Posts Tagged With: China

Rule of Law in China–Where is it? Advice for Future Expats Looking for Housing in the Mainland

This is a personal example of poor choice in housing in China and how it affected my stay:

When I moved to Kunming in December 2012, I first stayed in a hostel for less than a week. I then found a temporary housing situation for a few weeks with a foreigner through the Kunming expat website (gokunming.com). When looking for permanent housing, I used gokunming.com, as well as a popular Chinese “craigslist-like” website, www.58.com. I decided I did not want to go through a realtor. That was one mistake.

In total, I spent two weeks checking out many apartments around the city center. In the end, I found a place through http://www.58.com. The wife of the landlord showed me the apartment: I would get my own bedroom with a bathroom. I also would live with Chinese nationals, which was one of my requirements. I lived in the apartment for a couple days before signing the half-year lease. The male landlord visited the apartment with the lease in hand and asked for my 6 months rent and deposit up front. Before handing him the rent, I skimmed over the Chinese lease and then signed it. Thinking back on it, I recommend asking for the lease in advance, especially if it is written in Mandarin, and to read it over very thoroughly. At that time, I also assumed the man was the landlord. This was another mistake I made: I should have asked him to bring his certificate of property ownership(房产证)to clarify he was in fact the owner of the apartment.

After that, I did not see my landlord for months. I went on with my life and started conducting Fulbright research. Three months into my lease, I got a phone call from my landlord. He asked me when I planned to move out. I said sometime in June. After that, he did not contact me until the end of April, informing me that I needed to move out in May. I said that is inconvenient, but if I have to, I need at least a month for preparation. I would move at the end of May. A few days later, my roommates told me the landlord was forcing us all to move out in the next two days. We all agreed his sudden decision to kick us out was against the contract.

After calling to get more details, it turned out our landlord was in actuality a “middleman.” His lease ended at the beginning of May. That is why he needed to kick us out. I asked for the actual landlord’s number to see if I could persuade her to allow us more time in her apartment. She was not very understanding about our situation. I decided doing this over the phone was not efficient, so I organized the “middleman” and the landlord to come over that night.

Before the meeting, I asked the landlord to bring her certificate of ownership. She did not have one because “the building is still new,” but she did have a “house purchase document” with her daughter’s name of it. It was her daughter’s house. That night, the middleman came to our place very late at around 11pm. The meeting was supposed to begin at 9pm. He blamed it on “traffic.” When the entire group was together, my roommates and I directly told the “middleman” that he breached all our contracts. He did not give us a month’s notice to move out early. We wanted reparations (违约金). Since the contract was made and signed by the “middleman,” he would need to pay.

One clause on the contract specifically said that if either side breaks the contract, then that side must pay in total 3 months rent (for me, 1,200rmb x3) to the other party. The “middleman” said he would allow that, but not that easily. If I asked for reparations, he would not give us any money back at this time and would first force us to find a lawyer (around 5000rmb). He said at court he would wholeheartedly acknowledge his faults. Basically, his meaning was we would waste 5000rmb on the lawyer, just to get around the same amount of money in reparations six months later through the legal system. He did not want give us the three months rent up front. Either way, he would be losing a lot of money. However, he would rather us lose money on getting a lawyer before he was satisfied to give us our entitled reparations.

I did not want to find a lawyer, but I decided, I wouldn’t move out until I got reparations.

I became very frustrated with the “middleman” and how he was treating the law as if it can be bargained. It was his contract, but he was not following his written guidelines. I knew if I had broken the contract, he would have definitely asked me for three months rent for reparations. However, when the tables turned, he would not go through with it. After some discussion with my roommates, we decided we wanted to break ties with this man. But how?

Instead of paying reparations, his solutions were: 1) we could stay at his house and just continue the lease, but I did not trust him enough to do that. 2) He then suggested paying for our accommodations while we searched for new places to live, but I wanted to do it on my own. We then started bargaining over the reparations clause. After much coaxing, he sullenly accepted to pay one extra month of rent as reparations, as well as to pay back the deposit and unfinished rent.

