China

Beijing life – a bizarre coincidence and a political taxi ride

Sometimes it seems that Beijing life can be a bit too interesting.

Three days ago, I met with my landlady in the early afternoon about the lease. Then a few hours after, I got a text from somebody. This is what it said (in Chinese): “Hello, this is the landlord. I’ve changed my number. I just want to tell you to send the rent to my spouse’s account – #######.”
Now, right off the bat, it seems fishy. It turns out it was a fraudulent text, which isn’t too uncommon since a couple of people I know told me they’d gotten similar ones in the past.
Yet the bizarre thing is that that I got this scam text was soon after I’d actually met with my real landlady. I called her after getting the text and she said it wasn’t her and it was a typical scam.
The coincidence was so striking I even had a slight bit of suspicion but my landlady has never texted me and the rent is due next month, plus this kind of text is common, as people told me.
I’d also never gotten a scam text before, though I’ve gotten lots of spam texts advertising different things such as “massage services.”
Living in Beijing has made me quite suspicious, which is not a good thing, and more vigilant, though I’d never fall so easily for this kind of trick anyways.
Then two days ago, in a taxi on the way to work, I made a remark to the driver about how heavy the traffic was. This was a sign of progress, he said. “It’s better to have too many cars than no cars. It means the economy is good.”
And from then, we had a discussion, while mostly stuck in traffic, about China’s development, governance, and even a brief mention of Hong Kong’s Occupy movement at the end.

Among the “highlights” of our exchange though it was all in Chinese and my Chinese certainly isn’t very fluent.

-On Beijing’s development (Driver: too many cars is better than no cars. It’s a sign of progress. Same with all the people flocking to Beijing. Me: Maybe it’d be better if surrounding areas like Hebei province and Tianjin were more developed. Then less people would need to crowd into Beijing.)
-On the economy (Driver: it’s grown fast in the past and it’s slowing down, but that’s alright. It’s like a kid growing up who is now a teen. Me: Yeah, slower growth is alright. The massive growth in the past hasn’t been all good for people, such as empty housing and too many factories.) 
-About the merit of the Communist Party’s rule (Driver: China is a big country with so many people. You can’t compare it to Singapore. Even Obama and Bush could never rule China properly. China is so stable and that’s because of the Communist Party).

At the end, he asked me if I supported the Occupy Central (anti-govt) movement in HK. “It’s complicated, but I think some of the reasons [for it] were right,” I replied. He gave me a hard stare before we exchanged goodbyes.

It was a decent exchange though things were a bit awkward when he starting complimenting the Communist Party’s rule and his testy reaction when I told him what I thought about the Occupy Central movement.
Anyways I guess it never hurts to have a random political conversation with a stranger before work once in a while.

China · Taiwan

Bleak outlook for the generation of 20- and 30-somethings

Vice has this crazy read about the current generation of British 20- and 3o-somethings, who just don’t and can’t stop partying and living like teenagers. Basically, for many of these people, life has gotten comfortable enough to the extent that people don’t have any meaningful purpose due to a lack of significant responsibilities like marriage, parenting and owning a home that our parents went through at the same age. As a result, a lot of people spent a lot of time partying and getting drunk and wasted, in other words, living like they did as teenagers and university students.

But it’s not all their fault because decent jobs are scarce while home prices have risen so much that most working- and middle-class young folks find it hard to buy their own home. I’m not British, and neither does my life resemble the worst parts of the article, but I can feel some sympathy. The problem is especially bad in London where a lot of “endies” – employed with no disposable income or savings – struggle to save money, especially to buy a home. Though one could wonder why young people in other parts of the Western world like the US, Canada or say, Western Europe aren’t engaging in the same kind of drunken antics frequently as well, despite facing similar problems of skyrocketing home prices, comfortable lives, and delayed marriages and birth rates.

The problems, socially though not behaviorally, exist in East Asia too, specifically Hong Kong and Taiwan with regards to the low levels of marriage (which includes myself as I’m single), births, and home ownership due to skyrocketing home prices. Japan also has this problem, and back in 2012, I came upon an FT article that described this problem with young people’s lack of ambition and chances.
In HK, the problem is especially acute because home prices are among the, if not the highest in the world and many of these homes are so tiny (and these aren’t even cheap). Affordable and public housing is sparse and a significant number of new developments are luxury apartments. A lot of young people are living with their parents, even young married couples working decent jobs like the couple mentioned in this article, incidentally about HKers escaping rising home prices by immigrating to Taiwan.

