I was glancing through “American Cabo Verdeano” and the first thing I would like to mention is that it is broken up into very short sections. These are perfect for quick reading or for printing out and having students read them. It also means that you do not have to commit to reading the whole book right away and actually the book would work as something to read on your phone on the bus. Since I am half Chinese I thought it would be interesting to compare his experience to my own.
Ed Andrade went in 1977 as a guest of the China friendship association. He went with a group of Activists from the New York area and traveled to Beijing (which was called Peking in the past.) Visiting Tiananmen Square (and this was the 70’s so before the protests! Wow!) he talks a bout a large crowd of people that had gathered behind his group fascinated at seeing westerners. You can read it yourself on page 173, but the gist of it is that even though they were crowding around them, they mob was very quiet. And that when they turned back to go through the crowd they all politely parted and Ed Andrade felt like a rock star for the first time.
He mentioned China being a very quiet country with only a handful of cars.
This is hilarious to me, because although when I went to China I was stared at in the villages (but not the cities) and felt that rock star feeling, the comparison sort of ends there. First off, I’ve never been to Beijing. I have only been to the south of China, Guangdong specifically. The China I went to in the early 2000’s was loud loud loud. I remember walking around with a Hong Kong Professor in Shenzhen and him mentioning that just seven years ago in Guangzhou he had seen rice patties. Shenzhen and Guangzhou were not only booming Metropolises, but there was that feeling that they were being built so fast, like an animal growing so fast that they were splitting the skin or getting stretch marks.
In these cities nobody gave me a second look really. Foreigners were common there, or common enough. Shenzhen was one of the first cities to open up economically and there was a sense of complete lawlessness there. I saw a man with no legs writhing in the streets in the rain and children begging. The professor warned me that any money you gave them probably went to a “boss” who went around and collected from them.
Guangzhou was better, but there was a strong tension between past and present, country and city. A group of teens squatted while waiting for the train and my Hong Kong friends had as move away from them as if they had a social disease and some sort of subway officer in uniform with a speaker phone and shouted something at them while motioning them to get up. I should not here that I do speak Chinese and a vaguely understand Mandarin. But all I remember is noise.
I just thought it was weird given that in Boston or Cambridge you have white kids actually sit directly on the ground sometimes and chat air heatedly about politics or nothing. I mean I wouldn’t do it, but I do squat. White people don’t because they are usually physically unable to unless they practice Yoga. But I cannot imagine that scene quite playing out in the states.
In Guangzhou I remember going to dim sum, or walking past the dim sum and deciding not to go in. The noise was so loud and you could feel the populations immensity. In Taishan I started turning heads and having people gawk at me. I felt what Ed Andrade felt in terms of Rock Star status in places like Hong Kong or Japan. But in Taishan I actually felt like I had to go back in doors until I met with my friends for fear that people would die of heart attacks from seeing me.
A small crowd of people having dim sum in Taishan produced the same amount of noise as a football stadium in the United States. You have to shout to talk to the person across from you in normal conversation.
People often say I talk loudly or “yell” at them when I get excited. Perhaps I do. But both volume and intensity of my speech when excited or even enraged is about 10-30% of an old Taishanese man or even a woman telling a story. Of course if this person has the floor the story telling will fluctuate between a whisper and loud shouts.
I have noticed that people from the north of China seem more demure and quiet in certain settings. And I’m sure in the 70’s the south would seem quiet too when a group of foreigners passed through. Maybe not actually. My Sifu was still in China in the 70’s and from what I heard Guangzhou was very “luen” chaotic. But I also do not doubt that had Ed Andrade visited the south and gone to a tourist attraction during the day that undoubtedly he would have had the same experience of quiet and hushed onlookers in the 70’s. Not today though.