In the end, I received almost 5,000rmb and my roommates got their money back too. The “middleman” did not want to lose any more face, so he kept on complaining how we were in the wrong and that he was going against the contract for giving us this money. We all knew he was embarrassed. The real landlord was present the entire discussion, but in the end, she did not allow us extra time to move out. Even though she knew we all did not have homes to go to, she still kicked us out. So, in the end, I had bad opinions of the both of them. I am glad I got my money back. Now I could finally break ties with these people and live on with my life.

This incident affected my Fulbright grant because I had to find a new home in the middle of my grant period. It was inconvenient, but not “the end of the world.” It would be best to find a stable home with a nice landlord to avoid this kind of problem.

Advice:

1. Go through a realtor for the safest housing options.

2. Ask for the lease in advance so you have enough time to thoroughly read over it.

  • Be sure the lease mentions a penalty fee (违约金) for either party breaking the contract
  • Be sure the lease mentions that the landlord or renter must inform the other party a month in advance for an early move out.
  • Be sure to ask the landlord to bring a certificate of property ownership (房产证) before signing the lease to be sure s/he is in fact the apartment owner.
  • If there is a “middle man” (中间人), be sure the real owner of the apartment signs the lease.
  • If there is a “middle man” (中间人), be aware of the risks with signing under him/her.
  • If possible, ask previous tenants their thoughts on the landlord.

3. If you have to confront an unreasonable landlord, be sure to conduct the meeting calmly, but sternly.

  • Call in the local neighborhood committee (juweihui 居委会) for mediation.
  • Visit the local police station with your lease document to see if they are willing to assist you.
  • If you feel at all threatened, call the police.

4. Call for help and advice from your friends or law professionals. You should not go through this alone!

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Collaborating with Documentary Team: The Life of Youth & Strange Encounters

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Local Looking off to the Mountains

Today was the day of the bonfire party. The lamas would soon finish reciting the scriptures and the locals planned to celebrate. I woke up warm that morning, compared to the first night where I tossed and turned out of sleep due to shivering. I remembered today was the day of the party and felt very excited, but I still had the entire day ahead of me. I got up and met with the team in the living area for breakfast. What did they have planned? We ate steamed dough and boiled eggs.

The son, Sonna, mentioned he had nothing planned that day, so the team asked if they could interview him. I tagged along as the boy led us to where he buried his previous dog. The team wanted to juxtapose his cruelty cutting a dead baby goat in half and his regret towards losing his past dog. We hiked to the grave. It was on top of a hill that overlooked his home–we had the interview there. We asked more about his dog and then moved onto his life and aspirations. He talked about his friends in the village and how they have fun. One example he told us was he jumped into a man-made pond specifically for growing fish and stole one with his bare hands. Him and his friends ran off laughing the entire way.

He’s aware that his actions are not “good,” and exemplify what a “bad kid” (坏孩子) would do. I could see he felt guilty, but did not show any interest in changing his behavior. He reminded me of the many “bad boys” I have met or babysat in my life and how they are very similar to little Sonna. He will grow into a better man and hopefully will not regret the decisions he made in his youth.

He shared with us that he is unsure about his future. One reason for his uncertainty is because he isn’t going to school anymore. He said it’s because he doesn’t like it. He explained that at school you get hit all the time by either teachers during class or by classmates stealing your lunch. He hated it, so he left. He is 14 now, just living in “the now,” not caring about the future. His parents are a bit worried for him, but have not forced him out of the direction he has chosen for his life. It is not uncommon to find villagers who are illiterate in the Chinese countryside. Sonna will most likely become part of that statistic.

Literacy in China–Are the State Statistics Reliable?

China’s Long — but Uneven — March to Literacy

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Sonna’s Mother Washing Clothes in the Brown Stream

I’m happy to attend these interviews because I get a different perspective of the locals and their culture. The team normally asked the people questions that I either didn’t think of or didn’t feel comfortable asking. I feel like each visit to the Lugu Lake area, I become more aware of Mosuo culture through experience and building friendships.

Afterwards, the team went to film scenic areas while I returned back to the home to wait for the father. He mentioned that he would circle the village with the lamas for the festival. I wanted to tag along. As I waited, a Mosuo women around my age dropped by to say “hello.” I chatted with her as the team arrived. I soon realized the father had already left without telling me. The girl invited us over to her home where we had tea, sulima alcohol, and talked about her life. She mentioned she was married with a child, but as the interview continued, we realized her husband was actually a previous “walking marriage” partner. I was perplexed why she felt ashamed for participating in the “walking marriage” culture to the point that she would lie about it. A villager told us she has had two others afterwards. She is seen as being “loose” by the locals.