Yet home prices in Taiwan are not cheap for young Taiwanese either. The problem is especially serious in Taipei where rising home prices mean many young, middle-class people can’t afford homes and have been forced to rent or move out to surrounding areas. The recent local election saw the ruling KMT lose municipalities across Taiwan including Taipei due to problems like inequality and out-of-reach home prices (and what many perceive as a focus on boosting China economic ties that only benefit local tycoons while unable to benefit most people).
Incidentally I missed this news way back in August, but it’s an interesting development that mainlanders have been buying homes and property in Taiwan since 2002, mainly through Taiwanese middlemen or shell corporations set up in other places like Hong Kong. Hell, there’s even an apartment project in Tamsui that was built by a mainland developer (through its Singapore associate company). Allowing more mainland buyers in Taiwan to buy homes would also push prices up, or rather push developers to build more luxury apartments like Hong Kong, since these mainland buyers are mostly wealthy.

In Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, things are tough too when it comes to buying apartments (condominiums). So tough that for many 30-something couples, the main way they’re able to afford homes is the “Bank of Mom and Dad” – money from parents.
Frankly, this could be applied to Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. While I’ve yet to see articles that explicitly state this, I know from talking to people and family that many parents in East Asia pay for their children’s homes or at least pay off the deposit.

At the same time, it’s not as if young people can be spared all blame. There are other factors too such as that with the development of technology and materialism, there are so much more things to spend money on such as vacations, electronic devices and services. And as such, it’s harder to save up money and most young people don’t develop this habit.
In some countries like the US, this is exacerbated by a situation where things like say, health care and tuition are getting higher while clothes and electronic devices like TVs and computers are getting cheaper.
The problem is less so in East Asia, especially in Taiwan where health insurance is nationwide and extremely affordable.

This trend of home prices rising way beyond the reach of young, educated workers seems to be prevalent across the world, from the UK to Canada to East Asia to even China. And while it hardly gets mentioned, I’m certain housing markets and economies face a looming crisis down the road as societies age, birthrates drop, and 20- and 30-somethings are unable to continue buying homes at the same rate as their parents and grandparents.

Hopefully the future will not be as bleak for current 20- and 30-somethings in Asia like how the Vice article suggests it is in the UK.

China · Taiwan

Hong Kong protests intensify

China’s National Day holiday this year is set to be a very memorable one for the mainland’s leaders, but not exactly for festive reasons thanks to Hong Kong. An ongoing student protest merged with a popular movement to create large protests that erupted on Sunday into a 24-hour (and continuing) standoff with police, resulting in tear gas and pepper spray being used on masses of unarmed protesters. This might be a momentous day for Hong Kong, which has certainly seen a new era. It certainly shocked me, and possibly many HKers and those in authority, as the momentum has intensified rather than the opposite as the protests went on. Things are still hot with people engaging in a second night of mass protests right now.

People in HK have not been very happy since Beijing explicitly rejected full open elections in 2017 at the end of August. Students decided to boycott classes last Monday for a week, while the Occupy Central movement, modeled after the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US (Central is HK’s main business district), aimed to carry out their protest on October 1. Thousands of university students kicked things off by boycotting classes and conducting outside gatherings, marches and even trying to rush HK’s chief executive. They decided to continue the protests on Friday, when they were joined by secondary school students, and on Saturday, Occupy Central’s leaders decided to push forward their occupy protest and hence combine with the students. The root of these events go back 18 months ago, when the Occupy Central movement was formed to press for 2017 election reform.

The protests have had some repercussions on both the mainland and in Taiwan.
First, the HK protests actually took away from the fact that China’s President Xi Jinping issued an open call (last Friday no less, while the HK students protests were underway) for Taiwan to reunite with the mainland under the “One country, two systems” concept. Not surprisingly, Taiwan was not impressed. However, somewhat surprisingly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou gave a robust response, rejecting the offer as it would not be accepted by Taiwan’s people. Some Taiwanese have also expressed support for the HK protesters, including holding outdoor rallies in Taipei.

What was particularly good about Ma’s response was his reason of why Taiwan couldn’t accept the “One country, two systems” concept, put forward by mainland China in which Taiwan could maintain its political system while being part of a united China. “In the early 1980’s the ‘one country, two systems’ concept was created for Taiwan, not for Hong Kong. But Taiwan has sent a clear message that we do not accept the concept. If the system is good, then we believe it should be ‘one country, one system,'” says Ma. And that’s something I never thought of, that the fact there’s a need for one country to have “two systems” means there’s something wrong with the systems. The main point is that Taiwan cannot be part of a China that is not democratic and open.

On the mainland, Instagram became the latest to join the ranks of banned social media sites, due specifically to photos of HK protests being spread on it. State media had limited or ignored coverage of the student protests during the week, which might be because the sight of students protesting the government on the streets has a resemblance to events in 1989 in Beijing and nationwide. Weibo (microblog) services were also censored for posts about HK too. Sunday’s protests finally caused mainland state media to cover them, not surprisingly in a stern, omenous manner.

Despite the courage and admirable goals of the protesters, there are concerns. I worry about Beijing’s response – would the protesters be so bold in facing PLA soldiers instead of local HK police – but I also think some of the demands are becoming unrealistic. This includes a growing call for HK leader Leung Chun-ying to step down. While he is widely disliked, his resignation would have no benefit as Beijing would very likely not agree to hold new elections, and certainly not with full suffrage as the 2017 one is promised to have. Even worse is if the central government decides to appoint a party official from the mainland or a local businessman who would be even less competent than CY Leung.

