2010.10.02 19:00 - China Impressions

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    The Guardian for this meeting was Pema Pera. The comments are by Pema Pera.

    Pema Pera: Hi ELiza!
    Eliza Madrigal: Hi Pema, Good morning :)
    Pema Pera: good evening to you :-)
    Pema Pera: yes, 11 am here, just before lunch
    Eliza Madrigal: :) Thank you
    Pema Pera: I really enjoyed the vigorous discussion in the Time Session, the other day
    Pema Pera: and I hope my email to the group helped clarify how I feel about different points of view
    Pema Pera: happy to consider all of them, but also eager to be clear about the differences
    Eliza Madrigal: yes, the discussion is important... to see that there really is nothing excluded from it I guess... first of all...?
    Pema Pera: can you say a bit more?
    Eliza Madrigal: And yet not witholding our own ways of working with this kind of expansive exploration...
    Eliza Madrigal: Ah, well I think some of what I was hearing was that people have their own 'offerings' in the ways of interests that they feel speak to, even as a metaphor, the exploration...
    Eliza Madrigal: so , there being a sort of hm...
    Eliza Madrigal: desire to check that everything , which is what I hear you express...
    Eliza Madrigal: is welcomed
    Eliza Madrigal: and yet that there are distinctions equally important
    Eliza Madrigal: not sure if I'm articulating well... but have a few diff views in my head :)
    Pema Pera: yes, I do want to express that, that I'm interested in many angles -- and at the same time, that I also want to clarify my particular angle.
    Pema Pera: and many of the other angles are expressed in terms that already from the beginning deny my angle
    Pema Pera: let me give an example
    Eliza Madrigal: which does seem crucial... that we do see your angle and factor that...
    Eliza Madrigal listens
    Pema Pera: if I talk about water, and its properties, how it behaves, what you can do with it
    Pema Pera: and then somebody else talks about air
    Pema Pera: then I'm happy to hear more about air, and also join the discussion about air
    Pema Pera: but I can't use that to describe droplets and waterfalls and all that
    Pema Pera: perhaps I can talk about clouds, as a compromise, but that's about it
    Eliza Madrigal nods... understood....
    Eliza Madrigal: What I was considering... is that to me while reading your chapters, there is a kind of peeling back...
    Eliza Madrigal: sort of layer by layer... of something... of showing preconceptions perhaps, etc
    Pema Pera: yes
    Eliza Madrigal: and to do that, one has a view of a kind of total picture perhaps... in a way
    Eliza Madrigal: whereas there are many many things that come up with each peeling back...
    Pema Pera: one has to make a leap, a very very radical leap . . . . one that is almost impossible to describe in words
    Eliza Madrigal: and a kind of sorting and offering and opening that may go on

    At this point Pila entered, and I remembered how he had asked me several times about my impressions on my first trip to China, to Beijing, a month ago, when I attended a one-week astrophysics conference.

    Pema Pera: Hi Pila!
    Pila Mulligan: Hi Eliza and Pema
    Eliza Madrigal: Hi Pila :)
    Pila Mulligan: I hope you both are well
    Eliza Madrigal: indeed Pila, and you?
    Pila Mulligan: all
    Pila Mulligan: is ell here
    Pila Mulligan: thanks
    Pila Mulligan: well*
    Eliza Madrigal: :) Glad
    Pila Mulligan: laggy :)
    Eliza Madrigal: Yes, I'm thankful and surprised to be all here tonight with little lag. Don't tell me if I'm a cloud :)
    Pema Pera: I remember you being rather eager to ask me about my trip to Beijing, a while ago, Pila
    Pila Mulligan: yes :)
    Pema Pera: Was there any particular aspect that you'd like to hear about?
    Pila Mulligan: everything ... your impressions and recolections mostly
    Pema Pera: hahaha, well, were to start
    Eliza Madrigal: :)
    Pila Mulligan: at the end?
    Eliza Madrigal: well if you want everything that's the only way I think...heheh

    I started with a comparison.