We thought her life in the village was tragic. She is very open-minded and modern because she had left the village before to perform as an ethnic dancer in Lijiang. Through this experience, she has a different mindset from the other women in the village. One of the team members explained it that she is a “prisoner of her own destiny.” I personally thought of Xianglin’s wife from Lu Xun’s story, “A New Years Sacrifice:”

This story circles around a woman that has no name, except for being addressed as Xianglin’s wife. Her husband, Xianglin, died due to sickness. She moved to another village as a servant and found happiness in her work. She was then captured by her mother-and-law to be forced into a second marriage. She did not consent because marrying a second husband would go against the traditional custom of respecting the previous marriage. She was forced into a second marriage and later bore a son. No one knows if she was happy or not in this marriage, but one day she arrived to the same home pale and shaken.

Her second husband died of sickness and her child was eaten by a wolf. She was kicked out of her house by her mother-in-law and found her only refuge to be the previous home where she was a servant. The household and the entire village discriminated against her for going against tradition–marrying a second time. She slowly went insane and died as a homeless beggar in the dead of winter years and years later. Lu Xun wrote this [autobiographical?] tale to highlight the backwardness of tradition and the cruelty of man. 

The villagers discriminate against the young woman in LJZ because she has had many walking marriages for her age. She lives in a remote village where the society is engrained with traditional customs and social norms…going against them places you as an “outsider”—an individual versus the madding crowd. When talking to her more, I noticed that she was emotionally unstable. She knows she doesn’t belong, but has no way of leaving. She has no formal education and has a two year-old daughter. I couldn’t help but feel bad for her.

When we left, I said I would meet her at the party that night. I walked with some team members to the house that would host the party that night, as well as accommodated the lamas during that week. When we arrived, we visited the second story to look at the house temple. As we looked around, all of a sudden, a long line of villagers walked through the main gate, carrying large scrolls in their arms. The locals not carrying the scrolls lined up alongside the scroll bearers. They bowed as the bearers tapped the scrolls on each of their heads. When they reached the second story, they tapped it on our heads too. They had just finished trekking around the village. Trekking around the village with the scrolls signified bringing peace and good fortune to the town. Tapping the scrolls on our heads signified that we had read the sutra, which would give us good fortune.

I returned back to the guest house to grab a quick dinner and then visited the modern Mosuo woman to grab an ethnic outfit for the party. She dressed me in a traditional Mosuo outfit with a pink overcoat, homemade waist scarf, and long white skirt with an embroidered designs. The wife of the guest house lended me her headdress. The young woman and I went together with the team to the house.

The bonfire was in the middle of the courtyard. The party hadn’t started yet. All the young boys were chatting around the flames, laughing at each other. Most of the women and young girls were sitting along the walls, looking into the middle of the courtyard. I also stood to the side and waited for the party to start.

As we waited, the young woman asked me about love. I was a little caught off guard, love? She asked: Have I ever had been in love before? What are my country’s boys like? Do I like Chinese men? Do foreign men take care of women and buy things for them? These questions have been rolling through her mind it seems. At one point in her life, she had the chance to date a Spanish man, but declined. I think she regrets that decision. We chatted about these topics for a bit until we were interrupted by the ringing of a flute. The bonfire party had begun.

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Preparing for the Bonfire Party

I watched on the side at first. I wanted to see how they danced. The dance was fairly simple: it started with everyone holding hands and stepping 8~ steps to the right and then stepping in and out of the circle twice. This pattern continued. After each round, locals would come by with alcohol for the dancers to drink. After the first round of the bonfire dance, I drank one half cup of sulima alcohol. We continued to dance around the fire and changed up the dance moves. After the second round, I was given a large cup of sulima alcohol. I drank all the way to the bottom of the bowl. I continued to dance, but noticed I was becoming uncoordinated. During the last round, the moves became more complicated, which didn’t help with the tipsy-ness. I was grinning to both ears as I danced with my new friends. For the last dance, we twisted back and forth as we patted the backs of our partners. One of my partners was a Mosuo man, a friend I got to know while helping build his house. Instead of patting my back, he slapped me really hard on the shoulders. It hurt! I slapped him equally hard, but his back must of been made of rock. He smiled and continued wailing on my bruising back. He did it multiple times before the dance ended.

