Wednesday, June 4, 2014

25 Years Later, China Still Longs For Democracy & the Right To Speak Out

Today is the 25th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China.  The Chinese people still don't have the democracy they longed for during their peaceful demonstration that was so horribly marred by the massacre of hundred, if not thousands, of pro-democracy protesters.

I'll never forget our trip to Beijing or our tour guide in China, Wilson.  Wilson!!!  WILLLSOOOON!  Yep, he selected his "American" name from Castaway.  Wilson was in his early to mid 30s.

When we first checked into our hotel, they asked for our passports.  *Twitch*  Yeah, umm... I was always taught that you never let your passport out of your SIGHT for a single damn second when you are in a foreign country.  When I balked at handing over my passport, our tour guide explained that each hotel has to report that each foreigner has officially "registered" to the Chinese police so they don't go looking for you.  Yikes, man.  Of all the countries where I would not be comfortable having someone else "hold onto" a highly-sought-after female American passport, China is pretty high on the list.  *Twitch*

Then when we checked into our room, and it was super hot.  We turned on the AC and hoped for relief.  Nothing happened.  We opened the window, and it was stopped by a chain that only let it open about a foot wide - not good enough!  This was problematic for my partner since he has organic hypoglycemia, and the heat kicks his hypoglycemia into high gear.  We called the front desk and through broken English, they figured they needed to send a maintenance man, who only knew about 3 English phrases, to our room.  He offered to break the chain, and my partner sarcastically said "What, so I can JUMP out of the window in hopes that I would catch a nice breeze on my way down?!"  Of course the maintenance guy had no idea what he was saying, but it was still funny.  It took another trip and a few more conversations with the front desk before we grasped that the government regulations only allowed hotels to turn on their air conditioners when the weather reaches certain temperatures, and we were about 2-3 degrees celsius from that brink.  They ended up moving us to the room where the sun didn't face the windows most of the day.  Yup, we never got to use our air conditioner during our entire trip.

Wilson's mother was a nurse who would go out to remote villages to teach families about family planning.  The one-child policy didn't really apply to people outside big cities like Beijing or Hong Kong.  After all, they needed to have children who would help them with their farms.  She would give the villagers condoms, and tell them to use them so they wouldn't get pregnant.  Imagine her surprise when she returned to find they were still having issues with women still getting pregnant!  She inquired if they used the condoms, and they said "Well yes, we swallowed it and I still got pregnant!"  Oh myyy...  Wilson said "Yes, I'm serious" when some tourists expressed their skepticism.

When we were on the bus, Wilson spoke freely about how the world had changed since he was a child in a feudal society.  He also spoke very negatively against Chairman Mao.  He grew up longing to be able to eat an egg a day, and not just "some egg" - no, one whole egg.  His family was only allowed a dozen eggs for the entire month, so the possibility of eating one egg a day was absolutely out of the question when he was a child.  Then, China changed.  He started eating omelettes every day, and he got fat!  Oops!  Then he started watching his diet and walking every day doing his job as a tour guide, and he lost all the weight!  We didn't believe him until he showed us his old passport photo.  It was remarkable!

He also spoke about how parents can lose their government jobs if they dare to have a second child and not pay the fee imposed for violating the one-child policy.  Unregistered children aren't allowed the opportunity for an education or public jobs either.  He said he had a friend who wanted a second child very badly, so she and her husband scrimped and saved all the money they could to afford the fee for a second child.  Imagine their surprise when out popped twin boys in their second pregnancy!  Do you know what that meant?  Yup, double fee.  There aren't any fees for twins with a first pregnancy - that's good luck!  But oh yes, there are double fees for twins with a second pregnancy.

The thing was, he got a lot more quiet when they took us to Tiananmen square.  They let us loose on the area for a bit, and he just did not speak another word against his country's political system while he was out in the public square.  Smart man.

Yes, Facebook was blocked, though many Chinese people know how to circumnavigate the government rules.  It's not too hard.  Our tour guide told us that even if you do a Google search for Jasmine tea, that will be blocked too.  Why?  Because someone named Jasmine had ruffled some government feathers, and now her name was forever blocked from the internet in China!

The day of my birthday, they took us to have a meal inside a small, 3-room family home.  It was basically a shantytown area.  The walls were covered with contact paper, and they were bubbling.  The home didn't even have its own bathroom.  They shared a bathroom with several of their neighbors.  At first, I wondered why they didn't fix them up at least a little bit (after all, they were getting a pretty nice chunk of change from having tourists come through!), but then we were informed that the Chinese government owns a large percentage of the home.  Heh, I don't even want to so much as paint my bedroom walls when I am merely renting a home from my landlord!  I couldn't imagine even bothering to fix up a home when the government owns such a huge percentage of my OWN HOME outright!  No, it wasn't one of those "they took out a loan, and the government owns part of it" sorts of things.  No, the government just TOOK it and refused to relinquish their claim on the entire neighborhood.

We kept hearing about all of the things that meant good luck to the Chinese people.  If you get into a car accident and you break your precious jade bracelet or necklace amulet that was given to you by your mother or father, that's good luck.  Most of us would go "Aww man!  My dead grandfather gave that to me, and now it's ruined!"  To the Chinese people, that meant that the jade absorbed the damage, and it saved your life.  Crickets?  Good luck.  Twins on your first pregnancy?  Good luck (though hey, if it saves you from having to pay a crazy ~$20k USD fee, I'd probably call that just plain good luck too!).  Bats?  Good luck.  The number 8?  Extremely good luck.  I heard about all of these strange, random and usually not-so-great things that were labeled as good luck to the Chinese people.  Personally, I am hard-wired for a logical explanation to these sorts of human behaviors.  After all, I was never raised to believe in luck (mom: "Satan is the god of luck!"  *snort*).  So, why do they label so many things as good luck?  The Chinese people have had so many terrible things happen to them over the years, and sometimes, they just could not catch a break!  The thing about "Oh, it's good luck!" is that it's a head-fake.  It's a coping mechanism that presents itself in the form of optimism and hope.  Hope and optimism are powerful and motivating things.  You know what?  You don't want to "break" the psychology of people's coping mechanisms like that.  Just let them be.

We sometimes forget just how lucky we are to enjoy the freedoms we do in our part of the world.  No, it's not just the "head-fake" sort of luck either.  Sometimes you just don't realize how good you have it until you see what the rest of the world is like.