Tag Archives: Seriously?!

I Hate America, or, What Happens When You Dine Alone

When I first came to China in 2004, I came alone. In the small town to which I moved to teach English, I would often eat out alone, poke around the streets alone, and wander through the nearby fields and villages alone. Except I wasn’t really alone; there was usually someone tagging along just behind me, or hanging around my dinner table, or moving through the grocery store aisle by my side. They were usually under the age of 30, and often came in pairs. They wanted to ask me where I was from, try out their few words of English, see what I was buying, or just generally observe my strangeness as I went about my business. People approached me often to take my photo.

When I came back to live in China again in 2009, I came with RP – and hardly anybody approached me anymore. China changed so much in the first decade of the new millennium that I simply assumed that people had become more sophisticated in the 5 years since I had last resided there. The Olympics had happened; a flood of foreigners had come to China to do business, teach English, and study Mandarin; average people were well-acquainted with American pop culture and Western products. I figured that people were just too cool now to be interested in foreigners, or at least too cool to appear interested.

TOTALLY WRONG.

It turns out that it was simply a case of being too intimidated to come up and speak to two foreigners walking down the street or eating dinner together. China’s general public may well be more sophisticated now than they were in 2004, but as soon as I was traveling alone this fall, the interest from strangers started up again with a vengeance.

This time, however, my Chinese was much improved. Since it was slightly off-season for tourists, I was often the only foreigner in the endless string of 8-to-a-room hostels I occupied – and unless you’re feeling really tough, it’s hard to keep up the ruse that you don’t understand when your bunk mates are all talking about you two feet away.

So I would introduce myself, and that would begin the two-hour conversation about life in America, life in China as an American, superficial analyses of China’s grand economic and political strategies, and so on. Occupy Wall Street activities were just hitting the Chinese news (and were uncensored, at least initially, I’m sure because the Chinese government took pleasure in the sight of what appeared to be massive anti-capitalist protests in the world’s richest nation).

The people staying in these hostels were usually university students traveling on their school break, and I found the prevailing attitude about the OWS protests to be fascinating: that it indicated the end of the United States. I had several people ask me, in all seriousness, when Obama would be resigning.

A common sentiment expressed to me by Chinese acquaintances in all walks of life has been that the worst attribute society can have is luan: disorder, or even chaos. But because of the heavy censorship of the press, I’m not sure most Chinese people know how luan society there already is; the huge protests in Wukan, Guangdong this fall and winter were only the most explosive of an increasing number of incidents of “social unrest” happening in China every year (some 180,000 in 2010 alone, according to Tsinghua University Professor of Sociology Sun Liping). Without access to that knowledge, you can see why people would look at images like the following being blasted all over the internet, and assume that the end is nigh:

I tried to explain that these were protests about economic inequality and outrageous corporate power in the US political process, and that if the US were going to crumble it probably wouldn’t be because of these incidents, but I’m not sure they believed me.

At any rate, I found these conversations refreshing for their (relative – very relative) depth. I don’t know if it’s because I spend a lot of time hanging out in the Chinese boondocks, but the average conversation someone strikes up with me about America go no further than this (verbatim, no joke):

Shop Keeper: Oh, you’re American! America is great.

Me: Why do you say that?

Shop Keeper: America is developed. (“美国的发展好.”)

While these conversations are usually painfully uninformed, they’re always very friendly. It’s certainly pretty unusual to hear a Chinese person say that they hate America. Much more typical is having someone inform you, completely unsolicited, that they hate hate HATE the Japanese, but that they think America is just terrific. So while I was getting used to having random people approach me for a quick chat again, I was unprepared for the following scene that occurred on my last afternoon in Hangzhou.

Scene: Bird sits in an anonymous restaurant eating braised tofu with rice. Mid-bite, a Random Old Man (ROM) plops himself down in the empty seat across from her.

ROM: Hey, are you Russian?

Bird: No, I’m not Russian. I’m American.

ROM: Not Russian, huh?

Bird: Nope.

ROM: China has good relations with Russia, you know. And Germany. And France.

Bird: You don’t say.

ROM: But you’re American. (Beat)  I hate America.

Bird: Why would that be?

ROM: You guys are messing with our economy!

Bird: We’re messing with your economy? Are you aware of the fact that the Chinese government owns over a trillion dollars of US debt? And that China has protectionist policies about its own industries while flooding the US with cheap, low-quality goods – goods whose price is only so low because the Chinese government controls the value of the renminbi?!

ROM: Hey, don’t get mad.

Bird: Sure, why should I be mad? You only interrupted my lunch to tell me that you hate my country.

ROM: It’s just that I hate Obama, that black guy.

Bird: Really – and why is that?

ROM: He’s made a really bad impression on average Chinese people.

Bird: Exactly which of Obama’s policies are you against?

ROM: Why is America involved in so many wars, like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan? Iraqis are people too, you know.

