We spent New Year’s Eve and Day for 2015 in the rural village of 坡头村中国。It was a very interesting time. We were served hot Coca-Cola with ginger in it, we could not find any way to explain to our friend why we don’t have warmer clothes, and we had 2 different elderly men sing for us.
In the village where we were the only heat source is coal burning stoves. It is very, very cold outside and the homes are not well insulated. You’re pretty much shivering all the time. The locals all had very thick clothes on especially made for such weather. They appeared to be thicker and more insulated than ski outfits. Then here we were with our blue jeans and people kept asking us why we didn’t wear warmer clothes. We explained that we don’t have warmer clothes and they thought we were insane. How do you explain to a person with no indoor plumbing and a dirt floor that we don’t usually need warmer clothes than these because our home and every where we go is heated? The only time we’re out in the extreme cold is going quickly from one place to another. But out there it’s cold everywhere all winter.
We are the first foreigners to have ever visited this village and everyone came to see us! It was almost like we were circus freaks more so than honored guests. We do have enough culture to know to bring a gift when going to someone’s home but our gift paled in comparison to what they gave us. The owner of the house we stayed in, our friend, gave us some of his hand drawn artwork and some old family photos, while a friend of his that’s an art teacher sculpted us little figurines and fired them during the day returning to the house in the evening to send us home with them. Our tin of chocolates was looking less and less like a worthy gift as time went on.
There was a never ending revolving “door” which is really just a blanket hanging over a threshold of people wanting to meet us. It was special but tiring.
A couple weeks ago my husband and I were walking down the street and there was an old woman lying in the middle of the sidewalk. People were just bustling past her as if they didn’t even see her. We stopped and tried to see what we could do for her but she didn’t understand us and we didn’t understand her. When others saw us helping her they stopped too. Soon someone had called the police to come and help the woman.
Before that I had seen two guys riding a motorbike get hit by a car. They were both thrown off the bike and we left lying in the middle of the road. The cars just drove around them. I headed over there but before I go there they were up and riding off.
3 months ago a tourist fainted on a subway in Beijing and everyone on the train simply ignored him and left him lying there while they exited the train.
1 year ago a woman got her head stuck in a railing. People passed by her all day. Stopping to stare. Taking pictures with their cell phones. She died.
1 year ago a 2 year old little girl was hit by a car. A security camera shows over 15 people walking past the child lying in the road. Eventually a 2nd car hit her body and killed her.
The stories go on and on. Why is this? How can people be so cruel? Those are shocking stories but there are the tiny almost mundane ones too like if a little old lady drops her bag of groceries in a crowd not one person will stop to help her gather them (but me).
I’ve been researching this for a few days now and it seems to stem from Taoism. Apparently Laozi’s utopia was described as “Let your community be small, with only a few people. He said that “to do nothing is actually to do everything.”
So there we go. They have a 3,000 year old tradition of not caring for their neighbor. Only have a few people in your community and don’t ever help anyone with anything. It’s tribalism to the extreme.
In the lobby of my friend’s apartment building there is a sign that reads:
Look on and Do Nothing.
That about sums up life here.
It’s not as if Chinese people are not capable of empathy. They are very friendly to people they consider part of their group as in their family and their small circle of friends but anyone outside of that may as well not exist. It’s as if in Chinese culture there are two distinct, completely separate castes: my circle and the untouchables. They don’t separate themselves by class or rank or anything like that it’s just me, my family, my friends, and then the untouchables.
Then everyone lives in their little worlds like that. There are millions and millions of microcosms in China. Millions of groups of 20 or so people that are wonderfully sweet and helpful to each other that never intermingle with other groups and wouldn’t lift a finger to help the other even if a life were at stake.
For anyone interested there is a Chinese professor at UCLA writing a book on the topic. I have emailed him to learn more.
Traveling Latin America one will notice several cultural differences but the one I still have not been able to adjust to is the blatant racism . There are restaurants such as the one in my featured picture that pretty much translates into “Black people food”. There is a tourism sign in Lima, Peru with a picture of horrible cartoon black people beating on drums that says “Go to this town and see our black people dance”.