Another issue is that while some observers and protesters think that mainlanders might be sympathetic, which they think is the main reason why the Chinese regime was worried enough to censor social media about the protests, this is far from certain and it’s highly likely that instead they may find the protesters naive or foolish, whether due to fear of their government, lack of understanding of the protesters’ cause, or just a feeling the protesters cannot succeed.

China · Taiwan

Cultural contradictions – West v China

Sometimes it can be hard and frustrating in the mainland, but that’s why it’s so important to realize that sometimes, it’s not just that values and behavior can be different from the West, but sometimes can be completely contradictory. Here are several contradictions based on completely non-scientific observations and admittedly broad assumptions, with some deliberate generalizations in order to make a point. Please don’t take it too seriously. Some of the Chinese observations are taken from Taiwan and to a lesser extent, Hong Kong, but are common on the mainland as well. By West, I’m mostly referring to the US and Canada, and to some extent, Britain.

1)
In the West, people are expected to follow rules and laws, and breaking the rules is seen as radical, cool and badass.
In China, people tend to disregard rules and laws, but following the rules is seen as weird and silly. Breaking rules is normal, but following them – now that’s crazy!

2)
In the West, such as the US and Canada, a lot of people tend to be polite and friendly to strangers, but this is regular behavior and shouldn’t be taken to mean someone actually wants to be your friend.
In China, people, especially service staff, can be rude or callous to strangers, but this is routine and shouldn’t be taken personally to mean someone doesn’t like you. They probably don’t like you, but they also don’t like everybody else.

3)
Western societies (esp the US) seem to have an emphasis on the individual and being independent, but people still seem to care about society as a whole.
In mainland China, society places more emphasis and value on collective identity and being a group member, whether at work or with family, as opposed to individual identity. Yet people don’t give a damn about society in general (the disdain for traffic rules and the lack of toilet etiquette being two egregious examples that I’ve gotten used to).

4)
There’s so much politeness in the West that at times there’s too much hence the idea of political correctness being a problem.
In China, there’s too little, so that everywhere you go there are signs urging people to be polite and civilized in general as well as specific acts like to line up, give up seats to the elderly on the subway, or to stand close to urinals in the bathroom.

5)
Being direct in terms of talking and behavior is considered a good thing, even valued in the West. For instance, straight talk is a positive term to describe blunt, honest speech. When dealing with problems such as at work, sometimes the more direct you are, the better.
Being indirect is very common in China and Taiwan, and it’s the default, especially in dealing with problems in workplaces for example. Hidden or opposite meanings and insinuations are regular parts of normal speech. Sometimes people can be confused when you say things directly or make direct queries.

6)
Chinese culture is something a lot of Chinese (and Western Sinophiles) feel proud of. Yet few people, especially the young, really practice it. Weddings, music (especially the playing of instruments), sports and physical activities (yoga compared to tai qi) are all instances where Western forms are more popular than traditional Chinese versions in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Western culture, especially American culture, is often something people, both locals themselves and foreigners, make fun of or ridicule as shallow and absurd. Parodies of pop culture and celebrities or even any aspect of regular life are common. Yet it is something widely enjoyed and participated in. Not just by people in the West, but in Asia and even in China where English TV shows and Hollywood movies, coffee and Western fast food are increasingly popular.

7)
People in the West would go anywhere for a holiday. The more exotic, the more remote, the more “off the beaten path,” the better. It doesn’t matter that there’s no material gain or benefit, going somewhere for the thrill or the adventure is everything.
Chinese people, in contrast, scoff at going anywhere difficult or unknown for a holiday. Only well-known or prestigious places are good holiday destinations, even better if there’s good shopping.
But Chinese would go anywhere in the world and brave war, disease or unknowns if there’s an opportunity to make money. They’ll even bring their relatives and families for good too.

8)
Chinese are very proud of their past, the older the better, and I don’t mean reminiscing about the “good old days.” While the last two hundred years were nothing to write about, the time before that, especially the glory days of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Tang Dynasty (618-907) are fondly remembered and are exactly how many Chinese like to base their identity on.
For say, Americans and British, the past is the past. In some ways, British people might feel embarrassed about the old glory days of Empire. After all, it’s an uncomfortable reminder of outdated attitudes such as colonialism and feelings of ethnic/cultural superiority. Telling somebody “Stop living in the past” is a criticism… if you’re in the West. In China, as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan, it seems that’s all many people want to do.

9)
When it comes to resolving interpersonal problems such as at work or family, in the West, people are more inclined to talk things out, even argue and highlight differences.
When it comes to China and Taiwan, people often think problems can be solved by just ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t exist. Doesn’t matter whether it’s catastrophic societal tragedies or family issues, leaving things unsaid and trying to act as if it didn’t happen are how those are dealt with.

