Christmas and Love: Controversial in Shanghai

 

 

 

It’s a rather warm Sunday, winter afternoon and it is Christmas Eve. It is one of the most charming and lovely days for me. I would have liked to admire the frozen nature and for my face to be bitten by the rushing wind, the flakes of snow and the cold air. Since mother Nature refuses to comply with my wishes I decide to make the most of my time strolling through a park. Thus, I leave the coziness and isolation of my house for a relaxing walk in People’s Park. (In China, by name, everything belongs to the people; e.g. :people’s money, people’s square, people’s bank, people’s hospital etc. Sounds like heaven, unfortunately it isn’t so).

Back to myself. I feel nostalgic and memories of Christmases past flood my mind. Imagine! Hills covered in blankets of immaculate snow, children giggling and running towards the very top of sharp-sculpted valleys with their sledges, people going to church when evening settles in, groups of boys and girls travelling from house to house to sing decades old carols, hosts receiving guests with a glass of mulled wine and a slice of sweet walnut bread (cozonac), delicious food shared by family and friends near the stove, the smell and heat of burning wood in my grandparents’ house, rosy cheeks and noses, woolen hats and gloves and vapors of hot air leaving our mouths and becoming magical floating smoke in the cold. And that is the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of winter that I am missing so in China. I did find at least a dozen small Christmas markets in Shanghai and fancy elaborate Christmas decorations in every reputable shopping mall. Probably this made it better than being stuck for Christmas in…let’s say, Saudi Arabia. However, the superficiality and commercialism of the holiday is what dominates Christmas in China. The kindness of Christmas, the spirit of Christmas, the feeling of being in a community where people share the same believes and relate to the most important festive season of the year in the same way is somewhere far away.

While all of this makes sense because Christmas is not a holiday rooted in Chinese culture my heart still aches. Why? In the upcoming years the government and certain cultural conservationist advocacy groups decided to forbid Christmas decorations in public areas. Their scope is to encourage Chinese people to concentrate on their own holidays and customs. They want to sabotage Christmas! Gosh, that is sad. People won’t even be free to enjoy Christmas decorations in public places any longer? Let’s just take it the other way around. In any of the countries I have lived before (Romania, UK, Turkey, Belgium) I was free to enjoy and attend celebrations belonging to various religious and ethnic groups. Displays of joy and decorations were welcomed and not ostracized. Shouldn’t we, inhabitants of Earth, by now celebrate and accept multiculturalism? Withdrawing into our own conservative, nationalistic corners that proved times and again to fail is not the right path for future evolution. Didn’t we learn already that not love and accepting each other means failure?

So just because I am not Buddhist or because I am not Asian, it does not mean that I should not be allowed to  celebrate or share the meaning and joy of Chinese New Year. Many other people and I are curious about others’ holidays and their meanings and would like to celebrate along with them.  And we usually have the freedom to experience that in any European country. But tables might turn in China….Chinese people might not have the same privilege in their own country and with them everyone else will be denied Christmas.

Now, let me tell you what Christmas was all about in People’s Park. The main scene was occupied by a huge marriage market. Middle-aged people and a few youngsters arranged colorful open umbrellas on the sides of alleys on the ground and stuck A4 papers on top. These sheets of paper contained the personal information of the elders’ daughters, sons or other related singles who wanted to get lucky in love. If you have ever been to a market: vegetable, fruit, flea market, etc. you will have an idea of how things were displayed here. Every person was standing next to the other and was advertising attractive marriage partners on A4 papers placed on top of her or his umbrella. They were also calling attention to more than one person. The most interesting part was that the man or woman who was mentioned on the sheet paper was not present and there wasn’t even a picture of them displayed. So what did this paper contain? The year of birth, age, job, height, university attended, phone number, what was their material situation (whether they had a car or a house), what province they were born in and future requirements from a partner. Everything was so chaotic and there were probably a few hundred people circulating through the market. There was a constant flow, a vibe of looking for the right arrangement. Old people were walking around and engaging in talks with one another exchanging information about their ‘goods’. The ones who were publicizing and trying so hard to find suitable partners for their offspring were calling out to passers-by. According to which principles are these marriages arranged? Who is considered a potential suitable partner for one’s daughter or son? What are usually regarded as good marriages in China according to parents and grandparents? Most old people or middle-aged ones resort to traditional matchmaking methods. Thus, they try to match future partners by analyzing their birth dates and their representative animal signs. Due to the unequal ratio of men to women (too many men and not enough women) brides-to-be require houses and cars or other monetary gifts as wedding dowries. Where is the love in all of these? Potential partners contact each other by phone or wechat (the Chinese version of whatsapp) and end up going for blind dates. Arranged marriages or at least arranged blind dates are all too common in China. Why? Because parents and grandparents pressure young people to get married and have children. That is the ultimate goal that young people should fulfill in China. The pressure is even higher for women, who come to be considered leftover women if they reach the age of 30 and they are still single.

