The blank page

Lately I’ve met new people, new foreigners. Coming to China because they have learnt Chinese in their countries, coming to China and seeing it as the land for spiritual retreat, living with the monks, learning tai qi, gong fu or qi kung. Healthy diet, tasty meals, you know the music.

And then there’s China.

MGTs, yelling, cars, dirt, noise.

They take Chinese lessons and no one can tell them the story of the characters they are learning. Their teacher can’t explain Taoism or even the foundations of Communism.

The magic is lost, the dream is shattered.

I know, I was one of these dreamers.

And so they’re here, in the middle of chaos, desperately looking around and trying to find some traces of what they thought they would find, getting angrier as time passes by.

But one day, you get it. One day, finally, you see it.

Too far in the culture things get much more difficult to see. In the middle of this thick blanket that wraps you, one day you see that traditions are not lost, customs are still latent in daily life but somehow you missed them.

You missed them because you were too busy being revolted by development. When you become Chinese, when you understand that developing the country is the first mission of all the locals and is the priority of the government. More than understanding, accepting that in order to make things better, these little ants are slowly building an empire. But in their massive work, their traditions remain.

Accepting that whatever you were told is completely untrue nowadays and that these little ants are not asked to think about their condition. Those who, do go live abroad. Those who don’t, participate in the emergence of China.

The queen, the workers, the warriors, the servants.

Each and everyone has a role and will never question it. That’s how you miss everything you came to learn, too busy stating the obvious.

The obvious, which is the hardest thing to accept for a westerner. They think they have the right to refuse their situation, to change it, to think by themselves. They refuse to work more than X hours, they fight for their beliefs and for their individuality. their philosophers, their intellectuals, their revolutions, every icon has brought a new idea, has made them aware of what and who they are, self-aware. they come here crying for freedom and human rights, always asking: why, why why?

But why not? Things work and don’t work in all countries whether they are developed or not. There is no perfect place, no right solution. The majority doesn’t always have the answer to their issues.

They don’t ask questions, so what. They don’t understand the concept of free time, so what. They don’t get why you have a hobby you’re not good at. So what.

While you try to revolution the place and bring what you think are good ideas, while you get angry at them for not being how you expected them to be, they keep on working and pass right by you. You are the one loosing time and effort; you are the one missing what you came to see.

In the end living here has the romance you expected, the cliches you wanted to see. Time and patience will do magic.

Where is this magic? In your blank page.

Anything you want to learn about China requires you to put everything you know aside. Come here with a blank page and start again.

What’s the point in comparing things that are so far from each other?

It is said that Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to learn. But only if you cannot get rid of your knowledge.

The blank page again.

They think it’s hard because they compare: the writing, the grammar, the teaching. But the language is like everything else. No questions asked.

That’s how everything works here. You learn entire lists of vocabulary and you write a hundred times the same hanzi. You learn useless words that you will never use. You read children stories that don’t have morals. And you don’t ask questions.

You see, here they know. They know what and how you should learn. The little ants take you and try to model you so you fit in this society. And you should let them do.

No questions asked.

When you turn around you realize that they do it for you, because it’s the only way. And in the process, you’ve made friends who have taken upon themselves to make you discover their culture. There they are, the traditions. The Chinese wonderful hospitality, the generosity, the curiosity and the kindness. The honesty. Their efforts to understand your strange ways, why you complain, why you criticize, why you don’t want to take photos with strangers. Their patience when they listen to everything you have to comment, all the questions you have. But your questions won’t be answered.

As long as you have questions, you know you still have too much luggage to understand what is happening here. As long as things make you angry, you won’t lead a Chinese life. You will be set on the side, whether you want it or not.

The blank page,

My answer to everything.


November 4, 2013

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