Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Eighteen Bad Samaritans?

(Photo source and story here.)

Recently in southern China:

A van ran over a two-year-old girl.
The van kept going.
At least eighteen people walked by, captured by the neighborhood security camera.
During this time, the girl was run over by another vehicle.
Finally a street sweeper took notice of the bleeding girl, carried her off the road, and called for help.
She died of her injuries a week later.

This story has gotten a lot of publicity in China, with many people enraged at the cold hearts of the passersby.  Actually, this story may be unique more because it was taped and publicized than because it is uncommon.  Anyone who has lived in China long enough has witnessed public injuries, accidents, and beatings where no one stepped in to help.

In her post  "Insider, Outsider, and a Dying Toddler," Joann explains how Chinese culture is made of in-groups and out-groups.  Things are warm and fuzzy in your in-group, with lots of mutual care.  However, you have no obligations toward outsiders.  (As Joann puts it, "I don't know you; therefore, you aren't.")  This cultural value goes a long way toward explaining why Good Samaritans seem to be scarcer in China.

As I think about the sad story of the toddler (and others like it), I'm tempted to assume some sort of cultural superiority.  This would never happen in America, would it?  But I just read my friend Pete's post "Declining Morality Not Just a China Problem," which reminds me that broken people and ugly hearts exist everywhere.  It's a good reflection on the Righteous One as the only source of true morality, in any country.

A final thought about my own reaction to this story:

I often feel in China that the good is really, really good.
And the bad is really, really bad.

Some of the stories I read in the China news absolutely horrify me -- things like child-kidnapping rings, out-of-control corruption, and milk formula scandals that put infants in the hospital, or the grave.

But sometimes I pause during a quiet moment in class and think that the group of students I'm privileged to teach is almost too good to be true.  Sometimes I think there's no warmer feeling than sitting in the company of Chinese friends.  And I love that the Chinese are people who sacrifice themselves for others, who chase dreams, and who persevere in the face of daunting obstacles.

Sometimes I'm speechless at the suffering.  Sometimes I'm aghast at the beauty.

Today I sat in my office grading journals on the topic "Something Beautiful."  Students wrote movingly about kind hearts, their mothers' hands, inner goodness, and tiny chrysanthemums.  I saw oceans and sunsets through their eyes.  I think many Chinese are poets at heart.

Then I visited the ladies' room and in the first two stalls I opened, there were stinking piles of poo.

Poetry and poo.  Self-sacrificing friends and cold-hearted passersby.  This is life in China.  This is life in China.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Copy Girl

I went to the copy shop the other day to make hand-outs for class.  The family that owns the store was busy helping customers and fixing problems at the three copy machines lined up by the wall.  I stood near the counter waiting for the young lady owner, who was deftly flipping through the pages of a book, scanning each one on the machine, and then going to the next page.  No doubt the whole book would soon be copied and bound.

A young girl, maybe six years old, squatted by a stack of rainbow-colored boxes at the door.   She was engrossed in her task: She placed her open children’s book face down on the box, pushed it back and forth on the surface of the box, and then flipped to the next page to do it all again.  She was her mother in miniature – a copied copy girl in training.  I was charmed.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wery Conwenient

I have lived printer-less for the last two years.  When I needed to print something, usually several times a week, I would grab my flash drive and some money, and head out to a copy/print shop where I would put my flash drive in a virus-laden computer and (hopefully) print my stuff.

Well.  That is not so convenient (or, as many of my students say, "conwenient").  

My roommate and I recently invested in a printer, and I have been relishing the joys of printing lesson plans, song sheets, and student handouts straight from home.  Check it out -- 

Check out that China-fabulous ingenuity.  The printer is rigged to use cheap ink that is connected by tubing to the ink cartridge.  I'm pretty sure this isn't how Epson intended things to be.

