Instead of traffic laws, Chinese people protect themselves with hypervigilance

I've been meaning to post something about this since the day I got here, but today's a good day to do it since I don't think there was any big insight for the day.

Here in China, not only is traffic horrendous in it's volume, but also in the amount of hazard it causes. I'm pretty sure traffic laws here are pretty similar to the States, but one thing that is definitely different is the level of obedience. Trying to cross the street here is like playing a real-life game of Frogger, where you only have one life to lose. And that's even when the car traffic light is red, and the pedestrian light is green. Be careful.

Even if a street is one way, do not assume that you should only look down one way before crossing. The saying goes something like "assuming makes an ass out of you and me," but in this case assuming makes you dead. Or at least fatally injured. Cars, bikes, and motorcylces routinely like to go down empty one-ways because it's more convenient for them.

No matter how safe you can assume to be because of whatever rules are in place, throw all those assumptions out of the window. Always keep your head on a swivel when crossing the streets (or walking anywhere near them) here in China.

All this danger aside, I tried to figure out if there was some anomoly here where you would think that this is all dangerous but the accident/fatality rate here is lower. Just like how you would assume that the speed-limitless autobahn would be more dangerous than the streets of the States but accident stats prove otherwise.

I did a little Googling (and some Wikipedia-ing) and found this table of statistics listing nations and their corresponding road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants per a year. Turns out...China has a much higher road fatality rate than the United States. According to this Wiki article (and of course you may question its accuracy), in the States we have a rate of 12.3 whereas in China they have a rate of 16.5. 

So, given of course that this information is accurate, not only is the rate higher than the US but I assert that this comparison grossly understates the actual danger on the streets of China. And this is why... the data is based off 'per 100,000 inhabitants' and China is one huge country. BUT in China, the amount of actual traffic is very much concentrated into a very small number of places: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing, and others I may not know about. So the 16.5 number is a diluted number where you have a very high fataility rate in those small areas and almost a rate of 0 in probably the remaining 80% of China. So the streets of Shanghai are much more dangerous on any given day than the streets of the U.S.

But still... how do people manage to stay alive and not have massive traffic crisese everyday? I believe the answer is hypervigiliance.

Where in the US we have laws that keep us wary of what to expect, in China your job is to expect the unexpected. Everyone - drivers, pedestrians, bikers, etc - all know that everyone else will be following whatever rules they want (and often that is no rules). So everybody is hypervigilant, and that is how most people remain in tact.

How different is language comprehension and language speaking?

I feel like it's gotta be very different.

The reason I pondered this was because while in China I am pretty fluent in understanding what is being said, but I have a very hard time speaking. I like to think that my accent is pretty good, it's just that a lot of the time I can't think of the words I need to be speaking. But when I hear them, I immediately know that's what I meant.

Similarly, in English I sometimes find myself stumbling as I write or speak when I feel like there's a perfect word for something I'm trying to express but I just can't think of it... I'm not a vocab buff, I don't read books often, and I don't read articles beyond the fold. So there's a reason why I might not have as many words right on the tip of my tongue. But again with these situations, it's similar to my situation in China where I know what I'm trying to say, and I'm pretty sure that I know the word, I just can't say it!

So that got me thinking about how connected those parts of the brain are. Knowing a new second language, and knowing your own language pretty well. I guess it seems pretty obvious that they are exactly the same? But I'm unsure.

Also I sort of feel that the language understanding part of the brain is much different than the language speaking/writing part of the brain. As shown by my lack of ability to proactively use big English words and use many words at all in Chinese when I can understand both perfectly well.

This research article suggests that they are the same part of the brain, but it makes no sense to me.

I'm very interested in how the brain works, how memory is stored and retrieved, etc so someone please enlighten me!

From China: All the wrong reasons for being selfless

Guilt & selfishness. From what I've observed, those seem to be the real reasons why many people here may act selfless on certain occassions. 

