The Western Blogger and the Eastern Blogger
“I believe that a blogger should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.”
Anonymous, Chinese Blogger
It was amazing to meet you and your wife and daughter during my trip to Shanghai. I can’t believe it was a year ago.
I know you spent a year living in the USA and I wonder if you heard the story of The City Mouse and The Country Mouse? It’s one of Aesop’s fables which is very popular there.
My trip to Shanghai reminded me of that story. It’s about a city mouse who doesn’t like the boring life in the countryside and a country mouse who prefers the simple rural life to the excitement of the city.
Where I live in Noosa, Australia there are only two sets of traffic lights and by law no buildings can be over three storeys high. Noosa has a population of about 10,000 people but it’s a bit busier than that because it’s a popular holiday destination.
But Noosa is the big city for me and I’ve only lived in Australia for two years.
Before that I lived in the jungle in Costa Rica where there were more animals than people, and before that, on a small island New Zealand with a population of 8,000 people.
So I when I came to Shangai I was lost and bewildered like Aesop’s country mouse.
In Shanghai there are futuristic towers everywhere, some almost 500 meters tall, flashing a kaleidoscope of colours and shooting lasers into the night sky. Those buildings would dwarf the tallest buildings in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and even the USA. I’m sorry, a TV mast doesn’t really count does it?
I’ve heard about China a lot before and knew it’s highly populated with 20 million in Shanghai alone. But you can never really prepare yourself for a country until you get there. When we arrived at our hotel we went straight out for a walk and even though it was night time it felt as if we walked past one million people in the first 20 minutes.
I know you can’t get my emails because of the “great firewall of China” so I thought I’d write a blog post. It seems to be the best possibility of reaching you although I understand that it’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to read it.
I’ve also changed your name because I don’t want anyone to know your real identity in case that could get you into trouble with the authorities. It’s probably not necessary but it’s best to be cautious.
I wanted to write to you because I was fascinated by your blogging story and your life and I want you to know how much I enjoyed visiting China and seeing your country from the inside, not just how it’s shown in the Western media.
Hearing you explain how you started writing a blog about your life in the US and how many Chinese people visited it was incredible. It’s hard for me to imagine that your most popular post about getting a gun when you lived in the USA got 500 million hits. It’s mind-blowing.
It sounds as if Chinese people are hungry for knowledge about the outside world and I’m glad they can find that in your blog.
Before visiting China I sneered at the idea of World Expo. For someone who’s travelled all over the world the idea of being able to get a flavour of other countries by creating an exhibition is ridiculous.
But after seeing Shanghai I realised it was brilliant because many Chinese people could visit World Expo in Shanghai to meet people from other countries and experience what life is like outside China even if they can’t afford to actually go overseas or get visas to leave China.
Did you see the queue of people waiting to get into the USA pavillion?!
I had so many preconceptions about China and Chinese people but I never realised how many until my trip.
To be honest with you China was never high on my list of places to visit but I’m glad Coca-Cola took me there.
Of course, I’d heard about China’s one child policy. They taught us about it at school in England and now my oldest son is learning about it in his Australian school too. But I never really stopped to think what life would be like in a country where everyone only has one child.
It’s strange to see large groups of adults everywhere with one child being doted on by all of them.
And sad to think of generations of Chinese people growing up with no brothers or sisters, no aunts or uncles, no real understanding of how to make compromises, share, play or squabble like children from larger families do.
I know it must be hard for many parents who’d love to have a bigger family and I really feel your loss as a nation.
I’ve lived in Laos before so I’m familar with communism and how closed life can be for people who live in communist countries.
But now I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be not to be able to surf the Internet outside China or even get emails from people outside your own country.
I read in my guide book that Chinese people are great at playing cards but when I mentioned that to our tour guide she explained that gambling is illegal in China. So if I had a little game of poker with friends in my house as I do here in Australia I could be arrested for it in China.
It seemed unlikely that people would find out but she said neighbours would report any suspicious gatherings.
I guess issues of trust become paramount when you live in China and you really can’t speak your mind because you know exactly how much trouble it can get you into.
On a lighter note, Chinese people are experts in queues aren’t they? We were dawdling along in the World Expo queues and every time we hesitated for a second 150 people would cleverly rush in front of us.
