By Matt Cutugno
At a neighborhood Lotus Pond
Every morning I rise, leave my small studio apartment, and walk along Laodong Nanlu. This is a main thoroughfare in Huang Yan, a suburb of Taizhou, in Zhejiang Province, China.
Chaos rules along the street―what we would call rush hour. I suppose it is chaos only to me, because the tangle of conveyances (motorized and not), the honking of horns, the steady rush of pedestrians and the myriad smells of street food are normal to the citizens of the neighborhood.
Upon reflection, I think that every nation on earth may be a study in paradox. The great English with their high-minded philosophical principles were purveyors of exploitative imperialism. Americans and their reputation for openness and friendliness are often defined by the penchant of our government to meddle in the affairs of other nations. And Islamic countries condemn corruptions in the West only to institutionalize gross inequalities for their own women.
And so I ponder the paradoxes of the Chinese. They are a commendably industrious people, hard working and uncomplaining. But as I dodge traffic on Laodong Nanlu that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the rights of pedestrians, or as I frown waiting in line for my breakfast when someone cuts in front, I note that, in China, public courtesy is in rare display. This eastern paradox is essentially that kind people can be coldly impolite.
Near Jiali Sunshine Plaza
I’m working for a private foreign language school and enjoying the experience. My smiling students are earnest and eager to learn, the people of this city are warm and the food is good. Westerners are uncommon, so I am often greeted by strangers (the young) with calls of “Hello!” or asked if I am Mei guo ren, that is, an American.
Most Chinese students have English names. I find that fact both interesting and perplexing. Interesting because it speaks to a quality of accommodation about the Chinese that I find endearing. They are wonderful hosts, sincere and helpful, and in all my years of travel in Zhongu, I have seldom felt less than welcome.
The phenomenon of name changing is perplexing in that I wonder why they bother. What other people (besides their neighbors the Koreans) would think to make it easier on guests by changing their names to something more familiar? Chinese appellations can be daunting to pronounce and so they accommodate visitors by adopting English ones. They do admire English and American history, culture and values, and I don’t believe the admiration is begrudgingly given. This is in spite of history’s record of exploitation of China by the west. Zhong guo ren have no time to hold grudges.
Alley off Fang Shan Lu
At my school here in Huang Yan, several of the students have come up with novelty names. Thus, in one of my classes, I have Apple, Joy and Honey Melon. Those sound like the names of the children of celebrities in the U.S., don’t they?
The Chinese seem too kind. There is a pacific quality about them that can be seen as sheepishness. For example, social unrest, though not unheard of in China, is not common. They accept the premise that their government has their best interests at heart.
Americans are too skeptical for such deference. But then we have become a nation of gloomy cynics, so perhaps we should question less and, like the folks here, appreciate what we have and simply enjoy our lives.