Manners and the lack of.

Trip Start Sep 14, 2009
Trip End Aug 31, 2011

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Where I stayed
the cool room

Flag of China  , Heilongjiang,
Monday, June 14, 2010

Late Friday night I got a text from the school I work for. This weekend they will not be needing my services as all the local schools figured out that they have days off, too, so they will be working on the weekend. So, all my friends are busy working and I'm completely free.

Saturday I went and visited a school that was opening up. I heard about the school through a fellow American and he wanted me to come with not only to help him but to see about work as well. I was pretty much turned off to the idea as we started asking questions. The school is a private school, so I imagined it to be that way.

The other guy kept asking questions. The person who was acting as our translator was doing a very, very good job. Every thing she translated was as we had been meaning. However, every reply we got answered not only a question we didn't ask, but also a question that we didn't care about. For example. "How many students do you have?" was answered with, "We will start a new semester in the fall and you will teach those students from these books." "What is the level of English that they will have?" was answered with "You should prepare all of the lessons from this book over the summer." Generally that's how it went. It took about 10 minutes to pry the exact date any classes were starting from the boss. In other words. They don't know. They also wanted to take our pictures to "introduce" the teachers to the students. I refused. In all, garbage. Pure garbage.

Recently on the daily bike ride there's been a college student who can speak English pretty well. Over the past few days when I've been talking to him I figure I should try something different. Instead I just complain about the ways that myself and my friends feel that Chinese people disrespect us foreigners. After the third day of this the guy looks to me and says, "Just don't think about it!" This is a common Chinese response. This has not been the first time I've been told this. I told him that was unacceptable. Westerners will always try to make themselves happy. When we decide that we don't want to think about it any more we shoot ourselves in the head. He kind of laughed at that, but then was reminded once again that our cultures are different. However, I keep on reminding him that from the first moment he introduced himself to me (note that he introduced himself to me instead of grabbing my leg or fondling my body hair) he has been treating me with respect that westerners would enjoy and that he was doing a good job.

Sunday I took a bike ride out to the nature reserve to see if I could see the cranes. I had never been there before, so I wasn't sure if it was just some small park or just some open space. I could not gather much information in my limited searches. When I got there there were no signs, just a building and a gate left open. So I bike in. Finally I hear a woman screaming at the man at the gate to stop me. I keep going, but when the man started screaming I figured I should stop. He keeps saying to me, "You need to buy a ticket" in Chinese. I'm getting quite sick of people pretending not to understand me when I talk to them in Chinese, so I figured I'd turn it on them. I just kept repeating in English, "Sorry I don't understand you!" When he kept saying the same thing over and over I started to look more frustrated. So I give him my dictionary so he could look up the word and show me. He just takes the book and points back to the building. I point to the book again and instead he just points to the building again. Turns out he is illiterate. At this point I want my book back, but he refruses to give it back to me. Since he is older I can move faster than him and end up snatching it away. So we go back towards the building. I see that the ticket price is listed as 30 yuan, but then on a sheet next to the sign it says add 20 more on top of that. So I ask them how much it is. In English I'm told. "It's 30 yuan and 20 yuan." Yes. That is exactly what was said. So I ask, "Ok, is it 30 yuan or 20 yuan?" I'm given the clear answer of "Yes." Eventually they work out the number 50. Seeing as how they were frustrated I decided to go into my Chinese. "What to you mean to tell me it's 50?" They look relieved that they could now fully understand me. Their relief was short lived.

Now again, most of the time when I try to act respectful and talk to people in Chinese the general response I get is "I don't understand! I don't understand!" I talk to my teachers later about what I said and they tell me I couldn't say it any better. So as I said, these people could fully understand me. I ended up arguing with them on and on for the next 20 or 30 minutes about how they have change their price back in 2008, but still have not updated their sign to their current price. The old man said I could talk to the manager about the issue. I told him to go get him. The old man stands there and does nothing. I wait 10 seconds and ask again. The old man does nothing. I ask a third time. The old man looks at me. I then ask him when the manager will be here. He says he doesn't know. Welcome to customer service in China. So I then talk to the woman at the window to speak with the manager. He's not here, he's in the city. I express to him that he gets here in a car. I came on a bike. It's much more difficult for me to come here than him, so I should speak with him immediately. They refuse to help. Instead they start asking what they feel are redundant questions. Instead of given them the answers they want I give answers that support my argument that they have no right to charge me the additional price because everywhere else it's listed as being 30. Finally they give me his phone number. I stand there and wait for a phone. "Oh, we don't have a phone here. You'll have to call them yourself." This kept on going on and on for a little while but I was getting bored and they had already released the cranes for the final time that day so it really wasn't any point to paying and going in (as it turns out I didn't have the 50 anyway). Plus, paying money to see birds released from a cage seems like paying for sex and just doesn't seem right to me.

So what did I learn here? Frustrate people first so that way they will be happy to understand you as opposed to disappointed that they can understand you. That's a really crappy lesson. I asked a friend who had gone there if the 50 yuan was worth it. She said it was and the bike ride out there is a nice 50+ mile round trip. Next time I'll ust have to leave earlier so I can spend more time there.

Later in the evening I ended up going out to dinner with a friend of mine. It was at a really big restaurant and when we walked in about 15% of the tables had patrons craning their necks to look at the foreigners that just entered. Then about 10 minutes later something surprising happened. An employee of the place came up to me and literally said, "Excuse me, can I ask you a question? Where are you from?" Real, actual geniune politeness expressed by a Chinese person who cannot speak English. It made me happy. I answered his questions. He thanked me and went on his way.

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