IMG_1463 Bonfire PartyVillagers Celebrating the End of the Festival

Everybody suddenly left after that performance, thus concluding the party. The team packed up their things and then we also headed back home. They planned to take a time lapse shot of the stars late into the night. I wanted to join them. I changed out of my Mosuo garb and found them in the backyard setting up equipment. The stars were fantastic. It took them a while to set the correct settings, but when they perfected the preparation, we all sat and enjoyed the stars.

One of the team members walked off for no apparent reason, which we all didn’t notice until he hadn’t been around for a while. It was going onto 1 o’clock at this point, so the two guys were beginning to worry about him. I didn’t think there was anything to worry about. The village is one of the safest places I know, what would happen? As we waited and chatted, we observed Mosuo men walking along the trails by the house, going to their partners’ homes. We followed with our eyes the trails of light that gleamed from their flashlights and cell phones. One of the lights stopped at an intersection. It paused for a couple seconds and then suddenly the light dashed up the hill to the guest house. The person was running away from something. We heard the scuffling of shoes in the courtyard and the light shined through the gate to the backyard. It was the team member. He said out of breath:

“I’m being followed.” I turned on my headlamp and pointed the light to the gate. Suddenly, a Mosuo man ominously appeared, as if he was a ghost. The light casted long shadows under his eyes and cheek bones. One of the team members held onto his multitool, while the other was ready to grab the house axe. I sat on a bench, covered from head to toe for warmth, still getting over the creepiness of the entire situation. The man then said in a drunken slur: “Give me 2000yuan! I’ll help you walking marriage.”

We all relaxed when we realized it was just a drunk. We had him sit down and tried to get him back to his senses. He kept insisting on helping our friend find a partner for money. One of the team members laughed and lied, “He doesn’t want to do a walking marriage, he’s gay!” This confused him, yet also calmed him down. He then started realizing how crazy this entire situation was and began making fun of himself in a drunken stupor. He then shone the light on me and was aghast to see yellow hair falling over my blue eyes. At that point, my scarf was covering my face. He pulled down the scarf and said, “What a beautiful girl!” He stroked my face. I edged away. He then got up and grabbed my hand and said, “well, if he doesn’t want to walking marriage, then I’ll walk with her.” He began to drag me off my seat to his home. The guy who had walked off was sitting next to me and immediately held onto my coat.

One of the Chinese Americans then quickly replied, “she doesn’t want to have a walking marriage either!” They stopped him and sat him down, but he didn’t listen to what they were saying. He then got up and started tugging me again. Then one of the guys sat him down one last time and looked at him with the most serious face. “Brother,” he said. “Do you know what AIDS is?” The man was surprised by the thought. “I’m not saying she has it, but you gotta be careful around those foreign types.” This stopped him. I was holding down my laughter, which the man thought was tears. He shone the light at my face, which I then covered. Soon afterwards, two of the guys finally persuaded him to walk him home.

The friend who walked off and I were left alone in the pitch dark, except for the starlight that reflected from the muddy fish pond. He was embarrassed, silently shaking his head. I covered up my laughter, not trying to wake up the family. The two came back and we finished the time lapse. We then called it a night.

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Leaving LJZ: Motorbiking, Hitchhiking, Trekking, National Geographic, and Philosophical Discussion

 

Unfortunately, I woke up sick this morning. I ate an apple with its skin on it yesterday, which was most likely the culprit. I didn’t want to eat it for that reason, but the family I was visiting insisted that I ate it. So, I did out of politeness to later find myself in this ill position. I decided to persevere and still planned on leaving that morning. I ate fried dough and drank yak butter tea with the family for breakfast in the dim living area. It hit 7:30am, which was when the motorbiker would come pick me up. He didn’t come. Supposedly the bus would drop by the stop at around 8:00am. It was almost 8am when Sonna, the older brother, came from his partner’s home. He immediately went to find the driver. I sat with the family again to settle my stomach. Soon after he ran back and told me to grab my things.

