Upon the close of the May Labor Day holidays here in China I have had a few moments to reflect on some new things. Firstly was the huge step I took over the holidays, signing my marriage certificate which legally states I am married. My new bride is happy, her family seems genuine in their congratulations and all my co-workers seem very excited too. Now for many of you the May Labor Day celebrations may not seem like much, and for those a few years older then me then the expression May Day along with the dancing around the May pole will be vague memories. Essentially it breaks down like this. May Days are from the first to third of May, or the first to third work days in May. Many many businesses know that having a 2 day work week coupled with many employees taking 2 days of leave or sick leave will result in almost no productivity give in and allow for the extra 2 days off. This results in a full 7 days off, including weekend. Now I can hear some of you saying, wait… what about the weekend leading up to May Days? Wont that lead to 9 days off and not 7? Well boys and girls that is the catch! Due to the week being an off week with 2 free days the employers get back their 2 days by having the staff work for 7 straight days, Monday to Sunday. Not too bad seeing you have a full 7 days off and no vacation days are spent! When I worked at Quad Graphics they had a similar thing, only not revolving around any holidays. Four rotating shifts of 4 on 3 off, 3 on 4 off all wrapped around a weekend. Now 4 times a year the shifts switched from days to nights, resulting in 1 shift working for 7 days straight, and 1 shift getting 7 days off. I like this arrangement better as I am not working 12 hours straight and have every weekend off. Oh and this Chinese thing happens 3 times a year, May Days (first week of May) National Days (first week of October) and Chinese New Year (Depends on Chinese calendar).
I did not have so much time off as you may imagine with wedding things going on but it was no where close to the ceremony or procedures of a western wedding, more like a courthouse wedding for those who know of such Justice of the Peace weddings. Monday was the day we went to the registry for turning over our respective single certificates, filling out of the forms, and signing of the forms to get our certificate books. All government offices were closed, but let’s just say in China who you know goes much further then in the States. The rest of the day was dinner and calibration family and friends (her family as mine is all stateside) and then more meetings with her old colleagues and friends. The next morning we left for Macau where we toured the parts of the island we did not see last time and visited the shrine we had to in order to repay the wish granted to us. Then we were back to the garden apartment for a day before going off shopping and what not for this and that and then back to the parents. Needless to say there was little time to do much other then keep up with the pace, but I was able to come away with this.
Country folk have much more patience, are more religious and conservative of culture and customs then city folk, teenagers are much too involved to listen to older people, older people have little patience or understanding for teenagers and do not remember what it was to be a teenager (same situations just different topics), and greedy people have many many admirers. Basically people are people and no amount of culture, technology, or style separates one group from another. It is not that I am surprised by this, as I have mentioned earlier this is one of the largest impressions I got from my travels to South America, but I am surprised at how overt it is even in a society known for its ceremony and traditions. Shanghai is very much like New York, so many people in a hurry, so impatient and greedy they can not wait for even a traffic light to turn green. Unlike many other places in smaller towns there are only a very small fraction of the shrines and religious rituals being carried out I say in other places, even Guangzhou which is very similar to Milwaukee in size and atmosphere it is unusual not to see a shrine at the door of every shop and then inside the shop too, in Shanghai I have noticed even on the inside it is rare to see even the smallest shrine (I was told southern China is much more conscience of and practices religion much more then northern China… Wait that sounds strangely familiar…).
Unlike the patient image western culture has of Asian people patiently sitting by in a constant Zen like state knowing good things come to those who wait, I have found they live life at a break neck pace, no matter what part of the country they are from (of course I have not made it very far west or north yet, but I am planning on it for this year). Young Chinese are shedding ancient values and ideals for western success and rewards faster then the youth of the 1980’s in America, yes I am one of those kids. Old people have bicycles and motorcycles, young people have mopeds and cars, and their driving style reflects their patience levels… not even laws of gross tonnage apply here, but rather speed and sense of right of way trump all other notions of driving decorum. Not even lights or Traffic Assistants seem to stem the tide of traffic of all types from moving. Walking in Shanghai or even in Guangzhou is like being part of a swarm. People begin to go and either you follow or get left behind. Once one person leads the rest will follow. Red lights seem to be only for large cars and trucks, no one else even looks at them. When traffic lights turn red a sea of bicycles and mopeds continue to steam through the intersection stopping most car and bus traffic, yet no one road rages the same way they do in the states.
