“You look Canadian.”

Yes, one of my students said that to me. I still don’t know exactly what he meant. When I asked him, he said it had something to do with my hair. I’ve had students say all caucasians look alike. It’s just so hard to tell us apart.

To be fair, Chinese people look a lot different than your IT guy and the girl in your physics class. I have seen dead ringers for Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Harrison Ford, John Cusak, Salma Hyak, Lou Diamond Phillips, Angelina Jolie, and my own landlord looks so amazingly like Keanu Reeves, I often have to leave the room when he’s fixing things. I don’t mean Asian versions, I mean dead ringers. When I walk around a mall, I’m surprised at how many Chinese people look Mexican or Native American to me, which makes sense, since their DNA is the same. Their ancestors migrated to the Americas 50,000 years ago.

I teach a class called, “Dispelling myths about America.” It’s about how what they think by watching TV, movies, or the news, is probably not true, and I first asked them when they think of America or American, what is the first thing that comes to their mind. I usually hear the same set of answers every time I ask: “Rich, fast food (or specifically pizza and/or hamburgers), guns, freedom, blonde hair/blue eyes, NBA, don’t know how to save, violence…” then the answers will vary.

The first thing I remind them is that TV and movies do not usually represent real life. I will say, “I have lived here for a year and half, and I have yet to see Jackie Chan doing Kung Fu in the street.” This makes them laugh, but they get the point.

Here are a few things I have learned about being Chinese that seem to be shared experiences. Yes, the one child policy is a fact of life though it’s becoming controversial now, and may change in the near future. The idea is to bring down the population –obviously. However, it only applies to the Han Chinese who live in the biggest cities and have brothers and sisters. So exceptions are: People who are not Han (meaning minorities), people in rural areas, and if the husband and wife are both only children, they are allowed two. The real problem is that there are less younger people to take care of and pay for the older people, so this policy may not stand that much longer.

Contrary to popular belief, boys are not prized over girls. Parents aren’t allowed to find out the sex before the baby is born, but girls get a huge dowry from the boys when they get married, so there are advantages to both. Before marriage, the groom to be must give his bride, a large sum of money, a house, and a car or the parents won’t approve. Girls are treated like (and called) princesses. The stress and pressure on the boys and their families is crazy. Often the boy’s parents will give them the house. They may have bought it long before he grew up.

Houses cost millions. Imagine NYC and times it by about 10. Then, a guy at about 27, is pressured to get married ASAP, and will soon be solely responsible for himself, his wife, the child they will have and his parents and/or her parents. Children NEVER stop living with their parents. Since they don’t even start dating until after college, often they marry their first or second boyfriend/girlfriend.  If they don’t have one by the time they are about 27, their mothers will find one.
Children spend every day of their lives studying. Every day. I tutor these kids. “Do you have a bike?” I might ask as a vocabulary question.

“Yes, but I never get to ride it.” Nor do they get to play with toys or get outside that much. Their childhood is lost in memorizing books. On holidays, they get twice as much work.
Additionally, basic life skills are not taught. These “kids” turn 23 and they still don’t know how to cook, do laundry, or simple daily chores. Since they still live with their parents, their mother will continue to cook and clean for them for life. This is the parents’ social security. They work and take care of their children, until they are so old they need taken care of.

Also, there is a mandatory retirement age of 55 for women and 60 for men. So as soon as that grandchild is born, grandparents will actually fight over who gets to provide daycare. Each child born has at least 6 caregivers, more if they employ a nanny. This creates VERY spoiled children –well, at least until they start school. If the grandparents live in a rural area, they may take the child to live with them.

The children are called “little emperors” and they get everything they want and rule the house. Now, imagine this child at 30 or 40. This is why having a temper tantrum when you are 30 is not against the law and actually works. The general rule is “bad behavior is rewarded to make it stop.” (See my past two entries). One time Raine didn’t want to climb the stairs at our old apartment after a trip to the park. The nanny bribed her with candy and ice cream, and she did it. Of course, I stopped this practice immediately, but this is how things work.

Naturally Chinese people think having children is very expensive so having only one saves a lot of money. And children here are free for practically everything, but if you want them in nice clothes, going to the best schools, with tutors for everything, and extra classes in piano, violin, art, and having every little thing they ask for, yes, it gets very expensive. It’s crazy to me how much they spend on each child, but there are at least six people doing it, and it’s their social security investment.

Commonly, they work to live and not the other way around. They shop like crazy –it’s a hobby. Many also take lots of vacations, even abroad commonly, it’s at least once a year. When they do travel, they go with a tour group so they don’t have to worry about language barriers and arrangements. They buy Prada, Coach, Levis and other name brand things in America because it’s so much cheaper there.

It’s common to have a housekeeper, which further inhibits the need to learn basic life-skills. Also, many apartments don’t come with kitchens at all. Cooking is a lost skill, and it’s easier and more convenient to just eat out. Often their job will provide at least one meal and usually two meals are eaten at work. This is why my Home-Ec class has become popular.

Breakfast is important, but almost everyone just eats bread and milk, or left-overs from the night before. They eat a large amount of carbs and a lot of fresh produce. Everyone drinks A LOT of room-temp or warm water and/tea. They take walks after dinner. Many belong to gyms and use them, or join groups in the community that will dance, do tai chi, or other things in the parks and open spaces.

They talk about doing all these things for their health and yet, probably more than 50% of people smoke, and it’s allowed EVERYWHERE. You don’t normally see anyone smoking in a mall or store, but no one will stop them if they do. In fact, I’ve seen people smoking next to a no smoking sign. If Rumi or Raine see it, they will call them out loudly. They are so funny. They will point the sign and start coughing like crazy until they are so embarrassed they either stop or leave.

Are there any things you have heard or questions you may have that I could answer for you about dispelling myths in China. I feel like I have just touched the surface, and I could add a million more details, but it’s so much random stuff, it might be easier to answer questions.


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