10)
In the West, dating different people and having flings are all good when young and single, but not when one gets married. Even the rich and powerful like celebs and politicians are not exempt from this social rule (except maybe in France perhaps). In China, people get married first, then start having flings, having mistresses, and sleeping around after (well at least mainly the men). Of course, it’s not all in the open, though it’s not exactly a secret either.

China · Travel

China links – hospital rampages, Hui-Uighur overview, Silk Road travel

China’s medical system has serious problems in helping its people and the most troubling symptom is a spate of murders and attacks on doctors and nurses by patients. The New Yorker has an indepth look at a particular tragic case where a young doctor was killed in his hospital by a frustrated patient who’d been turned away after repeated visits, something that has happened frequentlyover the past few years. It’s a good article that gives a profound account of the incident and a clear overview of the China’s health system and its problems, including a spate of attacks on doctors and nurses.

China’s society has become so full of suspicion, anger and frustration that people often resort to violent means to address their problems. It’s no different for shoddy medical treatment, whether real or perceived. Murders of doctors and attacks on hospital staff have become common, but the actual statistics, as mentioned in the New Yorker piece, are still shocking – A survey by the China Hospital Management Association found that violence against medical personnel rose an average of twenty-three per cent each year between 2002 and 2012. By then, Chinese hospitals were reporting an average of twenty-seven attacks a year, per hospital.

Some of the underlying reasons for the murder are common problems that afflict hospitals across the country – inadequate facilities, overworked doctors, inefficient treatment and excessive bureaucracy.
Facilities, staff and resources are unequally distributed, resulting in too few good treatment available to people, resulting in serious overcrowding by patients and overwork for doctors and patients. The medical system is one of China’s most serious social issues that needs to be fixed before China could ever really become a so-called superpower.

The end of the article is telling: I asked Wang Dongqing whom he blamed for his son’s death. “I blame the health-care system,” he said. “Li Mengnan was just a representative of this conflict. Incidents like this have happened many times. How could we just blame Li?

Amid turbulence in Xinjiang, here’s a comparison of China’s two main Muslim groups, the Hui and Uyghurs. There are major factors that show exactly why the two are treated and fare differently in modern Chinese society. It’s not very hard why – the Hui are ethnic Han Chinese and speak Mandarin, meaning they look and speak just like the majority of Chinese. Unlike the Uyghur, they also don’t constitute a single group or culture, though they do have their own autonomous region- Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Even then, they have no separatist or anti-party sentiments, plus Ningxia is tiny.

The Silk Road has gotten a lot of attention recently because it seems China wants a resurgence of this route for trade linking China to Central Asia and further afield to Europe. Besides economics, the Silk Road is famous thanks to one intrepid European traveler Marco Polo. Coming to the present, few people have biked along the Silk Road in modern times, but that’s what these folks did, from Xinjiang southwards to Tibet (which is not exactly part of the Silk Road though it is still a vast frontier). It is as hard and desolate as it sounds and more.

China

Mainland musings: Perils of a “pragmatic” society

In the mainland, there’re an increasing number of elements about society that I find troubling. One of these is self-centered pragmatism, which seems to be a key driver of many people’s behavior here. By pragmatism, I mean doing whatever is the most beneficial to oneself in any situation, regardless of rules or ethics. This pragmatism can be experienced in a lot of situations whether it be business, daily interactions or the government’s foreign policy. To be honest, that’s also an  attribute that’s often used to describe Chinese people in general but I’m sticking to the mainland for this post. I don’t think this is a good thing at all, and a few months ago, I said this in an article I wrote about pragmatism in China.

Recently I came upon an article in the NY Times about pragmatism and China. The author, a Fulbright lecturer living in Beijing, sees pragmatism as a necessary and essential aspect of getting things done in China, such as parents paying bribes to surgeons before they operate on their children, which the parents justify as ensuring the safety of their offspring as well as signifying the love. The author tries to look at pragmatism in China through a philosophical lens, and questions whether actions in China like giving bribes (hongbao or red envelopes filled with cash) is actually unethical.
Which is fitting, because pragmatism was originally a philosophical idea that was actually developed by Americans in the 20th century, and along with one of the founders John Dewey, has become somewhat popular in China. Admittedly my definition of pragmatism is based on the word as how it’s used in regular life and not so much the philosophy, which I don’t have a strong background knowledge of.

The motivation behind those parents offering doctors bribes* is understandable when you have an unjust society where rules are not observed (as I found out firsthand with my renting debacle last year) and the law is ambiguous or useless, but it’s also very problematic. Not least because by continuing to take these sort of pragmatic actions, you are not changing anything but ensuring the faults of society which forced such actions to be done in the first place continue to thrive (a few commenters on the article also make this points). Bribery is very common in a lot of areas, from dealing with bureaucrats to trying to get accepted into schools or even getting pass marks in university, and yes, even passing a driving test. In this sense, I think pragmatism in the mainland is different from the author’s argument that pragmatism is a force for improvement. Pragmatism gets things done, gets one ahead in life in the mainland, but it doesn’t improve things, at least not significantly and positively.