People can not wait for anything, and if they are in a service job their way of showing dissatisfaction in another is to make them wait. It is weird in that some things are like instant pudding while others are like chocolate mousse. Golf for example is a relatively new sport to China, modern China anyway. It was introduced by the British via Hong Kong in the 1800’s yet banned by the communists in the 1940’s so few here can remember it as all the original courses were destroyed and all government officials banned (to this day mind you) from being seen playing golf anywhere. Golf was reintroduced to china in the 1980s and the first sanctioned pro tournament in the late 1990s was held with the first major international tournament being held at the beginning of this decade. There are so many golfers here who barely have a concept of the game but refuse to take the lessons many pros and serious armatures in other countries go to. For these reasons I have found that the Chinese are as impatient if not more then Americans. The opposite side of it is they appreciate details and hand made articles and high quality. In an impatient society it is rare to find such things, but there are so many things left over from the centuries of culture and society here they can afford to burrow from the past to satisfy their desires.
Chinese are crazy for all things western, from colored hair, plastic surgery, to jewelry and clothing and cars and TVs and home entertainment systems. There are so many counterfeit and culled seconds and thirds here it is a buyers market allowing access to anyone willing to part with a few RMB. Material goods here are very cheap, but the high end items of quality and legal copyright are the same price as in the states. One thing that is odd though is people here are willing to spend an entire months pay on 1 item or clothes, or jewelry or bauble it is mind blowing. Saving for the future is an alien concept for the average Shanghaiese as it is for the average young Chinese. Americans do not save because almost everyone is in major debt by the time they graduate from college or 4 years after high school while we chase the unachievable dreams Hollywood and Madison Ave have been feeding us since the toy and food commercials during our favorite cartoon shows. Chinese have a larger sense of spending because historically family was the anchor they always had to rely on. Population control policies have slowed the growth of families but not the perceptions the people have, so the security blanket is becoming a paper napkin within 2 generations. It will be very interesting to see how this ‘spend everything for the day’ mentality will last as China emergencies from the safety of a state run economy to a free market and global economic superpower. How will banks and credit work in a society that has little fiscal responsibility? A country where checks are alien, credit cards not trusted, cash is king and all that anyone accepts, don’t even try to use a debit card… Yet the EU and US are willing to dive full force into here and throw around their currencies like the locals do, interesting times ahead. 5 years of double digit economic growth and expanding infrastructure and where is it all leading? Remember the swarm crossing the street, it seems there are lemmings anywhere you go, deep down we all want to copy the success of everyone else, it is just where is the original in this country?
As I have said, very interesting times ahead. Of course I am not the first westerner to say that in this city, but the Chinese RMB is no un pigeon holed with the USD and there are new changes in the visible future, not only the Olympics in Beijing but the opening of the world’s largest deep sea ports, the tallest buildings, the largest oil consumer, the largest economy all within the next 5 years, this is a time no one has seen in this country and the emergence of a new power no one can stand. As globalization takes hold and tightens its grip on economies and we are all tied together and only separated by developed and undeveloped countries. Adapt of become extinct, seems clearer that this will apply to more then just species now. By 2010 the world will be a much different place, but will look and function much the way we are used to, but what happens here will effect the UK and the US and everyone in ways they haven’t seen before. Remember the EU refusing clothes from China being unloaded in Europe last year, well in 4 or 5 years that will have ripples that will effect the average citizen more then we all realize now. As we grow closer together we will see how well we can all play in the same sand box, it seems it is time for everyone to leave home and go to preschool and learn how to share their toys and work next together. Of course I could be wrong and the status quo could continue, but I doubt it.