Bird: I’m sure most Americans would agree with you there. Actually, many Americans are against those wars. We have protested in the streets, but our government doesn’t listen to us. It’s important to remember that people are different from their governments – that governments make decisions without consulting their people, policies that often contradict the people’s wishes.

ROM: That’s because you Americans have too many political parties.

Bird: Actually we only really have two.

ROM: Well, that’s too many. We Chinese only have one. The Communist Party.

Bird: Yes I know that. Everyone knows that.

ROM: China’s a peaceful place, you know! We’re don’t go around starting wars with everybody!

Bird: My understanding is that China has so many internal conflicts that it doesn’t really need to wage war with anyone else.

ROM: Huh?

Bird: Forget it.

ROM: I think the Communist Party is really great. Particularly what they’re doing in places like Tibet. Tibet’s a better place now than it’s ever been before, wouldn’t you agree?

Bird: Check please!

ROM: Nah, come on – have some more rice!

Bird: CHECK PLEASE RIGHT NOW!

Fin.

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STOP SOPA

I don’t have the technical access to black out this blog today in solidarity with efforts to stop SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act that deeply threatens our internet freedoms in the US) – but if I could black it out, I would.

Read more about SOPA, why it is such a disaster, and why we must stop it, here.

Contact your Representative and Senators to tell them that you don’t support SOPA or the politicians that do.

ETA: Proud to host my blog on WordPress, who have blacked out their main site today in solidarity. More info on this strike can be found here.

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What to Do If Your Blog Goes Viral: 10 Tips

When my blog went viral because of the fake Apple store post, I was totally caught off guard and made a lot of mistakes. I know it’s all very exciting when this happens and people start contacting you from all over the world, but it pays in the long run to be hardheaded about this in advance. Below are a few pieces of friendly advice based on my experience, in case going viral ever happens to you.

Please add your own tips on this in the comments section!

  1. Recognize what’s coming. Have 1,000 people visited your blog in the past hour, when previously only 10 people came in a day? Is your content being rapidly Tweeted? Welcome to the land of the viral internet! Prepare to take action.
  2. Decide what you want out of this experience. Are you looking to become famous on the internet? A full-time blogger? The next Paris Hilton? Or are you looking to maintain your privacy and your regular life? This will inform how and where you allow your content to be distributed.
  3. Consider buying the domain name of your blog address (e.g. for myblog.wordpress.com, buy myblog.com).
  4. Consider putting up ads on your blog. You may find this tacky, but when you realize that your content is spreading all over the internet and lots of people are making money off of it, you may feel differently.
  5. Make sure you have a copyright notice prominently displayed. Decide on a policy of how your content can be used by different media outlets (e.g. blogs, print media, television). Be aware that US law does not recognize the “moral right of attribution” – that is, just because you ask to be publicly credited when you give permission for your content to be reproduced elsewhere, doesn’t mean the outlet has to credit you. You having given permission for use of your content is enough for them to run it.
  6. Consider watermarking all of your photos, or disabling the ability of others to download/right-click your content if you want to maintain strict control (this may or may not be easily done, depending on who is hosting your blog).
  7. Realize that your content may have considerable financial value – don’t just give it away to people who are going to be making money from it. (Remember: multibillion-dollar media conglomerates are not your friends.) In particular, demand in advance that you be remunerated for any use of your content in print or on TV. Technically, there’s no difference in terms of copyright violation online/on TV/in print if your content is used without your permission, but there’s something particularly galling about not being paid for your content to be used in print or on TV by someone else. May them pay up.
  8. If you give permission for your content to be reproduced, do so in a limited way – BE EXPLICIT. For example: “Yes, you have the right to use this one particular photo for this one particular article, and nowhere else. You may not archive my content for future use.”
  9. Do not ever give permission for your photos to be freely used by a major warehouse of photos like Agence France-Presse (AFP), Getty Images, or the Associated Press (AP). These places have tens of thousands of clients, who will be buying your photos from them, without any financial gain for you. Your photos will be reproduced by numerous outlets credited only AFP/Getty/AP, without crediting you. AFP/Getty/AP will claim that they have no control over this – while this may be true, it will not help ease your feeling that very bad things should happen to these people. Giving your photos to one of these agencies will mark the end of your control over your photos – BEWARE.
  10. Do not be impressed or intimidated by your unauthorized content showing up in prominent places – get on the phone or send them an email and make sure they remove your content or pay your for it – or both. The following outlets are among the numerous places that abused the content of this blog: NYTimes.com, CBS News, New York Post, The Independent (UK), Le Figaro (France), and USA Today. I AM NOT IMPRESSED.

Anyone got anything else to add?

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Quick Hit: Advertising in Poor Taste

RP and I discovered this ad for sunglasses in the window of an optometrist’s shop in Tengchong, Yunnan.

Way to keep it classy, guys.

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