Soul in the City, part 2

Since it seems to have become the custom in my my sequels, let me start by correcting a potential misinterpretation of my last post.  Chinese people go soul too, just as much as anyone else.  But they just don’t show it to me as much as other people do here, like the Filipinas, the Indians, the Europeans, or the Africans.  Everybody got soul, but culturally, some people show it more than others, that’s all.  And if Chinese people think I’m making fun of them for being a little reserved in public, keep in mind that I’m a somewhat shy white guy from Wisconsin.  I’ve been on the other end of that stereotype.

But even as a white guy from Wisconsin, HK is a bit of a shock in terms of the lack of emotionality I see on the street.  And it’s taking some getting used to.   That’s why the Filipinas are such a reprieve, they remind me of home.

I’ll admit it, I was that white kid who was fascinated with black culture.  I always secretly wanted to be a minority, but Irish was about the best I could muster, and that totally doesn’t cut it in the US.  In HK, I finally got my wish.  I am definitely a minority, though I’m definitely not oppressed at all.  In fact, if there is one group of people I’m almost completely invisible to, it’s the police.  This comes in handy; my invisibility makes it really easy for me to jump police barricades undetected.  Oppressed or not, as a minority, I find other minorities easier to understand, as general rule.  For one thing, they’re a lot more likely to speak English to each other, but it’s more than that, minority culture seems more transparent here.  As a result, my understanding of minorities here is deeper than my understanding of the Chinese.

I’m working on that last part.  I’ve recently gotten to know a few Chinese people on a more personal level, and their depth of character shows up a lot more in one-on-one converstations.  Not a big surprise, I know….but this culture is thick.  It’s dense and complex, it’s unspoken and unwritten.  But these are things that I really can’t speak of until the gweilo reaches level 3.   And I’m not there yet.  In fact, I recently realized I’m not quite as adept at walking as I thought.  More on that soon.



2 responses to “Soul in the City, part 2

  1. I just finished reading all of your posts in order (with comments too) and I must first say “great job”. I agree with the other comments made that these blogs are very informative, insightful and enjoyable – if placed into book form I would likely check it out from the library and never return it.

    Several things have surprised and intrigued me so far. In no particular order….

    First, I must say I really liked Sloth, part 2. Reminds me of when I first read “The World is Flat” by Friedman. My daughter is only 6 years younger than the student you describe and it scares me to think of her competing with someone (or millions of students really) like him. You’ve given me some food for thought here and I like that.

    Second, I’m interested in your comment about feeling fat in HK. I’m wondering if this is because of your own perception of your surroundings, or your reaction to the perceptions locals have of you? I’m just curious if the feeling is more self-generated, or is generated by others and then directed towards you. I guess the deeper question here is what is your perception of “body image” in HK?

    Third, I liked the link in Soul, part 1 – a good article to read and I’m glad you put it in.

    I have to go now, but I’ll keep reading and try to write more frequently.

    Cheers, Mike

    On unrelated note I have a question: Because of the population density, is the concept of personal space different? I was in line at the store recently and two Asian males were waiting behind me. (Their conversation was completely in Chinese so I feel quite certain they were not born in the U.S.) I rarely care about who is behind me in a line, but the man directly behind me was at the periphery of my personal space and inched slowly but noticeably closer during the time we were waitng. His companion was not so much behind as on top of him, with a closeness that I only ever see between lovers. And these guys didn’t seem like lovers. So anyway, I just thought I’d ask how the idea of personal space is treated there.

  2. Mike: for whatever reason, personal space is very different. I touch on some related issues in my newest post, The Tao of Walking. And I think population density is definitely a major factor influencing the smaller personal space that East Asians have compared to Westerners.

    Don’t worry too much about American kids in this globalized world. We’ll do ok. I plan to write about education here and in the US, so keep an eye out for that.

    As for my fatness: it’s both. My former boss actually joked around with me about being fat. I think she wanted to improve my image a bit and therefore improve the image of the company. But mostly it’s self generated. People are thin here, and the white people (who I’m most likely to compare myself to) are tall and thin. As a result, I feel short and fat. And poor. This is not how Beijing made me feel, so it’s been a bit of a surprise. But really, I’m not that fat, even for HK, and it’s not a major issue.

    Glad you like the blog so far. Feel free to be more critical in your comments. I was really expecting to generate a bit more controversy. That’s not really happening right now. Maybe that’s because my audience is mostly friends of mine from the US. If I can get more Chinese people to read the blog, it might feel very different to them.

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