I thanked the family and left with Sonna. While walking to the town center, he put 50yuan into my pocket to pay the driver with. I rejected and said I could pay but he wouldn’t allow it. When we were about the approach the motorbike driver, he said to take it and to remember him and the good times I had at the village. I told him I’d of course remember him and that I’d be back soon. I hopped onto the bike and grabbed onto the driver’s shoulders, a Mosuo man in his late 20’s, I said goodbye and we were off.

It was already 8, but we continued, hoping the bus hadn’t gone by yet. The sun hadn’t risen yet, so the mountains were shaded in a blue-green tone. We zigzagged around mountain trails and rode through streams for 20-30 minutes. I bounced and slid on the bike as we bumped along uneven dirt road. I saw the Yi minority village with the bus stop (a pile of lumber painted white) in the distance. We passed Mosuo and Yi children walking to elementary school as we crossed a thick stream. They still had a long walk to go before reaching the nearest town with a school.

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Sunrise 

The motorbike driver dropped me off at the pile of lumber bus stop. I gave him Sonna’s wrinkly 50 yuan and thanked him for helping me out. He said it wasn’t a problem, but I knew he was very busy and it was a big hassle to help me out. He left soon after. I was left at the remote bus stop lumber pile with a local smoking a cigarette staring at me. He told us the bus hadn’t come yet.

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Motorbiker Heading Back to LJZ

I waited for thirty minutes. The children caught up and stopped at the house next to the stop to buy some candy. They walked with sticks of sugar candy and looked at me curiously. “Why is there a foreigner here?” As they passed, I noticed a whirl of dirt and a vehicle in the distance. It wasn’t the bus, but a SUV. I was picking my nails as it passed when it suddenly stopped. They opened the window and waved their hands to have me come over. I asked in Chinese where they were going. They said Lugu Lake and then asked if I needed a ride. I asked for how much? Free. I thought over my options, hitchhike with strangers or wait for the bus? I went into the car.

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Kids Grabbing Treats Before Class

The two men were Han from Sichuan who were doing part time work with a gas company in the area. They were going to Lugu Lake to drop off gas. They were fascinated that I spoke Chinese and we kept up lively conversation for most of the trip.

They talked about how they don’t like where they work because there are too many Yi people. I asked why they don’t like the Yi. “They aren’t civilized people–they don’t go to school, don’t speak Mandarin, and are superstitious. They don’t treat people well and cheat others.” I personally enjoy being with ethnic minorities more than with Han because they are usually more inviting, gracious, and overall very kind people. I seem to find Han men (especially ones from the middle or upper classes) have superiority issues, they think they are better than the “poor, backwards” ethnic minorities. These two men, primarily the driver, was an example of this demographic (of course, this is a generalization and all Han men are not like this).

The driver also asked me, “Do you think China is great or is America great?” I get this question often and I find it such a strange question. They know I’m American, but they phrase the question so that I have to pick one over the other. Just to flatter the driver, I said China is great, but usually I say they are both great. I wanted to be on his good side.

We drove fast and took a road that trailed the mountain range and gradually climbed over it to the Lugu Lake valley. The scenery was amazing. We made it to the lake in no time. I asked to be dropped off early and thanked them for the ride. I started to hike to Lige, which I thought wasn’t that far away.

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Returning to Lugu Lake

At a halfway point, I stopped at Small Luoshui to use the bathroom and rest. My stomach was still feeling a bit uneasy. I stopped at a house that proclaimed to be the home of a famous Mosuo woman, Yang ErcheNamu. When I asked to use their bathroom, they said I had to pay a fee. How much? 28yuan. What?! They wouldn’t let me in unless I paid the door fee. I was so disappointed to face Chinese reality so bluntly–the desire to make money in any possible way. Money overrides kindness. The people were also really rude. I was disheartened and explored more of Small Luoshui for a bathroom. I stopped at the youth hostel and rested.

I got to know the boss, a young man from Xi’an and his parents, and talked for a while. He even let me take a shower and eat with them. This brightened my spirits. He also mentioned when I planned to live in Lugu Lake, I could work at his hostel and do research. I thanked him and said I would consider it.

One of the tourists joined me on my hike back to Lige. We hiked on small dirt paths along the lake. The scenery was also spectacular. We took a wrong turn and hiked to the edge of a peninsula. We saw Lige on the other side of the peninsula in the opposite direction. We rested to soak in the blueness of the lake and the green forests before heading back. We found a small path that led to our destination. We were there in no time, well the hike was about 2 hours in total.