Firstly, the debate of whether having reasons such as guilt and selfishness are good or bad reasons to be selfless is actually a topic for another post. In that regards, I probably could have chosen a better title for this post, but I wanted it to be catchy. In fact, I will be discussing simply how those are the reasons I've noticed behind some selflessness here and I will not be trying to debate whether those are good or not. The means to an ends thing is a debate that could last 10 posts+.

Secondly, by "certain occasions" I am most specifically referring to dining experiences I've had while here. Similar things about selflessness can probably be extrapolated, but most of my 'evidence' will come from experiences I've had at famly meals.

Now to begin.

It is very common, that when out (or in) at a family (or even friends) breakfast/lunch/dinner, you will see others passing the plate to someone else first. Very forcefully. In a way that goes beyond what you will see in American politeness. 

For instance, today my Dad and I had lunch with his friends. When a plate of shrimp came out, my Dad insited his friend have the first take. Where upon his friend insisted, again quite forcefully, that my Dad have the first take. This went back and forth as voices raised until one person was able to outpower the other person (literally in a physical manner) in taking a spoon and shoveling some of it on to the other's plate. This is just one specific instance, but I could go on and on about other occasions of something exactly like this happening (including several more from the same meal). And I guaruntee anyone you ask who lives/lived/visited China will tell you the same.

This would at first seem to be an act of selflessness.

Another example (from the same plate). As the plate of shrimp was being devoured and only a few bits were left, they again fought over who would have the last bit. Again it became a physical fight. I even found myself engaging in such odd rituals with a plate of beef and me giving some of the last bits (with my chopsticks) to my Dad.

This would, also, at first seem to be an act of selflessness.

Now let me explain the motivations for such selflessness. People in China are taught that these are the right things to do. From very young (and I can speak to this from first-hand experience) you are taught to ALWAYS let your 'guests' eat first and NEVER be so greedy as to finish off  a plate. And it's grilled and grilled into you. The origins of these ideals are very selfless. In that you should treat guests well, and that you shouldn't be greedy. But because these ideals are forced down your throat, instead of Chinese people doing them because they are simply selfless (as such rituals intend), they do them because if they don't then they feel guilty. 

Beyond that conclusion making a lot of sense, I have two further pieces of evidence for this. As I mentioned earlier, I caught myself in the act of following such rituals when deciding to forcefully put some last bits of beef on my Dad's plate. After the fact, I thought about why I did that. I realized it was becuase I felt that I was eating too much of it, and I would feel badly if my Dad hadn't got to try any because of me. So that's straight up some guilt. And it was selfish because I wanted to rid myself of the guilt, and by giving some beef to my Dad I was able to do that. For self-satisfaction.

Another thing is noticing, time after time, people offering something on a plate to someone else, either waiting until they accept the offer or until that person decides to forcefully place the food on the other's plate, and then immediately going in and taking some for themselves. I saw this several times today and will see it more in the future (as I stay here in China). I cannot attest to exactly what these people are thinking when they do this, but I will make an educated guess. They would feel guilty for eating more off that plate, and therefore make someone else take some first (and act as if it was their duty to do so), and relieve that guilt to be able to take some for themselves and enjoy it comfortably.

So these so-called selfless traditions you will find in dining out, and in other situations where courtesy is often extended, have now become just a way for people to rid themselves of guilt. And that is selfish. 

Disclaimer though: I do feel like I see some people act truly out of selflessness. And especially when it comes to the older generation (i.e. observing the actions of my grandparents), I feel like when they make courteous gestures they do it because they are just being sefless and really care, rather than for other reasons. And again, I fall victim to this too.

Saw behind the Great Wall... didn't like the brainwashing

In China they now have a huge graduation-like celebration for you when you turn 18 and when you graduate. Cap, gowns, and everything. A huge ordeal. Since they can't throw those huge ordeals for every single individual in high school, they group birthdays togethers by months or so to get a large enough group that it makes sense to spend all the time/money into throwing that event.

I was told earlier this week when I arrived in Shanghai, that my cousin was to have hers! I was excited to go. Still excited as I walked into her auditorium and took my seat, I finally got a little dissapointed as it started. It was person after person, speech after speech. Admittedly, I drifted off a little at one point. 

