A Travellerspoint blog

Behind the poker face

there is

overcast 19 °C

Even though it seems a lifetime, we've only been in China for three months. Three months is enough to make exotic China lose its exoticness, and to adapt to the lifestyle here. Teaching has turned into a proper job, office hours are spent on Facebook or reading the news, and the weekends are bound to be pyjama days. We've been to the Italian, Japanese, and Chinese. We've danced on the floor of Hooligans, and shot too many tequilas in orange peel. We've been to the Buddhist temple, the cinema and the shopping mall. We've had more starbucks here than I’ve ever had in my life. As new becomes old, and old becomes distant, I will spend some time writing down some reflections about China and its people.

Lately I read a very interesting article on the purpose of the human in our time. The article was based on a speech of Rudolf Steiner (for those who don't know who Rudolf Steiner is - he is the father of anthroposophy, and the founder of the Waldorf school). He predicted the future of the human very accurately, and described the inner happenings of the technological boost. According to him we can either stray off from our path of development, or keep on the track. Based on his article, there is no doubt that we've strayed from our path. Technology surrounds us, and we become more like robots, like puppets in a puppet show. You just have to pull in the thread and we move. A couple of months back I wrote an article on the technological developments of our time, and was shocked by the scale at which technology replaces us. Within two years you can become the mother and father of your own child. The next year you can choose whether you will have a child with brown or blue eyes. And it doesn't stop there - by 2050 scientists will be able to transfer the human brain and consciousness to a robot. We’ll become immortal, the living dead... People seem not to be aware of the consequences technology can bring. This puppet-like behaviour of people can be seen in many parts of the world, and in different forms. In China people do whatever the government tells them to do without questions or reflections. In Norway too many people simply can’t be bothered. Sleepy, bored faces can be seen everywhere around you. Topics, such as which political party runs the country, or what happens in Palestine, are issues which too few people care about, which again can be a huge threat for democracy, freedom of speech and the free will. Before we can say Jack Robinson we become puppets in a puppet show – the killer of the free will. If interested, follow the link: http://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/sid/article4242806.ece#.T40vFrOr9uI

I can write pages and pages with all its pros and cons of the technological development , but as this blog is dedicate to China, I will adapt these thoughts to the Chinese society. Today we went on a school trip with class 4 and 5, altogether 1000 students. A bit of a buzz I must say. The buss took a good hour to a museum dedicated to famous Lei Feng, the communist hero of all times (after Mao). Lei Feng (1940 – 1962) was born near Changsha, Hunan, and became an orphan in early age. He was brought up by the communist party, and became soon a member and leader in the communist youth corps. At the age of 20 he joined the red army, and fought for his motherland, but it is said that he died at the age of 21 (or 22 in east Asian counting, by which the new born is one year old by birth) of a telephone pole that hit him while he was guiding an army truck. Even though there is little known about his life, Lei Feng is the icon of good deeds to the Chinese people, and on the 5th of March whole of China celebrates his day by doing good things in school or elsewhere.

Every single picture in the building pictured Lei Feng happily smiling while helping children or sowing clothes. People believe he was helping people all over China, especially the poor and needy. At once we got out of the building which praised this guy to heaven, a question arose in my mind: Who did take all those pictures, and why only those nice, happy pictures of high quality for its time? Wasn’t Lei Feng poor? Wasn’t he in the army? He must certainly have had a private photographer running after him all day, in order to shoot those photographs. And Lei Feng must certainly have been using Botox, to keep up with his never ending smiling. I also noted that nobody knew more about Lei Feng than the information I’ve been giving here. According to among others Wikipedia, there exist a controversial theory that Lei Feng never has existed. As the communist party was about to lose its influence after the Great Leap Forward, they had to make up an icon in order to keep peace in the state. It would have been dangerous for Mao Zedong to get the entire population against him, and therefore they made propaganda of the highest level in order to maintain calmness among the poor and starving people. They manage to spread this image of him really well, and till the date of today, most Chinese people wouldn’t question his existence. The whole Lei Feng, and its museum was so much filled with propaganda that my stomach turned upside down, and I had to hide the scream filling my lungs. The trip to the museum was however a big eye opener for me. Even though I know that China is a strict communist country without freedom of speech and the free will, I never really noticed this in the society. The museum and the reactions of the kids where however a glorious example of the puppets the people have become of the government.