In simple terms, Westerners such as Americans live in a more rule-based and law-abiding society with morals (and laws) as a force while Chinese society is more ambiguous and self-gain is a strong force (not that it isn’t elsewhere but not to the same extent). The author, himself an American, thinks people, especially Americans, should perhaps be more open-minded and not be so certain about the absolute righteousness of their values and beliefs. The author deems American ethics and foreign policy as too religious and finds American democratic ideals are “asserted with dogmatic gusto.”
There might be some truth to those claims and the idea of not being too self-righteous with one’s culture or values is valid. In this sense, pragmatism can be valid. However, Chinese society is the wrong example to use to defend and uphold the concept of pragmatism. Pragmatism can be taken to justify any self-serving act and propagate the notion of self-interest as the main, or only, ideal in life. This is something that seems to have spread widely in China. Furthermore this perpetuates a sense of ambiguity which is detrimental to society especially when you have a lot of people can’t differentiate or refuse to acknowledge right from wrong.

The blame cannot be only be put on regular people. China has several substantial problems that cause people to have an every-man-for-himself mentality – a developing nation with over a billion people and a lack of adequate social resources such as medical and affordable housing, unreliable authorities, unclear or unregulated rules, past tumult (cultural revolution) that wrecked social relations and so on. As China develops and become more modern, more prosperous and more connected in terms of social media and networks, more Chinese should be able to understand the problems with pragmatism and self-profit at the expense of others, and not justify illicit actions by claiming they’ll “surely uses any means necessary to protect loved ones.” There are of course, Chinese who know about these issues and are very critical, and hopefully this can result in a substantial shift in behavior.

To see how utterly despicable pragmatism can be, read this article or this one. As obscene and calculating as it sounds, drivers have deliberately run over people, after first accidentally hitting them, to kill them because paying compensation is cheaper than paying hospital and rehab fees if the victims had survived.

As a passage in the first article says: “With a rapidly increasing wealth gap and little emphasis on morality, money has become more important than anything, experts say. China’s younger generations frequently view money above all else, so make decisions often not based on what’s right or wrong.

And near the end, a Chinese sociologist says: “What is more, there is a lack of respect and fear of life among the people. They think life has different values, that, ‘Mine is more important than others,’.”

I’ve mainly focused on morals so far, but pragmatism also affects other aspects of mainland life such as finding mates, where wealth and looks are openly and proudly touted as key factors to judge a potential partner, as well as business, where there is rampant copying and a serious dearth of innovation and creativity.

As I’ve written about the superficiality with romantic relationships in my article (please read it below), let me touch on the latter. China is famous for its fake products, whether it be knockoff clothes or watches or antiques. Fake and imitation products are so common that there’s even a name for it in Chinese – shanzhai. Even stores and hotels are not immune from this shanzhai culture – there are actually fake Starbucks and imitation Hyatts. And of course, there’s a lot of copying in arts and entertainment as well – movie plots (even movie posters), TV shows, paintings and logos. Despite the pathetic and hilarity of such actions, there’s a pragmatic aspect to this copying. Why spend effort and money to figure out your own ideas, which may not even work out, when you can just copy something, especially if it’s from the West, that has been proven to be successful? It isn’t laziness either – some effort goes into this copying, which makes it more ironic. Perhaps it is mental and creative laziness, as well as cultural influence – copying somebody was perceived as a form of flattery, even respect, and acknowledgement of the skill or talent of that person being copied. And of course, plagiarism is common and not considered as bad as it is in the West either, not that plagiarism doesn’t ever happen there.

Pragmatism might be a key aspect of Chinese culture, but that doesn’t make it beneficial or essential. Whatever the fancy philosophical or cultural arguments, I feel it’s easy to see how society is adversely affected, whether it be perpetuating unfairness and corruption, or an unhealthy reliance on foreign, especially Western, ideas and products. It’s good to be pragmatic at times, but not if that’s your most important value in life.

* Interestingly, my mother told me in Taiwan, decades ago it was common for bribes to have to be offered to doctors and surgeons in many hospitals before undergoing an operation or other major procedures. That is why when I went to a hospital a few years, there was a sign at the door to the ICU stating that giving gifts to doctors is absolutely forbidden.

This is my pragmatism article:
————————————————————————————————————————————————————

One word that is sometimes used to describe Chinese people is “pragmatic.”

This refers to the trait of choosing the option that is practical or advantageous for any situation or problem, rather than be guided by set rules or ideals. I think in many aspects such as making decisions, day-to-day behavior or even the nation’s international relations, there’s a strong sense of pragmatism. This does have benefits such as flexibility. On the other hand, it also brings about negatives.

