Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thursday Afternoon.

Sitting in the Office
I am sitting in my office, wandering what to do with myself.

What will I do?
I will blog.

About what?
I don't know.

On a Chinese Screen
I am just about finished re-reading W.S. Maugham's collection of short sketches about China.  While in one way it is easy to just write short pieces as opposed to a long coherent book about China, Maugham's book is still a classic.  China is too big to be easily categorized and it would take a foreigner more than a lifetime to fully understand it. Maugham takes the right approach for someone spending a short time in the country.   I read the book and have had many "aha!" moments, and wish I could have written like Maugham did about the topic.  

The book is of course better appreciated by someone who has lived in China but it does have a lot to say about the foibles of human nature

For instance, Maugham observes that the Chinese love elaboration in decoration, but that it becomes tiresome to the foreigner's eye.  Coming across an old Greek statue in China fills Maugham with excitement.  I felt the same way when I saw an Assyrian exhibit at the Shanghai museum  -- it seemed refreshing after looking at all the Chinese exhibits.  Try as we might to open ourselves to alien things, what we grew up with is more accommodating to our tastes.

During Maugham's time, many a foreigner prided himself on not speaking any Chinese.  It is not so bad now but an Expat can easily live a life without learning any Chinese.

Maugham mentions a practice called eyelid-scraping.  He also mentioned ear-cleaning which I have seen in Wuxi, but the scraping of the inside of eyelids was a new one on me and my wife said she had never heard of it.

Understands more than he can speak
That describes Tony's speaking abilities now.  I can order him about even getting him to bring my things from other rooms, but he can't count past three.

Humorous Chinese Stories
Currently, my never ending but desultory efforts at learning Chinese have me reading a book called Humorous Chinese Stories.  The book has jokes with each translated into Chinese characters, Pinyin, and English.  The jokes are groaners to me, but I wonder if the Chinese find them amusing.  I had a humor class where the foreigner, sitting in, laughed at all my jokes, while the Chinese were dumbfounded.


Gigi said...

If sometime, you are again at a loss for blogging topics, perhaps do an entry on Shanghai.
You are "Wuxiandis", but i never realized how close to Shanghai you were. Love to hear ur opinion about this major city...
Also, I'm glad to hear of books u've found useful to a better understanding of China. Although its from a different era, i've recently finished The Good Earth.
On ur recommendation i'm going to get Maugham's On A Chinese Screen.
Keep up the good work!

Andis Kaulins said...

I don't get out to Shanghai much these days, maybe once every three months.

I was watching a movie called the Good Earth. I will have to see if I can buy the book.

Thank you for reading my blog.