On one of the posters in the museum there was written “Do everything the government ask you to do.” I was shocked about this line, as well as all the paintings, and ridiculous photo’s. I could feel the blood pressure rousing, and a my eyes glow of furriness. I had to calm myself down, and decided to rather ask the students about there opinion on Lei Feng. They told me he was a good person because he helped people. They told me that they liked Chairman Mao, and that they hated Japan. When I asked why, they answered quickly “Japan people bad.” “Ok,” I answered “ but why are they bad?”, “I don’t know” was the genius answer.

Kids love to make puppets, and so do adults. The puppet making project of adults is however more dangerous; They make the children into puppets. The puppets of the government. I get sick of the thought of this... I’m filled with anger, a furious, bitter anger. The government in China is consciously killing the free will of people. The government of China is putting restrictions on the freedom of people. The government of China is making over a billion puppets.

And that is not the only thing – In another part of the museum a military exhibition was held, and all from tanks to ships could be seen. There were American ships, German tanks, Japanese jets, and Chinese “everything” in the room. The eager 10 year olds showed me around and pointing to deadly weapons with the comment “look, how cool!!”, “Well,” I answered “ I don’t think it is so cool. It is dangerous, everything in here is dangerous!” They didn’t understand that I referred to the whole propaganda, but the guard apparently did, as he sent me a killing look. When we returned home, a couple of kids were trying to shoot each other with their new purchased plastic guns. I thought by myself “be careful that this plastic never turns into metal, and the bullets, into killing objects...” I so badly wanted to scream this out, but as most critical Chinese, I kept the thought to myself, to not get into trouble with the government. Later, I had to write them down, I felt the urge to tell the world what I had experienced. Many Chinese authors vanish mystically from this planet for doing exactly what I do now. They sacrifice their lives to tell the people the truth. Yes, the truth can be risky.

My father asked me the question “What is behind the Chinese poker face?” And now I got to know a part of what is hidden behind the poker face. Earlier I had told him that the Chinese carry a mask, and keep a constant poker face. Yes, Chinese must be incredible good at playing poker. I’ve never heard a Chinese person complain openly about the amount of work they have to do, or about plans that are changed, or about the food, or low salaries, or about anything at all. They accept without questioning- exactly what was written in the museum “Do whatever the government ask you to do.” Without so much as a sigh they continue their work from seven in the morning until ten pm.
This simple sentence in the museum is the mirror of the society. Behind most poker faces you can find a puppet, a robot, drained of questions and reflections. They might think you are strange when you question the medicines which you get prescribed by the doctor, they might think you are crazy when you ask such a simple question as “Why don’t you like Japan?”, they might raise a eye brow if you question the pictures of Lei Feng. Behind this poker face without emotions, there is another layer of the poker face; a combination of fear of questioning, fear of the answer, and a fear of the government. The answer might bring an end to a lot of things they have learned before, and they have to start from scratch again.

What is hidden behind this mask of fear I can’t say for sure, but I will carry this question with me while I’m still here in China, and hope to find an answer before returning home. However, the question is sometimes more important than the answer...

Posted by EmmaMM 05:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

The news from far away!

My view on China is in the news paper, here and abroad.

overcast 17 °C

As I wrote in my previous entry, I am asked to write about China several times. The articles have been published in China Daily, and Aftenposten (Norwegian newspaper). Also my testimonial has been send to TTC China. If you are interested follow the links below, and check out the news letters from here and abroad!

