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Looking Back, Moving Forward

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Mei banfa, which essentially means “Well, there’s nothing for it,” is one of the most commonly-heard expressions in China. Traffic is tied up again? Mei banfa, there are so many people! The government censored your blog/book/movie? Mei banfa, some things are not suitable for open discussion. You have to wait four hours at the hospital even though you have important things to do? Mei banfa, healthcare is always in demand. It can also be used as a lame excuse, a brush-off, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

In my experience as a foreigner, foreigners adapt to the constant use of mei banfa in several stages. First, surprise. Really? There’s NOTHING you can do? Second, anger. Give me a break! If only you’d do such-and-such-and-such, this would be EASY! You’re not trying hard enough! Arrrgh! Third, begrudging acceptance. Alright, I’ll relax. This isn’t my country; things are different; deep breath; okay. Personally, I’m perpetually in a rage-filled limbo between stages two and three. On a good day, I’m happy to abide by the ways and mores of my host country. On a bad or merely average day, I’ll pay you any amount of money to give me your spot in line or suggest re-routing traffic through the Gates of Hell if it means I get to the office a few minutes faster. I do not suggest I am a tolerant individual. God willing, I will do better.

I envy the tolerance of Chinese people for frustrating situations. There are too many difficulties in life to face head-on; this is true everywhere. The tolerance that Chinese people exude in all aspects of life, towards politics, traffic congestion, pollution, or whatever – is exceptional. I firmly believe that down to the cellular level, Chinese people are better prepared to face any survival-level challenge than almost anyone on earth. Yes, China convulses with panic anytime someone sneezes and their snot is an interesting new color, fearing that this is the big one, the epidemic that will ravage their dense proto-metropolises, but I still don’t fear the plague. In this respect, I think China is probably helping the world more than it’s hurting it. All these people with their white cells constantly overworked, desperate to deal with new threats and, until the last few generations, starved of the nutrients necessary to mount an effective defense, are probably the ones who will remain after the bird flu kills the rest of us. They’ve had practice. The rest of us have built little bio-domes and lost our ability to deal with any damn thing, be it a new disease or a paperwork snafu.

A hope that I cling to, other than the futile hope that I may become a Zen master, is that in my years here in China I have picked up some of this ability to cope, rather than simply reinforcing my existing tendencies to be impatient and selfish. Certainly there is no shortage of the petty and mean here, but there is also a surprisingly abundance of tolerance and a sort of dogged determination to move forward that I identify with. There was a survey done not long ago by Gallup that essentially aggregated a large number of smaller polls done all around the world to determine which countries were the most optimistic. China ranked staggeringly low – falling below Iraq by several percentage points. Why? Surely China is developing so rapidly that some of its people must feel good about things. And yet this seeming discrepancy does not overly surprise me. Many Chinese have come to expect the worst while still striving for the best, and I like this mindset. Optimism and fatalism together. Yes, sometimes there’s simply nothing for it, but tomorrow will be better.


Written by Michael

May 5, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. xiaochenchen also contributed to the research from pingguo.


    May 5, 2010 at 11:51 pm

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