Friday, February 27, 2015

Touring With The Debutante In Pingyao China

Touring With The Debutante In Pingyao sometime about 2004-2006
Well, despite the pollution in China, on the flip-side, my life in China was generally pretty good, and by that I mean we had a number of privileges, and special opportunities that most people generally don't/didn't have, as well as access. That's all due to the fact that it's a different culture entirely, and things are done much differently. 

Despite how much Communism seems to be slung around, it's usually NOT real Communism at all.... altho' there are still some things which are remnants from a century ago that echo of Communism, such as in the morning people get together and do FREE communal things, like exercising, which could be Taiji Chuan, Sword Taiji (which I even did), ball room dancing, calligraphy practice, and many many morning activities that help people to bond, usually the elderly and the youth, and this somehow preserves many cultural things that are uniquely Chinese.

Then there are the other parts of the culture which are shady... I use the word "shady" implying "shade". In Western cultural ideals "shade" or "darkness" had a bad connotation to it.... however, in The Far East it refers to "the unseen" or "hidden", or obscurely unclear, or even nebulous.
More specifically, I'm referring to "guanxi". 

What is Guanxi? 
It generally means "relationship". But, that's not the actual meaning here... hence the "shaded" metaphor I use.
Once China was taken over by the Chinese version of Bolsheviks, everything was radically changed, and everyone was forced into extreme poverty, even tho' they promised people prosperity & abundance, and all these beautiful Communist ideas, that's not what happened. So, inequalities started to manifest, and people could manipulate things, even simple things we take for granted, in their favor... which is why "guanxi" became important. 
By convention, guanxi should be your relationship to various persons in order to "get the hook up", or to "hook you up". Why? Well, maybe there's an elite exclusive resteraunt that only certain people in the ranks of the society may enter, or maybe you have a friend that works at a movie theater and they can get you in for free, because they are your "guanxi". So, there's an upside... 

However, there is also a downside... people can misuse, and abuse, or leverage guilt or honor which is usually the concept of "face", "giving face", "saving face", or "loosing face" which is called "mianzi". This can also be used, and abused by bosses to their workers in the "danwei" sectors, which are designated "work units". That's a very long in depth thing to explain, but long story-short: originally when you graduate from college in China you would get assigned a work unit, in either the "Iron Steel", or "Railroad" sector "company" which is just an arm of the government... the idea is that you would & should get an assigned job based on what you studied at school... however, that generally doens't happen, and you might end up working (like my brother-in-law) in a hard tunnel underground as an assigned electrician, even tho' you aren;t qualified to do that job.... so, you would need guanxi to get a job you would actually want. However, guanxi has become so abused & misused and corrupted that many people in lawyer positions or as judges have no such qualifications at all. The best and the brightest moral people can;t get a job they deserve because they are unwilling to be immortal and bend or break the laws, and this often involved paying bribes.

Other kinds of abusive & annoying aspects of guanxi are the pestering people whom do small talk and often give all kinds of elaborate gifts (often stuff they've hoarded JUST for this purpose to regift) so they can make a big show of it, in front of people which will force you, by leveraging your guilt of being perceived as ungrateful, to do what they want, which could be illegal. Their motives are because they want to force you to do a favor, and they often have exaggerated smiles, gestures, and have a fake display of generosity, or humbleness, and often will do labor, like sweeping your floor, or whatever. They want you to feel like you owe them, or pressure to show that you are grateful.

Anyways, there is so much more I could get into that, but my sister-in-law is an actual lawyer, and because she is she is forced to be in the Red Communist Party. Actually, the family has roots in the Guo Ming Dan party, but since they were from the royal bloodline and didn't want to die they had to become subjects of the Communist Party. In my Sister-in-law's danwei, which is the Railroad company sector of the government she is THE ONLY REAL LAWYER. No one else there has any qualification, nor training as a lawyer, and that is for the entire capitol. All the other people that go to work as lawyers aren't lawyers, they are frauds, but they got their by nepotism & guanxi manipulation, or possibly bribery, and since people are only allowed to have one child, it makes sense that people save up their whole lives for s bribe to be paid when their child becomes an adult college graduate.

Also, China really isn't Communist, if you actually ever bothered to look-up Communism, and what it was originally meant to mean, it sounds like a bunch of beautiful ideas, altho' some I don't care for... and was meant to bring about Utopia. That has actually never really worked out, ever..

There are actually several very wealthy people in China today, but even a decade ago there were many. Since I was foreign, and my spouse was also living in the USA for a long time, and we had a mixed child, that made us interesting to local people in the Capitol (Taiyuan) where we lived. So, of course everyone knows each other in danweis, and neighborhoods, and my sister-in-law's boss also knew about us. And, that boss has a boss, and that boss has a boss, and so on up the chain of command....

Speaking English in China was all the rage, and you can practice your English FOR FREE at the English Corner(s) (another one of those Communism remnants), or if you have a rich father, or powerful father, stuff gets arranged for you... And, that's how it happened...

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The Debutante

There were actually a number of them, and each one I met over time sort of seemed to go up the chain of power in the government... Perhaps they were wanting to see how I would do when they were introduced to me, and the entire thing was orchestrated outside of me, and through my sister-in-law's boss(s). Then, higher & higher up the bosses went... and their daughters.

It started out as lunch, dinner, or tea houses & cafes... all the most expensive.

The debutantes appeared to be normal girls to me at first, and the children & young people of China are very educated to start with. I was invited to spend to with them so they could "practice their English", and all were planning on attending universities in Canada. I was very New Age at the time and free spirited, and I have a wide range of self study & formal education myself, plus I was also young early 20s and had done so many things in my life for being so young.

