Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Wife with Broom in Hand

I've been paging through this really interesting book about the meaning behind Chinese charcters. Some characters, such as the one for "li" physical strength, represent abstract ideas. In this case the character is a symbol of a man's bent forearm. Others, such as the one for "lian" rice field, represent a real physical entity.

I heard of a study in which a Dartmouth professor found that all Chinese characters that include the "nu" female radical have a bad connotation. Armed with this information and my western sensibilities, I was not surprised, but somewhat disappointed to see that the character for "qi" wife is evolved from a literal representation of a woman holding a broom. It ruffled my feathers to think that the wife is perceived as nothing more than someone to clean up after a man. A person with a broom in hand should be the character for maid, not for wife! How chauvinistic!

My Chinese friend came to lunch the other day with the same book and I thought it would be interesting to see how she would react when I told her that a wife is just a woman holding a broom. Without even taking a minute to think about it she said, "Well, in the ancient times that's what a wife was." She totally shot down my attempt to have an edgy conversation about feminism in China. But I realized she is absolutely right. It's not as if the character "qi" was invented yesterday. I suppose someone could eventually change the characters to erase these traces of varying gender roles and perceptions. I think then the language would lose some of it's richness and historical perspective. I think sometimes modern women, or any other group that feels put-upon, can overreact to a potential bias without taking the time to truly consider the background of the situation.

Afterall, the character for "nan" man is not much better than the character for wife. If you put physical strength and a rice field together, that signifies masculinity. I'm not sure 'cause I've never worked in a rice paddy, but I think I'd rather be the one inside with the broom.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Horse in the Fast Lane

Literally. In Beijing the traffic is so bad at times that this morning I saw a horse-drawn cart racing down the fast line. In a city where it may be faster to ride a bike so that you can pass by parked traffic, I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Old Becomes New in Beijing

As spring literally gives way to fall in Beijing, this painting on the inside wall of a demolished alleyway building also echoes the additudes toward demolition and urban renewal.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Going Green in China?

China has a bad reputation for pollution. I can personally attest to the poor air quality in Beijing. Every time I take a long bike ride I wear a carbon filter mask.

But one thing many people probably neglect to consider is that China is about 5 times larger than the US in terms of population, so the environmental footprint of each person here is considerably smaller than in the US or in Europe, which is in turn smaller than in the US. In 2003 US energy consumption per capita
was just slightly more than twice that of Europe and well more than 6 times that of China.

I'm learning lots of important lessons here about things I can do personally to be more environmentally friendly. I can attribute this to a few interrelated factors. First, and foremost is lack of money.
From a lack of money, or perhaps more appropriately put, the lack of excessive amounts of money, comes more deliberate use of energy and more reuse of resources.

Rather than getting energy bills at the end of the month,
in Beijing you have to go to the bank and pre-pay for gas and electricity. This pre-pay system makes you much more conscious of how much energy you use and how much it costs. On the first night here in early February I used an electric heater in my bedroom. The next day when I saw how much energy it used I decided just to wear pajamas to bed and didn't heat the apartment all winter. It was certainly not as comfortable as my toasty apartment in Chicago, which I kept near 70 degrees Fahrenheit all winter despite it's large drafty windows. Although I'm probably relatively richer than a lot of my Chinese neighbors, as a student I'm a lot poorer right now than I was while I was working in Chicago. A slight budge squeeze and more ability to see how much heat could cost led me to drastically reduce my energy use.

In China washing machines are common, but I have yet to see a clothes dryer here. I have slowly grown accustomed to taking my clothes from the washer and hanging them out on a clothes line in my window. I have to admit that when I go back home to the land of dryers I will probably indulge for some things, like cotton shirts that get streched out of shape, but for the most part I think I am a convert. Even if my habits change slightly, I know that there will be some small benefit to the environment.

Another obvious difference between many Chinese apartments and their American counterparts is the type of water heater. In China they have devised an intelligent way to conserve energy and save money by using a water heater that heats the water almost instantly and can be turned on only when needed. Besides the obvious benefit of heating only as much water as needed, it also reduces the amount of hot water that I use overall. If I have to turn on the hot water heater to wash dishes or clothes in warm water, I generally decide that it's not worth the effort or the energy consumption and I just wash with cold water. I have yet to notice that my clothes are less clean or that my dishes are making me sick, so I see no reason to go back to wasting energy on extra hot water.

Reusing materials in China is extremely common. When you buy a bottle of beer you can return the bottle for a deposit. Because the bottles are re-used a bottle
of beer the same size as two cans costs the same price as one can. If you count the deposit you get back for returning the bottle a large bottle can cost even less than one small can. By my apartment and near BNU I see people riding along the street with carts behind their bikes stacked with cardboard, or styrofoam or pieces of broken wood. Walking along the street you can see elderly people rummaging through the trash for anything that could be valuable, like a plastic bottle. It's unfortunate that some people are so poor that my left-over scraps could be useful to them, but there's a good lesson: much of what could be considered trash is reusable and has value.

Western, and especially American culture, is a culture of waste. We always want new things and more things. Most of what we buy eventually ends up in a landfill and new resources and energy are wasted to replace the things we already had. China is getting wealthier and quickly becoming a culture of consumption too. I hope we can learn from them before our bad habits also become their bad habits.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Everyone's Doing It...

I remember Mom telling me I shouldn't just do things because the other kids are doing it. Everyone has heard the old standard, "If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?" But everyone has a blog nowadays and I want one! I figure it's about time I find out what all the fuss is about.

So welcome to my new blog, Ryan Rouying. Rouying is my Chinese name. It means gentle flower.

I'm generally nice and easygoing as my Chinese name would suggest, but I can
sometimes say some pretty shocking and inappropriate things. I am reactionary and opinionated so there's sure to be some politically incorrect zingers and rude conent in the future. I hope you like it as much as I do.