Where is the love in all this affair? The delight and freedom of selecting one’s partner, the spontaneous first interactions and innocent flirts, the idea that you are independent and that you are in charge of selecting whom to share your life with, the ideal that love is not material, that love is not something that should be arranged or advertised or sold? That love happens in mysterious ways and exactly that is its charm? Well, that concept of love, that construction of the feeling of love varies from individual to individual and from country to country. Love is nothing but a made-up cultural and psychological concept which we learn from childhood onwards. We acquire the information on how to live it, how to feel it and how to think about it from our surroundings and experiences. The concept of love: what I described above, the ‘genuine love’ that some might say comes spontaneously and is partly based on shared interests, personalities, physical attractions and common goals is something we see in movies, in magazines, on TV shows, at celebrities, in articles, in books, idealized in our own minds and most of all in talks with people who share the same ideas about what love is. However, in China love can happen in arranged marriages, love can happen through blind dates, love can happen through negotiation and love can come if material requirements are met.

Childhood

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In the middle of the green fields

I was alone,

I was in reverie

Thinking, dancing, mumbling

Existence was soft

Was as easy as picking scented flowers

Nectar filled plants

Listening to bees

Tasting the grass

Hearing the wind whispering

My dreams of growing up

Got caught up in spider’s webs

And playing games

Was not for wining, was not for losing

Running around

Stealing fruits

The value of goods

Was in sharing

Children on the streets

Jumping in the rain

Building bridges in the mud

The sweet taste of childhood

Lies in its simplicity.

Christmas is coming. Still unemployed!

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Random thoughts have been going through my head for a month already. So here it goes. Finally I have the time and courage to write down what has been bothering me. I gave up my three or four part-time jobs as an English teacher and my Chinese language course will end soon. That means my visa will expire soon…how soon? The end of January…and I’ve got nothing sorted out….I am stressed, I might be kicked out of this country and I am not even sure I have enough money to buy a plane ticket to go back to my home country. I am basically stranded. And my home is in Shanghai already. I feel the Christmas spirit here, my lovely dog is here with me…what am I gonna do with him if I have to leave? He is my responsability and I love him so much. I could leave him with my boyfriend, but I would miss him too much.

Meanwhile, I am constantly looking for jobs in my domain (anthropology > NGO, social entrepreneurs’ companies,  cultural advisor, exchange semester coordinator or study advisor…abstract and idealistic type of jobs).  Yeah, this is what stimulates my imagination and my dream is to get involved in projects that could alleviate poverty, help discriminated people, come up with ideas and ways to help migrants integrate better and receive real chances to start over in their new countries. To be honest, ever since I was a child empathy was one of my biggest qualities. I remember seeing beggars, wounded animals or poor children and starting to cry. My whole day became miserable and I didn’t care about my happy circumstances anymore. Well, I don’t know if you can classify empathy as a quality. Sometimes it makes life impossibly hard. I am way too sensitive and I sometimes end up crying in a corner by how fucked up the world is and by how insensitive and selfish people are. I am one of those people who cannot imagine living life only for herself. I can’t die thinking that all I have done during my short, meaningless life was to build a future only for myself and my family. So no, I want to help the world, thus I want to become a social activist. Unfortunately, so do many other people…millions of other people…why? because nowadays it is trendy to do that…it is fashionable…basically it goes like this…some people think the world is divided into the following categories:

  •  Rich individuals, big corporations, corrupt politicians > aka business minded, mainly interested in money people
  • The other side > the good guys, the ‘do good’, save the world, talk big and put some positive shit on your CV

But out there people are more than that, more than 2 narrow categories. Black, white and grey zones mingle. What frustrates me the most are people who are nowadays social activists or work in domains that are obviously related to anthropology and sociology, but have nothing to do with these areas. They use language and terms that are unrelated to social and cultural issues and even augment problems by spreading wrong messages and using general terms (such as: let’s educate people > how abstract is that? ). And the main problem with this is that they have no theoretical knowledge and no background in how to deal with different communities. All the data they have on certain communities comes from superficial dialogues they had with a few individuals. There is no ethnography involved, no significant sample group, no extended period of time interviewing and participating in the community’ s life. Hence, everything is just completely biased and presented from the perspective of the person who wants to help. However, this help can sometimes do more wrong than good for certain communities if we are not analytical enough. That also involves a lot of self-criticism and challenging yourself at every step. So here’s my issue…do some people want to help because they would like to see problems solved? Are they really in it to genuinely offer other people chances to improve their lives? Or do they want to help because it is trendy and weighs a lot on their resume? I think there are a lot of posers out there who occupy jobs that I might be suitable for.

And here’s the paradox…..

