Long time no Fluff....

I’ve a whole litany of things I’ve wanted to write about, alas none of them are worthy of a post in of itself.   So this will be a fluff post.  A fluff post is when I combine various smaller topics into one post, for efficiency sake.  Otherwise, I’d simply write only 500 words a post and to me, that would simply not make blogging worthwhile.   I know for many of you that’s enough, and I’m fine with that.   But as I’ve developed my writing style, 500 or so just isn’t for me.   My last post was around 2500 words for example.  Probably the longest it’s ever been.   I’d like to think that when I’m late on a post(7 days), that many of my veteran readers will simply understand it’s because I’ve either got a long post coming out,  many disparate thoughts to put to paper,  or simple conflicts in my daily schedule keeping me from just sitting down and doing what I like best. 

My version of paradise?  With a woman I love, sleeping in everyday, and writing.  Maybe someday I’ll get there.  I know many of you are newer readers, so here is a quick review of some of my previous fluff, here, here and here.  Enjoy.

Let’s talk about one of my pet peeves.  Manners of the Chinese Youth in the West.  As I’m from the South, this type of thing is perhaps stressed with greater urgency than in other regions of America.  China Wife believes she will be a success based on where her children go to school.   Without a doubt that will have impact.   However, a lot of “folks” who are not Chinese believe a reflection of our success raising children will very much be based on how they communicate with others.   I am constantly stressing to my children how important basic things like “respect” and tone of speech are when interacting with others.   Both in and outside the house.  Only to hear them time and time again remind me,

“Dad, as long as we use manners outside the house we’re ok.”

I’m often in a situation of mingling with the Chinese Youth in America.  And we talk.  Or else, I try to.  As such it irks me so when I find myself in conversation with the teenage children of Chinese immigrants only to get responses such as,





I find myself drowning quite frequently within a sea of one word replies.  Their answers indeed tend to reflect an ignorance of what polite language is all about. 

But let me slow down a bit.

I recall once I was on a train with China Wife.  We were travelling from Shanghai to Suzhou.  The weather was hot and I asked the lady sitting across from me to open the only window we had in our area.   I addressed her with .. or “Wei”.

I literally said to her “Hey, open the window.”

China Wife immediately corrected me.


So let’s think about that a moment.  By this time I’d already studied Mandarin at Chinese University for more than a few years.    Worked in China for several years.

And I still didn’t know how to politely address someone in Chinese?

After all those years?

My point is twofold;   much to China Wife’s chagrin, almost all of my time had been spent around Chinese from the countryside who in turn had greatly affected how I speak, and with what tone of voice.  I cringe with embarrassment today when I recall the time in Hangzhou I spent having dinner with a family and their cultured grandmother, and within a minute of sitting down I spewed out my first “fuck ” comment.  他妈的。

This very cultured looking grandmother was open minded enough to want to speak with me during dinner and all I could do was swear.  I actually went out of my way to swear during that dinner.   

Why? Because I thought that was colloquial language to use, that’s why.   And I thought nothing of it for years afterward.  Thus my Mandarin without a doubt was influenced by the Chinese 农民 and I find it still is today.  My time in China has probably 90% been spent with the Nongming.   After all, could one not call Shenzhen the Nongming City?

My second point is obvious enough: We Westerners all live in a glass house.   

One must not forget as in all societies but especially within the Chinese society being able to use polite language will take one a long way.   It will take most of the edge off of any distaste they may have for you.    And as we all know how very, very sensitive the Chinese are to the laowai, speaking polite Mandarin is all the more vital.

Perhaps it is this knowledge above that sensitizes me when I see a few Chinese teenagers speaking English without any sense of decorum or respect towards adults.   But then I realize it is not on purpose. Rather, only a reflection of the failure of their own parents to emphasize polite language within their own household.

And what is the irony?

Many of these Chinese parents are NOT 农民。  Rather, they hail from Beijing, or Shanghai.  Many of them have graduate degrees. 

So what is the rub?

After working hours their parents so rarely spend time with non-Chinese that the China Kids themselves simply lack the proper environment to understand what polite English is.   And their parents in turn drop the ball by refusing to emphasize this themselves.

I sometimes wonder why?

Disdain for American culture?  Ignorance?  All the same, these parents realize that they themselves have achieved what they have through merit.  Knowing when to use “Yessir” or “Nosir” simply has never come into play.

And that may be purposeful as well.  That is, Chinese simply don’t think it necessary to spend precious time teaching their children EQ.  Let alone how to properly address someone during a conversation.

