I’m going to China next month for a week, alone. I’ve never been anyplace in Asia. I’ve lived in Europe and in many big cities, and am pretty light on my feet (well, pedals — I’m bringing my Brompton!), but I have a feeling China will make me feel as if I were from Mars, if not another dimension.
I’m going to inspect my next shipment of Stokemonkey components — the ones that aren’t made here in Portland, Oregon. It’s my first large order, and Cleverchimp can’t afford to receive stuff with problems as in the past. I will meet my supplier face-to-face for the first time. We have corresponded via email hundreds of times since 2003, but as I’m long since out of the hobbyist/tinkerer category with this endeavor, it feels right to underscore my seriousness with a personal visit. I also hope, with the aid of hands, feet, a sketchpad, and props, to raise many questions and suggest areas for future development that seem to have been lost in translation with email, for years.
A correspondent and Xtracyclista who lives in Taiwan, Cara Lin Bridgman, asked how my Chinese was, and my guanshi. At first I supposed that guanshi was a Chinese dialect, but it means connections, clout. She clarified:
Guanshi is very important in any country, but it’s especially important in Asia. This means I hope you’ve got a relative, good friend, classmate, or colleague (someone whom you have known well for a long time) to help you during your stay in China. The fact you are showing up in person is a good thing. Are your wife and son going? That would be good, too (at least take pictures of them). Also, take some nice small gifts (something especially Oregonian or American) to present when you first meet people.
Another important word is Chabudwo (dunno about the romanization). This word is going to make you tear your hair out. This literally means ‘different by not much’ which translates into colloquial English as ‘good enough for government work.’ From all I’ve read about the development of stokemonkey, you are not doing things chabudwo, but want things to be Gangganghao (perfect). This is where it’s helpful to have someone in China who is related in some way to check on things for you. This also helps to explain why nepotism is so important in so many parts of the world (especially Asia).
Going to China (or a Chinese culture) is not like going to Europe or South America. It is not ‘just going to another country.’ It is more like going to another planet. It’s like being a baby again. Nothing will be recognizable and you’ll need help for almost everything (including finding out where the bathroom is).
So, expect it to be exhilarating, frustrating, fantastic, and crazy. Expect everyone to be very pleasant and to always say ‘yes’ (especially when they don’t understand you). You’ll love it and hate it and some of it will never ever make sense. You are in for a wild ride!
OK then! Fine Oregonian things? Check. Pictures and cards? Check. Bicycle? Check. Dried fruit and nuts? Check. Emergency toilet supplies? Check. Guanshi? Tenuous. Appropriate, tactful, productive ways to talk about chabudwo/gangganghao? Thinking about it. Suggestions? This is not my strong suite. Often I have trouble finding the middle way between confusingly indirect and offensively harsh.
Beijing is 30 (thirty) times as populous as Portland. I keep trying to walk through that mentally, stacking up the Portlands, but my head explodes at around 15. The whole country is the world’s most populous, with experts differing about whether there are 1.3 or 1.6 billion — that difference is the whole US population, and they’re not quite sure they exist? China is the world’s leading consumer of most resources other than petroleum, and the economy is expanding at rates approaching 10% a year. China matters in American daily life now, however transparently (they make almost all our stuff, and put it on our sky-high tab). China will matter much, much more in decades to come. Sure the civilization is thousands of years old, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. I can hardly wait to get an up-close glimpse.