Friday, April 4, 2014

Beijing or Delhi? -- froom book "Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China" By Pallavi Aiyar

This is by far the most accurate words that described my feelings being as a "Chindian". I am facing the same emotional struggles each every day when I think, and each every day when I am traveling back to India and China.


"Do you like living in Beijing? Or was it better in Delhi?" my Hutong neighbors inquired whenever they got the opportunity.

This last question in its various forms was one that I spent much thought grappling with and my answers were as variable as the day the question was posed. Following conversation with Lou Ya and other toilet cleaners in my neighborhood I would think back to the wretched jamadarnis back home and marvel at the relative dignity of labour that China's lowliest enjoyed.

In my hutong the refuse collectors wore gloves when picking up the garbages on their daily rounds. This single, simple article of protective clothing and the barrier it created between bacteria and skin lent them at least a modicum of self-respect. Their children almost always went to school. They may not have been well educated themselves but could usually read and write enough to avoid the worst kind of exploitation.

These were modest gains and not everyone in China could claim even such moderate progress. But were I one of the millions-strong legions of cleaners, sweepers, janitors or nightsoil workers in India, I would probably prefer by some twist of karma to have been born Chinese.

But on other days I felt differently. These were days when I spent hours hunting for a Chinese source amongst the country's think tanks, universities and research institutes for fresh insight or an alternative point of view on an issue for a story I'd be working on. It was always such dishearteningly hard work.

China's was a pragmatic society and over the years I met any number of people blessed with more than usual amounts of a canny, street smart, intelligence. As evidenced by the Zhejiang entrepreneurs, ordinary Chinese were masters of locating the loopholes, of finding escape routs, of greasing the right hands and bypassing stifling regulations. If need be they could sell contact lenses to a blind woman and chicken feet to a vegetarian.

But while it may have abounded with consummate salespeople and irrepressible entrepreneurs, Chinese society remained deeply anti-intellectual. More a product of a political and educational system that discouraged criticism and encourage group think than any primordial characteristic, this was the aspect of China I personally found most wearying.

It was the absence of passion for ides, the lack of delight in argument for its own sake, and the dearth of reasoned but brazen dissent that most often gave me cause for homesickness. When the foreign ministry interpreter Xiao Yan claimed in Tibet that China was different from other countries in that all Chinese must think the same thing, she was consciously overstating her case in the light of Jes' comments. Even so, a nub of truth in what she said remained.

In China, theses who disagreed with mainstream, have views outside of the parameters set by mainstream debate more often than not found themselves branded as dissidents-- suspect, hunted, under threat. 

Thus a professor who misspoke to a journalist could suddenly be demoted. An editor who pursued a corruption investigation too zealously might find herself fired. A lawyer who simply tried to help his client to there best of his ability could, were the client of the wrong sort, ironically land in jail himself.

In universities like BBI the idea was drilled into students' heads that there were right answers and wrong answers. While ambiguity and attitude scratched against the natural grain. There are thus occasion when despite all of India's painful shortcomings, I would assert with conviction that it was better to be an Indian than endure the stifling monotony of what tended to pass as an intellectual life in China.

But then I would return to Delhi for a few days and almost immediately long to be back in Beijing where a woman could ride a bus or even drive a bus without having to tune out the constant staring and whispering of the dozens of sex-starved youth that swarmed around the Indian capital's streets at almost any given time.

Later on the same day, however, I might switch on the TV and catch a session of the Indian parliament, not always the most inspirational of bodies but when looked at with China-habituated eyes, more alluring than usual.


最后一个问题以各种形式出现,对于这个问题我考虑了很久,每次碰到它,我的答案都不尽相同。与娄亚 (音译)和我家附近公厕的保洁员聊过之后,我想到了印度那些可怜的女佣;我对于中国最底层的人仍享有相对的尊严感到惊讶。





















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