Privacy and public debate

For the past week, China’s social medias were flooded with comments on a private scandal. Former Olympic Badminton player Lin Dan had been filmed when giving some intimate gestures to a pretty woman before the hotel’s curtain was shut down. Anger and criticism went viral in the internet, especially because his wife, another former world champion just gave birth to their son two weeks ago.

Well, everyone believed to have right to comment on a celebrity’s life, where privacy and public image are confused. The majority expressed their condemnation on Lin’s betrayal, considering an extramarital behavior was the first sin of a man, especially of a successful man. His legends collapsed and people mocked about their ten-years’ true love story.

After first waves of criticism directed to the national idol, many began to point out the naive and aberrant action of all internet users, who were supposed not to take others’ privacy as an official trial. Some even claimed that all the emotions were just a show which reveals the emptiness of our social life.

The counter motion was triggered, refuting this cynic conclusion and justifying their roles in defending the moral duty. While men were accused of their compulsive animality, women were satirized though their increasing self-respect.

To many’s surprise, the wife tweeted a disappointing response several days later, claiming that she would forgive her husband since the later had acknowledged the fault.The internet went even crazier. Some cried on the typical weakness of women, some thrilled with the happy ending, some seemed  find justification of being wrong, some called love illusion and marriage a cruel trap and some just laughed at all discussion.

“You know, China is very interesting.” Many foreigners told me. A famous young writer also admits that life was even more interesting than some American TV shows because everyone seems so involved but the next episode is never predictable.

Then, one week later, other news began to top all social medias. The former champions can finally sit down and talk about their private problems while all internet users still suffer with their own problems and lose hope to seek an example to apply accordingly.

What is American culture?

Halloween is still far away but Claire incessantly plans to be dressed up as Elsa or Anna, the main characters of the famous Disney Film Frozen. Again and again, she draws pictures about them and never seems tired when we read books adapted from the film. She is always seduced by its derivatives, such as T-shirt, Swim Suit, Towel, Headgear, even insisting to buy crackers which has the same theme package.


“Crazy!””Boring!” “Naive!” These were the usual comments I received from my friends in China, who believe that America is a cultural desert, especially when we actually live in the desert. It’s normal to hold the stereotype. I’m also victim of biased opinion. I understood well the disappointment of my former colleagues and friends in university, who deplored that I would go to US instead of France. Now they seemed to catch enough evidence to ascertain their prediction, when I said that my girl, at school, was singing and dancing with Elle King or Pink on radio. “That’s American cultural, you see, that’s junk food.” The criticism was so fierce that I felt suddenly guilty and hopeless.


Claire does love princesses best. She wants to be beautiful every day, in skirt. She admires Elsa to have magic, although we have told her many times that Anna is more attractive by her kindness. “That’s silly! You don’t want your daughter to be a doll?!””Princess and prince, very banal dreams!” The concerns were overwhelming. So I replied:”She also loves Clifford, LadyBug Girl, even Peter the cat!”

However, when I see Claire so happy, singing, dancing and dreaming, all my concerns were blown away. We are so mean to a child and unconsciously want to formate him or her as a wise grownup with critical thinking and strong individuality. But we forgot our childhood and even our youth, when we were as much crazy as them for some other silly things.  I love Frozen too and the variety on radio makes me feel free to dance with Claire. Even she is now so narrowed in her taste, she is Happy and Hopeful.

What is American culture? I don’t know, pretending it’s a silly question.

Small talk

I’m not good at small talk, although I’ve been learning foreign languages for years and always remind my students to be willing to begin small talk with foreigners.

For some people, small talk is easy and it hardly varies from one situation to another. Just say “Hello” and “How are you doing?”, and “good”, “good”, “it’s a nice day”, “have a good day”. That’s it. Whether your are in a hurry or available for a long discussion, the small talk is definitely necessary, especially when it helps to build up or maintain your positive image.

