Asia: Lasting Impressions

We left Shenzhen and took an hour-long cab ride to Hong Kong for a day of R&R before heading for home. We also had a chance to put the trip into perspective. Here are 10 random observations.

  1. Moral Code & Personal Honor: I observed so many behavioral norms that we Americans would do well to emulate. Here are four: I’ve already mentioned Tokyo’s absence of litter. Second, we were struck by the lack of overweight people in any of the cities we visited. Third, crimes with firearms are virtually unheard of. Some of this may be due to the very strict gun laws, but it’s deeper than that. Fourth, a Shenzhen mother told me that if she were to absentmindedly leave her purse in a public place, she absolutely believes that it would be returned to her. (And to think that I thought Maine had sole rights to “the way life should be.”)
  2. I marvel at the standards consistently reflected in the service industry. One Korean father quipped, “In our country, service is excellent and there is no tipping. In your country, service is terrible and a 20% tip is expected nonetheless.”
  3. Laura’s comment to a Beijing counselor: “We often find that the Chinese kids teach the American kids how to work and the American kids teach the Chinese kids how to play. It works for both.”
  4. Chinese and Korean parents seem unanimous in their desire for their children to attend a prestigious American university. More than a few times, we wondered if the parents aren’t so obsessed with college admissions that they will be unable to grasp and/or appreciate Hyde’s uniqueness. I started testing them with a simple observation: “We care more about what kind of people your children will be when they’re 35 than about where they will go to college.” They seemed to get it. Throughout the trip, I wondered if they would consider “fit” along with prestige. I think so.
  5. Among our ironic discoveries, when Chinese parents inquired as to the percentage of Chinese students enrolled, we were initially surprised to learn their general preference: the fewer, the better. This is because they want their children to face total immersion in the American experience. They appear far less concerned with their children’s comfort or short-term happiness than their American counterparts.
  6. We observed parents, to a person, who are very proud of their country: its heritage, its amazing growth over the past 30 years, and its prospects for the future.
  7. I came to appreciate just how much of a sports-crazed culture the US is. One Chinese parent told me that students are reluctant to stand out in sports because if they do, people will assume that they’re not serious students. (The conventional wisdom is that one could not possibly be good at both.)
  8. The parents we met believe that China’s single child law has had cultural impacts both positive and challenging on children and families. On the one hand, it is helping to stem the tide of over-population. On the other, many parents struggle with a phenomenon commonly known as “The Little Emperor Syndrome.”
  9. I have not seen American airports that can rival the modernity, technology, cleanliness, or service of those in say, Seoul or Hong Kong. There are also technological contradictions. On the one hand, China currently blocks out access to Facebook and Twitter. On the other, Broadband Internet access is everywhere.
  10. One father told me that he perceived American Chinese food as just another version, sometimes good, sometimes not. In other words, there’s Cantonese, Szechuan, Yunnan (my new favorite!), etc. and…American. And all of those can be good or bad. I know one thing, I need to learn to cook fried rice and noodles. I’m already going thru withdrawal and haven’t even gotten over the jet lag.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld

My photos from Asia
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