We met a guy from Chile that seemed pretty nice and since we didn’t make it to Chile I was asking him some cultural questions. I asked him if in Chile it was like in Columbia and no matter what the day or time there was music blaring and loud people everywhere and his response was “No, we don’t have any black people.” I don’t really know this guy so it wasn’t like he was saying this to me in any kind of confidence, it was just a normal run-of-the-mill kind of thing to say to a stranger.
Then there was the first leg of our speed boat trip to cross the Columbia-Panama border. We started off in the armpit of the world that is Turbo, Columbia at 8:30AM. There was a group of about 8 Columbians that were REALLY obnoxious. We couldn’t tell if they were really drunk or just like that naturally until they started passing the bottle of rum amongst them. I remind you it’s 8:30 in the morning. The ring leader of the group and the loudest, most obnoxious one of the group was annoying the hell out of us.
Every time the boat would hit a wave and crash to the bottom he would scream like a baby, he was making stupid jokes, and he kept blowing this damn horn he had. I swear in the US this guy would have been thrown overboard. Then at one point when I guess he thought the ride was too rough (once again-speed boat-ocean-not going to be a smooth ride) he leans back and yells “Hey nigger, slow down!” Then what happens to him? Everyone laughs. Yep. They laughed. This is how such behavior doesn’t stop. It was so offensive I made a video of it. See link on side. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuLI5tvmQCs&feature=youtu.be
It was like being stuck on a 4 hour horrible roller coaster ride with a group of 12 year old boys. All but these people were older than me. It was a constant stream of fart jokes, stupidity and racism and it was praised.
Summer of 2013 was amazing. We traveled the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico camping, sleeping in hammocks, snorkeling the coral reef, and seeing ancient Mayan ruins. After Mexico we went to Guatemala where we have friends.
We first flew into Cancun but we got the heck out of there as fast as possible. Cancun is the land of all inclusive resorts. Why anyone would travel to a different country to only be surrounded by people just like themselves I will never know. Tulum Mexico is about a 45 minute bus ride from Cancun and while there are tourists there they are mostly Mexican tourists.
We got off the bus with our packs and asked someone where the cheapest place to camp was and they directed us to la Playa de Pescadores and off we were. It took us about 45 minutes to walk there and our teen boy was complaining the whole time.
We found the beach and we were told that we could hang our hammocks in the trees on the beach for $10 a night for the whole family. It was amazing! White sands and beautiful, clear, blue water.
I had wanted very badly to go snorkeling while we were there but we were afraid it was going to be too expensive. The only place we could find online charged $300 per person and there are 4 of us. Luckily for us that’s only the way the rich do things in Mexico! So we were hanging out on the beach and this 60something year old man walked up to us and asked if we wanted to go snorkeling or scuba diving and if so he could take us.
He took us snorkeling on coral reef with sea turtles and to several cents (under cave lakes). We were gone ALL DAY and he supplied us with professional gear (wet suits, masks) for $75! It was one of my favorite parts of the whole summer.
In Tulum the ruins are right at the beach. They are on a cliff overlooking the ocean and it’s gorgeous! I recommend anyone going there.
This is the beautiful Lake Attitlan in Guatemala. We had a wonderful time there. While the children and my husband went zip lining I paid a tuk tuk driver to take me around town and show me the real San Pedro. I told him I wanted to see the parts that none of the tourists ever ventured to.
My husband and I both share a great desire to travel and we are making our dreams come true. Several months ago he turned his resume in to a recruiter. He told him I want to make X amount of USD per month but other than that we’re open to the world!
The recruiter was not very hopeful. Apparently most international schools are looking for singles. Often times the spouse ends up miserable and wants to leave so schools simply avoid the problem by only hiring singles. We heard nothing for a long time.
Then a month ago the recruiter emailed that my husband had an interview for a job in Vietnam! He interviewed via Skype and got the job! We move to Hanoi on August 5th! I’m so excited I can barely focus on school and life here.
He will be teaching at the International School of Vietnam and our daughter gets to go there for free! I will be finishing up my degree online and enjoying asian life!