First, take the issue of how people often treat each other in society. From dishonest housing agents to people selling food made with dirty oil, one can always experience unscrupulous behavior regularly, maybe daily.

Yet many of these same people often treat their family and friends very well. What it comes down to is pragmatism – help your own kin and friends, be subservient to your bosses or superiors, but don’t waste an ounce of consideration for strangers.

Even love isn’t immune. There’s a prevailing notion that having loads of money is a key factor for a lot of girls looking for a mate, as well as owning a house and a car. There’s even a well-known term to describe the desired man – gaofushuai or tall, rich and handsome. There was a famous example a few years ago when a girl on a dating show proclaimed she’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle, indicating her preference for an unhappy relationship with a rich man than a happy one with a poor man. Of course, this is materialistic and superficial. However, it stems from a pragmatic reason – in a competitive society where social resources (urban housing, good health care) are scarce or expensive, women need men who can easily provide for them and their offspring.

This can definitely be seen with arranged marriages, still common in many places, that try to pair up men and women whose family backgrounds, education and job status match well. Whatever the scenario, the prioritization of practicality over romanticism leads to a lot of unhappy relationships or worse, the lack of relationships when people can’t find anyone “worthy” enough.

Being pragmatic is not always a bad thing but perhaps it’s time to reconsider its merits. We could do with a lot less pragmatism in a lot of areas.

China

Lack of trust in China – suspicion everywhere

The lack of trust in mainland Chinese society isn’t a new issue by any means. A lot of people know China has a huge trust deficit in society, though there’s disagreement over whether the government or society should bear most of the blame.

The most well-known and controversial case concern accident victims. Nowadays nobody really wants to help people, especially seniors, who’ve fallen in the streets. Because in several cases, these victims have turned around and accused or sued the people who’ve helped them and claimed they were the ones who hit them.
In a very tragic case, a man committed suicide after he helped an old man who’d fallen on the street and taken him to a clinic, before being accused by the old man of knocking him down and demanding hundreds of thousands of yuan.
In another instance, a series of striking photos, a guy stands by a woman who’d fallen on the street off of her e-bike, taking her pictures. However, he wasn’t being callous or voyeuristic. He was making a record that she’d fallen in an accident which he had nothing to do with, before helping her up. And who could blame him – there’ve a spate of incidents nationwide where people have fallen in public and then turned around and blamed the very ones who helped them, even extorting them.

So far thankfully I’ve never experienced anything as extreme. Instead I’ve had a few mishaps that are relatively minor. But that’s the point – the sheer banality of my experiences made me realize just how little trust there was in society when everyday events can be clouded in such murky feelings and thoughts.

My first experience was at a hotel I stayed in during my first several weeks in Beijing. One day, I came back and realized I’d forgotten my key inside my room. I went to the receptionist, who lent me the hotel master key. After I opened my room, I went downstairs to the receptionist and returned the hotel key. After returning to my room, I found that it hadn’t been cleaned so I called the front desk.

As soon as I started speaking, the receptionist said I hadn’t returned the key to her. I was stunned, and insisted I had. “I just gave it back to you a few minutes ago,” I said. “No, you didn’t give it back,” she replied bluntly. After several minutes of this back and forth, I went downstairs where we continued to argue. Luckily I spotted the manager, who quickly found the master key behind the counter. Instead of an apology, the receptionist claimed the key had been returned by another staffer who’d gotten it from me upstairs!

My second notable experience was during a messy situation with my previous apartment that involved a very disreputable agency (I wrote several posts about this back in December and January as it unfolded). The affair came to an end when the landlady decided to sell the apartment. I agreed to move out at a certain date, but coincidentally I had to go to Hong Kong the weekend before. I met with the landlady and the new owner right before my trip, and told them I was returning next week and would move out. I thought everything would be ok.

Yet when I returned to Beijing, I got a text from my landlady who said she’d been trying to contact me. She had even visited my place the day I left to discuss something. The next morning, the new owner also called me, saying he heard from the landlady that they couldn’t find me. “That’s because I was in Hong Kong like I told you,” I said.

They were either ignorant about geography or didn’t believe me when I said I was going to be away from China for the weekend.

In return, I’ve also been guilty of being suspicious.

The messy apartment situation above unraveled when I first met my landlady in my hallway (I’d been renting the place from the agency for months already) after coming home from work one night. She’d been waiting for hours and told me how the agency had duped her and had been renting out her apartment without her permission for over two years. She seemed to be telling the truth and even brought her property ownership certificate and ID later. Yet during the whole time, I couldn’t help wondering whether this was all an elaborate ploy. I had all kinds of paranoid scenarios in my mind about the agency hiring this person to pretend to be the landlady, and then, whether the landlady and the agency had planned this whole drama just to get me to move out quickly.

Dishonesty is bad in itself, but what’s worse is its effect. People lose trust and become quick to accuse and be suspicious.

