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Personal Note: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it is too expensive to order a copy from Amazon.com Enjoy it and share with people you care and love. Peace, Steve, USA July 9, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
One evening Bob’s parents invited their close relatives over for dinner and I was introduced to all of them, including an older sister and a younger brother. Bob’s mom was a gourmet cook and she prepared many dishes. While all of us enjoyed the company and the wonderful holiday foods, she was busy in her kitchen, trying to cook more foods for the guests. This is Chinese hospitality. It has become almost a norm to order or cook or have more on the table than what the hosts and guests could normally consume; China’s version of the “conspicuous consumption”, so to speak. This is China.
Bob and his family lived in a new apartment with many spacious rooms filled with modern furniture. I might have stayed for the night if there was heater in Bob’s bedroom. So we had to return to the downtown hotel for the night. While Bob went to his office to work the following day, as a manager at New Oriental English Training School, a walking distance from the hotel, I went to shop at an old Walmart store directly opposite the hotel. It was time to invest in a pair of good walking shoes. My American sandals almost got me into trouble in Nanchang because there was no traction on the worn-out rubber sole. I could have fallen two or three times walking on very slippery wet pavement because of heavy rainfall and snow. Any kind of careless fall could send me to a hospital and if serious enough, to an orthopedic surgeon. There are too many horror stories of people (particularly the senior citizens) in America who would spend months healing and recuperating from falling down on hard floors. And the older you are, the harder for some of them to heal. A bad fall could end in death, in many cases.
According to Andrew Carle, executive-in-residence at the Program in Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University, USA, for people over age 75, falls are the number one cause of hospitalization or death due to the injury. And according to Carle, one-third of seniors ages 65 and older, and half of those 85 and older fall each year. And why is this a problem? Because many Americans, those who have the means, prefer to live in their own homes, and not in nursing homes or senior care centers which are all over America. And those who choose to live independently need protection. As the creator of the famous TV advertisement “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” company, Life Alert is a medical alert system designed specifically to protect seniors and “can help seniors remain independent and possibly avoid a retirement home by sending help fast in the event of a medical fall, shower, and home invasion emergencies. Senior health and longevity is as simple as a push of a button allowing independent seniors to live alone without ever being alone.”
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As of this moment, all I needed was to spend some money and replace my worn out American sandals with a pair of good reliable walking shoes. And Walmart was my savior.
I only wore dress shoes a few times on ceremonial occasions on the campus but most times I preferred my carefree sandals. I like everything casual, from the international clothes—from India, China, Taiwan, Africa, Malaysia, and Middle East—I wore to classes five days a week to the simple sandals I wore each day. I own over 20 pairs of sandals on the shelves in my garage in America. I strive for comfort and simplicity. I would put on thick socks for the winter months. I remember the time I first went to Beijing my host family took me to a hotpot dinner one evening. It was a winter night. Two waitresses were laughing and giggling about me because I was wearing a pair of sandals in cold winter in Beijing. As I entered the restaurant, I heard them whispering something in Chinese about this stupid man wearing sandals in cold Beijing. I stopped and turned and walked back to face the two waitresses.
“Be careful what you say, I understand every word you said just now,” I said in simple Chinese with a big smile on my face. The poor girls were so embarrassed not realizing I could understand some spoken Chinese. Students in my classes on the campus said nothing to me but would stare at my feet and my sandals in cold winter months. At least I wore a pair of thick American socks. In one visit to a family somewhere in northcentral China, the family wanted to buy me a pair of shoes to protect my feet from the cold winter air. I protested and told them I had plenty of cash in my pockets but chose to wear my American sandals. I could be very stubborn, but more, I do not believe in following blindly the when-in-Rome-do-as-the-Romans-do philosophy. Since growing up very poor, taking care of Number One has always been my top priority. If I don’t, who will?! At the Walmart store, I bought my first pair of sneakers (or walking shoes) in China because I needed to protect myself from falling on wet pavement and streets. It is not good to tempt fate. The next fall could be serious and deadly. I wasn’t about to spend the rest of my holidays in China in a hospital somewhere.
