5 Surprises for me in Beijing
By melinchina on Jan 02, 2008
Here's a speech I gave at Toastmaster's recently and my evaluator
Colin suggested it might make a good blog entry.
In 1994 I was dating a guy from China and he and I were considering getting married. IF we got married we had to decide where we would live and in order to make that decision, we needed to visit each other's countries. So in December 1994 he visited America and in January 1995 I set foot for the first time on Chinese soil. I had lived in Asia for many years already and I thought China would be very similar to Japan and the Philippines and Thailand. I couldn't have been more wrong. I was surprised by many things I saw here in China, and today I'm going to share five of those things with you.
1. Little kids urinating in the street.
At first I thought this was really gross - unsanitary to say the least. Some parents or nannies have their kids pee in the grass or next to a tree, but some let them go right in the middle of the sidewalk or street.
But then I learned about why little kids are allowed to urinate in public - it's part of the Chinese method of potty training. You start teaching a baby when they're very very small how to urinate at certain times. If you're at home of course you have them pee over a toilet but there are times when a toilet just isn't close by and you can't interfere with the baby's potty training schedule, so they go on the street. Finally when the baby is about a year old or so, they're completely potty-trained. No need for diapers.
So my first reaction to kids urinating in the street was - gross. My
second, more thought-out reaction was - very practical and good for
2. Women doing hard labor.
I've seen many women working at construction sites right alongside men, shoveling dirt and laying bricks and planting trees. In the US you might see a woman doing heavy construction but she would be assisted by heavy machinery. What amazed me in China is that women often do the same work as men without the assistance of big machines. At first I felt sorry for the women but then after thinking about it I began to see this issue differently. The fact that women work the same jobs as men is a positive statement about women's rights in China. No one is forcing them into these jobs, however if they want to do them there is a place for them, right alongside their brothers and fathers and nephews and sons.
3. Men touching each other in public.
In China it's not uncommon to see a man put his hand on another man's shoulder or back. At first I thought this was weird, probably because I'm just not used to it. Granted, I come from the Buckle of the Bible Belt in a nation that is a little verklemmt to say the least.
But when I thought about it a little more I realized this practice in China was actually very nice. I think it's great that people are free to express themselves in physical gestures as well as in words. The significance of a physical gesture can be as simple as 'you're my friend' or 'I care about you'. I wish American people were that free to express their feelings about their friends. It would probably be good for us.
4. People who live where they work.
I remember the first time I saw this was when I was at my children's preschool. My kids were wandering the halls and they pushed open this one door. I thought it would lead to a classroom or a music room or maybe a bathroom but instead I saw rows and rows of bunk beds. We were in the teachers' bedroom! My first reaction to this was: how sad for the teachers that they spend their days and nights all at the school.
But then when I thought about it a little bit more I realized that this arrangement can have many benefits. By offering room and board, employers can have more flexibility in recruiting excellent teachers for the school. They can go outside of the city and find good teachers who are willing to work in the city but don't know how they'd find an apartment and support themselves on their own. If they can live at the school, it makes the transition to the city easier for them. Also the teachers have more free time since they don't have to commute to and from work. Finally, it must reduce turnover at the school since if a teacher leaves the school she'll also have to find a new place to live. And low turnover is good for the school and the students and the teachers.
5. Workers walking on the expressways cleaning up trash and debris.
In America I've never seen anyone walking along the center divide of the expressway cleaning up rubbish. You might see people walking on the shoulder of the highways but you don't see people walking in the center of the highway. This is so dangerous - surely many of them are hit by cars every day. I wonder how they deal with this knowledge every day, that they might not return home that night.