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Hiking with my Friend

We went to the hostel where I caught up with some friends who work there. I ate fruit covered in yogurt with them…so good. While talking with them, some overly-friendly tourists stopped by to say “hi.” One said, “hi!” to me. I thought it was just another Chinese tourist practicing their English, so I said hello back. She then asked what my name was, which is usually the next question, which she said with surprisingly good pronunciation. It took me a moment to realize they were American–American-born Chinese! I felt pretty dumb.

The two girls were with three American guys, two other Chinese Americans and an Indian American. They had been in the Lugu Lake area for two weeks filming a documentary about Mosuo culture for National Geographic. When I told them I just got back from LJZ, their eyes widened. They wanted to go there but didn’t know how and no one seemed willing to help them. I mentioned that a traditional festival was approaching in the next week that I wanted to go to, and they asked if they could join–help a National Geographic crew? Sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience to me!

We exchanged numbered and decided to get dinner later. I rested for the day, hung out with the hostel workers, drew in my sketchbook, and read the news. It was nice to reconnect to a culture I’m more familiar with again.

I met with the National Geographic crew for dinner and got to know them better. They were all fairly young. One of the American Chinese guys received a National Geographic scholarship–Young Adventurers Award–to film a documentary about Mosuo culture. The other Asian American worked for for a movie/advertising company in Beijing. The three others, two Asian American girls and the Indian American worked in LA. One of the girls had a concentration in religious studies, media, and journalism, and the other was a illustrator. The American Indian was an Olympic swimmer who studied media in college. What an eclectic group!

We got along well and figured out our trip to LJZ. I planned to leave for Lijiang the next day and then go to Kunming, but I’d be back before the festival. We paid for dinner and headed to one of the BBQ places that I’m familiar with. I introduced the group to many people from LJZ and got to practice my Mosuo with them. My friend, YE, came in later in the night. He’s normally in a happy mood, but he looked down. I tried to brighten him up, but he was actually still happy, just too tired to show much emotion. He had been working on building his own BBQ shop all day. He said he did a lot of pondering that day, which he shared with us:

He explained about what it was like before tourism came to Lugu Lake when he was young. The people didn’t rely on money to live, but relied on love between family, neighbors, and partners to live their lives. He said it was a happy time, a simpler time. Back then they didn’t have much, but they had each other, which made life fun and worthwhile. Nowadays, money has become more important than anything, which has changed the people–“dirtied their hearts.” He said, ” Please go to the villages in remote areas to understand who I really am, or who I was. The people there are dirty. Their hands, feet, faces are all dirty…but their hearts are pure. My heart has been dirtied living here, now I’m only half pure.” I was so moved by his honesty. He wishes to live a simpler life, just like before, but continues to lives around touristy Lugu Lake. He hopes to move out to the country and live like before, so to stop learning about what’s out in the world and to stop desiring. He said, “desire is what is destroying Lugu Lake. People care more about money and their desires than their neighbors, and that is terrifying.” He doesn’t wish for fame when he dies, he only wishes that people remember him as a “good person.”

We walked back home pensive in thought about what he said. It was the most powerful thing I’ve heard someone say in Lugu Lake. I’m proud to call YE my friend. He is an amazing man.

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Standing up to “the Man:” Discussing Controversial Topics in Public

While waiting for the train to head out, a girl asked if I could switch seats with her. She wanted to sit with her friend. I agreed, a little grumpily, but in the end, I’m glad I switched. I sat next to a really fun, eclectic group of Chinese. At first, we had simple conversation, but as we became more comfortable with each other, our conversation became much deeper. There were three couples: Xiao Gang & Yingying, Xiao Chen & Xiao He, and an artist and his girlfriend (prostitute?). While hitting the later hours, Xiao Gang, a funny guy that spoke in a lot of idioms, asked me what I thought of Chinese men. I said that Chinese guys, at least the ones that I come across the most, are often interested in money, in buying cars and houses…more or less superficial things. They are also very traditional, in that they want to find a wife and expect her to follow gender social norms: cook, have a kid, be dependent on them. Of course, I’m generalizing and not all Chinese guys are like this, but he did ask a question where I would need to generalize.