    Pema Pera: coming from Japan, I was struck how different the two countries and cultures are
    Pema Pera: Japanese being considerate to the point of being hesitant
    Pema Pera: and Chinese being straightforward to the point of seeming rude and self centered
    Pema Pera: of course, both are just superficial impressions, but interesting in itself
    Pila Mulligan: an interesting initial observation
    Pema Pera: and within each culture there are ways to show kindness as well as behaving in unpleasant ways -- the way they show it is just very different
    Pema Pera: the freedom that Chinese have in just going there own way is refreshing, in that sense they are like Americans, but at the same time it seems to go with an all-out interest in money in ways that puts the average American to shame :-)
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Pema Pera: After a few decades of communism in which money was considered dirty, they have been invited now to wallow in money, and wallowing they do -- it seems to only thing of interest to them
    Pema Pera: rather disconcerting . . .
    Pila Mulligan: I bet
    Pema Pera: and there seems rather little awareness of their own culture. When I mention a few words about Daoism to some of the students, they had no idea what I was talking about
    Pila Mulligan: really?
    Pema Pera: even when I wrote the characters for "wu wei" 無為 it didn't mean anything to them
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Pema Pera: apart from indicating "not working"
    Pila Mulligan: but $$ registered :)
    Pema Pera: which seems like a bad idea if money is what you're after
    Pema Pera: yes
    Pila Mulligan: yes, I thought that earlier when you mentioned their approach to gatehring all they could
    Eliza Madrigal: I've heard Stim say something to the effect that Daoism and Confusionism being mostly gone...
    Pema Pera: it's a bit scary, and all that coupled to environmental degradation

    Calvino entered, and we explained Pila's prodding dynamics :-)

    Eliza Madrigal: Hi Cal :)
    Pila Mulligan: their olde culture has a nice sense of discretion
    Pila Mulligan: hi Cal
    Pema Pera: the air pollution in Beijing was horrendous
    Pema Pera: hi Cal!
    Calvino Rabeni: Hello everyone :)
    Pema Pera: yes, Eliza, it seems like that
    Pila Mulligan: Pema is talking about China, his recent visit
    Pema Pera: prodded by Pila :)
    Pila Mulligan: seems modern china is becoming very money oriented
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Pila Mulligan: well, lets prod on ...
    Eliza Madrigal: hehe
    Pila Mulligan: sorry
    Pema Pera: well . . . .
    Eliza Madrigal: No, its terribly interesting...
    Pila Mulligan: were the parks not full of tai chiers?
    Pema Pera: no, alas, not the parks I saw
    Pila Mulligan: wow
    Pema Pera: but that was near the campus
    Pila Mulligan: there goes one of my favirtie imaginings
    Pema Pera: I didn't go to more out-of-the-way areas
    Pema Pera: where they may well be -- but not the students, no
    Pila Mulligan: hmm
    Pila Mulligan: what took second place to money in their interests?
    Pema Pera: learning English
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Pila Mulligan: they are definitely on the road to the hieght sof the 21st Century
    Pema Pera: everywhere in town where signs for English learning clubs
    Pema Pera: yes, they are determined to catch up in a couple decades -- and they may well
    Pila Mulligan: maybe sooner

    I then mentioned something that I only recently had become aware off, how China has effectively
    become two countries.

    Pema Pera: if they can keep a balance between the rural part which is now effectively a colony oppressed by the coast, which is almost a separate country
    Pema Pera: the rural people work as laborers in the coastal areas, the same way that Latinos work in the US
    Pila Mulligan: Hawaii is kind of like that -- there's Honolulu (what counts) and everything else (2d place)
    Pema Pera: they don't get resident permits, they only can come for a few months at a time and have virtually no rights
    Pila Mulligan: wow
    Pila Mulligan: one aspect of rural life, as Lao Tse put it, is "they leave one another in peace while they grow old and die" ... suggesting that relationship may be okay with some rurla residents
    Pema Pera: oh no, they also strive for money
    Pila Mulligan: ugghh
    Pema Pera: and for their children to get more education and hence more money
    Pila Mulligan: what is the world com ing to
    Pema Pera: understandable of course
    Eliza Madrigal: yes quite
    Pema Pera: it's not really different elsewhere, just more accentuated
    Pema Pera: not being interested in money is a kind of luxurious attitude that well-off people can permit to have
    Pema Pera: so I don't want to judge them
    Eliza Madrigal: It must be very easy to lose perspective after such a long time of great want
    Pila Mulligan: and some poor people :)
    Pema Pera: in fact, illegal immigrants in the US have more rights than rural people in coastal areas in China
    Pila Mulligan: wow again
    Pema Pera: no rights for schooling for example, or regular health care
    Pila Mulligan: and this modern Chinese culture really gave you no glmpse of its past?
    Pema Pera: China really has become two countries
    Pema Pera: if it had two names, there would be an international outcry about how country Coast would be occupying country Rural
    Pema Pera: not really, no, not in the one week I was there, which of course was a limited experience
    Pila Mulligan: so this is a recent phenomenon, that may be part of the contrast with Japan oyu mentioned first
    Pema Pera: the contrast has been there for a long time
    Pema Pera: already quite noticeable in the US, say, the behavior of Chinese in China towns
    Pema Pera: the open attitude of merchants
    Pema Pera: One difference between Japan and China
    Pila Mulligan: I haven't been to Haonolulu's Chinatown for years, but I lived in Maui's Chinatown until 2005 -- the chinese there were most courteous -- but they were born there
    Pema Pera: is that in Japan culture spread very broadly, through a middle class that dominated, during the last four hundred years
    Pila Mulligan: yes, I was thning abut the age of Japan's culture also
    Pema Pera: whereas in China, there has only been a rather thin layer of Mandarin upper class, with the vast majority being far less cultured
    Pema Pera: hi Paradise!
    Pila Mulligan: hi Paradise, Pema is talking about his recent visit to China
    Pila Mulligan: (after being prodeeed)
    Pila Mulligan: prodded*
    Eliza Madrigal: Hello flowery Paradise :)
    Paradise Tennant: smiles and waves all round :) listening

