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Entries in #China (6)


Remember thou too art mortal

We were watching the toy group of the Westminster Dog Show last night, and I discovered my new favorite: the show Pekinese. Maybe it's just because he's clearly an incredible specimen of his breed, maybe it's because his fancy dog name involves the phrase Easily Persuaded, but mostly it's because when he did his lap around the ring, he looked like an animated couch cushion, out for a walk. Or an Ewok. The majority of his movement was a kind of sideways walking, and yet he still propelled himself forward.

Then, I discovered this on Wikipedia, ostensibly written about these dogs by the Dowager Emperess Cixi. And the day was over. Wasn't getting any better after that.

Let the Lion Dog be small; let it wear the swelling cape of dignity around its neck; let it display the billowing standard of pomp above its back.
Let its face be black; let its forefront be shaggy; let its forehead be straight and low.
Let its eyes be large and luminous; let its ears be set like the sails of war junk; let its nose be like that of the monkey god of the Hindus.
Let its forelegs be bent; so that it shall not desire to wander far, or leave the Imperial precincts.
Let its body be shaped like that of a hunting lion spying for its prey.
Let its feet be tufted with plentiful hair that its footfall may be soundless and for its standard of pomp let it rival the whick of the Tibetans' yak, which is flourished to protect the imperial litter from flying insects.
Let it be lively that it may afford entertainment by its gambols; let it be timid that it may not involve itself in danger; let it be domestic in its habits that it may live in amity with the other beasts, fishes or birds that find protection in the Imperial Palace.
And for its color, let it be that of the lion - a golden sable, to be carried in the sleeve of a yellow robe; or the colour of a red bear, or a black and white bear, or striped like a dragon, so that there may be dogs appropriate to every costume in the Imperial wardrobe.
Let it venerate its ancestors and deposit offerings in the canine cemetery of the Forbidden City on each new moon.
Let it comport itself with dignity; let it learn to bite the foreign devils instantly.
Let it be dainty in its food so that it shall be known as an Imperial dog by its fastidiousness; sharks fins and curlew livers and the breasts of quails, on these may it be fed; and for drink give it the tea that is brewed from the spring buds of the shrub that groweth in the province of Hankow, or the milk of the antelopes that pasture in the Imperial parks.
Thus shall it preserve its integrity and self-respect; and for the day of sickness let it be anointed with the clarified fat of the legs of a sacred leopard, and give it to drink a throstle's eggshell full of the juice of the custard apple in which has been dissolved three pinches of shredded rhinoceros horn, and apply it to piebald leeches.
So shall it remain - but if it dies, remember thou too art mortal.



I'm Suddenly Starving

If only there were an easier way to get some Chinese street food than dropping hundreds of dollars for a 12-hour plane ride. I'm overdue for a visit.


China vs. Sweden, Part II

I've noticed recently that there are several things these places have in common, beyond a fondness for Ikea as a place to pass time. Today, three come to mind in particular:

  1. A fondness for hotdogs
  2. A love of systems
  3. A love of ways to get around the systems in place

Going to keep my eyes peeled for more.


My two homes-away-from-home encounter each other

Over at The Believer, former Jehovah's Witness Amber Scorah writes about her time proselytizing (illegally) in Shanghai. The article is worth your time for a number of reasons, but the part that I read over and over was about how Scorah was introduced to Ikea by a Shanghainese friend, Jean:

We finished eating, and Jean refused to let me help her clear the plates. “Sit, sit,” she kept ordering me, physically restraining me with one arm. When she finished stacking the dishes in the sink, she mentioned there was a surprise. Dessert and coffee, she said, beaming. Both already seemed like a rarity to me in China.

“At IKEA.” Her eyes shone. “Do you know, you can keep taking as much coffee as you want, for free? For Chinese people, we don’t understand this, we think they are very crazy.”


The cafeteria offered some Chinese food items, but was identical in every other way to any IKEA, cheap and bright. I could have been in Vancouver if not for the chaotic queue-jumping and diners installed at tables with rice brought from home. Many of the patrons were residents who lived in the ramshackle alleys behind the giant yellow building. The locals made the best of it, enjoying the free air conditioning, making IKEA the living room they had never had.

I chose a mini cheesecake with gooseberry preserves; Jean took a chocolate pudding. I paid, in spite of her violent protestations, and we proceeded to the coffee station with our mugs. People were stockpiling the powdered creamers and the packets of sugar. An older lady chastised me for not participating in the looting. “It’s free,” she said, urging me on.

I've talked to a number of Swedish people recently about my time in China, and their reactions are almost uniformely a mix of awe and bafflement at a place so different from their own home. And it's true--China and Sweden are extremely different, especially if you stick to surface-level observations, like the number of people, the noise level, the government, how privacy is defined, and the general aggressiveness of old ladies. (When my mom visited me in Ningbo, she nearly had heart failure watching me defend my place at the postal counter against old ladies with their elbows out. "Do you want to be here all day?" was my response.)

That said, I'm not convinced that there aren't similarities. This isn't a post wherein I identify and dissect such things; just one to say that I'm giving some thought to how similar the preservation of face and the dislike of open conflict might be, when you really get down to it.


"Lacking Vital Elements"

I'm really enjoying watching the Chinese press react to the London Olympics. (Watching secondhand, it must be said: I'm functionally illiterate in that country.) While I can't claim to totally get either culture, being an English major who's lived in China does give me a bit more insight than each has about the other. And this New Yorker article captures a very Chinese sense of bafflement at, as Evan Osnos puts it, the fact that "...anyone is bothering to try hosting the Games again," much less, you know, putting hospital beds and sheep into their opening ceremony.

Check it out.