Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Strange Fruit

Lately I've enjoyed getting my 12 cents worth of news from the China Daily, the English-language state-run paper. It's interesting to see what gets covered with a fair degree of accuracy and balance (generally speaking, international news that has utterly nothing to do with China) and what doesn't get covered (anything dealing with China's sensitive issues or Chinese politics).

And it's not to say that it's all good news - the paper does deal with the country's problems, to some degree, albeit in a very careful, roundabout way. If the story in most newspapers is "Killer Dog Food Linked to China" the China Daily might report that the government is investigating consumer product safety.

One of the sections that's particularly appealing is called China Scene, odd news from regional newspapers around the country. Many papers around the world have similar sections, and in the States they're often filled with the bizarre things that people do when amped up on crack, or overly enthusiastic about their Second Amendment rights. The entries in China Daily are of a similarly odd nature - but with Chinese characteristics.

Some favorites from the Wednesday May 23rd edition: From the Nanjing Morning Post, a report that a high school in Jiangsu province has made a rule that male and female students must maintain a distance of 44cm from each other. The last sentence of the little blurb: "A foreign anthropologist once pointed out that 44cm is the minimum safe distance between people of the opposite sex, unless the two are lovers or married." Huh? Safe for what? For not falling into an automatic carnal frenzy? I can see the hall monitors now, running around with yard sticks in their hands...

From the Yangtze Evening News, a hospital, also in Jiangsu, turns down a request from doctors to be provided with helmets and truncheons to protect themselves from patients' attacks...gotta love those medical bills.

In another entry, a crowd berates a man as he watches his wife try to drown herself; he's repeatedly asked her to jump in the river, and finally she does. "A young man eventually jumped into the river and saved the woman, surnamed Li." Emphasis on "eventually" is my own...

And then there are the Lei Feng stories, the stories that are of the feel-good, urban-legend variety, that, while in some cases probably true, seem to be there in order to give the reader the sense that the world really is an okay place. In one, a girl blown off the sixth floor of a building is saved by opening her umbrella as she falls; she escapes with minor injuries. In another, white-collar workers give up their weekends to spend time with the elderly. In another, a man puts an ad in a local paper to praise the good virtue of a bus driver, who returned his bag containing 2000 RMB.

Whether these stories are true or not is not even what interests me most...I just wonder about the editorial process of how they make it onto the page. Do people fight over the inclusion of the wondrous, life-saving umbrella anecdote?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Yale Delegation Visits Local Dive Bar

A delegation of Yale University students met with president Hu Jintao on Friday, in a visit to promote greater understanding of China. (Story here.)This correspondent, however, met many of the same members of the delegation at a local dive bar, opportunely named Pure Girl.

Engaging in that age-old undergraduate tradition of shots and imbibing copious amounts of beer, the delegation nevertheless conducted themselves in a relatively respectable manner. The owners of Pure Girl appeared overwhelmed, as it was semi-officially the only time anyone has ever been into the bar. (Nearby Pure Girl 2 and 3 were mostly empty.)

Later on the same weekend, a delegation of 30 or so students from Leeds University went on a twenty bar pub crawl. One of the delegation pronounced the Wudaokou bar Propaganda, "the best place to meet chicks."

Hmmm...what immediately struck this correspondent was the degree to which social pursuits differ at Chinese universities. For better or for worse, the sole occupation of most Chinese students is studying, and drinking and cavorting are saved for special occasions, such as graduation, or marriage.