You know Westerners have a bad impression of Chinese food and you’re definitely more adventurous eaters than us. I did see someone eating something that looked like frog spawn for lunch. No idea what that was! But everything we had to eat was delicious. In fact the dumpling soup was so good I’d love to attempt to make it for my family. It’d go down a treat.
We loved the area called the Lanes. I’m afraid when I think of China the first words that spring to mind are plastic rubbish.
But of course China has a rich history and I loved seeing those old-style buildings and getting a feel for how your city was before being modernised and started making cheap, disposable goods.
The Lanes seemed so bohemian and cosmopolitan but when we went there one evening there were police everywhere and their main mission seemed to be to stop people making noise.
It seemed as if laughing was forbidden. I wonder if that’s why Chinese people seem so quiet compared to Westerners – because you’re not allowed to show your emotions and if you do you can be punished?
Even Shanghai airport was strangely quiet with none of the usual hustle and bustle you find at big airports.
I know I’m probably displaying my ignorance here and I have many more questions than answers about China. But I still came home with a much better understanding of what it means to be Chinese and how it feels to live in China as well as a much greater appreciation for life in the West.
Here we can laugh as loudly as we want, write whatever pleases us and access news and views from anywhere in the world. I used to do that every day without even thinking about it but now I really appreciate that freedom.
I know you’ve experienced that yourself from living in the States and I hope you get to experience it again.
I hope all Chinese people can really be free to go where they want, do what they choose and say what they please.
I know that Eastern bloggers and Western bloggers will never be the same but I wish they could have the same opportunities to share their voices. I wish we Western bloggers could read what’s making you tick.
So I just wanted to let you know that I haven’t forgotten you.
You maybe living in a closed society but the door has been opened by a crack and one day it will surely burst open. I hope that happens soon so you and your family can live the life you want in the country you love.
I love the quote on your blog:
“I believe that a blogger should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.”
I hope you’re able to do that in China and I hope that people all over the world feel safe and brave enough to write about and live the life that’s true to them.
If we all work together as a team and strive first of all to be true to ourselves then I think that it can happen, if not for our generation then maybe in the future.
Imagine if truth and honesty were at the heart of everyone’s existence. What positive change would be caused by that? We are all different yet we are all alike. All of us are seeking happiness, comfort and truth.
I hope we can all find it.
Thank you so much for teaching me so much about you, your country and about me.
I wish you all the best in everything you do.
Your Aussie blogging friend,
Annabel, what a wonderful way to express your thoughts through a letter to a Chinese blogger friend. Did he live in the US for a short time or several years? When did you live in Laos? I read that the Chinese have their own Twitter. Forgot the name though. So true what you said about us all being different, yet alike.
Hi GutsyWriter:) Thank you. He lived in the US for two years. I was in Laos in 1993 I think. I taught English there. Such a great way to travel because you get to work with the natives:) Yes, I think they do have their own version of Twitter in China because they can’t access the real one. We take so much for granted don’t we?!
I can’t wait for you to share his reply to you :)
Thank you for pulling back the curtain so I could peek through the window on your experiences of a wonderfully exciting culture!
haha, thanks Sally:) I wish he could read it! I bet he has some interesting thoughts on his encounter with Aussies!
Hi Annabel, I love this fresh and authentic approach to your heartland subject matter. Ever thought of writing a novel or short stories?
Hi Robin, I’d love to. Hoping my naked travel stories might make a good book when completed. Thanks for the encouragement!
What a wonderful read. I felt I was right there with you in Noosa and Shanghai.
I hope that your friend manages to read your post. I’m sure he’d be delighted.
P.s. 500m hits!!!!!!
Hi Suellen, lol, yes, give us bloggers all something to aim for doesn’t it?!
It is so nice that you were able to connect to a Chinese person to have a better understanding of their culture. He lived in the US and had the freedom to reach out and then actually took advantage of it. I think many Chinese would have their culture so ingrained that they would not. When we did a trial run of living in Melbourne, Australia I was surprised that there were so many Asian’s living there. I thought I was going to live with the fun/warm Aussies and experience Aussie cultural differences but instead it seemed I was surrounded with many Asians and multiple Asian fast food places, often right next to each other. (I assume many were Chinese) I did not understand their culture and manor and they kept to themselves often speaking other languages even though they were living in every neighborhood including my own. I understood that they had a right to escape a country they were suppressed in but it just wasn’t what I anticipated. They didn’t seem to reach out as your friend has. I too had never had any desire to visit China and your blog entry was very interesting because I didn’t realize China was still so suppressed. I thought they had lightened up and were more modern/Westernized. Now I understand the manor of the people in Melbourne more. Thank you. It is special you could connect with this Chinese guy……….and learn more about the culture and spend a little time there.
