Saturday, March 13, 2004

American clothes are much more streamlined and simple in design than the ones I'm used to buying in Beijing. I couldn't find one blouse that's embellished with ribbons, beads, or intricate weaving that you see everywhere in Chinese shops. Is it because American women do not aim to be young & cute? Here, the magazines and tv shows still idolize youthful celebrities, they just act very mature for their age. The media-projected ideal image in America is someone who is on the cusp of 18, yet looks all-knowing at the same time.

In Chinese, cute literally means "lovable." Americans reserve its use for men who are handsome. But you do not compliment a Chinese man on his "cuteness," a popular phrase I've heard used in Beijing for good-looking men is, "He's a girl assassasin." This underlying element of violence is present in America too, unfortunately, "so and so is a knockout," "he made her," "he scored," etc. Like women are rewards in a game.

People have less respect for age here. Seniority is usually a good thing in China, not that dementia is attractive, but being of a certain age automatically grants you respect in most situations. Your name will have an "old" moniker attached to it once you get to a certain age; say your last name was Chen, you usual name would be Xiao Chen (young Chen). Now you'll be known and called by Lao Chen (old Chen). The dividing line could be mid-40s, sometimes later. I gather it's not good to be called "old" anything in America though. The ones I've heard are hardly flattering, old geezer, dirty old man, old fart....

I made the mistake of giving up a seat for an elderly woman on the bus the other day and she didn't seem that grateful. Should I have just sat there and watched her grapple with her assorted bags and grip the bus pole at the same time? I can't second-guess myself on these trivial things. Just like it was not easy coming here, once you've started on a path, you should just stick with the fewer choices you're left with and do not look back.


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