January 2009

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The silence…

… is deafening. With apologies. I’ve been travelling in the ‘wild west’ of Qinghai and Gansu for the past fortnight, with a week left before I’m back in Beijing and blogging will rebegin with a vengeance.

Am I – I hear you ask from afar – cut off from internet, civilisation and all but the most basic toilet facilities, in this ‘wild west’? Did I possibly craft some crude WAP device out of bark and earth in order to post this?

Not quite (except the toilet bit). But still: being on the road means less time for 6, more time praying for a suspension system in my stomach to help ease those bumpy bus rides.

Joy and the future of flight

Joy, a friend of mine at Peking University, hails from Hunan and studies Information Management (for instance, how Baidu arranges the vast information it aggregates … a hot topic?). This summer, she hopes to be an intern for Boeing’s Future of Flight Aviation Centre, working as a tour guide around the company’s tourism hub and plane factory in Seattle.

She sent me her application to check the English. The form was for Chinese applicants, and one of the questions – in a slightly round-about fashion – targeted how she might handle awkward questions about China from foreigners. (Presumably not: “How dare you use so much cooking oil in your recipes? How DARE you!”)

Here is the unedited last paragraph of Joy’s answer:

4. How do you deal with “culture shock” and communicate with foreigners who hold different opinions with you, especially when you’re talking about some sensitive topics? (Max 150 words)

In no case will I choose something sensitive as my topics. However, when asked such questions, I won’t hesitate to speak out my views. The comments about China positive or not, I will reply objectively, calmly, and on behalf of PKU as well as China.

Note: PKU – Peking University

To what extent are young Chinese representing their country abroad being vetted for suitability to answer questions on ‘sensitive topics’? Will an applicant’s answer to this question potentially deprive them of this opportunity if it doesn’t fill a tick-box? It’s even difficult to tell what the safest answer is.

Joy’s first sentence is spot on, I think. The third too, especially ‘calmly’. It’s the second which leaves room for worry: by ‘speak out my views’, she in some circumstances might be agreeing with the foreigner’s criticism, in others disagreeing. My guess is that the first scenario doesn’t worry the box-tickers: if a single Chinese agrees with criticism of the CCP abroad, it’s no biggie. But in the second scenario: an argument might follow, tempers possibly flare, a scene and major embarrassment could ensure.

Unchecked nationalism is a bigger concern for the government than unmuffled dissatisfaction: it not only gives an impression abroad of China as aggressive, but pressurises the Party to pander to such sentiments if an incident escalates, for fear of the people’s anger turning 180% on themselves (just look at the Belgrade embassy riots, which were allowed to continue so long). And it’s possible to imagine such an incident emerging from a poorly handled tour question.

So I worry Joy isn’t being unambiguous enough. ‘Speak out my views’? Something boring and safe like ‘answer to the extent of my knowledge’ might go down better.

Young … and old

I also can’t resist posting these pictures, of young…

This girl (same as my previous post) patiently stood still for all of two seconds while I took this, at Beijings Confucius temple

This girl (the same as in my previous post) patiently stood still for all of two seconds while I took a quick snap, inside Beijing's Confucius temple

… and old.

A friendly 85 year-old, sitting outside his home in one of the hutongs near Yonghegong

This friendly man, 85 years old, was waving at passers-by while sitting outside his home in one of the hutongs near Yonghegong lama temple

I can only imagine what old has seen in his lifetime, and what young will see in hers.

I took this sequence of photos in Beijing’s Confucius temple by Yonghehong. I love how the sweeper doesn’t move. I guess, like Confucius, he’s seen it all.









6 in ’09

Xin nian kuai le everyone!

In 2009, the most important number will of course be none of the above, but rather … 6. If you like, you can think of it as an upside down 9. I, of course, prefer to think of the 9 as an upside down 6.

To celebrate the exciting new year, I will be focusing this blog more sharply on the stories of young Chinese friends and acquaintances of mine. Look out for Marie, the sexy-jazz dancing student of A.I. at Beida, William, the environmental activist, ‘Leonidas’, adept at ancient Greek, Thomas the painter from Qinghai and more.

You might notice my ‘6 moods to indulge’ categorization (frivolous, dead serious etc.) will shift to a ‘6 characters’ (in search of an author?) feature. This way, you can keep track of the meandering narratives of young Chinese in a new China, as they negotiate 2009.

If the 21st century is China’s, it’s the youth of this evening’s shade who will be in tomorrow’s limelight. So follow the future here.