Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stayin' sane

OK so, long time no post. I found this in my "draft" folder in my e-mail, which at the time was an attempt to stay connected with people. That was my new year's resolution for 2010, hence the effort. But it was a mild effort, and obviously I am not as well connected as I had hoped. Anyway it's funny to read now, 4 months removed from the experience.


--Some time in 2010--

First, blogspot is blocked in China. So if you were wondering why I wasn't posting, you might have assumed that nothing really interesting was happening with me. Coincidentally, nothing was really happening at the time it got blocked. So I guess the timing work out perfectly. Now you might be wondering, how did he post this? I wish the answer was using a proxy server, but I haven't gotten that to work (thus also explaining my absence from facebook). I gave in, and gave my little sister my google password. So I guess I did sortof use a proxy...

There's nothing really specific I can think about to discuss. Everything has become normal. Some of it has become bothersome, and I keep having to tell myself that they just have totally different brains than I have. It's truly a remarkable place though, that fact has not been lost on me, even after a year plus.

I think I get this place now, or at least the gist. You see people squatting in the street while eating a bowl of noodles out of a paper bowl, grandmothers carrying babies wearing pants which completely expose the baby's ass. These things are normal. After a while, you get used to it. But there's no way around it: As open as I am to other cultures, Wuhan is the least civilized place I've ever known. People often act very brutishly, yet there’s still an air of confidence and nationalism. They’re stuck deep in traditions, habits, pastimes that have been a part of their culture for thousands of years. I think this is mostly due to two things, isolation (in terms of both inability to travel outside China and inaccessible outside media), and the vast number of people (the cause of everything in China). The confidence and nationalism can be explained easily -- Most people in this city have never seen what it’s like in other places, thus the assumption of normalcy. But they can also see what’s happening on their streets, they’ve been seeing it most of their lives – a massive effort of economic growth. But while the layout of the city changes monthly, traditional thought doesn't change so easily...

I was going to meet a friend in Hankou. I plowed my way through the sea of pedestrians, who wave their arms blindly and look in directions other than the one they are moving, totally oblivious to the concept of order in achieving their goal of getting to point B. I arrived at the bus stop, which was almost the length of a football field, and, conveniently, found the schedule at the farthest point. Now we were meeting at a station called "Han Kong Lu," and I know the characters for "Han" and "Lu," so I was able to find my bus relatively easily. This was something I became very proud of being able to do, by the way. Even through frosted, scratched plastic and faded graffiti, I can read the necessary characters to arrive where I need to go.

You really can't appreciate how big Wuhan is. 8 million is such an easy thing to say. But nobody really has a concept of how big that is. Wuhan officially has that many people, not including the migrant workers and other unregistered citizens. Add those into the equation, and it's closer to 10 million, maybe even more. Now, I live basically in the center of Wuchang, one of three major districts in Wuhan. I was meeting my friend in downtown Hankou, one of the other three major districts. To get there, the bus ride was going to take an hour and a half. With no traffic, it's thirty minutes. The whole time, you are riding through a forest of giant buildings. The horizon is close enough to walk to, because of the smog.

So I hopped on the 715 and crammed in. I had an hour and a half to avoid stares. I thought to myself, 60 years ago, Mao Zedong founded the PRC. And 60 years later, it's doing pretty well. There's a lot of good things happening here, the city that I have come to know certainly didn't look this way back in Mao's day. It's become much more modern since then. But, there's also a ton of problems. Lots of people have shitty, dead end jobs, some even have really seamy jobs. Prostitution is supposedly illegal, yet there are brothels located across the street from government buildings, advertising proudly in illuminated pink lettering. Living conditions aren't good. Most apartment buildings you see are pretty run down and unattractive -- each window is encompassed by a prison-like cage. Next to every window is the end of a metal ventilation duct where burning cooking oil is fanned out of, underneath which you see obsidian streaks on the dusty concrete.

What would China be like today if Chiang Kai-Shek had won instead of Mao? While interesting to think about, it’s too involved for me to take a simple guess. I’d bet, though, that Wuhan people, in the capacity that I’ve seen them (that is to say, random on-the-street encounters), would be exactly the same as they are now. If you’ve ever been to Hong Kong, you know that it is possible for native Chinese people to obey western customs such as letting people out of a bus before entering it. That said, Hong Kong is not Wuhan by any means. In fact, Wuhan is a city whose size is unmatched by any US city, except New York. So could Chiang Kai-Shek have brought prosperity to Wuhan faster? Probably. Globalized faster? Definitely. Made the size of Wuhan bigger or smaller? Definitely not. Changed the culture at all? Maybe in the sense that they’d be more aware and accepting of other cultures, but otherwise, I doubt it. Something that feels omnipresent by living in Wuhan — your needs are more important than others. That’s tangible here in bus rides, trips to the market, traveling, etc. It’s like this because Wuhan people are living in a giant place where it’s basically impossible to be considerate. If you let cars merge in front of you, you’d be sitting on the street for hours until you decided you’d had enough and subsequently cut somebody off, like you’re supposed to. It’s not so obvious in America’s politically correct culture, super-sensitive to others opinions. But when the cabin pressure is low, you put on your oxygen mask first, and then you assist others. That's pretty obscure, but still.


Haha, so weird message, and obviously very unfinished. I think I was mad at Wuhan traffic when I wrote this.

That is, if anyone can read this!