As many of my students, I sometimes feel embarrassed to answer others’ question with inaccurate information. When I am in a bad mood, even in a very horrible situation, I still tend to say “good” with a big smile to end the small talk, because I’m not sure if the greeting is just a polite routine or an expression of the person’s real concern. Maybe he has no time to listen to my problems. Maybe my unexpected answer would bring our normal greeting to an endless conversation. Imagine that we stand there, on the street, more than three minutes, both tired and frustrating. The more terrible is that when the conversation begins, we don’t know how to end it.

Last evening, when I got out of the car with Claire and my husband, we encountered one of our neighbors, who was walking her dog. We don’t know her much but always exchange smiles and greetings. However, each time, I felt a little short of words. One time, she asked us whether we had settled down. Since it has been eight months we are here, the question appeared a little strange. “Of course!” was really a bad reply but we had no time to rescind it. In small talk, when you are not ready to answer a detail question, it’s easy to make mistake.

“Have you had your dinner?” I added a question that popped out of my mouth without any further consideration. She was surprised and then nodded her head with a “Yes!” Believing that my Chinese culture would unconsciously drive me to silly behaviors, my husband made fun of me. In China, people always greet somebody in the street by asking if he has already had meals. I don’t know the reason of such a greeting expression, but for most cases, it doesn’t mean that the person is really talking about food. Even your answer is “no”, he would not invite you to eat something together. That is really a culture difference.

However, last evening, I wasn’t totally obsessed with the greeting formulation. I was just holding our pizza and had no idea of what to say. I supposed that she had noticed the pizza and the conversation would be normally turn to the food. I might expect that she would say “have a good dinner” at first, then I could  follow by uttering my stupide and rude question.

Whatever, I’m now considering to “save my face”-which is another culture issue, by explaining to her that my “dinner” question was simply a Chinese greeting.

Should I tip?

When it comes to tip, my husband and I are easily in disagreement. In China, we only thought of bargain and never have been bothered with this idea. When traveling in Europe, we were asked to pay a certain sum to the local guide. Since it’s an obligation due to the local manners, we accepted without any complaint. In restaurant, the bill would come with a notice on it, informing us that the tip was already counted into the total price. When we went to the theater, we followed others to give the seat-guide one coin.

In U.S, many situations confused and even embarrassed us. We spent our first days in a well-known global hotel. To our big surprise, after three days, the room was not cleaned up in time. “How could it be?” My husband insisted that it was our own problems, such as too many toys on floor…It was later that one of my friend reminded me of the tipping question. “Maybe we didn’t tip the room service!” concluded my husband, “that was a lesson.”

Since then, we became more aware of such subtle question and learned how to tip in restaurant. Yet, the question affects our meals. If the waiter is especially solicitous, we tend to wonder how much should we pay as tip,15% or 20%. “Hard working always deserves more,”we all agree. Even we prefer not to be interrupted by the waiter, we should show a friendly smile back from time to time. When the food is not good and the service is banal, we still tip the “called minimum 15%”. As my husband says, “Avoid mistakes!” Until now, I was a little nervous when picking up a take-away pizza without writing the tip sum.

The question became inevitable and controversial when we were traveling this summer. In our fist hotel’s shuttle bus, I noticed a band saying that “Gratuity is not necessary but appreciated”. My French tricked me, because in French, “gratuit” means “free”. We understood quickly that it refers to tip. For our 4 rides on the shuttle bus, we paid the first go and back. After noticing that others didn’t pay, we followed naturally but still felt embarrassed when passing by the driver.

The first day, we left one dollar in the room for the cleaning service. The next day morning, when I was busy preparing to check out, my husband was seeking all pockets and purses for a coin. “No need! we are leaving!” I was direct. “Be polite! We stayed two nights and only paid one time!” he refuted.”What? but it’s a new day and the cleaning is beneficial for the next guest!” I continued my reasoning, which got an other unfriendly comment,”You are so mean!”