    I'm glad I could correct what could easily have become a misperception of my earlier account:

    Pema Pera: just to be clear:
    Pila Mulligan: I'm suprised at how the culutre seems to revolve arounf money and power, at the expense of non-urban areas
    Pema Pera: I don't think that Chinese are more rude than Japanese
    Pila Mulligan: oh, I thought you said they were
    Pema Pera: but when you come into either country, you do get very different impressions
    Pema Pera: the Chinese seem to behave more rudely
    Pema Pera: while the Japanese seem to behave in very considerate ways
    Pema Pera: but of course in every culture there are different people with different personalities
    Pema Pera: so in China nice people are straightforward but don't really hurt others
    Pema Pera: where in Japan not so nice people can be really nasty under the veneer of being polite
    Pila Mulligan: I see, thanks for the details :)
    Pila Mulligan: candid vs oblique
    Pema Pera: like in Europe: English seeming more reserved than Italians, say -- but again there are large personal differences
    Eliza Madrigal: I remember hearing pre-Olympics, that there was great effort made to tell people not to rush onto busses and such to give a bad impression.... of course with so many people this happens. Miami traffic is a testament :)
    Pema Pera: it is more that the expressions are different: underneath people are just people
    Paradise Tennant: smiles yes we are a common denominator :)
    Pila Mulligan: were there plenty of taxis where you were in China?
    Pema Pera: oh yes
    Pila Mulligan: how did they compare with Japan?
    Pema Pera: all very cheap; like subway fares, ten times cheaper than in the US or Japan
    Pila Mulligan: cool
    Pema Pera: oh, the taxi drivers were by and large reasonably polite, and the taxis were clean
    Pema Pera: an aspect of a dictatorial state:
    Pila Mulligan: taxi dirvers and bartenders - a universal persona maybe
    Pema Pera: "let taxis be clean and drivers be well behaved" -- otherwise off with their heads
    Pila Mulligan: :|
    Pema Pera: it's very odd to see a country where capitalism and communism go together -- the state is really all powerful

    I mentioned my first-ever encounter with very strict censorship

    Pema Pera: also, one thing that was really odd and eary was that whenever I wanted to get some information about something, one out of three times the URL was blocked -- that was the very first time in my life that I experienced what it was to live in a censured country. I made a loooooong list of URLs to look up after coming back to Japan. I knew about it, but experiencing it gave me the shivers.
    Pila Mulligan: yes, the social aspect of government violence
    Pila Mulligan: easy to overlook
    Pila Mulligan: when yu live in it
    Eliza Madrigal: mmm, nods
    Pema Pera: made me feel that I was sitting in front of my computer in my hotel room with my hands tied . . . .
    Pema Pera: it did feel like violence
    Pila Mulligan: as you were, in fact
    Pila Mulligan: metaphorically at least
    Pema Pera: in all, the people were really friendly though
    Pema Pera: I should emphasize that too
    Eliza Madrigal: funny that in america we think we get the news too, though. I wonder what the difference is between knowing you are censored and believing you are not...
    Pema Pera: friendly in an open way, but not exactly what I would call "considerate" :-)
    Pila Mulligan: my neighbors in Chinatown were extermely frinedly, even for Hawaii
    Eliza Madrigal: :)
    Paradise Tennant: ;)
    Pema Pera: yes, Eliza, interesting point!
    Pila Mulligan: do fish see water?
    Pema Pera: most countries are more subtle
    Pema Pera: subtlety is not exactly what I found in Beijing, hahaha
    Eliza Madrigal: :)
    Pema Pera: china may be the least subtle country I have seen so far
    Pila Mulligan: did'nt Mao say power comes form the barrel of a gun
    Pema Pera: practical, nononsense, straightforward -- like going from Europe to the US and then one step further!
    Pila Mulligan: and growing rapidly in space and techology
    Pema Pera: so yes, I think they may catch up in 20 years or so *if* they can solve the coastal-rural divide -- they may not, not clear

    Time for me to go.

