Day 31 & 32: In the End

Well, I learned my lesson… Now I just need to accept it and move on.

So, I couldn’t post last night due to poor internet again. Don’t get mad, please. I’m still alive. It’s a little taxing to post every night.

Anyway, yesterday Yuan Yuan brought me to the new Jackie Chan movie, which was interesting; a movie originally filmed in English with Chinese actors, but the movie theater dubbed in different voice actors speaking Mandarin with English subtitles at the bottom… It was really funny, especially when your mom laughs at every single thing that happens. Someone was about to be hit in the head with a bowling ball, and I glanced over to see Yuan Yuan’s hand clasped around her mouth, attempting to hold in a wave of laughter. Priceless.

She also showed me this gif (short video, for those of you that don’t know) of a few animated characters attacking each other with knives… She think everything is hilarious. Such a bright personality, really. So vibrant.

Anyway, that’s all that I want to talk about that happened yesterday.

When I start to think about this, my stomach drops. I don’t really know why, because it’s so stupid, but I think it’s… guilt? No… regret? Maybe… Anyway, let me tell you my sob story about being an American teenager in China (well, you’re reading my blog, so that’s kind of what you expected anyway, right?)

So, we went back to the Muslim Quarters today. Remember that place? The super crowded streets with vendors and weird smells (honestly sounds like anywhere in China, but you get my point). A few students in my program decided to make a mid-day trip during our lunch break, so it was just us 15 Americans without a chaperone.

Nothing bad happened, let me just say that right now. But… Well… agh okay so um yeah you know street vendors like to bargain, right? Well, hm… Okay so let’s say Yuan Yuan and I both wanted to buy the same bracelet, from the same vendor. If a reasonable price for the bracelet is 20, then the vendor might offer it to Yuan Yuan for about 40. And then with my mom’s expert negotiation skills, she could probably get it for 5.

Well, that same vendor would offer me the same bracelet for about 100.

Now, being the innocent, little American girl that I am, I would offer 60, figuring that’s low enough considering their initial offer was 40 yuan higher. We’ll probably land in the 70-75 range.

Well, I just bought a bracelet for 75 that should have been at most 20… yayyyyy…

This exact situation did not happen, but it might as well have.

You see, I bought 2 scarves for 140, 4 sets of chopsticks for 65, a small figurine for 20, and a name stamp for 110 (with ink).

Now, I felt pretty satisfied with my purchases. I felt like I had really done well, and that my bargaining skills had never been better.

I thought this, because the initial prices they gave me were ridiculous. For the 2 scarves, they offered around 180. For the chopsticks, around 120. The figurine, about 30 (I figured it was pretty cheap to begin with, so I didn’t work too hard on that one). For the stamp, 280. I thought I brought the prices down a considerable amount, so I was pleased.

In all, I spent about 335 yuan. In American dollars, it’s about… 50? That’s pretty good for all that stuff (so I thought).

*heavy sigh*. Well, it wasn’t. I asked my Chinese friend today about the prices, and she said I way overpaid. Like, almost 30 yuan extra on each purchase. Aghhhhh…..

Well, I ran out of money, too. So I needed to ask Yuan Yuan to help me with the Chinese ATM.

“Where’d your money go so suddenly?”

“Oh… yeah, about that… I did some shopping today…”

“Great! Did you get nice things?”

“Yeah… Yeah, um sure. Yeah, I did… Well, you see…” And then I explained what happened.

She couldn’t stop laughing. Thanks, Yuan Yuan. Love the confidence.

But she told me that I did the right thing by trying to bargain, and I was at a huge disadvantage by simply being (and therefore looking) American. They see an American teenager and assume we have bags of money to spend on useless junk, and that we’ll fall for any trick.

Here’s the sad thing, though. I knew it was happening, and still fell for it.

“Very Chinese… Traditional… Nice quality… You get student discount… Because you speak Chinese, I’ll lower the price… You’re pretty, so I give to you for less… That already cheap, but I lower it for you… You very good at bargaining, so I change my price…”

No. I don’t fall for that crap. Every time someone said something like this, it discouraged me from buying it. But… I don’t know. It was as low as they were going to let an American buy it for. If I didn’t pick up on those trick phrases, then I just would have ended up paying even more than my unreasonable, but final price.

I keep telling myself that it doesn’t really matter, because it only comes down to a few dollars in US standards, and that as long as I really like what I bought, it shouldn’t matter… Right?

Well, I showed Yuan Yuan a picture of the stamp I bought, and she started chuckling, asking who drew the characters.

“The guy in the shop. He carved them for me.”

“Oh… Oh, okay. It’s… nice.” She was holding in laughter again… aghhh… I figured it was better to not ask her to explain her amusement at my purchase.