If even born-and-bred locals have trouble coping with the dishonesty here, how can non-natives deal with it? All I can try is not to be consumed by suspicion but always be cautious. And don’t take things personally, because whatever shady misfortune happens to you, it’s probably happened to many locals as well.

China

Lack of trust in Beijing- getting hit by a taxi

One of the most disappointing and challenging things about living in China is the lack of trust. It’s both the lack of trust people have in each other, as well as the lack of trust in authorities. Don’t get me wrong, before I came to China, I was well aware that you have to watch out for scams and that there’s a lot of trickery around. What surprised me was the lack of trust. I learned this through some absurd encounters, the most recent of which was last month, when I had a very, very surreal China experience about mistrust.

Basically, I got struck by a taxi at the side of a road and ended up getting shouted at by the driver’s colleague.

Now, first of all, I didn’t get injured since it wasn’t a big collision and was more like a bump.
I was going to cross a small road outside my neighborhood supermarket, but as I stepped onto the road, I noticed the light was red. I was still well within the side of the road, and as I stepped back to the pavement, something collided with my leg and my backpack.
That something was a taxi. The driver had made a right turn on the shoulder of the road without looking clearly. Luckily, it hadn’t been going fast and the guy stopped and got out. Luckier for me, I didn’t break my leg or get my foot run over, I just got a small bruise on my calf. I was a little upset but I told the driver my leg seemed to be alright.

He asked how he could settle this, and I asked him for a small amount. He said he had no money so he offered to take me to the hospital and I agreed. But then he called the police and we had to wait. A policeman came and in the midst of taking down the details, he actually called his colleague and asked, if a guy is crossing the road and gets hit, whose responsibility is it? I was shocked, Was I going to be at fault for getting hit by a car?? I told the policeman I wasn’t in the middle of the road when I got hit, I’d been by the side, well within one-third of the street. The colleague rightly said it was the driver’s fault so the policeman wrote up a form for us that stated the driver to pay for any medical expenses.

By this time, I decided I didn’t want any more drama and asked the driver to drop me home. I’d go to a doctor later or the next day, and I told him, but somehow he didn’t understand or want to listen. As I spoke to him, he was on his phone telling a guy where he was and giving him directions. At this point, I definitely made up my mind I didn’t want anything more to do with him or whoever he was calling. I went into my home and got a call from the driver. I told him again I’d go see a doctor later by myself and that I didn’t think it was a big deal, but if anything I’d contact the driver again. The driver then stressed I needed to see a doctor that day in order for his taxi company’s insurance to cover it. I told him alright, I understood, but I didn’t agree to anything. The driver passed the phone to a guy who was apparently a colleague, and this guy started pressing me to come out and let them take me to the hospital. I again said, no, I’d go by myself, and it wasn’t a big deal. The guy got agitated and began shouting and trying to talk over me, so I hung up on him.

I was shaken up a bit, as I don’t like to get into confrontations with people. I was also a big disgusted at the fact I was being shouted at by a guy whose colleague had hit me with his car. It was confusing too, why this idiot was being so worked up. However, this wasn’t over yet. Twenty minutes later, the driver called me again. “Are you coming out soon?” he asked. I was a bit fed up by now, since I’d already told him I wouldn’t be going to the doctor with them. “I’m not coming, I’ll go by myself later,” I told him (probably the tenth time I’d told him this). The driver then repeated the insurance wouldn’t cover my expenses unless I went that day (something which whether it was true or not still doesn’t mean he’s off the hook for my expenses). Then the driver’s colleague, the same ass who’d been arguing with me on the previous call, came back on. “Now you listen up!” he growled, “the insurance won’t cover your expenses unless you COME with us. If you don’t want to come with us, that means we won’t be responsible for paying your expenses.”

I then realized why the guy had been so agitated. He was concerned about the insurance and wanted to make fully sure they’d be with me when I went to a doctor. Even still, the guy had no right to be arguing with me, much less demanding I go with them.  Though I wasn’t badly hurt, which I’d made clear from the beginning, but what if my leg worsened the next day. I wasn’t going to absolve them and I didn’t say I would. The guy continuing carrying on like an argumentative idiot and we hung up on each other. I hoped he wouldn’t call again and he didn’t.

The guy had been argumentative and sounded angry, mainly because he wanted to make sure about his company’s insurance coverage and because he also wanted to be sure I wouldn’t cheat them and come back with a claim of serious injury and inflated expenses. They were so insistent I’d go with them to the hospital not because of concern for my injury, but because they wanted to cover their asses and make sure about the expenses.
The guy’s argumentative attitude, as rude and childish as it was, is not uncommon in the mainland. Some people here, such as my former apartment agent, think that shouting can resolve issues, even if they were in the wrong. Politeness and manners are unknown, or alien, especially among strangers.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been affected by mistrust, but it is the most recent and the most ridiculous one. The others were just as absurd.

To be continued.