Originally, I did not know why I was often brought to these parties with these girls. I naively assumed it was people just being polite to be, or friendly, like I always was with foreigners in my own country. But, actually, I was a person of interest to them.  Almost like some sort of celebrity, even tho' I'm not a star or anything... Wherever I went people would watch me, and call their friends on their phones: "Hey! The laowai is here! OMG!"

The private parties I went with got bigger, more elaborate, more expensive, and began to be tailored to my own likes. And, it was this one particular Debutante whom was the BIG CHEESE. She looked like any normal girl student, but her father was a SERIOUSLY HIGH figure head. I'd met her cousins first before her, and her cousin's girlfriends, or daughters of other higher-ups, whom also knew her. Eventually, she would invite me and 1 or 2 of her cousins exclusively, or sometimes just myself and my husband.

What started as just small afternoon banquets, brunches, or tea house private suites, ballooned into all day ordeals. And, before I knew it, I was practically A-LIST. (Actually, I didn't even know it.)

We began going to places further & further away, long drives, and had bodyguards. Most of the places we went had an entourage of people waiting for us, and gifts of all kinds where there: Fen Jiu (fine spirits), jade, snacks, fruits, nuts, seeds, silk scarves, nicknacks,  unique pens, candy, boxes of beverages, etc.The people would eventually leave after introducing themselves and doing small talk. Often, it could include the higher-ups whom withheld that they were whom they really were, and wanted to know me without my thinking they were powerful. Also, my meeting these persons was beneficial to my family in China. Even tho' it does seem like I'm being spoiled & treated, before I would go my family would remind me to mind my manners, and to have a good time, emphasizing those points.

I would be picked up in a swank, large, expensive car. Limousines were thought to be too attention-getting. But, the cars we were in were different than the average person's car. And, there could also be a following car, and car in front, just to watch & protect the debutante.

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The really BIG Event we did was when we went to Pingyao

Pingyao isn't too far from Taiyuan, but you still need to drive a while to get there. My husband also came. The entire day was orchestrated behind the scenes for at least a week.

Pingyao is a historical city, which is very small in today's standards, and was one THE FINANCIAL CAPITOL of the ENTIRE ASIA. But, it's nearly all in ruins... We saw many ruins, ancient banks, ancient vaults, and even ancient credit cards. FOR REAL! Kinda like a Cheque/Check but a reusable card.

Everywhere we went in Pinyao people were waiting for us, government officials, the mayor or prefect, and even store owners already knew us, and we were given all kinds of things, like free shoes, and were offered all kinds of stuff. my husband told me not to take advantage of the people, and to politely refuse. So, I did, but it didn't stop people from giving us things, or trying.

This was some kind of fortress. I can't even remember what it was. I think I have a book about it still, but it's somewhere in my stuff...

House of CB
House of CB
House of CB
This fortress place was huge, and breathtaking.

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This was another place of interest if you're going to Pingyao.

It was this very ancient temple of some idols that were so ancient it boggles the mind.
The statues of these gods were so lifelike despite being exaggerated & stylized. And, the local people in this region all still have similar hereditary features just like their ancient ancestors. Peoples in the North look distinctly different from Peoples in the South. Art, Anatomy, and Anthropology was (and is) of a special interest to me, so I thought this was fascinating.

This was where we had our private banquet brunch.

This was one of THE most elaborate banquets, despite it's humble outer appearances. Many many courses, and we drank Fen Jiu (spirits) for several hours before we went out sight-seeing.

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Tokyo Otaku Mode Inc.
This picture here has a story to it. Since I was with the Debutante, like I said, we had special privileges.  I was trying to be as proper & conservative as I could within reason. So, I would NEVER go into a museum or historical place and sit in the historical furniture, like you see me doing here... so, WHY am I sitting on this Kang-Kang?

Well, the main manservant with us, wasn't just some manservant or just a mere liaison, he was himself a major figure head, and well connected. Anything he said we could do, no one would EVER dare question it. And, because of this fact, he often pushed the issue: "Please sit here, and have a photo." By convention I'm supposed to refuse a few times, which I did, but also I was concerned about whether it was moral or not, because no one is supposed to on the furniture. But, even the museum workers would politely also go along with him, and invite us to sit, and even touch the stuff on display. Since everyone was so insistent, it seemed the better thing to do, and just go along with it, rather than get upset, or question whether it was moral.

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Anyways, we went all over Pingyao, and in some places it's incredibly strange. People would take their children outside for a walk, much like a dog, and tell them to pee, or defecate right on the street, even girls as old as 12-13. I personally felt this was disturbing to me, but it seemed normal to people there...

Nonetheless, we went all over Pingyao, and despite the more disgusting unclean parts, there were also many interesting & unique things. We had a great time, and did so much! I was also rather drunk, and had never been that drunk in my life, ever. I thought for sure I would have a hangover, since I'd never had a hangover in my life, I figured I would have one... but, Chinese baijiu (spirits) are much healthier for the liver with some kind of "super antioxidant", especially brands like Fen Jiu, and I NEVER got hungover.

I didn't talk so much about this since I have mixed feelings. I hope people don't take this as tho' I'm showing off about hob-nobbing with rich & powerful people.... because that's not what I'm all about.I just really like world cultures, culture exchange, and humanities.

Yes, it was a different world, and a different culture, and so on...
I've had some really hard, nasty criticisms or comments from people in the past for just telling the truth about my experiences in China, or with Chinese persons, and been accused of being racist, narcissistic, and so on... ouch!

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