So yeah, I got ripped off. Big time. But it’s okay. Or at least I keep telling myself that. I don’t really have a good reason to feel guilty, but I do feel that way. I’m not one to obsess over money, or pinch pennies, but… I don’t know. I guess it’s the mentality that I could have done something to make my current situation better. ‘Cause now I’m out of money and I can’t get more until Monday (it’s complicated).

I’m going to talk about the culture now… again.

I’ve mentioned a lot about eating in past posts. Even my one-year-old sister started handing me walnuts from a bag while her grandmother said “eat more, eat more” for her. Remember when I mentioned that my family corrected my chopstick holding last week? You’re supposed to hold them higher up. Well, this is actually very convenient. You can hold more food, there’s more grip, and it’s easier to shovel noodles into your mouth.

Well, I’ve never mentioned anorexia. Many Chinese girls do not eat. They do not want to exercise out of fear of muscle growth (which is considered ugly), and crave a thin figure. Teenage girls will skip eating for days, starving themselves to stay thin.

I never really considered this during dinners when my grandmother yells at me for being too thin, and that I must eat more in front of her.

Cultures are connected. Everything has a reason. Or, at least, everything worth pursuing has a reason.

This is going to relate back to my post a little while ago about Toy Towers.

I saw a man today, sitting only a few feet away from Yuan Yuan and me on the edge of a fountain. Now, we’re in a pretty nice place; fountains, traditional decorations, courtyards, all that stuff.

But suddenly, I see him remove his dirty shoes, roll up his pant legs, and spin around to place his feet in the fountain’s pool.

To be completely honest, I was rather shocked. And a little repulsed, even. It’s a public area, and a clean one, so I found it fairly disrespectful to dip your sweaty feet into the pool around a work of art.

I didn’t notice the ball in front of him.

A little boy had dropped his ball, and the slight current from the water spouts had carried it to the middle of the shallow pool.

This man instantly hopped out of his seat to grab the ball for the child, and handed it to the boy’s crippled grandmother before returning to his spot, dripping wet from the spray of water.

I know this seems like a super cheesy example, like something your grandmother would tell you when you’re four, but just go with me on it.

Some people just assume that we could never understand another culture with “evil” practices. Most people just say it’s immoral, and bad, and should not be sympathized with. Their way is correct and their way is wrong. Sometimes we even justify labelling a practice as wrong by stating that there’s no logic, or morality behind it.

But… there always is a reason.

We don’t look for one. Sometimes we don’t want there to be one. We want to place ourselves above others and feel righteous at times.

We’re not just irritating other people by refusing to look for a reason, we’re irritating ourselves. We make ourselves angry, and point at other people for initiating the anger, but what did they do? Nothing. You just didn’t want to find out why.

Perspective and empathy are different. You need to gain perspective in order to feel empathy, but you don’t need empathy to gain perspective. Don’t be afraid of searching for an answer because you feel like you’re aiding something that’s “wrong”. You don’t have to sympathize with them. Just… understand. It’s very difficult to negotiate with someone when you don’t even know why they think a certain way.

Yuan Yuan asked me a few days ago, “what is the biggest difference between America and China?”

That’s a loaded question.

So, naturally, I gave her a very vague answer.

Allow me to paraphrase my response…

*heavy sigh* “the people. The people are the difference. See, if you picked up everyone in China, and everyone in America, and left the cities and all the streets empty, it would look the same. Tall buildings here, short buildings there, trash here, trash there, park here, park there, and so on. But you put the people inside, and they make the land into cities. They make temples and schools and food and music and laugh and dance and chant and live differently. Even the way people walk. It’s all different. And I’m not talking about manners or behavior, it’s just… how the cultures have developed apart from each other. Everyone either thinks we’re incredibly different, or completely the same. But, it’s not either. There are parts of human nature that we can’t control, and there are parts that can be changed.”

I’ve started trying something while I walk with my mom. It started yesterday when we rode in a taxi home, and the driver thought that we were twins. Now, it was dark, so he couldn’t really see us, but Yuan Yuan and I are the same height with relatively similar features (it’s difficult to describe).

Anyway, I’ve started matching her steps. She steps left, so I step left. She steps right, so I step right. I test how similar I can actually make us.

If anyone has ever done this before (which I’m sure you all have), you know how it works: you start off smooth and synchronized, but then your mind wanders and you forget to follow their lead, so you get a little out of step with each other (pun intended). You may notice and try to fix it, but that either means speeding up or slowing down your own pace. And you always know that you can’t stay in tandem forever, so then you just let it slide and drop the game. It was a nice challenge, but it’s unrealistic in the end.

Well, boom, that’s history. Different cultures growing up alongside one another, starting with relatively similar standards and codes of conduct, but people naturally adapt. People change and so do cultures.

It’s time that we accept this. I’m speaking to Americans specifically when I say this (mainly because I am one).

