A Cozy Red Blanket

Well, I’m sitting here after a long day of hanging out with Mandy and Karen in Dalian. I’m praying that this sudden storm keeps up and washes away any chance that I’ll actually have to go through with performing English games on a stage in the middle of town for Children’s Day tomorrow.

I’ve noticed that as much as I’ve been in China for nearly five months now I’ve really remained silent about the soul and culture of this country. Other than dropping hints here and there, I’ve not made much mention to anything.

This is due to several reasons, the first and formost being the Internet nanny who is right now cruising around looking for sites to shut down. Though considering I can read the Taipei Times, CBC News, and numerous other non-China manufactured sites… I’m not nearly as worried about this as I was when I first got here.

The other is not having any real idea where to begin. It’s just a big, big thing that is muddled with tonnes of contradictions. I can say one thing, and find an example of the opposite tomorrow.

However – there’s just no getting around it, this country is different. And I don’t mean that in the ‘hey, my cousin Ted is different, he likes eating lint and watching taped monster truck rallies on Fast Forward’, but more in that ‘Did anyone see that? That’s screwed up’ kind of different.

The problem is, it’s impossible to give examples. I mean you can sort of give vague references, but as I wrote to Cass the other day, ‘it’s just glitches in the veneer that are all peripheral.’ Everything is painted over with this normality that seems comfortable, but you just know something’s not right.

I was really excited to come to China and get a sense of Chinese culture, but the biggest eye opening thing has been that culture is like an old tree here, it just doesn’t exist. The trees were done away with in the Great Leap Forward, and The Cultural Revolution cleaned up the rest.

Sure there’s a pretense to art, music, history, gastronomic delights, language, etc. But one trip to The Forbidden City in Beijing, or one look at the built-today/broke-tomorrow construction mentality and you realize the binding’s cracked and it’s just cheap, aged cello tape holding the whole thing together.

There really is a bubble around my world here, and I think it’s impossible for a foreigner to get any sort of real insight into China. I think when Deng Xiaoping opened China in 1979, it was the way a sensitive landmark gets “opened” to the public – more with a polished look, a big bright “DO NOT CROSS” sign and LOADS going on behind the scenes. Though capitalism is making a play here and everyone and their brother (oh wait…) has a cell phone, I think 26 years has changed little in this regard.

Perhaps I’m a little down on the China because I just can’t seem to be anything other than sick in this country – but taking a look around at the endless amounts of ‘In China’ blogs by foreigners, and a lackluster feel is a constant theme.

This certainly isn’t to say there aren’t a million interesting things to see/learn here – it’s, perhaps, just not what I expected when I thought of China. I saw a quote the other day that said “Shanghai is all face and no heart or soul”. I think it, somewhat sadly, might be fair to expand this to the country as a whole. “Face” is something as integral to China as a stringent denial of the requirement of an alphabet. Face is in everything that is done here whether it be shopping, eating out, dealing with your boss, talking to friends… whatever. However, I think the heart and soul of the country has been successfully suppressed by decades of criticisms towards any opinion that didn’t line up.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m way off and maybe the fact that I’m a lao wai in a country that is skilled at keeping itself closed to outsiders has caused me to be a little blind to things. The other big bias I have is Thailand – a small country that really shouldn’t be compared to anything the colossal size of China. However, everything in Thailand screams with Thai culture. You can taste it, touch it, smell it. You breath it in, bathe in it, and couldn’t escape it if you wanted to. But in China… even looking for it, aside from some Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter paintings and a few items that are older than 1966 (including the Japanese-made Jinzhou Train Station! Funny how no one was throwing eggs or rocks at it though.) culture is just something that is a challenge to find.

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