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Friday, August 8, 2008

In the First Person

Made in China
by Adam Hong

How big?
If every man, woman, and child in China spit southward simultaneously the entire Southeast Asia will be wiped out.

I was too young to understand my uncle’s metaphor, but that was some image. Gross! But powerful nevertheless. Only recently that I’ve connected his joke with China’s power, its population represents more than 1/5 of the world’s – one out of every five people in the world lives in China, not to mention millions more scattering around the world. Like my uncle.

Like most Asian Americas he has a love-hate relationship with his ancestry. He loves Chinese food, authentic, homemade Chinese food, not Panda Express. He was an amazing cook – “was” because I think he’s losing his piquancy to aging – give him an egg and he would whip up beautiful golden delicious egg drop soup in a flash. He hates everything else from China, anything made in China that is. Truth is made-in-China means less in my family’s dictionary. Anything easily broken, faded, stretched, synthetic, odorous, contaminated, and most recently poisonous. Let’s put it this way, if my families said my writing is made in China, I would be devastated, especially the odorous attribute. Ironically, my uncle is not exactly a big spender. He’s thrilled to get a bargain and ecstatic when things are free. The opposite would drive him mad. He once disputed over his water bill for a year, only giving in when the utility company turned off the water and charged him with a penalty and required a security deposit to reinstate the service. Since then he turned off all the water in the house, except for the kitchen and the master bathroom. He sank three red bricks in the water tank of a Canadian-made toilet, which the manufacturer assures a disposal of one gallon of water for each flush. Who needs a whole gallon of water to flush if half gallon could do the job? He often jokes that his invention is truly made in China, not for the cheapness context, but the practicality. So he has a dilemma. He doesn’t want to deplete his bank accounts for quality products, and he doesn’t want anything made in China either. That’s my uncle. Wait. It’s my neighbor. My teacher. The mailman. My dentist. It seems that everyone faces the same dilemma. Eventually economy wins. Just take a trip to your nearest super Wal-Mart and you’ll see all solutions provided by the Chinese in one stop. There you can shop, eat, be entertained, fill prescription, and, as your heart desires, wed your beloved in a white and pink decorated wedding chapel while waiting for your car to be serviced. The Chinese clearly see our demands for quantity not quality. They are eager to please the world. In preparation for the Olympics, China has a long list of etiquette that the Chinese must comply with. One of them is to stop spitting publicly.

They will get even bigger.

How big?
Let’s hope that they don’t start spitting again. Toward us.

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1 comment:

Julie Kenner said...

I'm in the process of editing together a little home movie documenting our daughter's adoption in China a few years ago, and your post made me even more nostalgic.

We were there in late 2006, and though I have lived in Los Angeles and thought I knew crowds, Beijing blew me away. Faces pressed against bus windows as the bus moved down the highway like something out of a dark indie feature. I also thought I knew pollution. I was wrong.

But oh, my, the beauty. Even despite the crazy let's-get-ready-for-the-Olympics construction, the sites and history blew me away. The Forbidden Palace. The majesty of the Great Wall. The fact that it's been around for thousands of years compared to a mere few centuries for the bulk of our historical markers here in the U.S.

When we went to our daughter's town, we were heading to the "small" town of only a couple of million.

Though we had a guide, my family is adventurous and we wandered off the beaten path to find local food. Though we weren't ever sure what we were ordering, the people were nice (and somewhat amused by us), and my blonde five-year-old was quite the celebrity.

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with your theme or thesis. (I will say I hesitate to buy off-brand foods from China, and even some on-brand products.) But I do want to go back and visit. And when my little girl is old enough to remember the trip, we'll take her and show her where she was born and let her soak in the heritage of her ancestors.

So thanks for the nostalgia!