Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Learning About China

One of the neat things about being "retired" is the amount of time I have now to choose what I want to do.  That must explain the resentment members of Congress--the ones who are trying to kill Medicare and Social Security--have for us "elderly."  They're just jealous!

MM and I love learning!  We read lots and allow our curiosity to lead us on paths of exploration and discovery.  We don't need a reason except that we want to know...

After ranting awhile back, here, about "Made in China" I got to thinking about the fact that I know practically nothing about a country which, in area, is the size of the U. S. and whose population at 1.25 billion, represents 1/5 of the people on earth, and grows between 12 and 13 million every year! 

MM and I lived in Hong Kong (which is truly not China) for six weeks in the early 1970's.  One day,  out of curiosity, we took a bus out into what was then called The New Territories.  Development was in its infancy or non-existent. The bus was filled to over-capacity.  We were the only non-Orientals on the bus.

People chattered loudly over the unmufflered popping and banging of the engine, enjoying the ride and each others' company enormously.  About ten minutes out, however, the bus, on a rather steep incline quit and started to roll backward.  The driver, mashed the brake hard, and with what appeared to be a well-rehearsed routine, jumped out, ran to the back, opened the luggage compartment and got out a stick about 4 feet long and 2 inches square; he slammed the luggage door shut and promptly stuck the stick up against the bumper expecting it to hold that bus!  Surprisingly, it did.   Meanwhile all passengers were filing out.  We joined the throng.  Milling around outside, everyone seemed to take the event in stride, some even reassuring MM and me that things would be fine by one means or another:  smiling, patting us on the shoulder--we all speak the same language, really.  Of course, here we are, out in the midst of the "real" China, "alone" and wondering where we will go from "here" which is "where?"  Finally, another bus arrived, our driver flagged it down, we were loaded on and we continued on our circuit of New Territories back to the bus station and then back to our residence. It was a tiny slice of the real China.

Exploration.  Discovery.  Sharing. Throughout our time in Hong Kong we went everywhere by ourselves.  We met the Chinese people, asked questions (as best we could) and learned much.  I had taken a Time-Life Chinese cookbook with me on one day of exploration for us.  We went into a market that was a cornucopia of unfamiliar food items for sale.  There were barrels of dried mushrooms, shrimp, lichee nuts--dozens and dozens of unknown ingredients for a meal.  We wandered through the aisles, comparing pictures in the book to what was in each container.  Browsing, we felt a "presence" behind us and turned to see three store employees following us, trying to peer over our shoulder.

Apparently, we had gotten the proprietor's attention.  Through various sign language improvisations, and sharing the book with them, they understood that we had a "cookbook."  They pronounced it carefully "COOKbook" several times and then became animated with the knowledge of what we were doing.  They then took us on a complete tour of the "grocery" store, looking in our cookbook and comparing and teaching us what was what.  The tour lasted well over an hour and we came away with an inspired sense that we ARE all connected, all human, and we are all very similar to one another.

These are but meager experiences, though.  Practically microscopic--even irrelevant, today--when compared to China as a country.

With China emerging to become what will probably be the largest economy in the world by 2015 (or so) it would seem that we need to know more about them.  With that thought in mind, we decided to start a "personal study" of China.  I went to Amazon and chose five books.  Three were by the same author, Peter Hessler; another is Rob Gifford's (of NPR) China Road.  Finally, a BEAUTIFUL book entitled, simply "China" which is an easily digested "first" book on China's landscape, history, people, and culture.  I love beautiful books and this one, published by DK (Dorling Kindersley) is bound in brocade, if you can imagine!  I've never seen a book quite like it.  At $26 it was an absolute steal!

MM and I are reading the books out loud, taking turns, learning, exploring, discovering.  It is humbling, believe me!  For example, in the year 130 BCE (Before the Christian Era) the Chinese had invented a seismograph that  indicated the direction where an earthquake had occurred; they invented paper; they took the first census of China in the year 2 CE (Christian Era)(some 57,000,000 people0; they built the first multi-story buildings, housing their domesticated animals on the ground floor and living in the upper stories.  And these are just tiny fragments of a history that spans 7000-plus years.  And now, in today's world, the Chinese are making their presence known.

I've watched them in this Olympics and in the aerial ski competition, for example, they are accurate and polished.  They're learning, and learning fast.

As Americans, we've always "enjoyed" (a note of sarcasm here) "superiority" and have not taken the time or the effort to understand other cultures.  THEY speak OUR language and well they should, has been the prevailing attitude.  Let's face it:  we're arrogant.  We've been too comforable in our own egos and comparative wealth, expecting others in this world to come to us, convinced that America invented everything. 

This can't continue.  We need to learn from other cultures in order that we can hold this planet together and guard its environmental future. 

Surely, in all that time--7,000 years (compared to our puny 244 years)--the Chinese have gained some wisdom that we all can use--especially to have lasted all that time and be once again "on the rise." 

I truly want to know more.

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