China

The lack of trust on the mainland, even for little things

This hasn’t been the best of weeks, though it did start well with Arsenal beating Spurs in a tough game where they scored within 3 minutes and held that lead until the end (English Premier League football). There’s been a few annoyances, but I’m trying to handle them as best as I could. Anyways, here’s my opinion on a problem in society here, which for me is Beijing, but which can probably be applied to elsewhere in mainland China. It was meant to be an opinion piece, but it wasn’t published.

I recently saw a few striking photos online. A guy was standing next to a woman who’d fallen on the street off of her e-bike and taking her picture. However, he wasn’t being callous or voyeuristic. He was making a record that she’d fallen in an accident which he had nothing to do with, before helping her up. And who could blame him – there’ve a spate of incidents nationwide where people have fallen in public and then turned around and blamed the very ones who helped them, even extorting them. So far thankfully I’ve never experienced anything as extreme, but I’ve had a few mishaps where I realized just how little trust there was in society.

Before I came to China, I was well aware that sometimes you have to watch out for scams and trickery. What surprised me was the lack of trust in everyday life. I learned this the hard way because apparently, I’m a liar and shifty in some local people’s eyes.

My first experience was at a hotel I stayed in during my first several weeks in Beijing. One day, I came back and realized I’d forgotten my key inside my room. I went to the receptionist, who lent me the hotel master key. After I opened my room, I went downstairs to the receptionist and returned the hotel key. After returning to my room, I found that it hadn’t been cleaned so I called the front desk.

As soon as I started speaking, the receptionist said I hadn’t returned the key to her. I was stunned, and insisted I had. “I just gave it back to you a few minutes ago,” I said. “No, you didn’t give it back,” she replied bluntly. After several minutes of this back and forth, I went downstairs where we continued to argue. Luckily I spotted the manager, who quickly found the master key behind the counter. Instead of an apology, the receptionist claimed the key had been returned by another staffer who’d gotten it from me upstairs!

My second notable experience was during a messy situation with my previous apartment that involved a seriously disreputable agency. The affair came to an end when the landlady decided to sell the apartment. I agreed to move out at a certain date, but coincidentally I had to go to Hong Kong the weekend before. I met with the landlady and the new owner right before my trip, and told them I was returning next week and would move out. I thought everything would be ok.

Yet when I returned to Beijing, I got a text from my landlady who said she’d been trying to contact me. She had even visited my place the day I left to discuss something. The next morning, the new owner also called me, saying he heard from the landlady that they couldn’t find me. “That’s because I was in Hong Kong like I told you,” I said.

It just showed they were either ignorant about geography or didn’t believe me when I said I was going to be away from China for the weekend.

In return, I’ve also been guilty of being suspicious.

The messy situation above unraveled when I first met my landlady in my hallway after coming home from work one night. She’d been waiting for hours and told me how the agency had duped her and had been renting out her apartment without her permission for over two years. She seemed to be telling the truth and even brought her property ownership certificate and ID later. Yet during the whole time, I couldn’t help wondering whether this was all an elaborate ploy. I had all kinds of paranoid scenarios in my mind about the agency hiring this person to pretend to be the landlady, and then, whether the landlady and the agency had planned this whole drama just to get me to move out quickly.

Dishonesty is bad in itself, but what’s worse is its effect. People lose trust and become quick to accuse and be suspicious. Not just in major situations, but in minor, ordinary or everyday situations like the ones I described above. If you can’t even borrow a key in a hotel without being accused of taking it or be believed when you tell people you’ll be out of town for the weekend, it’s no wonder that people are often guarded and suspicious.

If even born-and-bred locals have trouble coping with the dishonesty here, how can non-natives deal with it? All I can try is not to be consumed by suspicion but always be cautious. And don’t take things personally, because whatever shady misfortune happens to you, it’s probably happened to many locals as well.

Uncategorized

Technology and society

Technology is always progressing and improving, but is society? Not necessarily, says this New Yorker piece. It’s not surprising that while technology can make us smarter and more capable, it also reduces the need for us to do much of the work needed for daily life, such as catching and cooking food, making clothes or finding shelter. This can be detrimental with the example of the indigenous tribe in Canada in which a rise in the use of technology and modern goods was accompanied by a rise in alcoholism, drug abuse, disease, and idleness. It’s not an isolated case in that country or others.
To be honest, I’m not an enemy of technology. My life has definitely been made easier by it. Things like writing, researching, and traveling would be infinitely harder for me without computers, the Internet and smartphones. What I do think though is that from a broader scale, materialism and material comforts have been detrimental, to the point that by making our lives easier and more comfortable, it makes a lot of us more ignorant. One would think that with greater access to goods, news, information and ideas from the world, though with a disproportionate amount from the West, people can be more enlightened and open-minded.  It seems the opposite has happened. In Asia, such as in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, prosperity seems to have caused society to become more isolated and withdrawn. Despite the progress in technology and material goods and living standards, there’re still a lot of ignorance, and ignorant people out there.