Sunday, 22 May 2011

What the Chinese think of the west.

I know that when you take off to live and work in China, or even visit, there is some research to do, but mostly we  work out some simple basic cultural norms, and then deal with things like currency, geography, and all things about touring in the country.  My research before I went was minimal - for a start I had a very short period between the time when the idea was 'put in my head' and when I left, so I was more concerned with the documents and paperwork for the job and the visa, and practicalities. 

In any case if I had read much about the culture it would not have 'sunk in' because you have to experience it.  I have said, that everything I though I knew, I no longer knew.  "Nothing" appeared to be the same in China as I had known in Australia (or my other travels).  It is impossible to explain, and you probably don't understand until you have been in China for a while, or alternatively had a traditional Chinese person spend time with you in Australia.

It is through reading Xinran's books that I am making sense of some of the things I experienced in China.  I have read several of her books, and the latest one, which I have on my Kindle, is "What the Chinese don't eat" written in 2006.  If you watch any of the Customs shows on television, you will know that the bane of the life of the folks in Customs is the strange foodstuffs that Chinese bring into Australia, and usually deny that they are carrying food.  They take awesome quantities because they believe that in Australia (or whatever country is their destination) they will not be able to buy fresh food, or any food that resembles that which they are familiar with from their home.

When I went to China I did take some food - not much - but a tube of Vegemite was in my luggage.  Small supplies compared to what Chinese pack.

In Australia we cannot buy live fish, for example, but to counter this, Chinese bring big swags of dried fish.  Certainly we get freshly caught fish, but apart from crabs, they are well dead.  Fresh, but dead.

Our meats are treated in a far more hygienic method than in China.  I remember seeing the meat markets, with no refrigeration, plenty of flies, and surrounded by streets, people, and a lot lot more.  Unlike the more pristine venue of our butcher shops.  We can buy very fresh vegetables, and we can buy 'off the farm' if we live close to market gardens.

Last year when 2 students from China came to Australia, I had warned them not to bring any foodstuffs and I explained it well, but the father of one of the girls knew better.  Why, I don't know.  He was a wealthy man,  had not travelled, but he 'knew' that you could bring animal and vegetable products into Australia.  I warned Rita, 'be prepared for it to be taken away from you', and make sure you declare it.  Her father said that was stupid.  Luckily she did declare it, and as I expected it was taken from her.  She was distraught when I picked her up at the airport, but I took her in to Brisbane's Valley Chinatown,and she found the strange health things that she had had confiscated.  She could easily buy them from a Chinese medicine man here.  The girls found that most of the foodstuffs they were familiar with were available here in Australia, and they managed to find their way around our supermarkets or fresh food markets without any problems.

Xinran's book explains so many other differences and why.  So much of the culture in China goes back to very early years in their history, and other parts of their culture was shaped by the Cultural Revolution, and the Chinese are still finding their own culture, but now the young people are embracing western culture to the exclusion of their own countries long history and culture.  Sad, but true.

When looking for the link for Vegemite, I came across this video - of an old commercial for Vegemite.  I wonder what the Chinese would think of this.  (My students did not like the taste of Vegemite!)

1 comment:

Kiwi Riverman's Blogesphere said...

Great and informative post, Di. But a majority of kiwis prefer Marmite, stronger and better taste.

I often watch a television program about your customs department at airports in OZ. There are so many Chinese and other asians trying tp pull the wool over customs and immigration staff's eyes. Pretty pathetic, really. Just what sort of country do they think they are coming to, same over here. Do they think they are coming to third world countries? They actually learn the hard way.

Young Chinese will learn that they will have to adapt to, and adapt their own cultures, to western cultures.

We may have to accept that most things are 'made in China', but not he culture.

What is your future after you acheive your educational goals? Going back to China or Korea again, or use your experince as a tutor in Australia?