The highlight of my stay in Wenzhou was the discovery I could purchase shirts and pants that would fit me perfectly without some kind of alteration. What was sad was I had avoided purchasing any clothing in China simply because I had with me all my favorite American clothes. I should have known from the start I could easily get the right fitting clothes in China: made in China for Chinese. Not so in America. For years in America, I could never find the clothes to fit me because I am Chinese and I am not built like a typical American male. Almost all the clothes in the stores, to me, are made for elephants or donkeys. Though most of them are made in China. They are
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usually too big for me. And so for a while I would visit second-hand stores (usually for the poor and the needy in the society) to find clothes washed and reduced to my size. Used clothes fit me perfectly as they had shrunk to my body size.
Here is the problem. A Chinese in China especially, would never touch or buy second-hand clothing or anything. I once witnessed a public burning of all the personal things belonging to a dead person. This is China. My own nephew, educated in America, when it came time for him to acquire a house, he and his wife would not look at old houses because to them, like many traditional thinking Chinese, these buildings have ghosts in them. So they ended up buying a new, very expensive house near Microsoft Headquarters, at the time when he was working for the computer giant in Seattle. I would never mention used clothes to him though I wore them elegantly in public. I was not ashamed of how I spend my money, buying and wearing used clothes because they fit me perfectly without alteration. I had told both my American and Chinese students so…and was proud to wear them.
Traditional Chinese would do something, certainly incomprehensible to Westerners, when building a new house. I saw this when I was growing up in a farming village in Malaya. When a house was under construction from day one, you would find someone sleeping inside that building every night because if you don’t, they feared, the evil spirits might move in to occupy the empty space before you did. And they would hang a piece of red cloth like a banner from the central beam of the roof…something to ward off evil spirits.
I had no problems buying and wearing second-hand clothes. Clothes are clothes to me, and you can wash them clean and wear them like new. The only things I will buy new are underwear, socks and shoes. Those are something very personal. In China, I was happy to find everything I would need at a Walmart store, because they are made for Chinese men and women, young and old. This is China.
I did not tell Bob of my surprise discovery at the Walmart store. Even the perfect fitting clothes Bob wore everyday couldn’t be found in an American store. Bob is a young adult and he dresses elegantly with tight fitting clothes. Too small and tight for an American male adult of the same age. Let me repeat: most clothes in American stores are made for elephants and donkeys, not for the average Chinese man, woman or teenager. And here is the irony or reality: Many clothes—for men, women, children and teenagers—in American giant malls and superstores are made in China, for Americans. And Walmart stores across America are the cheapest places to pick and choose what pleases your taste and budget. And each year, the clothes are getting more colorful, the only bright and eye-catching aisles in Walmart stores these days.
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I had only one story that I would want to share with Bob before I returned to Xiamen. It was my final night in Wenzhou. And it was quite a revelation to him that I had known something about Wenzhou before I met him in 2011. Way before I was invited to be a visiting professor at Xiamen University in 2008, an American senior high school student named Carlos, though not my student, would find time to visit with me after school in America. He was a brilliant student who loved to talk about philosophy, politics and economics with me. He was simply too smart for the peers and classmates of his age. He was an intellectual but he could not get along with his peers in school. I happened to like and talk about philosophy, politics and economics and so we got along very well. His dream was to be a columnist: a writer or editor of a newspaper or magazine column. And I had encouraged him to work first as a reporter in a local newspaper. One does not simply become a columnist after a college education. In America, we often say this: you have to work your way up or you have to pay your dues. He was not convinced of my advice. We have many famous columnists in America. The most famous one is Thomas L. Friedman, an internationally renowned author, reporter and columnist. He is now “Foreign Affairs” columnist for The New York Times. His columns are translated into many languages and his most famous book is The World is Flat.