Aftenposten, 15th of April 2012: http://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/sid/Fra-lille-Norge-til-store-Kina-6803699.html?fb_ref=.T4t_hc94Be1.like&fb_source=timeline#.T4449bOr9uK

China Daily, 17th of April 2012: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/mychinastory/2012-04/17/content_15065946.htm

TTC – Testimonial.
Lost on the planet China.

I spotted the buzz of the city beneath us. A brown, dirty smog covered the buildings. Some skyscrapers however towered above the smog. As far as my eye could see there were buildings. Buildings and people... “We are about to arrive in the biggest country in the world. China is about to get a few more citizens. We are about to make our first foot prints as aliens. It sounds scary, and believe me, scary it was. But more than scary, it was exciting! My life got changes up – side down.

While the bus drove us to the accommodation, I got absorbed in the world of little dots and strokes. Every single building was decorated with screaming red characters, which looked like crypts to me. All these single dots and lines makes sense to twenty present of the world population, but to me it remains a secret language, which I’m not able to identify. Later on, when we got mandarin lessons, the different combination of sounds, started making sense to me as well. I was astonished how a language consisting of four tones, and various sounds actually can be learned and spoken by even an alien.

After spending four amazing weeks in Beijing with around eighty other foreigners, to learn about different teaching methods, it was time for departure. During the last months we had come to know people from all corners of the world, and made friends for a lifetime. Suitcases were packed, hugs were given and tears were shed. Before we knew it, we sat on the train to Changsha. An unknown city, containing more people than the whole of Norway was about to be explored. The train drove out of Beijing station, passed grey buildings and screaming signs, and drove into the open fields. Slowly the brown smog changed into a less heavy cover.

Upon arrival we were met by our new colleagues, had a typical Chinese noodle breakfast, were introduced to the staff and were shown to our apartment. Soon after we had to introduce ourselves to the teachers, and make a performance. Within half an hour we were on stage, and performed the unprepared. If you are not flexible, you’ll become flexible in China before you even know it.

Our first lessons started straight away. In China you don’t waste time. The first weeks as a teacher are still fresh in my mind, and I can still feel how my knees were trembling and my heart bouncing every time before entering the classroom. I remember really well one sentence the students repeated again and again: “I have three people in my family, my mother, my father and me.” Even though I knew that China had a one child policy, I never really realized that the majority of the population were only children. And more than once I thought to myself “despite the differences in our lives, such as family relations, school system, expectations, we are still so similar.” You might think the world is big, but to me the world shrinks for every new country I visit. The sun and the moon, and even Orion is the same everywhere. Despite cultural differences, despite language and religion, peoples actions and reactions have the same source, and is universally bound to every single person walking around on this earth.

It is a wonderful experience to teach all those happy children every day. In China you will come across classes of seventy students, and you might think “this is madness”, but as strange as it might sound; it is possible. The discipline that can be seen in all areas of the society, also exist in the schools, and the Chinese students are well behaved and have an eager to learn. In a billion country as China is, it is essential to have competition, and this starts already in early primary school. The pressure to do well is huge among Chinese students in order to not lose face. As China is a “fresh” developed country, with an incredibly quick growing economy, the children’s opportunities become more and various. As many of their parents grew up in developing China, they never got a chance to shine. The wish to become a something big is transferred to their children, and the pressure surrounds them from all sides, in order to become a twinkling star.

The life of a teacher is hectic at times, but small breaks and holidays give you a perfect opportunity to explore the country. During Qing Ming, we went on a spontaneous trip to Yangshuo, were we met up with around ten other interns. Life in the city makes me long for the nature, and in Yangshuo I could fill my lungs, eyes and ears with green soil, stunning mountains, and fresh water. Steady mountains reflected themselves in the Yu long river, and formed the perfect balance between heaven and earth, between masculine and feminine, between Yin and Yang. I don’t have any difficulties understanding how yin yang was discovered in China – Yin yang was shown in front of my eyes.