Hi Brenda, interesting to read your perspective. We do jump to so many conclusions and it’s always frightening to realise how many prejudices I have even though I really pride myself on not being prejudiced. I’d love to visit more of China now and get out of the city. That’s always where the real living takes place:)
Great eye opener Annabel. We do take so much for granted and this is a perfect example of how grateful we need to be for our freedoms.
I see the door cracking open little by little for China and it’s very heartening. They are a wonderful people and have so much to catch up on once they can reach out to the other side. I know the International Blogging community will be there to help them every step of the way.
Thanks for the post!
Hi Barbara, what a lovely thought that the International Blogging community will be there to help them every step of the way. We are a huge, diverese and talented team so it makes sense:)
That is the power of travel. The reading experience pales in comparison to the actual experience. Travel has to be part of one’s education.
Hi Riley, yes, I’d love to see every Westerner spend a year in a developing country!
This was a complete eye opener for me. While I’ve met a number of Chinese folks through work and training experiences, I never got from them the scope of repression they had been living under in China. Now that I’m thinking about it, to a person they were all reluctant to talk about living in China at all. Not surprising, given what you’ve shared here.
500 MILLION hits?! I wonder when the populace’s hunger will exceed their discretion.
Hi Tina, it was an eye-opener for me too:)
What a beautiful letter to your friend. My grandparents went to China in 1984 and were not permitted to take photos in public. Good thing my grandma liked slides.
She described a country similar to what you did. One of wonderful people who were kind and gracious, yet knew that there were limits. A country filled with people who did as they were told, yet yearned for more.
I do hope your friend finds your post. It sounds as if he’s resourceful, so I have hope!
Hi Sara, love what you write there. You and your granny have a beautiful and poignant way of describing it.
Were you able to only read his blog whilst in China (re the quote)? Or is it viewable from the outside world?
The internet may be censored in China but we don’t live in such a free world in our capitalist society where everything is governed by money – The $ is the censor here –
Economies of scale, here, determine whether you’ll find a product on a shelf available for sale/purchase – What you see on major bookshop shelves for example are censored by whether its been selected for distribution through a large mainstream distribution company who’ll issue the bookshop with one invoice per month for all stock received –
We’re not therefore being exposed to all published material – Its only ‘popular’ mainstream profitable material that we’re ‘allowed’ to read in western societies!
I don’t think people realize what a narrow selection of possible material we get to see in shops because the $ rules our society :)
Hi Linda, I did see it from Australia but it was all in Chinese apart from that quote! Very true that money does mean power and I know what you say is true. But maybe blogging is helping balance that out because now people are able to sell their writing and craft without the middle man, buyers can get in direct contact with artists and even if you only have one fan you can still get your book read:)
This is an amazing and heart-moving story, Annabel. I enjoyed moving through each word and sentence. Your story writing talent really shines through. I too hope for freedom for the Chinese people, for the Tibetans living in Chinese-occupied Tibet, and for everyone in the world. We do take a lot of granted in the developed parts of the world. Thanks for opening our eyes in such a gentle, but clear way.
Hi Sandra, oh Tibet, that is the saddest part of all. I’d love to go visit the Dalai Lama in northern India where he lives but just imagine if he could be repriated to his home? That would be amazing but sorry to say it seems unlikely. I suppose that is why China puts strict censorship in place. It’s all about PR and damage control for their corrupt and terrifying leadership.
so touched with the way you have told your friend’s story… the internet is building the bridges to connect us to every people everywhere and hear their stories… and sometimes… bring their stories closer to other people as what you have did… thanks for sharing…
Hi Flip, thanks for swinging by;)
What an eye opener. Thanks for sharing your journey Annabel.
Really a touching post. You opened my heart and mind in appreciating the freedom that we have here in the US. I’m your fan now.. and your Chinese friend’s fan too! I hope he can read your blog and be able to reply.
“I believe that a blogger should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.” — a very remarkable quote.
