Marissa & Wesley:
Before we head home in a couple of months, we thought it would be a good idea to answer some of the most asked questions we are assuming we will get once we are there. These are a few misconceptions that we have heard from others, or believed ourselves before coming here.
1) People in china are poor.
Against this common belief among people we know, we have met more millionaires (equivalent in US dollars) in China then we ever have in the states. Our students’ parents are very well off. Many of our students’ families have houses in multiple cities around China; one of Wesley’s’ students was given a mountain by his parents for his fourth birthday! I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone who owns a mountain in the States, especially any four-year-olds. China is in the middle of industrializing, which has provided a lot of opportunity for people to start businesses and succeed. Wes has joked that, in America, if you start a business that’s a good idea in the right place and the right time, and if you work your butt off, it will probably do well, and if you start a business in China, and you aren’t stupid, you’ll do well. This is a very exciting time for China and the people here. People here are happy and are able to provide their families with so much more than what past generations were able to.
That said, there are still plenty of people who live under the poverty line. There are people begging on the street, just like any American city (though the homeless may not be as well “managed” here, so they are easier to spot), and there are many people who do not live in adequate housing. However, from our experience, there are a lot more people who have high incomes here in Wuhan than medium or low incomes, and that’s even by the standards of living in a city.
As one example, this is a friend’s new house. Four stories, paid for in cash, and absolutely beautiful. This friend’s family does well financially, but they are by no means considered extraordinarily rich. They’re one of the millions of people who are benefiting from the booming economy in China right now.
2) Big Brother is always watching you.
While this may be true to an extent, it rarely affects your day to day living. We are not constantly in fear of the government, nor are the Chinese people who live here. The government does seem to control and change things without the peoples consent. However, there are over a billion people in China and the government does what it believes is best for its nation. For better or for worse, people here truly trust and support their government, even in cases where they don’t agree with the government’s policies.
We have had many conversations about the different policies that the government has put in place, both among foreigners and with Chinese people, and not everyone always agrees with what the government does, but they seek to see where the gov. is coming from. This usually means looking at the big picture, because most of the policies that people here have a hard time with are put in place with the whole nation and its future in mind above the individuals who currently make up the country. As an example, the one child policy: Many people would love to have more than one child, they want their child to have someone to play with and they want to be able to take care of and love more than one child; but people hardly ever complain about it. They understand that China’s population is too high and the government has the people’s best interest in mind. If every couple had multiple kids, this would then create a need for resources that the country is not able to provide for its people. People trust their government and are able to look at everyone’s needs and not just their own.
3) It is a Godless country.
While Christianity is not nearly as popular or as much a part of the culture in China as Buddhism or, to a smaller extent, Hinduism is, we have met many people who live the kinds of lives that we ourselves seek to live as we follow Jesus. Buddhism is the main religion here and, after studying it a bit, the guidelines that they are supposed to follow are not far at all from the those given to us by Jesus. Buddhism is much more of a lifestyle than a ritualistic religion – its a journey to constantly improve oneself. Buddhism is fueled by living at peace with yourself and those around you. There are steps that you work towards to in order to live in the best possible way. These include: gaining understanding and perspective, improving your values and attitude (compassion rather than selfishness), adjusting your speech (don’t tell lies; avoid harsh, abusive speech; avoid gossip), mind your actions (help others, live honestly, don’t harm living things, take care of the environment),do honest work (do something useful, avoid jobs which harm others). and your thoughts (encourage good, helpful thoughts; discourage unwholesome destructive thoughts), be mindful (be aware of what you feel, think and do in the present), meditation (have a calm mind, practice meditation which leads to enlightenment). All of these are things that we as Christians should also be working towards. This religion may have a different name than ours, and people may not claim to believe the same things that we claim to believe, but the fruits of their beliefs, the way that Buddhists seek to live their lives, is very much in step with the lives that we ourselves seek to live. It could certainly be said that a devout Buddhist is more loving of and obedient to Jesus than we might be, certainly to the point that we have a ton of common ground.
We have visited a couple of temples since we have been here — one in Xiamen and another in Beijing. At both places, there was a very clear sense of peace and serenity, not unlike when one visits a beautiful cathedral. Some people here are on their knees praying, while others are just walking around taking in the beauty and peacefulness of the surroundings.
This is a picture of a temple in Xiamen. One of the most peaceful places I (Marissa) have ever been.
4) There are no tall people.
While there is a smaller percentage of people who are tall here, there are plenty who are quite tall. We work with a few guys that are as tall as or taller than Wesley. Most of the taller people are from northern China, while the shorter people are from the southern parts of China. As wealth has increased in China, health has also made a shift with the ability to provide better nutrition for the people who live here, causing the average height to go up because people are eating better and developing stronger bones. The average height for a male is probably about 5’7” or 5’8″, while the average height for a female is probably about 5’4″ or 5’5”. These are not official statistics, and this is just based on where we live in Wuhan. We have seen guys as tall as 6′ 5” and girls as short as 4′ (or maybe shorter). However, these are obviously not the norm.
5) China has nothing in common with America.
While China has proven to be VERY different from what we are used to in America, we are able to find Western comforts. There is a McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Dairy Queen and Walmart about 20 minutes away from our apartment by bus. There are plenty of Americans living and working in Wuhan, many Chinese who can speak English. We can also go to a few other restaurants not too far away that serve american style food and are owned by Americans.
When we step outside of our apartment, it is very obvious that we are not at home (although I would bet the road construction is just as bad here). Our apartment has been a safe haven for us. It is our little piece of home. Only English is spoken here. American food is cooked about once a week. We have English movies playing. We run heat and air conditioning when we’re too cold or too hot,
We wrote this blog because we know that (even after having written it) it will be hard for some of our friends and family to believe what life is like here. In some cases, that’s understandable (and those are the times when we have stories to tell! haha). In others, all it takes is a mind that’s open to a China that doesn’t fit the stereotypes that many of you have, and some of which we certainly had ourselves before we came without even realizing it. You don’t have millions of people walking or riding bikes anymore – you have way too many cars. You don’t have a large percentage of people who are frail, poor, and unhealthy. Consumerism is actually a huge issue here, and people are just as healthy as they are in the States (though they definitely take a different approach to medical science in most cases!), partly because of the way their food is produced, but largely because, even though there are plenty of cars, people here do a lot more walking on average than what we see back home. And you don’t have an oppressed nation who is living in constant fear that they’re going to be taken away with black bags over their heads, a la V for Vendetta. You have a nation with a completely different mindset than that of much of America – people trust their government; the government want to improve China in the best ways that they know how, and they have the power to make those changes. We acknowledge that the government is not at all perfect, and not one that we would really hope for in America – there are significant issues with justice and corruption, just like in any other government, though it looks different in each country. However, we’ve definitely come to see that with the government, like with all aspects of living here, there are lots of things that we can understand so much better by seeing things from another perspective than by judging with one set perspective.
In the end, people are people. We laugh, we hurt, we make mistakes, we surprise each other, we have miscommunications, and we do our best with what we have.