Yesterday afternoon, I went to a big public park near the center of the city. It looked pretty normal from a distance, yet when I got closer I saw pieces of paper that looked like flyers everywhere. They were spread out on clotheslines, trees, and bushes. Surrounding the area was an endless sea of mainly older people, furiously examining each as if their lives depended on it. Some were even taking notes.
My friend who I was with explained the spectacle for me. Each paper was a profile of a possible marriage candidate with only the bare minimum of facts: gender, age, education, and for some reason, height. They also included their possessions, for example, a car or house. The second paragraph was their requirements for a partner: “Must have an undergraduate education and be at least 1.64 meters tall.” They finished off their self advertisements with weirdly half-hearted statements. “I’m looking for love!” or “I’m a romantic!” were commonly seen.
This is probably not the most common dating technique of Chinese people, but the profiles, which are more like slightly organized lists, are indicative of a general attitude here. They get straight to the point without sugar coating anything; here is what I have and here is what I want. People are blunt about things that in America would be considered taboo: most commonly, weight and salaries. My host family has unabashedly questioned my mother’s yearly salary as a freelance translator and made statements in a matter-of-fact tone about the weight I’ve gained since I’ve been here. The language itself is simplified and direct: people don’t say “xie xie” commonly unless in a very formal setting, when calling over a waiter you just yell “fu wu yuan,” and when you don’t want something you say “bu yao” which literally just means, don’t want.
This isn’t true for everything; there are innumerable specific topics that are considered extremely taboo here. The ones I’ve particularly noticed are sexuality and the historical errors of the Chinese Communist Party. Ask any Chinese person about their opinion of Mao. Nine out of ten times the answer is going to be robotically textbook, “Mao was a good man who made bad decisions when he succumbed to the Gang of Four in his later years.” On the other hand, when we’ve mentioned same-sex marriage or dating the response is pure shock. The funniest response I’ve heard is when Emily’s fourteen-year-old sister slowly said in utter disbelief, “Wait….. He is a gay? He is a LGBT?” Although these reactions are not similar, they are representative of the countless unspeakable topics present in China. Each subject leads to a somewhat uncomfortable situation depending on who you’re speaking to, yet in America they are so commonly discussed. In this country, things are either directly addressed or completely ignored.
When I first arrived I took offense to the things they bluntly stated while being angered by their disregard to things I felt were important. Since being here I’ve learned to let go of things a little. I came to this country with my politically correct Brookline background and whenever a joke was made about how all woman do is spend their husband’s money and so forth, my reaction was intense. I’ve come to see that not everything is worth pursuing. In my perfect world, I would be able to fight against everything I disagree with. The problem is, the more I did that, the more I found myself losing perspective. The cultural difference is vast and my causing conflict probably won’t help more than it could hurt. This isn’t to say that I’m not steaming mad every time an unnecessarily offensive comment or joke is made. My goal for not only the rest of this trip, but also after my return to America, is to keep the big picture in mind, to hold myself accountable for being too quick to react and hopefully, eventually make a big, systematic difference in the world that will change it for the better.