As an American-born Chinese with only a few years of Chinese school under my belt at the ages of 5-7, I could still pick up enough words to get the general gist of what was going on. After giving listening a try, that's when I started to get intrigued again...

I started really paying attention to what they were talking about and I heard them emphasize family, country, and traditions. OK, well that wasn't too troubling..

But then... all the newly crowned 18-year-olds stood up and began speaking an oath. From what I heard (and confirmed with my Dad sitting next to me) part of their oath was a long pledge to remain true, loyal, and supportive to the Communist party. 

Then, surely enough, one-by-one cohorts within the 18-year-old class started screaming out oaths in synch with each other. Practiced, rehearsed, brain-washed. All the good bits. It felt really reminiscent to the Hitler Youth videos I see on Youtube.

And this was all supposed to be a celebration of the kids turning the ripe age of 18. But I couldn't stop picturing in my head a room full of top Chinese officials saying, "Hmm... OK we how can we brainwash these kids?"

"I have some great tactics we can use. Saw Germany use them successfully."

"Ok... now how do we get use them without being too open and getting criticized?"

"Hmm.. oh. Let's bring it to every school. Have a 'celebration' and do it then! And how can they criticize when we block ALL the things. lulz."


Oh right. That's the other thing. Along with the brainwashing, even if someone cared enough to talk about it they can't! All major social networks are blocked and the only one allowed (Weibo) is highly regulated by the Chinese government! 

It was really hard for me to see all that happening and realizing they couldn't do much about it. Noone could really get their voice heard that effectively even if they wanted too. I'm sure many people have thought about it, but realized rallying would be really tough.

And I talked to my Dad about it and he agreed the celebration was clearly a ruse to mask the brainwashing of these kids. And when I told him to bring it up with my Uncle, my Uncle agreed too but was very hesistant when talking about it. Not normally a shy person, he seemed that way when we brought it up.

My guess on it is that they've realized how badly the Chinese government is forcing their hand into their lives and how they have almost no say in it. So it's tough to face that fact, and easier to just try to pretend it's not happening. 

My dad told me a lot of Chinese are sympathetic to the censorship and brainwashing, because they feel it's the only way to main peace with such a large amount of people. Not only did I tell my Dad that's BS and that maybe the government should just act in the way that would not inspire riots, but also mentioned that it could clearly be a symptom of Stockhold Sydrome.

Anyways, today was a very eye opening experience. I'm really unsure about what it will take to fix these issues in China. Or if they ever will be fixed.

I told my Dad it's going to take a Ghandi of China - someone who can inspire a mass following, but who is not in it for the power. Because if someone likes power too much and gets traction, then it will just be another oppressive government taking over the old oppresive government.

Leaving for China tomorrow

Great food! Great (cheap) shopping! All my family! But no (real) internet. And an ocean away from the United States.

I think there's going to be a lot to enjoy while I'm there but I don't think I will be able to hold back my FOMO. What could I be doing (productive or not) if I was back in the US??

A lot of my meetings, calls to potential customers, deals with potential partners, and probably more will be put on hold for the most part due to the time zone difference and the fact that I will not be physically present. It's probably a bad sign that I'm young and stressing over little things like this. I really should be thinking about how much I will be able to enjoy my trip back to Shanghai (haven't been back to see my extended family in probably over 5 years).

I will do my best to enjoy it, but also will try my best to get as much work done overseas as I can. I'll also be going through some iOS dev stuff (just installed VMware image of Mac OS onto my Thinkpad) and CSS/design learning during my free time.  Overall I think (and I hope) the trip will be productive.

Either way, I'll still have to keep up this blog until November 30.. though it seems Dan Shipper has fallen off the face of the planet :).

Shanghai in 1990 vs 2010 [Photo] (WOW)

[caption id="attachment_52" align="aligncenter" width="750" caption="via @danielhewitt and @GuyKawasaki"] [/caption] Just an absolutely beautiful depiction of the type of growth that happens around the world (here: specifically Shanghai, China). I've been there a few times in my life - it's where all my family is from - but could never have imagined it to be anything like its 1990 self. Enjoy the view. [Source: Alltop]