    Pema Pera: btw, I have to leave a bit early, sorry, lunch appointment at 12 noon, in eight minutes, nearby
    Paradise Tennant: smiles :) and looks at the dark sky outside lunch seems a long way off :)
    Eliza Madrigal: interesting talk, thanks Pema :)
    Pema Pera: good seeing you, and I hope I managed to give at least some impression
    Paradise Tennant: thanks for sharing pema
    Pila Mulligan: the Chinese recovered from WWII with a broadly equitable economic base, then gave it up to chase western markets, that is their big challenge now, to survive the Marixst dialectic
    Pila Mulligan: yes, thanks veyr much Pema
    Eliza Madrigal is eating raisin challah bread and drinking pinot noir... hehe
    Pila Mulligan: it was enlightening
    Pema Pera envying Eliza, wondering about making lunch into brunch and having champagne instead . . .
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Eliza Madrigal smiles
    Pema Pera: c u !
    Pila Mulligan: bye for now
    Eliza Madrigal: Nite Pema :)
    Pila Mulligan: wow, some unexpected factual reports
    Eliza Madrigal: yes...
    Eliza Madrigal: always a difference between someone's own experience and the idea of a place
    Pila Mulligan: from earlier, for Paradise and Cal -- [19:23] Pema Pera: and there seems rather little awareness of their own culture. When I mention a few words about Daoism to some of the students, they had no idea what I was talking about [19:23] Pila Mulligan: really? [19:23] Pema Pera: even when I wrote the characters for "wu wei" 無為 it didn't mean anything to them
    Pila Mulligan: chasing money like moths drawn to the light bulb
    Calvino Rabeni: There's a movie about changing China - as from the point of view of martial arts masters, called "Needle Through Brick"
    Pila Mulligan: have you seen it Cal?
    Calvino Rabeni: (Listed free on Hulu.com)
    Calvino Rabeni: Not yet, it's in my queue :)
    Pila Mulligan: yes, I watched it there
    Calvino Rabeni: What did you think?
    Pila Mulligan: if it is the same one a sI rememebr watching ... :)
    Pila Mulligan: it was mostly about Chinese masters in Malaysia
    Pila Mulligan: it was mostly about Chinese masters living in Malaysia
    Pila Mulligan: oops, twice entered, once meant :)
    Pila Mulligan: it was interesting as a comparison of old ways with new
    Pila Mulligan: but it was bound by the Malaysian setting
    Pila Mulligan: not so much relaiting to China
    Calvino Rabeni: Some of those schools are incredibly closely-controlled and ritualized.
    Pila Mulligan: I'd like to see a documentary on present day Shao Lin
    Calvino Rabeni: I assume it's more so in traditional china than in the US
    Eliza Madrigal: uh oh, paradise is away... she must have found Mad Men on hulu....
    Pila Mulligan: many martial arts traditions in China seem to relate to a place (like Shao Lin) or a fmaily (like Yang or Wu)
    Pila Mulligan: :) Mad Men?
    Eliza Madrigal: hehe... something in my list that I've not quite gotten around to
    Calvino Rabeni: I was browsing a web site for a martial school somewhere recently ... and was surprised to see how closely it had preserved the ritual atmosphere and tone of the one I went to in a different city in the seventies
    Pila Mulligan: ahh, wiki: Mad Men is set in the 1960s, initially at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency on Madison Avenue in New York City, and later at the newly created firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce
    Pila Mulligan: you know, Cal, that dichotomy between traditions that preserve themselves and the creation of newness is common to many things
    Eliza Madrigal: :) just seems a good show. Ive not watched a series since west wing but intend to see that one (sorry to interrupt with my silliness)
    Pila Mulligan: I look at Bones on Hulu :) (and I have no TV)
    Eliza Madrigal: :)
    Paradise Tennant: smiles
    Pila Mulligan: wb Paradise
    Paradise Tennant: this is my weakness .. never turn the tv on :)
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Eliza Madrigal: okay, did gaya's whale just fly through here?
    Pila Mulligan: easy here :)
    Pila Mulligan: I did not see a whale
    Paradise Tennant: lol looks for the whale
    Eliza Madrigal: I think I'd better go to bed. hahah...
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes it is, however for me I don't think I fully appreciated in the beginning the way all the elements of a tradition could all come together and add up to a whole atmosphere and way of seeing
    Calvino Rabeni looks at the clock too
    Pila Mulligan: nice to see you Eliza, sweet dreams
    Calvino Rabeni: I'll move along as well
    Eliza Madrigal: Sweet dreams guys. So nice to see you Pila and Paradise and Cal :)
    Pila Mulligan: yes, traditions are often rich beyond perception
    Calvino Rabeni: Good to see you all :)
    Paradise Tennant: sweet dream eliza nite nite cal :)
    Pila Mulligan: bye Cal, sweet dreasm also
    Calvino Rabeni: TY
    Pila Mulligan: hi Paradise :)
    Paradise Tennant: smiles hi pila ;) nice to see you here
    Pila Mulligan: :)

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