Saturday, May 10, 2008

One of the most harrowing experiences one can have

Is being interviewed on the radio. This has happened to me twice -- neither time live, thankfully -- most recently last night. This is the reason there was no post a couple days ago: I was too shell-shocked to do anything but replay the conversation in my head with mouth agape and eyes distended.

I wanted to say, concerning the Olympics, the overwhelming attitude among the people is excitement. Here's a culture with 5,000 years of stories and insight to share with the world, and until now they haven't had the opportunity to do so. The deficit in cultural exports -- this was a phrase coined by Hung Huang, a notable Chinese blogger -- is tremendous. China hasn't been very good at letting their culture out into the world, so they've decided, Why not bring the world in?

5,000 years of waiting to open your doors, and you can expect them to be a little on edge. Thus the crackdowns. A recent story in Time tells of a Beijing running group that was scrutinized for basically doing the same thing they've done for years: running. And of course there're the various crackdowns of protests all over the country, and the crackdown on Visas. We shouldn't really be surprised that there's some anxiety here.

And so, we really shouldn't be surprised about the Chinese's reactions to perceived anti-China bias in the Western media. Just a small example: a website in London recently published a "World's 50 Best Restaurants" list, and no Chinese restaurants were represented. The Chinese here that I've talked to aren't really sure the source of these negative feelings towards the country. They don't feel like they've done anything wrong, at least not in light of, say, U.S. foreign policy in the past 20 or so years. They think it's very hypocritical of people in the U.S. to lecture them on issues like Tibet when here you have a country that, not all that long ago, managed to wipe out an entire indigenous culture (Native Americans, of course... the Chinese have a pretty good broad outline of U.S. history).

Change is coming to China, this is something no one denies. Even the old guard sees it coming. Heck, if anyone knows about change, it's them: they've lived through tremendous change. Their world has changed overnight many times over, and now, these past few years, they're witnessing firsthand the rewards that come from hard work and education. They see people getting rich, earning money, living happily. Just a year ago, according to a study, there were 500,000 people in the country worth at least 1 million U.S. dollars. That number doubled. This is in just one year. Living standards are improving for the majority of people in China, so the popular opinion towards the government is positive.

Of course, there's a completely different mindset in the U.S. In that country, it's about the little guy. The minority can have a voice, and a loud one, at that. I don't think the Chinese have grasped that concept yet. They think Westerners have simplified the issues too much -- and maybe they have. They don't think people in the West are capable of stepping into another person's shoes and seeing their side of the argument, a trait the Chinese believe they possess.

The Chinese are very conscious of their image, and they're very disconcerted over the anti-China protests across the world. Shocked and hurt by it, really. They don't understand, for instance, why Tibet's so important to the Western world. And, of course, they don't understand why the Olympics are being politicized... all they wanted to do was open up the country, invite the world in to see all this cultural richness and hopefully send them off with the impression that China's alright after all.

...I wanted to say a lot more, too -- catch some momentum, run with it, that sort of thing. But whatever momentum I hoped to ride never materialized.

Here's how the interview began:
"Good morning to you, Anthony. Or should I say good evening?"

"Oh, yes, it's 10:33 p.m. here, so, yeah, I guess it would good evening. But good morning to you."

At one point, the interviewer quoted back a part of my blog to me, and all I could think is, "Oh. Shit." I couldn't even deploy this dandy of a line: "Yes, I have a blog... I'll be the first to admit, it's not always PG. Wait, did I say I have a blog? Hopefully my parents aren't listening." That went over so well in my mind, but while I was on the phone, talking into a formless void, mindful of the sound of my own monotonic voice, I knew I couldn't pull off anything remotely resembling wit. The only image in my head was of a computer screen and a thin green line modulating up and down, interrupted every so often with a few squiggly lines bunched together marking the instances when I said "uhhh."

You'll hear the end product Sunday (against my better judgment, I'll link to it here). I'm sure by the powers of editing magic the thing won't be as terrible as it seemed, but I suspect I'll still be too embarrassed to listen to it.

Later today: Tianjin Ultimate tournament.

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