While I try to structure my thoughts, and go through my life in China from the beginning to the end, and while I draw the conclusion that I can write pages and pages and pages upon China, I continue breathing in the heavy polluted air surrounding me. And while I do so, I have made up my mind; it is worth harking like an old lady in order to be able to teach happy faces every day. It is worth getting black lungs in order to get to know people from all over the globe. It is worth breathing in polluted air to learn about the screaming red signs decorating the buildings. It is worth suffering pollution in order to cycle through rice fields and swim in rivers, to eat Chinese street food, and go shopping at the silk market for a good bargain. Even though China is very different from the west, it taught me something universal: It is worth risking life in order to experience life.

- by Emma Gerritsen.
April 2012.

Posted by EmmaMM 20:42 Archived in China Comments (0)

Heaven on Earth

Yangshuo

sunny 25 °C

As I am asked to write about my China experiences from time to time, and describe the Chinese as such, I realize more and more how we are sperated from the Chinese by a barrier of language and culture. Before I went to China I thought I would be able to experience China to its roots, and get to know its culture very well. The reality is however different. As we are a group of six foreigners here in Changsha, and have 80 other foreign friends all over the country, it is difficult to mingle with the Chinese. I became aware of this "we and them" relationship when I sat in the park today, after going for a run. While I was listening to music, I looked at the people passing by, and with a curious look they stared back. First then I saw the distance existing between us. I am like a little soap bubble in a ocean. I realized that we remain foreigners in this country. A real China experience? Well, I would rather call it a real foreign - China experience. It is not good, it is not bad, it is just different (quote YFU).

As our plan was made on the day of departure, we hit the road unprepared. We caught the train late at night, and the following morning we were again surrounded by buildings. This time the buildings of Guilin city. The heat welcomed us, and the south once again surprised us with its beauty. Our destination for this trip was Yangshuo, a small town an hour outside of Guilin, and after we'd visited the monkeys, discovered a cave and climbed a mountain, we took the buss to Yangshuo. Outside, the sky had turned black, and the only thing you could see was nothing. An hour passed by, and slowly we came closer to our destination. One more turn and we could spot impressive mountains bathing in floodlights. Another turn and you could already feel the vibration of the city. This vibration and energy affected me as well, and the four of us jumped out of the bus, loaded with luggage, in eager to explore the town. We found the hostel soon after, checked in, and went out for a beer. The streets were filled with people from all over the world, and I'm not kidding when I say that there were more foreigners than Chinese. Small cozy streets winded down the hill, and were filled with bars, painted in all colours of the rainbow. Music filled the streets with its reggae beats and hip hop rhythms. In another street you could spot shops with a thousand of different Tibetan and Indian items, and the equal amount of people were trying to get a good bargain, admiring the perfect strokes on the canvas or counting the stings one the embroidery. All this crowd, the music and the buildings, made my heart leap faster, and I fell in love with this town.

The following day we got up early, and decided to go for a bicycle trip to the dragon bridge. But first it was breakfast time. We went up to the roof terrace of our hostel, and enjoyed the amazing view while sipping on a cup of coffee. Green mountain peaks where everywhere around us. The warmth moved the air, and created a magical atmosphere.
The sun stood high in the sky, when we finally cycled down the road. The road led us along rice fields, rivers and mountains, which reflected themselves in the still water. I don't have difficulties understanding why yin yang was discovered in China. The way the mountains reflected themselves in the water created a perfect balance between masculine and feminine, between heaven and earth, between the two element soil and water, and between yin (feminine) and yang (masculine). In ancient times, Chinese artist used this concept in their paintings. In the middle of their painting you can often see a white line. This line is said to represent human beings. Above, high diagonal mountains where painted , and represents heaven, masculine, and steady (permanent). Beneath the white line, a horizontal river/water was painted. The water represent movement (development/change), earth and feminine. The white line, which represents humans, connect heaven and earth together. This picture can be found in the landscape of Yangshuo.

