Reflections of a cultural incompetent!
Well, its been about 3 months here in China. Enough time to soak a little flavour, absorb a little culture by sheer osmosis and reflect a little on a journey less ordinary.
So what puts me in such a reflective mood today? When we first got here in Tangshan the street corners were lit during the humid nights by fires kindled by people sending money to the dead. White chalk circles drawn around the small fire offerings, not to protect from spirits, but to channel the smoke upwards to the intended ghosts. Now winter approaches here. The nights couldn't feel more different – The cold seeps under your clothes and tries to shiver your very timbers！But now once again people are lighting the fires; money for the departed to see them through the coming winter. And it makes me think of first arriving and the things we’ve witnessed.
Obviously a new culture and a new language are a large part of whats changed. The sheer alieness of the world around us when we first arrived was a (Culture) shock to the system – you feel completely helpless when faced with not understanding a word spoken or a sign written. Jim Morrison had it right when he said that people are strange when you're a stranger! Time has passed and while 90% of whats said around still confounds me completely, now some words are becoming familiar, and the little bits we know are pooling to form basic sentances that help us get by day to day!
Culture is another peak to be climbed here daily – a lot of people in Tangshan haven’t seen many foreigners. When you walk the streets people will actually stare at you and tell their friends theres a foreigner on the road, others will shout ‘Helllloooo’ and descend into laughter. We’re informed that this is meerly curiosity, but hey, you see foreign people on TV every day, are we really that odd?
And as for the shouting ‘Hellllooo’, well, a) Not all foriegners are english speaking, and b) Please try to learn another word besides hello for gods sake! lol I actually experimented with shouting hello back in Chinese the other day and forcing a sarcastic laugh – it certainly drew an audience, but alas one chastised is meerly a drop in the ocean here!
Having said all that, the strangness of things is more than offset by the kindness and all round warmth you get from most people here – Taxi drivers who let you use their CB sets, pupils who force Chinese boy band/pop CD’s on you because they think you would like it and a shop keeper who pulled up a stool for me this morning and spoke for 10 minutes just so he could practice saying ‘Hello’, ‘Welcome’ and ‘Please, sit down’ in english (He also produced a complete set of Bronte sisters books when I asked did he have anything in english!).
You also meet those that are so pleased that you have taken time to learn even a few words of Chinese – even if the resulting conversation goes completely over your head… at least I know how to say the magic words 'I dont understand', 'please speak more slowly' and 'I can't speak chinese!'
Oh well, lecture/article/rant over... I hope you'll all tune in this time next week when I'll doubtless have found something else shiny and new to occupy my thoughts ;o)