January 12th, 2011
I realize now I never wrote a blog entry about my trip to Korea. There are a few reasons for that, none of them being that the trip was not interesting. The first reason is that the trip, though eventful, was more about visiting old friends and escaping China than it was about experiencing Korea. But I did see some excellent features of Seoul, lots of cute boys J (the American Army base is helpful in this area), good shopping and lots of Western restaurants. But the best part of Korea was seeing my friend Candace and her husband Jon. I was great to see them settled half-way across the world. I was impressed with their knowledge of the city and their languages skills. Coming to Korea was a new revelation to me as well of how far I had come in Chinese. Now I have basic conversation skills in Chinese and being back in an environment where I couldn’t speak to the local was frustrating.
Tomorrow is my birthday. I am throwing myself a party and inviting everyone I have met over the last year. It is also my one year anniversary of living in China. And as such it is a time of reflection for me and a time to look back and see what I have accomplished.
The obvious accomplishment has been an improvement in my Chinese which has brought with it a general confidence with being here. After traveling around China by myself using my Chinese to get through some of the discomforts and tough situations, I know that I have the building blocks in place. But this next half a year, I really want to understand this country more. Making more Chinese friends will be my next priority so that I can use more Chinese outside of the classroom.
Right now I have a few friends that I speak with only in Chinese. One is my friend Sammy, who was my Chinese teacher last semester.
And this birthday I feel mostly blessed to have this life. I am so lucky and the large part of that feeling is routed in the fact that I was not born Chinese.
Being a woman in China would not be easy. Sometimes I find myself getting angry with Chinese girls, for being so submissive and trying so hard to please others. But living here a little longer I have begun to see the enormous pressures they live with.
“Chinese women are more likely to commit suicide than Chinese men. More than half of the world’s female suicides happen in China, where the female suicide rate is nearly five times the world average. China is the only country on Earth where more women commit suicide than men.” Peter Hessler
I often ask my student whether they think it is harder to be a woman or to be a man in China. They almost always point to the enormous pressures on men to make a good income and claim that it is harder to be a man.
I remember one class of girls I had where I asked them if they believed there was sexism in China and they flatly replied no. I rephrased the questions, does society like powerful women. Do men like successful women? They replied with a no.
Sometimes this fact feels hopeless. I have felt the pressures of identity in my own life. I’ve seen the kind of women that men have felt attracted to and felt hopeless. But my own reaction has always been to reject men before they reject me and preserve the freer sides of myself. But I know that I am an intimidating woman. I know what it’s like to be hitting it off with a guy at the beginning when I am just smiling and laughing at his jokes, but the moment it comes to talking about my own accomplishments seeing him shrink in self doubt.
Living in China has made me realize how far the feminine revolution has brought women.
The way women are portrayed on television in China fills me with rage. They are always pitiful and pathetic; you can’t watch a show without the females falling into hysterical tears within five minutes. One very popular show on television at first glance seems like the story of a Chinese Mary Tyler Moore. Except of course, the Chinese counterpart always has a trembling lip and a pitiful look in the eye. And my friend Shanshan jokes it’s the story of how to sleep your way to the top because the heroine has a love affair with her boss in the show.
Chairman Mao said that women hold up half the sky and as such they are equal. This is one area in which I think you can’t blame the communist party. In the countryside people are still drowning girl babies or selling them to criminals. These problems are more deeply rooted.
However that being said, it’s not a one way road. I have never seen the blatant sexualisation of women on Chinese television that is so obvious in Western media. I guess we have to live in our pressures. But better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.