We spend the entire day between mountains and waters. We took a lift on a bamboo fleet, swam in the river, crossed bridges, and took photo's. In the late afternoon we met up with people placed in other cities in China. All together we were 15 people, which was totally amazing. We decided to go and eat at the Indian. The minute I smelled makhni daal, and took a bite of the garlic naan I just realized how much I miss my true motherland, India. And not even an hour after having thought that thought I got a surprising phone call. A number starting with +91?! That must be India! At the other end I could hear my entire host family greeting me. My host mum held an exhibition in Ludhiana, and as I had promised her to be at her exhibition , she called me to tell about the exciting happenings. It was great to talk with them!
While China remains a foreign country to me, India doesn't. My friends tell me often "you are more Indian, than Norwegian or Dutch..."

While we were gathered around a shisha and a couple of drinks, we met an Indian guy from Deradun (a place we crossed when going to Mussoorie), and of course I couldn't resist telling him that I had been there. I clumsily told him some phrases in Hindi I remembered, and told him about my favourite Indian food. As he runs a restaurant in town, he invited us to go there the next day for supper, and promised to make rajhmasala. We happily welcomed the offer. The amazing thing about Indian food is that they activates every sense in your body; nose, eyes, ears and mouth: the smell is amazing, the sight is good, and you can hear all the joyful voices of people eating it. In addition is the taste totally outrages!

But before the Indian, we went on a three hour long kayaking tour on the Yong Lu river. Our arms peddled from one side to the other, the kayaks glided silently through the water. We could hear the birds sing, and happy shouts of children playing at the shore. One moment we were surrounded by threatening mountain walls, and the next we had the view over green peaks and fertile soil. Water buffaloes went around, with their never ending chewing muzzle, farmers worked on their land, and fishers placed their nets in the water. The river was blue and clear, and is said to be the cleanest river in whole of China. The sky slowly turned from a thick grey mass into light overcast. Later, a light rain wetted our cloths. It didn't matter, because our cloths were soaking wet from the splashing of the water of the river.
A three hour kayaking tour makes your muscles stiff and your stomach rumble. We were looking forward food.

Another night with happy hour and shisha was waiting. This time we decided to go to KTV, to make our tourist experience a little bit Chinese as well. It was great fun to sing along with Spice girls and Robbie Williams, and at the end of the night our voices were hoarse and ears blocked. But fun it was for sure!
A few hours of sleep, and before we were able to close our eyes, a new day was waiting. This time the road led us to the Golden Cave, with mud bath and hot springs. It was amazing, all those stalactites and stalagmites. Our guide had a great sense of humour, and told us about the different formations which, according to her just looked like Buddha or cauliflowers. A little bit of fantasy was necessary to see the Buddha’s and cauliflowers.
After half an hour in the cave, a mud bath appeared, and splash splash, there we went. Totally covered with a sticky brown mud, we took some pictures and floated on the surface of the water. The mud bath was just like the red sea: you float - whether you want or not.
Just around the corner, natural hot springs were waiting, and for at least half an hour hot water surrounded us. The cave was dark and smelled muddy, and created peaceful atmosphere. My ears and eyes and hair and everything was still covered with mud. The mud made my skin smooth again. After being in polluted China, my skin has turned from soft to rough... Now I know for sure that the Norwegian air is magical!

The very same day we had to head back to Changsha. Our train was leaving at 6 pm, and arrived 12 hours later in a rainy city.

