Thursday, April 3, 2008

An Old Adage Rings True

Yesterday, I spent a very enjoyable day at Nanjing International School, shooting the breeze and the basketball with many of my friends whom I met during my year at the school between 2005-2006. The student body is roughly 40% Koreans and 20% German, but also with large American, Swedish and Dutch populations. Unfortunately, not all of these nationalities are as at peace with their existence in China. Typically, the Asian kids have a better understanding of Chinese culture and thus feel comfortable in this setting. Of course, there are exceptions, but this unfortunate stereotype in generally secure.
The upsetting thing is the lack of respect some of my fellow westerners show for the Chinese, always going on and on: “they can’t do this, they can’t do that, they can’t do goddamned anything.”
Exactly why they perceive this Chinese inferiority remains an enigma to me. Perhaps this is because Chinese are generally poorer than westerners, but even if this is the case, it is a very poor basis for such a generalisation.
But this where my “old adage” comes in:


I myself was another naïve westerner when I returned to China for the first time in nearly a decade in August 2005. For those first 6 months, we lived on a compound dominated by western businessmen and their families. The problem with these compounds is that they are usually located far from the downtown core of Nanjing, so while their hubbies boss around their Chinese minions, the expat WAGs grow bored in their luxurious houses and so usually do one of two things: stir up trouble in any forum possible, or blame their lack of initiative on “those stupid Chinese.” Never mind that said wife’s IQ may be the square root of that of their Chinese acquaintances. So more often that not, this disrespect for the Chinese will get passed down to the couple’s children, leading to unpleasant manners towards the locals.
Whilst I was, upon occasion, guilty of this same annoyance, my dad kept me real, as he loves China so much he could probably get a passport. Whereas some of my friend’s parents might encourage this behaviour, my father abhorred it and also let me know it. But all this was really a teething problem.
We returned home to England for a month in the deep winter of 2006, and within days I was yearning to return to Nanjing. When we finally did, in early February, we lived in a small apartment in downtown Nanjing. The apartment itself was a far cry from the one on the city fringe, but the location exponentially made up for it. And this time, I would not make the same mistake. I was determined to enjoy it. Now, sitting on the bullet train from Nanjing to Suzhou, I already miss the city deeply and can’t wait to return, hopefully for more than a couple of days. I have to say, the Hopkins Nanjing Center program looks ever more attractive.
I can only hope my friends experience the same epiphany, for once they embrace Nanjing, they won’t be able to let go.

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