Saturday, February 26, 2011

Reflection #1

We rolled into Fuxin around 8 last night, greeted by lots of neon (car dealers, mostly) and leftover New Year's lights (I wonder if people here leave their lights up like the fools back home do - I guess I'll find out). We laughed about how our preconceptions differed from reality; we'd expected a depressed coal town, something straight out of rural West Virginia, but Fuxin was thriving, covered in scaffolding and signs promising new construction developments.

Then morning came, and we had to walk a couple blocks to hail a taxi. Yeah. Turns out, the town - at least our part of it - is a mess. Sidewalks aren't paved (or if they are, they're hidden under layers of dirt), and when the wind blows (as it has like crazy on this cold day), it sends dirt and dust straight into our eyes and mouths. We're talking about getting the kind of masks a lot of the locals have, but past our immediate needs, I have to wonder - is it a Chinese characteristic of socialism to elevate the commercial parts of the city while leaving the neighborhoods languishing? This sort of imbalance isn't, obviously, uncommon in the US, where we are open about the dollar driving nearly every last aspect of culture. Obviously I didn't come here looking for some communist utopia, but how can a government so outwardly concerned with the good of the people at large turn such a blind eye to something as fundamental as a sidewalk? Is it too much to ask for a little clandestine corruption?

Obviously I'm joking (at least a little), but I've always known that a certain amount of government work goes on behind closed doors, and to a degree, I'm OK with that. I'm positive that happens all the time here as well (you can't look at the imposing government buildings in Beijing and not know that there are dirty dealings going on in at least some of those offices), but do they have to be so obvious about their lack of concern for the people who live in our neighborhood?

I'm sure my willingness to accept cloak-and-dagger government is a reflection of my readiness to sacrifice justice for my own comfort. I think that's part of being an American, if it's at all possible to describe one characteristic to an entire nation. We are, after all, a country of individuals, and we are taught from birth never to forget that.

I expected my time in China to broaden my horizons, but (and this is obviously a case of not knowing myself as well as I think I do) I didn't expect it to make me so reflective about myself and my own culture. China has its failings, some of which have become obvious after only a week, but I am a guest. I didn't come here to start a revolution, and even if I had, it isn't my place to. My job, I'd say, aside from the immediate task of teaching English language and culture to high-schoolers, is to take what I see here and use it to change my own life, my own country, and my own little world.

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