Carlos graduated and attended the Pacific Lutheran University. I was soon told by his mother he had Asperger Syndrome (AS), a neurobiological disorder. His parents were divorced and he would spend some time living with his father, a veterinarian doctor, and his girlfriend. With me he spoke very intelligently. His IQ is in the superior range. It is a known fact that people with Asperger Syndrome have serious deficiencies in social and communication skills and that was the reason his mother would often take him home because he had problems with his roommate. He was unable to learn to drive. When Carlos was a senior in high school, he came to my house to meet my son and his high school classmates for dinner one time, and he had great difficulty making effective social connections. My son’s friends simply avoided him because of the way he talked, using difficult words because of his interest in economics and philosophy, and not speaking the language of his peers. Having spent some time with Carlos, I noticed his extreme difficulty in developing age-appropriate peer relationships. But he had no problem learning facts. In fact, he had amassed a vast vocabulary and many related facts. He seemed pedantic, verbose and some might call him a “little professor” in ordinary conversations. We enjoyed each other because we seemed able to speak the same language: the language of economics, politics and philosophy.
After his college education, I thought he would work as a reporter with a local newspaper to prepare him to become a newspaper columnist one day. We had discussed this at length several times. Out of the blue suddenly one day, after a lapse
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of a few months, I received an angry email from Carlos from Wenzhou, China. He had applied for a job to teach English in Wenzhou, China, and now he accused me of cheating and lying to him about how well behaved Chinese students were in the classrooms. “I cannot teach these kids, primary school students. Because they would not listen to me and they would not quiet down when I tried to say something. They are little monsters. They are beyond my control. They are bad kids. You lied to me. I thought you said Chinese children would behave well in class? Not these kids with me now. I am not happy with the whole situation here,” he went on and on putting the blame on me for lying to him. I read the email with deep sympathy and all I wanted to say to him, politely: “Carlos, you were never trained as a teacher. So what do you expect?”
Unexpectedly one day, some months later, I saw him living in the same apartment building outside the university campus in China where I was teaching. He had grown a beard and he did not have time to talk to me. In fact, he avoided me like a pest. We were teaching in the same university. It did not surprise me when after just one semester his contract was terminated by the university.
I wrote his father and told him Carlos needed serious therapy for his Asperger Syndrome. For someone who had problems with communication and social skills, the classrooms were definitely not the right place for him. When I returned to USA for the summer, his father refused to answer my phone calls. Carlos did not answer my emails. A mutual friend who first introduced Carlos to me also could not find him. He simply vanished from the surface of this earth.
I shared this story with Bob because Bob is now working as a manager for New Oriental English Training School in the city. China has thousands of English training schools, and some are doing many innocent Chinese parents and children a great disservice by hiring many young college graduates from the West, as long as their skin is white. China is eager to have you come because you are the perfect, ideal “native speaker” of English. Anyone—especially if you are from USA, Canada, UK, and Australia—with white skin fits that category. Matter-of-fact, many white people hired to teach English in China do not have ESL qualifications. China is desperate to find and hire you because learning English is a major money-making industry in China. What is scary is that there are many different versions of Carlos out there. And New Oriental is a major employer of many foreigners teaching ESL—to high schoolers and college students and business people—in China. That is my reason for sharing Carlos’ story with Bob.
China is definitely the place to be for anyone who wants to work and make money. It
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has become the land with “milk and honey”: easy money, for anyone who has a marketable skill and a haven for many foreigners to make a living. And President Xi continues to welcome all foreigners who have knowledge, expertise and experiences to contribute to China’s perennial pursuit of harmonious living, well-being and economic expansion and dominance in the world. China is where the action is. This is China, and if you have white skin and are born in the West, you have the right ticket to modern China.
And like many other Wenzhounese people, Bob’s sister now works for a bank after a university education and Bob’s younger brother wants to pursue a skill after his high school graduation. And he is now attending a training school to become a chef with special interest in Western bakery and pastries. He believes, like thousands of other ambitious and successful entrepreneurs in Wenzhou down the recent decades, mastering a skill is a key to a successful career in life. He is now studying in South Korea. In Wenzhou, anything is possible.
This is China.