I lived in China for 7 years. What I found really interesting, when discussing the ideal of liberty is that most of my university students said they didn’t feel that they or the Chinese people lacked freedom. It really is a case of if you’ve never had it, y0u can’t miss it.
I admire all the Chinese bloggers who are risking persecution to speak out about the problems in China. They are doing an important job. I hope there seeds they are planting take effect.
Hi Max, great to see you here. So sad to read that but yes, seeds are being planted, growing and spreading:)
Hi Annabel, Thanks for sharing this with us, it is quite a shock to think your friend probably won’t be able to read it. We live so well here in Oz and take our freedom totally for granted. The world is small in so many ways yet so big and diverse in others, isn’t it?
So late in responding to this outstanding blog post. (Lots of work, no time.) Found your insights into China and the people and ways there very revealing particularly since they contrast with ones told me by Mexican friends who have visited China. I wonder if there’s a different attitude towards Americans, Aussies and Brits vs. Latinos or other nationalities. My sister took her granddaughter, 8, and the Chinese were so excited to see a little Western girl that they treated her like a little movie star, clamoring to be photographed with her. My sister found the Chinese very friendly and smiley – it was her third trip there.
I do hope that your Chinese blogger gets to read your blog – somehow – and that maybe you’ll hear from him some time. There may be other ways to communicate; actually, resourceful people always find them. I know of Cubans who several years ago, laboring under similar restrictions, still managed, though at a certain level of danger, to have their blog posts published in the U.S.
Breaks my heart to imagine that there are many people in the world unable to enjoy any freedom. I totally agree with you here, “And sad to think of generations of Chinese people growing up with no brothers or sisters, no aunts or uncles, no real understanding of how to make compromises, share, play or squabble like children from larger families do.”
I really do hope that one day soon all people will be free!
Thanks for sharing Annabel!~
“If we all treat each other like we treat ourselves – what a wonderful place earth would be.”
Thank you for writing this. It was really interesting to read about your experience in Shanghai and what you thought about China before and after visiting it. I have been living in China for little bit over a year now and would like to comment few things in your post.
Why can’t the Eastern blogger get your emails? I guess the reason must be that he’s using a Chinese email software or online email and they have more restrictions than Hotmail or other foreign emails. It’s also possible and quite easy to visit banned websites, like Facebook, with a little software. I guess teenagers and young adults are more aware of these programs than the older folk. Sure it doesn’t take away the fact that Internet is censored in China which seems unfair for us Westerners.
I agree that it’s good to be careful and not to write about someone using their real name if there’s a potential risk. People go to jail, or even lose their life, because of using their voice.
Then I would like to emphasize that even there is a one child policy in china and a lot of families only have one child, there are still a lot of ways to go around the rules. If you are part of a minority you can have more children, some areas in the country side they are allowed to have another child if the first one is a girl, and if wife and husband are both only childs, they can have two kids together. And if you have money you can do pretty much what you want.
Gambling might be illegal in China, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Everyday in the parks people are playing cards, Mahjong or other kind of games. It’s a favourite way to past time for the elderly people.
Were you joking when you wrote that “Chinese people seem so quiet compared to Westerners”? It might be because I’m from silent Finland, but Chinese people are really loud to my ears. There’s shouthing in the bus, metro, on the street, everywhere. Or maybe not shouting because Chinese people just normally use a louder voice when speaking. Many times I think a Chinese person is angry when he or she is just discussing something.
My intention wasn’t to be rude with these comments, but just wanted give my opinion because if something is about China, I can’t help put to join the discussion.
I read from you blog that dreams and making them true are big thing for you. A year ago I made my biggest dream come true when I moved to China and now I’m looking for new dreams. You have lots of amazing posts in this blog which have already given me a lot to think about.
Annabel, this was a very interesting post. I’ve not read anything like this before. It’s fantastic that you were able to meet your blogger friend and learn so much about Chinese culture.
I also live in a Chinese-speaking country – China’s illegitimate offspring Taiwan – so I’m familiar with the foibles of the culture, though it’s a freedom-loving democracy here. The contrast was amazing! I still haven’t been to the mainland, but my partner is from there and we’re going to visit some of her friends in Shanghai later this year. I will definitely keep in mind your experiences. Thanks for sharing!
what would be the best time to visit china?