We've learned our printer is China-fabulous in another way: It only works when it wants to.  Nonetheless, I'm hoping it will want to more and more, and I will continue to enjoy the luxurious life of printing from my own home.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Visit from a Qufu Student

Last weekend one of my former students from Qufu came for a visit.  She was in one of my first classes and I taught her oral English for two years.  Her family also lives in Qufu, and I wrote about them here ("In One Ear and Out the Other") and here ("Chi Ba").

It was fun to see her again and introduce her to some of Rizhao's nice weather and scenery.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I See London, I See France

The other day I had a free talk for one of my sophomore classes.
"Free talks," as you know, are times when students can come over and
practice their oral English with me in my home. I never know how many
students in a class are interested... I've had free chats ranging from
1 or 2 students to my new record of 34.

So when 34 students came over the other day, I quickly started pulling
out extra stools and chairs. Chinese people are really good at
fitting a lot of people into a small space. I also let a few of them
sit on the porch, which is open to the living room. We chatted for
awhile and then I let the students mill around.

Later that night, I noticed I still had laundry hanging in the porch,
including a decent selection of underwear (probably seen by at least
half of the 34).

The best part? It doesn't even really matter. In a land without
dryers, clothes are hanging everywhere -- innerwear, outerwear, and
all the layers in between. Earlier this week I saw some underwear
hanging from a tree outside an apartment downstairs.

(But I think I'll still check the porch for unmentionables next time I
have guests.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Starfish and Kitsch

We went down to the beach the other day.

Saw lots of Chinese tourists and lots of seaside souvenirs.  Faith bargained for a few pairs of pearl earrings.  Asking price was 25 RMB for one; she walked away with five for 20 RMB.

Vendors stood by tables piled high with starfish, facing the carnival rides on the sand.  Few people were buying.  We were intrigued.

"How much?" Faith asked.

"Five yuan," said the girl.

"How to eat?" we wondered.

"Like this," she explained, as bending the arms away from the underbelly.

So we gave it a try -- Five yuan for a couple grainy, bland, brownish bites of starfish guts.

Worth it?  Yes.

At the Night Market

Every night, vendors come to set up stalls, blankets, and hangers filled with cheap goods on the street outside our campus.

You can buy lots of different things at the night market, but my favorite thing to look at is the clothes -- lots of good styles and stylin' Chinglish.

Last week my roommate and I scored some sweatshirts there for 35 RMB each (about $5).  They're warm, soft, and almost perfect:

In fact, I'm wearing mine now.  (And so is Sara.)  Here are some photos of the night market:

And now, the Chinglish:

You areablessing that myentirebeingh very thankful for I feel thatwe were made tolove,liften, understand and who ouohal taes inow (something) together individually.

Standing at feeling, cuted and all, letters sweeting

Hnppy rhiny is a  worldfamous fashion brand

This is my costume.

Stylish girl scat forever

Not Chinglish, but still stylin'

FACT: H gumes crayy

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Hiking, Eating, Outdoor Adventure

A little boy named Tong Tong lives upstairs with his parents, Mr. & Mrs. Wang.  He is an adorable but hyperactive five-year-old.  My teammate Reagan tutors Tong Tong in English twice a week.  To thank her, the Wangs invited Reagan, her family, and the rest of the foreign English teachers to join them for meal and hiking. 

We piled into two vehicles and drove out about 10 minutes to some small mountains.  Halfway up the mountain was this little complex -- a few homes and a restaurant offering home-style cooking with outdoor seating:

At the restaurant

Sifting sand

Tong Tong watching as chickens are chopped and gutted.

Cooking area

After we arrived, Mr. Wang asked, "Who wants to go hiking?"
"WO YAO PA SHAN!" screamed Tong Tong.  ("I WANT TO HIKE THE MOUNTAIN!")
So off we went. 

Lots of flowers along the way

Sara, me, and Faith

Faith and scenery

Tong Tong forging ahead

These were the only others we saw, a couple of Chinese girls and their sunbrella.

Tong Tong never ran out of energy and his mom was constantly dragging him back from the edge of danger.  He also knows quite a few words of English.  When he saw some water, he started yelling at the top of his lungs, "WATA!!!  WATA!!!! WATAAA!!!!"  ("I found water!  Pay attention to me!  Hey, pay attention to me!")

