Maria Holland

Happy to Spend Every Day!

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2010 at 6:19 pm

This is a posting by John/Dad containing some reflections on our trip and on China itself.  It seems appropriate to publish it now before our trip ends tomorrow and we head home to Minnesota.

The first night we arrived in Xiamen, Maria presented Cissy and I with small notebooks that we could use to record Chinese words we learned and used as well as any journal notes.  The words on the front of the notebook perfectly fit our travel situation:  “Urban Men and Women – Happy to spend every day”.  Since her first trip to China, Maria has told us about these humorously-done translations, nicknamed “Chinglish”, and sent us many examples.  On this trip, we’ve seen and taken pictures of many Chinglish signs, including the following ones copied here (verbatim) for your enjoyment:

  • Also written on our notebooks (on the back cover):  “the man works hard, not all is for the sake of right.  work oneself can with backlog experience, exertive special features.  foster a practical utility, with the mental state that satisfies man is independence.
  • In the modern train station in Guangzhou, on a sign by a table where ladies were handing out a bottle of water to each passenger:  “staff to check tickets issued after chop each bottle of tickets
  • On the entrance sign at Sun Yet-Sen Memorial:  “No automobiling – no painting, nowhoopla, no rubbish everywhere”  [we decided to whoopla anyway]
  • On a card showing one of the tourist sites in Chengdu: “The first inperial tomb be digged up in China
  • On a huge billboard celebrating the Chinese New Year:  “Senson’s Greetings
  • On a trash can along the sidewalk in Chengdu:  “Protect CircumStance begin wite me.”  [should be, “Protecting the surroundings begins with me”]
  • On a poster of English slang on the campus of Sichuan University:  “Fish in the air” [should be, “like a fish out of water”]
  • On signs in Leshan bus station:  “Articles forbidden in bus: explosives, flammables, and other denngerous goods” and “luggagge depoeltary
  • On warning sign at the Great Wall of China at Badaling:  “Facing slope steep – please lose headway”  [should be, “steep slope – please go slow”]
  • On a sign over a urinal in the men’s bathroom in the Olympic Park in Beijing:  “One half step , civilization once stride forward”  [should be, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, which is a cute way of asking men to get closer to the porcelain before starting to pee]

Note that although I find these signs hilarious, I salute anyone who has mastered Chinese and any part of any other foreign language.  I have never particularly had an ear for foreign languages, and I’m am humbled by those who can translate something from English to another language, or vice versa, even marginally well.

China is amazing…  There are not enough words in the English language to adequately describe the breadth and scope of China.  We have now been in-country about three weeks, and have visited eight major cities spread across the middle and eastern portions of China.  Here are some thoughts on what we’ve seen and experienced in China.

