After a bit of mental gymnastics, I came up with enough content for a post! Enough to keep y’all updated on my goings while providing an excuse to share pictures of the kitties (but do you really need an excuse for that?). Here’s a couple pictures of me as well in case you’re curious how I’m looking recently.
First off, a happy belated Easter! Enjoy a seasonal slapper with a funny video.
No one came to the English corner this week except my old roommate, so we just chatted (in Chinese oddly) for about an hour and a half while I pet the kitties. The café owner likes to point out how much the kitties adore me, even the new ones. I think it’s just knowledge of where to pet and not being too aggressive, the below pictures were taken when Hamburger was just lying on the table in a state of ecstasy while receiving no end of chin scratchies from me. She and Meow cuddle really cute when they’re not fighting too. I’m gonna rechristen Hamburger to Burger in English I think, it just works a bit better.
In other cat news from cat world, Buddy and Furball both got fixed and are back in the café, but are still in cones. I have to say I really love the cats, they’re keeping me from missing fuzzy animals and are ever so good for my mental health. Cats are super chillers, content to sit there and be loved, and sometimes they even love you back. Yay for fuzz therapy, a good example of which can be found below.
The owner was a bit put out by the lack of English Corner attendance sadly (I don’t blame her). It’s her first time running a business it seems; some petty negative reviews written by unreasonable people had gotten to her in the past couple days, while the lack of attendance just added to it I guess. She and her husband work there seven days a week too, real rough. Ah, the perils of working in food service and the insight it gives you into the dark corners of the human psyche. So the next day at her request I taught her how to make my mom’s scones. They came out pretty good, and she’s gonna try them out with her own flour (I use Trader Joe’s), so I wouldn’t be surprised if they appeared on the menu soon enough given her business acumen. I do hope so, they seem quite popular, and’ve got great profit margins! In other culinary news, I successfully made (instant) mac and cheese in my rice cooker! Yay for new skills and dishes.
Segway to the serious, this past weekend I went to a “Sex and gender youth education training” that ended up being more of a workshop. It was set up by an AIDS advocacy group out of Shenyang who operate in the northeast, and it was a real treat to get to go. You have no idea how great it is to get to talk about sex and gender in Chinese for me. Most of my Chinese circle are too embarrassed to have an open conversation about sex in contrast to Americans of a similar age, and when it comes to gender (I have several gripes about how set the roles are here) they’re just like, “yeah, that’s how it is, nothing to be done.”
A quick aside for “nothing to be done,” which is how I translate “没办法” (mei banfa, may bahn’fah) which is literally “there is no means (to get it done, to change it etc.)”. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in China and speaks any amount of Chinese will be familiar with this phrase. Whether it’s doing paperwork, trying to get a certain dish ordered in a restaurant, or talking about the numerous social injustices in China or other countries etc., the response to many things is a simple “没办法” perhaps with a sympathetic shrug of the shoulders if you’re lucky.
These three characters display a unique brand of acquired apathy that I’ve seen in China and springs in my opinion from a cocktail of actual powerlessness to change things in an individual’s own life and a general lack of investment in other people’s lives. I don’t mean to cast Chinese people as inherently selfish, they’re just more focused on their own circles. A couple examples: at the second part of the workshop, one of the organizers went into how NGO’s get funded in China. The answer is it’s hard, especially for unregistered ones (registering puts you under the supervision of the government and severely limits what you can do, especially when you work with AIDS or any social issue. As all domestic NGO’s are banned from accepting foreign money now, they rely mostly on donations and similar sources of income. The thing is, in the director’s words, whereas in the West people are quite willing to donate to charity, in China if you have extra money you’re going to spend it on your family and friends. When you pass away, you’re going to spend all your money and go out with a bang or leave it all to your kids (these are real conversations he’s had with people). Partly as a result, China actually ranked almost at the bottom amongst countries for charitable acts in 2016.
Next, I was complaining one night about my biggest pet peeve in China (one of a very small handful), which is how much I hate that cars don’t stop for pedestrians here. In response, the guy I was talking with responded, “It’s not just that cars don’t give way to pedestrians, in the whole country no one gives way to anyone,” punctuated with a laugh. He explained it by saying that Chinese people are focused on their own stuff, and take on a “don’t get in my way and I won’t get in yours” attitude.
Lastly, I linked this article about shoddy Chinese construction back in the fall, and it’s worth a read. The main takeaway is the migrant workers that put up all of China’s shiny new buildings are treated pretty shittily and know they’ll never get a chance to live in the places they’re building, so why should they care if they do a good job or not? Again, I’m not trying to talk shit about China, I’m trying to paint an honest picture of it, the good and the bad, and this is one of the most unique parts that I see. To guests or people within their circle, Chinese people, especially Northeasterners, are some of the nicest, most amazing people you’ll ever meet. But to strangers are almost invisible in a way. People will bust out the nice stuff at dinner for you, they’ll draw you a map, they’ll bend over backwards to get you what you need. But they don’t give much thought to anyone else. People here almost don’t see strangers or consider their needs, let alone groups in need that are all but invisible already. Ironic as hell for a Communist country in my opinion, and it’s a big obstacle for a lot of social movements I’d like to see making faster progress. Another American living here actually called China way more socially libertarian than the States due to this characteristic.
Back on subject, given that the organizing group does a lot of AIDS work, most of the attendees were somewhere under the LGBTQ umbrella, so it was also a great opportunity to learn more about the community here. That may be why we were able to have such great discussions actually. I suppose when you’re already flaunting social norms with your sexuality and/or gender identity in a country like China, you might as well go the whole nine yards and flaunt the other ones you don’t like as well. As a result, you get people with actual interesting opinions! What a concept! (This is said mostly in jest, I don’t mean to disparage straight Chinese people, but you meet a lot of the same person after a while here if you know what I mean). While it did eat up my whole weekend, I’m super glad I went. Met some cool people, learned a lot, and had a blast! Here’s a fabulous bedazzled Honda to complete the mood.