Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“7YH” and Other Unscholarly Analyses

 As it is only just to give credit where credit is due, I’d like to first acknowledge Mike Kehoe as the wise young man whose ideas were the inspiration for the following entry.

I’m not a party animal by any means, but I don’t usually think twice about going out and having fun once the weekend rolls around.  When I arrived in China, it didn’t take too long to realize that the college student culture is a little different here. In these past two months or so, we’ve only managed to get about three Chinese roommates to come out with us for a night.

Now, let’s soak this in. I’m in Shanghai, arguably the most exciting and entertaining city in all of Mainland China – bars, lounges, dance clubs, live music, restaurants, bowling, karaoke – you name it, you can find everything here. So why are Chinese college students so opposed to enjoying all that Shanghai nightlife has to offer? Do they not like to have fun? Do they look down upon drinking and partygoers?

My answer: the Chinese are unknowingly victims of what I call the Seven Year Hypothesis (7YH), a conjecture which states that the Chinese youth are seven years behind Westerners in terms of maturity. In believing in this hypothesis, one can come to make sense of this important cultural difference.

For instance, a friend might ask me, “Why doesn’t my 21-year-old roommate want to come out to a bar with us tonight?” upon which I can confidently respond, “He’s only 14, don’t be so hard on him”.

 My friend Marybeth’s roommate wears pajamas that even a 9-year-old American girl would think are way too childish. And what can she almost always be found doing when she’s in the dorm? Watching cartoons.

Kehoe’s roommate has watched a Justin Bieber concert tour video at least three times. His ring tone: a Justin Bieber song, of course.

My friend Justin’s roommate plays World of Warcraft, a computer game, all night long. My friend Andrew’s roommate takes “staying in” to a whole new level. He has a wireless mouse, so with his computer on his desk a good ten feet away, he lies down on his bed and rolls his mouse on his chest.

What’s more is you can often find young professionals or upper-level students still living with their parents who have strict curfews. In fact, Kehoe works with a 26-year-old girl who lives at home. Her curfew: 11pm! Take away seven years, and she’s now 19. Oooph, still pretty old. Ladies and gentlemen, we may have an outlier.

The nightlife that we American college students value is more a part of the Chinese business lifestyle than of the Chinese college student. Accordingly, I think many Chinese kids consider themselves too young and inexperienced to go out for drinks and the like. *

Summarizing thoughts: Chinese students like to watch television and play computer games instead of going out, and their lives are still largely controlled by their parents. This sounds a lot like my life… when I was 13.

7YH is perhaps most salient when looking at the dating scene in China. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a Chinese girl my age tell me that she prefers to receive a note informing her that a guy likes her than hear from the guy in person. Sounds a lot like middle school, huh? I can’t imagine an American college student landing a date if he didn’t even have the nerve to approach a girl he liked.

In the end, the Seven Year Hypothesis helps to explain why many of my friends feel a sense of disconnect with their roommates. I think we were all expecting our roommates to just be Chinese versions of our friends back home in the States. That many of my friends are not very close with their roommates makes me feel lucky to have such a strong bond with Guo Jiang.  So why do I get along so well with my roommate, who’s 33? Well, why wouldn’t I? After all, he’s really just a conscientious 26-year-old.

* Drinking is truly a big part of business in China. I’ve heard tales of Chinese men getting drunk in order to accept shaky business deals. Moreover, inviting managers, co-workers, and clients to dinner and drinks, while possibly considered bribery in the U.S., is almost the norm in China. It seems to be just a mere extension of the Chinese propensity towards gift giving. My marketing professor has even said to us that many businesspeople in China are literally in physical pain from being forced to eat and drink so much. Truly a hilarious thought… until you call to mind all the other people here slaving away in factories for just enough money to make ends meet.

Chinese pop culture is extremely corny, and I refuse to be convinced otherwise. Someone in China must have declared that smooth jazz can be played anywhere and will automatically make for a serene atmosphere. I kid you not – I’ve heard the same smooth jazz version of My Heart Will Go On (from Titanic) at four distinct locations in China. Moreover, most Chinese dramas revolve around some terribly cheesy storyline that involves a man and a woman who love each other but for some reason, whether it be professional pursuits or parental disapproval, are forced to be apart. Oh please, cry me a river.

A panda munching on some bamboo at the Shanghai Wildlife Zoo.

This past weekend, I went to Hangzhou, a city, not far from Shanghai, renowned for its beautiful natural scenery. One of my stops was at the Lingyin Temple, where I discovered majestic Buddha shrines and statues. Feeling so removed from the Chinese culture, I found it hilarious when I saw people holding incense and bowing down to bronze statues. However, seeing such prepossessing statues and structures that were built more than a thousand years ago made me realize how rich Chinese history really is. When comparing China’s history to that of the United States, which pretty much started in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. is an infant. As such, far fewer common legends and traditions have had time to make their way into the minds of the American people. All in all, I can now understand why people feel the urge to bow down to their beloved Buddhas. At this point, I’d probably just make a funny face if I were next to a George Washington sculpture. But give me a thousand years, and I might very well get down on my knees.

Marybeth and Kehoe, embracing Hangzhou's natural beauty.

My fall break is coming up, and I was all set to head to Bangkok until I heard news of the terrible flooding that has put Thailand in a state of turmoil. Consequently, I decided it would be best to choose another destination (Exhibit A: 20-year-old college students make a responsible decision). Kehoe and I asked my roommate to call the airline to cancel our flight. Later on that day, as he’s on the phone with the airline, I see him whip out a piece of paper from his bag. He takes the phone off his ear and asks, “Can I make up a story? If you have good excuse, you needn’t to pay for cancelling.” Laughing a little, I tell him, “Sure, go ahead.”

After some time, he was put on hold, so I asked him what he had told the airline worker on the other end.

He said he had told them that I had severely injured my head after a skateboarding accident and would be unable to go on the flight. The note that he pulled out of his bag was from his friend, a brain doctor, describing the sensation that one feels after this kind of injury. Yes, that’s right. My roommate did research to prepare for his lying to the airline company. I was in hysterics. Now let it be known that I consider my roommate a very respectable man. That fabricating a story of some skateboarding accident to escape a cancellation fee did not even remotely faze him was just all too much for me. It just goes to show that fibs and falsehoods are not so frowned upon in China. This cultural difference doesn’t surprise me. Fake brands and false advertising surround Chinese people left and right. It’s no wonder that deception is an accepted part of everyday life.

Oh and, if you’re wondering what happened, they ended up transferring Guo Jiang to another department, of which all the employees were on their lunch break. I just paid the cancellation fee.

With Bangkok an idea of the past, this weekend, I’ll now be heading to Seoul. Still not too shabby.

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