My response brought up a conversation about social issues in China, like high housing rates and the pressure of getting married. They asked if in America women care about a man’s background and his money situation before getting married. I said it depends on the person, but I personally don’t consider money as a big factor in finding a significant other. This then somehow led to a conversation about politics. Xiao He took away from my response that the American government is much more developed than China’s. I said “how so?”

“Because we aren’t free to say our opinions here. That is why our government is backwards.”

What he said made everyone a bit uneasy, since you shouldn’t say anything like that in public, like an open train car compartment surrounded by over one hundred Chinese. They were talking about how it’s best to be in a locked, private room to talk about such things. However, his response incited more discussion on the corruption and inadequacies in the Chinese government.

“Kelin (my Chinese name), did you know that there are 10,000 ‘sensitive words (敏感字)’ on the Chinese Internet? If you write them, you will be monitored, or your post will be deleted, or you can’t even type the word out at all,” Xiao Gang said. I was aware of this, but not of the specific number. When I visited a friend in Shangri-la, he told me never to write the word Tibet or send an email about Tibet to anyone who lives there. The police would capture them for questioning or even arrest them for years in order to avoid any conspiracy.

As we continued the controversial conversation, Xiao He’s wife said half joking and half serious, “if we keep conversing this topic we will be kidnapped when we get off the train.” She said this multiple times with a hesitant laugh through the night. Xiao He kept on telling her to stop mentioning it, so to stop scaring me, but I wasn’t scared. Even though I also felt a bit uneasy talking about the faults in the Chinese government in such a public place, I found the conversation worthwhile. Also, I think they would be in more danger than me. I was more nervous for them. It’s strange that they even have to say things like that…but it does actually happen. People do get kidnapped and aren’t seen for years. They are normally placed in labor camps and have very little rights. How awful it must be to be hesitant when speaking your mind, and to even be scared for you life if you speak a little out of line about the government.

Xiao Gang works in the media industry and brought up how 99% (or somewhere in the 90s) of newspaper articles or reports are all twinkled down from the “top,” in this case the government. Everything is copied from the top and spread to the masses. There’s no creativity in the media, and if there is, then the article will most likely be banned. He said that the “Southern Weekend” is the best, most reliable paper out there. I’ll need to check it out! The leader of the paper had his work banned because he didn’t follow what the government wanted him to write.

The group would change the topic once in a while to avoid talking about sensitive topics, but they kept coming back to politics. I think it was nice for them to find a group of open-minded, like-minded individuals in one compartment in a train. I think I also added to their interest. Having me there to talk with about my country, a place very different from their own, was a unique experience for them. It’s too bad they were too nervous to go deeper into the discussion.

This conversation in the train is a good example of how people live in China. A certain way of thinking is engrained in the Chinese populous, and if one tracks away from that mindset, the person is aware of the danger that comes with it. Therefore, people are afraid. To be more specific, they are afraid of their government. Nietzsche would be proud. Of course, if you don’t step out of bounds, then there is nothing to worry about…but that means you have to follow and believe everything the government tells you is fact without second guessing. Or you can pretend too. Is that freedom?

My Chinese friends in the train with me viewed this kind of control as unhealthy for their society. I wonder if this perspective is becoming more prevalent? At the moment, it seems like fear between the Chinese government and its people is reciprocal. One side fears instability and revolt, while the other side fears detention. This fear among the populous is not widespread, I’ve met many Chinese who love their country and their government. But, there is a growing minority that’s becoming more skeptical. The Internet and its anonymity has become a tool for this generation to spread their opinions, even with the obstacle of the Great Fire Wall of China. I think this generation has the potential in making a difference in the next couple of decades…

This is probably the most controversial posts I’ve written yet. I’m really happy to have had enlightening conversation with the group of travelers. This kind of conversation is uncommon, especially among strangers, so I thought I would share this with my followers/family.

After arriving at the train station, we took a picture of all of us and then split ways. We did not get kidnapped after all! I then took a bus to Lugu Lake and will be staying the night in Lige.

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Exploring Harbin: 731 Museum and Understanding Japan and China’s Relationship

It was a frigid afternoon with a gray haze of car exhaust clouding the distance when we arrived at 731, a museum that unearths an old Japanese germ weapon research base. I walked through the old military gate, and observed the yellow building contrast against the thin layer of snow. The wind blew right through me and my thin jacket then. I realized the weather and the museum were both frigid….I regretted not wearing enough layers.