Later, he saw another puddle.
"HAI YOU YI GE WATA!!!  HAI YOU YI GE WATA!!!!"  ("There's another water!  There's another water!")

After hiking, we went back to the restaurant and enjoyed a huge spread of food, including peppers & pork, a freshly stewed chicken, a whole fish, deep-fried green tea leaves, some stir-fried roots, steamed bread, little clams, and more.

Reagan, me, and Faith

You will not be surprised to learn that Tong Tong can be a bit exhausting to teach, since his attention span is nowhere near long enough to last for the hour-long tutoring sessions his parents want him to have.  So we all have Reagan to thank for her patience in teaching him, and getting us invited along for a fun day in the great outdoors.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

At the Roller Rink

We've been finding lots of ways to enjoy our nine-day October holiday.  A friend came to visit us from Southern China, and one of the items on our To-Do list was roller-skating (of course).

There's a small rink not far from campus.  The price for girls to skate is 3 RMB (about 50 cents), which includes skate rental.  The price for boys is 5 RMB. 

Our group outside the rink

Choosing skates.  The plastic bags are to put your feet in to protect them from the dirty insides of the skates.

Gearing up

Faith (our visiting friend) and Sara

Me and Reagan


There were eight or ten other people on the rink, mostly boys but also a girl or two.  Some of them did tricks, and some of them were still a little wobbly.  At the far back of the picture above is a little practice hallway for learners.  We skated to a steady stream of Chinese techno and pop.

Of course, for 3 RMB you can expect that there will be some differences between this roller rink and one in America.  For example, the bathroom was just a metal basin rigged to a drain in a makeshift closet in the corner.  If it had a flushing mechanism, I didn't see it.

Everyone I was with has lived in China at least two years.  You can bet we marched (or skated) right in and used this toilet whenever nature called. 

Other items of interest --  One corner of the rink was under repair:

Tracy's skate lost a wheel:

And the Chinese boys thought nothing of holding hands to help each other around the rink:

We skated for a couple hours and later played some pool in the billiards section of this fine establishment.  It was a great time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On Voluntourism and STMs

I have participated in several short-term international trips for volunteering or m-work.  They have been literally life-changing in at least two instances:

1)  My first month-long trip to Belize reinforced the idea that I would like to work or serve abroad for a few years.
2)  My week-long trip to China first started me on the path that eventually led to me teaching full-time in China.

Short-term trips do have the potential for accomplishing good things.  However, lately I've read several articles that yell, "CAUTION!  CAUTION!  CAUTION!" 

Projecting Poverty Where it Doesn't Exist by Nate Saint.  Key quote: "Often charity to the poor attracts more people into poverty."  

Using Your Poor Kid to Teach my Rich Kid a Lesson by Jamie the Very Worst M.  Key quote:  "When we descend upon the impoverished to improve our family's perspective, we may as well be saying to the mothers of these children, 'Pardon me, I'm just gonna use your poor kid to teach my rich kid a lesson for a minute. I'll be out of the way in no time – Oh, and I'll leave you some shoes.... and a toothbrush.'"

Why You Shouldn't Participate in Voluntourism by Richard Stupart.  Key quote: "Development starts with supporting what services and materials the community can provide already, not destroying local initiative by bringing in tools, materials and skills that are currently available."

These articles directly apply to me.  Have I participated in building projects abroad?  Yes.  (Belize 2004, 2006).  Have I participated in in-and-out orphanage volunteering?  Yes.  (Calcutta 2011).  Have I encouraged and supported peers in short-term M trips?  Yes. 

These articles raise important questions, especially for Christians.  Should we scrap short-term trips?  If not, how can we improve our approach?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Happy Birthday to You

China is 5,000 years old.

China is also 62 years old.

Today, October 1, is National Day. It marks the anniversary of the
Communist revolution that founded the People's Republic of China in
1949. Happy 62nd birthday, China.