assholes and angels coexist.
But if a bad China moment is getting you down, a 1 RMB ice cream always helps to fix it.
Image by Francis Tseng.
Have you had a true "China Moment" recently? Tell us below!
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