The same kind of quarrel occurred when we checked in a hotel which has a valet-parking. It was in a crowded tourist area, near the beach and the commercial center. The hotel was expensive and we never expected to pay an even unacceptable fee for the parking-30 dollars per day. It was our first time to encounter the valet-parking, which made us bewildered. We quickly searched the internet for a proper decision, and only got vagus answers: “Tips are very personal,””It’s nice but not necessary,””There is no rule”… For me, the parking fee was already huge, while for my husband, tip or not tip doesn’t need other arguments than the custom. “Why did you pick such a hotel!” finally, we threw our anger to some other further issues.”You know what is called racism? Don’t give up your deserved respect,” my husband went serious.

We were ravenous after the check-in and quickly found a restaurant near the beach. It turned out that the bill nearly passed 100 dollars. “What? that means another 15 dollars for tip?”I grumbled, especially because I was not satisfied with my fish, ” besides,we waited too long!” My husband didn’t want to talk any more and wrote down his signature. To save our holiday, I kept the silence.

I’m not mean and it’s not a question of thrifty. But is it a question of culture?

Culture and Civilisation

Complains made by the UK Queen about Chinese delegation’s rudeness have been a viral subject in social medias. Some tried to explain the misunderstanding by culture difference while others high lighted the arrogance of the actual government of China.

For me, it’s not a culture diversity issue. We do have many cultural differences that can be interpreted as weird. for example, speaking loudly in restaurants or fighting to pay the bill. But things like spitting on the streets are more relevant to the level of civilization than to the origin of culture. In a big city like Shanghai, people do such things randomly while in the countryside, old people still keep this habit. One of my former colleagues said that English people spitted also a lot two hundreds years ago and they just forgot it. It’s true that before 19th century, the sanitary condition was bad for all countries. Bad actions which harm people’s health can be improved with the emphasis of education. In big cities, people are more civilized and understand easily the limit of their freedom. They will try to keep themselves healthy and make others healthy too, both physically and mentality. It’s advocated to be polite in public area, like subway stations or airports.

Civilization can be achieved by a nation’s efforts and attention, but cultures are not comparable. American people like cultural studies, but sometimes, they generalized too much. I began to hate the word Identity, which defines excessively one person. The stereotypes live with you wherever you go. Labeled as Chinese, I don’t share many common ideas about China or Chinese People. But every time, when there is a misunderstanding, I tried first to understand the culture stereotype. I also saw lots of criticism on Islamic culture but sometimes I wondered what could be the best way to communicate with them. Most of us never want to make efforts before making judgments.

Try to understand different cultures but try to be civilized everywhere.


To change life, change mind first

Recently, there was a widespread article in the most popular Chinese social media Wechat, in which a middle-aged dad released the reasons why he chose to immigrate to the U.S. He was planning to buy an apartment near a good school district in Beijing, which would cost him 3 millions Yuans. But the day he was going to pay the guarantee deposit, the house owner raised the price by 300 000 Yuans. Disappointed with this change, the father decided to use the money on an investment program, which allowed him to get the green card of USA. He thought that life in Beijing was so stressful, including job, housing and education, but life in the U.S means good education, cheaper housing and quality of free time.

Soon, this article triggered different opinions, including those expressed by some American-Chinese people. Another father wrote a long response to this man, having gone through himself the similar experience. He now found that the reality was not as good as expected. Just talking about kids, the Asian children suffer a lot in study. So many suicides occurred in Asian family in California because of pressure. He provided many photos, which show that children spend so much time on math or other competition preparation after school, just as what children do in China. To be accepted by good universities, they should demonstrate more abilities and excellence in special fields. So Chinese parents anxiously look for good school and prepare their kids to artistic performance. If one wants to live nearby a good school, he should afford the high-priced housing.

I didn’t agree with the first father who dropped all just to follow his illusions of U.S. He believed naively all the advantages he could get in the new country. I didn’t agree neither with the second father who still sticks to the single-side definition of success. In many American cities, Asian people still believe that competition is the only way to make people stand out and that children must cherish every minute to prepare for their future.

One day, when dinning with our neighbors, my husband expressed his dream: send Claire to an excellent university, such as Harvard. Since our daughter wants to be a doctor, we should put aside a big amount of money and assure her proficiency in different materials.

“But if she turns out to be an artist?” suggested one old lady.

