Back in the Hangzhou Dong (East) train station. I'm amidst an ocean of nondiversity. Thousands and thousands of people that are 100% Chinese. I feel like I comment on this a lot, but I can't not notice it.
I play find the foreigner a lot, and often the count is zero. Last weekend in Shanghai there were a few non-Chinese people, but rare. As I was shuffling along in a taxi line that can only compare to what I've experienced in Las Vegas there was another tall caucasian guy that was snaking back and forth in the line. He was even taller than me. It was impossible for us not to notice each other as we passed by each other several times. No words were spoken, but there was an acknowledgement of our sore thumb status.
Question: What does living like this do to someone when they are immersed in no diversity? Does it make the experience of encountering me fearful? Curious? Ambivalence? I would like to ask them, but I don't have the words. Even still, I'm not sure I would get a direct answer. I can say that I "feel" a lot of eyes on me often. That may be only my own perception seeded in some anxiety. I can't be sure. I will say this, I've had many strangers go out of their way to make me feel comfortable when I've needed some help. On the whole I've felt very welcomed by strangers in China. I believe the vast majority of Chinese citizens look at me with a lot more wonder than animosity of any kind.
Okay. Why the train station again? I headed up to Wuxi this weekend to meet a lady. Her name is Ai Yun. We had a very nice Saturday walking and talking. We shared a Korean dinner. It was good conversation. Good enough that I failed to take any pictures next to the giant lake by Wuxi. I'm confident we'll get together again soon.
Note. Ai Yun is a shorty mcshorterson. This picture is deceptive. She doesn't come up to my shoulder. I'm more than a foot taller than she is. She works for a large marine engineering company called Wartsila mostly helping Enlglish speaking customers. She also teaches English on the side.
One of the first questions the average American wants to ask (myself included) is how do they feel about the Chinese government. I'm learning that this is a question better asked much later than sooner. Without exception I've received the same answer from ladies that I've met. I don't care about politics. My first reaction to this has been skepticism and assuming that's a response made out of fear of the government. However, I'm starting to better understand the mindset. It's true. They really don't care about politics. I believe this is related to the lack of diversity and groupthink mindset. Because they're all the same, there aren't divergent opinions to argue. Sure, there are minority groups that exist here, but they are very rare. If I were a gay man here I'm sure my perspective would be wildly different. Being openly identified as different here is not really an option if you want to keep your job, apartment, or even your family. And that's a sad state of affairs for some.
I feel like I'm working overtime here to be objective in all things. How do I feel about this? Am I compromising my core set of beliefs here to happily blend in? Absolutely. And that bothers me a bit. However, I do see generational change on the horizon. It's never our generation that makes the change of acceptance. It's always the next one, and I believe our children and their children will continue to be more accepting of differences. The Chinese are not different in this concept. They're just lagging behind western cultures.
When I first arrived at Hangzhou International School I was instructed to avoid the three Ts in conversation. Taiwan, Tiananmen, and Tibet. Dissent is not tolerated. You want to protest? You're going to get arrested. The groupthink here revolves not around a lack of compassion for those being oppressed, but more related to why would you bother? These are things that will not lead to your happiness. We're talking about more than a majority of the people. It's close to 100%.
Without exception all the Chinese ladies I've met are worried about happiness, joy, love, and financial security. Does this mean they don't have compassion for those that are being oppressed? Of course not. It's just not in their face. They aren't even presented with the question. State run media doesn't go that route. You might think other outside news sources are blocked or unavailable. That's not the case. I can easily get to any news source I want with regular internet, but it's all in English. The masses don't read it and don't bother to translate it. Again, they choose not to read it.
The trains run on time. The streets are clean. There's no crime. There's no drugs. There's no homeless. And more importantly, they've never experienced a society we're openly being different or having a different opinion is acceptable. Insert the fact that there's no diversity and you have a recipe for ambivalence with regard to the government. I would never make the argument that it's better. Not having a vote? The feels wrong. But I don't plan to argue the merits while I'm here. I'm going to focus on trying to understand the mindset as much as I can.