I, with a background in anthropology and I, who really want to delve into nowadays’ societal and cultural issues, am standing on the bench of unemployment while individuals who have no idea how to approach cultural and social issues or who have no theoretical background in this are shouting out loud: ‘Help people with special needs’! . Gosh, that was a talk I listened to at PIC (Pyramid Impact Collective) Shanghai. So let’s discriminate people and place them into a special and separate group from ours by calling them : people with special needs. It is ridiculous: us (normal) versus them (special needs). I am not gonna go deeper into this, but it does seem like we are regressing to previous issues of us (white, intelligent) versus them (non-white, colonized). Except now we have different categories of us (full physical and mental abilities individuals) and them (individuals who mentally and physically relate to the world in a different way). I thought we were over that.

But getting back to the job problem.  As I was saying, I find this battle of mine to find an entry-level job as a young graduate paradoxical. Why? Because, on one side, people without experience and proper backgrounds in anthropology and sociology are working in domains that require both practical and theoretical knowledge. On the other side, the more I struggle to swim through nowadays competitive market the more I feel like I am worthless. Most of the jobs out there are for people with 2+ years experience. On top of that, the more certificates you have, the more languages you speak, the more freaking additional skills you have the better it is. And I feel left out, I am not a superhuman. I wonder who is? Then how do young people find jobs? And how do all these individuals without sociological and anthropological backgrounds end up in NGOs?

You would say, well, they start with an internship….and that’s fine…for those who want to do that…but I can’t and I am really against that…why? Because for more than 7 years of my life (bachelor and master) my parents have been supporting me financially and I feel ashamed to ask them to keep supporting me for one more year while I work for free. Because that’s how I see it. Big companies want interns that slave for them…no? Aren’t interns a kind of modern slaves? No offence to those who do internships…I’m sure you gain a lot of valuable skills and knowledge…but at the same time why don’t companies pay at least a minimum wage so graduates can sustain themselves and become independent? I mean, I will be 27 years old on the 13th of December and I want to be independent and to start my career in an NGO or a social  entrepreneurship group. Because my studies are related to that and afterall, this is my passion. Why don’t I get the chance to do that? I mean, what’s the point of studying at all if all I get to do is an internship or getting a job in something that completely bores me and drains all my energy just to be able to put food on the table and pay the rent?

I agree that we live in a very competitive society and we have to fight for what is ours, but isn’t this pushed to an extreme? I am not the type of individual who can multitask to the extent that I can juggle a full-time internship and many part-time jobs to pay the rent and at the same time save some personal time for myself to stay sane. I feel like internships are for rich kids. My parents can’t support me any longer. And when I think about it, my parents were financially independent when they were about 24. So how can I ask them for money and work for free or for a meagre amount of money just to gain experience?  If you ask me…internships are just a cheap and dirty way to cut down on costs and make poor susceptible young graduates slave and do jobs that otherwise employees would do for a real salary. So no, I am not going to do an internship…I am going to keep looking for that one workplace that will give me the chance to get a visa, earn a fair salary and be able to survive in this city and in this country by paying my own bills and buying my own food and by giving me the chance to develop and use my energy, my creativity, my skills in their company.

P.S: One last thing, I was given a free piece of ‘smart advice’. I was told by some people (who supposedly are great, intelligent and working in social change) that I victimize myself and that I create a negative image for myself by complaining or by revealing that I am unemployed and looking for a job and for a chance to start my career. I was advised to pump up my image and to advertise myself,  to present myself as what I want to be instead of what I am. And that, to me, seems to be faking it…’smart advice’ from self-image and goal setting coaches. What is wrong with admitting the truth, with recognizing that I am vulnerable and  that I am going through a situation that many other people faced at some point in their lives? And btw, the PR department uses negative publicity once in a while as a positive thing. ‘Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all!’

Leaving all jokes aside: I am fed up with this : ‘Everything works fine and I am a great individual with no problems’ and with ‘I will never show my weak spots and I will not admit to needing help’. I am going to make a parallel here. It is like asking racially discriminated people to stop complaining about it and stop showing it to others because they would become vulnerable and everyone will perceive them as victims. But hell, they have been mistreated and the problem comes from the others, not from them. What a load of crap: we should be talking about it, we should be revealing it…because part of the problem is that society, people, companies, the environment and everything that belongs to it is treating us like that. We, young people, want more chances to work and to show what we are capable of! And people who have been racially discriminated want society to own up to it. We should make those responsible realize that they are unfair…and that we want a change!

Anger. Another word 

Look down at my hands

And see they are cracked 

Look closer, my cuticles are bleeding

My nails so short, wounds and raw skin 

My toes are the same.

Look at my skin, is wrinkled and dry 

If only my body could talk 

If only my soul could reveal 

That it is torn, ripped, confused, drowning 

Staying afloat just because it has to.

