As protests broke out over in Tibet (don’t expect that to end well) over the weekend (scary for travellers in the region), the School in China kids here on the coast took a trip to Lin’an — a countryside area two hours out from Hangzhou. This welcome break from the tedium of work gave us an opportunity to bond with our Chinese roommates and old Middlebury friends.
Camping, however, brings out the best and worst in people. Admittedly camping is a very American activity, but taking a bunch of Chinese people who have never slept outside before lays the foundation for some great culture watching — figuring out what’s different and the same between cultures.
For instance, I figured out why Chinese people don’t understand the concept of lining up (for buses, bank tellers, etc.). They understand how to line up, but don’t know WHY people line up. The concept of “first come, first served” and fairness is not apparent. Instead, the reasoning behind lines is instead simply a means or organization that is flexible to fit the needs of the situation. We “lined up” to get boiled water for our instant “convenient noodles” and drinks, only to realize that the size, type, and requirements of your meal and drink held more weight than the time students arrived. So if someone just needed hot water for a drink, it was acceptable to cut the “line” even if someone who was waiting to prepare a meal had been waiting for a half hour. Also, if you were “polite” at cutting the line, it was deemed acceptable.
In correlation with the newness of a situation, the amount of whining (that is, complaining) went up exponentially. Chinese students have a daily (hourly, half-hourly) habit of saying, “I’m so tired I could die” or “My feet hurt so much I could die” or “I’m so sick I could die.” This is so common that American students don’t even pay much heed anymore. But camping brought the whining to a new level especially as everyone suffered from the cold night. And that is the issue, it’s not that your problem isn’t a problem. It really was cold out. But repeatedly and persistently announcing your situation counts as whining when everyone went through the exact same thing. Suck it up and shut up about it. We’re all tired, sick, cold, and have feet that hurt.
Lastly, it became apparent that Chinese students understand vaguely the purpose of voting but not how to vote. Playing the role-play game “Mafia” this weekend, everyone must vote a “townsperson” to be “killed” for being part of the mafia. But playing this game in China meant arguing for an half hour over how to count votes, when to vote, and who got to speak about voting. Dear me… help. It’s easy. Speak your mind. One person, one vote. Raise your hand. Maybe if these students figure it out, by the time they are in the parliament, they can help reform the governmental process.
But for every over sweeping generalization I make about China and Chinese people from a weekend in the woods, there were some really fun and great moments to tell. My roommate was the brave soul who went into the freezing cold water of the reservoir. American students showed their roommates how to set up tents, use sleeping bags. Chinese students taught Americans how to play “Mafia” in Chinese. Everyone shared meals and some good times including being “asked to leave” by the local Chinese police. Yes, camping at it’s truest!
Picture of the Day: Some students sit at the top of the reservoir and look down into depths of the water as the sun sets.