One kid in particular has had this above issue.  It annoys me greatly hearing his one word responses to questions.   (His “What?” drives me up the wall.)

But here is the rub: his brother is in Harvard.  When I brought up his impolite language and the role of the parents in perpetuating this, China Wife was quick to retort:

“One doesn’t need to teach manners when your child goes to Harvard.”

I was a bit taken aback by this candid reply.   I found it funny, though crass.  The perfect reflection of Chinese Thinking Today.

Along the lines of,

“I don’t need to obey the traffic laws if I can pay the fine.”

“They cheat why can’t we?”

A week or so ago one of my daughters burped during dinner.  Expecting an “excuse me” from the table, instead I got the quick reply from the youngest one:

“I thought mom said manners are not important as long as you get into Harvard?”

Nevermind the fact my daughter was putting the cart before the horse, I was greatly put back by this 

“it’s only about the result” mentality.    What’s next? 

“Cheating is fine as long as you get an A”?

It is in times like these I feel myself failing as a parent. 

We as parents cannot teach our children that “the end justifies the mean”.  Life is more ambiguous than that.   But for the Chinese, it is that simple.    There are so many people in China that it is inevitable the Chinese People will simply stop trusting the “rules” and “regulations” and instead rely upon their own methods to get ahead.   Chinese Society, in every aspect, is a free for all.   Particularly as regards education.   Attaining “the Goal”, whatever it may be, cannot be left up to the belief that others will do as you and obey the regulations to obtain what they want. 

I am not sure I can be critical of this attitude. After all, how can a country of 1.5 billion be ruled by paper?  The sheer amount of energy involved would surely zap any nation of its time and resources.   The size of China is why “China can never be like Japan”, or Germany.     Or even Hong Kong.    The Chinese figured out long ago they are ungovernable.  They simply use another term.  They call it 乱。

中国很乱” is a phrase I’ve heard uttered by Chinese nearly as frequently as中国就是这样 Both phrases rich with resignation and acceptance.   The problem is both phrases denote an inability to change.

As such, China brings this “damn the torpedoes” mentality here.   Everything is about the goal.  Winning is a zero sum game.  Appreciation of “the journey” is for losers.  It’s all about capturing the flag.    Am I generalizing?  Perhaps.   Chinese kids within America today are lectured about “the goal” all the time.   I know one kid that has frequently been missing school.  Why? To attend sporting tournaments and exhibitions.    Because he knows damn well his fantastic grades and test scores will be “done in” by the ethnic box he has to check off when applying to Harvard. 

Sports is his only chance of standing out.  Period. 

Learning how to speak proper and polite English, let alone how to engage in a conversation simply isn’t a skill as valuable as making the athletic team.

The question I have to ask is not how WE, the West can change China, but in all honesty, how will China change us?   It’s a fantastic irony that at the end of the day it may be China changing us more than we change China.

Nowadays our movies all have a Chinese slant.

Movie studios are showing us Chinese actors we’ve never heard of.

Many of our local banks and luxury stores all have Mandarin speaking assistants.

In every decent sized metropolitan area a shadow economy that exists only to serve Chinese exists.  Short of getting a traffic ticket our local economy has now been arranged to the point where Chinese no longer even have to worry about speaking English.

Even as we rush headlong into possible conflict, we are integrating with each other faster than ever.
I for one cannot guarantee that China’s “way” of doing things there will not rub off negatively back here.   But I can guarantee that no one will be measuring the change in our own Western values and institutions.   

Perhaps none of us will even notice anything until we ourselves hear our own kids some sunny day teaching their children in the not too distant future how our life is measured not by the journey’s we taken but simply by the goals we’ve achieved.


  1. Two immediate thoughts jump out.

    1. Chinese society is probably worse today, but has always been cutthroat. If you watch any Chinese historical dramas that are Chinese-made for Chinese audiences; it is non-stop backstabbing going after the flag as you say.

    2. American society also has failed in teaching manners to children. This isn't new. I am Generation X, and plenty of my peers have no manners, and have taught the same to their children. So it is not just the Chinese kids in America who are a problem.

  2. Yes, indeed. Thx for the comment.

    I am also Gen X and I did mention in the post that we(I) live in a glass house. But I have found, at least with my own, that when dealing with people outside the family they are rather polite, which makes me quite happy. Inside the house of course they are opposite.

    I would like to think this whole manners thing would be self correcting, as the younger set grows up and interviews, works in a corporate environment etc, one would THINK that would change.


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