Posted by EmmaMM 22:59 Archived in China Comments (1)

Going from somewhere to somewhere

We've got VIP holidays!

rain 17 °C

Qingming festival is approaching, and in the beginning of next week the factories will stop working, the schools will close and the people will return to their homes for three days. In acient China the girls' family was considered as worthless, and it was only during the festivals, among others Qingming, that girls were allowed to return to their original family. The change in gender discrimination came after Chairmen Mao's statement that women carry half of the sky, which is absolutly true, and therefore boys and girls are said to be equal in modern China.
Qingming is celebrated the 104th day after the solar solstice, and falls mostly on the 5th of April. The English translation of Qingming is tomb sweeping festival or ancestors day, and is celebrated to honour the ancestors. The name of the festival denotes a time for people to go outside and enjoy the freshness of the spring. It can therefore be compared to our spring festival; Easter.
On Qingming people go to pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs, burn fake money, incense or carry flowers, and bring food offers. Some people stick willow branches to their door, in strong believe that it will scare away the evil spirits that wanders on Qingming. Today people go on family outings, fly kites in shapes of animals, and burn firecrackers. Not only the butterflies outside exist with spring, but also the well - known butterflies inside, and, according to trusted Wikipedia, many new couples are formed around Qingming.

Qingming means 7 days work, 3 days off for Chinese people, but for us aliens, it means holiday! We've got two extra days off, and are once again treated as VIP. This time I really enjoy being a VIP. Tonight our bags will be packed, and before dawn the next day you can find us on the roadside, waiting for a taxi to bring us to somewhere still unknown ...

Zaijien !

Posted by EmmaMM 18:33 Archived in China Comments (0)

I wish to be a king

sunny 21 °C

A night out in Changsha is fun!! The day after too.

Early the next morning I can see her running down the lane, entering the park. People are passing by. They give her stares, and I can hear them think "What the hell is she doing?". She doesn't care. With music in her ears and the bright sun on her skin, a forest that surrounds her, and her legs making a move, she is absorbed in her own little world. The beat of the music is her breath, the melody is her voice, and the rhythm are her legs.

When reaching home, duty is calling, and lesson plans have to be made. We decide to give the students a taste of a western festival. It fits perfectly well, because after all its Easter next Sunday. While the night sets in, the last preparations are made, the apartment is cleaned and new washed sheets are spread on the bed.

Together with the sunrise, five incredible individuals are entering my room singing "happy birthday". I'm turning twenty!! It's crazy, but true. The one is replaced by a two. For ten years a 1 was included in my age. Not anymore. I don't know how many times I'm going to repeat myself, but time IS flying. It seems just like yesterday that my sister and I were playing with our homemade dolls, that we were acting Snow white in the garden, that we were drawing pictures of Easter bunnies, making huts in the trees, and believing in Sinterklaas.
Now we all are grown up. We have moved apart and we don't play or dress up anymore. We are not six anymore... But we are in our twenties and thirties... Sometimes I wish I could stop the clock from ticking, sometimes I wish I could freeze the moment. The frozen moments become nice memories.

Wisdom word of the day: Don't act like a child, but be like a child. Even though we grow up, our personality doesn't.

It's my birthday, and my dear friends gave me a beautiful poster with words - made by Emma, and funny pictures of us. They gave me a set of painting as well !! I can't wait to start to paint!

I forgot to mention that it went from winter to summer in one day. The sun is shining and it's above 20 degrees. Perfect weather, perfect day and perfect people. What more do you wish for?

Before I end this entry, I would like to share some culture snack with you:

In china, being employed by the Government or being employed by a company is a difference of day and night. If you are employed by a private company you earn less, and get paid only 10 month a year. You have to pay your rent of your accommodation yourself and would not get any vacation money. Whereas if you are employed by the Government, the state will pay most of your rent, give you vacation money and pay you full salary for 14,5 months a year. You are secure for the rest of your life. That is why most people in China try to achieve to become a regular worker, as it is called. They have to pass a couple of exams to do so, and the competition is high.

Especially for man it is important to have this social security. The girls don't want to have a relationship with a guy who doesn't have house, secure job or earn little. Even though China is said to be a communist country, there is a huge competition going on! And you have to push your way through if you want to reach the top.

During a trip from one campus to the other, we asked one of our colleagues if people in China get the possibility to vote at all. He answered "No, that is not our business. We can't choose anything regarding politics. The only thing we can choose is which girl we want to marry..."

Posted by EmmaMM 04:01 Archived in China Comments (0)

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