If only my body could talk 

My mind would share its burden with a companion 

But anxiety is like:

 a snake on my body 

It comes, it bites, it poisons 

Then it suddenly disappears,

Leaving behind 

A figure so serene, so peaceful

An exclamation: What a relief! 

Nights and days, cycles of seasons 

All has become timelessness

Thoughts of overwhelming sadness 

Possess my body. 

Without reason, without asking for permission 

And I don’t understand 

Why me? Why now? Why forever?

Sometimess I feel empty 

Like a programmed machine without emotions 

They say pills might kill the love hormone

I don’t even remember the last time 

I felt alive, excited, in love, high with passion. 

I forgot when I screamed of pleasure 

My body is numb

I am jaded, in desperate need of attention.

I am lonely, I just want to sleep. 

I want to detach from everything. 

I want comfort, I want to feel again

Like I am alive.

All these contradictory thoughts 

Are fighting a war.

-To the death, they say! 

The stimuli in my brain 

Have taken up swords 

Against each other. 

And all I feel is pain, physical pain 

My body is agitated,

My heart is running down the street

I am hot and cold and fearful 

A poision like liquid travels fast 

From my hands to my head. 

I feel it in my veins, 

Like red chilli mixed with arsenic and hot alcohol. 

I feel I am gonna lose it, 

Become unconscious soon

Die without even saluting death. 

But still, 

When anxiety comes I shake off and tell myself: 

Oh, another one…it will pass. 

Then anger comes..an uncontrollable force 

Anger at the world, I feel murderous

I could plant a bomb and end humanity

In that very instant without any guilt 

Then I hate myself, for being so weak 

For succumbing to this rush of negative feelings and thoughts 

For the way I am wired, for my unbalanced hormones 

Look at me now and tell me that: 

‘Positive thinking helps a lot’

‘Other people have it hard too’

‘You will get over this’

‘We all get bad days’

‘Try to watch cartoons’

Or ‘smoke weed’ 

And I get it, people say generic things when you have a problem. 

They give advice and want to help. 

It is called empathy or so they say.

But how can you?

When I am in a constant torment, 

Because of the endless stream of ideas,

That I would rather close my eyes 

And live in my dreams 

But it doesn’t help!

They are nightmares 

So how can you? 

Serve me this bullshit on a golden plate? 

From the outside it seems like a fantasmagoric illness, a made-up ailment 

For people who complain a lot, who want to blame their unhappiness on something

And even I ask myself 

Why am I not strong enough?

Isn’t happiness my own responsability?

They say it is to be found inside?

Then why does an endless fresh stream of exhaustion and suffering 

Flood my every cell?

When I only look for my share 

Of satisfaction.

But then I realize, fuck…

Something’s wrong.

People are serving me self-help advice 

They say they feel me, 

they are here for me 

Words are empty,  

Silence more meaningful. 

A hug, a kiss, a stroke of hair 

And delving deep into my pain.

People think: (my friends, my mother, my partner, the rest of the world) 

That I should close the door to raw anger 

To disconcerting anxiety, to the subtle depression

That I should not think too much 

That I should change the topic of discussion.

This exhausts me, leaves me empty 

A body without a soul. 

Someone who sometimes thinks:

Can I just get intravenous nutrition in bed today? 

Adult diapers and from time to time 

Some human touch. 

I want to be reassured I am still breathing. 

So I decide not to barricade myself inside 

A fabricated postive energy, happy thoughts bubble 

I let my pain inundate me 

And tell myself the world is fucked up 

So if you want to help 

Please suffer with me 

Complain and swear,

Ask questions about the purpose of it all 

Be confused, cry, struggle 

Open up just one eye when the alarm rings

Decide to linger in bed today 

To be nostalgic, 

To experience movies vicariously 

To not go out into the world 

To not fulfill your role as an adult 

To not take seriously your attributions

Your responsabilities 

To still be a kid

Without depression. 

Late mornings

By late I don’t mean 12 

By late I don’t mean oversleeping 

Late mornings 

When your coffee is a must 

When you hurry at each step 

When you grasp for breath 

When you sweat through all your pores

When your taxi is a snail 

Late mornings 

Are uncomfortable 

Late mornings 

Are a reminder 

That society is unforgiving 

That you must, you must, you must 

Damn it, be on time 

Or before time, ahead of time, on top of time

This freaking time concept 

I hate it! 

Time should serve us

We should not be slaves to time 

So I beg you, please!

Whomever you might be…

My boss, my cat, my friend, my dog, my lover

Allow me to be late 

Just for a little while

Cuz you might be me 

And I might be you 

Just give me some time 

To have my late mornings

It’s not a tragedy 

A crime

A drama. 

One day I will kill ‘Time’

And fearlessly, joyfully 

Bury ‘Early’ and ‘Late’