We didn’t answer. Indeed, Claire loves drawing and she made amazing pictures. But we never imagined an artist career for her, because it was portrayed with pain and misery.  But we cannot control a child’s future, neither their path. We always impose our own dream on our kids and make them accept our definition of success. That’s very stressful for them.

Now we are living in a new country, embracing a very different culture.  The fist thing to learn is to open our mind. If not, we are imprisoned in some biased thoughts. For example, for all Chinese, the optimal success of a child is being a student of Harvard. However, university is just a step of one’s life while life is long, very long.

Can I hug you ?

Last day at school, Claire was exited and emotional.

She has been only four months in this class but already developed a deep attachment to her teachers. I was there too, accompanying her and helping teachers to make party time. To my big surprise, all these 4 year-old kids knew much more than we thought. They even dealt better with important situations.

After handing out prizes to each child, Miss Robin proposed an cheerful applause. “Not yet, you should get a prize too,” one girl stood up.

“For what?” asked the teacher.

“For being the best teacher of the world !” shouted another girl before running to her arms.

Children followed this girl and hugged their teachers. Claire was the last one to repeat this symbol of love. Not only she was shy, but also she wasn’t comfortable with the hug, I thought.

I remembered her first day at school, with little knowledge of English. She was seated on her chair, her hands on her knees and didn’t move for a long time. Being disciplined in her former kindergarten, she believed that the classroom was serious and that teachers only loved those who could control their body. Day by day, she was surprised by the intimacy between kids and teachers, here, in this new city. In her kindergarten in Shanghai, story time was a serious moment for learning new words. But now, her classmates can even listen to story in teacher’s arms.

Last day’s story time, Claire spontaneously put her head on her teacher’s neck. I took a picture of this emotional scene. Later, I shared this pictures with our family members in China. Claire’s grandma texted me asking if her granddaughter was sick, because it was unusual to be hold by a teacher.

Even for me, hug somebody demands much courage and willingness. We are told to control our emotion and to be respectful. Sometimes, intimate gestures or words make us shy and uncomfortable.

Good job, Claire. She will never be a real American girl, but now she began to know how to expresses  her trust and love. She will never say as many sweat words as her classmates, but she knows that love can be expressed by many ways.

I shall hug her more often and tell her to hug me anytime she wants.

Wander and Wonder

My English is not good yet, so I often made mistakes in my emails. I don’t have many emails to write, just several causal letters to thank our neighbors or Claire’s preschool teachers. We’ve moved to U.S for four months et have limited communication with the community. 

I waited three months for my job permit, but even I got it, I haven’t begun job research, since I know it’s difficult for me to start an other career, with only expertise in another language’s teaching. So I stay at home, wondering what to do next. Meanwhile, I wander around to discover the city. 

I wrote one day to Claire’s main teacher, “I wander if it’s permitted to take pictures of others kids at school?” Later after sending the mail, I  was suddenly  aware of having made a huge mistake. Why I tapped “wander” in place of “wonder”?  So shamed of myself, I went out hiking in the mountain. My daily life is fulfilled with increasing frustration with my English level, especially when I remembered how proud I was in another foreign language – French. 

My new life is not perfect. My past bumped up to make me reconsider the value of actual life. I lived in a big modern city, tired with daily noisy and stress but consoled by familiar traditions and taken-for-granted security. My family struggled to move out of China in order to land on a better place, even we didn’t figure out how better would it be. Now living finely under the blue sky, our mind is still confusing. Is this the life we looked for? Are there so many culture chocks as we learned in books ? What are the challenges to handle ? 

I’m afraid to wander in the new city, frightened by daily news focusing on gun violence and crashes. Being told to keep safe one thousand times, I just permit myself to wonder in lieu of wandering in touch with the variety of the society. 

But the most exciting part of my daily wanderwonderling is to write down what made me happy, sad, thankful, anxious or just idle. Writing is never boring. Writing in another language is an exploration, like wandering in the strange mountains, like wondering wonderful things or even unbelievable fictitious experiences. 

Keep wonder and wander with words.