  • The Chinese people seem very friendly, once you crack the veneer of indifference they seem to have as they walk down the street.  If you smile and say hello (“Ni hao”) to them, many of them are too shocked to respond, but some of them smile and try to converse with you.  The easiest way to get a smile is to compliment their children, because, like people all over the world, they love kids.  And the typical Chinese child is really, really cute (feichang ke’ai)!
  • There are so many people in China, it is almost crushing to consider.  In each city we’ve visited, the streets are always teeming with people, the buses and trains are packed, and the restaurants buzzing.  If you like to people watch, there is no better place to do it than in China!  In just a few minutes on any street in the cities we’ve visited, you’ll see young school age kids, moms with babies, beautiful ladies in glamorous outfits, beggars, street sweepers, deliverymen, food vendors, business men in suits, tourists and ethnic minorities.  Thousands and thousands of them…  Bill Gates noted this and made an interesting observation:  “In China, even if you’re one-in-a-million, there are 1,300 other people just like you.”  Although I am definitely against any form of government-imposed population control, I don’t see how China is going to deal with the population that will surely increase significantly over the next few decades.  Thankfully there is a vast ocean between China and the United States (or a tremendous amount of Asia and Europe, plus the other ocean, if you go the other direction, and I mean that seriously!
  • While we were traveling, I started to read the book “Hot, Flat and Crowded” by Thomas Friedman.  Among his many points is that the Earth’s resources are being not taxed not by just the sheer number of people living in the world, but the number of people who live and consume like Americans.  In other words, a few million more Chinese living in small villages, walking or biking around, planting rice, and eating a mostly vegetarian diet, are not going to have a huge impact.  But a few million Chinese who move to a city like Beijing, buy cars, cell phones, air conditioners, washing machines, and TVs,  and start to eat more meat and processed, packaged foods, will have a huge impact.  Don’t get me wrong – I love living like an American, but it seems clear that the environmental impact of one typical urban American is more than that of one typical rural Chinese person.
  • In addition, China seems determined to copy many American or other foreign things, and it can only do this by losing it’s charm to visitors like me.  For example, you can find KFCs and McDonalds everywhere, along with Armani, Haagen Daas, and Nike brand stores.  The more it becomes like just any other country, the less I want to spend time there.
  • Despite the unbelievable crowds, the constant pushing and crowding, and the absolute disregard for staying-in-your lane, I have been amazed to not see any anger or mean gestures between motorists & pedestrians or fellow bus riders.  Wait – I take that back.  On Sunday, during Mass at at the cathedral in Chengdu, I saw a near fight break out between several women when two female ushers tried to direct Communion-goers up the side aisle.  I was too busy praying to see who won…  But otherwise, the people seem remarkably used to living, eating and moving very close to their 1.3 billion countrymen.  I’m not used to it, but they apparently are!  And we never felt in any danger (other than when crossing streets…see below) except when we were walking around the Chengdu train station.  A lady told Cis and Maria to watch their purses, so we got a little uncomfortable then.  But otherwise, we have walked down many streets at all times of the day and night, and never felt uncomfortable.  I’m not forgetting that China is still a very closed country with a very authoritarian country, but I was struck by how nice everyone seemed to be.  We were told many times, “Welcome to China”, or something of that sort, and many people smiled shyly at us, asked to take pictures with us, or tried to engage us in some form of halting English.  
  • China is like Texas on steroids.  The crowds are huge, the buildings are huge, and the cities are huge.  The people are small, but they make up for it in sheer numbers.  This means the concept of personal space and common courtesy is completely different than we are used to.  To put a twist on a common saying, “Common courtesy isn’t so common in China”.  If you are waiting to board a subway or drive through a toll booth, or even drive down a straight road, you’d better be prepared to defend your place in line to the death.  This gives rise to a frequently used expression between Cissy, Maria and I: “You just got China’ed”.  It means someone just cut you off or jumped/squeezed in front of you in line.  Cissy, being the most passive and polite of the three of us, frequently gets China’ed because they can smell politeness/reticence a mile away, and they love to exploit it!  The other day she flagged down a taxi for us and ran alongside it until it stopped for us, but another couple had set up a classic NBA-style pick and body-blocked her, jumping in the cab while she just stood there looking sweet.  It was hilarious!  We have also been China’ed in checkout lines, boarding gates, and subways, but lately we’ve been holding our own.
  • You also have to completely un-learn the rules of traffic and public safety.  In China, size and speed rule.  Buses yield to big trucks, cars to buses, scooters to cars, bikes to electric scooters, and the pedestrian yields to bikes and everything else.  It’s very hard to remember this because the “pedestrian crosswalks” are marked with white stripes exactly like they are in the United States, but you will absolutely be blown off the road if you step out at the wrong time because you’re daydreaming and thinking you’re back in Minneapolis or Tulsa.
  • In my mind, one of the strangest Chinese customs is the habit of leaving doors open in most buildings such as stores, restaurants and hotels.  Apparently they believe in the health benefits of fresh air – even if it’s freezing cold outside!  This is coupled with what is surely an attempt to conserve energy, especially in cavernous public buildings like train stations and airports.  Bottom line – I couldn’t live like that for long!  It was so cold in the Wuhan Airport that I left my coat, hat and gloves on, and still was miserable.  When we finally boarded the plane, I shocked the heck out of the stewardess who welcomed us aboard by wrapping my arms around her and hugged her in glee, so thankful that the plane cabin was wonderfully warm.
  • The most unappealing aspect of China to me as a Westerner is the poverty and the accompanying dirtiness, disrepair and obvious wear-and-tear.  I’m sure there are many beautiful places in this country, and I’ve seen many majestic mountains and great sights, but there is an level of dirt, garbage, disorder, cobbled-togetherness, and chaos almost everywhere.  In this way, it reminds me very much of Mexico City.  I’m really quite thankful that we came to visit in the winter because I can only imagine how much stronger the smells must be in the hot summer.  China is a nice place to visit, but I couldn’t live here – for many reasons.  Of course, I wouldn’t live in New York City either (sorry, Deb…), or many cities in the United States.

Maria has had her patience tried more than Cis and I, because she has had to take care of herself, plan our entire trip, tell us everything we needed to know along the way, (as well documented in her blogs, where she describes how the normal parent-child roles have been reversed on this trip), and answer our thousand-and-one questions.  We have seen her engage various Chinese citizens in countless situations under difficult circumstances (including blaring loudspeakers, regional dialects, over traffic, with speech impediments, etc.), and she seems to understand almost everything.  We have seen her Chinese language skills complemented by almost everyone she engages, and without her help we simply would never have thought about tackling such a trip to the Middle Kingdom.  She really is amazing, as many of you already knew, or have gleaned over the past few months from her perceptive, humorous and educational blogs.

I’ll end this little blog with the last bit of Chinglish found on the notebooks Maria gave us when we landed in Xiamen three weeks ago.  It’s perfect thing to say as a tribute to Maria, our intrepid daughter and wonderful tour guide:  “Yeah – just you.

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