Visiting 731 with CET program

I believe visiting a national museum is a good method in understanding a government’s values and how they simultaneously promote patriotism at the same time. This is especially visible in Chinese museums. A museum utilizes many mediums to display their content’s history and meaning: I find reading signs as the most effective way to understand the motive of the museum–what is the museum trying to make me feel? What am I supposed to think about this country (and other’s) after attending the exhibition? Specific language is chosen to describe the past events in Unit 731, and its chosen for a reason. Let’s see if I figure it out at the end of this post.

First off, this was the introduction sign before entering the museum:

“Manchu Unit 731” was a special troop set up in China under the [Japanese] imperial edict. In 1935, the unit set up the biological weapon research and test base in Pingfang and a biologicial warfare command of the Japanese Army in the Southeast Asia…In the base, which was referred to as ‘the den of cannibals’, Uniy 731 engaged in germ weapon research by conducting cruel vivisection. According to historical documentation, just between 1939 and August to 1945 alone at least 3,000 anti-Japanese and anti-Manchukuo fighters from home and abroad and innocent civilians were maimed and killed as vivisection subjects. In August 1945, Japan lost the war and surrendered. In order to cover up its heinous atrocities, Unit 731 carried out large-scale destruction and sabotage to the facilities in this area. Today 23 sites are listed as the key sites for protection to testify to the crimes.

I highlighted the words that constructed the frame the writer of these signs wanted us to view this place and, most importantly, the Japanese. This kind of language could be found throughout the museum.

Entrance Sign–“Crime Evidence”

One motive for the creation of this museum was to emphasize the fact that the Japanese conducted research that went against international anti-biochemical warfare and research laws–what they did was wrong and it was a crime against China and humanity. This museum is evidence for this fact. This motive’s goal is to evoke anger into the museum visitors toward Japan. From what I observed, it was successful. My classmate shared with me what he overheard from a father and his son:

After leaving the museum, a father asked his son, “Do you now dislike Japan (你讨厌日本吗)?” The young boy, maybe 9 years old or so, replied, “Yes, I do. (讨厌).”

Before entering the main exhibit, one last sign sparked my interested. It read: “Forgetting about the history means betrayal.” It gave me a heebie-jeebies. That phrase was found throughout the entire museum.

A wall of Unity 731 history and its atrocities– no idea where they got this information.

Japanese Soldiers with their “Comfort Women” in front of Togo Shrine

A memorial for those who died in the base

From the memorial hall, I stepped outside to find a silent lawn in the midst of a light snowfall. I walked to the now destroyed germ weapon research building. There only stands one row of concrete with two smoke stacks. In front are the remains of what looks like was a basement.

Old Germ Warfare Research Lab Building

Beneath the remains

I walked around the remains, sinking everything that I read and watched. It’s a lot to take in. War brings out the worst in a country. However, through diplomacy we can rekindle relationships and make the world a (little) more stable once again. When I visited this museum, I felt like its display stoked the contentious fire between China and Japan, instead of treating the issue with a clear-minded judgement.

This museum reminded me of my visit to the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. and the Holocaust memorial in Miami, Florida. Both places made me aware of the atrocities that happened during WWII. I felt the same way leaving them–sad and contemplative. But, I didn’t leave either of those places disliking Germany or any other country. I didn’t grow up being told over and over again to hate a country and their government (and even their people). To me, this is unhealthy and doesn’t help the problem. The Chinese government is using this tactic to build up nationalism among its people–and they are doing it really well–but its also gradually deteriorating the potential for reestablishing a healthy relationship between the two countries. There are faults on both sides, of course, but I only see one side of this relationship.

I have met too many children and teenagers that blindly hate Japan. This just doesn’t seem right to me. Everyone has their own right to have opinions, but if these opinions were being propagated by the media and government…are those really your own opinions or is it something else entirely?

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世界观不同- Different Worldviews

Looking at the world from another point of view.

In the U.S., our maps show North America and Europe as the largest and most dominant regions on the map. South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia are off to the side or on the bottom of the map. Actually, the average American world map will show Africa being much smaller than it actually is. China’s world map shows the opposite, Asia is in the middle and resides next to the vast Pacific Ocean.

How did you feel seeing a map that is different from the one we have grown accustomed to?

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