We’re all on the same level, so let’s start acting like it. It’s time to put down the guns and the threats and the hate and start negotiating (everyone is to blame for this). A lot has happened since I left in June, and it’s our mess to fix. Instead of sticking to your old beliefs and your habitual news sources, start reading around. Look into the other perspective. Their reason is probably right in front of you, and we’re all just too involved in dealing with our initial shock to notice the reality… He was helping a little boy and his elderly grandmother, not disrespecting a Chinese landmark just for the heck of it.

There are a lot of people that read this blog now. Most of which, I don’t actually know. This really excites me. Please keep sharing my blog if you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. The best part of this experience is being able to tell people about it.

I read a really great quote the other day.

“I recognized no obstacle to miraculous change but the incredulity of others.” -Tobias Wolff

I used to believe that I needed to pick the right moment to grow up. I thought that change would present itself to me and guide me into adulthood, and that no one would question it because they all saw it coming. This is partly true.

In reality, we wait to grow up because it’s not time. It’s not “waiting” at all actually. It’s just… preparing. We recognize an error in thinking, or a childish manner of doing something, but we don’t know what to do about it. We need new thoughts, and new strategies, but someone can’t just hand these to you.

This is for the adults: Do you ever remember, when you were a child, thinking “this is where I can have a fresh start”?

Whether you were moving to a new town or starting high school or college or whatever it was, I’m sure most of you have felt this way at some point.

Why do we think this?

My explanation is that we believe we are held back by the people that already know us. They knew the old me, so how would they ever understand the new me?

I had a lisp for… most of my life at this point, actually. Yes, I was bullied, and yes, I can still remember their names and exactly what they said to me and where and what I was doing and how I fumbled for words that wouldn’t emphasize my broken speech.

I also remember the year I fixed it. I told myself that I would be a completely different person: braces off, clean speech, positive attitude, whole new me. It was over the summer, actually, when I corrected my pronunciation, and I remember the first day of school after that summer and how I wanted to run up to everyone in my grade and start blabbering, because they couldn’t say anything to hurt me anymore. I was fixed, I thought. I was mature now.

But, that didn’t happen. I didn’t talk to everyone. I didn’t really talk to anyone, actually. I avoided speaking and assumed my quiet persona. I was terrified that people would call me out for changing. I don’t really remember all of my reasoning behind this, but I didn’t want people to judge me for being different than the girl that was teased the year before.

Sure, maybe I was young and quiet and too afraid of the other kids, but I just wasn’t ready to change yet. And that was okay.

But this is all one giant circle. We set the trap for ourselves. We don’t want to change because other people might judge us and not understand. But if we don’t change, we can’t grow. And this cycle will just continue.

Anyway, that was the really long way of saying “let people be who they are and gain perspective before judging”. But, I hope you got more out of this post than just that one little saying.

Yes, brevity is the soul of wit, but… it’s so much easier to ramble and let all of you determine how to deal with it. Plus, it’s makes the comments more interesting.

Well, there ya go! Finally another long post (you’re welcome, mom)! Don’t hold in your comments. I want to know what you all have to say, and I love hearing your thoughts. Even if I don’t know you, don’t be afraid to say something.

Might go hiking tomorrow!



3 thoughts on “Day 31 & 32: In the End

  1. Awesome post. I’ve been to China and have paid ‘too much’ as well. But, who is to say what is the right price? If you’re happy with the purchase at the negotiated price you paid, and the seller is happy because they made some money – then it’s a win-win transaction. I also like your introspection on cultures. Perspective is critical. Very impressive that you’re picking this stuff up so quickly. Thanks for the blog postings. It brings back good memories of my travels to the Middle Kingdom.
    btw, just fyi – I’m the photographer that took pictures of your brother while he was skiing with Oliver Ames High school. Your mother had friended me on Facebook back then, which is how I learned about your trip and this blog. Sounds like an awesome experience. Have fun !


  2. I really like your cultural observations! Different cultures have always fascinated me, and you nailed it with the perspective/empathy distinction. Even if someone or some place really is wrong about something, you can’t even begin to talk or reason about it until you understand. We have a responsibility to formulate our own beliefs and understanding of what is right and wrong but we also have to realize that empathy and understanding (and especially perspective) don’t have to mean compromising those convictions — they simply mean recognizing that, as you said, everyone does something for a reason, whether that reason is wrong or right or neither. Mutual understanding of that is crucial to any kind of progress in anything…


  3. Hey, Ana! Great observations! The differences in culture follow the thoughts a culture comes to value . China’s history with Daoism and our old friend Confucius led it to value harmony, order and respect to help create a sense of identity among disparate groups. Europe followed a similar path with the concept of Christendom until they got disillusioned by the institution’s inability to save it from plague , famine, and war, leading to the individualism of the Renaissance. The “soup” of thought you are born into conditions the way you approach the world. It can be hard to develop the skill you are describing. Kudos to you for your awareness!


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